Berlin: Travel Apps and Tips

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I finally succumbed and got an iPhone just days before my vacation. I knew it would make some things, like navigation and checking email, easier. Even though I was fairly familiar with the phone, there were some kinks and things I learned along the way.

Data
First, turn your phone to airplane mode and shut off any data so you don’t get charged exhorbitant international rates.

Outlets
One thing I didn’t consider with a new phone was the European current for electricity (different outlet). Thankfully, I was able to borrow an extra adaptor that my friend had, but they are also cheap to buy online. If you plan to stay for a while, there are even power strips with universal outlets available.

Navigation
Many people swear by Google maps. While they are generally accurate for street directions, I find that I have more luck on public transportation using Hopstop. And I don’t always feel like letting Google monetize every bit of my personal data. In Berlin, Google maps doesn’t currently include buses or trams, only the U- and S-Bahn, so public transportation directions are fairly useless. My tech savvy friend recommended the FahrInfo app, which gives a list of alternate routes to your destination with approximate travel duration and arrive times. It also has maps of the U- and S- Bahn. I highly recommend it for travel within Berlin.

That said, Google maps are indispensable when you don’t have Internet access (navigation continues to work). Simply open a local map when you do have a connection, and continue to use it when you don’t. Their “greedy” algorithm works very well for street directions (walking, biking, driving).

Text or Chat
To communicate in country, my friend recommended What’s App or Viber. Unfortunately, since I didn’t download the apps before arriving, I couldn’t activate the service (via text message). (I receive way too many texts daily to opt to turn on that service.) Another friend recommends Zello, which is popular with her family in Mexico, who prefer the push to talk feature. All of these options are worth trying. We wound up using Facebook chat and it worked just fine.

Wifi Hub
There isn’t a lot of free wifi available in Berlin, but you can generally get access to a network at a cafe or a restaurant (when they remember the password). It gets challenging when you are out and about all day, at museums or just wandering around, trying to coordinate plans or in need of consistent access. My friend works at a startup called deMifi, which rents these nifty little portable wifi hotspots that are smaller than your phone at very reasonable rates. I also highly recommend!

Berlin This Time: Nightlife

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Greeted by a sign behind the bar that read, congratulations you just left the hetereonormative sektor, I immediately felt at home. In NYC, most queer parties are monthly events, venues tend to be gaystream. Berlin manages to support several radical and activist queer spots, some of which are cooperatively run. Messy and fun, Silver Future plays riot grrl and indie music, sells zines about topics like girls with mustaches, and serves cocktails in a relaxed, mixed gender atmosphere. The bartender was charming and chatty, adding to the neighborhood feel. No photos allowed inside the space.

We also headed to Süd Block, which creates space for housing rights and social justice activism in a large outdoor patio setting. Tai chi and other workshops are offered during the day and events or parties are in the evenings. See schedule on their website.

And later, Geist im Glas, a cozy, regular bar known for their infused liquors and cocktails. This place, like so many others in Berlin, is thick with smoke, but chill and fun.

K-fetisch and Suzie Fu were closed that evening, and Roses Bar, with it’s pink faux fur walls and early morning rowdiness, seemed like too much of a commitment. I also didn’t have a chance to hit Core Tex for punk shows, but all the more reason to go back.

Food in Sarajevo

Our Bosnian AirBnB host explained that the restaurant scene in Sarajevo isn’t well established. Most people grow some of their own food and eat at home. There were plum, pear, apple trees and vegetable gardens attesting to that fact all around. And the spectacular fruit market is cheap and exciting. But, she continued, food is inexpensive, so we should explore. Particularly at breakfast, though, even amongst abundant cafes, it was hard to find one that offered food in addition to coffee. Bosnian coffee is served like Turkish coffee, strong, in a small tin serving pitcher with the grinds at the bottom. One option for breakfast are the pies, made with a phyllo-like dough, and filled with meat, cheese, potato, spinach, or– most tasty– pumpkin (zucchini). These are ubiquitous and cost a few bucks, but my favorite bakery was Forino.

The local beer, Sarajevsko, is organic. There is a spring in the complex housing the brewery and it was the only source of fresh water (besides rainwater or melted snow) during the siege, so it is also thought of with great affection.

The best restaurant we went to is a pescatarian place called Karuzo. Decorated with a timeless nautical theme, things take a bit longer here: the chef and owner also acts as the waiter and dishwasher, with the kitchen downstairs. The food was exquisite, and a macrobiotic salad with seitan and seaweed was fresh and clean, with excellent flavors and textures. Stuffed cabbage with tofu was quite good. We were introduced to good wines from Herzegovina, a growing industry that is just entering the export market. And finally, a chocolate apple pie was delicious. My only disappointment was that a trilingual cookbook by the chef had incomplete recipes, clearly untested, lacking notes on the techniques that bring the food to the next level.

We had good meals at an enormous Austro-Hungarian place next to the brewery and good falafel in the old town at Zaatar. In general, the food here is a bit bland and emphasizes meat. When I returned home, all I wanted to eat was Korean, Thai, and Mexican food. Hopefully, stability in the region will increase options.

The scene at the fruit market

The scene at the fruit market

Stuffed cabbage at Karuzo

Stuffed cabbage at Karuzo

Macrobiotic salad at Karuzo

Macrobiotic salad at Karuzo

Cabbage, onions, and grape leaves stuffed with ground meat and smreka, a fermented juniper berry drink

Cabbage, onions, and grape leaves stuffed with ground meat and a glass of smreka, a fermented juniper berry drink

Bosnia coffee

Bosnian coffee

Sarajevo: Tunnel Museum

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In Spanish, the word resistencia means resistance, but it also means endurance. More akin to struggle in English. The stories of everyday heroes are very appealing: not passive victims, they fight under great strain and uncertainty.

