Sunday, November 20, 2005

Berlin - Study in contrasts

I took off for Berlin on Friday and got there in time to do some browsing before I needed to get to bed. The train ride took me from Luxembourg City, through Trier, to Koblenz, Koln, and on to Berlin. The first treat of the train ride was the Mossel valley - absolutely spectaclur - exactly like I would have anticipated. The Mossel river follows through a mountanous ravine with steep vineyards rising up the hillsides. It is absolutely amazing that those cultivating the vineyards can actually climb as high as the vineyards go. The river valley is dotted with little villages all along the way. There are a few castle ruins and loads of churches up on hillsides - I found out later that these churches are built up on steep hillsides in order to provide "pilgrimage" experiences for parrishoners who live in the area. This also explains the picture back in Luzern of the chapel almost at the summit of Mt. Pilatus. Koblenz is where the Mossel and Rhine meet and it is a town obviously dominated by the wine industry. Surprisingly enough, from Koblenz to Koln is not nearly as beautiful as the Mossel valley but, from what I understand, the other direction for Koblenz to Frankfurt is the best part of the Rhine valley - I'll do that sometime in the next month.

I made all my connections, including a six minute train change in Koln to get on to Berlin. Half way through the ride to Berlin, a terrific young man returning from a Brussels' EU Commission meeting for the Ministry of the Interior sat down beside me. He is an IT specialist for the Ministry of the Interior in Germany; the meeting he attended in Brussels was about how well Europe is preparing for the technology needs of the future. Well, as you can imagine, we spent the next two hours talking about the EU, about Germany and the U.S.A., and about the challenge of EU and other western countries as they continue to try to compete with Asia. The bottom lins is that, with the growing availability of cheaper labor and the ability to mass produce on scales never imagined before, any western country had better be on their toes, developing new products, new technologies, new services, or Asian countries will catch up and pass us. It was a fascinating conversation, full of challenge and opportunity.

Once I got to Berlin, I was disoriented in terms of where I was so I jumped a taxi. The only problem with the taxi was that my cabbie didn't speak English very well so I wrote the address of my hotel (Jenaer Strasse) on a piece of paper. Well, I gave the cabbie the note with the street name, except the "J" looked like a "T" to the cabbie and I thought he was going to choke me - not exactly a welcoming feel for my first encounter. I got to the hotel - pleasant, small, clean, and cheap are the operating expectations. Once I got settled, I went for a walk and in search of dinner. I was totally amazed by the activity level of the city. The shopping and entertainment areas were in full tilt. It was very fun to see Berlin first at night. I found a little restaurant to have dinner, sat down and ordered, had a "relaxation" beer with dinner, and then it struck - I wasn't sure I could make it back to the hotel and I didn't have anything on me that gave the address or had a contact number. I could have collapsed in panic but, instead, took a big deep breath to see if I could retrace my steps - Note to self - When you're in a strange environment, keep track of important details and markers if you ever hope to make it back!

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