Friday, December 02, 2005

Berlin Review-ed: Friday 2nd December

So another week goes by, and the webstats tell me that least a few of you stumble upon this blog on any given day, so here's the Friday roundup for those who drop in over the weekend...

(UPDATE: I changed a load of titles and the links don't work. Maybe I will get a hang of this blogging malarkey one day...)

On Monday there was a report from the Berlin Review's trip to Meissen, as well as more comment on the World Cup ticket farce.

Tuesday brought a look at Große Hamburger Straße in Mitte, news of a new film club at the British Council, as well as Gunther's thoughts on the CIA flights issue, which if nothing else provoked a response.

Books about Berlin provided the inspiration on Wednesday, with a review of Stasiland, as well as news of a football art exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau.

Thursday's posts concerned themselves with the Kunsthaus Tacheles and the news of the opening gala for the World Cup.

Friday brought us the Berlin Review guide to Hostels in Berlin, as well as a look at Berlin's English language paper the Ex Berliner.

As Saturdays and Sundays are for doing fun stuff, and this is a Monday to Friday blogging operation, we'll see you after the weekend. Have a good one.

News: Ex Berliner December Edition

The Ex Berliner, Berlin's 'English language paper', has just released its December edition and I wanted to post it up here not so much as a recommendation, but rather as a question to any Berlin readers about what they think of the magazine.

In the name of research for this blog I parted with my €2, but normally I don't bother, despite the fact I would welcome, and think there is a market for, a quality English-language publication in the city.

My problem with the Ex Berliner has always been that it is too thin, in that, basically, that there is not enough to read. There are some good writers in there (Robin Alexander on politics for example), but I can read what I am usually interested in over a cup of coffee in about half an hour. Not really worth the cash.

The listings, especially the English-language cinema and other events are pretty good, but with copies of Tip and Zitty lying around in most cafes it would be the most linguistically challenged that would have to rely on the Ex Berliner to know what's on. What is good are some of the reviews and the 'head's up' for some things that might have passed the radar.

Anyway, this month there are the usually politics, football, gay Berlin and reviews/listings, alongside an interview with German photographer Melanie Manchiot (interesting), Bio food in Berlin (less so), and a thought-provoking article on the use of women in advertising. Actually not that bad. I still wish there was more to read though, and wouldn't mind paying a euro more for something more substantial. I would be interested in what others think...

The Ex Berliner website is here, and, which is nice, the women in advertising article is online.

Guide: Hostels in Berlin

As part of our slowly increasing guide to the city, I decided today to focus on those bastions of smelly socks and snorers, the Berlin hostels. I would love to write about the city's five star hotels, but unless they're going to invite me I'll have to stick to what I know.

For what it's worth, here are my favourite hostels in Berlin - great for cheap sleeps if you are coming to visit us here, or for locals somewhere to stick your buddys when they come to stay...

The Circus Hostels
(Weinbergsweg 1a - U8 Rosenthaler Platz, and also at Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse 39-41 - U2 Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz)

The Circus Hostels, both in the north of Mitte close to the border with Prenzlauer Berg are pretty well known in the European backpacking scene for being of a super high standard, clean, and with immensely knowledgeable staff. The newer version at Weinbergsweg is a bit more lively, with a street cafe and a bar in the basement. Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse is quieter, more cosy, with a small kitchen and an intimate atmosphere.

Oh, and a good tip for visiting parents: The Circus Weinbergsweg has attic apartments with kitchens and en suite bathrooms that would please the most picky of elder relatives.

The Circus Website

The Heart of Gold Hostel
(Johannisstrasse 11 - S-Bahn Oranienburger Strasse, close to Friedrichstrasse also)

The Heart of Gold is named after a space ship in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and runs on the reassuring motto of 'Don't Panic'. It looks like no other hostel I have even seen, with a futuristic reception and bar area with a pool table and occasional live music in the evenings. Like at the Circus the rooms are spacious for backpackers dorms - unlike most hostels in Europe, the Berlin ones seem a bit more concerned with their guests comfort as opposed to cramming as many bunk beds into a room as possible.

Oh, and they also have private rooms for those that have grown out of sleeping with strangers - or perhaps need more privacy to do just that.

