Mexico

Mexico war echt Klasse, das Wetter war meistens schön (teilweise etwas bewölkt, was durchaus willkommen war), das Ferienresort bzw. der Hotelkomplex, in dem die Konferenz war, war ziemlich weitläufig und grün und hatte ein großes Schwimmbad in der Mitte. Ich war mit fünf anderen Deutschen in einem 6-Bett-Zimmer untergebracht, was ein paar Klassen besser war als die Luftmatratzen/Schlafsack Turnhalle bei der letzten Konferenz 2003 in Oslo. Offenbar hatte ich mich doch zu spät angemeldet, jedenfalls bekam ich keine der Essensmarken und musste mich selbst drum kümmern. Am ersten Tag nach der Ankunft wäre ich dann auch fast gestorben (naja, nur fast...), auf der Suche nach einem Geldautomaten in der anliegenden Stadt; ich bin stundenlang rumgeirrt und hatte den ganzen noch nichts getrunken und nur einen Apfel gegessen. Als ich ihn dann endlich gefunden hatte (versteckt in einer Apotheke) war kein Geld mehr in dem Automaten und mein Durst wurde immer schlimmer. Gerade als ich wieder zurück zum Hotel wollte um jemanden um Wasser anzubetteln kam ein Geldtransporter mit Leuten mit Schrotflinten. Ich stellte mich also auf die andere Strassenseite und wartete nochmal verzweifelt 20 Minuten. Dann endlich war ich dran, und weil Mexikanische Pesetas und Amerikanische Dollars beide mit `$' abgekürzt werden, habe ich zur Sicherheit erstmal nur 200$ abgehoben - 20 Euro. Naja, irgendwann kam ich dann, kurz vor dem Tode zu Getränken und Obst.

Ansonsten war es durchaus ein Vorteil, nicht im Hotel essen zu müssen, etwa 80 anderen ging es genauso, darunter einigen ganz guten Freunden von mir. Wir sind dann meistens irgendwann nach dem Aufstehen zusammen zum Markt in die Stadt nebenan gegangen, wo einer Tortilla-Stände extra für uns die ganze Woche aufgemacht hatte. Dort gab es dann für einen Euro unglaublich gute Tortillas oder Quesadillas sowie frisch gepresste Obst-Säfte. Abends bin ich auch ein paarmal mit Micah und den anderen zu Restaurants in die Stadt gegangen, was jedesmal sehr, sehr gut war (bis auf den letzten Abend, wo ich etwas wirklich scharfes abbekommen habe, was ich vor lauter Brennen im Mund nicht aufessen konnte; Gut war es aber trotzdem)

Nachts war dann immer Party mit mexikanischem Bier oder Tequila oder was den Leuten sonst so gefallen hat. Viele der Leute kannte ich ja schon von vorigen Konferenzen und einige schon seit langer Zeit über das Internet von Mailing-Listen oder Internet Chat und habe sie in Mexico das erste Mal tatsächlich getroffen; leider konnte auch einige gute Freunde diesmal nicht kommen. Einmal habe ich mit ein paar Leuten Nachts Fussball gespielt, einmal haben wir mit Limetten hack-a-sack (bzw. hack-a-lime) gespielt. Einmal sind wir einen Nature-Way durch den anliegenden Urwald gelaufen und haben uns auf einer Lichtung mit Mangos beschmissen.

Unter der Woche haben wir einen großen Ausflug zu den Pyramiden (bzw. deren Ruinen) von Xochicalco gemacht, das war ziemlich interessant vor allem wenn man sich deren Alter (erstes Jahrtausend AD) ins Gedächtnis ruft. Zu den Ruinen wurden wir in acht funky 50/60er Jahre Bussen aus den USA gefahren; meine (zufällig zusammengewürfelte) Gruppe hatte das Glück (je nachdem) den `Macarena'-Bus zu treffen, mit allerlei Klimbim vom Busfahrer und Playboy-Logos auf den Gas und Bremspedalen. Er hat dann die ganze Zeit Euro-Dance oder Latino-R'n'B gespielt und die Spanier und Lateinamerikaner an Bord haben das alles in eine große Party verwandelt. Nach den Pyramiden ging es zu einem Essen in eine kleines Dorf. Dort gab es ein Buffet für einen unglaublich geringen Preis pro Person und das Essen war fantastisch, vermutlich das Bester während meines gesamten Aufenthalts.

