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Big city blues

Mark Mardell | 09:30 UK time, Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Berlin city centre at night"Not Berlin! I want to avoid Berlin!" I hissed at my producer, who was on the phone to a colleague in the German capital, arranging a piece for later this week on the Greens' impact or otherwise on national and European politics.

This was not out of personal aversion towards Berlin: indeed it is probably my favourite European capital, at least of those unblessed by sunshine and the spirit of the South. It is stimulating, moving and lively. It is just that as a reporter I like to get outside the capital cities whenever possible.

There are many reasons why it is not always possible. They are where you find the main politicians, academics and think-tanks clustered together. It costs more and takes more time to get out of the big city.

But capitals don't reflect the whole country. Perhaps nowhere does, but you can get a seriously distorted view by sticking to a capital. Paris, London and Berlin are, for different reasons, nothing like their nations. Madrid and Rome have a slightly better claim to reflect their countries, but not much.

Perhaps smaller countries' capitals are closer to the national sense of place. I realise none of these reflections are particularly profound, but the reason I am writing about it at all is that I want to hear your opinion. I was musing on which capitals are least and most like their nations, and whether the differences are good, bad, or just inevitable, and realised I needed your input. So what do you think?


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  • 1. At 09:52am on 20 May 2009, Scotch Git wrote:

    I agree. Edinburgh and Jerusalem are my only exceptions.

    Not that I've been everywhere, but in my admittedly limited experience.

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  • 2. At 10:18am on 20 May 2009, betuli wrote:

    I think Berlin does not reflect at all what Germany is, at least not the western and southern sides of the country. The German capital is much poorer than lander like the very rich Nord-Rhein-Westfallen. This does not come as a surprise, bearing in mind the geography and the history of Berlin.

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  • 3. At 10:37am on 20 May 2009, oulematu wrote:

    I wonder whether it would be a correct generalization to say that in many EU countries many rural or small town areas in the EU (outside the touristy areas and with some other exceptions) tend to be more conservative, xenophobic or even racist than the big cities, so much so that non-white strangers or foreign language users may not find it appealing to frequent such areas. Just a theory, I am not trying to be offensive.

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  • 4. At 10:52am on 20 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    I was talking to a friend about this yesterday. He is one of those Hungarians who are typically Budapesti - cosmopolitan, educated, liberal, multilingual. He is a native of Budapest, I have been here only four years. My Hungarian is very poor, not because I am hopeless with languages but because I really don't need it. On a bad day, I might go for five minutes before encountering someone who speaks English or German. His English is not much better than my Hungarian so we speak German.

    And that is the point. Like Peter, Budapest itself is mainly cosmopolitan, educated, liberal and multilingual. With about 1.7 million, it is not a big city by the standards of say Berlin or Paris (although, by central European standards, it is), yet it has one of Europe's great opera companies, no fewer than four professional symphony orchestras, wonderful galleries, monumental architecture and a varied cuisine which would make many western capitals drool. Even in hard times like these, there is a veneer of prosperity, even if it is only skin deep. It is very central to the experience of being Hungarian almost literally. If you are traveling from one part of the country to another, be it by motorway or train, chances are you will travel to Budapest then onwards. That is the nature of the infrastructure. It makes sense.

    Yet it is a world apart. There are many other cities and towns of cultural importance and they naturally have tourist businesses so languages are spoken but it is not the same. They are instantly recognisable as Hungarian. Budapest is international. We touched on the myth of central Europe, a mysterious new identity which has sprung up presumably to give the lie to the idea of a divided Europe, 20 years on but it is a myth. Budapest is very definitely western European. Travel an hour out of town and you are in eastern Europe. On a recent trip to Vienna, I was surprised to find myself talking German. I could have been in Budapest - except that BP is more relaxed, more liberal, bigger and - I think - more beautiful.

    My friend is also incidentally Jewish. Long after the trauma that befell the Jews of central Europe, the community is mainly successful and prosperous. I have encountered little in the way of antisemitism in Budapest. Yet go out of the city not many kilometers and you will begin to encounter it on the streets and in cafes and bars. It is not aggressive - whispered comments behind hands rather than confrontational and generally confined to older people but it is palpable. I mention it in passing yet it sums up the difference - the reason why Budapest is 100% Hungarian and yet a different planet.

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  • 5. At 11:03am on 20 May 2009, Mathiasen wrote:

    Capitals are always different! - Go to the countryside and ask people what they think and you will discover that also in small countries the capitals are different. You find the powerful in the capitals and the cultural avant-garde. There is more to choose between in clothing, music, art, cuisine et cetera.
    Here in Berlin appr. 15% of the population are foreigners. They are emigrants from many different countries, diplomats, artists, and business people... It is the same pattern in small countries.
    However, what does it matter if you want to interview an author, who lives in the countryside? For a journalist the crucial is not whether it is capital or not. The crucial is to speak with the right persons. It is a question about research to find them and that can be a time consuming thing. Especially in a foreign country.
    Mathiasen, European with a Danish passport

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  • 6. At 11:16am on 20 May 2009, vagueofgodalming wrote:

    I grew up in Newcastle, and was frustrated at the way the BBC (and other national media) seemed to think that London was the nation.

    Then I got a job in London, and became annoyed at the way the BBC (and etc.) gave time to all that provincial stuff.

    Now I'm back outside London, and have reverted to my former opinion.

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  • 7. At 11:29am on 20 May 2009, Freeborn John wrote:

    Berlin has always struck me as the product of the industrial revolution; a Manchester or a Chicago too young to reflect the meandering life of a nation. Having lived in Munich it is the first Germany city to come to my mind but much of what looks old in that city was actually rebuilt after the war to look ancient. The romantic image of South Germany with mountains and forests and lakes is certainly more appealing than the image of a Dusselfdorf or a Dortmund but can it be said to be more typical of Germany than them? Probably not. (Berlin beer is certainly not typical German though. Why they want to put that red or green stuff into it has always baffled me).

    A colleague of mine (a Londoner) once commented that Londoners had more in common with the people of Tokyo than the rest of England. Maybe they both have similar problems of difficult commutes to work and expensive housing but these things are pretty superficial. I do not think that Londoners are that different from English people who live in other cities, though they do have a greater range of cultural entertainment to compensate for those big city blues. The differences between British cities is (like that of Munich and Berlin) often a difference between old cities and those that grew up in the industrial revolution by sucking in large number of poor from the countryside and which remain less affluent to this day.

    I was trying to work out which European countries I had been too where I have seen both capital and a few other places. The list is shorter than I would have thought. The capital city of a number of countries is sometimes the only real city, so there is quite a visual difference between say Copenhagen and Aarhus, or Dublin and Cork let alone anywhere smaller in the country. Differences between city and town may make these places look different but are the people who live in capital and town really so different when they speak the same language, are educated under the same system, watch the same TV programs, etc.?

    Luxembourg is almost certainly the capital that is most typical of the country on the grounds that there is little else in that country. But it would be a cop out to provide that answer. Rome to me seems quite different from anywhere else in diverse Italy with little in common to my eyes with industrial Turin or renaissance Florence or run down Naples but Italy (like Germany) is a relatively new state. Friends in Brittany like to tell me that Paris is not France, but I find it hard to believe. Paris and Nice seem part of the same place to me and France is one of the oldest nation-states in the world.

    My choice of capital that is most like the rest of country would be Stockholm, which while being larger than say Gothenburg or Kalmar, is an old and attractive city built on islands by the sea, and is inhabited by the same can-do spirit of the Swedes.

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  • 8. At 11:53am on 20 May 2009, Francislerouge wrote:

    Capitals are something special - even more so in the developing world. Compare Delhi or Khatmandu with their hinterland. Perhaps the environment helps: paved roads and street lights; sewers and diverse restaurants. Most cities have electricity with sufficient strength and certainty to bring the BBC World Service and Deutsche Welle. Nor dare one forget the contribution of the British Council Reading room ...
    Let me sing praises of London as well. Just to compare cultural facilities. Whatever one's politics, in a capital, or very large city one will find co-believers with whom to rejoice or commiserate.
    Mark: capitals might not be best for reporters but there is nothing to beat them, for comfortable and rounded living.

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  • 9. At 12:06pm on 20 May 2009, Wrathofpiglet wrote:

    I always found Dublin very different from the rest of Ireland. I grew up in the rural west, where I had no feeling of belonging to a particular social class nor any sense that such class divisions existed in Ireland at all.

    When I moved to Dublin the class division between the broadly working class northside and upper-middle class southside was jarring. I could pick out individuals walking down the street and identify their social class by their clothes, accents and even posture. Dublin is far bigger than any other Irish city so it dominates and stands apart from the rest of the country to some extent.

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  • 10. At 12:27pm on 20 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    #7 - Freeborn-John

    I am very fond of Munich as well but I have always thought of Bayern as a place apart from the rest of Germany. Fascinating and beautiful but totally different.

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  • 11. At 12:35pm on 20 May 2009, Englishman in Strasbourg wrote:

    Paris isn't France. Nowhere else in France are the issues of the balieues so important - for the simple reason that nowhere else in France has as many. Paris is dirty and overcrowded, whereas the best part of the country is sparsely populated open countryside.

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  • 12. At 1:05pm on 20 May 2009, ghostblogger wrote:

    I can certainly agree about London. I live in Surrey, so it's all of 50 minutes away by train, but it's like visiting a foreign country, everything is so different. I like it a lot, it's a really great place to visit, but I couldn't live there as I'd get homesick for England!

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  • 13. At 1:58pm on 20 May 2009, Freeborn John wrote:

    Mark Mardell is trying to get you all to say 'my capital city is completely different from where i live', or 'my town is actually much more like town X is some other European country'. But politics is about people and not the way cities look.

    Cities are Capital because they house political institutions. And democratic poltical institutions are (or should be) about representing a nation, i.e. a community with sufficient in common that they aspire to self-government. So Copenhagen and Aarhus, Dublin and Galway, Berlin and Stuttgart may look different, but they are home to people united by a common bond of national identity that is absolutely necessary if political institutions that use decision-making by majority are to be accepted as legitimate by those people. The people of Aarhus would not agree to be ruled by the majority in the Bundesstag in Berlin, but those that live in Stuttgart do and it has nothing to do with the architecture in these places. The EU (and its backers in the media) are trying to severe this link between national communities and the polticial insitutions that govern them, but they must fail if represnetative government is to survive. As long as Europe is home to multiple Peoples we will need just as many Capital cities.

    The choice of that capital is a question of secondary important, but experience shows it tends to be the largest city in the national territory (or a neutral location if there are two more of less equally large cities). The largest city is by defintition not typical.

