Friday, July 16, 2010

The Inevitable

I would love to count all the countries I have been to. I would love to count all that I have seen. It has been a treat for the mind. We tried food. We met people, from Korea, from Russia, from Senegal, from Chile, Mexico, Poland, Israel… Some like the German I met on my way to Swiss, knew more about India than me in certain respects (He wanted to discuss Amitav Ghosh’s works, and asked about my opinion on the fact that Jyoti Basu donated his organs after death). Diptarka once met a German who knew Hindi !! Somehow, everyone seemed to know of Bollywood and Shahrukh Khan, and Bachhan and Mera Naam Joker. At Venice we met an elderly American who discussed in details the economics of the world, and how everyone stands on loose ground. Again, on my way back from Hamburg, I had some adventures with members of a family from Karlsruhe, all established or budding artists...

Our makeshift arrangements for the nights, the multiple races against time, the elaborate planning that I involved myself in, getting lucky, getting unlucky -- experiences all. According to some rough calculations, I walked around 200 kms during this period. I must say I enjoy discovering a place by walking, both with comrades and alone. Thankfully, I never went out in a large group. It is not always - 'the more the merrier', as I learnt from some of my friends, who unfortunately learnt it the hard way.

Unfortunately like everytime, everything that has a beginning must have an end. I will miss opening nineteen times a day. I will miss so many former strangers. I will miss the forest and the meadow in the midst. I will miss the snails, not the slugs. And so here I am writing the last post of this blog. Thanks to everyone who had been encouraging me to write, and of course to capture beautiful pictures.

So, that’s it. I hope to have the opportunity to better myself sometime again. Goodbye.


  • According to some people the only reason one should go to a place is to take photos, and the only reason one should take photos is to prove that they have been there. One guy said in a serious tone, "There is no use going to CERN for a tour, because they don't allow you to take pictures."
  • One day a Chinese PhD student applying for a job wanted me to check his grammar. He approached me, "You are an Indian, right? So your English must be good."
  • If an IITian says he is jetlagged, he must be lying.
  • People here don't eat from each others' plates, at least in public, with an exception for their partners. So they might have the wrong notion, if they see two guys sharing food.
  • To an Indian, money is foremost. One guy, caught ticketless on a train. The TT charges him the standard fine of 40 euros. The guy asks, "Isn't there a students' discount?"
  • All German men from the past, present and future are(/were/will be) taller than me, with the exception of Adolf Hitler.
    Seriously speaking, at least 80% of the men, and about 50% of the women from Germany are taller than me.
  • We have been continously monitoring this site -
    Also, by now, many of us can multiply any number between 55 and 60, with any arbit number even in their sleep.
  • At the Venice Airport, some airport official was calling passengers headed for Bucharest to a different queue. Out of a group of Indian students, one tried to go and join the new line as it was small. One of his friends warned him, "This is not for us." and added, "This is for people who booked their tickets early. It is called something like Bookarest here."
    I hope they make it home safely.
  • People get large sums of money (a few hundred euros per month) from the government for keeping pets, but the owners end up spending even more than that on their pets.
  • One day Diptarka expressed his wish to play football with one of his office mates. The guy looked up his own schedule, and decided when it would be most suited for him, then he looked up the timetable of others to see who all will be available at that time. After this, he used a randomizer program to make two teams out of the available people. Then he sent a mail with the details of the time, venue and teams to everyone concerned.
  • Another of Diptarka's office mates was reallly crazy about Aishwarya Rai:-
    His first question: " Do you know her ?"
    Second : " Do you know her phone no. ? "
    Third : " Do you know her address? I want to write a post card telling that 'Thomas loves you '. "
  • Ja (pronounced as Ya) has been the official food sponsors for this tour. Three cheers for Ja !!!
  • The German for Bye is Tchuss (pronounced as ‘choos’)

Fun and Food

Ashwin at the start of the internship: " Germans are quiet. They always follow rules."

Ashwin while returning back: "Man, Germans are crazy."

So what exactly happened in between : " FIFA World cup 2010 "

Literally half of the city meeting at one square, german flags everywhere. everyone everywhere dancing to the tune of some german songs played at central square. Thousands of supporters singing : " Super Deutschland, Super Deutschland, Ole Ole ". No traffic rules being followed. So much noise in streets that Kolkata all of a sudden seems so quiet. This is football in Germany. This is the crazy side of Germany.

Other than this what I would probably miss is the variety of food I had the chance to taste in this journey. From turkish food ( doner kebaps, lahmacun, pide ) to italian ( pizzas, pastas) to some mouthwatering german breads (pretzel) and other items like auflauf and traditional arabic meals. We also tried traditional german beer and wine. My favourite is the doner kebap , Italian ice cream and rose wine.