Ansonsten gab es noch ein offizielles Dinner in einer kleinen Stadt in der Nähe; ein paar andere Leute und ich haben die Chance genutzt schon ein paat Stunden vorher dorthin zu gehen und uns die örtliche Kloster und deren Museum anzuschauen. Das Kloster ist offenbar eines der ältesten in Mexico und noch direkt von Cortez in Auftrag gegeben, die spezialität sind mumifizierte Leichen, mein Spanisch hat aber nicht ausgereicht um jetzt genau mitzubekommen, ob die Leichen durch "ein Wunder" mumifiziert wurden oder ob sie nach dem Tode einbalsamiert etc. wurde.

Das Formal Dinner selber war viel interessanter als erwartet, es fing an mit einer Mariachi-Band und einem Buffet. Bevor es jedoch zum Essen kam, gab es einen Eklat mit einem eh schon ziemlich zweilichtigen Konferenz-Teilnehmer (der das ganze Projekt schon seit Jahren mit Frauenfeindlichen Parolen und anderen abstrusen Geschichten tyrannisiert hatte), der offensichtlich eine Prostituierte mitgebracht hatte und den einige daraufhin rausschmeissen wollten. Dann begann es furchtbar zu regnen und irgendwann hielt das Wellblech-Dach nicht mehr stand und es begann durchzuregnen. Ich beeilte mich mit einem Essen, denn es wurde immer schlimmer, bald war der ganze Tisch nass und am Ende erlebten wir einen wahren Wasserfall an einer Seite der Halle. Das war der Moment, als auch noch der Strom ausfiel... Die Leuten haben dann für ein paar Minuten den Raum mit Handy-Displays und Foto-Blitzen aufgehellt, bis schliesslich das Spektakel zu Ende war. Danach sind die meisten Leute nach Hause, und ich habe mich mit ein paar anderen auf die Suche nach einem offenen Supermarkt gemacht, da es nichts mehr zu trinken gab und die Strassen waren ein einziger Wasserfall.

Nach dem Ende der Konferenz bin ich noch mit ein paar Freunden (ein Schweizer, ein Holländer und der Rest Amerikaner; eine davon glücklicherweise mit Peurto Ricanischen Wurzeln) zwei Tage nach Mexico City gefahren. Wir hatten Glück, wir haben eine wirklich billige Jugendherberge 100 Meter enfernt vom Zocalo, dem Hauptplatz der Stadt, gefunden (und zwei der Zimmergenossen waren von Hewlett-Packard und haben das Zimmer als Geschäftsreise bezahlt :) ) Zusätzlich war an dem Abend eine große Gewerkschaftsdemo auf dem Zocalo mit tausenden von Menschen, und nach dem Abendessen sind wir dorthin zurück, wo inzwischen Gratis-Konzerte waren und dann eine Techno-Party. Wir sind dann später noch auf die Dachterasse von der Jugendherberge im 7. Stock, von der man (vor allem beim Frühstück am folgenden Morgen) einen tollen Überblick über Mexico City hatte. Die anderen sind dann weiter durch Mexico getourt (ich musste ja am Abend zurück nach Deutschland) und ich habe mich in Mexico City umgeschaut. Später habe ich dann einen der Tourismus-Stadtrundfahrt Busse betreten und tatsächlich zwei andere deutsche von der Konferenz getroffen! Wir waren dann noch Nachmittags zusammen essen und sind dann zum Flughafen gefahren, dann war es vorbei.

Nice Weekend

The weekend kicked off with visit to the beergarden in Garching with some people from my research group, Wolfgang Eisfeld, Andreas Motzke, Andreas Markmann and Mehdi Bounar. The weather was really nice, but it was getting a bit cold after the sun set and I only had a sweatshirt with me. Nevertheless, I stayed until around 10 PM because it was quite funny and relaxing. The table behind us had about a dozen people probably from the university as well. It looked like it was one of the guys' birthday, at least new people arriving brought small presents along. At one point, he got up and was about to deliver a speech. As he was standing only about a metre away from (apparently) his girlfriend, and she looked up expectingly to him, I mentioned "Is he going to propose to her?". The other guys at my table laughed quite a bit at it, which he noticed, so he greeted us as well, as he was not past the welcome greeting yet. Andreas Markmann then said "We just thought you might propose now" which caught him so much off guard (and his girlfriend as well) and instantly killed his speech that I later thought he might have really had that in mind and I was feeling a bit sorry for him.