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  • 14. At 2:28pm on 20 May 2009, TandF1 wrote:

    As an Englishman I don't feel like I'm in a different country when I go to Cardiff or Edinburgh. But London feels like a different country despite it being my capital city. It's a very weird place. Quite unlike anywhere else in the UK. Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle... they all feel like British cities and I don't feel out of place. But London is just strange. The way whole streets and even neighbourhoods are given over to one type of business: Soho, Theatreland, Tottenham Court Road. And there's no centre. It just goes on forever. Of course the truth is London isn't really a city but a concrete county. And the problem is despite it being completely unrepresentative of the rest of the UK it has practically total dominance over our lives. And it's a dump. It's like a one giant permanent building site. Although the stereotype of Londoners being unfriendly is untrue (but perhaps that's because almost everyone you meet isn't from London).

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  • 15. At 2:49pm on 20 May 2009, Roy Brookes wrote:

    The article atarted off about Berlin, so let's go back to Germany. Hamburg is a much more vibrant, interesting and attractive city and its people are unique in the World. However Hamburg is also not typically German. Same goes for Cologne. You will find typical Germans in the Rührpott if anywhere, but even they speak with a funny accent. Munich and Bavaria? Forget it - a foreign country. A Bavarian and a Hamburger can not even understand each other's speech, let alone their ways of thinking.

    I think the whole idea of "typical" is a myth.

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  • 16. At 3:19pm on 20 May 2009, Gheryando wrote:

    Rome is indeed more like Italy than London is like England. I think this is because it is less international than London, Berlin or Paris. Thus it is more similar to the rest of the country. Living in Beijing, I can only say that Beijing (or Shanghai) do not at all reflect the "real" China..although they too are microcosms of China where you see mules next to Ferraris.

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  • 17. At 3:56pm on 20 May 2009, John_from_Hendon wrote:

    Capital cities always get above themselves! It is about the concentration of power, greed and privilege. This is why in a logical world nations should move their capitals every-so-often. Think of Brasilia! etc. All capital cities are the same to a large extent and for the same reasons. Hot capital cities are very hot, temperate capital cities are hot, etc.

    Most capital cities show a country at its worst. For example, Paris has its own peculiar aroma on the metro and I recall that in hot summers its aroma percolates as far as London via Eurostar to the London underground. Washington DC isn't the USA and is not New York or Boston and still less San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle etc. Whereas capital cities of small countries differ little from their countries - Reykjavik is quite like Iceland. New Delhi on the other hand seems a lot like other Indian cities as does Beijing in the case of China. I could go on with this reminiscence for hours (I have travelled far far too much! - now I prefer to send someone else.)

    One final thought I think that most capital cities on the same latitude and in similarly sized countries are quite similar. Nothing compares to the mega cities with populations over 20 million they are all uniformly unbearable and tend to the bestial, with the exemption of Tokyo as the Japanese ability to still be courteous even when crushed onto commuter trains is (or rather was, as it is a few years since I was there last) almost unique.

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  • 18. At 4:03pm on 20 May 2009, lotlueneburg wrote:

    Berlin is definetely not a very good place to go if you're interested in something like "typical German". Go to medium sized cities like Siegen, Giessen or Koblenz (ugly but typical), then visit a village in the former industrial heartland (Ruhrgebiet, change has come to this place) and then one in eastern Germany (like Mecklenburg-Pommerania). Talk to folks in a) a local pub and b) in trains or busses. On top you might visit a relatively small University (e.g. Bielefeld), go to the Mensa, eat with, say, 5 students and then you might get an idea of what Germans think withot having to conduct a representative study.

    Ah, one more thing: a "Weinfest" in Southern Germany or a "Kartoffelfest" (yes: Potato-Feast) in Saxonia or Mecklenburg-Poomerania will be the absolute highlight to understand a bit better...

    Have fun and: prost!

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  • 19. At 4:06pm on 20 May 2009, democracythreat wrote:

    Berlin has the decided advantage, on this forum, of not being Dresden. If Mr Mardell had written from Dresden, it all would have kicked off, that's for sure.

    Erinnern Sie sich an Dresden!

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  • 20. At 4:47pm on 20 May 2009, betuli wrote:

    I live in London and don't have the feeling of being in England (or UK), but in an international city. It is very much the same in my birth city, Barcelona, mostly populated by foreigners.

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  • 21. At 5:10pm on 20 May 2009, betuli wrote:

    To catch the German "grandeur" I suggest to visit middle size cities, like Munster, which has nothing to envy from the Renaissance Italian towns.

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  • 22. At 6:24pm on 20 May 2009, frenchderek wrote:

    Mark, you're an a hiding to nothing. Berlin, London;, Paris, Budapest, and several other EU capitals are too cosmopolitan to represent their countries. But then as soon as you wander outside of that capital you are faced with regional differences. Is Bavaria more likely to be representative of Germany or Austria? Or Lyon of France? Or Newcastle of the England? etc, etc.

    I've enjoyed your pieces more when you have gone out into the lesser-known spots, eg to interview farmers or fishermen, or whoever. Again these people may not be representative of their own countries - but at least they are more ordinary than those slaving away in capital-city offices.

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  • 23. At 6:41pm on 20 May 2009, mikewarsaw wrote:

    I think its clear to say that capital cities, with the exception of micro States such as Andorra or Monaco radically differ in their human and physical appearance from the remainer of their respective countries simply because of their function. Those capital cities which were major imperial capitals for a long time such as London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Copenhagen or Budapest dominate their countries far more than, for example, Rome or for that matter recently re-united Berlin or Warsaw. Relative size is itself important in the differentiation. Thus Warsaw with less than 2 million inhabitants out of a total 38 millon people does not have the impact that London or Paris have on their countries. And look at The Hague in the Netherlands. Most foreigners think Amsterdam is the capital!

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  • 24. At 7:10pm on 20 May 2009, dj1979 wrote:

    In some ways, Warsaw reflects the whole of Poland. It was razed to the ground by the Nazis in WWII and rebuilt basically from scratch by communists under Soviet supervision. Today it is a scarred city filled with reconstructed historic buildings, Stalinist architecture, communist housing estates and modern skyscrapers. Its streets are full of people whose ancestors did not hail from Warsaw, but came here from all over the country to fill the void left by the murdered original citizens.
    In this way Warsaw reflects the path Poland was forced to take - the path of painful emerging from unthinkable Nazi destruction, of metamorphosis under the thumb of Stalin and his henchmen, in the completely altered political, social, economic and even geographical circumstances. This path finally ended in 1989 when Solidarity prevailed and Poland was finally given a chance to catch up.
    BUT under the scars on the face of Poland there are things still untouched. You'll find them in the medieval streets of Krakow, on the craggy tops of the Tatra Mountains, in the eyes of people too young to be burdened with all the horrible things that happened to Poland generations ago. So as much as you can learn about Poland from your Warsaw experience, it won't be all there is to learn. By far.

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  • 25. At 8:34pm on 20 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    #19 - democracythreat

    "If Mr Mardell had written from Dresden, it all would have kicked off, that's for sure".

    Cheap shot, badly aimed.

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  • 26. At 9:14pm on 20 May 2009, giltedged wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 27. At 9:15pm on 20 May 2009, Nerroth3 wrote:

    I guess it would depend a lot on where, and why, a given capital is located - and whether or not it is in a federal country or not (since provincial capitals can be relatively strong or weak compared to the federal seat in some places).

    Canada's an interesting case in this. Ottawa was selected as the federal capital as a compromise candidate, not least since it's right in the middle of the other then-options (Québec city, Montréal, Kingston and Toronto) and unlike those sits on the border between Ontario and Québec.

    However, while Ottawa is of course relevant politically, it's not nearly so culturally or economically - and even before the rise of Toronto and Vancouver, had been in Montréal's shadow in those two regards.

    When you get to the provincial level, things get interesting, depending on where you go. In Ontario, for example, Toronto is the seat of provincial government, and arguably its power and influence on the rest of the province is not that far off that seen with, say, Dublin compared to the rest of Ireland - indeed, Toronto's influence echoes across the country.

    But how close would the parts of Ontario outside the GTA feel to the Queen City, and vice versa?

    In contrast, Québec's capital is closer to the other, smaller cities there than it is to Montréal - and certainly it's far less diverse culturally and linguistically.

    Indeed, Montréal is both unique in itself, with its history of bilingualism and its large immigrant population - but also in the manner in which it relates to both anglophone and francophone Québec (and to the rest of North America).

    And anglophone from Sherbrooke and a francophone from Trois-Rivières can both turn to Montréal to find a source of culture in their mother tongues - and the city itself is as likely to compare itself to Paris or Toronto or Boston than it would to any others in Québec.

    And then there's British Columbia, where one visiting from elsewhere might struggle to remember that Vancouver isn't actually the capital - though in terms of culture and economics, it may as well be.

    So, I guess when you ask about a capital's usefulness in checking a country's collective pulse, I'd say it all depends on the context - but I'm not sure I'd start with Ottawa...

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  • 28. At 9:19pm on 20 May 2009, Agent 00Soul wrote:

    When I vacationed in Berlin, I was amazed by the fact that pretty much all the "locals" I socialized with were from somewhere else, usually the far western part of Germany. I think the only born-and-raised Berliners I really interacted with were cash register-manning teenagers and senior citizens. But that in itself is surely the mark of both a capital city.

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  • 29. At 9:50pm on 20 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    #27 - Nerroth3

    Interesting remarks which underline the problem with purpose built capitals. You must admit that Ottawa, attractive though it is, is much less interesting than Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The same is true of Washington - very impressive but not a patch on Boston, Philadelphia or New York. Then you have Pretoria, Brasilia, Canberra. Even in Europe, Bonn is a good city, Berlin a great city and is it really any surprise, as someone posted earlier, that so many people think Amsterdam, not Den Haag, is the Dutch capital? Fine cities have character, great cities have a soul.

