Monday, March 26, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen... a good name for any blog posting when talking about what we are up to in another part of the world, because it means "The life of the others". It also happens to be the name of a German film that won an Oscar for best International Film or something like that. You can read more about the film here in Wikipedia.

Anyway, this film isn't showing in any of the mainstream cinemas anymore, as it already finished it's run here a long time before the Oscars. We had heard nothing of it then, and therefore didn't see it, so decided to catch it this time around. As I said, it's not in the major Cinema Complexes anymore, so we headed to a little cinema to watch it - which is always more fun, IMHO.

The closest Cinema to us that was showing it are the Panda/Kaskade cinemas in Bad Homburg. Now, there are a number of special things about these cinemas...

To start with, the cinemas aren't stand-alone, they are part of the Taunus Therme thermal baths complex that we have talked about before (Japanese-themed spa complex). The cinemas actually have a seperate entrance than the thermal baths, so they are kind of seperate...or are they?

The image here shows two distinct colours in the seating arangement - one purple, and one green. You can't see it very clearly, but between the two sections there is a barrier. Also, you can see at the back of the room that there is a door, but there is also just off-screen to the left another door. What does that all mean? Well, as I said, this cinema belongs to the spa complex, so there are two sections - one for the normal viewing public, and one for the people who are currently visiting the spa complex. Therefore, during the movie, the normally dressed people are sitting in the back, and the people in bathers, bath robes, etc. are sitting in the front. To the left of screen there is also a small are which has some sun chairs for ppl who would prefer to lie down to watch the film. Cool huh?

So, that was one of the rooms/screens in the cinema. I am not sure if ppl in bathers and stuff can go into the other cinema as well, but I assume so. But what is really "special" about the other cinema - and is described as special on their website - is that smoking is allowed in the cinema. B and I just can't believe this, and neither could the guy who was complaining to the cashier while B was out getting us some drinks. When Australia is around 95 days away from banning all smoking in bars and clubs, it is strange to see this kind of behaviour in Germany. We really are on the other side of the world...

And it is not just that smoking is allowed in the cinema - smoking advertising is still allowed here. They have banned it on TV, but it is still allowed in the movies. B pissed herself laughing (and quite loud) when an ad for Malborough Wides came on, saying things like "wider for more tobacco flavour", "wider for a better smoke" etc...and it was in English too. How about "in English to suck you in to thinking it is cool, and then wider for a faster more painful cancerous death"?!?!

Yeah, so...the film. Won't say too much about it, because you can read it yourself in the link that I gave you above. Suffice to say that this is a really good story about the East German Secret Police (Stasi) and how they spied on the East German people. The best part of this film is that it doesn't offer any real comment on "this was good" or "this was bad", but just tells the story, and let's you reach your own conclusions. In my opinion "this was bad", and it is amazing that a country could do this to it's people. If you get the chance, check it out.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

On the flyway to hell...

So, one of our Product Managers was over from Canada to give us some training on one of our products, and then also to tour some key Customers to do demonstrations of the new version of the thing.

The whole organisation of the Customer visits had gone south a couple of times, and therefore I had to fly to Griefswald on Monday, and then to Vienna on Tuesday, in order to cover some of the visits that got double booked. Then I got a phone call on Tuesday to ask if I could also fly to Antwerp on Wednesday to cover the meetings there, because the Product Manager came down with a I agreed. And that's where all the problems started.

First of all we had the whole problem with me getting there, as I had to fly back to Frankfurt to pick up another module (needed 2, and only had 1 with me) on Tuesday night, so I couldn't fly direclty from Vienna to Antwerp. The meetings were supposed to start at 10am on Wednesday morning.

Originally I had thought that I could fly from Frankfurt to Antwerp, but then I rememberred that I would have the 2 modules with me that would weigh 20kg in total, and I couldn't carry them on. But, to drive would take 5hrs, and would mean getting up at 4am... :(

Eventually we decided to push the meetings back an hour or so, and that I would fly, and see what I could do about the modules. I really didn't want to check them in, as they are worth around €60k+, and kinda fragile (though less fragile than the previous version).

I managed to book a flight that left Frankfurt at 09:00 and arrived in Brussels at 10:00, and we could then drive the 30min to the Customer. I knew that I would have some issues at the airpot with the modules, so I arrived at the airport around 1:45 early to make sure I didn't miss the plane.

Firstly I tried checking in using the Quick Check-in machines, as this is completely automated, and I could then try and smuggle the 20kg bag with the 2 modules in it onto the plane. But the machine didn't work. So off to the Service Counter.

