A Tale of One City

Once written about in “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, a globalizing world is causing the futures of London and Paris to become increasingly intertwined.

Despite being separated by the English Channel, the relative proximity of London and Paris have great implications in the new global economy.

Despite being separated by the English Channel, the relative proximity of London and Paris has great implications in the new global economy.

As the reality that a shrinking world requires cooperation on larger scales than in the past, recent comments showcase the persistence of an archaic mentality. Recently during a speech in January 2014, Anne Hidalgo, deputy mayor of Paris and a leading candidate to be the next mayor of Paris, claimed that the city of London was a suburb of the much nicer Paris. Hidalgo stated that Paris was cleaner, safer, more business friendly, better for families and attracted more visitors than its’ counterpart across the English Channel. These comments sparked outrage in London, where mayor Boris Johnson issued a harsh criticism of the the candidate’s comments and claimed that it was London, not Paris, that was the better city.

 

 


The comments and resulting feud highlights remaining parochialism in Western Europe from a non-globalized era. In an ever shrinking world, where record number of people commute and travel back and forth between the two cities in a trip that takes less than two hours, the short distance between two of the world’s great cities presents great opportunity in a globalized world.

In a world where communication is instant and distance means very little, London and Paris’ closeness allows for collaboration on an unprecedented scale. A sharing of ideas, human capital and money between the two great historic cities could spur innovation and development on both sides of the channel that would position the these two cities for continued success.

 

Chagall

Burn Baby Burn

Let’s say you had some extra cash sitting around and decided to buy a painting that had not been authenticated.  20 years later, you decide to find out if the painting is real or fake. After finding out your painting was in fact a forgery, you then find out it’s going to be burned according to an ancient French law meant to protect the rights of artists. This is what happened to a man named Martin Lang.

“Nude” from 1909-1910 was recently discovered to be a fake Chagall painting on the show “Fake or Fortune”. (Telegraph 2014)

Lang was recently part of the reality show Fake or Fortune, which investigates  “lost masterpieces, forgers and Nazi looted art” (TVO, 2014). They want to discover the story behind works of art. After much research, the only way to have Lang’s Chagall painting authenticated was to send it to France, which is where the problems began.

A committee consisting of two of Chagall’s granddaughters and other authenticators determined that Lang’s painting was a “very bad copy“, which means they have the right (and it is customary in France to use this right) to destroy the painting.

This brings up an interesting point. When it comes to property, who decides what gets to be done with it? The artist (or their descendants) who create the art? Or the people who buy the art? In the UK, the person who buys the property, fake or not, has the final say with what happens to it. Unfortunately for Lang, in France, that is not the case.

In an article written by Philip Mould, one of the hosts of Fake or Fortune, he lists several alternatives to destroying the painting. Instead of destroying it, the painting could be donated to an art museum to help identify other forgeries. He also makes the point that once a painting is burned, it is gone forever. So if future technologies are created that could verify the authenticity of the painting, it would be too late. The descendants of the artists could have destroyed an actual piece created by their relative.

Turner PaintingThis actually happened on Fake or Fortune. Three paintings by J.M.W. Turner that were believed to be forgeries inthe past have recently come to be regarded as originals through investigation. (NYTimes.com,2012) What if they had been burned?

I understand where the law is coming from, but to me it just seems so permanent. The law is meant to protect the rights of artists and discourage people from forging their work. However, it seems to me the people who are being hurt by this law are not the forgers, but the patrons of fine art.

I definitely support the UK standpoint of when you buy a painting, it is yours to do with as you please. Why do descendants of artists, who may or may not have been trained in the artistic style of their relative have the right to decide what happens to the painting? Wouldn’t it be better to label the work of art as a fake, but allow future generations to interpret the work as they will?

What do you think? Do you think a French law should let artists (or their descendants) burn paintings that have been determined as forgeries? Or is it the right of the person who bought the painting to decide what they get to do about it?

Martin Lung Petition

If you disagree with the ruling, there is a petition you can sign here.

Bitcoin in Berlin

Bitcoins

Bitcoins – DailyTech

Berlin has always been known as a world hub of culture and technology – at the forefront of developing new ideas and pushing them to fruition. One of these ideas is Bitcoin (BTC), a decentralized pseudo-anonymous online currency, somewhat controversially known for its connection with SilkRoad – a now-defunct online drug emporium. More than 144,000 BTC were seized from SilkRoad by the FBI – now valued at just over 95 million USD (almost 70 million EUR). However, this is only a small portion of the 12,371,900 BTC in circulation at the time of writing, and accounts for only two days worth of Bitcoin transactions (~60,000 daily according to the blockchain). All of this points to a large legitimate use of Bitcoin and it’s happening in Berlin.