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  • 30. At 11:15pm on 20 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    In these little jerkwater European countries, once you've seen the main city which is both the national capital and the largest city, that's pretty much it. Anything of importance gravitates to the main city. The rest are suburbs, industrial areas, farms and more suburbs. The smaller cities just give the same flavor of the main one but on a smaller scale. Travel agents will try to exaggerate the differences between them but that is just a ruse to make money. In Italy there's also Tuscany which is pleasant. Europe is mostly a museum. How many ancient Roman ruins, how many picturesque four hundred year old villages can you stand? American tourists used to pay a fortune to get dragged from city to city, hotel to hotel, monument to monument, museum to museum, cheap restaurant to cheap resteraunt. 16 countries in 22 days. They've seen Europe. In the old days, Americans used to shoot 35 mm slides. After visiting someone for dinner there was the obligatory ordeal of the slide show. Now it's video. There's the Eiffel tower. There's one of me at the Palace of Versailles. Here's the market where we bought some fruit and cheese. If you go to some place like Spain there's always some guy with a donkey who will let you take your picture with him for a couple of Euros. Why anyone would go to Spain to have their picture taken with a donkey is beyond me. I knew a guy who got arrested in Moscow for taking a photograph of the train station. Some spy. America had satellites that could see the nails in your shoes from outer space and they arrest this civil engineer who was an amateur photographer for taking a picture of a train station. What a mentality. In Greece, a Brit went to jail for taking a photo of a couple of old planes. Usually the press knows where the best bars are to hang out. That's what it's all about if you're in that business. That's all you need to know. Bar, hotel, restaurant, press conference, airport. Hey taxi driver, how much to the Cafe' Americaine?

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  • 31. At 00:11am on 21 May 2009, threnodio wrote:


    Once upon a time, I came to believe that any resemblance between your mode of communication and the English language was purely coincidental but, by introducing the word 'jerkwater' into the vocabulary, you have now persuaded me that the whole thing was an aberration and when the little green men returned you from your brief abduction, they neglected to replace a vital part of your circuitry.

    I confess that when I posted my remark about Washington earlier, I had entirely forgotten that you have never actually been there. Should you ever get around to visiting that city and chance to note that your Roman architecture is better condition than ours, please remember before bragging about it that at least ours is the real thing.

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  • 32. At 00:52am on 21 May 2009, EUprisoner209456731 wrote:

    Berlin is great except that it is not good enough for vegetarians and that I believe is a problem in Germany as a whole. Zurich is better for vegetarians. Please would Berlin get a Hiltls.

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  • 33. At 00:54am on 21 May 2009, democracythreat wrote:

    So now you are blaming the romans for Dresden, threnodio?

    That is about what I would expect.

    I am seriously thinking about giving up trying to be a democratic revolutionary in the English language. It doesn't seem to hold much promise of success. Just when you think you have nailed someone down to a position in England, they bring up the romans.

    It is all so forlorn and predictable. Everybody knows that the romans were just trying to be Americans before such a thing was possible. So the English are really second rate italians who were trying to be americans.

    What was this thread about, anyway? Berlin. Oh yeah.

    Is that stomping great statue of the russian infantry man still standing in the park near the brandenburg gate?

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  • 34. At 00:56am on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    threnodious, I have never had any desire to visit Washington DC or Disneyland. The only Attraction Washington DC would have for me is the Smithsonian. The canals in Venice are the real thing and the ones in Las Vegas are not. Two things you don't get in Las Vegas that you get in Europe, the attitude and the smell. When I lived and traveled in Europe, the stench of sewage from the rivers in the port cities was overpowering when the wind blew the wrong way. You'll be glad to know I have no desire to ever go back there either. So if you stay on your side of the pond and I stay on mine, there is no chance we will ever actually have to endure each other's presence. Why not visit Switzerland. You could run into your friend democracy threat. You have so much in common only neither of you sees it.

    BTW, the architecture of Washington DC's government buildings is I think Grecian revival, not Roman.

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  • 35. At 01:03am on 21 May 2009, EUprisoner209456731 wrote:

    I have the Green Party leaflet here. Guess what there is no mention of:

    the "EU", European Union, Lisbon Treaty!

    There is a bloke pointing at an apple. I can do that!

    It says: "Imagine the people who represent you actually telling the truth, and having the courage to put your interests in front of financiers and multinationals."

    Are they not lying by omission? They must know that 80% of Brits want a referendum on Lisbon. Presumably they do not want one. Presumably they are not demonstrating that they have the courage to tell the truth.

    The British greens used to be anti-"EU" and pro-direct democracy. What happened to that? The Labour Party used to be anti-"EU" but changed its policy in a way which one who was there considered to be very underhand. Were these two parties the victims of planned infiltration? That is the sort of thing which some would label as paranoia. However I have read newspaper reports, which I have never seen disputed, that the German government under Kohl intervened in Spanish elections and that the French government intervened in German elections via the oil company Elf.

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  • 36. At 01:03am on 21 May 2009, Nerroth3 wrote:

    #29 - threnodio

    Well, some compromise capitals can do better than others, but in many cases the whole point was that the capital would be relatively 'neutral' compared to more established cities/regions.

    (Not that the likes of Ottawa was immune to being seen as more relevant to one community over another in the past, mind you.)

    Indeed, Germany has been a good example of this - Bonn worked for the FRG because it was relatively inoffensive, while one could argue that without the symbolism of (the fall of) the Berlin Wall, having the old Prussian capital take up the mantle of a united Germany's seat of government might have been more controversial than it might have been (and probably was in places like Bayern anyway!).

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  • 37. At 01:20am on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    threat to democracy

    "Is that stomping great statue of the russian infantry man still standing in the park near the brandenburg gate?"

    They must have replaced it by now with a stomping great statue of a german infantry man. The pigeons don't care. As long as they have a place to roost they are happy. The worms don't care either. The corpses those statues represent get eaten the same no matter which side the soldiers fell on.

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  • 38. At 01:37am on 21 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    Marcus, DT -
    It was still a stomping great Russian last time I was there. As for 'Grecian Revival', the buildings in Washington have roofs don't they? Well does the Parthenon? Greeks did not do roofs.

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  • 39. At 01:43am on 21 May 2009, democracythreat wrote:

    MarcusAureliusII wrote:
    "threnodious, .......Why not visit Switzerland. You could run into your friend democracy threat. You have so much in common only neither of you sees it."

    Just because we both raise our knuckles of the ground when we walk, Marcus, this does not make us familiar to any significant degree.

    You must not collectively define what is separate to you, in an effort to simplify your world. That way leads to unhappiness and misfortune.

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  • 40. At 02:19am on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    Threat to democracy

    "You must not collectively define what is separate to you, in an effort to simplify your world. That way leads to unhappiness and misfortune."

    Not to me it doesn't. From the top of the Empire State Building, an ant and a cockroach look to be about the same size, it's hard to tell them apart. They may make a distinction between themselves but I don't see it that way. A fascist, a communist, and an Islamic militant may have different ideologies to rationalize their insanity and may fight each other to the death over them but they all belong locked up in the same lunatic asylum.

    I was truly offended by you comparing me to threnodious. That's the post that got deleted, the one where I told you why. While none of us likes the other two, I think it was most insulting that you compared me to him. You would be hard pressed in the hundreds of exchanges we've had across many BBC blog sites to find more than you could count on the fingers of one hand where we agreed on anything. And even there, as soon as I saw he agreed with me, I had to re-examine my thinking to see if I'd made an error. From my point of view the reason you are both consistently wrong about everything is that despite the differences you think you have between you, you both come from a culture that has the same basic outlook on life and on the world, one that is entirely different from mine. That is why we will never agree.

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  • 41. At 07:07am on 21 May 2009, Mathiasen wrote:

    Berlin has that in common with Warsaw that its architecture mirrors the history of the whole country. The centre of Berlin was destroyed by bombs and then the wall came. The latter is what the many tourists are looking for mostly in vain. The face of the city is changing rapidly and that is probably the biggest difference between Warsaw and Berlin.

    However, this thread is not about Berlin, but the question how a reporter can get the right impression of a country and the thesis is youll get it outside the capital. It seems to come as a surprise to several in this blog, but people have interests and they organize the handling of these interests in parties, associations, clubs and many other things. These structures build the social infrastructure of a society. (Im certain this must be elementary stuff in the education of journalists.) The capital is a neuron in this structure, usually a big central neuron, and for instance the federal states of Germany have official representations in Berlin. Some of them also have pubs, where you can meet people from the federal state.

    A journalist should understand the social infrastructure. Its like reading a map also in that sense that an autobahn is the same thing in all European countries even if the British with their propensity to the eccentric call it a motorway. Its the same with the people and organisations that build the social infrastructure, and you will not meet any surprises because you cross a border. Only variations.

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  • 42. At 07:10am on 21 May 2009, jaxroam wrote:

    Culture happens where people are. Since about when the name Europe was coined some three milennia ago, Europe has essentially been a collection of city states. Any picture of Europe has to be simplified to be seen, but the truest picture of European culture and society would be a map of cities and hinterland. National and regional boundaries shift through history but cities can't move, so they adapt.

    Capitals are cities with power over other cities, be it political, financial, or cultural, or in the case of most European capitals all of the above.

    Few have made a virtue out of homogenity like the Swedes, but as capitals Gothenburg and Stockholm would be very different. Stockholm is an Eastern European city. From Stockholm you look upon Finland, Russia and the whole Baltic region. Gothenburg shares coast and outlook with Oslo and Copenhagen, and opens up to the North Sea. If Gothenburg had been the capital, Sweden would have meddled with Britain and the Netherlands rather than Russia and Poland. Similarly the move from St. Petersburg to Moscow, or from Bonn to Berlin, signalled significant political eastward shifts.

    And by the way, Dresden is a happening place. It shows that cities don't have to major metropoles with ambitions or delusions of grandeur. It took a terrifying amount of marks and euros to rebuild Dresden, good as new!, but now it is thriving. In comparison purely administrative or financial capitals or transport nexuses can be rather dreary places, even with the alotted power, money, or number of citizen.

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  • 43. At 07:31am on 21 May 2009, enriquecornejo wrote:

    I agree. Capital cities don't always reflect what goes on in the rest of the country and the "we hate the capital city" phenomenon occurs in every single country I've been to.

    I live in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world and if you visit it you would take home the impression of a crowded, dynamic and vibrant city. But the rest of the coutry is different, not just because all the other cities are less populated but also because of the conservatism that dominates almost every single town.

    I have experienced the "I hate the capital city" phenomenon in my country. When I travel to another Mexican city or town, people have the idea that the people from the big city are abusive, and that the country would be a better place to live without the big city's inhabitants.

    When I lived in Norway a similar thing happened. I lived in Bergen (Norway's second largest city) and everyone said that the people of Oslo were arrogant. When I asked Bergenians about interesting places to visit in the capital city they often mentioned pubs and nightclubs, always in a sarcastic tone. The truth is that when I visited Oslo I loved it, but I still felt proud of my small city.

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  • 44. At 09:17am on 21 May 2009, rnwalker wrote:

    It's true that Berlin is no more typical of Germany than London is of the UK. But in Germany none of the big cities is obviously typical: Frankfurt is even more international than Berlin, for example. Better stick to a medium sized city such as Kassel, Darmstadt or Braunschweig. No city in Bavaria can be considered 'typically German' because they're all south of the Weisswurst Equator - Bavaria, with the exception of Franken in the north, is simply different.