Heart of Gold Website

The Helter Skelter Hostel
(Kalkscheunenstrasse 4-5 - S-Bahn Oranienburger Strasse or U6 Oranienburger Tor)

Around the corner from the Heart of Gold is the Helter Skelter, located in the Kalkscheune, a popular venue for gigs and club nights. This can mean the courtyard gets a little noisy, but if you are more of an old-school backpacker then this is the place for you. Indeed, the motto of the Helter Skelter is 'Back to the Roots' and prides itself on being a 'real hostel'...there might be no bar but there are cheap beers from the fridge, a kitchen to cook dinner and a pool table to challenge strangers to a game.

Although the two hostel above have more style, as well as more facilities, in a sense, the Helter Skelter has more soul.

Helter Skelter Website

The Generator
(Storkower Strasse 160 - S-Bahn Landsberger Allee)

If you ever wanted to stay in a genuine DDR Plattenbau you can fulfil your ostalgic desires at the Generator. It is a bit further out of town that then others, but it's close to transport, and perhaps because of it's location and it's size (huge by the way) it has an impressive array of facilities. There's a bar, a place to get dinner, lounges, an internet room, washing facilities as well as the chance to buy tickets for events and a free walking tour that leaves from the reception.

Word of warning: you have to be OK with neon blue lights. Apparently that's the Generator 'thing'. A bit too impersonal for my tastes but the bar can get lively as long as the hostel is not full of school classes (which is unfortunately quiet frequent). It's size makes it a good fall-back solution.

Generator Website

Other Hostels we like...

I've been around quite a few hostels in Berlin, and there are plenty of good ones out there...for some reason the standard in the city seems a lot higher than in other European cities. Some other fine places that I have seen include the Odyssee, within spitting distance of the Karl Marx Allee in hip Friedrichshain. It is attached to a bar that it fast becoming known as a great venue to catch local live bands.

The EastSeven is in Prenzlauer Berg is new, small, and has a great intimate atmosphere that the bigger hostels will never be able to achieve. Although I have never been there, I have also heard good things about the small Lette'm Sleep, also in Prenzlauer Berg.

You can also get an overview of independent hostels in Berlin and Germany on the website of the German Backpacker Network, or hostels in Europe in general at GOMIO.COM.

(Note: I will probably add more reviews to this page as time goes by. At the moment I decided not to write about the bad hostels in Berlin, and there are a few...but that might change on a day when I am not in such a good mood ;-)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

News: Plans for the World Cup Gala in Berlin

So if I am not busy on June 7th next year, and I can get a ticket, maybe the place to be will be the Olympiastadion in order to witness the Opening Gala of the World Cup.

Hmmm, or maybe not. The vast majority of these opening ceremonies, be they for World Cups or the Olympics tend to be mind-numbingly boring, over-long, and more often than not, completely inpenetrable when it comes to understanding what the choreographers or whoever it is that puts these things together are actually trying to say.

The first paragraph of the Deutsche Welle article seems to hint that the organisers for next year may have learned from the mistakes of the past...

"...the organizers, aware of the schmaltzy affairs put on to mark the openings of such events as the Olympics and the Superbowl, want the World Cup event to be a classy affair."

What they are promising so far are a French avant-garde choreographer, Brian Eno composing the anthem, Peter Gabriel as musical director, 132 of the worlds most famous footballers including Diego Maradona, and that the whole thing for the budget price of €25 million so its bound to be spectacular...oh, and famous soccerball fans the Black Eyed Peas will be hip hoppingly entertaining the crowd (so, Man Utd fans, there will be at least one Fergie at the party).

But despite the organisers protestations, it sounds a bit like, well, more of the same. Expect unity of nations-themed dance routines, some bizarre performances of people in different coloured outfits making pretty patterns that are supposed to symbolise something but no-one actually understands, and hopefully a wardrobe malfunction or two. Plus a fireworks display. They always have a huge fireworks display, don't they? Still, it's a bit of history, and how often will I be in a city that's hosting a World Cup Gala, eh?

What?

"Tickets for the event will not come cheap with prices ranging from 100 to 750 euros."

Ah. Well. Maybe I'll just watch the thing on the telly instead.

(The photo is the World Cup Mascot...he's furry...)

