Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Germany has always had a special, complicated place for me--on so many levels; it remains a place that I respect and admire--on so many levels.

The three weeks that I spent traveling through Germany, from Cologne in the West on through Dresden in the East gave me an incredible perspective on past, present and future.

In visiting Cologne, Bonn, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Weimar, Leipzig and Dresden, I dabbled through the history and culture of this enigmatic land.

Through Goethe and Weimar Classicism, the Weimar Republic and Bauhaus, the rise of Nazi Germany and its monstrous ends, East and West Germany, and Germany's reunification.

Strangely, being in Germany after the American elections helped steel my resolve for the fight to come. I think I will forever be in debt to Germany in this regard. History has placed Germany as perhaps the last leading liberal light of the 21st century, something that is both rich in irony and yet apt on many levels.

In conclusion, I offer danke schön to the many wonderful Germans I met along the way, who did so much to make me sincerely appreciate your country. Auf wiedersehen!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Don Fidel

"[Castro] often told interviewers that he identified with Don Quixote, and like Quixote he struggled against threats both real and imagined, preparing for decades, for example, for another invasion that never came."
-Anthony DePalma, "Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary, who defied U.S., dies at 90"

Thursday, November 24, 2016


 In an old-fashioned Dutch restaurant with old blue and white tiles. Blue and white windmills on the wall. White canvas sails and blue seas. Mahogany and melted candles. Old fashioned glass lamps. A girl with a pearl earring smiles across from me.

A delicious plate of chicken shnitzel lies devoured in front of me. With not a trace left. Not a trace of the fries either. Just crumbs remain of the thick cut frittes, dipped in thick Dutch mayo. A large cold Heineken to wash it down.

Take your time, she said. I think I will.

A napkin white flag signals victory.

And the best admonishment on the wall: the best substitute for brains is silence.


Birkir hand-crafted Icelandic snaps (schnapps) made from Icelandic birch and birch sap. The birch is taken from the unspoiled Icelandic wilderness at the forest of Hallormsstőr in the East Fjords of Iceland.

“Our aim with Birkir is to capture the experience of a spring night in Iceland, the moment when, after the rain has cleared, the dew settles on the leaves of the birch trees on a wooded hillside.”

It tastes of syrup sap; of warmth; of earth.

There is a small twig in the bottle. I notice this as I chilling the Birkir in a two-cup contraption devised over ice to keep it chilled and neat.

Ok, I admit that I chewed the branch that was in the bottle. A toothpick soaking in sap liquor.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Le Penseur

I was early for a meeting so I was killing time wandering. I was lost in thoughts of 1984 and 1938. 

Only to find The Thinker, sitting pensively. I wondered what he would think about this world--how it would look to him. 

How random and how timely.

Into the canal

Golden Autumn leaves
falling on the wind,
Catching the sun's fading light
into the canal.


"Hail Trump" Let those words and those salutes sink in. 

Heil Herr Trump. 

But no, the Trump campaign doesn't speak out against this in force, only whines at Hamilton and Broadway. Something wicked this way comes....

Monday, November 21, 2016

Searching for a golem

-So what are you doing here in Prague?
-Actually, I am looking for the golem....
-What is a golem?
-It's a giant mound of clay, shaped into the form of a man and covered with special blessings that will bring it to life to serve as a guardian to those in danger. I need to find a golem to guard the Jewish community in Trump America, as well as to guard the Black, Latino, Muslim and LGBT communities--to help protect us from pogroms by the raging hordes of Trump supporters...
-I hope you find it.
-Me too.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

So it goes

One of the things that bothers me the most from this election is how quickly the Bibi government in Israel will sell-out American Jewry for a Trump administration that is both pro-Israel and anti-Semitic.

Welcome to Trump America

Written of over a century prior by Jack London in "The Iron Heel"

`This, then, is our answer. We have no words to waste on you. When you reach out your vaunted strong hands for our palaces and purpled ease, we will show you what strength is. In roar of shell and shrapnel and in whine of machine-guns will our answer be couched. We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces. The world is ours, we are its lords, and ours it shall remain. As for the host of labor, it has been in the dirt since history began, and I read history aright. And in the dirt it shall remain so long as I and mine and those that come after us have the power. There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power.'

The value of 1,000

A picture may indeed be worth a thousand words--but give me a thousand well-crafted, descriptive and evocative words, woven together to paint a picture and you have a far more beautiful scene.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Příští stanice: nostalgie

I set out early on a rainy morning--typical Czech weather, from Wencslas Square through the Old City.  I passed the Altneuschul in Josefov and looped my way past the Rudolfinum.  I crossed Charles Bridge with the ochre statues looking down in the rain, and the white swans swimming in the Vltava below.

I hiked up past Mala Strana, all the way up to our old stomping grounds in Pohořelec.  I passed Maly Buddha as well as the statues of Keppler and Brahe on my way back to Kolej Komenskeho.

The Czech security guard at the Kolej was as charming as I remembered, when I tried to explain that I just wanted to see the place again.  But I got a nice view of the lobby, which looked like it still had the same furniture.

I headed back to catch the 22 tram at the stop, and passed Pražský hrad and the Belvedere Summer Palace on my right, all the way back down.

Now I may go hit up Bohemia Bagel for lunch....

Friday, November 18, 2016

Golden Prague

The journey through the surreal has a postscript of nostalgia as I arrive to back to golden Prague for the first time in 15 years.

I first visited Prague in 1999, as a ginger 19 year-old in the midst of his first backpacking adventure across Europe, fresh off a year living in Israel. Of all the European capitals I visited that first summer of backpacking, I fell most in love with Prague, and couldn't wait to return.

Return, I did at my first opportunity. I spent the fall semester of my junior year abroad, studying in Prague. It was autumn 2001, and that September 11, a tempest sprung up and shook the world about. September 11 was a hinge of history, and probably a hinge for me. I know those days and months that followed the attacks on September 11 affected me, my thoughts and my career for years to come, but in ways I only understand now with the gift of hindsight.