That's it. Hope you enjoyed as much in reading the blog as we did in sharing our experiences.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Some more of Heidelberg

Since I was perched somewhere on the hill, I did not have the opportunity to go to the city too often, except during the weekends, when I went out of the city. Last weekend I made a few trips. One day it was for the PhD celebrations of 3 students of MPIK. There is a tradition of them being taken around in a cart (or just seats on wheels) all over the city, and for some stretch even the guide of the PhD student has to push/pull. Starting from Philosophenweg, Bettina and co. were taken right through Hauptstrasse to the old bridge, and then finally we rested on the bank of Neckar.

Another day I went to see the oldest fossil in Europe, that of a Homo Heidelbergensis, dating back to about half a million years. This and other interesting fossils of dinosaurs and mammoths, and some rare rocks are on display at the Geologisches Museum of Heidelberg.
Jaw of a Homo Heidelbergensis

A shop on Hauptstrasse selling traditional German food stuff

And then, on the 10th of July, there was this event which is carried out only 3 days every year, called the Castle Illuminations. Pretty impressive fireworks. More so because in spite of being late to go to Philosophers' Walk, I managed to get the best spot between two professional photographers.

Finally, the day before my scheduled return, Siva gave me a treat which revolved around Arabian food, and Tequila & Rum cocktails, and lots and lots of discussions…


I hate generalizing, but often can't help myself from doing so. Keeping aside the externally visible differences with Indians, including an average better dressing sense, and a better physique, I found most people here to be very honest and helpful. Everyone seems to be so much kind and friendly towards others. In India, almost no one bothers about the others around him. I am pretty certain, that the major reason behind this is the population. There are so many people in India, that people grow up with a mentality of immense competition.

There was never any doubt that Germany is one of the most advanced nations of the world, with top class feats in Mechanical and Civil Engineering, but what I found interesting was the fact there is innovation as well as perfection. I used to have the feeling that one can't go with the other. As a crude example, scientists (great innovators) are often very untidy when it comes to their personal life. In me, I have seen both the traits express themselves, but never together. However most Germans I interacted with, I found were very particular about the details of everything, and at the same time cultivating new thoughts. For example, I saw many variants of the bicycle here, - with added wheels,or with differently sized wheels, or with a pram at the back. The windows here can be opened both horizontally and verticallyabout hinges. These might sound trivial, but it shows that the minds of the people here are open to new ideas, and they ensure that the ideas are achieved in practice. On the other hand, I see perfection in the way most Germans like everything clean, tidy and proper and at their positions, not allowing an inch of error. This is I guess what is behind most of their high precision state-of-the-art technologies.

In general, all of Europe in comparison to US seems to have a richer culture and heritage. I have been informed from many sources who has seen both, that US has a more business like approach.

But Germans by themselves have some differences from people of the surrounding countries. The roots lie in history. Germans used to be a proud race, with advancement at its core. Since long, has the Rhine valley been used for transportation of iron ore and related goods. However, Germany received a terrible set back immediately after the first world war, when they had to pay taxes to England and France. One of the main reasons why Hitler rose in power and popularity was that he tried to restore pride in Germany, but unfortunately after the war, he became the cause of shame for Germany, more for his nature and atrocities, than the fact that he lost. Although, it might have been a different story had he won.

The Germans wanted to forget what had happened before 1945, and the period at the end of the world war was called Stunde Null or Time Zero. In spite of getting foreign help to rebuild the country, the scenario was again pretty similar to what it was after the first war. Not only did the other nations control the Germans, the world used to associate Germany with Hitler and with loss of humanity. Their pride took a beating. Of course, by their basic nature, advancement was inevitable.

It tried to merge with the world on several occasions, but incidents like the attack on Israelis in Munich Olympics (1972), and the division between East and West Germany, proved to be major deterrents. Finally, this period ended with the unification of Germany, followed by the European Union, in which Germany and France became the major contributors. World Cup 2006 did its part as well, in helping Germany merge. And now the flood gates to foreign nations in the field of research has also been opened. However even now, if you ask an elderly German about times of the war, they will be extremely hesitant speaking about it.

I found them extremely religious too, but I better not get started on it here; otherwise this blog might end up becoming something very different from what it was intended to be.

