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November 7th, 2018

2018 travel, continued: Berlin, part I @ 08:23 pm

Since I'm going to be going to NYC in three weeks, I suppose I should write up the Amsterdam->Berlin travel stuff.

Managed to have just enough cash on my OV-chipkaart to get to AMS Centraal, although I was worried that I was going to be cutting it a bit close. (The DB train was 10-15m late in departing; in retrospect, I should have gotten better food at one of the little shops in the station. The restaurant car was a joke, sadly.) The train to Berlin was pleasant and pretty quiet, although the PA system did warn about pickpockets a few times. And lo, I arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, to encounter my first challenge: the BVG (Berlin-Brandenberg Public Transit) ticket machine! Yes, it had English - but it's not obvious which tickets are for what, and it refused to take my US credit card (with chip). Thus started my experience with the German love of cash over plastic.

I got to my East German-themed hotel, the Ostel Hostel Berlin in Friedrichshain (where Lenin greeted me every morning) to find that they only take German credit cards, and could I please pay in cash? (I later found out that quite a few businesses in Berlin - and presumably elsewhere in Germany - are only set up to take debit cards from Maestro networks. I don't think I've seen an American ATM/debit card on Maestro in 20 years, so be prepared to bring cash if necessary.) This led me to the wonderful world of scummy ATMs: some of them offer to give you a special selected exchange rate instead of worrying about what your bank will give you; this was almost always about 10% worse than what my credit union pegged the USD/EUR rate at. So, yeah, always withdraw directly in euros.

The choice of hotel (selected on a whim by a pal on Facebook casually mentioning it) was actually pretty fortuitous: they only did housekeeping when you specifically requested it, it was all of 150m from Ostbanhof, there was a grocery store 50m away, and it's extremely convenient to central Friedrichshain. The area reminded me a lot of 1990s San Francisco: lots of murals and graffiti and street art everywhere, punks of all ages (including those my age!), funky little shops and bars and restaurants, tons of nightclubs, and fairly cheap rent. There's a former railroad workyard, RAW, that has a ton of little tiny galleries, a water tower converted to a climbing gym, and art as far as the eye can see. I'm told that it's getting gentrified pretty quickly, though, so I don't know how long it'll last - but it was an immensely refreshing sight. Alexanderplatz was nearby, too, and had some decent shopping and is close to Museum Island.

There's the Topography of Terror and "Remains of the Berlin Wall" in Kreuzberg; the ToT chronicles Hitler's rise to power in a methodical, structured way, and the remains have crumbling bits of walls, buffeted by black and white photos expressing the gravitas of the whole situation. But - they both seemed pretty removed from reality, not like they were actual artifacts that people dealt with. The East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain, on the other hand, has a continuous stretch of The Wall where it stood - maybe a kilometer long - decorated by various artists with their takes on the Wall, Berlin, and unification. I found it infinitely more compelling and personal than the coldly pristine and graffiti-free sections at the ToT.

It turns out I spent most of my time in the former East Berlin; I also stayed in Charlottenberg, which was nice enough, I suppose - but didn't have the sense of vitality or urgency that East Berlin had. This isn't to say that there aren't pleasant, quiet parts of East Berlin; up by the Stasi museum is pretty and unhurried, for instance. It still had a difference in atmosphere, though I can't say quite what the difference was.

Speaking of the Stasi museum - if you've read up on the history of the Stasi, you're not going to learn much of anything new. Seeing the 1970s office furnishings was interesting, but they didn't put much into context. The tour guide didn't note that the statues of Dzerzhinsky and Marx in the front office area had their plaques in Russian (although they did offhandedly mention that the Stasi was based on the Cheka), or how under the thumb of the KGB the Stasi was. They also didn't mention much of anything at all about the storming of the building, the destruction of documents, how much of the Stasi infrastructure was quietly absorbed by the FRG, etc. I think my tour guide might have been about 30 and raised in the DDR - but still seemed oddly ignorant of it all. On the other hand, if you go and tour the Stasi prison at Hohenschönhausen, they really know their stuff, and gave much better insights as to not just the mechanical workings of the Stasi, but why they did what they did. Unsettling, but well worth visiting.

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November 1st, 2018

(no subject) @ 04:08 pm

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Last night I dreamt that I was a blonde woman who was trying to get together with some sort of vaguely Norse demigod type person - and to help things along, I hired a "forensic accountant" who dressed entirely in black with his face in shadows and who only spoke in whispered short sentences. I was advise that the demigod needed to take the wooden sword from the display case - something which said demigod had wanted to do all along, but needed an excuse - while another demigod stood by and mused about how they were never able to grow that kind of wood on Earth for some reason.

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October 23rd, 2018

Thrifting in Amsterdam and Berlin @ 03:45 pm

I spent a lot of time going around to various thrift shops in A'dam and Berlin; here's what I found out. But first...

