Archives for the month of: April, 2012


May Day in Berlin has a darker side – the annual May Day riots in Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. The usually peaceful May Day street parties and concerts tend to give way to car-burning and stone-throwing as the day turns into night. Following a tradition that goes back decades, the May Day holiday has been marked by violence since 1987. Consequently, the Berlin police are bracing themselves for violence as several groups, including trade unions, far-left parties, and neo-Nazis will be taking part in street demonstrations.

I will be in my apartment observing all the activities from the safety of the balcony. However, for those of you that will miss all the May Day activities, there is a tour of Kreuzberg’s riot hot spots conducted in English by an American anti-capitalist activist. See the video. 

May Day (aka “International Workers of the World Day”) falls on Tuesday making it a four day weekend for most Europeans. I had a conversation with a woman this morning who said that 99% of Berlin’s hotels are full, and that Berlin expects an estimated 1.5 million tourists this weekend (Berlin has a population of 3.5 million)! 

Over the past few years, Berlin has become a hot tourist destination. This rapid increase in tourism, and the negatives it brings, has made some locals angry, especially in Kreuzberg, which has become a tourism mecca. You see “Berlin Doesn’t Love You” signs everywhere. 

Personally, I like tourists. They add a festive element to the city; and for the most part, they’re respectful and law abiding. Nevertheless, tourism does have its drawbacks, including an increase in crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and, of course, litter. After the holiday is over, there will be trash, broken beer bottles, cigarette butts, and discarded pizza cartons scattered everywhere. It makes riding a bicycle dangerous.

May Day (aka “International Workers of the World Day”) falls on Tuesday making it a four day weekend for most Europeans. I had a conversation with a woman this morning who said that 99% of Berlin’s hotels are full, and that Berlin expects an estimated 1.5 million tourists this weekend (Berlin has a population of 3.5 million)! 

Over the past few years, Berlin has become a hot tourist destination. This rapid increase in tourism, and the negatives it brings, has made some locals angry, especially in Kreuzberg, which has become a tourism mecca. You see “Berlin Doesn’t Love You” signs everywhere. 

Personally, I like tourists. They add a festive element to the city; and for the most part, they’re respectful and law abiding. Nevertheless, tourism does have its drawbacks, including an increase in crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and, of course, litter. After the holiday is over, there will be trash, broken beer bottles, cigarette butts, and discarded pizza cartons scattered everywhere. It makes riding a bicycle dangerous.

Relax at Schleusenkrug

It feels like summer in Berlin. And all this warm weather can only mean one thing-beer. My favorite beer garden in Berlin is the Zenner in Treptower Park. Located on a river, the Zenner is off the beaten path for most tourists, but it’s always great fun, especially on Saturday afternoons, when it hosts a “Schlager Party” (cheesy German pop/folk music). The people at the Zenner are ultra friendly, and after a few beers and dancing, even the most depressed person is cheered up. 

In addition to the Zenner, there are two other very popular beer gardens in Berlin that are worth a visit. Although not as entertaining as the Zenner, the Schleusenkrug and Cafe am Neuen See  definitely have their pluses. Both are located in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s version of NYC’s Central Park, and both have excellent subway and bus connections.


Cafe am Neuen See

Cafe am Neuen See is the more picturesque of the two. It overlooks a small lake with plenty of trees for shade. It’s usually packed on the weekends, making for a festive and friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, there’s no music and the throngs of tourists may discourage people from visiting. 


Schleusenkrug, on the other hand, may not be as scenic as Cafe am Neuen See, but the place is more relaxed with a healthy mix of tourists and locals. The food is quite good, and its moderate size makes for more intimate conversations. So on a warm day, take a stroll to a beer garden and do what most Berliners do-drink beer. 
Relax at Schleusenkrug

It feels like summer in Berlin. And all this warm weather can only mean one thing-beer. My favorite beer garden in Berlin is the Zenner in Treptower Park. Located on a river, the Zenner is off the beaten path for most tourists, but it’s always great fun, especially on Saturday afternoons, when it hosts a “Schlager Party” (cheesy German pop/folk music). The people at the Zenner are ultra friendly, and after a few beers and dancing, even the most depressed person is cheered up. 

In addition to the Zenner, there are two other very popular beer gardens in Berlin that are worth a visit. Although not as entertaining as the Zenner, the Schleusenkrug and Cafe am Neuen See  definitely have their pluses. Both are located in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s version of NYC’s Central Park, and both have excellent subway and bus connections.


Cafe am Neuen See

Cafe am Neuen See is the more picturesque of the two. It overlooks a small lake with plenty of trees for shade. It’s usually packed on the weekends, making for a festive and friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, there’s no music and the throngs of tourists may discourage people from visiting. 


Schleusenkrug, on the other hand, may not be as scenic as Cafe am Neuen See, but the place is more relaxed with a healthy mix of tourists and locals. The food is quite good, and its moderate size makes for more intimate conversations. So on a warm day, take a stroll to a beer garden and do what most Berliners do-drink beer. 
The Entrance to a Temporary Exhibition
is Guarded by Game Hero’s

Although computer games aren’t my thing, I couldn’t resist visiting Berlin’s Computer Game Museum (Computer Spiele Museum). A short walk from my apartment and easily accessible by subway, the Museum has over 300 exhibits and is very interactive.