    Elsewhere, Vienna is starkly different to the rest of Austria (and has, as one other poster pointed out, much in common with Budapest). Prague is more cosmopolitan than the rest of the Czech Republic, but also more hard faced and unscrupulous and a good deal less friendly. Edinburgh is not representative of Scotland: too posh, too anglicised. Dublin isn't Ireland. As Mark suggests, it's probably in the very nature of the place that a capital city should be different to the rest of the country.

    I agree with him though that Berlin is one of the very best.

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  • 45. At 10:20am on 21 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    #40 - MarcusAureliusII

    I am disappointed. Of course we disagree, sometimes aggressively but there has always been streak of humour in our exchanges which suggested that there was no personal animosity. It seems I was wrong.

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  • 46. At 11:35am on 21 May 2009, barry havenhand wrote:

    Isn't part of our present pickle the fact that politicians are in London, thus uncomfortably close to the City, stuck with traditions and a chamber that is unsuitable, and too far into the bottom right hand corner of the country-move the capital to somewhere neasr the NEC/ B'ham airport, then it would reflect middle England

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  • 47. At 1:14pm on 21 May 2009, democracythreat wrote:

    rnwalker wrote:
    "No city in Bavaria can be considered 'typically German' because they're all south of the Weisswurst Equator - Bavaria, with the exception of Franken in the north, is simply different."

    I have developing theory about the white sausage, and how it has held the german people back over time. Now that statement can be taken several ways, not least by feminists, but what I mean is that eating a white sausage is something of an act of faith.

    How can any person look at a white sausage and tell themselves they know what is in it? Where is the evidence of red meat? What we are talking about, fundamentally, is a sausage that doesn't even pretend to honour its digestive commitments. It doesn't even look like food. It is absolutely an article of faith to put a white sausage in your mouth and tell yourself "This is nutritious."

    And the significant point here is that this habit has reached national significance. It is now a sign of German pride, the eating of which is a ritual that defines one as a worthy member of the tribe. It seems to me that nothing could establish the worthlessness of nationalism than this evidence of perversion. Any creed that can fool its followers into eating weisswusrt has got to be fundamentally dishonest, and based on rude commercial gain for the few, at the expense of the many.

    Now Bismark did say that laws and sausages were not things that folks should watch being made, and here I would draw a large and hopefully meaningful parallel with the Europe Union. I would dare to suggest that the EU is a vast white sausage, in the sense that it was made behind closed doors, with unspeakable ingredients, for private commercial purposes. Further, it is being offered to the people of Europe as a sign of cultural identity, a symbol of belonging to a greater tribe.

    And so I say, with calculated seriousness, "The discerning humanist does not eat of the white sausage."

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  • 48. At 1:25pm on 21 May 2009, TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship wrote:


    Ever heard the phrase "Shock-Jock", I believe that there are a few bloggers on these BBC blogs that will say things or change there opinions just to get a reaction - this is no simple case of belief or debate (were people do sometimes take the opposite point of view to stimulate/challenge another view, I admit to doing it myself at times), no, "Shock-Jocking" is simply a form of personal attention seeking.


    "Isn't part of our present pickle the fact that politicians are in London, thus uncomfortably close to the City"

    Parliament (either national or EU) could move to Timbuktu and the lobbyists or other 'interest' groups would simply follow the action, also there would be charges made that the Parliament was being to centred on Timbuktu - 'Timbuktu-centerish' if you like...

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  • 49. At 2:05pm on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    threnodious, I'm funny because I'm old enough and disenthralled enough to have seen how absurd life is. You're not disappointed, what you really are is incredulous. You like other Europeans still refuse to believe that I truely detest Europe and Europeans for its culture, it's history, everything about it that it advertises and is so proud of. You like other Europeans really can't believe that there are other people around the world especially in English speaking cultures whose view of the world, of life, of people is so different from your own that they can't overlook what you view as the occasional minor mistake, the tiny flaw, the insignifigant trasgression and regard Europe with awe and admiration. Well from my point of view, taken in aggregate and put in their real perspective these "flaws" like a minor world war or two every now and then, brutal cruel empires that enslaved much of the world, murderous hatred and bigotry that made an international business out of slavery, murdered countless tens of millions of innocents based on race or religion alone in crusades and inquisitions, and culminated into turning genocide into an industrial scale bloodbath reducing human beings (Germans) who were supposed to be the most civilized of societies into worse than rabid animals. The real value of its achievements on the other hand have been greatly overexaggerated, blown far out of proportion to their true worth. Our views of it are polar opposites. It is one of Europe's fatal flaws that it refuses to look at the world for what it reaaly is, refuses to look at itself for what it is, lives in a delusional fantasy and is entirely irrational. That is why it and not America is detested by much of the world. I had the opportunity for two years to see it close up with my own eyes, to breathe its air, to come to understand it first hand. I didn't need to see all of it, what I saw was sufficient. I was fortunate enough to have been born in a place that had rejected the entire mentality of this over two hundred years ago, thrown the yoke of it off, and created a different kind of place that hopefully will never become another Europe by its design, just as Europe can never become another America by its genetic makeup. We are of the same human species but that is all we have in common. Something for you to ponder.

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  • 50. At 2:30pm on 21 May 2009, kmorgenstern wrote:

    In my experience the differences is not so much between capital/big city versus rural or small town communities. The biggest difference in demographics and 'intellectual horizons' are due to whether there is an institute of higher education located in the town. Even comparatively small towns can be surprisingly hip if they have a large student and academic population. Even if they are located in a region that is generally considered conservative.
    Capitals are interesting in that they attract people from all over the country and from other countries as well, creating a unique cosmopolitan blend that is not like 'the rest of the country' - though, personally I think Europe generally can be better defined by its regional coherences (which may reach beyond national borders) than by their supposed unity as nations.

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  • 51. At 3:07pm on 21 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    #49 - MarcusAureliusII

    "I'm funny because I'm old enough and disenthralled enough to have seen how absurd life is".

    I didn't say anything about you being funny, did I?

    And anyone who can use the word 'jerkwater' and then refer to 'English speaking cultures' in the same thread is surely beyond redemption.

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  • 52. At 3:58pm on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    threnodious, that's your point of view. From my point of view, anyone who defends British or European culture and history is beyond redemption because it has no defense. Its crimes against humanity infinitely outweigh its meager accomplishments. It could hardly be more detestable. Just look at the scandal that broke in Ireland this week. The outrage is that they won't even prosecute the criminals in their own society yet the EU will go to the ends of the earth to capture and prosecute what it views as criminals in faraway places at the ICC in the Hague. But then that's just my opinion based on facts.

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  • 53. At 4:25pm on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    "And anyone who can use the word 'jerkwater' and then refer to 'English speaking cultures' in the same thread is surely beyond redemption."

    threnodious, want me to start with the Falklands sheep herders and work my way up to that sceptered Isle, that plessed blot, that not so great Britain?

    Is Britain jerkwater? What else would you call a nation which uses the same electrical plug for a 2 watt alarm clock and a 5000 watt air conditioner? And drives on the wrong side of the road to boot.

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  • 54. At 4:30pm on 21 May 2009, KoenTheHague wrote:

    Not sure if this has already been added, but what does "the real country" mean?
    If you look at Belgium for example, you have the capital, and then Flanders and Wallonia. Which one of those two is "real"?
    As an outsider looking at the UK, my (probably distorted) image of the place is that there, too, you'd have to separate between London, the mostly Southern well-off countryside, and then the more gritty Northern parts.
    With Germany, I would say that "capital or non-capital?" is not even the main distinction: you could go to a run-down commieblock in Berlin or Bochum, or interview some well-to-do people near the Kudamm or the Konigsallee. I'd be willing to bet a pint or two that the results you'll get will depend much more on neighborhood than on the particular city you're visiting.

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  • 55. At 4:45pm on 21 May 2009, Johannestannes wrote:

    Berlin is indeed not Germany,and is also the only German state not to have agreed to ratify the infamous Lisbon treaty/constitution.

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  • 56. At 4:48pm on 21 May 2009, threnodio wrote:


    "What else would you call a nation which uses the same electrical plug for a 2 watt alarm clock and a 5000 watt air conditioner?"

    One that has the brains to realise that you can change its properties by putting the correct fuse in rather changing the whole jerkwatering plug.

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  • 57. At 4:48pm on 21 May 2009, skye_eg wrote:


    I think you have some misconceptions of Europe. It's possible for xenophobia to be more present in urban areas than in rural areas. For example, in France, the far-right Front National has its strongholds in diverse urbanized areas like Marseille, not Brittany and Auvergne. And there's also a difference between the 15 older EU members who are well-accustomed to immigration by now, and the newer members who are new to it, or haven't even experienced it yet. Immigrants can be found even in rural areas of the older 15 members -although they are proportionally less present than in the cities- much agricultural work that cannot be done by machine is done by low-skilled immigrants. And in addition to immigrants, many small cities and rural areas in Southern Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Portugal) brace for a massive influx of tourists every summer, so they are well-accustomed to people of all shades and languages.

    marcus aurelius,

    Frankly I think it's very sad that you find fault with Europeans' cultural pride, and that you have this impression that Europeans have a disdain for Americans because of Americans' "lack of culture". There's two fundamental dimensions to your warped worldview: your subconscious acceptance that "America has no culture" (and is disliked as a result of that), and your failure to recognize that Europeans (and indeed the vast majority of the world) make a distinction between ordinary American people and culture on the one hand, and the American establishment/government/foreign policy on the other.

    While people, not only in Europe, but also in Latin America, the Middle East, and East Asia have a justifiable distrust US foreign policy, there *is* an affinity for American culture and ordinary Americans. You may not know this, but the United States is one of the world's leading tourism destinations; a huge chunk of those visitors come from Europe. And various American cultural products and traditions, from jazz to American films and pop culture, have become quite popular in Europe.

    What *is* sad and depressing, however, is that for the past 60 years or so, Americans have been systematically destroying their own culture, and have been promoting this "ethnically neutral" and "culture-less" society under the umbrella of "modernity". It's no one's fault that Americans no longer cook their own meals, and American cuisine today consists only of assembly line foods that come in a wrapper (Americans have given up delicious pot-roast or home-cooked turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy in favor of Big Macs, Cheese-it, Taco Bell, and Lean Cuisine). It's no one's fault that Christmas has been hyper-commercialized (and Thanksgiving on the verge of being overwhelmed by and sucked into the ever-growing Christmas season). It's absolutely no one's fault that beautiful 19th-century homes were destroyed in cites across America throughout the second half of the 20th century, to make room for parking lots, strip malls, ugly 1970s skyscrapers, clogged freeways, and mile upon mile of cookie-cutter Brady Bunch suburban homes. Kudos to Europeans for cherishing and preserving their cultures, unlike Americans who have abandoned *theirs*.

