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#BerlinDiaries
a personal journey through the new
nervous centre of Europe
v2.0
Aleph123
Copyright © 2012 aleph123int@gmail.com, a.k.a. aleph123
All rights reserved.
ISBN:1481854259
ISBN-13: 978-1481854252
“One way of getting at how people thought about their world and what they thought made things
tick, is to look at what socio-linguists call personal and collective narrative. Narrative in this sense
is seen as a crucial element in the construction of social realities – perceived relationships and
structures – within which humans socially reproduce themselves. Narrative, indeed, can be said to
provide the link between consciousness and practice...
...Narratives are fictions because they are reconstructions of experience, they organize experience
and memory temporally through language and in the process elaborate a relationship between the
narrator and the events narrated. Thus narratives work essentially as a means of identifying the
individual self within a social and cultural context, of providing a reality – they answer the
question ‘who am I?’. As such, they also act as patterns for social action – future planning based
on past experience.”1
What did I learn from my travels for political activities around Europe as a
teenager? Your travels abroad can help you understand more about yourself
and your country than any inward-looking consideration.
As Goethe said about languages: "Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss
nichts von seiner eigenen”.
Empathise, see yourself and your culture through another culture, and you
will be a better and more conscious citizen.
Whatever I saw in Berlin was a catalyst to comment on current events and
think about the future.
But assuming that you are not necessarily an online reader who went on a
daily basis through my #BerlinDiaries posts, I augmented the material by
adding explanatory notes, links, and expanding existing thoughts.
I hope that you will enjoy the next few pages as much as those who
followed their unfolding online over two weeks, from November 14th to
November 30th (with a “coda” in early December) 2012.
And, of course, at least as much as I enjoyed writing and rewriting them!
1
John Haldon, in “A social History of Byzantium”, pages 9-10, 2009 Blackwell
PROLOGUE TO V2.0
Probably, both you and I are tired of all the “2.0” announces around.
In this case, it makes sense, as this new edition converts an online and
offline publication experiment into something with a longer-term
perspective, a kind of “living book”.
The idea is simple: #BerlinDiaries was written in December 2012, while
Version 2.0 adds more material on how the book was written, what was
added online, and basic elements of applied online marketing.
When you start publishing online (in my case, in late 1990s as online posts,
then 2003-2005 with an e-zine on knowledge management and virtual
companies, and finally from 2007 by simply blogging on social networks
and on Wordpress), you should have already identified a “format” and a
basic theme that will guide you in selecting how to choose what is relevant.
Even more important is to decide, within your “format”, what makes sense
to add from other sources, also to reduce your workload, and ensure a
continuous stream of updates (yes, you need a publication plan).
This is an experiment, and #BerlinDiaries, beside trying to be funny
enough to be read, tries to inspire you in creating your own “living books”.
About prices: Amazon Createspace allow you to choose your own price; in
my case, I set a price that is unusually low, but not the lowest.
If you succeed in completing your own “publishing cycle”, send me a link
(and I would appreciate if you were kind enough to post a link to both my
Amazon book and the Facebook page2), and I promise that I will enclose
references in future editions (online and offline).
2
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/BerlinDiaries Twitter: @BerlinDiaries
PROLOGUE
Why this book? Because over 50 people read each segment that I posted
online when I started my travel to Berlin in November 2012- each day, and
I decided to keep doing so while I still had at least 50 readers for each post.
Well, I am still posting on a daily basis.
Why not use my #BerlinDiaries to both send a “thank you note” to my
known readers on Frype.com (and the unknown ones on Facebook)3, and
add a further experiment to my CV?
I believe (and I am not the only one, as I saw in my research between 2007
and 2009; for an update on the distribution of social networks, look at the
free e-book “Twitter for Diplomats”4) that online publishing will change
not only how books are distributed- but also how they will be read and,
eventually, written: the digital medium adds a layer of flexibility that has
been unknown of since Gutenberg spread book printing technology.
Therefore, this is not a traditional guidebook, but a personal journey to
explore the heart and mind of the new centre of Europe, more a
“philosophical journey” than the usual visit: a journey whose first phase
lasted over two weeks.
Why now, and why Berlin? Get through the next few pages, and you will
find answers to both questions.
Nonetheless, you are welcome to join me online to add comments,
requests- and maybe contribute with your own writings, online and offline,
to the next step, as I look forward to do a second, more institutional and
structured step.
3
http://www.frype.com/robertolofaro and http://www.facebook.com/robertolofaro
4
http://isdi.esteri.it:4300/ISDI%20ALLEGATI/Twitter%20for%20diplomats.pdf
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS & RATIONALE
This book is an extensively edited and augmented reprint of what I started
posting online on November 14th, 2012, the day that my “city test” in
Berlin started: it would not have been written at all, weren’t for the daily
motivation generated by my online visitors.
My Berlin travel itinerary evolved through the daily interaction with Berlin-
but originally my plan was just to keep a travelogue and take few pictures.
I had previous experiences in keeping a (business) diary: it comes with the
territory, when you are used to work on multiple activities at the same time,
often in various locations, including by managing remotely, and hence
delegating tasks to, people.
And, again, without that experience in keeping track of multiple timelines,
subjects, and people, I would have never been able to write as fast as I did.
Storytelling has been part and parcel of my consulting and teaching
experiences for over a quarter of a century (early 1980s)- a short story, few
gestures, and some self-effacing humour go great lengths toward “fixing” in
the mind of your audience what you are trying to convey... faster and for
much longer than tens of Powerpoint slides.
How do I use maps and guidebooks? First, I have a quick preview, cover-
to-cover, and then... I leave them in my room, while having a first tour
around; I follow up with a segment-by-segment reading before going
around, and a final review after visiting something.
Why? Because I want to have a “foundation layer” of knowledge- but I do
not want minutiae to act as a filter between the cultural reality on the
ground and my personal experience, a “knowledge cage” prepared by
others.
I hope to visit again Berlin, and, with your help and feed-back, the online
components will keep this book alive, and, hopefully, kickstart a dialogue
on the future of Europe, between ordinary European Union citizens and
internal and external observers and partners.
CONTENTS
Note: places and locations in and around Berlin are highlighted in bold within the text
1 Introduction
La memoria di un criceto / Rome wasn't built in a day
1
2 Getting around Berlin
Berlin InfoPack / Walk the talk (and few thousands steps more)
15
3 A day in town
Testing and common wisdom / A quiet day that wasn't
26
4 Past and future wars
A day in the past / Turkey and NATO, or: pre-empting a proxy war
35
5 Games & thoughts
Games and gaming / Sometimes...
43
6 Serendipitous walking
A walk in town / Museums, games, parks and... bicycles in Berlin
54
7 A changing town
Annexed townships and museum surprises /
The gentrification of East Berlin & packing
67
8 Closing down
Memory, language and... apologies in Berlin
Three monkeys and a drawing boss #Berlin
78
9 The aftermath
Meanwhile... / Globalization in a cup of tea
87
A Meta-appendixes 2.0
Creating an online and offline posting format
Evolving your content for your audience
The publishing process
Keeping it alive
93
Afterword and planning: why Berlin 106
Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries
1
1. INTRODUCTION
La memoria di un criceto5
Or: having the attention span of a hamster (for my older friends: of course,
a Hamster would be different, notably the "Mighty Hamster" that along
with all the other house pets protects humankind from itself!6).
No, I am not the "fons et origo" of this "memoria di un criceto" concept-
the author is an Italian customer (I would not say when, where, how, who):
for a week, along with others, he tried to convert me to uttering 4-letter
words during business meetings.
5
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-15@09:08
6
For everyone else: while writing in 2007 on stage6.divx.com under the “nom de
plume” of Aleph123, I created a series of fictional reports from what I called the
United Hamster Front, an organization devoted to the well-being of the hamsters
that were said to be called up to make the website work, as each time there was a
technical glitch, a message stated “we are feeding the hamsters”, and I tried to
defuse flame-wars by calling up some humor and worrying about the well-being of
overfed, overworked hamsters; but I will post new UHF material at a later stage
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
2
Of course, as it was a blatant and open game... on the second day, all the
others started being visibly uneasy about uttering those words, and by the
end of the week, instead of converting me, I could remark that they had
stopped using those four letter words in our meetings.
Incidentally: it was an open challenge, and therefore I answered openly,
playing brinkmanship- but while in the Army I had a completely different
level of swearing… when in Rome, do as the Romans do!
Also if, admittedly, the most obnoxious case was a young Greek guy that I
met while with a bunch of young-yet-politically-active (ok, early 1980s)
teenagers, as we were travelling overnight by train to Paris.
He graciously shared with us all the interesting words that his Italian
"friends" had taught him: and I learned few Italian four letter words that I
had not known before, including in various dialects.
Back to the hamster's attention span: the point was simple- I wanted to add
a “legenda” to few slides because I assumed that a somebody at a senior
management level does not necessarily read material sequentially (my
experience, and not only in Italy, since 1986- also for startups).
And I was asked: do you think that he will have the attention span of a
hamster? I said- well, in my experience- I doubt that he will get through all
the slides in the original sequence, it is more probable that he will skip and
maybe jump around, focusing on what needs to be confirmed/ accepted/
clarified, and his rationale (e.g. as I saw with business&marketing plans).
Why did I think about that today? Because yesterday evening I watched
"Argo" in Italian- and there was an intermission, resuming few seconds
back from where the first half had ended before the intermission.
And today I saw the same in Berlin, while watching in English "Sky Fall" at
the Sony Centre, near Potsdamer Platz (showing movies in English):
therefore, they assume that the intermission is long enough to generate a
loss of memory within the audience!
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3
Incidentally 2: personally, I prefer "Argo" to "Sky Fall", as most of the
twists in the plot of the latter are easily predictable- so predictable that my
reduced sleep over the last few days contributed to some yawning now and
then (yes, you can yawn also while watching a 007 movie- I remember the
same effect with one of Pierce Brosnan 007 exploits).
Incidentally 3: if you plan to go and watch "Argo", read first Ken Follett's
book on Ross Perot's exploit to "extract" his EDS employees7 from Iran,
and have a look also at the Wired article about "Argo" (published few years
ago8).
I could add more details on both movies- but I would be posting spoilers...
therefore, maybe later, and only to those who watched both.
Why I do prefer Argo? Because the hero is an almost ordinary albeit
unusual guy doing his job (getting people out of trouble, or "extraction"- i.e.
a problem-solver), with a kid and a (former? returning?) wife.
Not really your 9-to-5 ordinary divorced father: but "Sky Fall" was almost
farcical, in its overload of quotes from other movies (I did not expect also a
quote from "My Name is Remo Williams", when 007 walks on thin ice-
literally!).
But beside movies, I had this afternoon a "déjà-vu", reminding me of when,
as part of the gazillion of tests that I had on a daily basis since 2008,
somebody tried to enter my apartment building in Brussels using a puerile
"social engineering" test (fumbling around pretending to search keys until
you let them in without checking if they are entitled to enter the building).
Back then, as I was a resident in an apartment building that had only
resident inhabitants, I opened the door while going out, but then waited for
confirmation before letting the “testers” in.
7
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Wings_of_Eagles
8
http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-10/19/making-of-argo
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
4
Today in Berlin the same test was quite funny: somebody inside rummaging
through mail, while somebody outside the door of the building fumbled
through the keys (without finding the right one), and when I opened the
door to go out... thanked and entered.
Well... I actually entered the building for the first time while the door was
wide open, as a young man was watching who entered, but without
stopping anybody: hence, not really a residential place with the most glaring
standard security (moreover: there are few offices within the building).
Yes, another case of "hamster's attention span"- you do not need to be a
genius to see the difference between the two cases: an apartment building
used only by private citizens, and an apartment building used by offices,
residences, and ordinary dwellers...
In the first case, it was obvious why I stopped somebody trying to enter
with an excuse- while in Berlin… I had no reason to.
I wrote few times9 that in the early 1980s I was involved in an European
Federalist advocacy, notably within the youth organization (I wasn’t yet 17
when I started).
Well, involved is most definitely an understatement: I was a member of the
Central Committee of the Italian branch, before becoming town secretary
in Turin, a role that included liaising with the youth organizations
secretaries of the so-called “arco costituzionale” political parties (from the
Liberal Party, PLI, on the right, to the Communist Party, PCI, to the left).
But what I often fail to quote is that also after stopping "structured"
political activities, I kept monitoring international affairs- before and after
choosing to attend Summer Schools at LSE in London, in mid-1990s.
One of my travel rituals? To pick up the International Herald Tribune while
flying around- albeit I liked it more when it was a joint venture between
New York Times and Washington Post (I still enjoy filling the “jumble”
game as fast as I can, when I buy a copy of the IHT).
