Monday, July 14, 2014

Deutschland: Part I - Berlin

After a long hiatus, the blog is back in action! This post, and the two following, will be about my recent trip to Germany with my lovely girlfriend, Andrea. Here she is jumping on a trampoline built into the sidewalk in Berlin:

This trip was purely a vacation to celebrate finishing my PhD.  I started planning a trip over seas with my New Year's resolution in 2013, where I decided that I would play as many paying music gigs as possible, and put all the money into a travel fund. Originally I planned to go to South America by myself, but instead I decided to visit my old buddy, Geoff, who is stationed at a US Army base in Western Germany, near Frankfurt. Geoff used to play saxophone with me in a band called "The Nu Classics" a few years ago. Now he plays music for the Army, which is a pretty sweet job! I've been to Germany once before, when I was 14, but it was a very short visit that I barely remember. So, this seemed like a good opportunity to really explore the country with someone who already knew a good deal about what it had to offer. If you don't know Geoff, he is the bald, lanky guy in the middle of this photo at the Frankfurt airport:

For the first few days we explored the area around Frankfurt where Geoff lives. The highlight here was all the castles. It's amazing how castles dot the landscape.  They are so ubiquitous that the locals don't seem to think they are special at all. The ones we saw were pretty impressive structures, and they had some really interesting stories of sieges and whatnot.

Thanks to Geoff's friend who loaned me a solid keyboard setup, I was able to have a sick jam session with Geoff and a drummer friend of his named Dan. My fingers were way out of shape, but it was fun to play all the old tunes.

Luckily, Geoff has a truck (and his gasoline is subsidized by the US government) so we decided to drive on the Autobahn to Dresden and Berlin instead of taking a train. I always imagined the Autobahn to be a place where cars are constantly zooming around at over 100mph, but in reality most of the time the traffic is terrible and you can barely get up to 60mph! There was also a lot of construction on our route, which made the trip much longer than we had anticipated. There were a few stretches where we got our speed up, and I even drove 100mph legally! The crazy thing about going fast on the Autobahn is that there is always someone going much faster. While we were doing a steady 90mph, there would be people passing us going over 110mph! 

We got to the hostel in Dresden around 2am. The next day we walked around the touristy parts of dresden to check out the major sites. Overall, Dresden is a really cool city, with lots of stuff to see. One of the highlights for me was the Museum of Mathematics and Physics, which mainly housed antique instruments used for measuring stuff. There were a lot of really old telescopes, and huge mirrors used for burning stuff. There were also a good amount of meteorological instruments, which are near and dear to me. Below is a picture of the oldest thermometer in the world. It used the expansion and contraction of long metal rods to estimate temperature, but also used a weird unit, called a "Delisle". This Delisle ran backwards so that water freezes at 150 degrees and boils at 0 degrees. I recently heard an interesting and related Radiolab podcast on the history of units of measurements, specifically the kilogram. You can find the podcast at

Later that day we headed to Berlin, which turned out to be a relatively short drive. There are so many things to see and do in Berlin, I feel that we just barely scratched the surface. We saw lots of fancy buildings, like the royal palace here:

We also saw lots of cool looking, Greek/Roman style structures, like the Brandenburg Gate:

There were also numerous cathedrals, like everywhere in Europe. Most of them had impressive pipe organs. I'm a huge fan of jazz organ, which uses a "tonewheel" system for generating the sound that is a whole different animal from a pipe organ. Personally, I've never played a pipe organ, and don't have much desire too. However, I do like checking out what crazy structures people come up with when they build these things.

 We also got a chance to hang out with a friend of mine, Alistair. We met at a jazz club for a bit and then ended up at the bar in the hostel we were staying and had some bear fights! If you don't know what a bear fight is, you can read about it here: Unfortunately the bartender totally screwed it up and just mixed everything together.

One of the most interesting things we saw were the sections of the Berlin wall that are still standing. Here's one section that reproduces what it looked like when it was actively guarded:

There is so much interesting history associated with the wall that I was completely unaware of. There were several other sections of the wall that had some really interesting graffiti.

 After seeing all the sights in Berlin and watching a few exciting world cup games, we said farewell to Geoff and boarded a night train heading South to Munich. We booked a "couchette", which gets you a little room with 6 bunks. The ride took about 7 hours and left at 11pm, so it was a good way to save some money and get the traveling done while you sleep. However, we also learned that this approach comes with some risks, such as getting a bunkmate with serious body odor. Overall, it was good experience and surprisingly comfortable.


  1. Nice post, thanks! Can't wait for #2. I went back and read some of your earlier posts, and really enjoyed them. You have had some great adventures!

  2. Oh, p.s., this is your aunt Cindy (the previous comment).