According to coinmap.org, there are at least 48 real, brick-and-mortar businesses in Berlin that accept Bitcoin, a number which makes Berlin one of the largest local Bitcoin markets in the world, and a number which is growing daily. The currency has gained popularity in young counterculture-driven boroughs like Kreuzberg where it can be used in cafes and restaurants, as well as book and music stores. The currency has caught on in the Graefekiez neighborhood particularly strongly and local business owners have set up a Bitcoin-Stammtisch as part of an effort to promote the currency’s use. But Bitcoin isn’t limited to a particular neighborhood or block, it has a presence in almost every industry and is accepted by landlords, attorneys, architects, jewelers, dentists, and web-designers across the city and across the world.

Coinmap.org

Bitcoin merchant locations in Berlin – coinmap.org

Payment is almost as easy as swiping a credit card – the customer uses their cell phone or tablet to scan a QR code, an amount is entered in, and the funds are transferred instantly. Bitcoin is attractive to many because it does not rely on a central authority like a bank to back its value, so it has no transaction fees, payment is secure and instantaneous, and users feel in control of their money. After the global financial crisis, faith in central banks and their currencies plummeted and many consider Bitcoin a safer alternative to traditional financial systems.

These same traits can also be disadvantages. The lack of central authority makes mistakes permanent and irreversible, and some Bitcoin trading markets or websites have come under cyber-attack, pushing them offline or resulting in the loss of all the Bitcoins in their system. Because of its novelty, there are few regulations in place to guide users through processes like paying taxes, or transferring and converting to traditional currencies (which some may consider attractive). Finally, Bitcoin is known for gaining and losing half its value over the course of a day – volatility which may drive many away.

Bitcoin window-sticker

Payment window-sticker – The Guardian

Nonetheless, Berliners have taken to Bitcoin more than perhaps any other city in the world. This should come as no surprise – Germany has a fairly large leftist minority and its unique history has left many Germans skeptical of government regulation and control. A unique combination of technological prowess and capitalist sensibility make Germany a prime candidate for fostering Bitcoin’s continued growth. The Guardian ran a great piece on Bitcoin adoption in Berlin and noted that merchants “find it hard to come up with definitive characteristics for the “typical” Bitcoin user who walks off the street” – users seem to come from every demographic and background. The future of Bitcoin remains unstable and the currency itself is still confined to the techno-geek niche, but physical adoption of the currency is necessary to help to push the cryptocurrency into the mainstream. Once again, Berlin seems to be ahead of the game.

Meet the faces of Euromaidan

Euromaidan, the persistent group of protesters occupying the Independence Square (Майдан Незалежности) in Kiev, has been protesting for three months now, and are still going strong. Although there has been news coverage about the fight as a whole, it is interesting to note that the opposition group consists of people from all sorts of backgrounds and in my opinion this is why the opposition has been so strong. The name Euromaidan stands for two things: Europe, which is what the opposition wants Ukraine to be integrated into, and maidan, meaning open place or square, which exactly matches the name of the street being used for ongoing protests.

Men and women alike participate in opposition's protests. Photo credit to Ivan Bandura.

Men and women alike participate in opposition’s protests. Photo credit to Ivan Bandura.

Euromaidan is focused on bringing down a government deemed to be corrupt, so class, race, and gender differences have seemed to vanish because of a singularity of purpose existing for this group of protesters.

Woman carrying medicine to Euromaidan's wounded fighters. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov.

Woman carrying medicine to Euromaidan’s wounded fighters. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov.

The group of protesters is made up of men and women- young and old, average class folks and even oligarchs. Among the protesters, there are several notable stereotypes. GlobalVoices shows drawings from Oleksandr Komyakhov. Among these are drawings of a wealthy man bringing tires and a woman carrying bags with medicine to help those who are beaten by the Berkut police.

The most outrageous is a picture tweeted of an old Euromaidan protester lady, being pulled away by a Berkut policeman. It seems that Berkut is trying to hang onto power in every way possible, even if it means attacking an older woman who probably wouldn’t even cause much harm to the police in the first place.

Berkut policeman drags away elderly Euromaidan protester.

Berkut policeman drags away elderly Euromaidan protester.

Among the protesters is a group known as the women’s 100. Yulia, a university student, is part of this women’s 100 group. According to her, this women’s group takes in women of all ages, even 12 year old girls, with their parents’ permission. She says that the women’s 100 goal is to “Try and hold peaceful talks with the Berkut police and the young men who oppose Euromaidan.” They do not support violence from either side, so their main goal is to try and help Euromaidan succeed under peaceful circumstances.

“Чувства страха нет, — откровенничает Юля. — Даже когда нас разгоняли, его не было. Мы наравне с парнями несем вахту. Им ведь тоже нужно отдыхать.”                                                                       (“There is no feeling of fear, – shares Yulia. – Even when they were trying to make us leave- there was no feeling of fear. We carry our responsibilities equally to the guys. Because even they need a rest.”)

Those who do not support Euromaidan’s movement consider fighters of Euromaidan to be violent and extremely dangerous. A certain anonymous blogger was quick to label Euromaidan protesters as “fascists” who beat up innocent men and women of the “For a clean Kiev” group, which supposedly seeks to keep Kiev clean and rid of violence.