From Pong to the Sims, the Museum traces the history and development of computer games, and shows how computer games have revolutionized society and technology. Computer games are probably the most innovative art form of the 20th century, and now there is a Museum devoted exclusively to them.   

Portrait of
William Ralph “Will” Wright
“Father of the Sims”

Located on Karl-Marx-Allee, the East German socialist boulevard with its wedding-cake style buildings, the Museum seems out of place amid the old Stalinist architecture. Nevertheless, the day I visited, the Museum was full of enthusiastic visitors.

The Entrance to a Temporary Exhibition
is Guarded by Game Hero’s

Although computer games aren’t my thing, I couldn’t resist visiting Berlin’s Computer Game Museum (Computer Spiele Museum). A short walk from my apartment and easily accessible by subway, the Museum has over 300 exhibits and is very interactive.

From Pong to the Sims, the Museum traces the history and development of computer games, and shows how computer games have revolutionized society and technology. Computer games are probably the most innovative art form of the 20th century, and now there is a Museum devoted exclusively to them.   

Portrait of
William Ralph “Will” Wright
“Father of the Sims”

Located on Karl-Marx-Allee, the East German socialist boulevard with its wedding-cake style buildings, the Museum seems out of place amid the old Stalinist architecture. Nevertheless, the day I visited, the Museum was full of enthusiastic visitors.

On the Street Where I Live!

After a long absence, I’m back in Berlin; and as usual, gentrification continues on in Friedrichshain. Just a few years ago, the derelict buildings, graffiti, and homeless people dominated the streets. Today, there are upscale restaurants, posh cafes, trendy shops, and plenty of women pushing baby strollers. Hard to believe that Friedrichshain is now hip; and I live there, the most un-hip person around. 

Even the neighborhood subway station (S-Bahn, Warschauer Straße) is undergoing a change. The station hasn’t been renovated since shortly after the Second World War. At last, there will be an elevator, making it easier to carry luggage out of the station. Hallelujah! 

One new addition to the food scene is a small no frills restaurant with the catchy name, No Hablo Espanol. It specializes in burritos made in the “San Francisco Style” (I’m not sure what that means, but it did entice me to try a burrito.)

The burritos at this restaurant aren’t traditional, but what they lack in authenticity, they make up for in taste. I tried the Indian burrito, made with tofu (chicken is also available) in an Indian curry sauce. The burrito was delicious and inventive, combining Mexican and Indian cuisine in one dish! I will definitely try this place again. 

No Hablo Espanol has been open since February. They have limited seating but takeaway is always an option. Vegan burritos are also available. No Hablo Espanol is located at Kopernikusstr. 22 – 10245 Berlin.

On the Street Where I Live!

After a long absence, I’m back in Berlin; and as usual, gentrification continues on in Friedrichshain. Just a few years ago, the derelict buildings, graffiti, and homeless people dominated the streets. Today, there are upscale restaurants, posh cafes, trendy shops, and plenty of women pushing baby strollers. Hard to believe that Friedrichshain is now hip; and I live there, the most un-hip person around. 

Even the neighborhood subway station (S-Bahn, Warschauer Straße) is undergoing a change. The station hasn’t been renovated since shortly after the Second World War. At last, there will be an elevator, making it easier to carry luggage out of the station. Hallelujah! 

One new addition to the food scene is a small no frills restaurant with the catchy name, No Hablo Espanol. It specializes in burritos made in the “San Francisco Style” (I’m not sure what that means, but it did entice me to try a burrito.)

The burritos at this restaurant aren’t traditional, but what they lack in authenticity, they make up for in taste. I tried the Indian burrito, made with tofu (chicken is also available) in an Indian curry sauce. The burrito was delicious and inventive, combining Mexican and Indian cuisine in one dish! I will definitely try this place again. 

No Hablo Espanol has been open since February. They have limited seating but takeaway is always an option. Vegan burritos are also available. No Hablo Espanol is located at Kopernikusstr. 22 – 10245 Berlin.

Money has always played a significant role in politics. But today, money seems to weld an even greater influence in its ability to influence our political process. As the old song goes, “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time.”

During this primary season, we’ve seen the Republican candidates spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns, much of it negative and funded for the most part by super-PACS. l can’t help but think what worthwhile uses this money could have been used for instead.

As a result of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (U.S. 2010), political spending had been found to be a form of speech protected under the First Amendment. As such, the government cannot prevent corporations, unions, or individuals from spending unlimited amounts of money to support or denounce a political candidate through advertising. Let’s not be naive, giving money to a campaign means buying influence. Moreover, the donors of this money can remain anonymous. 

The Citizens United case has effectively eviscerated our campaign finance law. The decision has enabled our political system to be corrupted by the influence of BIG money. We are now beginning to see how overturning a century of campaign finance law is distorting the electoral process. Rather than acting truly independent of campaigns, as the majority of Supreme Court Justices envisioned, these entities (super-PACS) act exclusively on behalf of individual candidates – and are typically run by former aides. For example, the super-PAC, Restore Our Future, was founded by Mitt Romney aides in 2010. The group’s treasurer is the former general counsel of the Romney 2008 Presidential Campaign. Restore Our Future has reportedly raised over $12 million in the first half of 2011 alone, much of that money going to negative advertising. Does anyone truly believe this is an independent group?

Rather than encouraging the universal right of free speech, the Supreme Court’s decision has had the effect of providing a megaphone for the rich and powerful to drown out all other voices. Is this the political process we want for our country?