I fear that the recent election will similarly be a historical hinge. In many ways, the uncertainty and trepidation feels very similar; in many ways, it feels worse. But that is not what this post was meant to focus on.

In "Immortality," Milan Kundera wrote: “Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless.”

In returning, I can see that Prague has changed in many ways, and so have I. Yet when I look at the city, I still see the same spired beauty that inspired me so many years ago; when I look in the mirror, I still see that same kid--the portrait of Pavlichko as a young man. The face is a bit more lined, and there are a few more pounds and a bit less hair, but I still see that glint of excitement in my brown eyes at a world wide open to me.

Leaving Leipzing and Dresden days

Backing up just a few days to Leipzig, I woke up on my last day in Leipzig.  I had breakfast with a nice Czech student named Martin whom I had met the day prior at the hostel.  He was studying the history of sports in Germany and the Czech Republic, especially related to anti-Semitism of sporting clubs, and was busy deep in the archives.  It happened to be a holiday in the German state of Saxony, and his archives were closed so he was stuck there another day.

After breakfast, I headed on to Zeitgeschictliches Forum Leipzig, a Museum on East and West Germany.  While it was not closed on the holiday, it was opening an hour later so I killed time by wandering over to the magnificent Neues Rathaus, the huge town hall on Martin Luther ring road.  It is a huge, towering building of arches and lions.

After some coffee and a snack to kill time, the museum was finally open.  I wandered through the interesting exhibit on the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and its history.  The exhibit had leaflets and artifacts from the GDR and its history.  It explained the history of East Germany from Soviet occupation through the 1953 uprising (including a tank, and videos of the unrest), as well as the history of repression in East Germany.  It also had interesting things like the East German products and exhibits on culture in East Germany.  It dovetailed a bit with the concurrent history of West Germany.  It was all quite fascinating, and a reminder of why I embarked on this journey.

More importantly, the museum had a temporary exhibit on the floor above on national myths in Germany post-1945.  It was a fascinating and introspective exhibit on the myths within the East and West German narratives after the war, tackling the West German economic miracle, East Germany's "fight against fascism" and narratives related to immigration, culture and sports.  It was frankly fascinating and refreshing.  I told the museum staff as much, as I explained that I could only dream of my country being so self-reflective.  

Kinda like:

After the museum, I made my way back to the hostel and geared up to go.  Just as I was leaving to catch my flixbus, the skies were darkening.  As I arrived to the bus stop area, it began to rain as I waited for my bus that the attendant informed me would be 25 minutes late.  I sat for a while on a bench with an umbrella as I waited, then eventually ducked under an alcove to get out of the rain. Eventually the bus came, and we sped out of the city and down the autobahn.

On the 1.5 hour trip to Dresden, we were flanked with rows and rows of windmills, and I smiled a quixotic grin.

We arrived to Dresden amid more rain.  I hopped the tram to the neustadt and found my way to the hostel.  I checked in and dried off.

Later in the evening, I wandered back out into the city as the rains had passed.  Dresden was surprisingly beautiful.  I wandered past a giant gold statue of Saxon king Augustus II, aka August der Starke (August the Strong), who earned that nickname in various fashions including snapping horseshoes in court and also fathering scores and scores of bastards amid his 11 concubines. Augustus II was the Saxon Sun King, who built up Dresden in baroque splendor.

I crossed the bridge over the River Elbe to reach the Altstadt (Old City) of giant baroque splendor amid statutes doting church domes and spires.  I wandered a bit through the city before making my way to Radeberger Spezialausschank, a restaurant and brewery of said beer.  I spent the evening sipping steins of Radeberger Zwickel, fresh-tapped cloudy beer and eating a Saxon special called Sächsischer Sauerbraten, a plate of sour-marinated roast beef in a raisin sauce with red cabbage and mashed potato balls.

Yesterday morning, I spent the day wandering more around the lovely Dresden.  I was surprised at how nice the city is, given that I had read of its destruction.  Thankfully, a lot of the old city was spared the fire-bombing and still existed.  I wandered around in the grey, snapping pics before heading back up to the new city to grab cheap kebab for lunch.  I read the afternoon away before noticing that the sun was finally popping out.  Eager to get some sun, I wandered back out into the city and up and down the River Elbe and into the old city.

I wrote a bit already about this morning.  This afternoon, I head on to Prague for my 15 year reunion with zluty Praha.

Ruth Gruber

The world recently lost Ruth Gruber, a courageous pioneer and journalist. Her book of her trials on the ship The Exodus were re-told in books and movies to follow.

She was an incredible, amazing woman and I am honored that she was part of my family--she was a cousin.

The Hostel Rosetta

For the last two days, I have been staying in a hostel in Dresden called Mondelplast. I am in a big 10 person dorm room, but there has been just one other person here, a German fellow who spoke no English. I tried all of the smatterings of other languages I know to connect, but he didn't speak any of them and I don't speak German so we were lost in a babel abyss. But we communicated very basically over gestures and cups of peppermint tea amid broken sentences and half-formed questions.

This morning, I woke up at 5:15am. I have not slept well since Trump's victory, and today was no different. I wake up before dawn, wrestling with existential questions of fight or flight as I toss and turn in my bed.

His alarm went off and he began to get up in the darkness for his day of work. I tried to explain that he could turn on the light on his side of the room since I was already awake, but that ended with the whole room illuminated.

I got up as he made his way to the kitchen to make his breakfast. He offered me kaffie, which is a universal thing. We tried to talk, but it failed as usual. He asked if I was from England, and when I replied America, he simply said: Trump. I put my head in my hands and took his knife and mimicked plunging it into my heart.

And then, I had an idea. I ran into my room and grabbed my ipad and set up the translation app on the mini-computer. Suddenly our Rosetta Stone was found. As it became apparent that our language barrier had just fallen by the wayside, we hugged and smiled as we could suddenly communicate.