We booked a tour of the Tunnel Museum in Sarajevo through the city tourist office. Driving through the city, our frank and engaging guide pointed out important sites: the closed museum, the Holiday Inn where journalists stayed during the war, snipper ally, and so on. She described a pre-war city with 50 percent mixed marriages; people’s ethnicities during the war were determined by their last name. Tellingly, the country has not conducted a census in 20 years, fearing what might be learned. She described the constant barrage of noise during the war, and after, “silence was the worst thing.”

Eventually we reached the countryside and the house under which the tunnel rests. People smuggled supplies in from the free zone during the war. Much of the tunnel had since collapsed, but you can walk through a short piece. It is claustrophobic and uneven in places, and intense to imagine making the journey during the siege. A short film and exhibit round out the tour.

The Tunnel Museum is a great testament to the struggle against aggression. A must see.

Sarajevo: Witness to History

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Two exhibits in Sarajevo urge the viewer to bear witness to the Bosnian War: the Memorial Gallery 11/07/95 and the Tunnel Museum. This is a city where buildings still bear the scars of artillery fire, sidewalk holes created by grenades were filled with blood red cement and called “Sarajevo roses,” and the occasional mine continues to be discovered in the surrounding countryside. To bear witness to history is a very different thing from disaster tourism or being intrigued by suffering. It asks the viewer to observe the historical record so that others can’t deny it, so that witnesses won’t allow injustice to happen again, and so that the call for healing and justice is shared more broadly. I was immediately reminded of Shoah, the epic, 9 hour documentary of Holocaust survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators giving testimony.

At Galerija 11/07/95, a permanent exhibit of the Srebrenica massacre begins with a wall of the names of the victims: 8,372 names is a dizzying amount.

Then, large black and white photographs by Tarik Samarah depict haunting images after the genocide, including a doll with it’s throat slit and left as a warning, dead bodies of men and boys, mourning mothers, and a flock of birds dispersing in the silence. We see the cool efficiency of medical examiners, staging remains, trying to identify victims. And chilling, racist graffiti by the boy Dutch soldiers guarding the town before the massacre:

“no teeth…?
a mustache…?
smel [sic] like shit…?
Bosnian girl!”

Later, I met a girl from Amsterdam who is studying transitional justice. She said the Dutch were deeply ashamed that the incident occurred under their watch and explained that they had requested support that didn’t come, were ordered not to return fire, etc. She compared the inexperienced young soldiers to those depicted in Waltz with Bashir, an incredible animated film that depicts Israeli soldiers during the Lebanon War.

The exhibit also includes a short film about the massacre. Women describe the paralysis of fear as their sons and husbands were separated from them and the lack of consolation that persists to this day. General Ratko Mladic describes his vision of Greater Serbia from the battlefield. There are maps indicating locations of mass graves. Another monitor has extended video interviews of survivors.

The exhibit is small but intensely powerful, gut wrenching, and important.

Next post, the Tunnel Museum.

First Impressions of Sarajevo

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Along the bus ride from Split, the lush green mountains and vivid blue water of the Bosnia and Herzegovina countryside were unexpectedly stunning.

Just over 300,000 people live in Sarajevo. It is a city that swells with history and tragedy: Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, and Jews living in peace for centuries, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand on the Latin Bridge leading to the First World War, the lesions of the recent Bosnian War.

Exploring the city, from monuments and public water fountains to minarets, to the Vrelo Bosne and Olympic villages, the city feels traditional and modern. In the old city, the winding streets of Baščaršija house tinsmiths and colorful carpets made from natural dyes. Ottoman architecture stuns at the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque, and the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe overlooks the city.

It is also easy to see how Sarajevo would be vulnerable to a siege, nestled in a valley. Recent wounds from the Bosnian War are apparent on buildings and in bright white tombstones tucked throughout the city. Yet the city sweeps you up in the belief of possibilities, in its richness, and the energy and messiness of survival. It shares valuable and powerful lessons with us.

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Brac, Croatia: Days Two to Four

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Beach vacations are restorative. Time slows down to a crawl and I am more aware of the rhythms of nature. Over three days in Brac, I wandered to different coves from one extreme of Supetar to the other: one was family-oriented with water slides, one had lots of people playing with beach balls in the water, another was quiet and wide for swimming, another had a reef with abundant underwater life for snorkeling, and yet another was isolated and quiet.

Eventually, I found a path that traced along a stone wall by the sea. There was little noise except the cacophony of cicadas in the pine groves.

I bought 1/2 kilo of the sweetest golden figs for less than two bucks from an old lady selling in front of her place. Other homes had bluish purple plums, grapes, bright persimmons, and plump pomegranates hanging from trees in their yards.

We walked uphill to another sleepy town, Mirca, half an hour away. There are hiking trails from town along olive groves.

The standout meal amongst the tourist fare was tucked away in the old town. Konoba Gusti Mora serves fresh, local fare in an outdoor patio beneath grape vines. We had Brac (pronounced bratch) cheese, a dry, sheep’s milk cheese with a distinctive nutty flavor. I also had soup from island Brac, a rich, flavorful lamb stew.

Then we took the ferry back to Split, and a bus ride in the dramatic countryside to Sarajevo. It took eight hours to travel about 200 miles.