I just got back from my week long trip to Berlin where I attended the
International Conference on Network Protocols. Wow. What a great
trip! (Pictures will be forthcoming at a later time)
The conference itself was pretty good. I confess I had difficulty
staying awake during presentations in the afternoon; a 9-hour time
zone shift is tough to adapt to! I got to meet several other
researchers in my field and developed a better sense of the research
culture, community, and what sorts of papers get accepted. That was
the main purpose of the trip anyway, so that’s good.
Conference aside, Berlin rocks! What a beautiful city! I could
definitely spend more time there; I could even see myself living there
for a time, though I don’t that is likely to ever happen.
Berlin is interesting because it has so much recent history packed
into one place. World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II, and
the Cold War. It’s a tumultuous history.
I visited the Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament. At the
end of World War I, the creation of the first German republic was
proclaimed from its balconies. Some years later, the Reichstag was
burned. Hitler blamed the fire on the leaders of Communist Party,
causing them a major defeat in the next election. Hitler and the
Nazis then had a large enough majority to simply suspend human rights
and plunge Germany back into a dictatorship. The Reichstag was not
restored until after the Cold War ended.
I also visited the Brandenburg Gate, a grand arch originally built
long ago when Berlin was a walled city and a handful of gates were in
place as points to enforce taxes on imports and exports. The gate is
now the symbolic entrance to Berlin. Napoleon marched through the
gate when he conquered Berlin, and brought the statue atop the gate
back to Paris as a symbol of his victory. The statue was returned
after the fall of Napoleon.
The Nazis used the gate as a symbol of their power, acting as the
starting point of parades. After World War II, the gate was
incorporated into the Berlin Wall and became a prominent symbol of the
Cold War. West Berlin was a small pocket of democracy completely
surrounded by East Germany, the Berlin Wall the most physical
manifestation of the Iron Curtain, and the Brandenburg Gate sat at the
center of it all. President Kennedy stood before the Wall and gave
his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech (worth reading).
President Reagan stood before Brandenburg Gate and said
“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!”
In 1989, after essentially 40 years of being surrounded by a hostile
power, the Berlin Wall finally toppled, the Brandenburg Gate
opened, and East and West began to reunite.
Berlin is a beautiful city. Wow.
They have spent a lot of time in the past 15 years rebuilding and
restoring Berlin. So many of the buildings are new, and the
architecture is beautiful.
I noticed several interesting things about the people. For one, I
didn’t encounter any panhandlers, and I used the subway to get around.
This felt a little odd to me in a city of more than 3 million people
when I see people on the corners looking for money here in Eugene all
Everyone seemed to speak at least some English. On a number of
occasions strangers would say something incomprehensible to me, notice
my expression, then say “English? I was wondering if you happened to
have a cigarette that I could have”. I am envious of their
multilingual ability and the education system that creates it.
I have always heard that Americans are more overweight than Europeans,
and this was very apparent to me on this trip. I think I could count
the number of overweight Germans I saw who were under the age of 40 on
one hand. They also dress better, with more style and class than the
Speaking of dress, Berlin has a phenomenal number of clothing stores.
Most of them cater to women, so this was not so interesting for me
personally, but I kept thinking that if I were a woman with an
unlimited clothing budget, Berlin is definitely where I’d want to go.
There also seemed to be a disproportionate number of lingerie stores.
I’m not sure what that means. Germans really like lingerie? Based on
the window displays, even their lingerie is more stylish and classy
than typical American fair.
And there is some other difference that’s hard for me to pin down.
When I got back to the States, and I looked at the people riding the
bus, I felt like there was something missing in most of them, some
light in their eyes, some greater awareness of the world, some sense
of intellectualism. Perhaps it is just a cynical imagination, but I
am not sure…