Googletranslate explained to me that Rene was a special excavator, working here in Dresden on a drilling project. He was only 1 of 100 of these special excavators throughout all of Europe. We chatted for a bit before he had to head to work. Our conversation was not especially deep or profound, but it was meaningful and poignant.  It reminded me of a semi-similar experience in Ghent, some years prior.

I bade him auf wiedersehen and he wished me well on my journey as he set off in the dawn; we both left with big, untranslatable smiles.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What The World Costs-Germany

Free: Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Museum on Post-War Germany) in Bonn; Zeitgeschictliches Forum Leipzig (Museum on GDR and FRG)
12 centimes ($.13): small bread roll at Penny grocery store in Leipzig
25 centimes ($.27): bread roll at Rewe grocery store in Nuremberg
39 centimes ($.42): 500g spaghetti
50 centimes ($.54): quarkballin; dominostein pastry
55 centimes ($.59): pretzel-bread roll at Rewe Go in Koln
60 centimes ($.64): grain roll at Rewe in Nuremberg
75 centimes ($.80): .5L Kleines Schwarzes can of beer from Leipzig grocery store; coffee to go in Dresden
89 centimes ($.96): box of tomato sauce
98 centimes ($1.05): .5L Kriesch Porter bottle of beer from grocery store in Leipzig
99 centimes ($1.06): 250g of pepper cheese
1 euro ($1.07): coffee at the Nuremberg train station; a towel at the Nuremberg hostel; cost for towels at some German hostels
1.07 euros ($1.15): .5L landsbier at the grocery store in Nuremberg
1.20 euros ($1.29): small espresso at Nuremberg hostel
1.29 euros ($1.38): can of lentils at the grocery store
1.50 euros ($1.61): box of peppermint tea
1.80 euros ($1.93): big espresso at Nuremberg hostel
1.90 euros ($2.04): short journey (4 stop) Cologne tram ticket
1.99 euros ($2.14): boiled egg and cheese sandwich in pretzel roll in Weimar
2 euros ($2.15): sheets at Labyrinth Hostel in Weimar; bus ride in Weimar; .5L bottle of Radeger beer in Dresden
2.10 euros ($2.25): .5L beer at the Nuremberg hostel
2.30 euros ($2,47): tram ride in Dresden
2.40 euros ($2.58): tram ride in Stuttgart
2.50 euros $2.68): Veggie pita sandwich in Nuremberg; cost for sheets at German hostels
2.80 euros ($3.01): Cologne regular tram ticket; Frankfurt tram ticket
2.99 euros ($3.21): small fried fish sandwich on a baguette at Nordsee
3 euros ($3.22): admission to Cologne panorama building viewing deck; student admission to Nuremberg Process Museum; student admission to Nuremberg Museum; student admission to Bauhaus museum in Weimar; doner kebab in Dresden
3.10 euros ($3.33): Cappuccino at Coffee Baum--Leipzig's oldest coffee house
3.60 euros ($3.86): 33ml pils beer in downtown Stuttgart; glass of Kessler champagne in Eissenberg
4 euros ($4.29): 2 hours locker fee in Cologne train station; stupidity tax for not understanding how the locker worked; ride from Stuttgart airport terminal to the Deans, including an SBhan, bus and Ubahn.
4.50 euros ($4.83): gondola ride over the Rhine in Cologne; .5L Radebger Pils at brewery restaurant
5 euros ($5.37): student entrance into German-Roman Museum in Cologne; bus daypas in Weimar
5.50 euros ($5.90): best kebabs in Stuttgart
6 euros ($6.44): 2hr Weimar to Leipzig Flixbus
7 euro ($7.51): 1.5 hr Leipzig to Dresden Flixbus
7.70 euros ($8.26): 30 min local train from Cologne to Bonn; day pass for Nuremberg transit system
8 euros ($8.59): student admission to German National Museum in Nuremberg for permanent collection and exhibit on King Charles IV
8.50 euros ($9.12): student entrance to Goethe Museum and House
9 euros ($9.66): bottle of champagne bought to celebrate Hillary's victory :(
11 euros ($11.81): 20 min intercity train from Bonn to Cologne/stupidity tax for getting on the wrong train; 3 hour Eurolines bus from Cologne to Frankfurt; 1 night stay at hostel in Leipzig w/o breakfast or sheets.
14 euros ($15.03): one night stay at Labyrinth Hostel in Weimar (w/o breakfast or sheets)
15 euros ($16.10): one night stay at Mondpalast in Dresden (w/o breakfast or sheet)
16.90 euros ($18.90): Plate of Sächsischer Sauerbraten at Redeberger
19 euros ($20.39):  Flixbus from Frankfurt to Stuttgart (3.5hrs); train from Stuttgart to Nuremberg (2hr); train from Nuremberg to Weimar (3.5hrs)
19.90 euros ($21.36): Train from Dresden to Prague (2.5hrs)
24 euros ($25.76): dorm room at 5 Reasons hostel w/o breakfast for Thursday night.
26 euros ($27.90): dorm room at 5 Reasons hostel w/o breakfast for weekend nights.

Dresden: the end

My German journey through the surreal and absurd has reached its end in Dresden. This is where it ends, this is where it always ends: in the burnt-out hull of smoldering city, razed to the ground. For what hate and extremism starts--this is where it always ends.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I arrived to Leipzig, and found my hostel nearby the train station, a place called Central Globetrotter. The place was conveniently located, and the accommodations were fine and affordable.  After I settled in, I asked the fellow at the front desk for a recommendation of a cheap, nearby place.  He mentioned the train station and explained that it had a lot of options.  I ventured over to the beautiful, century-old train station and found some Indian food that looked good.  It was just fair--a bit bland because it was spiced for German tastes.  I made up for it with a marzipan puff pastry for dessert.