On Saturday, I first went to the university for a bit and then decided to go outside as long as the sun was shining (local rainshowers were forecast), so I went to the Aumeister Beergarden to have a Mass of Radler and read a bit further in my current Philip Roth novel. It turned out that I was lucky and a Jazz band was playing in the beergarden as well, which provided for some pleasent background music while reading. In the evening, I went to the Backstage together with Andreas Markmann where the semi finals of the `Emergenza' band competition took place. Andreas went to the previous round last weekend and apparently liked it so we decided to go again. Eight bands played (we missed the first) for 25 minutes each, the music was reggae, independent and hardrock. The gigs were alright, but some of them lacked enthusiasm a bit. The hardrock was really loud, though, I had to retreat to the back of the place while Andreas was busy poshing around in front the stage. After the band competition the regular saturday `Freak Out' party started and we danced for a long time to the music (mainly independent, with some rock, hiphop or pop exceptions) until we called it quits at around 5 AM. This was the first time in quite a while that I went to bed after sunrise. It was a great night, but I was left with an unsettling mute combined with a high-pitched noise in my ear.

Naturally, I had a hard time getting into gear on Sunday. Around 3 PM I finally decided that enough is enough and went to the Englischer Garten to read a bit more, eyeing the clouds suspiciously every once in a while. The sund was mostly gone by 4:30, so I went to the Pinakothek der Moderne for half an hour of more reading in the current `Ort und Erinnerung - Nationalsozialismus in Muenchen' exhibition. I have been to this one for the third time now (never managed to have more than 30 minutes before they closed), but there is a lot of information, I still haven't read half of it. It is a bit strange to have this thorough exhibition on the history of Munich's involvement in national socialism in the architecture section of the Pinakothek der Moderne, but apparently the directory of that section is very committed to this part of the city's history and no other place (like the Stadtmuseum?) could be found until now. After being brushed out by the grumpy museum guards a couple of minutes early, I went on to watch Bundeliga in a pub while having a Weissbier. After that I decided walk by the Volktheater to see whether there were any tickets left for the Tuesday or Thursday shows of their `Radikal Jung' festival, which features half a dozen productions by young directors from all over germany. I already tried that on Saturday for Sunday's `Die Leiden des jungen Werther' (which started the festival), but it was sold out already. So I was pleasantly surprised that just when it was about to be my place in the queue, one of the officials announced that they decided to sell tickets for the first row (they wanted to leave it empty due to slight sight restrictions) for 6 EUR each (due to those sight restrictions). The sight restrictions were not severe at all (or any different to the second row, really) and the production rocked literally, having a live drummer (and occasional guitars) and featuring a couple of Nirvana songs (and a Kurt Cobain lookalike as Werther). The audience discussion with the director was quite interesting afterwards and cleared up a couple of questions I unconsciously had, I need to see whether it is still getting played at its original location, the Schauspiel Frankfurt.

From Christmas to New Year and beyond

I spent christmas at my grand mother together with my family (like every year).
I left early on Monday though, in order to drive back to Frankfurt and meet with
my friends at the Joe Peña in Frankfurt (like every year), which was really
nice.

It took us quite a lot of time to figure out what to do in order to celebrate
New Year's. Finally, we decided (only a couple of hours early, like every year)
to join Taka, his sister Manami and Bille, as well as a couple of their friends
eating Raclette at their place in Frankfurt. Tina and Patricia went to a party
in Seligenstadt and Oli was in Darmstadt, so 'we' consisted of Tobi, Anna, Marco
and me. The Raclette was very nice and afterwards we walked to the Main queues.
We passed by the Hauptwache and the Römer, which was a rather bad move, as a lot
of people had already started to shoot up fireworks, and not always towards the
sky. Nevertheless, we made it relatively safe and on-point to the Eiserner Steg
and watched the fireworks and celebrated. Afterwards, Marco left us and we went
back to Taka's place to play some games and party on.

On second of January, Patricia celebrated her birthday at the 'Eat Men Drink
Women' Bar in Frankfurt, which was very nice as well. We even decided to go out
clubbing afterwards and hit the Kinkamehameha Club until they dropped us all
out.

