The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Bar exams in two jurisdictions

Since last report, I've spent time at two bars known for their craft beer selection. Even though I've seriously reduced my beer intake for a variety of reasons (especially its effect on my Fitbit numbers), spending a couple of days away from home let me feel a certain license in my consumption.

Friday night, therefore, I found Kaschk, a Swedish-owned pub on the fringes of the Mitte district in the former East Berlin. Within a few moments of entering I knew I'd come to the right place:

Old Rasputin on draft? And what's this Brewfist Spaceman pale—Italian?

After a 90-minute conversation with the manager, Rab (yes, Rab: he's Scots), I actually accepted that somewhere in Italy someone knows how to make small-batch craft beer.

Then, last night, back to Southampton Arms, we had a rare (for Saturday night) sighting of Fred the Bar Bitch:

And as Southampton Arms is a true pub, the evening wound up with me and a very cool couple (Chris and Jess) closing the place down before I hit the Night Bus back to my hotel. After that began a disappointing and ultimately futile search for kebab. No matter; it was a great evening, with a limited number of very tasty beers, including Redemption Big Chief Ale.

And now I'm back at Heathrow, with a 20-minute walk to my gate commencing in just a moment. Then Chicago, then routine. And less beer.

Strange airport design

Berlin's Tegel airport is supposed to close at some point, so I shouldn't be too surprised at some of the, ah, artifacts in the place. For example, in the A terminal, the security checkpoints only control pairs of gates, so once you're through you're totally stuck with whatever concessions are inside that gate pair. In my case this means €9,60 (about $12.50) for a ham sandwich and a latte. (Come to think of it, that's about what it would cost at Starbucks...)

This is apparently a feature, not a bug:

"It's super convenient," says Winnie Heun, a Berlin-based cinematographer and Tegel fan flying to Kiev to film a commercial.

"Because of the round design, you can drop off at the gate and from there it's 30 meters to check-in. And right behind the check-in, is security. It's super fast."

This is true. I just wish I'd known that before getting stuck 10 gates away from the lounge.

The other thing is that while they do have free wi-fi (an unbelievable rarity in Germany), it's kind of slow. I mean, modem slow. But at least I can read a couple of emails before boarding.

Waaah, waaah, waaah.

My airplane is here, boarding starts soon, and in less than three hours I'll be in the Tube. Berlin was worth the trip; maybe I'd stay another day or two to see some of the museums I missed.

Berlin history

Another big walking day in sunny weather took me up to Bernauerstraße and the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial):

That's a mostly-preserved but partially-reconstructed section of the wall at the corner of Bernauerstraße and Ackerstraße, near the site where the first person trying to flee over the wall was killed. It's hard to imagine that the place I'm sitting now was once in East Berlin, just a few hundred meters from the place by the Wall where Reagan gave his famous speech in 1987.

I ended the walk at the DDR Museum, which outlined what life in East Germany was like from 1945 to 1990. In between I walked down Big Hamburger Street Große Hamburger Straße, in the old Jewish quarter, and stopped to check email (and have some non-German beer) at Sophie'n eck:

This is just a few meters from the monument to all of Berlin's Jews killed during the Holocaust. More grim history.

It's also fairly close to Museum Island which—wait for it—is an island on which sits nothing but museums (and the occasional cathedral). Here's the view looking downstream from the northern tip of Museums-Insell:

Upstream a bit is the Berlin Dom, which is not a BDSM maneuver but is still big, intimidating, and German:

Note that all of these photos are from my mobile phone. I have a few hundred on my real camera, but they're inaccessible right now because I forgot the proper cable. I aim to have some of those photos up by Wednesday or Thursday.

Tomorrow I'm off to my second-favorite city in the world, where I have set aside time and calories to park at Southampton Arms for a couple of hours.

Tonight, though: I've got another 6,000 steps to go. I missed 20,000 yesterday by just a handful, but I have over 100,000 for the week, putting me almost up to 80 km. (I've yet to hit 15 km in a day. Maybe tomorrow?)

Yes, sometimes I'm a tourist

Nobody, I think, visits Germany for the food (or the UK, for that matter), but when in Berlin, one does as...a tourist to Berlin. And that is why I got suckered in by this guy:

And ordered this:

That is (literally) a hot mess of grilled pork and chicken (though which bits no one can say) in a cream-of-mushroom sauce with some fried potato bits on the side. You think yesterday had surplus calories? I am actually shocked that Germany isn't as fat as the US, on average. Fortunately, I walked another 14.5 km today—er, yesterday—and plan to walk at least 20 km today. (Once I wake up, of course.)

Also, their website promised:

Wir haben Leberkäse, Lammstelzen, „Kasspatz’n“ und weitere Spezialitäten, für die unsere Küche geschätzt wird. Alles wird in Handarbeit hergestellt und frisch zubereitet. Hier können Sie bayerische Küche genießen und sich dabei wie Gott in Frankreich fühlen.

Which I believe means, "We have meatloaf, lamb stilts, 'Kasspatz'n' and other specialties for which our kitchen is appreciated. Everything is handmade and fresh. Here you can enjoy Bavarian cuisine and feel like God in France." (Google might have influenced this belief. Though why one would want to feel like a God in France is a little beyond my understanding of German cuisine.)