I wandered a bit around the beautiful city, but it was cold so I turned in.  I suffered from the downside of hostel life, with two loud snorers in the dorm, including a woman below me who literally vibrated my bed with her sonorous snoring.

I awoke the next morning to the cold and ventured out to explore the city a bit.  As previously mentioned, Leipzig was the heart of the 1989 revolution.  I wandered through the beautiful city center, following landmarks discussing various places of protest.  I wandered through the markt and baroque and gilded facades and past Nikolaikirche-the church of revolutionary space.

It was cold, and beginning to rain so I made my way over to the Musee Grassi, which houses three museums.  I visited the stellar Museum for Applied Art, which traced the history of decorative arts from antiquities through the middle ages and on to renaissance and romantic, on through Arte Noveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus and modernism, as well as Chinese, Japanese and West Asian decorative arts and crafts.  It was beautiful and fascinating, and the perfect way to spend a cold, rainy day.

After the museum, I made my way back to the hostel to have some lunch of lentils and rice.  After lunch and a little rest, I made my way back out to the famous Zum Arabischen Coffee Baum, Leipzig's first coffee house, which dates back to 1711.  The coffee house doubles as a museum about the history of coffee and coffee culture.  The place has three different styles of rooms to sip coffee, in style of French, Viennese and Arabic coffee houses.  I sipped a cappuccino where Bach, Goethe and Liszt, among others all frequented.  Interestingly, when East and West Germany were discussing re-unification, Kohl and his East German counterpart met there to discuss the prospects of a unified Germany.

With some caffeine back in my system, I made my way out in the cold to Runde Ecke ("the round corner"), which was the former Leipzig headquarters of the Stasi.  The Stasi was the East German secret police, who ruthlessly suppressed dissent in the GDR.  It was said of the Stasi: "it was German love of efficiency, mixed with a Russian love of espionage."  To see more on the Stasi, I would recommend the movie, "The Lives of Others," an excellent and gripping film about a Stasi officer.

The museum chronicled the history of the Stasi, and their role in the GDR.  It looked at the history of the security service in the Soviet Union under Dzerzhinsky, and how the Stasi saw themselves as the Chekists of East Germany.  The museum discussed the Stasi's methods of control, of recruitment of youth and collaborators and examined their methods of espionage and spycraft. It had displays on disguise, on wire-tapping and mail-opening and how the Stasi would gather "odor samples" of those they were spying on.  The tactic that I found most chilling was Zersetzung, literally a biological/chemistry term for "decomposition."  The technique was the Stasi's method of undermining suspect by creating life crises or job-related problems to stop them from participating in anti-government activities.  They had these measures codified into 7 forms, and 5 means, from systematic discreditation to professional and social failures.  Sadly, a bit like the COINTELPRO in 'Murica during the '60s.

The museum also chronicled the history of the revolution in Leipzig, and how peaceful protesters put candles on the steps and occupied the building before the Stasi could destroy the records, as well as the rise of the peaceful 1989 revolution.

After the museum, I was walking back in the rain.  I was on the sidewalk, minding my own business when a biker almost ran me over.  I just barely missed getting hit.  Then another woman came over to me and started saying something forcefully in German.  I thought she was admonishing me for being in the lane of the biker--even though there were no lane lines.  Given that it is not uncommon for Germans to admonish strangers when you are not following the laws to a "t," I thought she was chiding me. Her voice kept getting higher, and I kept protesting but we were having language difficulties.  So I tried French.  Then Spanish.  She spoke Spanish well, and it turns out that she was complaining about the biker not me, and how the biker should have been more careful.  We laughed, and I explained that I thought she was mad at me.  She said it was quite the opposite.

In the rain, I made my way back to the hostel and settled in to make dinner--spaghetti of which I had bought little veggies at the nearby market.  

The Leipzig Vampire; the Leipzig Quixote

I came to Leipzig in eastern Germany because when I was 9 years-old, I read a book called "The Leipzig Vampire." Honestly, that was the sole reason I had decided I visit the city.

 But in my travels and visit here, I came to learn that Leipzig was the heart and catalyst of the peaceful revolution of 1989 that brought down communist East Germany.

And this non-violent revolution was borne out of peaceful prayer meetings that led to protests, and unsanctioned street music concerts of civil disobedience against the German Democratic Republic.

At the time, the leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker said: ''Any attempt by imperialism to
destabilize socialist construction or slander its achievements is now and in the future nothing more than Don Quixote's futile running against the steadily turning sails of a windmill,''

Honecker and the GDR are long gone--it looks like Don Quixote won.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Goethe and Bauhaus

My stay in Weimar was short but sweet.  I left Nuremberg on a morning train to Weimar via Jena.  At the Jena Paradies station, I met a nice Iranian girl who was studying in Weimar.  We chatted about life in Iran and Germany, about the necessity (or not) of a PhD, and she helped me find my way to the Labyrinth Hostel in Goetheplatz.

The Labyrinth Hostel was a fun and funky place that I really liked and would have happily stayed longer.  I lucked out with an 8 bedroom dorm all to my self.  Such is 4 star in my world.

After I settled in and grabbed some quick lunch--btw, Germany is surprisingly cheap for food, I made my way to the Goethe National Museum.  Johan Wolfgang von Goethe is an utterly fascinating figure, who was a true renaissance man and Enlightenment figure.  I toured his house, and his collections of things that he picked up in his long travels in Italy.  Goethe collected items to remind him of his passions, and return him to his travels.  I am a bit more spartan, perhaps because no duke every gave me a residence.

Anyway, I toured through Goethe's collections, and drawing rooms as well as his study.  Goethe's Theory of Colours was on display in his fair abode.  Like Van Gogh later, Goethe understood that color affected emotion.  Different rooms were different colors depending on the mood he wanted to draw out of himself or his guests.

My favorite room was his study.  Yes, I got to peer into Goethe's study in its earthly green.  It was quite awe-inspiring.