9
As this was posted as part of a blog, I am referring to previous posts on
http://www.frype.com/robertolofaro
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5
And that's why in 1994 and 1995 I choose International Political Economy
for my summer studies, also if sharing my "intuition/analysis" was done
only privately and within my network (part of my "loyalty building"
activities- justify why they should keep thinking about me to staff or
manage hopeless/challenging projects and activities- the results on
Linkedin10).
Sometimes in Brussels I found pub discussions converted into a kind of
"who's who in EU and EU reform trivial pursuit edition": in my line of
business, I was more interested in other elements affecting the ability to
change and the management of social/business impacts.
Names are more relevant when you are “digging a trench”, i.e. you are part
of the environment, while instead I met thousands of people and worked in
dozens of companies around few EU countries (and occasionally
elsewhere): I needed to remember only key names.
But you would need an attention span exceeding that of a hamster- and you
should be able to resurrect, continue, expand on a "discussion thread" that
has been a stop-and-go for a long time.
Why? Because when you want to deliver continuity, despite being there only
once in a while, keeping the “human side” running is important.
Of course- I started working in different towns each day long before mobile
phones were common (in Italy, the GSM service was operational in 1995-
when I got my first mobile: I resolutely refused to get a pre-GSM mobile,
which initially were actually suitcase-sized phones).
Suggestion: before working toward "innovation", take a short step back in
time, see the commentary on potential evolutions etc., and then check the
current status: often, this will help to see through the “fog of incomplete
knowledge”, and avoid repeating patterns that failed.
As the disclaimer for investment offers states... past performance does not
necessarily guarantee future performance: therefore, it is always useful to
first understand where you are, and then, only then, propose a change...
10
http://www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
6
But our attention span can be increased dramatically by cutting down on
Powerpoint slides, position papers, etc., and by studying the "before" and
"after" of previous change attempts within the same organization.
Anyway- today, without noticing, I did something that I had not done for a
while: a serendipity walk starting in Adenauer Platz and ending in
Potsdamer Platz (on the way back, a bus ride).
Probably today I walked (fast) slightly more than 10km - but it is my
tradition, to find or at least look for a residence in a town where potentially
I could return, and not for just a week-end, and spend the first day to go
around and get a feeling of the location (and the “human environment”).
I must confess: I did not expect to see the "new Berlin" as I saw it while
walking.
But there is one point that I noticed, starting with the public transport trip
from the airport: it has been a long time, in Europe, since I last met so
many people with a smiling face- and not only Germans, but also
immigrants working in services.
As for the status update that I posted on Facebook11: yes, I heard quite
often Russian mixed with German, but anyway my crash test on German
started well!
For the time being... my memory and attention span fairly exceed that of a
hamster (and no, do not ask me to spin the wheel on their behalf).
The balance between happy vs. sad/nervous faces is significantly in favour
of the first, if compared with what I saw in Italy over the last few years.
11
“I did expect to test/improve my German- but I never heard so much
Russian:probably, because traditionally my first night is walking n exploring... and
only Russians seem to sustain the cold :D later I will post: "la memoria di un
criceto"”
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7
Maybe a reminder that the official anthem of the European Union is the
"Hymn to joy" from a German composer, anthem that unfortunately has
been converted into a ritualistic hymn, i. e. where the meaning of the words
is lost, and it is just "the right thing to do" to sing along...
But I had no experience of any organization where cultural change was
assigned to bean counters- sometimes the CFO was deeply involved, but he
did not try to have his accounting team magically become a creative or
motivational engine, à la Cinderella: cuius region, eius religio!
Actually- a few tried: and you got your Enron and Parmalat.
Let's see what happens...
Enjoy your week-end, and see you online.
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
8
Rome wasn't built in a day12
No, I am not trying to build an empire.
More modestly, I am doing a second round between my Dutch and my
German: the first one was in Brussels, where I rifled through German
courses using my rusty German to “kickstart” my Dutch, few years ago.
Nowadays, I have to avoid mixing up Dutch when I have to utter German
words- and remember my ways through the der/die/das (yes, in my work I
am used to cross the Ts and dot the Is).
As you maybe now realize, part of my current plan is to post a daily
"method report" on my navigation through German re-learning, akin to the
one that I did online for Dutch13 (but, in that case, on a weekly basis).
So, a couple of weeks ago, as I could not find a place in a residence in Turin
where I was before, to complete my preparation (and the alternatives were
out of my budget range)... I decided to look at priorities.
What better to shift from books to a "sink or swim" full-immersion?
Earlier than I expected- but in my business, how often I had to run before I
had learned to walk?
If a crisis happens, you have to keep it under control while you look for the
best people to involve in its solution.
As Starr14, quoting Wilensky, wrote: sometimes, a rushed up decision is
better than one you sit on for a while.
12
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-16@08:46
13
http://nlschap.wordpress.com
14
Chester Starr, “Political Intelligence in Classical Greece”, 1974
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9
Therefore... I looked for apartments in Berlin, and then decided that, as I
did when I worked elsewhere around Europe, it would make more sense to
look for a residence than to rent a room in an apartment or hotel.
I do not like hotels for more than few days, moreover when working at
least part of the time- and the last time I rented a room in an apartment was
in 1993, in Prague, through a travel agency.
Funny, now that I think about it: there is a German link there too, as I went
in Prague in May 1993 as I had agreed with my German girlfriend to meet
one last time, to split, but... to do that by visiting for a week a place that we
had not yet seen, and share the cultural experience.
A residence usually delivers you the same services that you would have in
any hotel- with an added layer of freedom (e.g. access to a fridge containing
what you like, or picking your own choice of tea).
When I work, I like to drink few litres of tea- it is not just the content of
the cup, it is the mental process involved in preparing it (have a look at the
tea preparation in Red Cliff15).
But after choosing where to sleep, as I had never been in Berlin (I was
invited few times by a classmate at LSE, but we meet in Italy and Germany-
never in his birthplace, Berlin), it was time to look for a “Virgil” to guide
me through the town.
I scouted for an unusual guidebook- and I found a recently published one,
written by an Italian woman living in Berlin, a quite unusual cultural guide.
I cannot just get through the “traditional” guidebooks, with all their
itineraries, lists, etc: a catalogue does not deliver a cultural experience- and I
wanted to experience life in Berlin, not acting as an Italian in Berlin, who,
after few days... ends up looking for a pizza or spaghetti!
15
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425637
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
10
Yes, I know that even some Italians think that I am anti-Italian: but as my
Latvian friends told me in the 1990s, I was a little bit unusual- as all the
other Italians that they met saw Italy either in black or in white, while I saw
plenty of gray, and keep studying the cultural and political history of my
country, and sharing that knowledge with my foreign friends and
acquaintances.
I do not like the "mafia style" that since the 1980s I saw increasingly
widespread in my country- and I worked also for free when I still believed
that there were parts of the bureaucracy that were clean.
That's also why I think that appeasement with that "forma mentis" does not
work: converting few robber barons in the XIX century in the US was a
matter of having opportunists barter short-term advantages for longer-term
benefits, but you would need brainwashing on a massive scale to achieve
the same results with the various mafias of Italy, and all their legions of staff
and dependents.
The money flowing around mafias is on the tune of tens of billions of
Euros each year (a recent statistics said that it went to at least 170bln
EUR/year- counting just what is documented!).
And, unfortunately, every nook and cranny of the Italian economy is
potentially a recycling target: way too many people find expedient to get in
touch "just this time", compromise "just this time"... until they are just
another cog in the blackmail-based wheel.
It is the MAD16 strategy from the Cold War applied to a single country:
hence, the continuous calls for external interventions (by our EU partners),
due to the maze of conflicts of interest and mutual blackmail.
That's why I liked the "Vespri siciliani Operation" approach (used by the
Italian Government years ago): send in the Army in Sicily and other crime-
infested areas to do patrols and watch duty, so that you can use police
forces to do investigative work.
16
See e.g. Craig “Destroying the village: Eisenhower and thermonuclear war”, 1998
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11
Hopefully a smaller army and a smaller police force, but both better trained
and better equipped and monitored, to avoid the "just this time" approach,
at least from them.
Having the man in charge of purchasing for the Police to resign due to
suspicions of massive irregularities while Interpol was meeting in Rome,
and his boss being reported by newspapers as publicly stating that basically
he is incompetent to coordinate his own department, as he wanted only to
be an investigator, was a recent public disgrace that hopefully will not be
repeated17.
Nonetheless, beside their obvious "kitchen expertise", Italians are used to
adapt to and adopt cultures at least since the fall of the Roman Empire.
And do not forget what Greeks said of Ancient Rome: the founders were
coming from all sort of places (and backgrounds)- but I will not repeat their
assertion (as this would be considered... “anti-Italian”).
The arrogant judgement about the "Roman parvenus" found its retribution
when, thanks in large parts to its own internal divisions, Greece was
conquered from Rome- better able to manage on a larger scale and organize
the "logistics of power" than a quarrel-intensive lot of too many “prima
donnas”.
Back to the unconventional guidebook (in Italian18): better than any other
guide (also in English and French) that I found in bookshops (at least, for
my serendipitous approach, i.e. "city discovery").
The first suggestion that I followed? Hop on the 100 bus, and do a tour,
while avoiding the ordinary tourist busses.
Just that suggestion... was worth significantly more than the price of the
book.
17
The potential headcount cuts are so large, that the current government decided to
cut 20% of the managers, and 10% of the employees
18
Fabbrizi, Piacentini “101 cose da fare a Berlino almeno una volta nella vita”, 2012; it
comes also with a blog
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
12
And the other 99 chapters within the book?
While maybe not necessarily suggesting something that I would be
interested in doing, they are quite entertaining.
Another useful addition: a map that I bought at a newsstand in a tube
station in Berlin, as well as a weekly pass.
At least the first time that I visit a place where there is a chance that I could
come back... I stay clear from museums (except for temporary exhibitions,
or if I have travel companions).
So, I have never been a good customer for any kind of "tourist passes".
I rather (as I did in Paris, London, Rome, Zurich, and now Berlin), go for
an ordinary weekly pass, and then feel free to walk when it makes sense
(MP3 is a true blessing, when walking)- and attend only the museums that I
like.
Unless it makes economic sense to buy the tourist pass- you are not
required to visit each and any museum listed on the booklet that comes
along your "tourist pass".
Your time belongs to you, and maybe spending one or two hours chatting
while sipping a coffee in a café nearby "La Sorbonne" is a cultural
experience worth much more than doing a Parisian pod race through 10
museums in a day.
Over the last two days, I remembered when my German girlfriend from
Southern Germany was worried about an interview in Hamburg- as they
talk faster.
And that's also another reason why I have to be fluent or in a "sink or
swim" situation before I dare to speak.
I have the bad habit of talking quite fast- and if I find people who talk fast...
I increase both the speed and the density of the content- nothing is more
fun that finding somebody you can interact with fast, and possibly skipping
unnecessary steps (i.e. a joint “connecting the dots” exercise- a kind of
verbal tennis match).
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13
Hence, I need... a certain depth and breadth in my vocabulary (and that, in
turn, requires a significant number of movies and books).
For the time being... it is interesting- and in barely 24 hours I saw some
improvements.
So, yesterday night I charged the battery of my MP3 player, and planned to
start a 1/3-1/3-1/3 daily routine.
Or: 1/3 interacting around (and anyway listening on my MP3 player to
German dialogues while exploring the town, shops, and studying people
and local customs).
Then, 1/3 working on some business documents and business study.
And 1/3 for fun and preparing for future work (which includes, of course,
reading non-business stuff and writing).
But it is not a sequential splitting- e.g. I am used to set not one alarm, but a
sequence of alarms (or just one and then lay down until I get through the
various steps).
So that, when I have to deliver a lesson or presentation, or write something,
I can actually think and structure my argument without getting sucked up
by pen, paper, and that time sponge- word processors.
If you get through my blog19 or main social networking profiles20 you will
find plenty of posts.
Usually, I drafted all of them (or at least outlined the subject)... why laying
in my bed, between the first and second alarm, and without using pen,
pencil, paper- or even computers or text messages: just plain, old fashioned,
traditional “speech outline memorizing”21.
19
http://www.robertolofaro.com/blog
20
http://www.facebook.com/robertolofaro and http://www.frype.com/robertolofaro
21
Suggestion: Yates “The Art of Memory”, 1966
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14
Well... the "1/3" allocation was based on the battery life- but it seems that
the FSI course material22 that I am listening to now doesn't take that much
life out of the battery.
So... 7 hours later, it was still running (I had planned just 5): time really flies.
Obviously- there are other means as well, that I already used in the past
when I needed to learn something fast (and to check my language skills),
but that will be for another day.
