Intro


Hello. My name is Isaac, 35 years old from Vancouver, Canada. I have set this blog up to document my journey following Mark Knopfler’s 2013 “Privateering” tour, from April 25 (Bucharest, Romania) to July 31 (Calella de Palafrugell, Spain).

Due to Despite the tour’s obnoxious schedule (thanks, Mark), I cannot be entirely sure that I will attend all concerts. That being said, I will try. You are more than welcome to sit back, relax, read, and comment. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed (see the “Subscribe for Updates” box at the right hand side of the page. For standard RSS readers, select the “Atom” option).

Have fun,
Isaac

Note: The contents of this blog are also available in hardcover and paperback formats. For more information, click here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/isaac_s

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Łódź, Poland to Berlin and Bremen, Germany (May 9–11, 2013)

This post is published late due to an unexpected shortage in Wi‐Fi connection in the Berlin hotel, plus being quite busy over the last few days. Sorry.

In the last post, I wrote about how inconvenient it was to travel into Poland by public ground transportation. Getting out of Poland by public ground transportation is not much easier: save for a few exceptions, trains aren’t going to do it, which leaves buses as your only other option for ground transportation.

Thinking about it further, I’m not entirely sure that there is a justified reason to complain about the lack of trains. Canada has worse public ground transportation infrastructure than Poland. The USA isn’t much better. Maybe, then, like mostly everything else, this is a question of cost vs. benefit.

Canada, for example, has a total area of (sit tight, a large number is coming) 9,984,670km2, with a population of 33,476,688 (as of 2011). Just to get an idea of how big this country is, consider the entire continent of Europe with the landmass of 10,180,000km2 (only slightly bigger) which are home to approximately 739,165,030 people (22 times more than Canada).

The population density in Canada is 3.41 people per square kilometer: take all of Canada’s population, spread them evenly across Canada’s area, and as a result, every square kilometer will have 3.41 people in it. The number for Europe is 72.5—that’s more than 21 times over.

The reason, then, why Canada doesn’t have a very advanced railway transportation infrastructure is because its cost would far outweigh its benefits. Setting advanced railway tracks to connect Canadian cities to one another will cost so much money and will be so underused (due to the low population density) that doing so makes as much sense as James Hetfield, of Metallica, had when he decided to do this.

Poland isn’t much different. With a population of about 37 million, almost one third of them live in 8 metropolitan areas; the other two thirds of the population are so spread out, that installing and maintaining advanced railway infrastructure is simply way too expensive to make sense. I should note, that within the metropolitan areas themselves—and I can testify from my experience in two of them: Wroclaw and Łódź—public transport is not at all bad.

In the light of that, perhaps Poland deserves a little more credit.


At any rate, the original plan for leaving Poland was to take a train from Łódź to Warsaw on 6:30am, then connect from Warsaw city center to its airport, arriving at the airport around 8:40am and fly to Berlin on 10:40am. Not too difficult to execute. But after the horrendous travel day just 24 hours prior, neither of us was in the mood for any sort of mass ground public transportation so early in the morning. Once back to the hotel after the concert, a taxi was scheduled to arrive at 6:00am and take us directly to Warsaw’s airport, some two hours and €70 away.

Woke up 5:30am and jumped out of bed like a tiger: quietly and on all fours. Tired like hell and unwilling to do much more than breathing. Morning routine, packed whatever was left to be packed and 30 minutes later boarded the taxi cab that was already waiting downstairs.

I noticed a sign on the taxi’s window saying “Free Wi‐Fi”.

Went to the back and loaded my luggage.

Yawn. Twice.

Wait a second. What do you mean “Free Wi‐Fi”? Who the hell did the driver steal this sticker from, and why?

But no, it wasn’t a joke. Free Wi‐Fi in the taxi, the entire ride. I have never come across anything like that before. And it worked, too; and just as it was working, it was also entirely useless for me as I had spent almost the entire two hours ride trying to fall asleep, consistently failing.