    The notion that "America has no culture" is being promoted by AMERICANS THEMSELVES -and NOT by foreigners- either from the perspective that America is "multicultural" and therefore has no dominant or mainstream culture (which is untrue), or from the twisted mentality that traditions are the hallmark of a "backwards" and "ethnic" society unfitting of the "ethnic-less" United States, OR from the classic ethnocentric viewpoint that mistakes American cultural customs as universal norms.

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  • 58. At 4:58pm on 21 May 2009, TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship wrote:

    In reply to comments @ #53

    "What else would you call a nation which uses the same electrical plug for a 2 watt alarm clock and a 5000 watt air conditioner?"

    Sensible?... Meaning that we only need the one type of socket and plug, and that all appliances are protected locally and correctly rather than being under-protected at the fuse board. Never mind that we along need the one 'intake' voltage for our domestic use!

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  • 59. At 5:17pm on 21 May 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    KoenTheHague and #54.

    Re: Possible "..UK ..distorted view".

    Well, you'd do well if you're ever over in the Isles to avoid thinking of the Welsh, Scots and Irish as English wherever you happen to meet them!

    As for the Londoners: There are hundreds of ethnic groupings ranging from a few dozen Burmese Koren to hundreds of Tibetans, thousands of Finns, French, Germans, Americans, Aussies etc., another 350,000 from Africa, onto 1.5 million of Chinese, Turkish and West Indian descent and according to the last census some 2.8 million Indians and Pakistanis; a further 4.7 million people claimed 'white-british' status in the Greater London Metropolitan area.

    You can take you pick from that lot which ones you may wish to label Londoners!

    It might also help to be aware of Liverpudlians, Brummies, Cornwallians, Tykes, Humbersiders, Estuary-Home Counties and a certain tribe called Mancunians!

    Believe me, I've left a lot out!

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  • 60. At 5:24pm on 21 May 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    MAII and #30 and threnodio and #31.

    I believe I know the 'american' tourist you both refer to:

    It is the one who on visiting Her Majesty Queen Elizbeth II Castle at Windsor remarked to the flabbergasted tour guide, "Gee, it's a lovely castle, but what a shame they built it so near London Airport."

    Boom-boom! As Basil would have said!

    (Don't worry MAII, if 'Basil' puzzles you, believe me you'll be none the wiser if I explained about his 'brush')

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  • 61. At 5:40pm on 21 May 2009, Freeborn John wrote:

    This is reminding me of the "Goodness Gracious Me" sketch where the 'Delhi Students' are back in India after a trip to Britain and say that you have not seen the real England unless you get out into the villages of Surrey.

    I am looking forward to Mark's account of the great railway journey on an overcrowded S-bahn to escape the beggars of Berlin.

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  • 62. At 5:46pm on 21 May 2009, TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship wrote:


    "You can take you pick from that lot which ones you may wish to label Londoners!"

    None of them, unless they were born within earshot of Bow Bells, OK so they are Cockneys but they are about the only real Londoners there are these days, an "East Ender" could be anyone from a retired docker to a unit-trust or hedge-fund manager!

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  • 63. At 5:48pm on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    pie in the skye

    I don't know what you are talking about.

    "Frankly I think it's very sad that you find fault with Europeans' cultural pride, and that you have this impression that Europeans have a disdain for Americans because of Americans' "lack of culture"."

    Where did I say that Americans have a lack of culture? America has a distinctive and excellent culture. It's one of the reasons America is so loved and hated. If it had no culture, nobody would care. The culture of the UK seems to be binge drinking soccer hooligans. The only time anyone thinks about the UK is in that context and who is ahead in cricket for those interested in the game...not me of course. There are those who also think about Manchester United as a corporate brand but that is about as far as British culture goes these days. I'm not going to even get started on American culture or I'll use up the entire internet.

    "...your failure to recognize that Europeans (and indeed the vast majority of the world) make a distinction between ordinary American people and culture on the one hand, and the American establishment/government/foreign policy on the other."

    That may be true but it is a bad mistake. Nowhere I can think of does the government reflect the culture and will of the people more than it does in America. For example, if we had to decide on an issue as important as the EU or Lisbon treaty, there would be a national debate and a public refrendum. There's be a second revolution if there wasn't. You just haven't heard what we say amongst ourselves and you don't listen to what Americans say that you can hear. Nobody in Europe seemed to be paying attention to what Barack Obama said last summer in Berlin or they wouldn't be surprised at what he's doing right now.

    BTW, I personally frequently cook excellent pot roast (my own recipe), roast turkeys, and cook mashed potatoes. I'd say no more than two months go by in the summer without pot roast, two or three weeks in the winter, and about the same for turkeys. I think most Americans cook some of the time, mostly they are too lazy or busy with other things like the internet and work. There are certainly more TV cooking shows than one Cooking Channel can hold, probably far more than even two could hold. My current favorites are Jacques Pepin (Food Network) and America's Test Kitchen (PBS.) I've also invented some tricks with pork spare ribs and grilling steaks. And I have an excellent wine cellar filled mostly with well aged classified Bordeaux especially from the 89 and 90 vintages.

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  • 64. At 5:52pm on 21 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    MA,II. Misanthropy is curable. humour and compassion, in equal doses, have long been advertised as the two remedies. (Either by Shopengauer or forgot who.)
    Now, eurothropy, is, indeed, a new streak. (may be a healthy reaction, on your part, a symptom of the times.)
    Either way, one could think that there are eurohrops and eurotrops.
    Why not to take Diogenes as a peaceful role model? (he was a very, very famous misanthrop). Imagine, green grass, sunshine, you are sitting in a keg. ? In a barrel. no, that's bad idea, forget it. You are stting in a wine crate. What was it, the packaging?! Wish only for sunshine, and at times venture out on expeditions, with a lamp in hands in day-light, "looking for humans in Europe" LOL! Harmless, nice Mavrelius, in a keg, local fame and all.

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  • 65. At 5:55pm on 21 May 2009, MilesinDavis wrote:

    You could also argue that the capital cities in federal states or provinces also do not reflect the culture of the individual sub-national unit. As my girlfriend, a German, loves to remind me, "Munich is not Bavaria, and I can't stand it there." The same could be said about my home state of California. Sacramento maybe the capital, but the cultural tug-of-war in the state is between San Francisco (north) and Los Angeles (south), and even they--in many people's views--don't necessarily reflect the true nature of California either. However, nearly everyone could universally agree that Sacramento does not reflect California culture. Sure, it may have a nice Old Town by the waterfront, have some impressive state government and business buildings, but a true reflection of the state? Never. Just as someone said earlier in regards to British Columbia, Victoria maybe the capital, but Vancouver is the cultural Jerusalem.

    The same can be said for even regional units. As I've noticed by walking past various tourism offices in the UK and Germany and seeing their poster boards displayed facing windows, sunny beaches, surfers, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Hollywood stars are what many people first think of when they think of America. Likewise, Bavaria nearly always comes to mind when foreigners think of Germany, complete with Alp scenery, lederhosen, Neuschwanstein Castle and Oktoberfest. Many a tourist book is guilty of this (just look at their picture covers of Germany; I can't think of how many have showed a Bavarian scene!) This leads to bewildered attitudes; Californians complain to outsiders (other Americans and foreigners alike) that they're not all surfers, many don't live remotely close to a beach, not everyone lives in North Hollywood, and many Californians don't reflect the more conservative values found in states in the Midwest or the South. Likewise, Germans complain that they're not all Bavarian, many don't wear or own lederhosen, share Catholicism as their belief, and many have never been to Oktoberfest in their lives. In other words, we may think these two places reflect their respective countries through cultural or economic conceptions, but in actuality, California and Bavaria can't reflect all of the U.S. or Germany. They are merely part of the fabric, but not the entire fabric.

    So when you travel around Europe and try to get a perspective towards the "real" national mood or character, it's more difficult than we think. Cities, states or provinces may share characteristics and the culture of their nations, but don't represent everything. And yet, at the same time, you can argue that things within Berlin or Ottawa or Mexico City or Bratislava do reflect certain aspects of their national moods and aspirations. When it comes down to it, it maybe up to one's own individual perspective.

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  • 66. At 6:13pm on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    Web Alice, Diogenes went to London with his lamp looking for an honest man. When he got to "The City" he turned around for a moment and when he turned back...someone had stolen his lamp :o)

    Boilerplated, we haven't used fuse panels for home construction in the US for over 50 years, we use circuit breaker panels instead. We use a 120/240 volt system which is more expensive than the European system but not nearly as dangerous. One shock from a European electrical system and you'd know why. I saw electrical work in France when I lived there that was truly frightening. Electrical hardware from Europe generally would not meet any of our natonal codes for safety and reliability. It is usually awful and built to IEC standards, not NEC and NEMA. Anything made in Europe for export to the US usually has to be re-engineered to meet our codes. Even your wire gages for a given current rating are thinner to save money. It's a wonder there aren't more electrical fires and electrocutions in Europe than there are.

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  • 67. At 7:00pm on 21 May 2009, TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship wrote:

    In reply to comments @ #66

    Give me a faulty appliance in London any day rather than in any other EU capital City, never mind a North America City!

    "we haven't used fuse panels for home construction in the US for over 50 years"

    Splitting hairs, perhaps I should have used the term Distribution board.

    "we use circuit breaker panels instead."

    The North America needs to because they do not protect the appliance, they protect the circuit for it's maximum permitted current draw, this can be many times that of the appliance, this means that you have to protect against an imbalance rather than over-current - the two are not the same. It's very rare that a fuse or CB to trip at the board in the UK. Oh and all new build/refurbishment has been circuit breaker panels for many years in the UK but prime protection of the appliance is still via the fused plug (this also means that, for example, should the table-light fail it doesn't trip everything else on the circuit/extension lead.

    "We use a 120/240 volt system which is more expensive than the European system but not nearly as dangerous."

    Rubbish, how is allowing the possibility of someone plugging a 110v appliance in op a 240v socket safe?! Whilst the UK does mix 240 and 440 (usually 3ph) in industrial/commercial premises it's extremely rare to find two voltages in a domestic home.

    As for electrical standards, neither mainland europe nor North American standards are acceptable in the UK, both fall well short, and having seen some examples of typical North American electrical fittings I'm surprised that there isn't an out-right ban on people bringing such dangerous items into the UK - you keep you electrical standards! One phrase (or should that be phase?...) sums up North American electrical 'standards', a 'Dogs Breakfast'...