Meanwhile: there is an added value- you can easily avoid distractions when
either you do not speak well a language or (in case, as today, you hear
people speaking languages that you know) you can pretend not to.
And also in my work, I am used (as I was in the Army) to focus if I need to-
while still listening/monitoring background noise or distractions (also
when, sometimes, that "background" is actually in the foreground).
Another step: buying local clothes and local newspapers, and leaving in my
room backpacks and other details that say "tourist".
But I will never beat my record from New York: on the way from the
airport to town, on the underground... an old woman living in a different
zone of New York asked me for directions!
And now... back to my daily morning email routine, before wearing my
earphones, and walking around another area.
But maybe next week I will spend some time also to visit exhibitions.
22
The FSI courses are available online, and were originally produced for the US
Government, and therefore are reportedly not covered by copyright- but check for a
change of mind, as the corresponding DLI courses have been pulled out, due to the
exposure of names of instructors, etc; you can still find and download the official DLI
Headstart series from http://hs2.lingnet.org/index.html - Gigabyte courses, so do
not dare to use your mobile phone! Do they work? Well, I did my tests in German
and Spanish: see http://www.robertolofaro.com/robertolofaro/certifications
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15
2. GETTING AROUND BERLIN
Berlin Infopack23
So, today I promised that I would not have limited this daily post to my
personal views.
Instead, I decided to first collect some information (yesterday I scouted a
newsstand for relevant material), and then divert this post toward providing
that information, should you eventually decide to visit Berlin.
Just a quick note, as I had barely more than half an hour to write this note,
this morning (I do apologize for any typos).
We are in the XXI century, and therefore I assume that any traveller will
have at least one gadget that comes "Wi-Fi enabled".
I found few public spots around town (and I am NOT referring to those
leaving their own network open), but, frankly, beside checking the GPS of
your mobile phone without spending money on data traffic, standing in the
middle of nowhere with a mobile or tablet in your hands isn't exactly what I
call "convenient".
23
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012/11-17@09:58
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
16
Instead, the Starbucks chain gives its customers up to two hours of free
connection- using the BT services, with a good connection.
Personally- I get a “cappuccino grande”, and sipping it while reading
newspapers online (postings on @aleph123 selected articles) takes about 45
minutes, at high-speed, more if you find more than a couple of dozen of
interesting articles, less if you are just below a dozen.
And, quite conveniently, the system update of my Blackberry Playbook
added the "URLTOPDF" application.
Therefore, I do not need to "untangle" Android management.
If you have an Android phone: it is a quite convenient application that takes
the URL that you provide, and creates a PDF file- useful to read later or
share articles or web pages that you found online (e.g. while going around
and pointing at a QRCode).
Why I have a Blackberry Playbook? Because I wanted a cheap tablet that
could fit my pocket (hence, 7" was the limit), but with a screen good
enough to read smallprint (and, at the time, the BB PB was the only one
with that resolution).
It was more expensive than other 7" solutions, but my eyes appreciated the
gesture, and anyway when I bought it the company was thinking of
disposing of the product line, and the price was reduced by 2/3; now they
issued the LTE/4G version.
My tablet comes only with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth: but that was, security-wise,
a selling point, at least for me.
I had already few connection attempts from unknown sources, and not
having a 3G card inside my tablet is an advantage.
And it lasts more than 7 hours also if you use Wi-Fi for few hours; it
supports some Android applications natively, while others require some
technical gimmickry.
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17
But the Internet connection at Starbucks is not free: the price difference
between them and other coffee shops makes up for more than that- still, it
is nice to sit on a couch.
You can even bring your own chess set and play chess on one of the tables
whose top is... a chess board.
And no, there is no table with a Go board (but you can find decent
Android applications that deliver a 9, 13, or 19 Go board).
Incidentally: my week-end reading, started yesterday in a decently large pub
in the Europa commercial centre, is on the 36 stratagems24 applied to Go25-
interesting, also if you are not a Go player, as you can visualize each
stratagem through the “patterns” that it creates on the board (remember
then to re-read the Rand document on Go and swarming26!).
The first morning I went out for breakfast: but, frankly, you end up finding
so many tempting meat-based snacks (I got a cappuccino with a
chicken&sweet chilli), that the following day I started another routine.
So, in the morning I had a cup of orange juice, a bowl of Ayran or other
dense yoghurt, and a cup of tea, along with some biscuits.
Why? Because all that fermentation helps in digesting all the snacks and
meat that you will find during the day.
I resisted for two days to the temptation of eating the famous Curry Wurst,
as I am quite partial to curry- my favourites? Green and Madras.
So, I covered food and free internet- but what if you do not see a Starbucks
nearby?
24
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-Six_Stratagems
25
Ma Xiaochun “The Thirty-six Strategems Applied to Go” (search online, the book is
not available anymore, not even on the publishers’ website)
26
http://www.rand.org/pubs/documented_briefings/DB311.html
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18
I used services provided by a UK provider (only for voice) and Wind in
Italy- interestingly, the former gives you for free while roaming conditions
that Wind asks you to pay for!
Anyway, Wind has two data options while roaming: 2.5 EUR/day for
50MB and 9 EUR/week for 100MB.
If the former seems a lot... it isn't, if you use email, web, GPS, etc.
The latter would be more useful if you just receive few emails.
No, visiting social networks is not a good idea, while roaming on data (but I
update my FB status via SMS).
When you eat, walk (moreover in cold weather), and drink (it goes with
walking), eventually you will need to find what seems to be optional
everywhere: toilets.
So, remembering the amount of time I spent looking for toilets when
travelling with friends, instead of scouting for cafes, I looked for more
"organic" solutions, i.e. something that is available everywhere.
Let's say: the cheapest (whatever people think) and cleanest toilet in Europe
were in Brussels and, overall, Belgium (generally- between 30 and 50
Eurocents, which covers the costs of those providing the service).
In Berlin, some cafes charge (!) as much for toilets, also for customers, and
you can find in any railway station (including largest underground and local
stations) toilets at 1 EUR (as much as you would pay in Milan).
Beware: the cleanliness varies, and usually larger stations are cleaner.
Talking about stations: do not get swayed by the presence of signs both in
English and German, as that does not necessarily imply that you will be able
to access services- unless you speak or at least understand also German.
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19
Also first class service offices (as the one that I used in Oststation) do not
necessarily come with English-speaking clerks, and therefore you should
use your German (or prepare your “script” before).
Luckily my German was useful: I asked to retrieve my prepaid ticket, and
the clerk was instead trying to sell me a ticket, assuming that I had only
reserved a ticket.
It was quite funny to see that, in Berlin as in Zurich, some employees
assume that they can decide who buys what.
Incidentally: a long-range 1st class ticket is only marginally more expensive
than a 2nd class one, and if you consider the additional services... cheaper.
In Zurich, it ended up with a complaint, and a nice (for me) letter from the
marketing office of the SBB stating that their clerk received a lesson that he
would not forget, for making unacceptable comments (my Swiss partner
translated: he got fired).
The reason? I had used my credit card often enough to have the signature
half-erased, and I offered to confirm my identity with my passport, as I did
before; he made some remarks that were clearly levelled at my Italian
passport, and refused to accept the credit card, until I asked him to call the
supervisor (he even resisted to that suggestion).
But I was working there, while here I am just surveying: not my point to
improve service.
As for the areas that I visited: yesterday it was a shift toward East Berlin (I
went by train to the extreme Eastern side of the A B zone, and then
walked/travelled back, and after lunch north to Pankow).
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20
I promised some material, and here it is:
 Berlin "New in the city" guide (I got a similar one in Brussels)- better
and more up-to-date than any guidebook, and if you avoid the obvious
"plugging" for products and services, quite useful (it comes with a mini-
map); dual language in English and German27
 Monopol Berlin Kunst and Kultur 2012-2013, with over 400 places
worth visiting (444, according to the sticker on the cover), with a
calendar of art events, museums, etc; in German, but easy to use also if
you do not speak German28
 Der Spiegel Geschichte Berlin- Berlin across (social) history; in
German29.
I went through them yesterday (my usual quick-read), and I plan to use
them to improve my knowledge of the town and German while doing a
long travel next week.
As for this first week... my aim was just to wander, pick up chances to test
my language skills, while being reassured that my Italian/EU circus will not
let me down with additional entertainment30.
Enjoy your Saturday!
27
http://www.newinthecity.de/en/berlin-news-en.html
28
http://www.monopol-magazin.de
29
http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/spiegelgeschichte/index-2012-5.html
30
For older material on my circus: http://thecircusbxl.wordpress.com
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21
Walk the talk (and few thousands steps more)31
The first day in Berlin I did a small (for my standards) walk, from around
Adenauer Platz to Potsdamer Platz.
Yesterday I decided to do something similar- but through a different path:
walking along Tiergarten, up to Potsdamer Platz.
Incidentally: it is where you will find embassies.
I did not know that I would end up walking through embassies and up to
Stauffenberg (right after Hiroshima), and then turning right on Ben
Gurion to get in Potsdamer.
I might be wrong- but it seems that only the Italian Embassy isn't
surrounded by a fence32: maybe also because it was recently renovated, and
therefore, in the new Europe, you do not really need a fence.
My original idea was to have a quick lunch and then continue to the
Brandenburger Tor (a short walk from Potsdamer Platz).
But then, having already seen it during the day from a bus, I said: why not
having a look after sunset?
So, I went to check the schedule for the next show of Cloud Atlas, whose
trailer I saw a couple of days ago- intriguing (as I posted on my FB status- I
haven’t read the novel or, to be more precise, I did not even know that it
existed).
I could have chosen "Judge Dredd 3D"- but, frankly, I had had enough
gunshots and flying corpses with "Skyfall" few days ago, while I had enough
noise in my "audio test" in a pub few days ago (live music, but in a place
large enough to spread the sound).
31
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-18@10:14
32
http://www.ambberlino.esteri.it/Ambasciata_Berlino/Menu/Ambasciata/La_sede/
for a virtual tour, while, according to the website, you can also schedule a visit
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22
My first German movies were probably "Heimat" and "Zweite Heimat" in
the 1990s- but only in theatres (in weekly segments).
Instead, on DVD I lost count of the number of times that I watched "Das
Boot", long ago.
More modestly, this time I was looking for a movie to start with in English,
continue in German, and maybe have a look at it live on stage, as I did with
Spanish long ago- in this case, it was "39 steps", the Hitchcock version33.
As it was not immediately available... I went for a small and funny movie-
"The King's speech"34.
So, it is now three times in a week that I see it- first in English, then in
English with German subtitles, and finally in German with German
subtitles, while I began yesterday night a fourth run immediately after the
third- in German with no subtitles.
I liked the movie, I liked the speech, and... I was looking forward to a much
slower talking speed than the one delivered by “39 steps”.
The Gettysburg Address, Ulysses’ speech within the “Divine Comedy”... it
seems that the best speeches are the shortest ones.
Why? Because each word counts, and you can keep the attention of your
audience focused on each and every word.
Instead, when you deliver a 30 minutes speech, there is enough time to do
way too many “balancing acts”, to satisfy so many constituencies, that each
one can get from the speech what was expected... as it was told of UK’s
Prime Minister Blair as a mediator- both sides assumed that he sided with
them!
Anyway- it is a good test, as, for obvious reasons, is a movie built around
what is said.
33
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0026029
34
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1504320
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23
My aim? Of course- to build some patterns that I can then visualize, and
therefore recover and use flawlessly whenever appropriate.
It is an old mnemonic trick (read Frances Yates’ historical tour in "The Art
of Memory") that I and others adapted to language learning: you can
quickly learn patterns in a language by picking up examples that are
associated with memorable images- and what better than funny moving
images?
But maybe you do not like to walk as much as I do- in that case, if you want
to see the town, you can rely on the complex but useful and comprehensive
network of busses.
You can even procure yourself the shopping guides available for each
section of the town (e.g. I got a couple), with detailed maps of the shops-
including in shopping malls that are scattered everywhere.
Before you start laughing: yes, I met people who plan travels across
shopping malls as if they were planning military operations.
Personally: I just have a look at the map, have an optimal walk (i.e. minimal
length) across all the mall, and then go back where I want to see more.
A female friend said to me that I was one of the few men who would not
complain about shopping tours, instead of just dropping into the first shop.
Also in my recent travels to the USA in spring 2012, I would rather do my
“exploration tours” by myself and then join my colleagues, than follow the
others, as I usually pass at least twice through the shops that I consider as
potential suppliers...
Talking about WWII ("The King's speech" ends at the beginning of that
war), the detailed material available in every shop (you can find those
shopping guides almost everywhere) made me remember a book that I read
on the scientific research branch of the British Intelligence during WWII35,
written by a member, where he related how for a while they believed that
the Germans had a secret weapon, because their radar antennas were too
perfect to be used just for a radar.