Before you get to the Service Counter, they have an X-Ray machine to scan all baggage to check in. One of the workers asked me if I had bags to check and I said "We will see..." but they took my bag from me and said that it was way to heavy to carry on, and I would have to check it...bugger.
Now at the Service Counter I tried to convince the girl to let me carry the modules on, or at least carry them to the plane and give them to someone there in order to avoid them being thrown, but it didn't work. So, we checked them in with a fragile sticker and one of the baggage guys carried them personally down to the baggage area rather than putting them on the conveyor belt. Now I had to check myself in...

Firstly the girl tried with my United card, and then with my credit card, but couldn't find me in the system. We eventually found me in the list of passengers, and she printed out my boarding card. She then said to me that my card had printed as though I had a paper ticket, and I wouldn't be able to get onto the plane with it unless I had the paper ticket...which I didn't have...because I had booked an e-ticket.
A few phone calls later, and the girl told me that I didn't have an e-ticket, and that I had to pick up my paper ticket from the ticket counter. So off I head to the ticket counter and ask the lady there if she has a ticket for me. She asks me where I am heading, to which I respond "Brussels", and she says that they are always e-tickets, but she would look. A lot of searching later, and we haven't found any paper ticket for me...

Luckily the travel company we use has a counter at the airport, and luckily I know where it is, so I head over there. The girl at that counter tells me that I had booked the ticket, but that they hadn't issued it yet (boarding is less than 15min away why wouldn't they have issued the bastard?!?!?). She issues the ticket, and back to the Service Counter for checkin I go.

Now I have myself all checked in, and boarding starts in about 10 min, and I still have to clear security and make it to the farthest away gate in the A gates at the airport...

Naturally the queue for security is all the way backed up to the ladies who check your tickets, but I patiently wait in line (not like a lot of others who sook about this that and the other and get escorted through). I eventually make it to the scanners and proceed to take my jacket off, my jumper off, my belt off, and even my shoes off (always have problems with them). All I have left now is my shirt, socks, and pants, and I proceed through the scanner...BEEP! WTF?!?!?!? Obviously I look confused, and the security lady looks confused, and then tells me that they have a random beep generator in the machine, and I must have got done by that...but they still have to search me anyway...and of course find nothing other than my raw animal magnetism...RAWR!!!

Anyway, I grab all my stuff and run to the gate, and then have to stand around for 10min because they decided to board late...of course.

Flying is starting to lose it's appeal slowly but surely.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ohne Navi ist alles doof!

Or how not having a Navi meant we got to see a lot of Vienna. :)

So, as a follow on to Big Bird (see below), a few fun episodes from this trip.

  1. Flight from Vienna back to Frankfurt - the guy sitting next to me is reading Playboy, and not seeming to care about it at all. And I mean, he was actually reading it, not "reading" it.

  2. Flight from Frankfurt to Berlin - when going to throw my bags in the overhead locker, I noticed that there were already some magazines etc up there, so I put my bags in another locker. Upon closer inspection, I did notice however that the magazines were copies of Playboy (about 10 of them...and I was the first on the plane, so they must belong to the airline). More disturbing is that they were in the last overhead locker before the toilets...and the other things in the locker were spare toilet paper and tissues. No hand lotion though...(I checked...after taking a copy of Playboy...NOT!...I checked before...:P)

  3. Vienna when picking up the rental car - "Tie Guy" and I follow the signs to the rental lot, but this turns out to be rental return and not pickup. Back to the arrivals hall and to the desk. Got out car? Yep, no probs so far. Does it have navigation like we ordered? No. Any portable systems? No, but we can give you a map. Upgrade? Yes, we can give you a Cabriolet. Turns out the cabriolet was a Chrysler something, which was like a pregnant whale with a toupet(?), which is useless when it is snowing... Anyway, suffice to say that Vienna is a very pretty city, and we got to see A LOT of it on the way to the hotel...

  4. Hotel to Customer, and First Customer to Second Customer - story not much different to on the way to the Hotel, but Vienna really is a nice city. Would be a lot better if the shit map from the rental place had the one way streets marked, and the street signs were where you could see them, instead of stuck to the side of a building, around the corner somewhere.

Anyway, that's enough for now.


Big Bird

This post is mainly for Trentini who is yarping on about going to the Airshow finally.

Well, there are many things about my job that are cool (BMW company car, and Autobahns), and many things about it that suck (constantly flying and sleeping in hotels). Got to add another cool thing to the list yesterday (for the aeroplane nerds out there)...