However, being religious has got nothing to do with their partying culture, which the Germans just love to do. I did not subject myself to much of it though.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris.... all signatures of human advancement. Not too many high rises though, not very crowded either, but just advanced. The most important aspect is of course transportation.................all had a dense underground network. At least 6-7 lines criss-crossing the city. And yet it is impossible for anyone to get lost. Local transport includes, buses, trams and regional trains as well. At any stop, one will get directions to the nearest stop for other modes of travelling. Information is also given about the timings of all these public vehicles.
All cities have some central squares with lots of people, often tourists. It is good to walk through these areas. And of course, one can't do without museums in cities, but in these European cities there seemed to be too many of them. Some cities like Berlin have a good night life. Mostly the youth are free and accepting, but it always helps to know their language. The cost of living in different cities is different. Paris more than twice as expensive as Berlin. To end off this wiki-travel like post, I must also add that the cities have way too many churches. Apparently God still exists here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lakes in the Forest

My final trip in Europe was through the Black forest, through the Hell valley, through numerous tunnels and then to Lake Titisee, nestled in the hills.

Here I paddle boat-ed for some time.

To go to Schwansee Lake, I decided to do some walking. But after 8 kilometres of being all by myself, I started getting bored, and so at Barental, I boarded the train again. The lake at Schwansee had a lot of beaches where people were basking in the sun, again with minimal clothes making me feel out of place. Lots of yachts and windsurfers were around. I walked all along the lake, till a station called Aha.

Trains took me to Donaueschingen, my final destination, supposedly the birthplace of Danube, but more appropriately it was a grand flop.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

European Trains

Europe by trains is an experience by itself. No, I am not paid by Eurail for this post, but really I am all praise for trains and the associated services here. All places around Germany, are mostly not more than a few hours journey away. From Heidelberg, Paris was 4 hours, Amsterdam - 5, Brussels-4, and Zurich-3. That explains why we could see so many places.

Each of these European countries have some superfast train. France has TGV (top speed: 550kmph), Germany- ICE(400 kmph), Austria - Railjet (350 kmph), Belgium – Thalys (300kmph) and Italy has Eurostar Italia (300kmph). Switzerland didn’t go for speed, but has a barrage of scenic trains, spread all over the land-locked country.

For local transporation, there are a variety of trains available too. Suburban Bahns and double-deckered Regional Bahns in Germany are for this purpose.


Inside a coach in Netherlands

TGVs in Paris East station

Aachen Main station

Golden Pass train in Switzerland

I made more than 75 train rides during the past two months, covering about 4000-5000 kms. Of course, without the Eurail pass, things would have been way too expensive.

The stations are impressive too. I never faced any problem finding my way. There were automatic ticket and information machines everywhere. Although, we bought a wrong ticket at Salzburg, it was more of our mistake than theirs.

Their sense of accountability to the public is really commendable. Some line repairs were going on for a stretch near Berlin. So the rail made arrangements for special bus services for the intermediate stations.

Köln Hauptbahnhof

Inside a train engine

A station in Austria

Eurostar Italia

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Port city

Yet another city, unrecognizable as one, after the war, heavily rebuilt. It is the major port of Germany and handles a lot of trade since a long long time. Hamburg is also famous for its breads and fish dishes.

The Rathaus of Hamburg

In this church, the part where people congregates for prayers is no longer there.
But this is one of the few churches of Hamburg, which wasn't completely destroyed in the war.

The warehouses that deal with goods from the port

Elbe Tunnel, a 1 km long tunnel, through the bottom of the river bed, that allows passage of vehicles as well, which are lowered and raised by huge lifts.

Unfortunately, the fish take the whole week off, and present themselves in the market only on Sundays, since the past 300 years.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Through Raw History - 2

SS guard Uniform

Having come to Germany, I could not have gone without visiting a concentration camp. Sachsenhausen, in the suburbs of Berlin gave me that opportunity. Almost nothing remains from the period when humanity was lost right in here. And an audio guide can be highly insufficient to make the visitors understand anything close to what people once underwent here. And it was not over after 1945, whereafter, the Enemies of the State of Communist Germany replaced the Jews and POWs of Nazi Germany. Of course, they didn't match the planned torture that the SS exercised in their time, going to the extent of performing uncouth experiments on the Jews.

Potsdam is a city full of old palaces, Sansoucci being one of the most majestic ones. The green and gold of the palace against the blue sky made a wonderful combination that reminded me why I became a fan of the Brazilian flag, before being a fan of their soccer team.
Sanssouci palace

I had to return to Berlin to see some more history. Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (picture above) is in its ruins since the World War. Bullet holes are still visible on it. A hexagonal bell tower and an octagonal worship hall, has been built on either side of it.

A bit more of the wall was there at Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer). Behind the wall on the East side, the Russians had built a barbed wire fence followed by Guard Posts, anti Vehicle barricades, and then a screen to prevent direct eye contact between people on the two sides. One has to say that these Russians were really really scared.