Besides the house, there was also a wonderful museum on Goethe's works, life and times, and the various forces that shaped his views.  I learned all about The Sorrows of Young Werther, and the profound effect the book had on its age and the Sturm und Drang movement.

I also learned about his role connecting the various disciplines of science and culture, of the synthesis of the romantic and natural worlds--of East and West.  And of course his Weimar Classicism, which argued that art and culture would slowly free mankind through humanism not violent revolution.

And the titanic Faust.

I spent hours in the museum, and I could have spent hours more had it not closed on me.  The Sorrows of Young Paul.

I left the museum and headed back to the hostel for a bit before making my way out in the freezing cold (probably a few degrees below zero, it was bitter) for some dinner at a pizza place (the only thing open) before settling in early.

I awoke early monday--I haven't slept well since Trump won.  I already mentioned my trip to Buchenwald.

After I returned from the concentration camp, I needed something uplifting, so I visited the Bauhaus Museum.  It was fascinating.  I did not know much about Bauhaus other than some of the architecture in Tel Aviv from a tour from Paule Rakower.  Long story from many years ago, but there is a Belgian-Israeli of similar name,

But I digress.

The Bauhaus Museum explained Walter Gropius' school of art and concept of Bauhaus.  Basically, Bauhaus tried to create "total art" by connecting architecture with fine and applied art in a school of work that married function, form and color.  The Bauhaus School of Art was a state school that brought some real luminaries to Weimar like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky among others as teachers.  Alas, amid the darkening days in Germany, the Bauhaus school was forced to move to Desau, but not before it made its mark on the landscape of the art world and paved the way for modern art and design.

There is something about Weimar, maybe it is in the water.  But its influence on Goethe and Gropius to try to marry rational and romantic, the functional and the humanistic, is definitely there.  I could have spent more time in Weimar, but I had a night bus to Leipzig.

I left Weimar on a Flixbus for 5 euros for the 2 hour journey.  Not bad.  The bus was late arriving, but I chatted with a nice German named Werner who was also waiting for a late bus to Berlin.

On the ride, I watched the huge moon out the bus window.  We arrived to Leipzig, and immediately I was taken with the city and its monumental architecture.  I arrived at my hostel just in time to check-in before the front desk shut down for the night.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity. 

Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi 
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep 
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
-WB Yeats

What to do about Trump? The same thing my grandfather did in 1930s Vienna

"The first, and most obvious, is this: Treat every poisoned word as a promise. When a bigoted blusterer tells you he intends to force members of a religious minority to register with the authorities—much like those friends and family of Siegfried’s who stayed behind were forced to do before their horizon grew darker—believe him. Don’t try to be clever. Don’t lean on political intricacies or legislative minutia or historical precedents for comfort. Don’t write it off as propaganda, or explain it away as just an empty proclamation meant simply to pave the path to power. Take the haters at their word, and assume the worst is imminent. 

 Do that, and a second principle follows closely: You should treat people like adults, which means respecting them enough to demand that they understand the consequences of their actions. Explaining away or excusing the actions of others isn’t your job. Vienna in the first decades of the 20th century was a city inflamed with a desire to better understand the motives, hidden or otherwise, that move people to action. Freud and Kafka, Elias Canetti and Karl Kraus, Stefan Zweig and Franz Werfel—these were the eminences who crowded the same cafés Siegfried and his musician friends most likely frequented. But while these beautiful minds struggled to understand the world around them, the world around them was consumed by simpler and more vicious appetites. Don’t waste any time, then, trying to understand: Then as now, many were amused by the demagogue and moved by his vile vision. Some have perfectly reasonable explanations for their decisions, while others have little to go on but incoherent rage. It doesn’t matter. Voters are all adults, and all have made their choices, and it is now you who must brace for impact. Whether you choose to forgive those, friends and strangers alike, who cast their votes so deplorably is a matter of personal choice, and none but the most imperious among us would advocate a categorical rejection of millions based on their electoral actions, no matter how irresponsible and dim. So while you make these personal calculations, remember that what matters now isn’t analysis: It’s survival. 

Which leads me to the third principle, the one hardest to grasp: Refuse to accept what’s going on as the new normal. Not now, not ever. In the months and years to come, decisions will be made that may strike you as perfectly sound, appointments announced that are inspired, and policies enacted you may even like. Friends and pundits will reach out to you and, invoking nuance, urge you to admit that there’s really nothing to fear, that things are more complex, that nothing is ever black or white. It’s a perfectly sound argument, of course, but it’s also dead wrong: This isn’t about policy or appointments or even about outcomes. This isn’t a political contest—it’s a moral crisis. When an inexperienced, thin-skinned demagogue rides into office by explaining away immensely complex problems while arguing that our national glory demands we strip millions of their dignity or their rights, our only duty is to resist by whatever means permitted us by law. The demagogue may boost the economy, sign beneficial treaties, and mend our ailing institutions, but his success can never be ours. Our greatness, to use a tired but true phrase, depends on our goodness, and to succeed, we must demand that our commander in chief come as close as is possible to reflecting the light of that goodness. There’s no point indulging in the kind of needlessly complex thinking that so often plagues the intelligent and the well-informed. There’s no room for reading tea leaves, for calculations or projections or clever takes. The only thing that matters now is the simple moral truth: This isn’t right. As long as we never forget that, we can never lose: As grandpa Siegfried knew all too well, those who refuse to gradually put up with the darkness are making a very safe bet; if you’re wrong, there’s no harm, but if you’re right, you win more or less everything."
-Liel Liebovitz, "What to do about Trump?  The same thing my Grandfather did in 1930s Vienna"


And there I was, walking alone in silence through the empty concentration camp of Buchenwald.

Since it was Monday, the museum was closed and the concentration camp was empty and deserted when I arrived.

In silent sorrow, I walked along the rows of barbed wire fences as the hoarfrost left a light powder on the frozen ground.