35
R. V. Jones “Most Secret War”, 1998
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24
So perfect that... they were used in radio astronomy, after WWII.
I actually kept a couple of those shopping mall maps available in shops
nearby the shopping malls as souvenirs: you cannot criticize the Germans
for missing a chance to plan.
Incidentally- by chance I entered the Potsdamer Platz shopping centre,
and, along with interesting (and relatively cheap) food shops (plenty of fish
and Asian food, including obviously sushi), I found on the top floor a place
called "Caffé e gelato", where they sell a spicy chocolate ice cream that is a
distant relative of the best one that I found (in Turin), but still much, much
better than most chocolate ice cream (including in Turin and elsewhere in
Europe).
I remember that a professor at LSE in London said in a conference that the
mere English word "square" is a sign of a closed space, but a "piazza",
"place", "Platz", and similar in other languages, all point to an open place
set up for inclusion, not for exclusion.
Potsdamer Platz, Alexander Platz... what's interesting is that any major
square in Berlin is a "melting pot in sedicesimo".
Or: a smaller scale convergence of multiple cultural tribes that intermingle,
maybe also thanks to the presence of Christmas markets everywhere, selling
food, Winter accessories, and all sort of candies (and seasoned meat).
And yes, I never saw so many different types of bicycles- albeit it seems
that, here as in other "developed world" countries, tribes are often defined
by what they wear and what they use: the Jack Wolfskin tribe, the iPad tribe.
It reminded me what I studied in Sweden in Summer 1994 (a summer
school on Intercultural Communication and Management at the linguistics
department in Gothenburg) about American Indians and “group
membership”.
We replaced a tribal, cultural identity, with an identity set up by a brand
manager, that can be easily swapped, to comply with current fashion trends.
Witness the number of tattoo and piercing shops, increasingly not too far
away from... tattoo removal shops!
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I am quite doubtful and sceptical about this being called "freedom"-
moreover when I read articles about riots to be the first to get the next
iPhone.
To look on the bright side: with so many "tribes" intermingling, it is less
visible the “cool smart ass by brand association” that you can find
elsewhere.
But next week, after visiting the shopping malls, I will try to explore
bookshops (no, I do not think that I will apply for a library card- maybe
next time!).
Meanwhile, today I will have a relatively long journey across the town-
West to South East, and I decided to take a bus, to have a chance of
having a look at different areas.
Therefore, it might well be that my next posting will be... a photo album.
Have a nice Sunday!
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26
3. A DAY IN TOWN
Testing and common wisdom36
Today, a double billing, as I will skip posting tomorrow morning.
So, after the post this morning37, but inspired by yesterday's tour, another
posting, inspired by a comment and ensuing exchanges at a brunch that I
had today with members of a club I belong to since 1989 (one of the two
clubs I belong to- I will probably join a third one next year).
My view is partially known by older online readers- I think that there are
few tests that can have even the faintest claim to "objectivity": and any IQ
test is not one of them.
My comment today was about the obsession of seeing mathematical series
as objective, one-way roads, i.e. with just one possible solution.
Give time and opportunity, and anybody with a working brain can find
multiple solutions- and a logic series of steps supporting them.
36
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-18@23:58
37
See previous chapter, “Walk the talk”
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27
So, what you are really testing with mathematical series is a) previously
acquired knowledge b) conformism.
But then, consider my previous assertion on why we submit to tests: to be
accepted.
Therefore, it would be nice to see more tests where you are required to
explain your logic, instead of just acting as a monkey within a test
environment.
Are you looking for cultural compliance? You can see if the proper training
background is there, either through formal training (institutions, etc), or
through informal on-the-job training.
If you are looking for creativity and a mathematical mindset that is not just
the result of schooling, you might be interested in unusual solutions.
And if you are looking for pragmatic genius...
…you expect that the path of least resistance is followed, adopting obvious
solutions whenever available, while introducing innovative new patterns
where no obvious one exists.
“Pragmatic genius”? Someone fitting your own definition of “genius” but
also able to deliver in a realistic, unstructured environment, as fast as
possible, using the smallest amount of resources.
As somebody wrote, with unlimited time (in business, add also unlimited
resources), even a bunch of monkeys typing by chance could write again all
the plays ever written by Shakespeare.
Following the most “logical” existing solution according to the “standard”
approach would be a sign of ability to apply learned skills and patterns, not
of ability to innovate.
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28
Personally- I have been subject to so many formal and (mainly) informal
tests even before this century began, that I got used to the idea that most of
the testing is testing for the testing sake, i.e. some people work in a factory
assembling products using the same limited set of movements and tools day
after day, and others process people through a limited set of tests and
expected results, day after day- and both have a job.
Under that perspective, a test is as corruption: up to a certain level, while
being parasitical (it has no intrinsic value, only a projected value as enabler
or denier), can catalyze organizational innovation, as it clearly shows a path
through a maze of rules and regulations that have been layered across time,
a path that ought to be removed and replaced by something more
consistent with current needs.
Because tests generally are created based upon past experiences, and
validate compliance with a reference model.
The trouble with corruption (and testing) begins when it starts to generate
its own “controlled environment”, i.e. creating conditions that require
passing through signposts whose existence has no inherent, structural
reason whatsoever.
Except to create a territory where corruption is not only possible, but a
“conditio sine qua non”: when parasites convert their hosts into a reason
for their own existence.
And the same applies to tests: as, in the end, any test covers a finite amount
of patterns, whose finiteness is a side-effect of the finite knowledge of its
creators.
In any test, I met people who, while lacking initially the experience-based
“patterns” required to pass the test, did exercise long enough to build those
patterns- and pass the test: any test.
Believe it or not- I was explained in the UK how it could be possible to do
so also with IQ.
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Why would you do so? In some cases, it is just the intellectual equivalent of
having always the latest gizmo- to gain acceptance and appreciation from
others.
And, for business-related tests, to increase revenue while limiting the
expenditure required to build up the experience needed to naturally develop
the appropriate patterns (what is usually called “on-the-job training”), as
this would involve both the trainee, and a significant chunk of the time of
somebody who already developed the patterns.
In other cases, most organizations and communities have barriers to
outsiders- but once inside, the concept that supposedly you cannot enter
unless you have the appropriate forma mentis and “patterns” enables
diverting the purposes of any organization: with the willing, active support
of other members.
Why now and why related to tests? Because in Europe we are structurally
replacing common sense with increasing layers of formal tests, from those
in the banking industry, to potentially a EU-wide test on “curriculum
compliance”, that probably could become a pre-requisite to work across the
EU.
Within a couple of decades, we will be “celebrating” the anniversary of two
cases where two democracies used a test-based approach coupled with a
suspension of common sense to bring a Mussolini and a Hitler to power.
I always found quite annoying to hear that in school history books both
were discussed as mere dictators, as if they had seized power by force: I am
afraid that that is a fig leaf on the disappointing truth.
Which one? That democracies can legally enforce dictatorship, one step at a
time38.
38
See e.g. the documentary “Five Steps to Tiranny”,
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0498671/
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30
Maybe you do not know- but both Mussolini and Hitler had legal and
temporary authorization to their exceptional powers: brought about
through formal and informal coercion, but it is quite significant that both
found desirable to have at least a veneer of formal, legal authority.
And anyway Mussolini was deposed in 1943 through a legal vote of his own
supreme council while, if my memory doesn’t fail me, Hitler had had his
powers extended until 1947.
In both cases: proving that it wasn’t a mere formal act.
Now, back to tests and their replacement of common sense.
The main difference between the two is that a formal test is a point-in-time
event, even if repeated once in a while, with a formal structure, while
common sense is a continuum, and is (hopefully) constantly evolving.
Hopefully constantly evolving? Yes, because otherwise you get witch hunts,
McCarthyism, and the like- as you end up doing with common sense exactly
the same mistakes that you can do by crystallizing in tests yesterday’s fears
and knowledge as a guide for tomorrow’s choices.
It is common knowledge that usually wars are fought thinking about
previous wars39, with current technology- with effects sometimes dramatic
(e.g. in WWII)40.
Look at the movie “The Village” to see what happens when a fictional
common sense is frozen in time41, or, for a dark humour perspective, “Hot
Fuzz”42.
39
cfr. Norman F. Dixon “Our Own Worst Enemy”, 1987, discussing the WWI example
40
cfr. James F. Dunnigan “Dirty Little Secrets of World War II”, 1996
41
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0368447
42
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425112
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31
So, let’s hope that tests will not replace common sense- or that, at least, a
commission based on common sense (and not under the direct or indirect
control of those benefiting from the administration of tests) will be set up
to continuously monitor and evolve tests.
A “commission based on common sense” could sound as blatant an
oxymoron as “military intelligence”- but, in both cases, the secret lies in
routinely shuffling the cards, rotating positions, and swapping people in and
out.
As, following current trends, there is no escape: within the EU, there will be
an increasing number of tests aiming at moving fast-forward European
integration (yes, also political integration).
All this without a real open market, and through legalistic gimmickry.
Instead, we need to carry out the deep structural and cultural changes
required to make this integration process work, through real convergence.
We had already paid for expensive side-effects of legal gimmickry, such as
the Italian “tassa per l’Europa” (a temporary tax to fulfil the parameters),
and Greece’s adoption of “national creative accounting”43.
For the time being, have a nice week!
43
Smith, “Accounting for Growth - Stripping the Camouflage from Company
Accounts”, 1992
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32
A quiet day that wasn't44
Well, yesterday I did expect to spend a night watching a Go game- live:
instead, I had a reminder of other games in BeNeLux45, and a déjà vu of the
labyrinthine buildings of LSE in London... but in a much larger building at a
Berlin university.
A professor at LSE told us the first day on our Summer School on
International Economy in 1994: a degree at LSE implies a degree in
whatever you studied, plus a degree in topography.
Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable day- if you read previous posts since
November 14th, probably you remember that my visit to Berlin isn't an
ordinary vacation: more an exploration tour coupled with a language testing
and a "how would life there be" set of activities.
So, after roaming North, East, Middle, I decided to start the week by
looking around the area were I live (around Adenauer Platz, West), by first
walking South toward Hohenzollerndamm, then up North to
Charlottenburg and through the Tiergarten, up to Bellevue,
Friedrichstrasse (the old East/West border station, I am told), and then
the Branderbuger Tor, up to Potsdamer Platz.
The interesting point? As yesterday was the first day in a new week, I had
planned to shift from the "observing" mode to the "be local" mode-
looking for shops that I could visit if I were to be living here.
Why yesterday? One of the reasons why whenever I went in Europe I
looked for residences, is that it takes just 3-4 nights for me to start calling
"home" wherever I have a fridge, few books, and can eat what I want when
I want.
So, having been in Berlin for the first time in my life for few nights (since
the 14th), yesterday was the right day (and, by accident, a Monday) to
explore the neighbourhood as a local, not as a tourist.
44
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-20@09:23
45
See http://thecircusbxl.wordpress.com
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33
If you know me, you know what I first went for: bookshops!
But, despite falling to the temptation in the evening to buy a German
edition of Animal Farm (it is nice to start again to understand ordinary
books in German, as I did in the early 1990s), I got just a couple of books.
Albeit, I must confess- I was tempted by a piggy money bank that came in
the shape of a 1mt tall elephant outside an Ayurveda shop.
Only... it looks to be heavier than me- therefore, definitely not what I could
call "hand luggage": maybe if I will move to Berlin!
Of course, I am joking: when choosing furniture, I am closer to a
minimalist approach.
And no, before you ask: I haven't yet tried a Curry Wurst (but maybe I will
today).
Instead, after a pre-sunset stop at the Starbucks nearby the
Friedrichstrasse station, I went up to the museums island nearby, to
look at it from the outside and while the sun was setting down.
It is fascinating to watch the works to drain water nearby a museum, and
have a look at the buildings with few people around.
Then, I moved to the Gorky studios and the nearby German museum-
and spent enough time watching a running exhibition on a screen from an
artist, that a small bird decided to start hopping around me and to attract
my attention: it was my "St Francis" moment in Berlin (eventually, I will
post the picture online).
It was mildly embarrassing to have a bird staring at you and hopping
around you for a while, but what was running on the screen was more a set
of artist's perspectives on politics and society turned into visible jokes than
your ordinary exhibition46.
46
Part of an exhibition on freedom, “Verführung freiheit”, opened between October
17
th
2012 and will close on February 10
th
, 2013
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
34
Witness to our frenzy times: nobody (except me) bothered to stay for more
than a couple of screens, while I saw some of the same people stare inside
the museum for minutes to equally "light" art.
So... art is art only if you are inside a museum...
Luckily, nobody considered that true when, over the millennia, our
ancestors decided to add monuments around- otherwise, our towns would
look like warehouses!