Brandenburger Tor/Gate

The memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe is an abstract artwork of differently sized black blocks. We saw it from the bus trip yesterday, but did not have time to go there today. Instead I went to the Reichstag (parliament), where visitors are allowed to enter for free. There I discussed politics with an Israeli woman. When she asked me about my viewpoint on Tamil militants in Sri Lanka, I in my turn, quizzed her about her position, on Palestinians.

The Reichstag (parliament)

The large glass dome of the parliament from inside

The policy makers sit right there

The Meet Inbetween

The lectures were mostly just as they were expected to be - boring. Even the DAAD people knew that. I don't know how much their investments on us would be worth it from their side, but from our side, it was totally worth it.

Most of the students brought the competition to Berlin, in this case trying to show that they had toured better than the rest. So, basically both in the lecture halls and outside, a lot was spoken, but only a few were there to listen.

Of the nursery school of 250 DAAD students, Manisha Miss was the class teacher, and Anuroopa Madam was the principal. Their appearances and their way of controlling us (sometimes with fingers on lips) made the whole setting a wonderful fit for the analogy.
The lectures were held in this university

On day 1, we had a dinner at the Indian Embassy. There we met an embassy official, who is IITK alumnus.

On day 2, just before the match, we had a 1.5 hour whirlpool bus tour, but well guided. The sad part was that there was just one stop nd that too for less than three minutes.

At Aldershof, there were supposed to be some science tours, but it did not stand a chance again Argentina-Germany. The DAAD organizers knew that, and they arranged for its screening. Of course, most of the viewers were Germany supporters. Some don't even understand what an yellow card is, or what offside means, but they still had the germany colours painted on their cheeks. Strangely though, there were some rebels too, who complained that they wanted the science tours. I mean if you don't like football, you can sit quietly too.

In the end there was a Bollywood Dance Party. After the 4-0 drubbing, people were in mood to dance a lot. I stayed aloof. Rather I enjoyed a game or two of fussball (table football, and not the German meaning where fußball, pronounced as fussball stands for normal football).

Anyway, for this whole trip I am extremely grateful to DAAD. However, next day, while leaving I didn't find all the individuals I wanted to thank personally.

Through Raw History - 1

Berlin is all about its recent past. A city largely rebuilt after world war, became the centre stage for the cold war. After the world war, the city administration was taken up by the leading nations of the world, US and USSR among them. Sometime soon, Germany got divided into East and West, and so Berlin too had to be divided so. However it meant that West Berlin became an island in the area of East Germany. Of course there were administrative issues. Now to add to the problems, the communist GDR ruling the East, put up a wall right in the middle of everything. The more dictatorship they tried to force in, the more rules they made the people follow; the more the communists lost the support of the commons. Finally, it all ended with the fall of the wall. And with it fell communism. All this happened just 20 years ago. So most of the moderately old Berliners, saw both the rise and fall of the Berliner Mauer (Berlin wall).

There is a lot of remnants of the wall here and there. A stretch was given over to artists in 1990, has some excellent pieces of art.

The Alexanderplatz tower (pic above) like a pin in the sky, is visible from almost everywhere in the city. It is one of the major squares of the city. Marienkirche (also in pic above) is one of the oldest and the tallest church that survived the World War is also located there. Other attractions of the Alexanderplatz is the Neptune's Fountain. An exhibition on the divide of Berlin, was also temporarily on display.

Berliner Dom

There is a grand museum too, possibly second only to the Louvre. The Grecian architechture is all over the place. It has been done to give an ancient look to a city rebuilt in the past 60 years.

This is either Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) or the Französischer Dom (French Cathedral), too similar in appearance to distinguish. The Konzerthaus is inbetween the two.

The levelled wall still runs through many streets

Charlie Checkpoint, the US-USSR border in Germany :)

Topographie des terrors, this consists of Gestapo prisons, right under one of the remaining stretches of the Berlin wall. there is also an open-air museum which documents the terrorisms by the Nazi regime.

The above picture is of some important building in east Berlin, but other than the small dome, nothing much is different from the rest of the houses in area. The designs, windows, colours are so very identical, that the whole of east Berlin looks like one big government quarter. Again, communist ideas at work.

I found Berlin to be a very cheap city, -transportation, fooding, lodging (10 euros per night !!!). Paris is I would say at least 3 times costlier. That allowed me to try different food, that included Italian icecream, hot dogs, curry wurst, Doner kebaps and yes- Ostrich sausage. ( One more animal added to the list. :) ) I also had litres of Beck's beer over this 5 day trip.