In silent sadness, I walked through the gates that read Jedem das Seine—everyone for themselves.

In silent horror, I walked in and out of the crematoria with stacks of urns filled with ashes.

In silent emptiness, I walked past the razed barracks of the prisoners of Buchenwald—leaving memorial stones on the markers.

In the silence, I heard echoes of anguish.

The wind sweeping through whispered to me of dark days ahead.

The only thing that allowed me to retain my sanity were the scores of windmills in the distance, reminding this knight-errant that I must choose fight over flight.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Simon Rockower Awards

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the Simon Rockower Awards, the American Jewish Press Association's highest honor. The Simon Rockower Awards were named for my great-grandfather, and established by my grandfather and his brothers. I am proud to have helped spearhead a campaign within my family to renew the awards for another decade-and-a-half. These are the remarks I sent for the Simon Rockower Awards: It is my distinct honor to send greetings on the eve of the 35th annual Simon Rockower Awards.  For three-and-a-half decades, these awards have been synonymous with excellence in Jewish Journalism.

Tonight, we celebrate the achievements of the American Jewish press in its work to chronicle the American Jewish community.  On behalf of the entire Rockower family, I thank you for your continued dedication and commitment to sharing the stories of the American Jewish community.  Your work to faithfully tell the stories of our people is profound, and both the Rockower family and the entire American Jewish community are honored by your tireless efforts.

This year, I am proud to note that our family renewed its support of the Simon Rockower Awards, and its connection to the American Jewish Press Association.  Our family is honored to continue its support of the awards with a multigenerational campaign within the Rockower family to sponsor the awards for years to come.  Just as you are committed to telling the stories of the American Jewish community, the Rockower family is committed to honoring your work over the coming decades.

The Rockower family would also like to thank the American Jewish Press Association for being a partner in the Simon Rockower Awards events.  I would like to especially recognize the work of past-President Marshall Weiss, President Rick Kestenbaum and Executive Director Cathy Herring for their role in the campaign to renew the awards.

As we have seen a rise in anti-Semitism in America during this election season, the likes of which the American Jewish community hasn’t experienced in decades, your work has become more important and vital.  Hate and hate speech flourishes when it is met with silence; thanks to your continued collective voices, the American Jewish community will not be silent in the face of this looming spectre.  I believe that this was one of the reasons that Simon Rockower’s children set-up the award in the first place: so that even in darkening times, the American Jewish press would always stand proud and firm as the voice of our community.

PS: I was the surprise keynote speaker a decade ago, these were my remarks at that event.

Zion has fallen

"By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion."
-Psalm 137

Sunday, November 13, 2016


My journey into the surreal and absurd continues as I arrive to Weimar, a town synonymous with the German Republic of the interregnum between World War I and World War II.
Weimar, the home to Goethe, Schiller, Nietzsche, Bach, Lizst, Strauss, Klee and Kandisky, was one of the great centers of the German Enlightenment and wellsprings of German art and culture.
It was also the place where the post-World War I German government drafted its thorough and comprehensive liberal constitution—perhaps the most progressive and inclusive of its age.
The Weimar Constitution had a complex system of checks and balances to keep power from being amassed too centrally in parts of governments or regions.
But the Weimar Republic was brought down because non-democratic forces took part in the democratic process, and used that democratic process to crumble the state from within.
In a cruel symbol of the history that followed, sitting counterpoint to the city's role as the hope for a liberal Germany, just outside Weimar is the concentration camp Buchenwald.


The trip to Nuremberg was indeed a bit surreal. It helps to understand a bit of the historical context of the city.

Nuremberg was essentially the capital of the Holy Roman Empire from 1050 to 1571. It was the city where the Reichstag, the Imperial Diet, was held by the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire—which was neither holy nor Roman, but that is a different story.

Nuremberg was long considered the most German of German cities, which is why the Nazis looked to it as a symbolic hub and place to hold their enormous rallies.

When I arrived on Thursday, I made my way to visit the Kaiserburg, the castle on the mountain top that served as the medieval parliament. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to visit the museum but got a spectacular view across the city as the sun was making its descent.

On a rainy Friday, I visited the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. I was going to visit the Nuremberg rally grounds but given the rain I thought it best to punt that trip to Saturday in the hopes it would be nicer. The museum, which was founded in 1852 even prior to the unification of Germany, was enormous. It was established to be a cultural statement of the German nation-state.

I first visited the exhibition on King Charles IV, the Bohemian King and Holy Roman Emperor. The exhibit was quite interesting, on the life and time of King Charles IV, who established Charles University in Prague. The period of his reign in the 14th century was a particularly tumultuous time due to the ravages of the Black Death—as usual, blamed on the Jews, and also a small bout of climate change. It looked a bit apocalyptic at the time, which came across in the exhibit.

Meanwhile, in the permanent collection, the museum had floors of paintings, relics and the hull of an old Carthusian Monastery and cloisters—which the museum was constructed upon. I toured past old reliefs, and amazing collections of astrolabes, sun dials, pocket-watches, medical instruments and globes. There was even the oldest round globe, the Behaim globe, dating back to 1492 but without the Americas as it was created prior to Columbus' voyage. Also, lots of excellent paintings including Albrecht Durer's large scale Charlemagne. And per my favs, I found a self-portrait of a young Rembrandt. I spent hours in that museum, and could have spent hours more.

I spent the afternoon hanging at the hostel before I ventured out in the cold to find some falafel. It was near freezing, so I didn't want to get falafel outside at a stand, but all the indoor places seemed to only sell kebabs. Yet I spent longer in the cold, looking for an indoor restaurant than if I had just eaten the outdoor falafel and been done with it. But no matter, I did finally find a lil restaurant spot for some falafel that was just fair but hit the spot. I chatted with the fellow who ran the place. He was a Kurd from Suli. I gushed over my love of Kurdistan, and we spoke of my work there. He had been a soldier in Saddam's army, and had fought against Iran but ultimately left because he didn't was to be part of it any longer. He was warm and friendly, it was an interaction that I needed. Love the Kurds, even if they make the worst falafel in the Middle East.