    Much of mainland europe has electrical standards very similar to that of North America, in that they protect the circuit and not the appliance, the only difference is that they don't (normally) use two voltages in the domestic home.

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  • 68. At 7:05pm on 21 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    Now I know, MAII. If you come over - no Hermitage. I'll take you on a tour of Russian dacha electricity wires. 1948. as my granddad put them - so it is. some sockets yes, had to change, were melting from electric kettle, stove and oil radiator. As fire prevention I have 2 systems. Leaving for winter - switch the main switch off, the whole house. When I am in I use cat alarm. When it starts smoking a wire in some place the cat usually wakes me up. twice, as min. it doesn't like the smell and blue lights. dog doesn't care to wake me up in such cases, not brainy enough.

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  • 69. At 8:02pm on 21 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    OK Marcus, just for once you win -

    "BTW, I personally frequently cook . . . mashed potatoes".

    Post the recipe. Here in Europe, we cook them first then mash them.

    Now does anyone have anything interesting to discuss?

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  • 70. At 8:32pm on 21 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    Web Alice, the hydro electric power plants that provided electric power to much of the USSR were designed by American electrical engineers I think in the 1920s or 1930s. Among them I think are the feeder rivers to the Aral Sea. They are the reason the Aral sea dried up.

    Boilerplated, residental electrical systems in the US are 120/240 volts single phase with the center tap grounded at the service entrance to the house. All but the largest appliances use 120 volts and a 15 amp plug. A shock from it is nasty but generally not fatal. I think Europe uses a 230 volt or 240 volt system almost universally. I don't know if one leg is grounded or not. Most appliances operate at 240 volts there but a shock is far more dangerous and likely to cause severe injury or death. The advantage of the higher voltage system is that thinner gage wire can carry much more power. It's cheaper that way. It's the reason they use it. I'm not familiar with any differences in the UK system. I don't know how their codes stack up against NFPA, NEC, NEMA, and UL. Got any info on it?

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  • 71. At 9:10pm on 21 May 2009, threnodio wrote:


    I have no idea whether the mods will allow the link but the basic City and Guilds handbook can be found HERE.

    It's a bit under 200 pages. Let me know if you get bored.

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  • 72. At 9:56pm on 21 May 2009, TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship wrote:


    "I'm not familiar with any differences in the UK system. I don't know how their codes stack up against NFPA, NEC, NEMA, and UL"

    Then why bring the subject up, what next, tell the EU how to run nuclear power stations - no doubt you're a nuclear expert too - now that's a thought, which two countries have had major nuclear accidents with power stations, clue, it's not been a country within the EU...

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  • 73. At 10:24pm on 21 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    - What is the most sad dish in the world?
    - Puree; depressed potatoes.

    jaxroam @42, that's a serie of very good observation on European capitals;
    "since about when the name Europe was coined.. Europe has essentially been a collection of city states"
    "national and regional boundaries shift through history but cities can't move so they adapt"
    "from Stockholm you look upon Finland, Russia and the whole Baltic region; if Gothenburg had been the capital, Sweden would have meddled with Britain and the Netherlands"
    "the move from St. Pete to Moscow, or from Bonn to Berlin, signalled significant political eastward shift"

    I am unable to think on capitals somehow currently myself, but this is a good look into the matter of how a capital city influences a country.

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  • 74. At 00:09am on 22 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    extracts, dear moderators, short extracts, from a long poem. to better illustrate my point, on province versus "capital" :o) life.

    ..."if one's fated to be born in an Empire
    Let him leave aloof, provincial, by the seashore.

    One who lives remote from snowstorms, and from Caesar,
    has no need to hurry, flatter, play the coward.
    You may say that all the local governors are vultures.
    I, for one, prefer a thief to a vampire."

    "Postumus, I'm sending books, I hope you'll like them.
    How's Imperial Rome? - A soft bed, hard to sleep on?
    How fares Caesar? What's he up to? Still intriguing?
    - Still intriguing, probably, and overeating.

    In the garden where I sit a torch is burning.
    I'm alone - no lady, servant, or acquaintance.
    Not the humble of this world, nor yet its mighty -
    nothing but the buzzing of an insect chorus."

    "I'm back from the mountains carrying fresh wildflowers.
    I'll get out a jug and fill it with cold water.
    What's the latest from that Libya or whenever?
    Are we still engaged in all that desert fighting? :o)

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  • 75. At 03:24am on 22 May 2009, skye_eg wrote:

    Marcus Aurelius,

    I think you need to tread more carefully here:

    "That may be true but it is a bad mistake. Nowhere I can think of does the government reflect the culture and will of the people more than it does in America."

    So, when the United States supports puppet dictators in South America or the Middle East, or arms and trains paramilitary death squads in Central America, or lies about WMD in Iraq, this somehow reflects the will of the American people? Most of the world chooses to believe that ordinary Americans have better morals than their leaders do, and most of the world *also* knows that the American public is oblivious to (and would be appalled from) most of its government's actions. Not that other governments are better, but the key difference is: people in other countries *know* they are being lied to sometimes. Americans, on the other hand, believe everything they're told.

    "For example, if we had to decide on an issue as important as the EU or Lisbon treaty, there would be a national debate and a public refrendum. There's be a second revolution if there wasn't."

    There wouldn't be a revolution, because the US establishment has mastered the practice of doing things in secret and preventing the press from examining the system too much, while putting on a display of transparency. You want to see a revolution? Go to Europe, where people take it to the streets to protest anything from labour issues to afforable housing shortages, and where -during elections- smoke-screen issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage are of secondary importance -if any. Americans are very complacent and constantly manipulated by their politicians.

    "BTW, I personally frequently cook excellent pot roast (my own recipe), roast turkeys, and cook mashed potatoes. I'd say no more than two months go by in the summer without pot roast, two or three weeks in the winter, and about the same for turkeys. I think most Americans cook some of the time, mostly they are too lazy or busy with other things like the internet and work."

    Believe me, I HIGHLY commend your eating habits, and your drive to preserve American cuisine. A country's cuisine is its soul, and I'm afraid that Americans have sold their soul. The most common excuse in America is that people nowadays "don't have time to cook". There's this widespread misconception that people in the 19th or early 20th centuries had more time, when in fact they had LESS free time than post-WWII generations. Men and women alike, after slaving in the farm all day, or working long hours at a factory (this was before labour unions, 40-hour weeks, weekends, and child labour restrictions) people came home and prepared meals, because they didn't have any other choice. When you say you make mashed potatoes, I really hope -as threnodio noted- that you cook the potatoes before mashing them. Unfortunately, many Americans think that pressing the dials on the microwave, or mixing the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese powder into the boiled macaroni constitutes "cooking".

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  • 76. At 03:36am on 22 May 2009, Athenslad wrote:

    As a percentage of its national population Athens can claim to be more representative of the country as a whole than most European capitals. Over 5 million in the capital with a population approaching 11 million, so nearly half live in the capital.

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  • 77. At 06:05am on 22 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:


    "Most of the world chooses to believe that ordinary Americans have better morals than their leaders do"

    Then they'd be wrong. Whatever you think of our leaders' morality, that of the general public is no better. Haven't you been watching our financial scandals? Do you think Bernie Madoff is unique? Half to two thirds of all marriages in America end in divorce, many the result of adultery. That's just the beginning. Americans and their leaders are no more moral than anyone else. We're human just like everyone, we are not saints.

    "..and most of the world *also* knows that the American public is oblivious to (and would be appalled from) most of its government's actions. Not that other governments are better, but the key difference is: people in other countries *know* they are being lied to sometimes. Americans, on the other hand, believe everything they're told."

    I don't think that's true either. Most Americans are well aware of important events that affect their lives. Why should they waste their time caring about things that don't? As an example, when Dan Rather broadcast his fraudulent letter supposedly condemning President Bush in the 2004 election regarding his military service, Americans had been able to prove the document was a fraud and broadcast it over the internet within fifteen minutes. To us, European countries are just one handful of many others around the world. America is much more important to them than they are to us. We don't pay much attention to their perpetual shenanigans.

    BTW, most of us supported the war in Iraq enthusiastically at the time. Many of us think that President Bush was misled either by people in intelligence who believed Iraq had WMDs or those who felt it was a threat and had to be dealt with even if they couldn't prove they had them. We think President Bush acted in good faith in trying to protect America and that is good enough for us.

    BTW, my recipe for mashed potatoes is simple. I peel and wash 3 pounds of Idaho or Maine Russet potatoes, slice them thinly so they will cook evenly, boil them in plenty of water until they break easily with a fork, about 30 to 40 minutes, drain well in a strainer, and then mix in two sticks of butter. No milk or anything else. I mash them and mix in the butter as it melts thoroughly. Very buttery and smooth. Great with pot roast or anything else. Some people like to leave some of the skin in and some add garlic. I'm happy with it my own way. I don't like the starchy red potatoes that have become popular either. I never eat the instant kind. They taste to me like they are made out of some kind of powder. They lack flavor and consistancy.

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  • 78. At 07:23am on 22 May 2009, dj1979 wrote:

    MATHIASEN (post #41): thankfully the face of Warsaw is also changing, and there is a chance that the more delayed the changes were for years, the faster they will be now. There are serious plans put forward to completely rearrange the centre of the city - but not to bulldoze it: the historic (both pre-war and Stalinist) architecture will be merged with the new ultramodern urban fabric. That's going to take some time and much money, but in this way Warsaw will very visibly reflect the newest aspect of the Polish history - the one without communism.

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  • 79. At 10:09am on 22 May 2009, greypolyglot wrote:

    " #70. MarcusAureliusII:

    I think Europe uses a 230 volt or 240 volt system almost universally. I don't know if one leg is grounded or not. Most appliances operate at 240 volts there but a shock is far more dangerous and likely to cause severe injury or death."

    Haven't you heard of an ELCB (Earth leakage circuit breaker)?

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  • 80. At 11:09am on 22 May 2009, Christopher wrote:

    "And look at The Hague in the Netherlands. Most foreigners think Amsterdam is the capital!"

    Sorry, but Amsterdam is the capital. Check the Dutch constitution if you're not sure. And while it physically has a lot in common with other parts of the country (those parts that weren't flattened in the war, that is), socially and culturally it's very, very different. The libertarian and permissive attitudes associated with the Netherlands are really dominant only in Amsterdam and to a lesser extent other parts of the Randstad. Much of the rest of the country is actually deeply conservative. But "most foreigners" are very surprised to learn that.