Cologne

Over the weekend I have been in Cologne again. This is the third time in a row that I went there together with the other guys to 'Nikolauskneipe' of our fellow student association (called `Suevia') there. Unfortunately, Ulrich and Bene did not come along, but I met Florian there again (who stayed in Utrecht since summer) and Erich as well (who I have not seen a lot recently). I drove to Cologne together with Martin and Clement, and once we arrived late Friday we found out that all people were at another student association's party, which we promptly joined. The party was pretty crowded and the music was quite nice. One had to buy coupons at the entrance, so I decided to have four Koelsch for starters. However, it then turned out that they actually sold Koelsch in 0.5 litre quantities, as opposed to the 0.2 bits I anticipated. I only found out today that one could have actually given back unused coupons, but back then I decided to just drink them. Martin started to chat at two blond girls, but they quite made a point they only think older guys (at least 30 years old) are really worth talking to and soon left, to my moderate relief. Eventually, we met the other guys I knew already and had some more drinking fun. I talked a while to a guy studying pedagogics, which was really interesting. Already well after midnight, Alex arrived at the party together with a friend. As the parties happened on two floors, we decided to leave the main floor and hit the chill-out/cocktail area where there were sofas and chairs to relax and slightly different music. After some more chatting, Martin and I went home (Clement had left already, he was on antibiotics anyway as I found out earlier) at about 3 AM (of course, Alex partied on until the early morning, as usual)

The next morning (after managing to wake up Alex), we hit downtown Cologne. Or rather, it hit us. I have seen a lot of people together at one place before (usually during concerts or street festivals), but this was the first time I was annoyed at walking around at perfectly normal shopping hours through perfectly normal shopping streets and not being able to really move independently from the masses. The others had a nice breakfast at Burger King (of course, we did not get a seat and they had to eat while standing in the restaurant), then walked around some until we finally arrived at the cathedral. At this point, it is worth pointing out that it was bloody freezing (which was slightly less of a problem when we were sandwiched by other people). Omar would not arrive until 2 PM, so we decided to have a stroll at the Rhine (where it was even colder). After we finally picked up Omar at the main station, we visited the cathedral (quite cold in there, but better than walking outside). I have been to the cathedral a couple of times now, but it is always impressive. Afterwards, I left the others (who went to the chocolate museum) and headed for the Subway at the Rudolfsplatz, where I met Tobias Wolter (towo) and Marc Brockschmidt (HE) from the Debian project (and where it was warm). Well, they do not have Spicy-White bread in Cologne's Subways but apart from that, no surprises there. Except that the `sandwich-artists' (which is the official title, as far as I know) where pretty childish (but good looking) and screamed at each other through the whole restaurant quite a bit. Towo and HE turned out to be really humorous and funny persons, teasing each other all the time. Surely some of the nicest Debian people I have met so far.

I met the others again at the bus station and we went back to the Suevenhaus in order to prepare for the `Kneipe' that night. A Kneipe is a traditional way of partying among student associations. In short, it amounts to an ordered way of singing and drinking and is usually great fun, especially the non-official parts. Somewhat longer, it is conducted by somebody called `president', who (along with a couple of others) wears a traditional uniform. The traditional student songs are accompanied by a piano (the guys in Cologne studies music, so he knew about this). Afterwards, the party went on until the early morning (at least for Alex, who went to bedroll at 8:30 AM; I decided to sleep sometime between 3 and 4 AM) and rocked. The next day, we did not do much except getting up (slowly), having lunch at a nearby restaurant and then driving home. Over the weekend, I managed not to get as drunk as the years before (two years ago, I stepped (barefooted) into the glass shards of a water bottle I managed to make fall over and break, and Anderl had to wipe up the blood...), but it was great fun nevertheless. Paying for the rented car sucked, though.

Gauguin, van Gogh bis Dali

Yesterday, Andrea and I went to the Hypo Kunsthalle for the current exhibition of paintings from the Museum Folkwang in Essen (which was the first modern museum in Germany). Although the exhibition is named after the three big painters Gauguin, van Gogh and Dali, a lot of other artists were present as well. In fact, there was only one (albeit very nice) painting by Dali and only few by Gauguin and van Gogh.

[photo] </a>
Lyonel Feininger, 'Gelmeroda IX'

However, as I have been to Dali exhibitions before, I was rather pleasantly surprised. There were a lot of Nolde, Kandinsky, Picasso and Klee paintings amongst many others from the Brücke (e.g. Schmidt-Rottluff) and Blauer Reiter (e.g. Marc) connections, as well as other french and german impressionists and expressionists. Many of those were really stunning and beautiful, some of them I saw already elsewhere. The ones we liked most were 'Hutladen' by Macke, 'Der Rote Turm von Halle' by Kirchner and 'Gelmeroda IX' by Feininger.