 

Both sides have a pretty negative opinion of one another, and it is clear that neither side is willing to give up, which poses a dangerous predicament. If eventually both sides do not come to some kind of agreement, the type of civil violence Ukraine is to encounter will be devastating.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOkKuDRpBDE

 

Click on the link below to follow Euromaidan’s official Twitter page.

https://twitter.com/euromaidan

 

European Food Industry Losing Its Taste

I must confess, I love the thought of European food. It’s elegant, fresh, savory, farm-to-table. Broadly speaking, it’s usually the types of things that American food isn’t. Each country in Europe even has its own distinct cuisine, making it a unique area to dine in. As Americans, we dream about the food there. We base our travel plans on where and what we’re going to eat. I’d say it’s even a craze. I mean check out the video below. It is completely dedicated to different places to eat in Europe and there’s hundred of videos out there just like it.

Right now, Europe’s food and drink industry is the continents largest manufacturing sector in terms of turnover, employment, and value added. But believe it or not, this fantasy us Americans dream about when it comes to European food could actually fade away. According to FoodDrinkEurope, which represents Europe’s food and drink industry, recently published a report that argues the continent might be in danger of ‘losing its competitive edge.’

Click here to see report.

Specifically, the report said, “Despite being a major contributor to Europe’s economy, key competitiveness indicators show that Europe’s food and drink sector is losing its competitive edge.”

That’s because European institutions don’t have policies specifically tailored to the food industry, which means they could lose out to non-EU manufacturers. FoodDrinkEurope urges the removal of barriers to trade, more sustainable food systems, a focus on productivity, and a better promotion of science.

Even local European farmers appear worried. Specifically, they are arguing against a looming US-EU free trade agreement that would allow American farmers to essentially sell lower quality food. The concern here is protecting Europe’s high standards when it comes to the environment and animals.

A member of German environmental group Bund told The Local, “At the moment it’s possible (in Europe) to encourage farmers to raise animals in good conditions and to produce for the local market, but if the free trade agreement goes ahead, we will be subject to the rules of the global market, and the global market doesn’t care about protecting the environment and animals.”

Honestly, I believe the real issue here is staying competitive. Europe, I would imagine, knows that it sits at the top when it comes to food. To protect that prestige, there’s no doubt the EU must find a solution to keeping their goods the best.

However, at the same time, as American’s we also have to make money, which is the reason for the global market. It’s what drives prices and profits. The problem here, then, is finding a way to make both parties happy, which we all know isn’t the easiest of things to do.

Either way, Europe needs to keep its “competitive edge” at least for a few more years so that those of us who have yet to experience it in its authenticity still have a chance to.

Bach to the Basics

I plan to engulf myself into a completely foreign land and culture this summer. Even though I’ve studied German since junior high school, I never had the chance to make it across seas. Now, the time has come. Leipzig, the city of music, is my summer destination.

04nextstop-span-articleLarge

Photo courtesy of Oliver Hartung for the New York Times

Because Leipzig is known to be such a vibrant city, I wanted to familiarize myself with some of its musical sites and sounds, or at least some upcoming concerts. A New York Times article, while a bit dated, shows Leipzig as a huge art hub, and I don’t see this scene dwindling in popularity anytime soon. Songkick showed more than 400 shows coming to Leipzig, and naturally, I YouTubed as many as I could. Just as expected, I found a range of bands varying from folksy, fun tunes to electronic ragers.

Obviously every band wasn’t German-speaking, but my curiously leaned more toward those that were. Next year will be the 330th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth, so hopefully I’m traveling into a musical whirlwind – or these days some electronica rather than graceful compositions. However, there’s more than just electronic music, don’t worry.

Whether you fancy classical music or modern alternative music, it can all be found right in Leipzig. The Bach Museum plays instrumentals and hymns of Bach’s work, while the Werk II moves away from that style and into hosting popular multicultural events. To find more music like the links I posted, I think the UT Connewitz and Conne Island seem most appealing. The UT Connewitz shows modern, alternative films and Conne Island features hip-hop, ska, and again, more alternative.

Bach’s birth isn’t the only reason for Leipzig to celebrate at these venues either, keeping the music industry going strong. In June of this year, it will also be his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s 300th birth anniversary. In honor of this event, along with  anniversaries for Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss, a series of events and exhibitions will open, adding to already-standing museums and complimenting other festivals like Bachfest Leipzig.

For the full report, click here.

The Berlin Drug Scene: You know it has to be good.