And, again, I saw that some areas are worth visiting few times a day- change
the light, change the crowd, and you get a completely different perspective.
Incidentally: if you are interested, in my search for bookstores nearby my
residence, while walking up to Charlottenburg, at the end of
Wilmersdorfer Strasse, nearby Richard Wagner Platz, I found an army
surplus store (if you like to dress tough, but do not like to walk, get the U
Bahn to Richard Wagner Platz).
And yes, there is another Starbucks nearby, as there are plenty of shops
(and not just used books shops).
I do not know why- but I was thinking that maybe today I will do a tour
between old bunkers: in other countries, destroying WWII bunkers was
deemed to be too expensive, and therefore some were converted (also into
art galleries- I remember a project in France, on the Atlantic seaside,
converting a U-Boot bunker47).
So, considering that there are few bits and pieces here and there, it could be
interesting.
But, before, maybe a tour on the museums island during the day- also if I
plan to visit the museums only either this week-end, or next week.
Meanwhile... have a nice day!
47
E.g see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/books/review/Thomas-
t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
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35
4. PAST AND FUTURE WARS
A day in the past48
I am afraid to say that today my tour was closer to my main purpose
whenever I travel (studying cultures) than to an ordinary tourist "Besuch".
But if anything, temporarily or on a permanent basis, I am not interested in
becoming just a Gastarbeiter- and therefore better to know before you start
embedding.
And also if your aim is just to be able to understand the local culture, you
need something that cannot be found in a guidebook.
Anyway, beside a test of yet another Starbucks, I decided to walk up to
Charlottenburg and then move onto the Northern side, i.e. Westhaven.
Not really a tourist area: but as I said to others, Paris isn't just the VII and
VIII arrondissements, and therefore I decided to spend some time visiting
not-so-fancy areas.
48
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-20@19:19
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
36
The walk up from Adenauer Platz to the Beusselstrasse S-Bahn stop
was enough to get a taste, but then I jumped on the first S41 to Ostkreuz,
a line literally running circles around the centre of Berlin.
It runs on the surface, and therefore it is the fastest way to see how Berlin
looks like outside the "New York style" Potsdamer Platz.
But then I decided to continue my exploration of the West with a small
diversion, taking the S1 to Wannsee.
Yes, it seemed an appropriate detour to provide any circus member that
was to appear some education- also if probably they would rather have a
pub or striptease bar tour.
On the former, maybe I will help- yesterday night on my way back home I
tested an interesting dark beer (I think from Poland): smoother than a
Murphy's, less bitter and more refreshing than a Guinness- nice for a
Winter grill in the garden.
On the latter... do as in London, i.e. I will visit a bookstore, and you will go
to your bar tour, and report otherwise...
My detour was obviously to visit the Wannsee conference site49
(incidentally, it is free, but I bought a book on the conference- in German).
If you are unwilling to do the more than 5km walk from the railway station,
or to wait the bus, you can watch the movie with Kenneth Branagh50.
Actually: watch it also if you plan to visit- it is a chilling statement of how
ordinary people can become mass murderers, and make you feel the cultural
context that made “ordinary” an Eichmann, the bean counter of genocide,
who basically claimed that he was just doing his job51.
49
http://www.ghwk.de/
50
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0266425
51
As a further source that avoids gory details and is worth reading to know a little bit
more, read Wiesenthal, “Justice, not vengeance”, 1989
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37
Somebody said that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary feats.
But, unfortunately, by study and experience I know that there are better
chances that ordinary people will do something inhumane, than they will
create the next social evolution step just by accident.
And bureaucracies are the best conduit (or fig leaf) to exercise the basest
reptilian instincts while being officially "guilty but not responsible".
It all begins with meaningless acts, almost ordinary, everyday actions52.
To de-dramatize, I will tell a short story that I remembered when I visited
the surplus military store I referred to in my previous posting53 .
While living in London, I found in St Albans a surplus military store, and,
after roaming it, I saw that it was genuine.
Most of the others, and not only in Italy, have few items, used just to attract
customers who are then offered overpriced look-alikes that would be
cheaper in ordinary sportswear stores.
Yes, including the one in Berlin I referred to in my previous posting.
Digression. How do I test? The simplest test is to look in the window for
something original but cheap, then enter the shop and have a quick tour to
see if it the original material is strategically mixed with plenty of ordinary
material.
If that is the case- go away, is a suckers'/military groupies (i.e. those who
just care about looking tough) trap.
52
See the documentary “Five steps to tyranny”, quoted before, if you do not want to
read books on how Italy and Germany turned into nazifascist regimes, while their
citizens filled squares to show their support; yes, those dictators were drawing large
cheering crowds, also if most of them started cheering democracy after said
dictators bit the dust
53
See “A quiet day that wasn't”, page 31
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
38
Confirmation: I asked for a watch cap in the window, and the clerk started
piling up half a dozen fakes charged at 4 or more times, and, when I asked
again for that one in the window...said that that was the last one, and could
not be removed (even funnier offers were available for boots).
Back on track.
My neighbours were a multinational bunch (mainly Italian) and, supposedly,
they had known each other long enough to be willing to share an apartment
in London.
One of them was fond of those green military jackets (albeit he was the
kind of guy who usually protests against NATO, the military, capitalism,
etc).
As his birthday was around the corner, his flatmates asked me to look for a
military jacket but, as we did not known his size, I enrolled him for a tour
of St Albans (nice Roman town- worth visiting, and just few minutes from
London).
Of course, we ended up in the shop. Of course, I found an excuse to have
him try the jacket (I said that it was for a friend, who had more or less his
size).
But then, I saw that he really liked it, and his flatmates started a strange
mildly sadistic bantering on the jacket...
Like a drill exercise, without any reason.
Well, we were supposed to share the cost, but eventually I decided to stop
that stupid torture the others were submitting him to, and give him the
jacket- before his birthday; the others? Were upset- and never paid their
share.
So, it is not so difficult to convert even “friends” into a bunch of sadists…
moreover when they start “the games” by themselves (exactly as it
happened in Zimbardo’s experiments).54
54
cfr. “The Stanford Prison Experiment”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZwfNs1pqG0
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39
If you have a chance, have a look at "The century of self" documentary55,
and you will find plenty of more chilling examples of how easy is to lose
that veneer of civility that our society dropped over our really recent past...
Anyway, beside a book at the Wannsee conference site (on the Wansee
conference, but in German), I eventually dropped in a large music store in
Friedrichstrasse, nearby the train station.
Worth visiting, also if... between the foreign literature, I found a dual
language edition of Cicero's speeches on Catilina (you know, the "quo
usque tandem", i.e. “until when”, stuff)56.
And you can guess what happened...
So, I will have another book to read to improve my German, while,
incidentally, testing my most definitely rusty Latin!
As for the tour... over the next two days, I will be abroad, so the Berlin
series will resume on Friday, with the museum island, while I will explore
also another musical side.
55
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0432232
56
Available for free from Gutenberg.org: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/39355
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40
Turkey and NATO, or: pre-empting a proxy war57
A small sample of recent and not-so-recent facts (you can find the links to
the articles supporting this list on @aleph123):
 When the unrest started in Syria, Iran sent few ships through Suez,
“training exercises”
 Recently, it has been suggested that the missiles launched from Gaza
on Israel might have been offered courtesy of Iran
 Syria (also under the father of the current president) was, along with
Iran, quite active in applying pressure to Israel via their proxies in
Lebanon, to provoke attacks and then claim media wins (more about
this later)
 Provoking Turkey was just an extension- even before the first
retaliation attacks started, it was obvious that there was a case for
invoking NATO support- stronger than the one that was de facto
invoked after 9/11 (when, incidentally, nobody even considered
attacking the country of origin of most of the members of the attack
teams, as it is an ally)
 Over the last few days, news started piling up of the
potential/planned/discussed/actual deployment of (German?) Patriot
missiles on the border between Turkey and Syria
 EU announced a de facto recognition of the opposition as a
representative Government of Syria- a pattern already followed during
the Arab Spring, and a pattern that could rule out invoking the NATO
clause from Turkey against Syria if attacks on Turkey originating from
Syria increase.
It would be an interesting legal case: a representative Government that
doesn’t control its own army is still something you can negotiate with to
avoid a tit-for-tat response to attacks from its own territory?
But a nice diplomatic way to at least give a try to attempts to avoid being
dragged into an escalating war on the Southern border of NATO (Turkey),
a war that breeds instability in the region as a way to also relieve pressure
from Iran (which can then continue with its own preparations).
57
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-22@11:11
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41
As for the “media element”: what better to weaken the support from
Western countries to Israel than to have proxies provoke into attack by
keeping under constant pressure its civilian population (and not only in
post-1967 borders)?
Our freedom of press is the main support to the resilience of our
democratic countries- but can also be converted into a significant chink in
our social cohesion armour: ask in the US about how the Vietnam War was
improving on the battlefield, and going sour on the inner front (hence, the
“no more coffins/body bags on primetime” policy during the recent Gulf
Wars).
So, what’s next? Well, we will see. The Libya campaign showed that for all
our pride and wealth, we Europeans cannot sustain a long-term campaign
without the help of our American friends: not even when we have a
logistical advantage (Sicily was used as an aircraft carrier, pretty much as the
United Kingdom was a European logistical base during WWII- how could
“resistance” movements in Continental Europe have been possible if UK
had not been available to soldier on as a “beach head”?).
Therefore, right at the time when we are pulling out of Afghanistan (latest
figures: 500mln EUR to pull-out just for the French, and probably few
billions overall for all the coalition members), we might actually be gearing
up for at least some support to those already in the region.
Somebody said that the Cold War was never really “cold”- but, at least, it
wasn’t as close to our shores as what we keep getting now. Maybe we will
need smaller but nimbler, more mobile, and better equipped forces: who is
going to have the political will to say that we will need to spend more on
that right now, during a recession?
Incidentally: today brought other news- an extension of the investigation on
the infiltration of extremist Islamist movements within the Belgian Army,
to train, raise through the ranks, and then export training outside.
May I kindly remind that this is not really news? Or have you forgot the
storm that was reported by British newspapers when, during one of the
various Gulf Wars, the National Guard of Puerto Rico was sent to UK to
guard logistical bases- as there were doubts about potential infiltrations
within the British military?
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
42
The solution reported on today’s newspapers? To use the military to
monitor the military.
On my more limited side, I saw what the monitoring can brew when it
becomes a pointless routine (I saw the same when I briefly studied the
market for video surveillance).
Yesterday I received a notice to update my CV on a Chinese jobsite- few
minutes later, a recruitment agency in UK that hires former military sent me
a CV request for a job position as a clerk in import/export in China, for
100,000 RMB/year plus accommodation.
A practical joke.
Hopefully, the monitoring that will be introduced to avoid infiltrations will
have higher standards.
But before setting up a monitoring operation, read the “semi-official” story
of MI558 (yes, it is a huge volume, but worth reading): there are more
lessons to learn there than in many other books on how to (and how not
to) organize audit, surveillance, and the paraphernalia associated with any
complex organization (and not only in the military).
Meanwhile… let’s hope that the Patriots will suffice to avert a potential
land intervention from Turkey in Syria.
58
Andrew, "The Defence of the Realm", 2010
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43
5. GAMES & THOUGHTS
Games and gaming59
Well, I am mid-way through my testing in and of Berlin.
And this morning I posted on my blog the first part of an article that
nominally is about cloud computing.60
Nominally- because it is actually about introducing change when change
alters the control structure.
I could have prepared a more generic article- but, as I did in the past, I
rather start from something which can provide a cultural context to a
relatively wide audience, beginning with something practical, also if my line
of thought was actually the other way around.
Today I will finally have time to do in Berlin a couple (or three, or four)
things that I had planned to do- of course, while walking.
59
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-23@09:35
60
http://www.robertolofaro.com/blog/2012/11/23/moving-to-the-cloud-and-
achieving-organic-sustainability-part-1-thinking/
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
44
Yesterday evening, on my way back from Luxembourg, I decided to have a
long walk before a pint.
Actually two: I had few emails to answer, and while one pint (or
"cappuccino grande" at Starbucks) is enough to do my newspapers review, I
needed more time.
I went to the Irish pub under arcades of Hackescher Markt, and found
myself in the middle of a small market, on my way from Hauptbahnhof,
through Nordbahnhof and then Oranienburg Tor.
Why there? Because it has both Guinness and Kilkenny (I still have to find
an English pub in Berlin), obviously Wi-Fi is available, and... I assumed that
it would be half empty.
Ok- I wasn't the only one making that assumption.
In the emptiest and quietest corner, there were two Italian students talking,
talking, talking- quite loudly, as if their Erasmus issues were to be shared
with everybody else!