Guide: Berlin - Kunsthaus Tacheles

(Photo: Kunsthaus Tacheles from behind)
Berlin Places: Kunsthaus Tacheles

The crumbling structure of the Kunsthaus Tacheles on the Oranienburger Strasse in Mitte seems in stark contrast to the new and renovated buildings that surround it on one of the major tourist streets in Berlin Mitte. Famous for those who like their arts and music alternative and experimental, it was squatted by an international band of young artists a few months after the Berlin Wall came down and has since become one of Berlin's cultural icons.

Then

The history of the building is a fascinating one. The 'Tacheles' (which comes from an old Jewish word to mean 'disclose') is housed in what was the entrance way to the Friedrichstadt Passage, a turn of the century department store that was built in 1907. By 1928 the store was bankrupt, and the building sold to AEG, who gave it the name 'House of Technology', and used it as an exhibition space for all the wonders that they were creating to make people's lives easier.

After the Second World War the parts of the building that were beyond repair were torn down, and the rest was left to rot, used as a storage space throughout the East German era whilst the government decided what they wanted to do with the area. Added to the fact that the money just simply wasn't available for renovation, by the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 the building had deteriorated to a state of near-collapse.

Then came the artists. Living and working in the ruins of the famous old department store, they got on with things whilst the turmoil over who owned what property in the former East swirled around them (the early 1990s was marked by a massive policy to attempt to give back property that had been confiscated first by the Nazis and then appropriated by the East German state).

Eventually the artists and their by now thriving cultural centre got recognition from the Berlin government, and recieved subsidies to help make the building structurally sound as well as finance some of the arts projects that take place there. Added to this there is a cinema and a bar, money raised from which are used to help keep the Kunsthaus Tacheles alive.

Now

Inside the Tacheles you can find a lot of things that might be of interest. There are a number of galleries with various exhibitions taking place, as well as artists studios, some of which are open to visitors who can check out what is being made and created on site.

On the top floor is the 'Blue Salon', also an exhibition space, but one that has been designed to be suitable for performances and parties, and you can often see and hear things going on from the courtyard behind, with huge images being projected onto the bare wall opposite.

On the ground floor there is a metal workshop, where you can buy big metal sculptures (if you want) or just have a look round, as well as the Cafe Zapata, a bar with a metal fire-breathing dragon, as well as the venue for live music and club nights from local and international acts of all shades of sound. Added to this the Tacheles building also includes a two-screen cinema, the High End 54, that shows everything from the arthouse independent movies you would expect, as well as American and British movies in the original language, often of the more left-field variety (think Tim Burton or Jim Jarmusch).

There is often a beer garden out the back in summer, and a number of weird and wonderful sculptures and living quarters (maybe) out there the whole year around. To this Brit, the whole Tacheles complex feels a bit like a slice of Glastonbury in the middle of the big city, and it is probably only Berlin, with its unique history, where something like this could have grown up on what is probably one of the most expensive and sought-after plots of real-estate in the German capital.

A prime example of what makes Berlin so special, and why we live here...

More Info: The Kunsthaus Tacheles is at Oranienburger Strasse 54-56, 10117 Berlin-Mitte. Nearest Transport: U6 to Oranienburger Tor, or S1 or S2 to Oranienburger Strasse. Trams M1, M6 and M12 also stop near by. Friedrichstrasse station is about a five minute walk way.

Tacheles on the map: Berlin Stadtplan

Blogs: Yet more Berlin Blogs...

I added to my links list yesterday, and realised that I forgot one. And then a kind person pointed me in the direction of another...so here they are.

Raskal Trippin is a blog that chronicles, in her words, "the hopscotch adventures of an exiled new yorker in berlin". Some interesting and often amusing posts on life in the German capital.

Also in the German capital, and obviously having some problems with those in the building, is I Hate My Neighbours. Blogging to raise a smile.

Keep letting me know if there are any other good ones, especially about Berlin, out there in the Blogosphere.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What's On: Football Art in Berlin

As Germany gears up for next years World Cup, there is an exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin entitled 'Rundlederwelten' that is part of the artistic and cultural programme being put on by the German government in honour of the event.

The exhibition includes paintings, video installations, sculptures and photographs from 74 artists from 20 different nations, all exploring the theme of football through their art. As well as the exhibition itself, there are a number of special events going on during its time in Berlin, such as theatre performances and open artistic workshops.