[photo] </a>
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 'Der rote Turm von Halle'

Besides the paintings, there were also a lot of contemporary sculptures and, surprisingly to me, sculptures and other pieces of art from old cultures like Egypt, China, Japan, Greece and Papua-Neuginea. Sometimes they blended nicely into the surrounding art, sometimes they looked a bit like they were used to fill up the exhibition space.

[photo] </a>
August Macke, 'Hutladen'

After doing one tour, Andrea and I decided to go through the Kunsthalle again and have another look at the paintings we liked most. There really are some great paintings there and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot as I have not been to an art gallery in a while.

Organizing Life

Over the last few weeks I managed to mostly get my life organized and on track again, after some months of rather not doing anything in particular. I had already decided to stay both in Munich and with the same research group I did my master thesis in a while ago (turning down the other opportunities was pretty hard to do), but then got dragged away with other stuff and the impossibility of finding a new apartment in Munich.

First, I got my car repaired so that I was able to drive bigger distances again without fearing of it breaking down. I had to replace two tires and one of the front wheel bearings. Then, I finally fetched my diploma certificate, making it all official. The next item was harder - finding a new place to live. Initially, things looked a bit better than four years ago when I first came to Munich looking for a room. However, those first offerings did not quite suit me, so I decided to look for something else. Within time, I got more and more dragged into the easily anticipated stream of first year students looking for a place as well. Sometimes, I was inspecting a room together with half a dozen other people, usually just leaving my number without hope of ever being called back. I was lucky one time with a guy whose girlfriend went to Sudan for Aerzte ohne Grenzen. We talked for about an hour at his place (which was located in central Schwabing) which was really nice. However, the room was only up for a limited amount of time, so I finally let that pass as well when he offered it to me.

In the end, everything turned out well when Luca phoned me and proposed to start a WG together with him and Florian, one of his colleagues. I gladly accepted and we found a pretty big flat in Ruemannstrasse (right at the crossing of the Petuel tunnel and Leopoldstrasse). The rooms are not that big, but we have a huge living room and two small bathrooms, along with a long balcony which goes around the whole apartment. I more or less moved in there last Friday and since then transferred most of my belongings. However, I need to buy furniture soon.

One nice consequence of all this was that I went home to Frankfurt two weeks ago for the first time without any trouble about what job to do next or where to live next week, which was very refreshing.

Last Thursday I signed my contract and sweared an oath on the bavarian constitution (by the help of god) to be a good public employee and early this week I manged to submit the papers for my inscription as Ph.D. student. So everything should be settled by now, I just need to report my new address at a couple of official places and we need to get the internet access at our new flat sorted out.

Oktoberfest

So the Wiesn is over for a couple of days now. I have been there four times, and drank a bit more than two Maß on average, which is more than last year (when I was studying for exams) but less than two years ago (when I did not have anything to do, and friends from Austria and England visited me). The first time I went to the Wiesn was on Wednesday, together with my housemates. Anderl, Bene, Markus and me walked to the Theresienwiese and we met Alex and Martin in the Schottenhamel, who were already quite drunk. We managed to get some space on the neighbor table and some time later Alexej and Clement arrived as well. The people we shared the table with were pretty nice and we had a lot of fun dancing on the tables.

The second time I was going there with the guys from university. I had met Luca and Flo earlier and we decided to meet again in the Schottenhamel, together with Luxi and some others from their research group. When I entered the tent, I bumped into Chris by accident, which was a very pleasant surprised. We had not met in months and it was great to see him again. As he was standing in the corridor with a couple of friends, I decided to look for Luxi first in order to get some beer. I found him pretty quickly, Moni (I guess they are officially together by now), Luca and Flo were around as well, and downed a beer there partying. After buying a second beer, I went back to Chris, were Andi had arrived as well. We had some more fun there and then went to table together. The others were leaving by now though, so I joined them and we went to an Australian Karaoke bar near the Stachus. After another wheat beer, I finally went home.

