My Trip to Berlin

I spent the days between Christmas and the New Year in Berlin. The weather was horrible, so I stayed indoors most of the time. That gave me ample opportunity to play with the new camera I got for Christmas in an environment with which I’m as yet totally unfamiliar.

U-Bahnhof Wittenbergplatz
Who would have thought London Transport would have a station in Berlin.
Haus des Lehrers
Haus des Lehrers (Teacher's House) in Berlin, Alexanderplatz. A good example of GDR post-war architecture, the house was built as a replacement for the earlier Lehrervereinshaus.

Hello, Mr Crab.
Can you see it?
Are you watching me?
Just because I look like a leaf doesn't mean I have no feelings!


Vienna by Night, part two

Vienna Opera House (Detail)
Vienna Opera House (Detail)
The Michaelertor is the "backdoor" of the Hofburg, the former residence of the emperor.
The Michaelertor is the "backdoor" of the Hofburg, the former residence of the emperor.
The Michaelertor is accompanied by two fountains. This is the one nearer Augustinerstraße.
The Michaelertor is accompanied by two fountains. This is the one nearer Augustinerstraße.
The Looshaus, constructed in 1909 by architect Adolf Loos, is one of the beacons of the Wiener Moderne, or Viennese Modern Age.
The Looshaus, constructed in 1909 by architect Adolf Loos, is one of the beacons of the Wiener Moderne, or Viennese Modern Age.


Vienna by night, part one

Now that it is getting dark earlier and earlier, I figured I could shoot a few pictures of Vienna by night. I plan to do a few more of these sessions, especially because I love this light and the wonderful contrasts. And it’s an additional benefit that, with an exposure of several seconds, you cannot see people walking through the picture.

Zanoni - Arguably Vienna's second best ice cream parlour. Open all year, and they do really speak Italian.
Lugeck. The statue is Emperor Friedrich III, the one who still baffles the nation with his unexplained acronym AEIOU.
Jesuit Church
The two towers of the Jesuit Church from behind. If I've got it right, the bright star in between is the planet Jupiter.
Old University
The same church, front view. It
Schönlaterngasse, where they had a basilisk in 1212.
In my opinion, the Haas-Haus, facing Stephansdom, is grossly underappreciated. This picture shows the Haas-Haus from a rather unusual angle.
The Ankeruhr has its name from the insurance company (Anker, now Helvetica) whose building it belongs to. Every hour it shows a different historical character. The person shown is Johann Andreas von Liebenberg. He was mayor of Vienna and died during the 1683 Battle of Vienna. By the way, it's 8:38.

This Kind of Slacktivism Is Addictive

Following a half-hearted recommendation by Stephen Fry I started to play today. It’s one of the more compelling ideas I have seen lately, largely because it’s so simple: Play a quiz. For every answer you get right, 10 grains of rice will be donated through the UN World Food Program. Easy, if not very much. The whole thing is funded through advertising on the site, which seems to be lacking totally.

The site has been around since 2007, so don’t expect any to turn up soon.

Now, how much are 10 grains of rice? I’ve counted somewhat around 315 grains of rice in one teaspoon. To get to 100g, I needed sixteen of those teaspoons. I did my math and found out that you needed some 25,000 grains of rice to feed a person for a day. So, don’t expect that your making a big difference. Still, a small difference is way better than nothing.

And it’s entertaining. You can choose from a number of subjects; arts, chemistry, geograph, math. And several languages. My favourite is the English Vocabulary quiz. I soon found out how much I have yet to learn. It’s no so much the words of Latin or French origin. We have a lot of those in German, and mostly they mean the same. No, what really gets to me is the high number of rarely used or colloquial English words you just don’t learn in school.

And it’s educational value is raised by the fact that you are presented those questions you answered wrong again a little later. So, even though I’m aware it’s no more that slacktivism, I’m going to continue playing.

Summer in Vienna, part three

The Viennese are world-renowned for their sort of macabre disposition. My siblings and I felt very Viennese last wekend, so we decided to visit the Kapuzinergruft (Imperial Crypt), where most members of the Habsburg family are buried. Well, not exactly buried, really. More like exhibited.

Kapuzinergruft Pietà
Why this Pietà near the entrance is crushing the heads of babies is beyond me.
Emperor Franz I Stephan and Empress Maria Theresia
Emperor Franz I Stephan and Empress Maria Theresia
Another detail of the sarcophagus of Emperor Franz I Stephan and Empress Maria Theresia. Gives the word "stick figure" a whole new meaning.
Karl VI
This skull wearing the crown of the Holy Roman Empire is mounted on the sarcophagus of Emperor Karl VI. Note how a few teeth are missing. Creepy.