On the website are more details, as well as a sections called 'Goal! Object of the Week' which gives you a chance to check out some of the artworks online. A good tip for those that like football and art, or are just curious as to the ways the two can be melded.

More information: Rundlederwelten Website

The Rundlederwelten exhibition is taking place at the Martin Gropius Bau on Niederkirchnerstraße, Berlin, until the 8th January. Open from 10am until 8pm, evry day except Tuesdays, admission costs €6.

Blogs: Some more Berlin and Germany blogs...

An afternoon off gives me the chance to explore the blogosphere for some more blogs on Berlin, Germany, or anywhere else for that matter. I especially liked Broke in Berlin, another Brit (I think). Some interesting posts in there to read with a cup of coffee. My favourite involved a trip to the supermarket and an encounter with an old German lady and her German apples.

Elsewhere, I also enjoyed a browse through a blog from the other side of the country, an American musing on what it is like to be Foreign in Frankfurt, and what looks to be a super useful site if you ever find yourself heading down to Munich. Toytown Munich, with articles, city information, a forum and loads of other stuff. One interesting feature in the Munich Wiki, that allows anyone to edit the information - on culture, entertainment and loads of other topics - and has created what looks like an excellent resource for those living in the city or heading there for a visit.

Well done chaps!

Review: Berlin Books - Stasiland

The third in the Books on Berlin series deals with life behind the Berlin Wall in the shadow of the Stasi...

Stasiland: Anna Funder

Anna Funder, an Australian journalist living in Berlin, chose the Stasi and East Germany as the topic for her first book. Published in 2003 it received excellent reviews and even won the Guardian's First Book award. Good stuff for Ms Funder, but sadly Stasiland itself doesn't justify the hype.

First up, the good points. Stasiland is made up of a number of individual stories from people in East Germany and their involvement or interaction with the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security), better known as the Stasi. And some of these stories and their tales of individual people living in the shadow of the Stasi are absolutely fascinating, including those persecuted by the ministry, those who tried to escape, those who supported in the Stasi and the system they in turn were propping up, and also those who worked for them in both formal and informal capacities. Funder in general writes well on her subjects, and in this sense her book is worth reading for some of the portraits found in there.

However, and it is a big however, there are a number of problems with this book. Firstly, although Funder can obviously write, sometimes it feels as if she would rather be writing a novel. The opening paragraph of the book is illustrative:

"I am hungover and steer myself like a car through the crowds at Alexanderplatz station. Several times I miscalculate my width, scraping into a bin, and an advertising bollard. Tomorrow bruises will develop on my skin, like pictures from a negative."

There is a lot of this kind of writing, and it (for me) generally detracts from the parts which are well-written, descriptive and perceptive, usually when she forgets about herself and concentrates on her subject. Basically there is too much Anna Funder in Stasiland, and most of what is in there is not all that interesting.

Another problem is that the picture she paints about life in East Germany is wholly negative. This is understandable in a book about the Stasi, and maybe this criticism is better aimed at the English language publishers rather than Ms Funder, but I have spoken to many people of all ages who lived in the DDR and the picture painted in almost all books in English that deal with this time in history don't ring true to what these friends of mine and their families tell me.

This is not to diminish the crimes of a state that basically undertook the largest spying operation of any nation in history against its own population, but it does push the average English readers impressions of what life was really like in the DDR along a very simplistic path. In German there are any number of books about all aspects of life in the DDR, and readers can form a better overview of what life was really like. Again, this is not Funder's problem in that her subject is the Stasi, but this simplistic way of looking at East Germany does seem to influence her writing, to the extent that the message about the DDR in general that the reader gets is very black and white.

So although Stasiland is generally a good read, the overly simplistic portrayal of life in the DDR, and the flowery, overly-personal writing prevents me from getting too enthusiastic about a book that actually deals with a subject that fascinates me.

If you want to get a better impression of the operations of the Stasi, and more importantly a discussion of what it all means, and from a far better writer as well, then check out The File by Timothy Garten Ash. I will review that book in detail another time, but I would just quickly say that his exploration of the workings of state security in the DDR is much more nuanced, better explained, and most importantly, recognises the shades of grey involved in the motivations of the people involved.

If you want Stasi For Beginners however, then read Stasiland.