As soon as we entered Warsaw, traffic turned from being pleasant to being horrible. Traffic jams left, right, center and in both diagonals. Finally, we made it to the airport, paid the fare (which was suspiciously low. Meter showed about €140, we were charged €70), and went inside.


Warsaw’s airport, called Warsaw Frederic Chopin (symbol: WAW) is named after the famous composer, Frédéric Chopin, who lived in Warsaw until he was 20 years old, during which he wrote much of his genius work. It is Poland’s busiest airport: for most practical purposes, if you are going to fly into or out of Poland, you’re likely to be present in this airport.

Starving after a 2 hours taxi ride with no breakfast prior, airport food was the only viable option. And some coffee, of course, just so I can keep my eyes open.

How do you pass the time until your flight? of course, by using the internet. The airport offers free Wi‐Fi, but for that, you need to scan your boarding pass in order to receive a code, printed on paper (of course), that you then have to type into your browser. Where is the scanning machine? AH. Hidden somewhere. Took a while to locate it.

Clever. By the time one figures out how to use the Wi‐Fi in this airport, they have no need in it anymore as their flight is already boarding.

Made me wonder: why would they require you to have a boarding pass in order to use their internet service? other than people who are just about to travel, who the hell is going to use it? is it such a common pastime in Warsaw for people to go to the airport for the sole purpose of firing up their laptops and read emails?

“Hey guys, how about we go out for a drink first, and then go to the airport, start our laptops and play”?—said nobody, ever, in Warsaw.

I guess I’ll never know. One thing that comes to mind, though, is that it serves an excellent tool for Polish authorities to track your activities on the internet before taking off: By scanning your boarding pass and providing you with a unique code, which you later use to log in, it is very easy for system administrators to associate the boarding pass’ owner with a list of internet activities performed whilst at the airport (of course that can be circumvented by using a few sophisticated tools).


Air Berlin flight 8039 from left Warsaw’s airport having X people on board, but only X-1 people were able to go about their business uninterrupted once the aircraft touched ground in Berlin.

It’s a short flight, about an hour and a few minutes. On this particular flight, the crew consisted of three stewardesses that only happened, to their misfortune, to be drop‐dead gorgeous. One of them in particular drew all sorts of vocal reactions from apes pretending to be men, to the point that I could definitely sense she wasn’t very comfortable anymore. This happened about 20 minutes into the flight.

About 30 minutes to landing, I noticed quite a bit of tension in the area as the stewardesses were walking back and forth and having what sounded like a rough conversation (I couldn’t make sense of any of it, as it was in either German or Polish) with one particular passenger who was seated two rows behind me. I seem to recall hearing a phrase resembling “my colleague” in some of these discussions, and the guy appeared to be rather shocked and ashamed.

The stewardesses then demanded an ID, or a passport, from that passenger, who initially refused to provide them with one. Then they proceeded to make a few calls from within the aircraft.

Once we touched ground, three German police officers immediately boarded the aircraft. Now, I don’t know if you have ever been to Germany before and/or seen a German police officer: I have been to Germany a few times already, and if there’s one thing I can say about German police officers is that they look like the last people on earth that you’d want to fuck around with. A minute later they were already outside, with that guy, questioning him.

These are the facts. What really happened there? I am much inclined to believe that it had something to do with sexual harassment of some sort, as that one particular stewardess looked pretty distraught the entire time.

Sometimes I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.


Berlin Tegel Airport is Berlin’s main international airport, and the most surprising thing about it (for me) was that there exists no train leading directly to it. Public transit from the airport to the city center involves taking a bus first—to connect you with the actual public transport system of Berlin. Dragged myself and my belongings through one bus and two metro lines until arriving to the hotel.