Whenever you think of Berlin, what do you think of? Among the list could be many things – the Berlin Wall, the up and coming start-up scene, the art. No doubt, though, that something included in this list has something to do with the throngs of young people that make the city feel like it’s buzzing – a live wire poised ever so precariously above a bathtub of water. Maybe that’s just me, counting myself among those “young people,” and about to be counting myself as one of those “young people” living in Berlin. Or maybe it’s the clubs that stay open all day and all night, or my experience with the U-Bahn on a Friday night, or the one of the many, many green, open parks littered with young people drinking cheap beer, sunbathing on one of those “soak it up while it lasts” sunny, summer days. With that picture successfully painted, I would like to now point to something that most of the time, albeit stereotypically, comes conjointly with the thought of young people: drugs.

cannabis

….as if you don’t know what this is….

As cannabis is used by some three million Germans, I felt it only necessary that this be the drug I hone in on in this post. The 2011 Drug Affinity Study (DAS), carried out by the Federal Centre for Health Education (Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung/BZgA), states that a decline in cannabis use among peoples aged 12-17 can be witnessed in its latest German study, insinuating that the country’s prevention measures, aimed at drug education in middle schools and recreational settings, just might be working.

But what about the older inhabitants of Germany, aged 18 and above; the ones that can legally drink all types of alcohol and smoke tobacco in public? The findings on the 18-25 age group, according to the DAS, show no such reduction, with cannabis remaining the most frequently used illicit substance in this age group across studies. It would seem, then, that cannabis is here to stay. And guess what? The mayor of Kreuzburg borough in Berlin, Monika Herrmann, thinks so too. At the moment, German law prohibits the sale and purchase of cannabis, but allows each federal state to decide how much one may personally possess without being arrested: in Berlin, the amount is 15 grams. Monika Herrmann would like to take this somewhat relaxation of the law even further, by implementing various government-run “coffee shops” where valid card holders over the age of 18 can buy a specified amount of cannabis from a member of a medically trained staff.

weed list in amsterdam coffee shop

Weed list in Amsterdam coffee shop

Though the benefit to cannabis smokers this suggested new law would bring is obvious, the reasoning behind Herrmann’s thoughts is hardly all fun and games. Her proposal is an attempt to combat the ever-growing issue of the black market in Berlin, something that hosts a medley of social problems, from allowing illegal immigrants to make a somewhat steady income without putting anything back into the economy, to problems concerning the purity of the cannabis that is being sold. Herrmann uses Kreuzberg’s Görlitzer Park, a place infamous for its nearly infinite amount of drug dealers, as one of her prime examples. As quoted by SmartPlanet, Herrmann states, “Punishment hasn’t changed a thing in these cases. We’ve had police raid after police raid, and the sellers are back before you know it… the current direction isn’t working anymore, and we need to try something else.” Her version of this “something else” has been put to successful work in various other countries, the American state of Colorado being one of the newest members to join in the growing trend.

Monika Herrmann

Monika Herrmann

Though this progressive view on cannabis is one shared by many, it should not be confused with an overall lax view on drugs; rather, it should be seen as the opposite. Another of this potential new law’s take home points is that with the regulation of cannabis would come a differentiation between “hard” and “soft” drugs. I am not one to buy into the whole “gateway drug” argument, but it is hard to deny that there is the potential for this argument to be somewhat valid when studies like this one done in 2011 on the E.U show that 52% of the cannabis users it surveyed in Sweden, a country where cannabis is illegal, full out, said they were well aware that other drugs were available for purchase through the same location that they bought their cannabis from. Now, does this mean that all people buying cannabis will eventually move on to buying harder drugs? Of course not. But does it mean that if those people buying cannabis wanted to buy other, harder drugs from their cannabis dealer, they could? Yes, yes it does.

Obviously, if people want to buy harder drugs, they can and most likely will be able to—if they just take a stroll through Görlitzer Park, I’m sure they’ll find what they’re looking for. But when buying cannabis from a “coffee shop” becomes a regulated, regular thing, people simply do not have these same easy options for access to harder drugs. And hey, given that the consumption of cannabis literally cannot kill you, doesn’t it seem like a better alternative to separate it from drugs that most definitely can kill you? Though only time will tell if this potential law will become a reality, the fact that it is circulating at all is telling of the times—a harbinger of what is to come for Berlin’s “notorious” drug scene.

OMG, GMOs!

 

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are predicted to be in approximately 70-80% of all processed food here in the U.S.

According to the Non-GMO Project, GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically altered with the use of DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. You ask, are foods containing GMOs safe to eat? The answer will vary depending on who you ask. The FDA considers GMOs to be perfectly safe for human consumption (and even have a forum on their stance on GMOs on their website), while avid anti-GMO organizations like the Non-GMO Project will tell you otherwise. They will tell you that foods containing GMOs are polluted with more herbicides/pesticides (since they’re genetically engineered to resist these), are disastrous for the environment, and the long-term effects of these on humans have not yet been adequately studied.

GMOs: safe or deadly?

GMOs: safe or poisonous?

Over 60 countries (Germany, UK, Australia, Norway, and France, to name a few) have concluded that the use of GMOs in their food supply is hazardous to humans and have laws protecting against GMOs in their nation’s food supply. The numbers of countries that are proposing similar bills are steadily growing. Surprisingly, Russia may be next.