So, yesterday was the first "commercial" flight of the A380 from Frankfurt to New York. I say "commercial" because it was mainly full of journalists and VIPs, but meh! The plane was leaving from Terminal 2 at Frankfurt Airport at 09:00.

Because my Sales Guy (read as "tie wearing companion") were going to meet in Berlin, I took DBA/Air Berlin up to Berlin (discount airline) to keep the costs down. Downside of this plan is, as I found out at the airport when I arrived in Terminal 1, that they fly from Terminal 2...

So, because they are a discount airline, it also means that they don't pay for the Airbridge service, and instead ferry people too and from the plane in busses along the tarmac.

Anyway, long story short, I got to see Big Bird up close on the tarmac (from the bus). It is quite an impressive sight - this big double-decker plane and all of the trucks around it to fuel it, feed it, etc.

Naja, I should have taken some pix, but I was too excited, and discussing how it looks bigger on tv with the Germans.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wenn in Schottland...

Last week I headed to Edinburgh for the week to take part in a Training course for one of our products. Having never been to Scotland before, I was kinda pumped about the trip. Won't bore you with any details, other than to say that we had a lot of fun, and here are some pictures...

Edinburgh Castle with some statue in the foreground (and miserable weather).

Edinburgh Castle with the gardens in the foreground that were filled with water in the 1500s to protect the castle (not from fish or frogs, I guess).

I would love to have one of these...

This guy did a presentation on the weapons and the lifestyle of the Highlanders. Very interesting stuff.

War and Peace. Church built in the 1000s, and the biggest gun in the castle.

Castle from the back side on a much nicer day.

And again from the back side. I love how the Castle blends into the rocks, like it is a part of the living rock.

Who's that sexy fella then, huh?

A wanna be Scot with a real Scot. I wish Derren would stop pretending...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Arbeit macht frei"

"Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes you free) would have been the last thing that the prisoners in the Dachau Concentration Camp read before their term of imprisonment started, or their slow, painful, and lonely walk along the road to death began.

If I remember correctly, the Dachau Work Camp was opened in 1933 on the grounds of an old Munitions Factory, and operated until around April 29th 1945 when it was liberated by the US Forces. It is important to note that Dachau was a Work Camp and not an Extermination Camp - as reinforced by the writing on the main building's roof during it's operating period "Es gibt einen Weg zur Freiheit. Seine Meilensteine heißen: Gehorsam, Fleiß, Ehrlichkeit, Ordnung, Sauberkeit, Nüchternheit, Wahrhaftigkeit, Opfersinn und Liebe zum Vaterland!" or "There is one way to freedom. It's milestones are called Obedience, Dilligence, Honesty, Tidiness, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Truthfulness, Sense of Self Sacrifice, and Love of the Fatherland" - although the end result was often the same...death. During this time, some 200,000 prisoners passed through the camp, with around 30,000 of them dying, and around 67,000 of them in the camp at the time of liberation (of which around 2,000 died shortly after liberation due to illness etc.). At it's "high point", the 64,000 prisoners were imprisoned here at here in the main camp at the one time (only half of the 67,000 at the time of liberation were in the main camp - the others were in subsidiary camps in the area), occupying one of 30 huts which were built to accomodate 200 men each, but accomodating more than 2,000 per hut. After the liberation all of the huts were torn down, and today only the foundations of the huts remain. In 1965 two of them were rebuilt to give people an idea of what they were like. I think I am glad that they are all gone, as the rows and rows of hut foundations kind of remind you of the thousands of people who died here - all that remains is a hint of a memory.

The beds in 1933. Notice the dividers between the beds, the board at the head end for storing personal items. 200 men slept in one room at this point in time.

The beds in the latter phases. Notice that there are now no dividers, no head boards for storing personal items (confiscated, including photos)..

I listened to one recording of a prisoner recalling their time in the camp, especially related to the bed making. He said that the straw stuffed mattresses, which had rounded corners and were lumpy, had to be pushed into a perfect rectangle shape in the mornings. The bed covers then had to be folded to exaclty 60 wide, and laid along the bed from top to bottom. The folds in the blanket had to run perfectly parallel with the blue and white stripes in the blankets. At the head of the bed, the blanket would cascade down from the pillow onto the bed. Across all the bunks, this cascade height had to be exactly the same. And all of this in the morning rush to get out to parade. If the beds weren't perfect, then the 4 men that shared the bed received punishment...which could range in severity from beatings, less food, harder work, or even "The Post". "The Post" was an extremely cruel form of punishment where the prisoner's hands were bound behind their back, and then they were strung up by their wrists from a pole for 1 hour. Naturally, their shoulders would dislocate, and therefore they would not be able to work properly the next day....downwards spiral.
For these people who were then sick, or unable to work due to injury, there was a special sick parade. During this sick parade, the prisoners were ridiculed for not being able to work, as well as being further beaten. Some of them were also used to perform certain medical experiments on etc.