The hotel, TRYP Berlin Mitte Hotel, is located in Berlin’s city center but not quite exactly in the middle of everything worth exploring. I would definitely recommend it if you’re into staying in a relatively quiet place and want easy access to Berlin’s interesting parts; but if you’re a fan of staying right in the middle of things, then it’s not for you.

Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is considered by many to be one of the most interesting cities in the world. When it comes to night life, many claim that Berlin is second to none. Other than night life, it has a very rich history, dating back to the 13th century. The list of things to see and do in this city appears to be endless in any guide book you’d pick.

But here comes the shocking part: due to being extremely tired after the hectic travel of the last couple of weeks, I have seen close to nothing of the city while being there. I spent most of my time in the hotel room, either catching up with work or resting. Dull, huh? well, I suppose that’s some of the price you pay when you decide to follow a tour with a crazy schedule: sometimes you don’t get to see much, and you realize how important and good it is to simply rest and chill out.

I am not concerned, though: I will have more than enough opportunities to explore more of this city in the near future. For now, I’ll take all the rest that I can get.


As soon as I arrived at the hotel in Berlin, I grabbed my small backpack containing my laptop and went downstairs to the lobby to catch up with some work (no Wi‐Fi in the rooms). Later, my friend Ingrid, from The Netherlands, came by: she drove that day from The Netherlands to Berlin to catch the show. Was good seeing her again. After some time catching up, I took my laptop back to the room and we all went out for dinner.

Write down the name of this place: Bonfini. Ended up dining there 3 (!) times, partly because it was so good and partly because I wasn’t in the position to put more efforts into experimenting (again, the tiredness). Excellent Italian food, all made there on site. Delicious. We spent a couple of hours there catching up and chatting about all sorts of things.

It felt great, having a good time with friends and being completely oblivious to a tiny little fact that got me very close to be forced to take the next airplane back to Vancouver and forget about this tour altogether.

Once back at the hotel room, I decided to go downstairs to do some work (again). Grabbed my laptop, and was going to put it in the backpack, when I realized that I can’t find the damn bag.

Small room. Where the hell could it be? a minute later, I realized: before going to dinner, I brought my laptop upstairs, but not the backpack—it remained in the lobby.

Now, that would be OK if the backpack didn’t contain a few items of importance, such as my 3 months European railway pass (costs around $2,200, irreplaceable), as well as my two passports.

Whatever happened next, happened so fast that I didn’t even have time to get stressed about it. Stormed to the lobby as if I was bitten by an exceptionally aggressive Cobra, I turned to the very first hotel receptionist I could find and asked, in the most begging voice that I could emit, whether anyone might have seen a small backpack that contains my entire life for the upcoming 3 months.

Luckily, it was located earlier by staff and put in the lost & found. As soon as I got my hands on this precious pack, I realized what a disaster it would have been had I really lost it.


The next day was as uneventful as the preceding one. Other than going out for breakfast and lunch, I stayed at the hotel room the entire time until it was time to leave for the concert. A couple of trains to Berlin Ostbahnhof, and from there I walked to the venue, the O2 World, about 15 minutes away.

The street where the venue is located is the famous Mühlenstrasse, which also happens to be where the East Side Gallery is. The Gallery is a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall, and walking next to it was a somewhat moving experience. I was 12 years old when the Berlin Wall fell, and I still have the memories of watching TV and not quite understanding why people are so excited to be hammering a wall down.

A few weeks ago, I did some reading about that wall. That led me to read about the death of Peter Fechter—a disturbing, shocking story that goes to demonstrate how terrible, fucked up people can be. Peter Fechter was 18 years old, living in East Berlin, when he tried—along with a friend of his—to bypass the wall and escape to West Berlin. As soon as they both reached the wall and started to climb it, shots were fired at them by East German officers. Both were hurt: Fechter’s friend managed to cross the wall, but Fechter couldn’t and fell back to the east side.