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  • 81. At 11:45am on 22 May 2009, implied_jimmy wrote:

    Freeborn_John has a point. I grew up in Leeds, industrial, large, lots to do but no real cultural heritage. Then I moved to Florence - Old, and with a vibrancy that I had only ever experienced in London up to that point, but Florence is not a huge sprawling megalopolis, not a centre of international commerce, just really old and lovely and comfortable with it's identity. Then I moved to York. Exactly the same story here. For such a tiny city, there is a much more cosmopolitan feel and more fun to be had than in Leeds with it's so called party scene. Everywhere you go you get bigots - London, Leeds, York and Florence all seem to have the same proportion of narrow minded people, the problem with the newer industrial cities is that there is no celebration of culture because the people are made to feel self conscious about celebrating and sharing life, not by the "ignorami" (who remain a constant wherever you go) but by the bland streetscapes and regimented town planning and above all the lack of depth of history. In the older cities you are forced to participate by the charms and conflicts of the public realm, the density of the fabric of the city and by the sheer weight of history. The parts of Leeds that are exciting and vibrant are the parts that have the most history, the parts that have the biggest contrasts between old and new. No amount of fancy urban planning or new town design can substitute for a properly ingrained sense of place given by the constantly expanding list of iconic buildings, streets, squares, monuments etc. found in the capitals and other historic cities. That is what seperates a succesful city from the rest of a nation - PARTICIPATION!!

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  • 82. At 12:34pm on 22 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    #81 - implied_jimmy

    I could not agree more. One of my favourite examples of this is Birmingham which, in the space of three decades transformed itself from a post industrial revolution wasteland to a modern cosmopolitan city. They did not get everything right - in fact there were some horrible mistakes such as the old Bull Ring. But throughout the process there was a 'can do' attitude and that came from the grass roots.

    That is why it is such a delight to see first hand the revival of some of the great central European cities which are rediscovering past glories without ever losing sight of the times in which we live. That can be a very simple thing - every time you dig a hole in the road to repair a drain, put a high speed interenet cable down while you are there. Not rocket science is it?

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  • 83. At 1:51pm on 22 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    Greypolywog #79

    We call them GFCI (Ground Fault Current Interrupting) and they are only reqired on some circuits such as in kitchens, bathrooms, outdoors, and now in bedrooms. This type of circuit breaker can also be built into the receptacle and protects all receptacles downstream of them. It measures the current between the two conductors and compares them. If they vary by more than a set amount, say 20 milliamperes, the breaker will trip. That does not tell us whether or not European systems are grounded since they will work even if they aren't grounded. Don't quit your day job.

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  • 84. At 3:38pm on 22 May 2009, virtuousNettys wrote:

    I am a German from Goettingen originally ("oe" - I have noticed that the Umlaut comes out strangely on this blog's posts ;-.)!!), wanting to live in Berlin after many, many years living in Wales.

    Firstly, I had lived in Cardiff, then in the Welsh countryside (Aberystwyth & Machynlleth). I enjoyed Cardiff. I have not enjoyed my time in mid-Wales at all. The scenery is great - do not get me wrong. Life there is hard - just work, no play; nothing to do / no-where to go than to drive a long way. I liked what someone above stated - Culture happens where the people are. I agree with that 100%! When I first came to Cardiff, I seemed to be in England. Only when I stayed longer I spotted the Welsh characteristics of this capital as well. To me, the situation is similar in Berlin. Yes, it is a cosmopolitan place - but also represents modern Germany. Berliners are different to Bavarians and so on. Berlin to me reflects only in part Germany. It depends which part of Berlin we are talking about also. In Berlin, the nations also come together. It has a sad history and a happier one also. I am happy that people from all over the world like it.
    Oh, I really love Berliner Weisse Bier - rot or gruen.

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  • 85. At 3:43pm on 22 May 2009, greypolyglot wrote:

    83. MarcusHorribilis:

    Well of course you have a different name. "Wiki: While the national wiring regulations for buildings of many countries follow the IEC 60364 terminology, this is not currently the case in North America."

    By the way didn't it stick in your craw a while back (#134. At 7:21pm on 05 Oct 2008) to describe the heat output of your furnace in BTU (British Thermal Units)?

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  • 86. At 3:54pm on 22 May 2009, fipski121 wrote:

    While many capitals can not fully represent their nations, it would be hard to imagine France without Paris or Italy without the symbolic power of Rome.

    It seems to take war to stir love for capitals.

    The Blitz in London is a symbol of Britain's image of itself in the same way that the Warsaw Uprising is the desperate heroic shadow of a nation.

    Warsaw is not as big or influential in Poland as many ex imperial capitals (Budapest or Paris) but it is a potent symbol that a country can rise again, and that even on the worst ruins, green shoots can appear.

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  • 87. At 4:12pm on 22 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    dj1979, @78

    If, as you say, "historic, and Stalinist, architecture" (in Warsaw) is to be "merged with the new ultra modern urban fabric" I'm afraid it'll look like Moscow.
    "this way Warsaw will visibly reflect the newest aspect of the Polish history - the one without communism". :o)

    Strictly speaking, both Moscow and Warsaw should get rid of awful Stalin buildings. Excuse me, I am not very sure what in Warsaw stands for "Stalinist buildings", but I strongly suspect it's the same as in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

    Stalin there - only a "sponsor". These are German, built 1946-1950 by German prizoners of war. Extremely quality buildings. That's why you can't allow yourself to get rid of them, and we can't either.
    Here we've been bulldozing later-time architecture, Khruschev's 1960-s, began to replace "socialist" projects / Eastern European designs of 1970-s, but awful "Stalinist" serie still here.
    The thing is that Germans not only built them, but designed as well, which resulted in very solid basements, very thick multi-brick walls, very high ceilings, spacious rooms, in other words - warm, rain-proof and sound-proof quality construction. Though they look awfully depressing - look at the Moscow's "Stalinst sky-scrapers" - ugh - these German makes are very how to say, substantial, and not a priority of any city council to get rid of the first thing on the agenda. (as later series with strong tendency to collapse).
    I, for example, live in the "Czech serie", and would only dream to re-locate to the "Stalinst/German serie" house, far more expensive apartments in the market. Though the house I live in was built in 1980, not in 1945. The Czech architects clearly had own climate in mind, running that serie in Russia. :o) And simply copied the serie to another ground. Outer walls are thin as paper; hardly anyone lives with curtains because a nail hit into outer walls passes through the emptiness and nearly reaches the street. Under the weight of curtains :o) the nails slide down in those walls! I got exhausted calling masters to bullet more and more new holes in the much-suffered wall and yesterday went and surrended like others did long time ago - bought shintz curtains.
    Needless to say this won't be a problem, to put it softly, in an either 19th century house, or German-make post-war, or the "new ultra moderm" as you write. The series 1960-1990 one should simply forget.

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  • 88. At 4:56pm on 22 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    greypolywog, why should it bother me to use the term British Thermal Units that even the British probably don't use anymore. I've been accostomed to inches, pounds, feet, yards, BTUs, ounces, and other one time British units all of my life as well as metric units. I have no more problem with it than say someone who speaks two languages fluently. I do prefer a pint of beer to those metric measured glasses though. But it must be ICE COLD. Like nearly 32 degrees Farenheit.

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  • 89. At 5:08pm on 22 May 2009, alhcalhab wrote:

    New Delhi, rather Delhi comes to mind. The Asian cities have such a large constant influx of new immigrants from rural areas being one reason. Plus the new capital was built abutting the centuries old city. also some villages we left in the new master plan. Of course the lives of different class of people hardly overlap, and there is the administrative/government side of it that is entirely unique to Delhi

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  • 90. At 7:55pm on 22 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    Berlin looks absolutely beautiful in this picture. IMRusO :o)) - a hundred times better than Freiburg. For all reasons combined.

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  • 91. At 11:09pm on 22 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    What's that round thing on the left side? And the violet tower plus church in the centre? Also, the streets, going leftwards, straight and to the right. Does anybody know, any Berliners here?

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  • 92. At 04:35am on 23 May 2009, Jan_Keeskop wrote:

    Mark: The differences are good, bad, and inevitable, excluding those countries with populations measured in their thousands rather than in their millions or more.

    democracythreat: In theory, weisswurst has unsmoked veal and pork as filling, cooked in near-boiling liquid. Would there be good reason to expect any reddish tint to survive such preparation ? Perhaps I am not a discerning humanist, although it has been many years since I last ate of that forbidden fruit.

    WebAliceinwonderland: The violet tower plus church in the centre is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Memorial church. The traditionally styled church is the remains of the original church from the 1890s, which was largely destroyed by air raid in a certain war, and intentionally unrestored. The violet tower is a belfry built in the 1960s. A shorter violet building on the other side of the old church is the new church, also from the 1960s.

    The picture must be of the Breitscheidplatz in Charlottenburg, facing west, which would mean that the leftward street is the Kurfuerstendamm (going away from the photographer; the part heading towards the photographer has another name which I don't remember, but is known for upscale shops such as KaDeWe). The zoo would be just behind the buildings on the right (that is, beyond the right side of the picture). I don't remember what the round thing is, or what the name of the street on the right is.

    For me, the absence of fifty-metre-wide boulevards is a point in favour of smaller cities such as Freiburg.

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  • 93. At 09:24am on 23 May 2009, ixlnxs wrote:

    "Smaller countries' capitals are closer to the national sense of place"? Really?

    I don't know any capital in the world more unlike its country than Brussels: while Belgium is (according to the latest census) 61% Dutch and 31% French, most people in Belgium belong to the other 8% who are either perfectly bilingual or, increasingly, don't speak a European language.

    And while Flanders is fairly prosperous and Wallonia is mostly rural, Brussels is a rapidly decaying inner-city district. Citytrippers who don't leave Brussels miss more than the main tourist sights: they miss the whole country...

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  • 94. At 09:43am on 23 May 2009, threnodio wrote:

    Alice -

    Just to add to what Jan_Keeskop says, the road to the right is Budapester Str which becomes Hardenbergstrasse at the next junction and the road which appears to go straitght ahead (it actually comes off Hardenbergstrasse but the junction is hidden by the church) is Kantstrasse. I can't help with the round building.

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  • 95. At 1:35pm on 23 May 2009, bfoulkrod1 wrote:

    Berlin...Amsterdam...London...New York...Las Vegas...maybe I thrive on 24/7 chaos, but I just love the energy of the big crazy.