Stasiland is of course available on Amazon, but you can also pick up a copy in the Hauptstadt at one of the English Bookshops in Berlin.

More Books on Berlin.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

News: CIA Flights and the War on Terror

The issue of whether or not the CIA has been using German airbases and airspace to transport detainees between interrogation camps, some of them believed to be in Eastern Europe, has become one of the major foreign policy issues for the new government. The fact that the Council of Europe is now investigating the issue has created widespread interest in these flights and camps just at the time that the new government looks to improve relations with the United States following the tensions of the Schoeder-Fischer era.

The topic has been covered in Der Spiegel (The Hunt for Hercules N8183J) and Deutsche Welle (German Foreign Minister concerned about reported CIA flights) and the whole topic raises some important questions about not only American and European policy, but also on how you fight a "war on terror" in general.

One thing that concerns me is that there seems in general to be a failure to learn the mistakes of the past when it comes to dealing with terrorism. Secret interrogation camps where "unique and innovative methods" are employed may bring some intelligence, but how useful can information be that comes from someone who is suffering from sensory depravation having been made to stand in an ice-cold cell for 40 hours? And beyond that, what are the wider costs?

One of the things that the British government learned in Northern Ireland was that methods such as internment without trial and shoot-to-kill policies not only worked as the greatest recruiting sergeant the IRA ever had, but also swung opinion of the wider community against what they were trying to do. Every instance of what can be perceived as human rights violations by the Americans or British, be it in Iraq, Afghanistan, at home, or in the skies above Europe not only pushes more dissatisfied youth towards the cause of radical Islam, but also threatens the credibility of those nations within the wider world.

If the CIA or any other agency is seen to be above international law, how can politicians then demand that other nations comply with, for example, nuclear non-proliferation treaties? How can European nations who turn a blind eye to these interrogation camps tell Turkey that their human rights laws don't come up to scratch? If the most powerful nations in the world ignore the Geneva Conventions, then you might as well tear the document up. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and especially not by those they perceive as being hypocrites.

Another thing that concerned me about the whole case, specific to Germany, was that of the abduction by the CIA of a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, in Germany, at the end of 2003. The issue of national sovereignty is at the heart of international law. Imagine the uproar if the Iranian secret service abducted an American citizen in upstate New York. This shows a phenomenal arrogance on the part of the CIA, and sets a very dangerous precedent. The fact that it also happened in Italy, and who knows where else, makes it a very worrying development indeed. In these instances it doesn't even matter to me if they didn't torture those they abducted. The fact that they by-pass the national sovereignty of the country in which they are operating, extradition treaties, laws of arrest and evidence, and all the other cornerstones of fair and proper justice are outrageous enough.

Of course, this is an unusual war, and maybe it needs some unusual methods to win it - if it is even possible to 'win' a war of this nature. And perhaps torture, abductions and secret interrogation camps where no rules of justice or legal processes apply will win the war. But I think that it takes us down a very dangerous road indeed, and the price of that victory too high. The next time the USA tries to put together a 'coalition of the willing' to act in the Middle East or elsewhere, who is going to believe them when they say they are trying to promote democracy or the rule of law, when in their foreign policy they respect neither?

My mum always told me, when someone was being mean to me, not to lower myself to their level. In fighting the war against radical Islam the American government and their friends are doing just that. After September 11th the United States held the moral high ground. Abandoning it has been a grave mistake.

As always, I would be interested to hear what others think - especially on the wider question of: Do the ends justify the means? As you can probably guess I would say no, but I have no doubt there will be those that disagree with me!

Some other links:

An interesting post on German Foreign Policy and the United States: The Capital Letter
Review of the German media response to the CIA Flights: Der Spiegel

What's On: Film Club at the British Council

The British Council has a new film club, which started at the beginning of November with a screening of Ae Fond Kiss by Ken Loach, one of my favourite directors of all time. They are returning to the work of Mr Loach for the second installment of the film club on the 8th December when they show Kes.

Kes is a film about a boy and his kestrel, set in 1960s northern England, and like most Ken Loach films, it is both funny and tragic at the same time. He has made his reputation as a 'social realist' film maker, and he often pulls no punches, yet he uses comedy to lighten the mood. The scene with the PE teacher and the football match, where he is pretending to be Bobby Charlton and gives one of the children on the other team a red card because he is too good is one of the funniest scenes in a film I have ever seen.