About a week ago, a bill was prepared by several members of the Parliament that would completely ban the domestic production of GMOs in Russia and drastically restrict the importation of genetically-modified produce in Russia. Currently, there are no restrictions on the production of foods containing GMOs. However, if a food contains more than 0.9 percent of GMO product, it must be labeled on the product itself.

Although the authors of the proposed bill are hopeful that this bill will be successful once it is proposed in the DUMA, it will be interesting to see how a topic such as this one will be addressed in an agricultural powerhouse like Russia. According to the Business Insider, Russia is the #8 largest exporter of wheat in the world and the country itself consumes more than 38 million tons of wheat yearly.

Cucumbers being grown in large-scale factory farms

Cucumbers grown in large-scale factory farms

It is unclear what a ban on GMOs would do for the success of the Russian wheat industry. However, one thing is clear: if successful, this decision could potentially set a standard among other nations, like the U.S., that currently have no restrictions on foods containing GMOs.

Personally, I have several family members who operate small-scale farms in the Caucasus region of Southern Russia. They grow a variety of fruits and vegetables and raise approximately a dozen chickens, either for eggs or for personal consumption.  The techniques they use in farming would not exactly be considered “modern” or “industrial.” Instead, they use methods that have been passed down to them from past generations. They do not sow seeds into the earth that have been genetically modified because they use the seeds from the previous harvest to get them started on the next.

The concept of GMOs is one that is unknown to them. They are not going out of their way to be self-proclaimed organic farmers, they are just using the techniques they know work best for them.

Simple, clean, GMO-free farming.

Although a general consensus about GMOs has not yet been reached, it is definitely worrisome to think about the fact that GMOs are a fairly new invention (about 20 years old) and the long-term effects of GMOs on the human body have not yet been discovered. One question remains: GMOs, the next silent killer?

 

 

Sochi: The Symbol

The Olympics have always been a rallying point for nations to set aside their various disputes and come together to celebrate diversity and athletic excellence.  This year, that aspect of the games will be more important than ever as Russia continues to work for unity in a region known for ethnic disputes.  According to the Associated Press, even as work crews were putting the finishing touches on the brand new sports complex on December 29th last year, an explosion triggered by a suicide bomber ripped through a railway station in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, killing 13.  The attacks were blamed on a known Chechen terrorist and are indicative of the turbulent nature of the whole North Caucasus.

The Olympic rings

Olympic rings near Sochi’s new sports complex

This year marks the very first winter Olympics to be held in Russia, and the first time any Olympic games have been held there since 1980. Needless to say, the pressure is on for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. This is especially true considering the fact that human rights groups such as The International Crisis Group have been actively keeping tabs on this volatile region for decades, monitoring the ongoing struggles of native Circassian and Chechen rebels against the Russian authorities.

The location of the games serves as a strong symbol of Russian authority in the North Caucasus. According to Sochi’s official website, the region did not fall under Russian control until 1864, after the Russian Empire forced out the Ottoman Turks. Large numbers of Circassians were forcibly deported or killed shortly afterward, beginning a long and uneasy history of Russian control. Even now, Sochi is positioned close to the contested region of Abkhazia, which was the cause of a Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and remains to this day a source of conflict between the two countries.

Sochi Russia

A Soviet-style statue overlooking the city

Undoubtedly, Putin plans for the winter games to showcase Russia’s ascendancy in the post-soviet era and put to rest allegations of misconduct which have been brought against his regime for its policies towards the North Caucasus. According to the blog “Russia!” the Russian government has allocated about $15 billion to alleviate the North Caucasus from its economic stagnancy and its political turmoil, mostly through efforts to encourage tourism in the region through the construction of numerous resorts and the Sochi sports complex.

The Russian Federation means to use the games as a focal point for international and local attention.  They will be a source of inspiration which will both advertise their efforts to revitalize the North Caucasus and provide legitimacy to all of their ongoing diplomatic disputes. Of course, this all hinges on the ability of Russian authorities to keep the games clear of any major protests or violence.

 

 

 

Corruption & Sports, Russia’s favorite pastimes

Corruption and sports are two of Russia’s favorite pastimes.

From now until Feb. 23 both will be on full display at the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. These Winter Olympics are the most expensive Olympics ever, costing $51 billion. As the world arrives in Sochi, journalists are finding everything from unpainted rooms to restrooms with two toilets in the same stall. Threats from terrorists and cyberattackers also create an ominous shadow for games that are meant to bring the world together.

Snow in a Sub-Tropical Resort

The mere presence of the games in Sochi is a symbol of the corrupt nature of these games. Sochi is a summer resort town next to the Black Sea.

Snow? Well Sochi has it. Sort of.