In this case, it is nice to simply ignore- funny the comments that you can
hear when you pretend a) not to be listening b) not to understand what they
say.
But also if I had been deaf I would have understood: some of my fellow
Italians do not simply underline what they say with their hands- they
actually deliver a full additional track.
In my line of business, I had often to talk while listening also to two or
three or more conversations: or do you believe that when delivering a sales
or workshop presentation you have the luxury of ignoring what those that
you are trying to convert into (business) customers are saying?
Often, you need to wait for the formal question that will never come, and
therefore a polite way is to answer the question that wasn't asked through
the one that was.
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45
Yes, it is a sales/change management variant of the usual political advice:
answer the question that you would like to be asked, not the one that the
journalist is asking.
I must say: in Berlin, it is warmer than I had expected (before you ask: yes,
also before drinking the beer!).
Anyway, I appreciated also the usual games that I first noticed in Rome
when I was working on Government projects in the early 2000s, then also
in Brussels, but probably were there well before (as some people keep
returning).
As for the title... yesterday evening I was supposed to attend a meeting of a
club I belong to since 1989.
On and off few times- when I talked with the founder in London a couple
of times, eventually he confirmed my reason for leaving more than once:
too many people assume that by becoming the head of an association that
requires an IQ test to enter they can become a "Lord of the Flies",
replacing their lack of achievements/deliverables in ordinary life with an
"IQ cocoon", as if they were representing the aggregate IQ of their
members.
Now and then, I met many people who actually admitted to try, fail, and
then prepare on tests, until they passed: our brain is quite flexible, and as
any test is based on patterns, if you want to pass a test that doesn't match
your patterns, you just have to exercise.
Incidentally: also some of those rated with the highest IQ spend a
significant amount of time... to pass more tests and outperform each other-
not my cup of tea.
Anyway, once in, you can easily spot the "infiltrators/fifth columnists", as
they do not necessarily convert their forma mentis to the "connecting the
dots quickly" approach- and they assume that testing ends when they
receive their membership card.
I had a couple of funny tests also in my travel to Luxembourg, as when a
taxi driver told me that once somebody asked for the scheduled time of a
train, and was told that it was... 63 minutes after the hour.
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
46
I immediately started laughing- and he said that sometimes people do not
catch the drift for a while (hint: of course, there are only 60 minutes within
an hour- at least, until you are on planet Earth).
The funniest set of tests was in my brunch with the club last Sunday- but I
cut it down when somebody started asking how many languages I know.
I said none- and I mean it, albeit I can use with varying degrees of
active/passive proficiency (i.e. talking and writing, or just listening and
reading) a small number.
The last time that I was again called for that "pony show", I closed up by
adding a phrase in Russian.
It reminded me when I had a girlfriend in Southern Germany, and, looking
20 while being 25, nobody believed that I was really doing what I was then
doing- working on cultural and organizational change, after working to
support senior managers in decision making.
Moreover- with an Italian passport? At the time, I had supposedly "open
minded" German artists challenging my knowledge of... my own business,
that they had no clue whatsoever about, except for articles that they
probably read to prepare the questions!
If I had said "I am an Italian hairdresser" or "I work as a chef within a
pizzeria"- nobody would have questioned anything...
We can tear down any physical walls we want, but until we tear down the
walls within our minds... we haven't yet started changing.
Also, this week I was planning to attend some Go games.
Well, the first one was a game within the game, a kind of "catch me up if
you can", and the second one was supposedly set in an area that I visited in
the morning, in the middle of nowhere.
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I think that I will attend my first Go games outside Europe, where people
are more interested in playing games, than playing metagames (games about
the games).
But beside and outside my Circus61, I must say that people working in
shops and people in Berlin are quite friendly.
As for prices... on my way back from Luxembourg by train (this time,
almost every train was on time), I read the "New in Berlin" guide (skipping
the "Craiglist" parts- but useful to know that the list of addresses is there),
and saw the rental prices: frankly, lower than in Italy.
Why I waited until now? Because... I first wanted to "sample" the various
areas of Berlin- what's the point of reading a list of addresses if you do not
know the area? And I did not want to be “biased”- I wanted to build by
own feed-back on each area.
Almost a "catch22"62.
Last but not least (as it is time to go out and start my daily tour): yesterday I
walked through the K'damm from the beginning up to Adenauer Platz, as I
usually walked only on the other side.
Less fancy shops, but more interesting restaurants and real-life shops, as
well as a theatre worth visiting.
For the time being... have a nice Friday!
61
http://thecircusbxl.wordpress.com
62
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch-22
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
48
Sometimes...63
It has been now one week since I started posting, on a daily basis, my travel
notes from Berlin.
This short story is inspired by both an article that I read yesterday morning
(and I shared on @aleph123 on Twitter), and a first déjà vu that reminded
me of somebody (a German/Austrian from Mainz) who tried to stick on
me, in Brussels, various rumors- including, with some level of obsession,
that I could be a… neonazi!
Why? Well, a decent Italian speaker, with almost an obsession for Dante
Alighieri (he kept over his computer monitor... a head of Dante), he
considered a waste his assignment to Brussels- and looked forward to be
assigned to Rome, thanks to his ability to understand Italian and Italians.
Frankly- neither assumption was true: he reminded me more of those I
referred to in the previous post64, that I met in the early 1990s when I had a
girlfriend in Germany.
Well… I will write later about yesterday in Berlin - meanwhile, as I
announced on Facebook yesterday evening, this post is going to contain a
bit of experience-based creative writing.
“Sometimes, it looks as if movie scripts as complex as the ‘Cloud Atlas’ one are quite
straightforward, if compared with the unfolding and overlapping of multiple threads of
reality.
And sometimes, we are so confident about the moral backbone of our organization and
its ‘manifest destiny’, that we become unwillingly a vessel for what we are supposed to
fight against.
We say that we are a united Europe, but often you hear echoes of past wars- in jokes,
and in more significant choices.
63
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-24@09:52
64
See “Games and gaming”, page 43
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49
But when we let past animosity interfere with future choices, we become way too easy to
steer toward paths that support somebody else’s aims- while thinking that we are in
control.
Suddenly, in early 2007 I had a bunch of new friends in Brussels, as soon as my brother
was relocated to Lisbon- and many questions.
The champion was a German/Austrian that claimed to have a degree in history (well,
never heard so many factoids from a supposed historian, moreover on WWII).
He went a little bit over the board when organized a walk for the two of us that was
actually the delivery of a history book from the early 1940s that he claimed he had to
return to somebody.
Only to then, after showing it to me, dropping it into the mailbox of his supposed friend,
and then go away, to show me a monument that was, well, a little bit on the
“conservative” side, and then, eventually, invite me to an exhibition at the war history
museum in Brussels that looked as a glorification of nazi material (the allies? had limited
lighting, exposure, and space).
But I found puzzling the comments on the ‘foreign affairs’ role, then held by a Spanish
diplomat that was supposed to be confirmed- and my historian friend repeatedly (when
nobody else was there to listen) criticized that option- even more puzzling, as he had good
relationships with Spanish officers.
Then, it was even more puzzling when he kept inviting me to meetings and dinners or
parties where I was the only one not belonging to the NATO and EU circles.
It all started converging when I saw a small Dante Alighieri on his computer, and he
confessed that his superior knowledge of Italian culture should have him in Rome, not in
Brussels- a town that he hated wholeheartedly (he spoke a decent Italian- but, as his
English, it had a strong cartoonish German accent).
I did not accept any invitation to hunting activities with groups that sounded a little bit
too far away from my political sensibilities (in the US, they would probably be considered
“2nd Amendment extremists”)- even friendship has its limits (I fired guns only in the
Army).
Yes, he too went over the board few times in playing Cupid- including to set up with a
Finnish girl that actually wasn’t Finnish at all, as I was warned by a Finnish contact.
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
50
I discounted the comments on the need to learn to use weapons in preparation for the
coming civil war and other racist innuendo: unfortunately, I heard a lot of that in
business circles in Europe, and more than once in Schumann, Brussels- not all the
“tolerance” that is posted on walls (sometimes literally, as once on the façade of the
European Commission building) is anything more than skin-deep.
Eventually, there was a change in the EU foreign affairs stewardship that matched what
I had been told, and what I read yesterday in a newspaper article: leaving the German
side in charge of the economic side, and the English side in charge of military and foreign
affairs.
As for others… they are welcome to support both (France is admittedly to play second
fiddle to both, as it is involved in both areas, while Poland could eventually join them).
Well… sounds eerily so early XX century.
Trouble is: you can have all the formal powers that you want- but if you do not control
the financial resources, then you can only sit on your hands- as the current holder of the
post of foreign affairs for the EU often seems to do.
Have a look at what was planned for something as simple as the ceremony for the Nobel
Peace Prize: United Europe? And we need to send a cohort of people to receive one prize?
I think that it was Kissinger that said that when he picked up the phone, there was no
Mr. Europe on the other side.
Despite a joke few years ago by our new President of Europe, now and then we keep
having a chorus (not necessarily singing the same tune), instead of a soloist supported by a
chorus65.
But after my German/Austrian contact informed me that he was not anymore allowed to
move in Belgium outside Brussels, another twist- showing that even that separation of
roles wasn’t enough, for some German elements- and that economic power is the one
steering the European ship.
65
Read also Van Rompuy’s “Op zoek naar wijsheid” (seeking wisdom), 2007
Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries
51
He started building up on Facebook the case for a love story in Georgia, around the time
of the war, paving a reasonable way to relocate there but… privately, eventually in our
long solitary walks he complained about the story.
A typical “attrition leak”: you start talking too much when you are too often trying to
extract information from the same people.
So, what was seen in Facebook wasn’t the real story- and, again, it all became converging
when I saw in Den Haag that the German and Georgian embassies basically shared the
same building complex.
Interesting- if you consider what happened in WWII in the region.
But some cultural references and commentary, such as Monthy Python’s “Meaning of
Life”, did not really match the political profile that he was increasingly presenting.
It reminded more ‘Citizen X’66, when Donald Sutherland says to Stephen Rea that he
apologizes for letting him on a serial murder case for years, instead of rotating after six
months, as the FBI used to do, on a serial killer investigation that started before the end
of the Soviet Union, and continued during the Perestroika.
Leave anybody deep into a mindset that isn’t his/her own long enough, and (s)he will get
closer and closer to considering ‘ordinary’ what should be only an occupational hazard.
Moreover- (s)he will probably keep doing what sustains the ‘occupational hazard’, using
the access and means that have been provided to be used against it- without realizing that
(s)he is being used to achieve aims that (s)he was supposed to help not to achieve.
So, in the end, who won? Probably, those whose plans were supposed to be interfered
with”.
The current deadlocked budget negotiations, increasing the attractiveness of
splitting the EU in few subgroups- and making it easier to create a smaller,
stronger core with various satellites economically linked to the core, but
without any effective decision power.
66
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112681
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
52
A scenario that is getting closer to “The Sum of All Fears”67 than to what
we expected from all the talks and statements about the European Union
becoming a different kind of superpower.
Almost as if Europe were to adopt the old British Empire policy of seeding
dissent between its potential opponents in Continental Europe, presenting
itself as the natural candidate to keep it all together- but on a global scale.
The only catch: this is being done as an uncoordinated jumble, with
overlapping interests.
With an increasing number of bilateral agreement from Member States with
external powers and sovereign funds and other financial institutions: no
amount of cohesion funds could replace the political will required to create
a cultural convergence.
As for my supposed association with neofascist, neonazi, and mafia circles:
unusual and stupid defamation- but fighting rumours in court implies
wasting the only scarce resource that any individual is endowed with- time.
Born in a Catholic/Communist family (probably only in Poland you can
find that combination, quite common in Italy in the 1960s/1970s), I was in
a multi-faith group when I was a kid (still in elementary school).
By my own choice, after I heard something that I did not like about a
Jewish classmate- the usual slander on “being punished for killing Jesus”.
Back then, I was learning how to sing few words also in Hebrew, basic
greetings in various languages, and so on and so forth.
Yes, I learned to say “venu shalom aleichem” before “good morning” (I
mean- the Hebrew phrase before the English one).
And, anyway- I share my position with that of a Catholic priest on a
hijacked plane: if you partition between Jewish and non-Jewish, then you
have to remember that also Jesus was Jewish...
67
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0164184/
Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries
53
In high school, I added to my eskimo (in late 1970s in Italy, a sign of leftist
allegiance) a black Basque cap with two stars of David that I painted in red.
When did I distance myself from Israel? 1982, Sabra&Chatila68: a State that
supports a proxy army cannot then claim to be neither guilty nor
responsible for their actions.