Some reviews of Kes.

According to the British Council website, the film club includes an introduction from real or adopted Berliners, discussion after the screening, and wine and nibbles. It starts at 7.30pm and costs nothing if you are a member of the British Council, €2 if you are not.

More Information: British Council Film Club.

Guide: Berlin - Große Hamburger Straße

(Photo: Memorial to Jews who lived on the Große Hamburger Straße and were murdered at Auschwitz. You can find the memorial laid into the pavement at the Oranienburger Straße end of the street)

Berlin Places: Große Hamburger Straße

I decided to start the Berlin Review guide to Berlin Places with the Große Hamburger Straße in Berlin-Mitte, one of the most fascinating streets in the city. Running from Koppenplatz just south of Torstraße to Oranienburger Straße, Große Hamburger Straße is not very long, and yet there is a pile of interesting things to see.

Along its short length there is the Sophien Church, the only baroque steeple left in Berlin, one side of which is still peppered with bullet holes from the Second World War, left unrenovated as a reminder of the past. Then there is the house opposite, which took a direct hit from an allied bombing raid. Now, the gap in the building created by the bomb is marked by placards with the names of those who died, attached to the wall in the approximate position of where they were sleeping when the bomb struck.

There is also the Jewish Gymnasium and graveyard, on the site of which there is a very moving memorial to the Jews that were deported from Berlin to die in the concentration camps. This point on Große Hamburger Straße was used by the Gestapo as the deportation point for the district, right in the heart of what was the Jewish neighbourhood of Berlin. The graveyard was used during the Second World War to bury many of the dead in the city, especially during the arrival of the Red Army in the last days, and there are hardly any gravestones left in place. One that is belongs to the philosopher, Moses Mendelsohn.

The school, the memorial and graveyard are very moving places, and somehow it creates an immediacy that other memorials often don't manage. Berlin is full of small memorials, such as the one I took a photo of at the top of this post, and sometimes I think these small reminders, often more personal, to be discovered by accident as you walk the streets, are often much more powerful than larger, more impressive structures.

Another of these can be found on the Koppenplatz, at the opposite end of Große Hamburger Straße, which is a very simple sculpture of two chairs and a table, one chair knocked to the ground. Again, simple and small, at one end of a play area in a quiet square, the impact is quite and quietly impressive.

As well as reminders of the past, there are a couple of good entertainment tips along the Große Hamburger Straße. First up is the Sophie'nEck, a wonderfully atmospheric restaurant on the corner with Sophienstraße. Lots of dark wood and cozy corners, the Sophie'nEck serves good German cuisine in a very relaxed atmosphere. Especially good for this occasionally homesick expat are the pints of Murphy's on offer behind the bar.

Also on Große Hamburger Straße is the Mudd Club, run by one of the guys behind the legendary club of the same name in New York. There are various different nights on, as well as live concerts, but the best of the bunch are probably the Balkan Beats events, dance floor pounding to souped-up sounds of South Eastern Europe, often becoming one of those nights where you find yourself well into the next day when you finally emerge from the Mudd Club basement.

What else? There's a Catholic hospital, a shop selling wooden toys, a couple of good falafal places at the Oranienburger Straße end of the street, and an American diner. Quite a lot for one small street.

Große Hamburger Straße on the map: Berlin Stadtplan

Monday, November 28, 2005

News: World Cup Tickets and Bundesliga Review

Ever since the ticket process for the World Cup started it has been a farce. First of all they made a load of tickets available for games where the two teams are not even known, which are of course, non-transferable.

The reason for this was probably to ensure Beckenbauer's wish that lots of Germans get tickets, as someone in Leipzig (for example) is more likely to apply for tickets for the games there regardless of who plays than people outside of Germany. This is probably (just about) fair enough as they are the hosts after all, but still. Then there was the fact that your payment options included transfer from a German bank account or Mastercard. And what if you had a Visa or American Express? Tough. Mastercard are the sponsors after all, and maybe this would increase the take-up of its credit card.