European sizing. Oh god, it's fucking awful. Some clothes are nice and have a listing of D/NL/IT/FR/UK/USA sizes; many do not. Some don't have tags at all. It's worse for women's clothing than for men's, but still pretty uniformly awful. I have no idea if the euro sizes have undergone the same inflationary measures that US sizes have, where 16 from 1970 is 10 or 12 now. Some tips for dealing with sizes and labels:

* get or bring a tailor's tape measure (in german: Schneider-Maßband); several of the Euroland (continental equivalent of dollar stores) or discount stores have them, but I wasn't able to find a retractable one anywhere.
* Bookmark/PDF/whatever a good conversion guide; I found this one to be the most helpful.
* baumwolle = cotton. Most of the other textiles are either easily guessable or almost the same as in English.

There aren't all that many out-and-out charity shops (e.g. Oxfam, Goodwill) that I saw anywhere; most of the businesses were commercial. The Oxfam stores in Berlin were rubbish. In both A'dam and Berlin, "clothes by the kilo" were much more common, had better selections, etc. Some of the flea markets/other open air markets had some decent stuff for really really cheap, but results were mixed at best.

Amsterdam:
* Waterlooplein open-air market had all sorts of interesting stuff, and is open during the week!
* Albert Cuypmarket had a bunch of cheap stuff, but it looked mostly like the same crap you get from China as anywhere else in the world.
* IJ-Hallen is a once or twice a month huge flea market type thing; it wasn't open when I was there, though.
* The "Episode" chain was mostly crap, IME. Overpriced, small, etc.
* Kiloshop was a very good 'clothes by the kilo' chain; the one near Waterlooplein was good, the one down by the Pijp was OK. But....
* If you're willing to go somewhat afield, there's a Kiloshop outlet by the Electric Tram Museum that's even cheaper than the rest and had a good selection. And furthermore, it's right by...
* Mevius, which was a giant thrift shop of... stuff. All sorts of random shit which changes a lot. When I was there: a lot of clothes, a bunch of housewares, random liquors (??), a gigantic box of leather pants for EUR5 each (!!), a bin full of booty shorts (!?), a huge rack of crappy tourist souvenir T-shirts for EUR5 each. It was cool to wander around in, if nothing else.
* And if you're going to the previous two, you may as well also go to the Butcher's Tears brewery nearby; great, reasonably priced beer, and a nice view of the tram yard. (You do have to go back and around, past the museum, and down Karperweg to get there, though - even though you can see it from the Kiloshop, you cahnt get theiya from heiya.)

Berlin:
* The Oxfam stores are crap, alas. Tiny and overpriced. The few items they had seemed nice enough, but also quite pedestrian.
* The Humana shops are generally pretty good; they seem to be roughly equivalent to Goodwill, in both the good and bad aspects. (I've seen some criticism that they pay their leaders too much, don't give back as much as they should, etc - almost exactly the same things as I've heard about Goodwill. Caveat lector.) The one at Frankfurter Tor is particularly good (and near Friedrichshain, an all too cool area), as is the one by Alexanderplatz. Some stores are tiny and meh, though.
* Picknweight seems to be the dominant per-kilo chain in Berlin, although I think they tend to be somewhat overpriced. Alexanderplatz has a cluster of three shops all pretty close to each other which are decent. The best one is south of Merhingdamm off of Bergmannstr.; not only is the regular per-kilo part large and pretty good, they also have fixed-price and bargain-basement sections in the back which are generally a *lot* cheaper than their regular inventory.
* The RAW Flohmarkt in Friedrichshain on Sundays is particularly good; not only is it just a cool area to wander around, but it's a lot of people selling their own stuff as opposed to a standard retinue of professional sellers. Good idea to brush up on your German if you're going to go there, though.

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October 19th, 2018

Vacation, part 1: Amsterdam @ 09:51 pm

I am coming the the end of my month-long vacation to Amsterdam and Berlin. I fly out tomorrow, and while I had sorta wanted to go out with a bang and drink and club the night away, I still have some shit I want to do tomorrow before my flight; so instead, with a whimper, I am eating salami, smoked cheese, and mustard sandwiches and drinking incredibly cheap beer in my hotel room and writing this.

Amsterdam was fun. It was my second time there, so I had a better idea of what to expect. More and more, it reminds me of a European version of Las Vegas, where loads of chavs and Europeans go to smoke pot and gawk at the hookers and generally make asses out of themselves. The vast majority of shops seem centered around the tourist trade, and I didn't meet anyone at all who didn't speak excellent English. (Still some interesting gaps; I asked what the 'turnover' was for businesses in the area, and that was a word that they hadn't encountered before.) I also got to meet up with my erstwhile coworker Peter and his wife, which was really quite nice; I hadn't seem them for at least five years. Didn't get to talk to them for nearly long enough.