Sochi snow

Courtesy Wikkipedia

Organizers stored snow from last year under special thermo blankets. NBC News reports that 75 percent of Sochi’s snow is manmade, using 403 snow guns that line Sochi’s mountains. If Sochi still doesn’t have enough snow, si.com reports that organizers built a snow making plant that can make snow at temperatures up to 59 degrees.

The snow isn’t the only quirk at these games. Far from it. Sochi is the warmest place in an otherwise cold country. High temperatures were in the 50s and 60s this week in Sochi. Highs were in the 40s and 50s in the mountains. Some skiers even skied in short sleeves.

Highs are expected to be in the mid to upper 50s this week as well:

 

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 8.19.08 PM

 

Toilet Trouble

There’s also the issue of toilet trouble. Bloomberg news is one of many media outlets to report that many restroom stalls in Sochi have two toilets and no partition to divide them.

Some toilets also had lids placed backwards:

Toilet 1

Russians also have some interesting bathroom rules:

Toilet 2

Bloggers and Russians are seeing the toilet gaffs as symbols of corruption that caused the cost of the games to soar. The internet meme below combines the word Sochi with the Russian word for taking a crap.

Soilet

 

Pillow Shortage

There’s also a pillow shortage in Sochi. Deadspin reports that Luiza Baybakova, a member of the catering company, posted this photo on Instagram telling volunteers that pillows will be transferred from their apartments to a storehouse.

The pillows will then be given to athletes who “unexpectedly arrived”.

Stuck Doors

But wait, Sochi’s doors must hate U.S. Bobsledder Johnny Quinn.

Saturday Quinn got stuck in a bathroom in Sochi when he showered before an appearance the “Today” show. Quinn couldn’t open the door and had to run through the door to get out. Quinn tweeted this photo after he finally got out.

Some yellow thing

Courtesy Johnny Quinn

It’s hard to believe, but Monday Quinn and two other bobsledders found themselves stuck in an elevator. Quinn said ” No one is going to believe this but we just got stuck in an elevator.”

Quinn 2

Courtesy Johnny Quinn

 

Even the opening ceremonies at the games were not spared embarrassment. The ceremonies tried to highlight Russia’s strength and power in the world. But once again Russia showed what $51 billion couldn’t buy. Five snowflakes were supposed to change into Olympic rings, but one malfunctioned.

Courtesy Hazboy

Courtesy Hazboy

 

Bushido for Berlin: German Rap and Politics

In June 2012, he completed an internship in the office of Christian von...

Center, Rapper Bushido

When I first visited Germany I was surprised to see the differences between their rap music and ours in America. The styles, messages, and even the beats seem to be quite different in some cases. The biggest thing that stuck out to me, though, is how political their rap can be. Sometimes American rappers will touch on political topics, but in Germany there seems to be an entire branch of political rappers. They rap for and against political policies, and even world issues.

Die Fantastischen

Die Fantastischen 4

Rap, or hip-hop, in Germany came about in the 80’s, and was quite similar to the rap in the United States, including the fact that it was made in english. Since the style of German rap was so similar to American old school rap, it did not grow in popularity until the 90’s. A notable name for the rap scene during the 80’s was Die Fantastischen Vier (Fanta 4) from Stuttgart. In the 90’s Fanta 4 followed suit, with the group Advanced Chemistry, and started rapping in German. This would be the moment that German rap rose in popularity within Germany. Rap was not the only thing on the rise in Germany during the 90’s, though. After reunification between East and West Germany, there was a rise in immigration, and this is the period that one can notice the use of rap as a voice for current affairs. Billy Jam, a radio host from New York’s WFMU, wrote:

“By the early ’90s, Turkish-German, the country’s largest minority, became a powerful voice in German hip-hop. German-Turkish rap essentially came into being in the 1990’s as a direct correlation with the rise of anti-immigrant feelings in Germany and violent attacks upon Turkish immigrants in the country. Hip-hop quickly became a voice for this marginalized sector of German society and consequently the number of Turkish-German rappers has multiplied vastly.”

Immigration to Germany had been going on since the 50’s, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, there was a rise in violence against Ausländer or foreigners, especially those of Turkish decent. Consequently, from the 90’s on German rap has become very politicized.

Rioters threw Molotov cocktails at the complex, trapping residents inside. It...

Riot against foreigners at Rostock

Not all German rap is political, but mainstream German rappers like Sido, Fler, and Bushido all are known for their politically controversial lyrics. The rapper Bushido is a great example of this. Bushido’s real name is Anis Mohamed Youssef Ferchichi. He was born to a German mother and Tunisian father, and grew up in middle-class Berlin, but soon after leaving school he was charged for crimes of vandalism and drug possession. When he started his rap career he joined with German hip-hop label Aggro Berlin, who is also known for provoking controversy. In a paper on changing demographics in Germany, J. Griffith Rollefson states, “as the racialized descriptions, symbols, and alter egos of the label’s artists indicate, Aggro Berlin is in the business of capitalizing on government and media fears in a racially hypersensitive nation.” This fit well with rapper Bushido who’s lyrics are known to be misogynistic, nationalist, homophobic, and crude. Other controversies of Bushido include tweeting anti-israel posts, having possible ties to a Lebanese organized crime gang, assault, and copyright infringement. One of his latest controversies comes from his single Stress ohne Grund (Stress for no reason). In the song he says:

Und ich will, dass Serkan Tören jetzt ins Gras beißt,
Ich schieß auf Claudia Roth und sie kriegt Löcher wie ein Golfplatz

In this segment of the song, he is speaking about two politicians. The first one, Tören, he wants to “bite the dust”, and the second one, Roth, he says, “he shoots [her] and she gets hole like a golf course.” Also, in the song he speaks about the gay Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, and others. Bushido had charges filed against him, because the song was considered homophobic, racial, and violent. In a later interview, he stated that the song is “in no way a call to violence and that if he shoots with anything, it’s words.” Bushido also wrote a bestselling autobiography and played himself in a film about his life, but after all of this controversy, the next step he takes in life is quite surprising.

Bushido Internship

Bushido interning in German Parliament

In 2012, Bushido announced on Twitter that he would be starting his own political party. In an interview with Bild Magazine he says, “he was seeking to become mayor of Berlin and win a state parliamentary seat.” This comes as a surprise to many, and Bild Magazine even asked him if it was a joke, which he said it was not. He even did an internship in the German Parliament to learn more about politics. At the time of the interview, Bushido did not know what his party would be called or what platform the party would have. He did say, however, “while the platform for his as-yet unnamed party is not complete, he’s committed to helping those in problem areas, especially immigrants.” His goal is to make life easier for immigrants living in problem areas. He doesn’t just want to give them money though. He “wants to create more incentives [for immigrants] to voluntarily [learn German],” which would be a start to making life easier for them. He also wants to bring other German celebrities into his party, like actor Moritz Bleibtreu from Lola Rennt, former Wimbledon champ Boris Becker, and music producer Dieter Bohlen. When asked about his past lyrics of homophobia, misogyny, and violence, he says, “These texts are past … I have nothing against gays. And my God, we love women, women are sexy.” While the next elections are not until 2016, I think it will be very interesting to see what comes of this. To see a rapper, who has a controversial and criminal past that made his living on crude and violent lyrics, step into the political realm is something to follow in the future. It is hard to say how much success he will garner politically, but maybe his popularity in the rap industry will help him to become mayor of Berlin. Since rap has such a strong political voice in Germany, maybe it is possible for the two worlds to collide. 

Sources: A Brief Overview of German Hip-Hop from Billy Jam /// Changing Demographics: Migration Flows from or to Germany /// Bushido Ballyhoo: When Hip-Hop and German Politics Collide /// German Rapper Bushido Starts Own Political Party /// Rüpel-Rapper Will Eigene Partei Gründen

Germans Protest the State of Gay Rights in Russia

In Berlin, people have been rallying under the slogan “Genug ist Genug—Macht euren Mund auf” (“Enough is Enough—Open Your Mouth”) in protest of tightening restrictions against LGBTQ activity in Russia, the host of this year’s Winter Olympics.

My favorite sign of the protest

Gotta love those #hashtags

In August, 4,000-5,000 protesters (the number varies a bit depending on the source) marched past the Reichstag to the Russian embassy in the hopes of motivating a repeal of Russia’s most recent anti-gay law, which Russian president Vladimir Putin had signed into effect two months earlier.

Protesters organized again to light a ‘rainbow flame’ on the city’s Potsdamer Platz on the day of the Olympic opening ceremony. They intend to keep the flame burning for the duration of the games, the same amount of time that the Olympic torch is set to burn in Sochi.

Berlin-based drag queen and DJ Barbie Breakout also told viewers to “Open Your Mouth” as she (quite literally) sewed her mouth shut on camera. In an interview with Vice Magazine, she said that while she is not a particularly political person, she didn’t merely want to sign a Facebook petition against Russia’s anti-gay legislation either. You can see the video (as you might have guessed, it’s graphic) and check out the German-language interview here.

Then there was that awkward moment when the media started using the label “gay protest” for things that are not gay protests at all.

For example, the quite, er, colorful German Olympic team uniform has had the internet abuzz since its debut in October—apparently, people have been associating its rainbow design with the rainbow as a symbol of gay pride. Designer Willy Bogner and a spokesperson for the German Olympic team have both denied that the uniform was designed with gay rights in mind or as a protest of any kind (“this is just a fashionable jacket”). While I find the use of “fashionable” a bit questionable here, Bogner’s rebuttal is on point:

„Wer unser Design mit Regenbogenfarben verwechselt, hat noch nie einen Regenbogen gesehen oder gemalt . . . Da fehlen Rot und Violett, und die Anordnung ist völlig anders.”

(Anybody who confuses our design with rainbow colors has never seen or painted a rainbow . . . Red and violet are missing, and the ordering is completely different.)