Summer in Vienna, part two

The Riesenrad is a wonderful example for 19th century engineering. People sometimes compare it unfavorably to the London Eye, which is twice its height. But think of it this way: It's only a few years younger than the Eiffel Tower, and it moves.
Schönbrunn Front
In front of Schloss Schönbrunn. I was not allowed to take photos inside the castle, even after I paid half a king's ransom in admission.
I just stood there and thought how I envied that najad.
Roman Ruin
The so-called Roman Ruin isn't actually Roman. It was built in the 18th century.
Schönbrunn Back
Ugh! A baroque garden. What a cruel way to treat mother nature!
The parks behind the castle are quite extensive, and beautiful, once you get past the baroque rosebeds and trees aligned with military precision.

Summer in Vienna

A few pictures I made today on a walk through the city.

Living Sculpture: Driving in Bronze
Living Sculpture: Driving Bronze
Living Sculpture: Dancing Silver
Living Sculpture: Dancing Silver
Living Sculpture: Empty Gold
Living Sculpture: Empty Gold

The hailstorm a couple days ago killed a few trees.
Burggarten: The hailstorm a couple days ago killed a few trees.
Burggarten: Emperor Franz I.
Burggarten: Emperor Franz I.
So close, and yet so far away.
So close, and yet so far away.

Your 2 cents: The price of living in the public eye

Advocates of civil liberties throughout the world lament the loss of privacy. Orwell’s 1984, they say, is just around the corner. And, of course, they are right. “Business Intelligence” is one of the current buzzwords in the corporate world. Associations with 007 come to mind. Do large corporations have the licence to kill? If not physically, at least the average citizen’s reputation and creditability?

Many critics go one step further: With the success of social networks, we ourselves are cooperating in exposing ourselves to the public more and more. The more personal data we present on the web, the more is known about us. And again, they are right. We have already seen a number of ugly incidents. In England, the police recently sent a helicopter to end a barbecue birthday party which was announced via facebook using the words “all night”. This appears to be a code word for a rave in certain circles.

In Austria, people get accused of organised crime because they show sympathies for animal-rights activists.

In both cases, people unwittingy became suspects because officials traced their online activites and linked the data to, otherwise unrelated, prior findings.

So shouldn’t we share opinions with the public? Should we jealously guard every bit of information about us? Even lie whenever possible?

Sure, there are moments when it’s not a good idea to divulge data. Data are a commodity, they have a price. I personally am very reluctant to register for any online service if I cannot be reasonably sure that the benefit I get from the service is worth the data I share with the provider. For the same reason, I haven’t got a single customer account card from any store. I’m just not willing to sell the information about my buying habits for the mere pennies that are usually offered. And, of course, people are right to be careful where there is a risk of phishing and similar activities.

And, yes, I have an email address that I reserve exclusively for friends and family, which has never been published on the web and which is therefore still spam free.

And yet, I’m not convinced this can be a winning strategy in all situations.

Firstly, there’s no way anyone can lead a modern life and stay completely below the radar. Whenever we do anything on the web, we leave a trail that can be traced by someone. Given that people tend to make up all kinds of ideas when they feel the need to fill in the blanks, this will almost inevitably lead to even more suspicion and misled accusations. If said people happen to be government officials, we have the recipe for Orwellian scenarios like the two mentioned above. Isn’t it better to communicate actively and openly than to constantly keep each other under surveillance?

Secondly, a democratic society needs the participation of the many, not merely to avoid the dominance of a few, but also because diversity among the participants ensures the quality of the discourse. (Read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki for a perspicuous argument.) It’s not important that you have to say a lot, or whether your ideas are the best, or how brilliantly you argue. What counts is being part of the game,  throwing in your two cents. There’s simply no excuse for the silent majority to be silent anymore.

Thirdly, if there is inevitably a public image of you available, why not take active responsibility for that image? Since you are living in the public eye anyway, you need a spokesperson.

Of course, playing that role takes some skill. That’s why companies and celebrities usually have a specialist for that job. Chances are high that you and I cannot afford to hire someone. That makes ourselves the most likely candidates for the job, a job which starts today. As always, we can only acquire the necessary skills by doing it. From where I stand, getting in touch with the people out there, writing down our thoughts on things looks like a good first step. So that’s what I am doing.