Nonetheless: I think that nazis (as well as mafiosi) are etymologically
“Barbarians”, i.e. “not from here”- you can wait until Hell freezes over if
you want to see me consort with or support them, directly and indirectly.
68
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabra_and_Shatila_massacre
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe
54
6. SERENDIPITOUS WALKING
A walk in town69
For once, I had to regret not bringing with me my backpack.
Now that I got in my mind the main “vectors” across Berlin… while
walking I found various small markets.
Why “vectors”? Because I remember reading an article about how people
remember maps- and how taxi drivers seemed to think about “vectors”, i.e.
finding main “lines” to connect two points, and then add more lines to get
to further details, e.g. a small alley.
As I started my business travels in late 1980s, long before Internet was
available in Europe outside academic institutions, I was used to buy the
Michelin guide, look at the map whenever I went into a new town for the
first time, memorize main routes across the map that could bring me back
to my hotel or bring me to my customers’ premises, and then leave the
guide home (i.e. in my hotel room).
Back then, even photocopies were unusual, and we had a meter and code
on the photocopiers, as in “The Firm”70.
69
First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-25@00:10
70
John Grisham, “The Firm”, 1991
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book
#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book

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#BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 - downloadable book

  • 1.
  • 2. #BerlinDiaries a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe v2.0 Aleph123
  • 3. Copyright © 2012 aleph123int@gmail.com, a.k.a. aleph123 All rights reserved. ISBN:1481854259 ISBN-13: 978-1481854252
  • 4. “One way of getting at how people thought about their world and what they thought made things tick, is to look at what socio-linguists call personal and collective narrative. Narrative in this sense is seen as a crucial element in the construction of social realities – perceived relationships and structures – within which humans socially reproduce themselves. Narrative, indeed, can be said to provide the link between consciousness and practice... ...Narratives are fictions because they are reconstructions of experience, they organize experience and memory temporally through language and in the process elaborate a relationship between the narrator and the events narrated. Thus narratives work essentially as a means of identifying the individual self within a social and cultural context, of providing a reality – they answer the question ‘who am I?’. As such, they also act as patterns for social action – future planning based on past experience.”1 What did I learn from my travels for political activities around Europe as a teenager? Your travels abroad can help you understand more about yourself and your country than any inward-looking consideration. As Goethe said about languages: "Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen”. Empathise, see yourself and your culture through another culture, and you will be a better and more conscious citizen. Whatever I saw in Berlin was a catalyst to comment on current events and think about the future. But assuming that you are not necessarily an online reader who went on a daily basis through my #BerlinDiaries posts, I augmented the material by adding explanatory notes, links, and expanding existing thoughts. I hope that you will enjoy the next few pages as much as those who followed their unfolding online over two weeks, from November 14th to November 30th (with a “coda” in early December) 2012. And, of course, at least as much as I enjoyed writing and rewriting them! 1 John Haldon, in “A social History of Byzantium”, pages 9-10, 2009 Blackwell
  • 5. PROLOGUE TO V2.0 Probably, both you and I are tired of all the “2.0” announces around. In this case, it makes sense, as this new edition converts an online and offline publication experiment into something with a longer-term perspective, a kind of “living book”. The idea is simple: #BerlinDiaries was written in December 2012, while Version 2.0 adds more material on how the book was written, what was added online, and basic elements of applied online marketing. When you start publishing online (in my case, in late 1990s as online posts, then 2003-2005 with an e-zine on knowledge management and virtual companies, and finally from 2007 by simply blogging on social networks and on Wordpress), you should have already identified a “format” and a basic theme that will guide you in selecting how to choose what is relevant. Even more important is to decide, within your “format”, what makes sense to add from other sources, also to reduce your workload, and ensure a continuous stream of updates (yes, you need a publication plan). This is an experiment, and #BerlinDiaries, beside trying to be funny enough to be read, tries to inspire you in creating your own “living books”. About prices: Amazon Createspace allow you to choose your own price; in my case, I set a price that is unusually low, but not the lowest. If you succeed in completing your own “publishing cycle”, send me a link (and I would appreciate if you were kind enough to post a link to both my Amazon book and the Facebook page2), and I promise that I will enclose references in future editions (online and offline). 2 Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/BerlinDiaries Twitter: @BerlinDiaries
  • 6. PROLOGUE Why this book? Because over 50 people read each segment that I posted online when I started my travel to Berlin in November 2012- each day, and I decided to keep doing so while I still had at least 50 readers for each post. Well, I am still posting on a daily basis. Why not use my #BerlinDiaries to both send a “thank you note” to my known readers on Frype.com (and the unknown ones on Facebook)3, and add a further experiment to my CV? I believe (and I am not the only one, as I saw in my research between 2007 and 2009; for an update on the distribution of social networks, look at the free e-book “Twitter for Diplomats”4) that online publishing will change not only how books are distributed- but also how they will be read and, eventually, written: the digital medium adds a layer of flexibility that has been unknown of since Gutenberg spread book printing technology. Therefore, this is not a traditional guidebook, but a personal journey to explore the heart and mind of the new centre of Europe, more a “philosophical journey” than the usual visit: a journey whose first phase lasted over two weeks. Why now, and why Berlin? Get through the next few pages, and you will find answers to both questions. Nonetheless, you are welcome to join me online to add comments, requests- and maybe contribute with your own writings, online and offline, to the next step, as I look forward to do a second, more institutional and structured step. 3 http://www.frype.com/robertolofaro and http://www.facebook.com/robertolofaro 4 http://isdi.esteri.it:4300/ISDI%20ALLEGATI/Twitter%20for%20diplomats.pdf
  • 7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS & RATIONALE This book is an extensively edited and augmented reprint of what I started posting online on November 14th, 2012, the day that my “city test” in Berlin started: it would not have been written at all, weren’t for the daily motivation generated by my online visitors. My Berlin travel itinerary evolved through the daily interaction with Berlin- but originally my plan was just to keep a travelogue and take few pictures. I had previous experiences in keeping a (business) diary: it comes with the territory, when you are used to work on multiple activities at the same time, often in various locations, including by managing remotely, and hence delegating tasks to, people. And, again, without that experience in keeping track of multiple timelines, subjects, and people, I would have never been able to write as fast as I did. Storytelling has been part and parcel of my consulting and teaching experiences for over a quarter of a century (early 1980s)- a short story, few gestures, and some self-effacing humour go great lengths toward “fixing” in the mind of your audience what you are trying to convey... faster and for much longer than tens of Powerpoint slides. How do I use maps and guidebooks? First, I have a quick preview, cover- to-cover, and then... I leave them in my room, while having a first tour around; I follow up with a segment-by-segment reading before going around, and a final review after visiting something. Why? Because I want to have a “foundation layer” of knowledge- but I do not want minutiae to act as a filter between the cultural reality on the ground and my personal experience, a “knowledge cage” prepared by others. I hope to visit again Berlin, and, with your help and feed-back, the online components will keep this book alive, and, hopefully, kickstart a dialogue on the future of Europe, between ordinary European Union citizens and internal and external observers and partners.
  • 8.
  • 9. CONTENTS Note: places and locations in and around Berlin are highlighted in bold within the text 1 Introduction La memoria di un criceto / Rome wasn't built in a day 1 2 Getting around Berlin Berlin InfoPack / Walk the talk (and few thousands steps more) 15 3 A day in town Testing and common wisdom / A quiet day that wasn't 26 4 Past and future wars A day in the past / Turkey and NATO, or: pre-empting a proxy war 35 5 Games & thoughts Games and gaming / Sometimes... 43 6 Serendipitous walking A walk in town / Museums, games, parks and... bicycles in Berlin 54 7 A changing town Annexed townships and museum surprises / The gentrification of East Berlin & packing 67 8 Closing down Memory, language and... apologies in Berlin Three monkeys and a drawing boss #Berlin 78 9 The aftermath Meanwhile... / Globalization in a cup of tea 87 A Meta-appendixes 2.0 Creating an online and offline posting format Evolving your content for your audience The publishing process Keeping it alive 93 Afterword and planning: why Berlin 106
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  • 12. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 1 1. INTRODUCTION La memoria di un criceto5 Or: having the attention span of a hamster (for my older friends: of course, a Hamster would be different, notably the "Mighty Hamster" that along with all the other house pets protects humankind from itself!6). No, I am not the "fons et origo" of this "memoria di un criceto" concept- the author is an Italian customer (I would not say when, where, how, who): for a week, along with others, he tried to convert me to uttering 4-letter words during business meetings. 5 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-15@09:08 6 For everyone else: while writing in 2007 on stage6.divx.com under the “nom de plume” of Aleph123, I created a series of fictional reports from what I called the United Hamster Front, an organization devoted to the well-being of the hamsters that were said to be called up to make the website work, as each time there was a technical glitch, a message stated “we are feeding the hamsters”, and I tried to defuse flame-wars by calling up some humor and worrying about the well-being of overfed, overworked hamsters; but I will post new UHF material at a later stage
  • 13. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 2 Of course, as it was a blatant and open game... on the second day, all the others started being visibly uneasy about uttering those words, and by the end of the week, instead of converting me, I could remark that they had stopped using those four letter words in our meetings. Incidentally: it was an open challenge, and therefore I answered openly, playing brinkmanship- but while in the Army I had a completely different level of swearing… when in Rome, do as the Romans do! Also if, admittedly, the most obnoxious case was a young Greek guy that I met while with a bunch of young-yet-politically-active (ok, early 1980s) teenagers, as we were travelling overnight by train to Paris. He graciously shared with us all the interesting words that his Italian "friends" had taught him: and I learned few Italian four letter words that I had not known before, including in various dialects. Back to the hamster's attention span: the point was simple- I wanted to add a “legenda” to few slides because I assumed that a somebody at a senior management level does not necessarily read material sequentially (my experience, and not only in Italy, since 1986- also for startups). And I was asked: do you think that he will have the attention span of a hamster? I said- well, in my experience- I doubt that he will get through all the slides in the original sequence, it is more probable that he will skip and maybe jump around, focusing on what needs to be confirmed/ accepted/ clarified, and his rationale (e.g. as I saw with business&marketing plans). Why did I think about that today? Because yesterday evening I watched "Argo" in Italian- and there was an intermission, resuming few seconds back from where the first half had ended before the intermission. And today I saw the same in Berlin, while watching in English "Sky Fall" at the Sony Centre, near Potsdamer Platz (showing movies in English): therefore, they assume that the intermission is long enough to generate a loss of memory within the audience!