The third time I went together with Ulrich and Bene last Friday. Ulrich actually boasted he would spent all Thursday at the Oktoberfest, after submitting his Magister thesis. However, as usual, he did not go to the Wiesn that day. I was mildly surprised when he decided to really come around and go to the Wiesn with us on Friday, as it rained quite heavily that afternoon. Anyway, we only arrived at around 5:30 PM, so all tents were closed already. As the weather was quite nice though, we decided to take a seat in the Biergarten of the Augustiner tent. Suzette was later coming around as well, and it was pretty funny (especially watching all the teenagers getting drunk and trying to evade security or score with the other sex). Afterwards, we went to Schwabing and had another beer at the Filou. I had not eaten anything since noon, so I was getting pretty drunk and Bene and I decided to sleep at Ulrich's place. At first, we did not really intended to actually stay, but as soon as I lay on the sofa, I was so tired I could not be bothered to get up again.

Originally, I had planned to go to the Oktoberfest again together with my sister Sabine and her friend Ester on Saturday, but it turned out the girls were up all night until around 9 AM. As most of the tents reportedly shut their doors before 10 AM already, there was no way to get in. So we decided to come again on Sunday morning.

Sunday was less crowded so we managed to easily get into the Paulaner tent and make good use of the food and beer coupons Ester had brought along. Two Maß later (the girls shared two Radler-Maß during that time), we decided to go over to the Schottenhamel, in order to show Sabine some real Oktoberfest atmosphere. Somebody from Ester's job (she worked at Universal Studios while she was in Munich for half a year) had booked a table, so we had another Maß there and did some basic dancing on the tables. I tried to look out for Luxi, but could not find him, so I finally left the Wiesn at around 4:30 PM for this year. Just a pity that I only met Ester now when she was about to leave Munich again, it was pretty funny.

Funeral

I was at a funeral yesterday, which was a less than pleasant experience, considered that the one who died was younger than me. Stefan Schwab, who was living just next door to Bene and me, had a climbing accident and fell into a coma afterwards. About a week ago, he was declared dead and so we (Markus, Martin and Alexej represented, Anderl, Hasi and me came along) drove to Augsburg.

I was really overwhelmed by the amount of people at the funeral, about 300 people attended. The priest seemed to have known Stefan quite well, he said he had talked to him only days before the accident and was obviously very touched. I also was deeply touched by the service, even though I did not know Stefan as well as I would have liked. He always made an extremely nice impression to me, and everybody who voiced their opinions during the funeral said the same.

During the service, I became quite thoughtful on one matter. It became evident to me that I missed an opportunity to get to know better an exceptional mind and I wondered how many other opportunities I am missing out. For example, how more often will I see my grand-mother? Other people I hold dear, but lost track of? Also, this moment of sadness (and it was a very sad moment indeed) also made me aware that I should spend more time just thinking. These days, I am almost never idle, except perhaps while driving (and then I usually listen to good music).

Free and (Un)Easy

I went to the Free & Easy festival at the New Backstage together with Bene yesterday. I have been to last year's Free & Easy with the Debian crowd (and specifically Mako, Micah and Dogi) and back then Mr. Lif of Def-Jux fame was on, along with an american DJ mako knew about. That evening was really outstanding, we first had a lot of fun in the Biergarten and later on some of us moved into the main area to watch the concert.

Yesterday, Sleepwalker came along with a couple of MCs and DJ Ben Kenobi (called "Sleepy & Friends" or something). The first major difference was that there were huge amounts of people, already the tram was overcrowded and we had a hard time moving along the Backstage. In the main area, a rasta guy was asking everybody how much they loved to smoke blunts, so we decided to first get a beer in the Biergarten.

The first thing which happened then was a guy who decided to discuss with us that it was extremely unfair to have free admission and then a price of 4.80 € for a beer (for a Maß, mind you). The music in the Biergarten was pretty cool and laid-back, but in order to escape this guy (Bene was sure he tried to hit on him), we went back to the main area, where the HipHop-Show was running full speed now. Surprisingly, there were less people in front of the stage than outside. The music was OK for an event with free admission, but nothing like Mr. Lif of course, just a couple of third-row Hamburg rappers. However, I downed my liter of beer quite fast and was in pretty good mood afterwards. The concert ended soonish, followed by a DJ-set from Ben Kenobi. He did some beat-juggling, but then reverted to playing the usual Rap-club tunes you hear each Friday in Backstage anyway. After a while, we went back to the Biergarten, got another beer and danced a bit to the tunes there (I bet it was an M94.5 DJ behind the decks there). A sizeable part of the crowd seemed to have left by then, as moving around became increasingly easier. We walked around and danced around a bit more and then decided to take the N17 tram at 3:18 to head home. It was great fun overall I guess.