So the first round of tickets was weighed heavily in the favour of the locals and the sponsors, but FIFA have managed to surpass themselves with the next round of ticket sames. According to an article on the Deutsche Welle website, to apply for tickets in the next draw (which started on November 2nd), fans have to pay a booking fee of €5 which is, get this, non-refundable even if your ticket application is unsuccessful.

Which makes it an entry-fee for the ticket lottery, and not a booking fee at all, and coming from FIFA, one of the richest sporting organisations in the world it is, to put it mildly, taking the piss.

It seems completely ridiculous to me that so many tickets have been told before the draw for the competition is made (aside from anything else it guarantees a black market explosion), but on top of that the way the ticket sales have been organised have been nothing short of scandalous. They know fans are desperate for tickets and so they can treat them in a way no other business would dare treat its customers. The World Cup is only every four years, and the next one in Europe probably will not be until well into the 2010's, so they can probably get away with it.

The European Union is probe, probe, probing away, which will probably come to nothing, but might force a re-think for the ticket systems for future FIFA or UEFA competitions.

The Deutsche Welle Article: EU Probes World Cup Ticket Fees.

Meanwhile in the Bundesliga...

Bayern win again as they continue towards their goal of having the championship wrapped up by the winter break. Defeat for Werder Bremen versus Schalke allowed Hamburg to squeeze into second place, six points behind the champions. Local heroes Hertha drew, which leaves them fifth, one point inside the European places.

Round-up from Deutsche Welle: And then there was one....
Results and the Bundesliga Table: Kicker.de

Guide: Elsewhere - Meissen

As part of the Berlin Review ethos of Monday to Friday blogging, because "weekends are for living", we left the lap-top behind this weekend for a couple of days in Meissen, and decided this would be a good place to start the Berlin Review Guide to Elsewhere...

Meissen: Distance from the Hauptstadt= 180km

If the big city life gets a little to much, and you want a town small enough to wander in a day, that has a nice 'German' feel, a big castle on a hill, and is not in Bavaria (so reachable in a couple of hours), then you could do much worse than Meissen. A medieval market town about 20km north of Dresden in Saxony, Meissen is a charming place. Sitting next to the Elbe, with the historic old town climbing the side of a hill to the castle perched on top, it is a collection of narrow, cobbled streets, houses with red-slate roofs, and cosy pubs and restaurants where you can attempt to get your mouth around the Saxon accent and cuisine.

Meissen is famous for a couple of things. In 1709 an alchemist by the name of Johann Friedrich Böttger was trying to find a way to make gold...and in the process he discovered how to make Porcelain. His boss, August the Strong (Saxon elector to the Holy Roman Empire, history fans) set up the Meissen Porcelain Manufacture, and it has become one of the most prized, and therefore expensive, porcelains you can buy anywhere in world. I saw one dinner service set, dating back to 1910, that would set you back a cool €21,000 if you want all 30 pieces. No wonder the locals call it 'white gold'.

Other things Meissen is famous for: a puffy baked good, that is basically dough inflated. Hollow, it doesn't taste of much, but is a locaspecialtyty that they are somehow proud of. This came about because August the Strong (him again), suspicious that one of his couriers was enjoying the local wine a little too much, ordered his baker to create something extremely fragile. The courier then had to deliver the messages whilst keeping this Fummel intact, to prove his sobriety.

Some decidedly more tasty local specialities, include the Meissen wine, from vineyards around the town, and various Saxon dishes, which at this time of year included a lot of game (wild boar, venison), which we tried at the oldest Inn in town, the Domkeller by the castle and the cathedral, that dates back to the 15th Century.

About two hours drive from Berlin, Meissen is close enough and small enough for a day trip from the capital to be justified, and being only half an hour from Dresden it can be combined easily with the larger city as part of a Saxon long weekend. We had a great time, just wandering the streets, stopping in cosy pubs and restaurants to eat and drink, checking out the views from the castle...there wasn't all that much to do (although we could have gone to the Porcelain factory) but it wasn't that kind of town...a place for strolling, eating and drinking. It's not rock and roll, but nevertheless, I liked it.

Useful Info

We drove in a hire car, but you can take the train. Meissen is on the Leipzig-Dresden railway line, so you'll have to change if you are coming from Berlin. You can find some more information on the whole deal with the porcelain from the website of the Staatliche Porzellan Manufaktur itself, and about the city in English at Meissen Online.