I'm still trying to get to grips with the population distribution of Amsterdam - i.e. where do the native a'damers actually live? There were far more grocery stores than I expected around in such a small area, so I'd guess that more of them are living near the city center than you'd think - but the city only has a population of around 900k, about the same as SF. Some of the other larger cities - e.g. Haarlem - are only about half an hour away by train, so it forms part of a larger conurbation; I'd guess that the people who don't live in A'dam itself are those who don't want to, not those who can't.

Hotels in A'dam are usurious, even in the shoulder season (i.e. when it starts getting cold), but it looked like most other costs - transport, food, etc - weren't that bad. The food was OK, but I wouldn't call it a gourmet wonderland. Having easy access to Belgian beer for cheap was really quite nice, though.

Overall, the people seemed generally pretty nice, if a bit blunt; the big exception is when they got on their bicycles, where many of them turned into gigantic flaming assholes. I didn't get to chat to many native Dutch folk, but they were pretty warm once they got into the conversation and had more of a sense of who you were. (After a nice conversation about San Francisco, amongst other things, one of the shopowners said to come back for a coffee if I were in the area again.) I also got the impression that - again, like Vegas - very, very few people asked about what it was like to be in a so amazingly tourist-heavy area. One of the barkeeps said that many Dutch folk will initially speak to most waitstaff in English, as they don't expect that they'll necessarily be or speak Dutch.

So, overall, A'dam was nice; I liked Arendsnest for beer, the Van Gogh museum for Van Gogh, and the the Stedelijk museum for modern art. (I wouldn't bother with the Rijksmuseum unless you really, really like Golden Age Dutch portraiture or reaaaallly want to see Rembrandt's Night Watch in person.)

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October 7th, 2018

(no subject) @ 09:38 pm

I think I'm going to stop crossposting updates here; pretty much everybody I know that posts is on dreamwidth anyway.
 

September 23rd, 2018

(no subject) @ 11:26 am

I dreamt that there were vampires with various supernatural powers; one of them had the ability to cause spoken words to be exchanged with each other. In this case, they swapped 'tennis' and 'rabbit', so I could only say 'rabbit racket' or 'what a cute tennis'; I could still recognize what the correct word should have been, but it was intercepted at the subvocalization level and replaced. I thought this was really neat and told the vampire so, who was slightly taken aback and weirded out by my enthusiasm.

Also, my flight for AMS/BER leaves in twelve hours, and instead of packing I am farting around on the internet.

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September 11th, 2018

(no subject) @ 08:59 pm

Two weeks from now, I'll be in Amsterdam for a week and Berlin for three weeks. Any suggestions for what I should see or do while in either place? (I was definitely going to go back to the Van Gogh museum, but that's about the only definite plan I have thus far.)

I should write up a 'state of the moof' post, too; it's been a while.

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August 28th, 2018

(no subject) @ 01:24 pm

I was going to write about my concern over my Dad's behavior being increasingly worrying - and how his Asperger's is either getting far worse, is partially masking initial signs of dementia, or maybe both - but that's too depressing, so instead I'll talk about furries.

What if there were anthropoid, sentient four-toed sloths, and they were *really* into primates? What would they define as being the essence of ape-y-ness? What would be the edges of the uncanny valley for them? "The Naked Ape" is written from a human point of view, but what would be the quadrobradypodidal differences?

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August 6th, 2018

(no subject) @ 02:47 pm

I have now been without internet for six days. AT&T has been utterly fucking useless in terms of telling me what the actual issue is, what the estimated time to resolution is, issuing consistent trouble ticket numbers, and not living up to the Lily Tomlin quote, "We're the phone company. We don't care; we don't have to."

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July 9th, 2018

(no subject) @ 02:35 pm

I went out twice this weekend! Two days in a row! I think that's a new record since.... Japan, maybe? I probably did something in SF two days in a row, but I can't remember anything for sure. Unfortunately, both times were kind of lackluster; petting a cat just wandering around was probably the highlight of the weekend. Not only am I trying to get used to Chicago again, but the sorts of clubs and events and gatherings and whatnot I'm used to from Tokyo and SF either aren't here or are hiding more successfully than my searches have revealed. There seems to be a lack of weirdos around, or perhaps more accurately the culture surrounding weirdos; everything seems more mundane or homogenized. I suspect part of this is due to the rent being so damn high; despite empty storefronts everywhere, commercial rent continues to climb and those are shitty conditions for renting out a warehouse and just doing crazy shit.

I also realized that in wandering around that not only did I have anhedonia, where I don't really get a lot of enjoyment out of doing stuff, I also have a tremendous lack of satisfaction from doing many things - and that's probably one of the deeper causes of the former. Although the klonopin makes me sleepy as fuck, it's also been really helpful in making the emotional monkey in the back of my head clanging its cymbals nonstop to slow down or occasionally be quiet, making it easier to figure out wtf I'm actually feeling other than anxiety or panic.

The biggest problem I face is "What now?"; I feel like Buridan's ass. Small bits of gardening and enjoyment at seeing the fireflies at night ain't cutting it.

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