Update 13.9.2004: I went to Free & Easy again on Sunday, this time on my own. The first thing I watched was the end of the Johnny Cash Tribute Contest. Apparently the guy who won made a second performance. It was pretty good, but he was just imitating the great man, while I rather hoped people would interpret/cover his songs (like he did on his own, e.g. with U2's 'One' or Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus') and bring them to another level. Afterwards, a Rock n' Roll cover band played, which was quite fun with everybody dancing.

I also passed by the Biergarten shortly (they showed 'Trainspotting' there), but the main attraction for me was Schnute in the small area. They are five guys playing Nu-Jazz live. It sounded a lot like the Kruder & Dorfmeister DJ Kicks! tape I hold dear and was a spectacular performance. The drummer mainly kicked an upbeat loop which seemed to come straight from a well-programmed drum machine. They also had two bass players (one mostly playing a contrabass), a guy playing sampler/synthesizer and a guy playing the clarinet/flute/sax. The sound was really awesome, it sounded very electric, though most of it was made by conventional means and most everything played live, except for a few sample loops. Sadly, the dance floor was empty for most of the show, it was really danceable in my opinion. They sold their new CD after the show, but 16 € still seemed a bit expensive to me, until I found out later that it is a double-CD. Highly recommended.

Santorini

They say Santorini is the most beautiful of the greek islands. So far, I have been to Crete, Corfu and Zakynthos, and Santorini beats them hand down. Also, as Nat Friedman has pointed out: 'I think the best way to approach a city is probably from the water'. This is nowhere more applicable than for Santorini. Tina and I arrived there by plane and we had seats at the middle lane and did not see much of the island during the landing. When I got out of the airport, about the only landmark I noticed was a moderately big mountain which made me think 'Hmm, this looks a lot like the other greek islands I've been to'. We arrived quite late on Monday afternoon, so by the time we settled down at the hotel and walked around Fira (the main city on Santorini), the sun had already set. It was only one day later when I finally saw the Caldera, the true beauty of Santorini.

[photo]
Fira and the Caldera

What sets Santorini apart from all other greek islands is the volcanic eruption which formed the island at around 1600 BC. Back then, the island was roughly circle-shaped, but the disaster resulted in most of the inner parts of the island sinking below sea level and leaving only an outer ring (as well as two small volcanic islands in the center). While the outward coast of Santorini is looking quite ordinary (except that it is mostly of volcanic origin, as is the whole island), the inner coast is actually a sharp cliff called the Caldera. As Santorini surrounds the two inner islands by about 70 percent, you usually have a breathtaking view of this beautiful coastline wherever you are. If you arrive by ferry, you literally enter the island complex, surround the two inner rocks and then head towards the port, while watching the main city of Fira towering above you.

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Anna and Tobi in front of the crater sea

We lived in the same hotel Tobi and Anna stayed during their first trip to Santorini. It is located towards the main parts of the island and was thus quite cheap, though one could reach the Caldera after a five minute walk. The rooms were much nicer than what Anna's horror stories lead us to expect and there was even a small (too small, according to Tina) but nice pool.

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At the pool

Tobi and Anna arrived on Wednesday. They already spent a vacation on Santorini three years ago, so they already knew about the best places. This, and the fact Anna is greek made life so much easier for us. We usually got up at around noon or at some point afterwards. Then, I went to the nearby bakery and bought some baguette (if we were out of bread) and had some nice Tzatziki to kick off the day. The further daily routine involved meeting up with Tobi and Anna, going to the bus station and driving to one of Santorini's beaches.

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Kamari beach

It has to be said that the public transport system on Santorini is remarkably cheap, on time (Ana was getting more and more surprised by this fact and started to lose faith in this part of greek tradition) and well connected, so we had no difficulty getting around the island without booking one of those tourist trap bus tours. Considering that Santorini is a volcanic island, it is clear that there are few nice sand beaches. In fact, the sand is usually rather coarse (or the rocks are pretty small, depending on your point of view) and of dark color. The beaches we visited were at the east and south coast of Santorini (there are a couple at the north coast as well, but the bus connection is less good for them). We first went to Pernissa and then Camari, followed by the so-called red and black beaches at the south. The latter (along with white beach, which we dropped even though Tobi opted strongly for it) is only reachable by boat. The Pernissa and Camari beaches are pretty touristic, crowdy and ordinary (except for their dark 'sand'), but the colored beaches are of considerable beauty and called by the color of their sand.