There were hundreds of witnesses to the incident, including journalists: the ordeal was also filmed. He started screaming, but still, received no assistance whatsoever:

  • The east’s border guards didn’t feel it was necessary to help out an individual bleeding to death.
  • The west’s border guards didn’t feel it was necessary to risk confronting the east’s border guards.
  • The hundreds of onlookers from the west side feared that their lives would be at stake if they tried to help.
  • A United States second‐lieutenant on the field received specific orders to do absolutely nothing about it.

Falling victim to the stupidity of people from both sides of Berlin, Fechter remained on the ground, by the wall, bleeding for an hour until he died.

No words.

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I have been to this venue before in 2010. It is a large indoor arena that can host up to 17,000 spectators. Beautiful from the outside and the inside, featuring a LED construction grid at the exterior equipped with more than 300,000 LED clusters.

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Having arrived early, I decided to spend the time before the concert just sitting outside watching people go by, thinking about things. The modern, beautiful venue versus the grim reminder of a divided Berlin only a hundred or so meters behind me. Then entered the concert hall, spoke to a few kind people who happen to be reading this blog—thank you—and the show started shortly after: a 17 songs set, almost identical to the one played the night before only substituting one gem—5:15am—with another—Back to Tupelo.

Seated at the back, it was very amusing to witness the Running of the Bulls emerging and then happening at once. Dozens of people running towards the stage from all directions. It all happened so fast—maybe Running of the Bullets is more fitting. I waited until the Bulls settled in, then marched surely, slowly and safely forward, enjoying the encore. More than I enjoyed the actual songs played, I enjoyed the atmosphere—it’s nice to look at so many people being tremendously excited and absorbing every note.

A short march after the concert to Berlin Ostbahnhof and back to the hotel. Tried to complete this post at the hotel’s lobby, to no avail—Wi‐Fi wasn’t working.

Oh: and someone better explain this to me.

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After two nights in Berlin, it was time to leave this beautiful city (of which I had hardly seen any) and travel a bit north. Felt good to wake up late with no intention to go to any airport: Bremen, in northern Germany, is only 3 hours train ride northwest of Berlin, and with Germany’s train system being so efficient and helpful, nobody was in a rush. Decent breakfast in a restaurant across the street from the hotel, and then went to Berlin’s central train station to catch the train to Hannover, then switching towards Bremen.

I have never been to Bremen before. I have been to other cities in northern Germany—Hamburg and Hannover—and both were beautiful; I was told the same about Bremen, however, unfortunately, didn’t get to see much of it either due to time constraints.

Arrived to Bremen at around 2:00pm, then off for a 1.5km walk to Hotel Stadt Bremen, involving a one hour stop in a fantastic restaurant, Tendure, along the way. Beautiful, delicious Turkish food. We made a fatal error and ordered a full meal: the steep price (€23 per person) should have flashed a red light somewhere, and indeed, when the food arrived, the mistake was realized. That meal could feed an elephant. An insane amount of food, some of which wasn’t even touched. The parts that were touched, however, were wonderful. Highly recommended, but do yourself a favour and buy individual items. A “full meal” there means way, way too much food.

On the way to the hotel, I noticed a strange sight: two buses filled with people, riding along, escorted with police cars on both sides. I didn’t understand why. Later on, I was explained that these were fans of Frankfurt’s soccer team, who came to Bremen to cheer for their team’s game against the local Werder Bremen.

Weather was cool, windy, grey. Having lots to do, I resorted to once again stay at the hotel room while Jeroen went ahead to explore the city. He took a few good shots, which I am going to shamelessly use here:

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Time flew by as I was busy catching up with the world, then headed to the venue at 7:00pm.

The venue, Bremen Arena, is a large indoor arena located just north of Bremen’s central railway station.

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To get there, we had to pass through the station, and I was baffled to find many groups of police officers, essentially dressed up and ready for battle: masks, clubs, shields, the works. Both outside the station and inside. The soccer game ended 1:1.