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  • 96. At 2:58pm on 23 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    Finally, a Berliner proper :o)))) Jan_Keeskop, thank you very much.
    You feel silly looking at a definitely something of a place and not even able to put it on the map.
    And anything with 3 large streets crossing at a central square church as min on one side of it. if not more streets meeting there? must be something, historically bustling.
    Now getting some toponimics for orientation I was able to google and all. Thank you threnodio I suspected one would be Budapest- er? strasse.
    And looks like it's all "old normal" Gutenbergplatz (historically) (when we knew it).
    Overall Berlin is such so very much filmed and mentioned here and there place, you can't get rid of the feeling "I've seen it before? somehow."
    Genius loci or how it is called. The spirit of the place?

    I've been once but very hysterically quick :o) that is had no time for taking time, was a trade fair, chained to the exhibition stand.
    1991? or 1992. about. Remember could not tell am I in the "East" or "West" part downtown and had a tickling feeling kind of of a forbidden fruit :o) when finding myself "on the wrong side". Nearly stared silly on the asphalt ready to see a kind of a line in chalk :o))) where I am but no nothing surprise surprise. The passer-by-s beared with my questions must say alright. And then of course I was young and silly (slightly less than now) wondered why can't I see a single old stone around and then came the realisation why.
    Overall found the city very much to my taste, nothing alien, as it happens in places, I don't know, when you expect one thing and it is difficult to get something done because it's not your habits but alien habits, arranged differently. In Berlin all was very accommodating and ? lying into the place, the jig-saw? easily. (No wonder we got so obsessed with the idea :o)) a very good place.

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  • 97. At 6:14pm on 23 May 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    bfoulkrod1 and #95.

    Berlin, Amsterdam, London, New York.... all excitingly, intriguingly different and add to that the flare and thrills of Moscow, Stockholm, Madrid, Lagos, Hong Kong, Rome, Paris, Sydney and even Chicago... but,

    Las Vegas!

    Surely, one delayed-flight, flash-in-the-pan, mind-numbing stopover too many!?

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  • 98. At 6:31pm on 23 May 2009, democracythreat wrote:

    marcus wrote:

    "BTW, most of us supported the war in Iraq enthusiastically at the time. Many of us think that President Bush was misled either by people in intelligence who believed Iraq had WMDs or those who felt it was a threat and had to be dealt with even if they couldn't prove they had them. We think President Bush acted in good faith in trying to protect America and that is good enough for us."

    You have your eyes wide shut if you think Bush acted in good faith. Such is the power of nationalism, I suppose.

    Tell me, Marcus, do you honestly believe that Iraq posed such a grave threat to the USA, or do you believe that war plans were already on the table, and that Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Co. simply used the opportunity to deceive the people of the USA?

    Bush either knew, or he was a complete fool and a dangerous man to be president therefore.

    My own view is that plenty of people knew the Iraq war was an exercise in politics economics, but that the majority of Americans were so caught up with the thrill of patriotism that they would have gone to war with Winnie the Pooh, if that had been the plan.

    Admit it, doesn't it feel good to belong to a club that can really "take care of business"? Vicarious power is cheap thrill, beamed into every living room for the glory of the state.

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  • 99. At 8:50pm on 23 May 2009, bfoulkrod1 wrote:

    The ultimate Vegas run must include a stop to see the Amazing Johnathan...

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  • 100. At 2:53pm on 24 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    threat to democracy;

    "You have your eyes wide shut if you think Bush acted in good faith. Such is the power of nationalism, I suppose."

    "Tell me, Marcus, do you honestly believe that Iraq posed such a grave threat to the USA"

    Lots of people believed it at the time based on the information they had available to them. The Director of the CIA believed it. Vladimir Putin Believed it. The overwhelming majority in Congress believed it. And Tony Blair believed Iraq was also a grave threat to Britain.

    I remind you that after the invasion, not only was President Bush re- elected and his party continued to enjoy a majority in both Houses of Congress as the result of the 2004 elections but so was Tony Blair and the Labor Party in Britain. Your views may have held sway in continental Europe but then they didn't feel directly threatened by anything at the time, they just wanted to see America attacked again. I think the time is coming when Europe is in for a big surprise. Madrid was just a slight taste of what al Qaeda has in mind for creating Eurabia. Personally, I do not think Europe has the political will to resist or the foresight to deal with the problem of militant Ialam while it can still be contained. It is exactly the same lesson they were taught but failed to learn in the events leading up to World War II. And why can't Europeans learn? Because it is they who are blinded by arrogance and stupidity, a luxury they can only afford when America is willing to make a huge sacrifice to stick around to protect them as from the USSR. I say America should pull out of NATO and leave Europe to its fate. Its crucial assistance is not only unappreciated, in the end, nothing and nobody can protect Europe from itself, it is its own worst enemy.

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  • 101. At 4:44pm on 24 May 2009, RomeStu wrote:

    53 Marcus
    "And drives on the wrong side of the road to boot."

    Now my head tells me that you are as ever acting the "agent provocateur", but still, this is a misguided shot if ever there was one.

    You may be surprised to know that most pre-automobile cultures drove on the left, due to a predomination of right-handedness. This meant keeping your horse or wagon to the left so you weapon would be useful if the oncoing stranger were to attack you.

    The Romans drove on the left (look at the Asterix books).

    Napoleon (a left hander) appears to have instituted a "drive on the right" law in empire, which included control of much of the north American continent.

    Then it was Henry Ford and other early car manufacturers who concretised this habit of driving on the right .... because they didn't think Americans were dextrous enough to change gear with their left hand. Thus they sat the driver on the left of the car, and you ocntinue to drive on the right so you can see to overtake.

    Approximately one third of the world's population drives on the left .... sinister,eh. Must be a conspiracy....

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  • 102. At 5:13pm on 24 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    Roman Stew

    You must have gotten yourself really worked up over this having brought it all the way back from a post 3 days old. By now that post has grown mold on it. Which only proves what I've always said, that lefty loonies have no sense of humor whatsoever. It might interest you to know that in the US territory of Saint Thomas they also drive on the wrong side of the road. And in Bermuda, where they drive on the wrong side of the road, about one tourist a week, usually an American, is killed on those rented mopeds coming around a blind turn having forgotten which side to drive on and getting hit by an oncoming car. (The speed limit I think is only 25 mph there.) BTW, you Europeans also hold your knives and forks in the wrong hands too. Can't you people get anything right? (I think the French drive on the right side of the road. It's one of the few things they do in this world that they haven't screwed up.)

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  • 103. At 9:46pm on 24 May 2009, WebAliceinwonderland wrote:

    Mavrelius if VVP believed Iraq is a threat to the USA he certainly didn't tell us locally.

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  • 104. At 02:43am on 25 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    "Russian President Vladimir Putin says that after the 9/11 attacks Moscow warned Washington that Saddam Hussein was planning attacks on the US.
    He said Russia's secret service had information on more than one occasion that Iraq was preparing acts of terror in the US and its facilities worldwide"

    Web Alice....they tell you NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING. And if I were you, I wouldn't believe a word they said if they did.

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  • 105. At 02:58am on 25 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    BTW Web Alice, if there was any doubt in your mind, let the article in BBC I referenced above dispell those doubts, the US had every reason to believe that Iraq was a direct threat to America's security and that if the worst happened, Iraq would give al Qaeda WMDs to attack the US with. The left in American politics and practically all of Europe is lying when they say the invasion was not justified. Public opinion polls in the US heavily favored the invasion. It seemed that it was the best thing the US could have done at the time, and in retrospect, it still looks that way. The outcome from an American perspective was excellent even if no one will admit it. America now has troops on Iran's doorstep at both its front and back door. If it becomes necessary, they are right were we will need them to be.

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  • 106. At 1:34pm on 25 May 2009, democracythreat wrote:

    Marucs, you are making the case that everyone in power in the USA was either lying, or grossly stupid.

    You are not making any case that Iraq posed a threat to the USA, nor are you making the case that respectable evidence existed to support that case at the time.

    You are making the case, very effectively, that the vast majority of Americans believed it at the time. You are making the case, very effectively, that the vast majority of Americans did not and do not care about the consequences of their lack of judgement, so long as it kills the children of foreigners, and doesn't hurt their pay check.

    You also make the case that the UK was not much better, and that Blair told the most outrageous lies of all, and that if one can believe Blair told the truth, then one can believe absolutely anything at all.

    But we know that, Marcus. We know. We know Americans believe pretty much anything they are told by the TV, without thinking about it. We know they are so hyper nationalistic they simply don't care whom their military kills by mistake. And we also know that Blair will go down in history as a man who not only lied to take his people into an illegal war, but as a man who could not resist adding a little personal flair to the lie, just to make it a bit more powerful.

    Anyway, you don't care, so I don't care. You still love America, and Americans still treat other nations as subhuman enclaves in a world that rightfully belongs to the glorious USA. And the UK can still be relied upon for a better class of liar than the USA.

    But it is great to know that US troops are waiting on the doorstep of Iran. "Just in case."

    It is great to know that America will save the world once more, by smashing a tiny foreign country to pieces, because someone somewhere said something about that tiny little country being a grave threat.

    There is nothing quite as satisfying as the USA saving the world, except perhaps when the UK writes the script.

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  • 107. At 3:14pm on 25 May 2009, G-in-Belgium wrote:

    I've always thought all cities/towns look the same...

    Full of glass and concrete, less and less old and pretty buildings, Renault Clio's and white vans parked haphazardly on pavements/cycle lanes and a large religious building in the middle.

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  • 108. At 11:55pm on 25 May 2009, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    threat to democracy

    "But we know that, Marcus. We know. We know Americans believe pretty much anything they are told by the TV, without thinking about it."

    Then you'd better hope that one day, they don't wake up one morning to hear that Switzerland is a nuclear weapons threat to the US or there will be a lot of gold dust flying around in the stratosphere.

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  • 109. At 11:16am on 29 May 2009, democracythreat wrote:

    MarcusAureliusII wrote:
    threat to democracy

    "But we know that, Marcus. We know. We know Americans believe pretty much anything they are told by the TV, without thinking about it."

    "Then you'd better hope that one day, they don't wake up one morning to hear that Switzerland is a nuclear weapons threat to the US or there will be a lot of gold dust flying around in the stratosphere."

    Yes yes. America the bold and the all powerful. Ho hum.

    Look, Marcus, the USA is a construct. Even if it was as amazing as you claim, that still wouldn't make you amazing.

    Do you understand that? Do you comprehend that nationalism is a construct of the mind?

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  • 110. At 11:55pm on 01 Jun 2009, Interestedparty wrote:

    Portugal is an interesting case for a small country, for while Lisbon is undoubtedly a Portuguese city it is not as typical of Portugal as Porto is. They are both big conglomerate cities, but Lisbon is a city looking to its international aspects Porto just gets on with the job of being a big Portuguese city.

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