Saturday came, and with it a reprieve from the rain. On a cold, grey day I got a transit day pass and hoped the tram out to the Dokumentationscentrum Reichsparteitagsgelande,or Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds. The museum, built into the Kongresshalle—a huge Nazi piece of stadium architecture that was never completed, was fascinating.  
It charted the Nazis rise in Germany, and the role of Nuremberg in the Nazi history. Nuremberg was where the Nazi Party held giant rallies in 1927 and 1929, and the annual Nazi Party rallies from 1931 to 1934. The rally grounds served to propagate the Nazi cult and demonstrate Nazi power and ability to mobilize the masses.

The museum discussed the designs on the grounds by Albert Speer—Hitler's favorite architect who would plan designs for other Nazi cities. It also went through the Nuremberg laws, and their application on minorities within the Reich.

Finally, it outlined Leni Riefenstahl'Triumph of the Will, the famous propaganda movie epic that showed Hitler's arrival to adoring masses in Nuremberg. Her film, which featured a film crews of more than 180 assistants and the finest camera, lighting and editing equipment at the time, was a propaganda piece like no other. It was shown all across Germany, in schools and public squares and helped cement the cult of the Fuhrer.

After touring the museum, I wandered the immense party rally grounds, Zeppelin Field and Zeppelintribune where Hitler would address the rallies.

After this, I hopped the metro over to a punctuation on the period: the Memorium Nuremberg Trials. The fascinating museum in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice explained the process of the war crimes tribunal in the context of international law.

The museum charted the history of international law, from the rise of the Geneva Conventions through the League of Nations and onto the Nuremberg trials against the Nazi top brass. Their trials, for crimes against peace and crimes against humanity, where held in Courtroom 600 in the building, which I got to see from above.

The museum offered a thorough, if exhausting, understanding of the war crimes trials for the Nazi heads such as Goring, Ribbentrop and others. It explained the role of the tribunal, and the differences in the victors' desires to conduct justice (Stalin: take them out back and shoot them; Churchill: give a them a quick trial and shoot them; Roosevelt: give them a trial), and the roles of the different prosecutors from the British, American, French and Soviet sides.

The museum explained how those involved in the process went to long ends to make sure these were real trials, and not just “victor's justice.” Also, how the Nuremberg trials created a further system of international criminal justice.

In this regard, I just began East West Street by Phillipe Sands about the origins of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" in regards to the Nuremberg trials.  It is fascinating, and worth a read.

Now, on to exploring through Weimar as the train there passes giant yellow castles on hilltops, and forests of evergreens in their first dusting of snow.  

Friday, November 11, 2016


Donald Trump is a Socialist Muslim who was born in Kenya. Lots of people are telling me this. You heard it here first.

Nuremberg Fun Fact, take 1

In 1349, Bohemian King and soon-to-be Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV gave Nuremberg's city elders permission to raze the city's Jewish quarter.

Although the Jews had been paying a protection tax to the good king Charles, he wanted to shore up the city's support for his selection as Holy Roman Emperor. So he let them unleash a pogrom that demolished the Jewish quarter and its synagogue, and burned alive nearly 600 Jews in order to make way for a market.

 Besides, the Jews were probably spreading Black Death anyway.

In place of the former synagogue now stands the Frauenkirche, a large gothic church and the Hauptmarket--a large market that holds a famous Christmas market.

Cry, the beloved country

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that's the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.”
 ― Alan Paton, "Cry, the Beloved Country"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Third Party Ship of Fools

While I fight to protect all minority groups, there is one particular that I am leaving to the Trump supporter-dogs: third party voters.

You dumb motherfuckers. Did you not realize what was at stake here? You took a frivolous principled stand when you were given a binary choice between good and evil. It was the equivalent of abstaining.

You cost Clinton the election, just as you cost Gore the election in 2000.

There is a special place in hell for you. I don't care about all the sniveling arguments I will get about how you didn't like the choices you were offered. You fucked this up royally, and we will all pay the price.

Here is the mathematical proof 


To be brutally honest, I have never felt so ashamed in my life to be an American.


My journey into the surreal continues as I arrive to Nuremberg-- just in time to get my first yellow star!

The Fall

It's 6am in Stuttgart.  I woke up at 5am, to a nightmare that won't go away.

I woke up yesterday to check the news on the election.  In German, I saw headlines of Trump's lead. Terrifying.

Winter has come. The wounds right now are still too raw.  Really, it's Fuck Everyone. Blame Everyone.  But on the birghtside, I am looking forward to the first Hunger Games.

A few things I am watching and reading, since my words fail me:

-Hillary's concession speech was heartbreaking yet comforting.  She was all-class, and we didn't deserve her.

-The piece "Here is why we grieve today" captures a lot of what I can't articulate at the moment.

-As does David Remnick's An American Tragedy

-Sometimes life imitates art in a fashion that is a bit too surreal. If you haven't read Philip Roth's book "The Plot Against America," it is feels very apt at the moment. Do try to get a copy before they burn it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


“Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty." 


American pie

So bye, bye, Miss American Pie Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey 'n rye Singin' this'll be the day that I die This'll be the day that I die

Glass and walls

Today, November 9 just happens to be the anniversary of "Kristallnacht," the Night of Broken Glass in Germany in 1938.

Ironically, November 9 is also the day that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Right now, the night of destruction seems to be trumping a day of freedom

Tuesday, November 08, 2016


Dear America,
  Ok, it's D-Day.  Gut check time, please don't fuck this up.  Please do not elect Voldemort and his band of Death Eaters.
with love,

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Hare with the red eyes; Arriving to Cologne; Bonn

November sadly came, and I closed up shop in my Brussels apartment.  I made my way on first to the Zoom Hotel to drop off the keys, then down to the metro and over to the Gare de Midi.  I got there way earlier than I needed, and killed time in the train station waiting to depart.  I finally boarded the train and was off out of Belgium.