Sitting in a coffee place inside the station, I asked the barista whether this particular soccer game was of any importance. With such extensive police presence, I would expect this to be the World Cup or something, but no: just a regular game. It turns out that this practice, of flooding prominent public areas with police officers before, during and after soccer matches, is very common in Germany. This is done in order to provide fast response in case of people losing their temper (mainly with the aid of alcohol) and rioting. Whether this is proper use of taxpayers’ money or not—I’ll leave that to the Germans to decide, but here’s my honest and brutal opinion: it isn’t.

Long, long line‐up outside the venue to get in, only to realize that the long line‐up was a line‐up to another line‐up, inside. No problem. Went to my seat, left to buy a huge cup of water (€4 for 0.5 litre) and returned just in time for What It Is, the show’s opener.

Again a good show, 17 songs set. After Hill Farmer’s Blues, an unrecognized instrument handout took place. A Bm chord opening for a few bars left me struggling to figure out what the hell is being played here: I’m usually very good at this but I failed miserably this time. Turned out to be a stripped‐down, a bit simplistic (but still pleasant) rendition of I Dug Up a Diamond, from Knopfler’s 2006 album with Emmylou Harris. This rendition reminded me a lot of that of Back to Tupelo.

Quite frankly, while it was nice to listen to, something was certainly missing at the end. The missing thing, according to recent literature, is called “Gibson Les Paul in Richard Bennett’s hands during the outro solo”. Then again, thinking about it, this particular stripped‐down rendition of the song wouldn’t work well with a massive Gibson presence at the end, so I suppose that’s why it didn’t happen.

Still, nice surprise.

Concert ended at around 10:20pm. Jeroen, Maarten, Nelly, Ingrid and myself went on our way back to the hotel (turned out we were all staying at the same place), but decided to take a detour for some late night drink and snacks (I don’t drink alcohol, but a cheer is a cheer. I cheered with my wonderful Nexus 4 phone).

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Signing off this long post while still in Bremen. In a few minutes, we’ll head to Antwerp with Ingrid in the driver’s seat.

Isaac

10 comments:

  1. Wolfgang/Northern GermanyMay 12, 2013 at 1:45 AM

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampelm%C3%A4nnchen

    hope link is working! Cheers! Was nice to meet you! Wolfgang

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  2. Certain football fans in germany are notorious for destroying anything they like and causing riots. the train from frankfurt to bremen for these fans had quite strict rules: no bottles, no cans (-> no alcohol.) and stuff like that. ;)

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  3. I am confused..I think you mean 33 million and 477 thousand...or 33.477 million...

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  4. Re: Soviet Annex of Berlin up to 1990. Isaac it is much the same as Palestine and Israel with dual standards. See http://osthessen-news.de/beitrag_A.php?id=1449. Many others were murdered in rural locations. The emotional scars don't heal.

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    1. Unfortunately, Chrome for Android doesn't prompt me to translate the article so it'll have to wait until I'm at my laptop.

      But I'm not sure I understand your comment about double standards. Can you please elaborate?

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    2. Double Standards: The East German soldiers who shot and murdered the man were convicted in 1997 and were imprisoned for about 18 months I think. A West German soldier who shot an E. German soldier in the eye and killed him was deemed innocent. Several E German guards had been shot by W German Guards but not convicted. So....someone murdered the W German old guy by shooting him in the eye in 1997. Many E Germans were happy as they were before 1990 and this one sided example of justice was seen as typical of western values...

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  5. The population density comment is rather funny when I think back to what I was told as a teenager. Back then if the population of Canada was spread evenly around the country you wouldn't be able to see anyone (i.e. The next closest person was probably not close enough to be seen).

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    Replies
    1. Yes! That also exists in southwestern Ontario nowadays. I have a friend who lives in Hillsburgh and he often has to ride his scooter in order to visit a neighbor.

      I miss Canada. Damn it.

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