Now, the rainbow tracksuits in Russian band t.A.T.u.’s lesbian-esque preshow performance at the opening ceremony, well, those were most certainly a whole ‘nother story.

 

 

Germany’s Elektronische Musik

WDRstudio

The WDR Studio in Cologne

Long, long ago, long before the days of blaring techno and warehouse raves, electronic music got its start not in dance clubs, but in radio studios and laboratories near Cologne. As far back as 1950, there were Germans splicing tapes, turning dials and making loads of bizarre noises in the studios of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk and Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk radio networks.

Now, in the late 1940s, some Frenchmen, namely Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, began experimenting with musique concrète, making compositions with tape recordings as the principal instrument. In 1949, Werner Meyer-Eppler published Elektronische Klangerzeugung: Elektronische Musik und Synthetische Sprache, a thesis encouraging the production of purely synthetic music. Meyer-Eppler’s text presented a new German form of music, consciously different from French musique concrète in that where the French worked with recordings of acoustic music, the Germans would use only purely synthesized electronic sounds.

karlheinzstockhausen-sized

Karlheinz Stockhausen himself

The WDR studio in Cologne became the nexus of this new so-called ‘elektronische musik’, with Karlheinz Stockhausen as its most charismatic representative. Stockhausen’s studio produced not only music, but also a following of students who would take their studies in electronic music, combine that knowledge with rock music a la The Velvet Underground and created the progressive rock music dubbed “Krautrock” by British press. Among Stockhausen’s students was Holger Czukay, who along with Irmin Shmidt, another of Stockhausen’s students, formed the musical group that would later become Can, probably the most well-recognized group of the Krautrock era.

Kontakte, 1960

Score for Stockhausen’s 1960 composition “Kontakte”

Stockhausen’s music is alienating at first- completely absent of melody and harmony and entirely unpredictable. Analog synthesizers, as well as various filters, potentiometers and shortwave radios were manipulated to produce entirely new sounds, in entirely new musical forms. Pieces could be brief or extraordinarily lengthy– the idea was that this would be entirely new music, so no traditional musical conventions can really be expected to apply.

This profound newness in art developed contemporaneously with the student movements of the 1960s which demanded newness in politics and education, and the German Krautrock bands such as Neu!, Can and Faust combined these two influences to create the first progressive rock music, eventually leading to the creation of ambient music years before Brian Eno ever touched a synthesizer. I’ll be tracing the further development of Germany’s electronic music history in following posts, so be sure to check back every week or so to catch up on the news.

Will Germany Abandon the Euro?

German Euro Coins

German Euros

As it stands, the solutions to Europe’s growing financial crisis are weakening by the day. As recently as the 3rd fiscal quarter of last year, countries such as Greece, Italy, and Portugal had debt ratios as high as 128% (with Greece taking the cake at a whopping 171.8%)! What is a debt ratio exactly (explained by smart people here)? Basically, it’s a measurement that tells you how much money a country owes, divided by its gross domestic product (money owed versus money made). That means these failing countries owe vast amounts more than the entirety of their country’s products can pay, a sour position indeed.

As the proclaimed economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany may need to abandon the Euro altogether, according to Dr. Peter Morici. At this point, Morici says, unemployment has exceeded Great Depression levels in several countries, and “slashing government spending and labor market reforms have neither restored Club Med economies nor their governments to solvency.” So what does that mean? We all know the EU has implemented numerous austerity measures throughout its member nations, but it now seems evident that those solutions still aren’t panning out. Governments have tried to cut spending at alarming rates all the while sovereign debts continue to grow.

How to Save the Euro Comic

Saving the Euro

There are two sides to every debate though. Aristides Hatzis is an economics professor at the University of Athens who claims Germany should stay the course in the EU. Germany appears to have the bargaining power in any potential split, but the losses she would incur are far greater that what initially meets the eye. For one, according to Hatzis, “A devalued euro could become the nemesis to an overvalued new deutsche mark as its former dependents could evolve into fierce competitors.”  Germany would also lose millions in devalued foreign assets, and its refurbished independent currency would gain value, causing Germany’s export strengths to weaken. Dr. Morici still maintains, however, that a lot of northern Europe’s economic prowess depends heavily on exporting goods to southern Europe and amassing trade surpluses:

“Simple math requires the Mediterranean states to have corresponding trade deficits as long as those are locked inside the euro and can’t devalue their currencies to escape. Those trade deficits must be financed by borrowing from the north—either by their governments spending and borrowing too much, as Rome and Athens did prior to their crises, or their banks finance real estate bubbles, as Madrid permitted prior to the global financial collapse.”

While there’s no shortage of debate on the future of the Euro, it remains to be seen if Germans will soon be trading in Euros for Deutsch Marks. Regardless, any major shifts in international currency and trading will certainly cause major changes across the economic world.

 

Sources: Morici: Abandon Euro /// Debt Numbers Reference /// Hatzis’ Article