I get back to Chicago on Sunday, and I think from Monday morning until I can't take it any more, I'm going to eat nothing but raw spinach, carrots, and maybe a slice of cheese.

Country #24†

For just a few euro and an hour each way by train, I visited my 24th country this afternoon. Here is the heavily-guarded border between Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany and Słubice, Poland:

Seriously, though, if I hadn't had a phone with a GPS and cached Google Maps I would not have known exactly where the border was. It's not marked; there's just a two-lane bridge with sidewalks. The border is about 100 m from the German bank of the Oder, with no indication that you've entered Poland until the roundabout on the other side.

The trip started at the newish (1998) Berlin Hauptbahnhof:

And on the way there, I passed through the center of German government, including past the Reichstagsgebäude:

Despite spending a whopping €3,60 on a Bockwurst mit Brot und Bier at the Frankfurt (Oder) train station (ugh), I'm going to find some real food in a bit—food that involves walking some more. Later tonight I'll report on some seriously good Fitbit numbers.

* The question came up after posting this: which countries? So here they are, in order of my first visit, excluding the United States: Canada, the U.K., France, Switzerland, Germany†, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin‡, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, India, Japan, China, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Korea (ROK), Korea (DPRK), Norway, and today, Poland.

† I'm old, but not that old: I first visited Germany in 1992, which was close to reunification, but sufficiently after the even that no one thought of it as "West" Germany anymore. And I'm writing this from a hotel firmly inside East Berlin as it existed when I was planning my first trip to Europe in the 1980s.

‡ I'm counting the island as one country, even though it's a territory inside two other countries. I feel this is an appropriate compromise, since neither the Netherlands nor France recognizes their bit of St. Martin Island as an independent nation. So: Both Sint Maarten (Netherlands Antilles) and Saint-Martin (French Overseas Collective) are, on this list, counted as one country.

JAMA: Fitbits actually work, if you want them to

The Times Wellness blog today reports on fitness tracking devices:

Each volunteer was fitted with a pedometer, two accelerometers, several wristband monitors and, in each pocket, a cellphone, one of which ran three iPhone-based fitness-tracking apps and the other of which featured an Android phone running one tracking app.

The volunteers then began walking on treadmills set to a gentle 3 miles-per-hour pace. A researcher stood nearby and manually counted every step each volunteer took until that volunteer had finished first 500 and then, separately, another 1,500 steps.

The upshot, said Dr. Mitesh S. Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who oversaw the study, is that smartphones could offer “an easy, less expensive, but still accurate” means for people to track their activity.

But my Fitbit is fun. Which brings up an important point buried in the blog post:

But the broader issue, as Dr. Patel and his colleagues pointed that no fitness tracker of any kind has yet proved able to motivate people disinclined to exercise to start moving.


I have two hours to get in another 4,500 steps to reach 20,000 today. And now that my Apfelstrudel is mostly digested, I'm motivated.

Good walk, still unsure of the time

Fitbit says I've gotten 10.4 km in so far today, over to the Brandenburg Gate, through the Holocaust Memorial, down to Mehringplatz, then up Friedrichstraße past Checkpoint Charlie and back to Unter den Linden.

I might have some more walking in me yet. One bonus (at least on that front) is that my hotel room is not only one of the furthest from the hotel entrance, but it's up one flight of stairs and down another to get there. Nice room, though, with windows that actually open, which is unusual these days.

As it's just noon in Chicago, and possibly due to the walking, I'm a bit hungry, so I'm off to find some Schnitzel. Photos later.

Ich bin kein Pfannkuchen

I've arrived in Berlin, whose international airport reminded me of LaGuardia, and I've just woken up from a nap. That makes some sense, as my body thinks it's 7am, not 2pm, and the caffeine from the tea they served me at breakfast (just before 11pm Chicago time) may have worn off.

After showering and putting clothes on I'll start exploring. I foresee no difficulty making my Fitbit numbers, but I do foresee some difficulty taking in this immense city in three days.

But, my Dog, I do not like overnight flights.

And what's this about Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show?

Andrew Mason profile

The Seattle Times catches up with the former Groupon CEO:

Mason, 34, became rich by trying to create the world’s biggest bargain bin. In 2008, he transformed an online service devoted to social causes into Groupon, which offered steep discounts on everything from restaurant meals to hot-air balloon flights if enough people bought them. By late 2011, Groupon had become an Internet sensation valued at $13 billion in an initial public offering of stock that turned Mason into a billionaire.

Things unraveled quickly as Groupon battled copycat services from hundreds of rivals, including and Google, and the thrill of the deal faded for many consumers. By early 2013, Groupon’s stock had plunged nearly 80 percent below its IPO price of $20, triggering Mason’s firing. The collapse shrunk the value of Mason’s stake in Groupon from $1.5 billion to about $228 million.

Without sounding bitter, Mason looks back on Groupon as a “stupid, boring idea that just happened to resonate.” He no longer dwells on what went wrong at the company.

“I Google it from time to time, but I have moved on,” Mason says.

I've previously commented on Groupon around their IPO, which I scoffed at. But hey, I didn't have millions to burn at the time, so I stayed away.