As I went hurtling towards Germany, reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes, a story of art and loss by a Viennese Jewish family, and reading the chronicles of the Euphrassis flight from Vienna and everything they knew--as America goes seemingly hurtling towards Trump, I finally broke down and became the hare with the red eyes.  It becomes a little too hard to take sometimes.  I know I am getting more sentimental as I get older, but the weight of the days is becoming too much.

And there I was--crying, staring out the window of the train to hide the tears streaming down my face.  The hare with the red eyes.  The crying left me feeling hollow, with a small pit in my stomach like a netsuke.  I stared up into the distance and saw windmills, and felt comforted. Maybe it will all be ok.

The train sped across Belgium and on to Germany.  We passed forests in autumn colors and cities on turbid rivers with spires towering above.  About 30 minutes outside of Cologne, an announcement was made that there was a track issue ahead, and we would need to switch train at Durren prior to Cologne to take another train.  Everyone got up on the trains and started getting their things and collecting in the aisle.  Then the train conductor embarrassingly announced that the problem was fixed and the train would continue on to Cologne and Frankfurt.  And then 5 minutes later, after we had passed Durren, they again announced that the problem remained, and we would have to go back to Durren to catch another train.  We stopped in Harren, but they announced that those going to Cologne could catch the coming local train.  I waited 10 minutes then caught the local train into Cologne.

I arrived to Cologne with all my things, and had some time to kill before meeting up later with a host family whom I have been staying with for a few days.  I tried to find a left luggage depot, but there was only an automated system.  It was 4 euros for 2 hours, or 7 euros for 24 hours.  I needed four hours so I would need to pay the extra.  The automated system was confusing.  I put in 4 euros, and then it wouldn't take any money.  It closed on my luggage, and began storing it.  But I wanted additional time, so I tried to put my card back in to add time.  Except that simply gave me back my luggage and ate the 4 euros.  So I put another 4 euros in and decided I would just come back in 2 hours, and if I wanted to, would put in another 4 euros.

I wandered out of the train station to find the immense Cologne Cathedral.  Cologne is a Catholic part of Germany.  It is interesting, because the city, Germany's fourth largest, is one of the more open and tolerant cities in Germany.  Anyway, the towering cathedral was beautiful.  It has jagged spires and all sorts of gothic ribs.  I made my way inside into the haze of frankincense, and stared at the enormous stained glass windows.

I wandered around the city, which was essentially all closed for All Saints Day, and returned to grab my things.  It was then that I figured out that you deposit 4 euros initially, and if you don't get your stuff within 2 hours, then you pay the additional 3 euros when you get your things later.  So 4 euro stupidity tax on me.  The first of a coming few.

Anywho, I caught the tram to Sylvia and Hannes' house.  I had emailed Sylvia when I was leaving on the tram, but after waiting an hour at the tram stop and not seeing her, I realized I would need to take alternative measures.  I went into a kiosk to ask about a public phone, but the young man working there didn't know of any.  He kindly let me use his phone, and after a couple of tries I finally reached Sylvia.  She came over shortly on bike and took me to their home.

We chatted, in Spanish as she had lived in Guatemala and spoke Spanish a bit better than English.  Funny to switch from French to Spanish, and at first I was a little lost in languages.  I had a lovely evening with the family, and Slyvia prepared a delicious meal of turkey with a cream sauce, spatzle (noodles) and salad.  For dessert, we had some of the Belgian chocolates I brought as gift.

The next day, I headed over to Bonn, which was a destination point of my Germany trip.  I caught the tram over to the train station, and then hopped a local train that sped to Bonn, some 25 minutes away. The German countryside was beautiful and the ride was smooth and fast.  I arrived to the train station, and wandered through the old city of Bonn past statues of Beethoven--the city was his birthplace.  As the saying goes, "the greatest trick the Austrians ever pulled was convincing the world that Hitler was a German, and Beethoven was an Austrian."

It began to rain, so I pulled my hood over my head as I trudged past fall foliage to Adenauer Allee to find the Haus de Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a fascinating and interactive museum on post-war Germany's history.  There were interesting displays on WWII, the occupation and division of Germany and the four zones--two states of Germany ("I like Germany so much, I want two of them...").  The museum chronicled in-depth the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) through the decades of division and later re-unification.  It was quite interesting and informative.

After a long visit to the museum, I wandered around the city's Path to Democracy of different landmarks related to Bonn as the West German capital, including the Bundesrat and Chancellor's residence.

I wandered down Brandt Allee and back up to the old part of the city to see Beethoven's home.  That museum was also quite interesting, chronicling the composer's life in Bonn and Vienna, as well as paintings and busts of Beethoven.  There was one statue that was quite remarkable, it was literally the face of Beethoven made from a life mask of the composer--so it was really him.

After the museum, I headed back to Cologne.  I bought a ticket for a train, but unfortunately got the wrong train to Cologne. I got an intercity train rather than the local train which I had a ticket for.  So my 7.70 euro ticket was worthless, and I had to buy another ticket for 11 euros.  It was too bad because I was in no rush whatsoever, and the local train I needed was just 5 minutes after the one I took.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Deutschland uber alles

November is upon us, and with it I must bid adieu to my home in Brussels.  I am sad to go, as the city has been kind to me.  But my reconnaissance into possibly residing here has gone well, and I will likely return in the Spring.

Now on to Deutschland.  This election truly gets surreal as I will watch its final conclusion from Germany.  Yes, the end of this election season will be spent in Weimar, Nuremberg and Dresden.  Too fitting.

Also, I will be visiting Cologne, Bonn, Frankfurt, Leipzig and Stuttgart, all in the drang nach osten towards Prague.  I am making a stop in golden Prague to mark 15 years since I studied there.  It will be my first time back in that beautiful city.