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Red beach

We liked red beach the most so we decided to go there a second time on Sunday, unfortunately again bit late so we were not able to visit the excavations of Akrotiri, a city which fell prey to the volcano 3600 years ago (very similar to Pompei) and reportedly featured three-storey buildings and a sewer system by the time people in Germany were probably still living in caves.

Another big advantage of Santorini (over Zakynthos, for example) is the presence of a pedestrian precinct. Young people in Greece very much like to drive up and down the main street with the cars or motorcars, rendering any leisure strolling impossible. The cities of Fira, Firostephani and Ia however have also some nice small lanes with lots of cafes, restaurants and stores next to the Caldera where you can either stroll around or have dinner while enjoying the unique view. Which is what we did mostly in the evenings.

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Sunset at Ia

The best view you can get on the whole island is probably from the old castle tower in Ia. Pretty solid evidence for this is the fact that this point is the most crowded place of the whole city during sunset. Of course, any other random point at the edge of the caldera beats most other spots on this planet as well, most notably the so-called (by our german tourist guide book at least) 'Kraterrandgasse'. Tobi was continually looking for places to buy along that street, should he ever come around lots of money.

The first three places we went for dinners were pretty unspectacular (well, the restaurant Tina and I went to on Tuesday evening would have had a nice view if it had not been dark already). By far the most pleasant dinner we had was at 'Skaros Tavern' in Firostephani, one of the places Tobi and Anna already knew from their last visit to Santorini. It's located at the Kraterrandgasse between Firostefani and Imerovigli, features a regular breathtaking view and serves nothing but delicious food. We had some nice greek starters (scolloped Aubergines and with a wonderful sauce) and 'Chicken in a basket' as main dish. Another very nice place we ate was right at ocean below Ia in a fish tavern, however I did not like a lot what I ordered (fried squish, besides others) and the way back up to Ia afterwards was pretty hard. Sometimes during the day or for dinner we had small snacks which for me of course meant gyros pita.

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Tina did not manage to eat all of those cakes

To my displeasure, we did not go to one of Santorini's clubs at night. However, we once had at least the beginning of a nice Ouzo session and went outside of Fira to watch the stars during another night. One night we found a very cool place called 'Casablanca Suites', some way outside of Fira towards Firostephani. It is a very tastefully decorated Bar with comfortable sofas on the roof of a hotel which had nice greek music in the beginning and then switched to equally nice lounge music later on (probably because we arrived, though at least I did not mind the greek music) We were almost the only customers and the waitress and the barkeeper were very amiable. The other great place we went to was a place with live greek music. However, this was not one of those typical clubs where they play 'authentic folklore music' to entertain the tourists, but an authentic live bar, made by and for greek people (Tobi and I probably were the only foreign people, as Tina was too tired and did not want to stay). Despite Annas warnings, Tobi desperately wanted to go to this place (our tourist guide book mentioned it, along with the warning that tourists should not dance there unless explicitly invited). When we first arrived at around 11 PM, we were the only customers. By midnight, the band started playing and by 2 AM, the club was packed with people and some started to dance. The band consisted of three guys, one playing guitar (mostly as accompanist), one bouzouki (a guitar-like instrument very popular in greece) and one accordion. The music was superb, all players were highly skilled and had nice voices and the atmosphere was getting better and better as more people started to dance in the traditional way. At one point, Anna also began dancing and later begged us to dance as well. However, being reminded by the warning of the guide book and looking at the swiftness of the dancers' movements, we declined. Anna then danced with one of the greek guys (greek girls dancing traditionally is pretty nice to the eye in any event). I left the place at around 3:30 AM, Tobi and Anna stayed longer and apparently had a small argument when Anna asserted that it was due to Tobi's pissed off look that the other guy came around to excuse himself dancing with Anna twice, while Tobi questioned the notion that 'greek dancing is completely platonic'.

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Anna at the Casablanca Suites bar

Other activities included having cakes and coffee in one of the nice cafes or just walking along Fira at night. It has to be said that I got hooked up by the Santorinian ice coffees, especially something called 'Fredo' and 'Frappe', something I have not yet seen in Germany. Anna and even more so Tina instead got hooked up by the nice cakes, so towards the end we spent most of our evenings in cafes.

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Nice view from that Cafe

Santorini is truly are marvelous place and at least I would like to return to it some day. It is no coincidence that a lot of greek couples get married there.