I should probably point out here, before people start to think that this inhumane treatment only happened to the Jewish people, that Dachau started out as a camp where Hitler sent his political opponents, and enemies of the state. The list of people that were to be imprisoned kept expanding and expanding, to include the following catagories:
  • Political prisoners (Communists, Social Democrats, annarchists)
  • Professional German criminals
  • A-Social people (homeless, unemployed, prostitutes, etc..., and Gypsies)
  • Homosexuals
  • Jehovas' Witnesses

You can find more info about the classifications here.
On the parade ground of the camp, there is now a large memorial to the people the served and died at Dachau. One of the interesting parts of this memorial (which I neglected to photograph) is 3 large chain sections joined together, with replicas of the badges that the prisoners wore. What makes it interesting is that 3 groups are missing from this memorial, and namely the Homosexuals, the Professional Criminals, and the A-Socials. This is because at the time of the commissioning of the memorial, these groups weren't recognised as being real prisoners by some Prisoners Group because they were not imprissoned for their political beliefs. Also the Professional Criminals were not included because this memorial was dedicated to the prisoners' solidarity, and criminals were seen as having none.

Also attached to the camp, but seperated from the main complex with a fence, was the Crematorium. The Crematorium originally started out as a small building with 2 ovens, but this soon became too few...even with it burning day and night. Therefore a second and larger Crematorium building with 4 extra ovens was built. These ovens each had room for 2-3 bodies at a time, but at the time of liberation the American Soldiers found a room containing over 3000 bodies waiting to be cremated.
Above the new ovens, and just a little to the front (which you can't see) there is a beam that crosses the roof. This beam was actually used to hang prisoners in front of the ovens when they had been sentenced to death for one reason or another. The bodies would then be cut down and thrown straight into the ovens.
This building also housed 4 rooms/chambers that were used for "disinfecting" the clothes of the dead, before returning them to the camp, and two rooms for storing bodies waiting to be cremated.
There was also a Gas Chamber, disguised to look like showers, but it is claimed that this chamber was never actually used. Even so, it is a somewhat eerie and claustraphobic feeling walking into this room...even though you know that you have a chance to leave it again.

The original 2 ovens in the Crematorium

Three of the further 4 ovens added in the new "Barracks X" Crematorium building

The whole camp complex was, and still is, surrounded by high fences of concrete and barbed wire, and trenches.
The fences and trenches were watched over by guards in the guard towers. The trenches were just before the fences, and were designed to stop anyone reaching the fence. Basically anyone who made it into these trenches, or onto the fence was then shot. This was the process that a lot of the prisoners used to take their own lives, and why the main memorial sculpture at the sight takes the form it does. The sculpture is designed to show the mangled bodies of prisoners who have thrown themselves onto the fences, as well as to appear as though it itself is the barbed wire fence, and to portray the desperation that drove them to suicide (above).

We also visited "The Bunker" that lies behind the main building. This was the building that housed the "Speical Prisoner" who were treated better than the others. The Bunker also housed the prisoners who were on solitary confinement punishment. During the war, some of the cells in The Bunker were converted into standing cells. That is, they were roughly 60x60cm, which didn't give you enough room to sit or lie down.

After reading that so far, is it any wonder that Dachau was a model camp, upon which most of the other camps were based? There was even an SS Training School at Dachau, where soldiers learned to be camp guards, and had to prove what they had learned on the prisoners in Dachau before taking up their posts in other camps.

When the American's liberated Dachau, they did something that I found very interesting. Firstly they made the residents of the town of Dachau and the politicians come and visit Dachau, in particular the Crematorium. They did this to make everyone realise what actually was going on here, as the propoganda was telling everyone that Dachau operated like a normal prison, with normal prison conditions.
The second, and more interesting part, was that they made the SS Soldiers who had been running the camp help bring out the 3000 bodies in the storage room for burial or cremation.

Anyway, suffice to say that this was an interesting experience. We had asked ourselves a few times if we really wanted to visit Dachau or not, but at the end of the day I am glad that I did.

View across the hut foundations to the guard tower

View across the hut foundations back towards the main building

Plaque dedicated to those who died

If only it was that easy...

"These are the enemies of democracy!"

No! You can't make me!

Think about how we died here...

A view that most only ever saw on the way in...