  • 14. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 3 Incidentally 2: personally, I prefer "Argo" to "Sky Fall", as most of the twists in the plot of the latter are easily predictable- so predictable that my reduced sleep over the last few days contributed to some yawning now and then (yes, you can yawn also while watching a 007 movie- I remember the same effect with one of Pierce Brosnan 007 exploits). Incidentally 3: if you plan to go and watch "Argo", read first Ken Follett's book on Ross Perot's exploit to "extract" his EDS employees7 from Iran, and have a look also at the Wired article about "Argo" (published few years ago8). I could add more details on both movies- but I would be posting spoilers... therefore, maybe later, and only to those who watched both. Why I do prefer Argo? Because the hero is an almost ordinary albeit unusual guy doing his job (getting people out of trouble, or "extraction"- i.e. a problem-solver), with a kid and a (former? returning?) wife. Not really your 9-to-5 ordinary divorced father: but "Sky Fall" was almost farcical, in its overload of quotes from other movies (I did not expect also a quote from "My Name is Remo Williams", when 007 walks on thin ice- literally!). But beside movies, I had this afternoon a "déjà-vu", reminding me of when, as part of the gazillion of tests that I had on a daily basis since 2008, somebody tried to enter my apartment building in Brussels using a puerile "social engineering" test (fumbling around pretending to search keys until you let them in without checking if they are entitled to enter the building). Back then, as I was a resident in an apartment building that had only resident inhabitants, I opened the door while going out, but then waited for confirmation before letting the “testers” in. 7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Wings_of_Eagles 8 http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-10/19/making-of-argo
  • 15. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 4 Today in Berlin the same test was quite funny: somebody inside rummaging through mail, while somebody outside the door of the building fumbled through the keys (without finding the right one), and when I opened the door to go out... thanked and entered. Well... I actually entered the building for the first time while the door was wide open, as a young man was watching who entered, but without stopping anybody: hence, not really a residential place with the most glaring standard security (moreover: there are few offices within the building). Yes, another case of "hamster's attention span"- you do not need to be a genius to see the difference between the two cases: an apartment building used only by private citizens, and an apartment building used by offices, residences, and ordinary dwellers... In the first case, it was obvious why I stopped somebody trying to enter with an excuse- while in Berlin… I had no reason to. I wrote few times9 that in the early 1980s I was involved in an European Federalist advocacy, notably within the youth organization (I wasn’t yet 17 when I started). Well, involved is most definitely an understatement: I was a member of the Central Committee of the Italian branch, before becoming town secretary in Turin, a role that included liaising with the youth organizations secretaries of the so-called “arco costituzionale” political parties (from the Liberal Party, PLI, on the right, to the Communist Party, PCI, to the left). But what I often fail to quote is that also after stopping "structured" political activities, I kept monitoring international affairs- before and after choosing to attend Summer Schools at LSE in London, in mid-1990s. One of my travel rituals? To pick up the International Herald Tribune while flying around- albeit I liked it more when it was a joint venture between New York Times and Washington Post (I still enjoy filling the “jumble” game as fast as I can, when I buy a copy of the IHT). 9 As this was posted as part of a blog, I am referring to previous posts on http://www.frype.com/robertolofaro
  • 16. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 5 And that's why in 1994 and 1995 I choose International Political Economy for my summer studies, also if sharing my "intuition/analysis" was done only privately and within my network (part of my "loyalty building" activities- justify why they should keep thinking about me to staff or manage hopeless/challenging projects and activities- the results on Linkedin10). Sometimes in Brussels I found pub discussions converted into a kind of "who's who in EU and EU reform trivial pursuit edition": in my line of business, I was more interested in other elements affecting the ability to change and the management of social/business impacts. Names are more relevant when you are “digging a trench”, i.e. you are part of the environment, while instead I met thousands of people and worked in dozens of companies around few EU countries (and occasionally elsewhere): I needed to remember only key names. But you would need an attention span exceeding that of a hamster- and you should be able to resurrect, continue, expand on a "discussion thread" that has been a stop-and-go for a long time. Why? Because when you want to deliver continuity, despite being there only once in a while, keeping the “human side” running is important. Of course- I started working in different towns each day long before mobile phones were common (in Italy, the GSM service was operational in 1995- when I got my first mobile: I resolutely refused to get a pre-GSM mobile, which initially were actually suitcase-sized phones). Suggestion: before working toward "innovation", take a short step back in time, see the commentary on potential evolutions etc., and then check the current status: often, this will help to see through the “fog of incomplete knowledge”, and avoid repeating patterns that failed. As the disclaimer for investment offers states... past performance does not necessarily guarantee future performance: therefore, it is always useful to first understand where you are, and then, only then, propose a change... 10 http://www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro
  • 17. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 6 But our attention span can be increased dramatically by cutting down on Powerpoint slides, position papers, etc., and by studying the "before" and "after" of previous change attempts within the same organization. Anyway- today, without noticing, I did something that I had not done for a while: a serendipity walk starting in Adenauer Platz and ending in Potsdamer Platz (on the way back, a bus ride). Probably today I walked (fast) slightly more than 10km - but it is my tradition, to find or at least look for a residence in a town where potentially I could return, and not for just a week-end, and spend the first day to go around and get a feeling of the location (and the “human environment”). I must confess: I did not expect to see the "new Berlin" as I saw it while walking. But there is one point that I noticed, starting with the public transport trip from the airport: it has been a long time, in Europe, since I last met so many people with a smiling face- and not only Germans, but also immigrants working in services. As for the status update that I posted on Facebook11: yes, I heard quite often Russian mixed with German, but anyway my crash test on German started well! For the time being... my memory and attention span fairly exceed that of a hamster (and no, do not ask me to spin the wheel on their behalf). The balance between happy vs. sad/nervous faces is significantly in favour of the first, if compared with what I saw in Italy over the last few years. 11 “I did expect to test/improve my German- but I never heard so much Russian:probably, because traditionally my first night is walking n exploring... and only Russians seem to sustain the cold :D later I will post: "la memoria di un criceto"”
  • 18. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 7 Maybe a reminder that the official anthem of the European Union is the "Hymn to joy" from a German composer, anthem that unfortunately has been converted into a ritualistic hymn, i. e. where the meaning of the words is lost, and it is just "the right thing to do" to sing along... But I had no experience of any organization where cultural change was assigned to bean counters- sometimes the CFO was deeply involved, but he did not try to have his accounting team magically become a creative or motivational engine, à la Cinderella: cuius region, eius religio! Actually- a few tried: and you got your Enron and Parmalat. Let's see what happens... Enjoy your week-end, and see you online.
  • 19. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 8 Rome wasn't built in a day12 No, I am not trying to build an empire. More modestly, I am doing a second round between my Dutch and my German: the first one was in Brussels, where I rifled through German courses using my rusty German to “kickstart” my Dutch, few years ago. Nowadays, I have to avoid mixing up Dutch when I have to utter German words- and remember my ways through the der/die/das (yes, in my work I am used to cross the Ts and dot the Is). As you maybe now realize, part of my current plan is to post a daily "method report" on my navigation through German re-learning, akin to the one that I did online for Dutch13 (but, in that case, on a weekly basis). So, a couple of weeks ago, as I could not find a place in a residence in Turin where I was before, to complete my preparation (and the alternatives were out of my budget range)... I decided to look at priorities. What better to shift from books to a "sink or swim" full-immersion? Earlier than I expected- but in my business, how often I had to run before I had learned to walk? If a crisis happens, you have to keep it under control while you look for the best people to involve in its solution. As Starr14, quoting Wilensky, wrote: sometimes, a rushed up decision is better than one you sit on for a while. 12 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-16@08:46 13 http://nlschap.wordpress.com 14 Chester Starr, “Political Intelligence in Classical Greece”, 1974
  • 20. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 9 Therefore... I looked for apartments in Berlin, and then decided that, as I did when I worked elsewhere around Europe, it would make more sense to look for a residence than to rent a room in an apartment or hotel. I do not like hotels for more than few days, moreover when working at least part of the time- and the last time I rented a room in an apartment was in 1993, in Prague, through a travel agency. Funny, now that I think about it: there is a German link there too, as I went in Prague in May 1993 as I had agreed with my German girlfriend to meet one last time, to split, but... to do that by visiting for a week a place that we had not yet seen, and share the cultural experience. A residence usually delivers you the same services that you would have in any hotel- with an added layer of freedom (e.g. access to a fridge containing what you like, or picking your own choice of tea). When I work, I like to drink few litres of tea- it is not just the content of the cup, it is the mental process involved in preparing it (have a look at the tea preparation in Red Cliff15). But after choosing where to sleep, as I had never been in Berlin (I was invited few times by a classmate at LSE, but we meet in Italy and Germany- never in his birthplace, Berlin), it was time to look for a “Virgil” to guide me through the town. I scouted for an unusual guidebook- and I found a recently published one, written by an Italian woman living in Berlin, a quite unusual cultural guide. I cannot just get through the “traditional” guidebooks, with all their itineraries, lists, etc: a catalogue does not deliver a cultural experience- and I wanted to experience life in Berlin, not acting as an Italian in Berlin, who, after few days... ends up looking for a pizza or spaghetti! 15 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425637
  • 21. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 10 Yes, I know that even some Italians think that I am anti-Italian: but as my Latvian friends told me in the 1990s, I was a little bit unusual- as all the other Italians that they met saw Italy either in black or in white, while I saw plenty of gray, and keep studying the cultural and political history of my country, and sharing that knowledge with my foreign friends and acquaintances. I do not like the "mafia style" that since the 1980s I saw increasingly widespread in my country- and I worked also for free when I still believed that there were parts of the bureaucracy that were clean. That's also why I think that appeasement with that "forma mentis" does not work: converting few robber barons in the XIX century in the US was a matter of having opportunists barter short-term advantages for longer-term benefits, but you would need brainwashing on a massive scale to achieve the same results with the various mafias of Italy, and all their legions of staff and dependents. The money flowing around mafias is on the tune of tens of billions of Euros each year (a recent statistics said that it went to at least 170bln EUR/year- counting just what is documented!). And, unfortunately, every nook and cranny of the Italian economy is potentially a recycling target: way too many people find expedient to get in touch "just this time", compromise "just this time"... until they are just another cog in the blackmail-based wheel. It is the MAD16 strategy from the Cold War applied to a single country: hence, the continuous calls for external interventions (by our EU partners), due to the maze of conflicts of interest and mutual blackmail. That's why I liked the "Vespri siciliani Operation" approach (used by the Italian Government years ago): send in the Army in Sicily and other crime- infested areas to do patrols and watch duty, so that you can use police forces to do investigative work. 16 See e.g. Craig “Destroying the village: Eisenhower and thermonuclear war”, 1998
  • 22. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 11 Hopefully a smaller army and a smaller police force, but both better trained and better equipped and monitored, to avoid the "just this time" approach, at least from them. Having the man in charge of purchasing for the Police to resign due to suspicions of massive irregularities while Interpol was meeting in Rome, and his boss being reported by newspapers as publicly stating that basically he is incompetent to coordinate his own department, as he wanted only to be an investigator, was a recent public disgrace that hopefully will not be repeated17. Nonetheless, beside their obvious "kitchen expertise", Italians are used to adapt to and adopt cultures at least since the fall of the Roman Empire. And do not forget what Greeks said of Ancient Rome: the founders were coming from all sort of places (and backgrounds)- but I will not repeat their assertion (as this would be considered... “anti-Italian”). The arrogant judgement about the "Roman parvenus" found its retribution when, thanks in large parts to its own internal divisions, Greece was conquered from Rome- better able to manage on a larger scale and organize the "logistics of power" than a quarrel-intensive lot of too many “prima donnas”. Back to the unconventional guidebook (in Italian18): better than any other guide (also in English and French) that I found in bookshops (at least, for my serendipitous approach, i.e. "city discovery"). The first suggestion that I followed? Hop on the 100 bus, and do a tour, while avoiding the ordinary tourist busses. Just that suggestion... was worth significantly more than the price of the book. 17 The potential headcount cuts are so large, that the current government decided to cut 20% of the managers, and 10% of the employees 18 Fabbrizi, Piacentini “101 cose da fare a Berlino almeno una volta nella vita”, 2012; it comes also with a blog
  • 23. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 12 And the other 99 chapters within the book? While maybe not necessarily suggesting something that I would be interested in doing, they are quite entertaining. Another useful addition: a map that I bought at a newsstand in a tube station in Berlin, as well as a weekly pass. At least the first time that I visit a place where there is a chance that I could come back... I stay clear from museums (except for temporary exhibitions, or if I have travel companions). So, I have never been a good customer for any kind of "tourist passes". I rather (as I did in Paris, London, Rome, Zurich, and now Berlin), go for an ordinary weekly pass, and then feel free to walk when it makes sense (MP3 is a true blessing, when walking)- and attend only the museums that I like. Unless it makes economic sense to buy the tourist pass- you are not required to visit each and any museum listed on the booklet that comes along your "tourist pass". Your time belongs to you, and maybe spending one or two hours chatting while sipping a coffee in a café nearby "La Sorbonne" is a cultural experience worth much more than doing a Parisian pod race through 10 museums in a day. Over the last two days, I remembered when my German girlfriend from Southern Germany was worried about an interview in Hamburg- as they talk faster. And that's also another reason why I have to be fluent or in a "sink or swim" situation before I dare to speak. I have the bad habit of talking quite fast- and if I find people who talk fast... I increase both the speed and the density of the content- nothing is more fun that finding somebody you can interact with fast, and possibly skipping unnecessary steps (i.e. a joint “connecting the dots” exercise- a kind of verbal tennis match).
  • 24. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 13 Hence, I need... a certain depth and breadth in my vocabulary (and that, in turn, requires a significant number of movies and books). For the time being... it is interesting- and in barely 24 hours I saw some improvements. So, yesterday night I charged the battery of my MP3 player, and planned to start a 1/3-1/3-1/3 daily routine. Or: 1/3 interacting around (and anyway listening on my MP3 player to German dialogues while exploring the town, shops, and studying people and local customs). Then, 1/3 working on some business documents and business study. And 1/3 for fun and preparing for future work (which includes, of course, reading non-business stuff and writing). But it is not a sequential splitting- e.g. I am used to set not one alarm, but a sequence of alarms (or just one and then lay down until I get through the various steps). So that, when I have to deliver a lesson or presentation, or write something, I can actually think and structure my argument without getting sucked up by pen, paper, and that time sponge- word processors. If you get through my blog19 or main social networking profiles20 you will find plenty of posts. Usually, I drafted all of them (or at least outlined the subject)... why laying in my bed, between the first and second alarm, and without using pen, pencil, paper- or even computers or text messages: just plain, old fashioned, traditional “speech outline memorizing”21. 19 http://www.robertolofaro.com/blog 20 http://www.facebook.com/robertolofaro and http://www.frype.com/robertolofaro 21 Suggestion: Yates “The Art of Memory”, 1966
  • 25. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 14 Well... the "1/3" allocation was based on the battery life- but it seems that the FSI course material22 that I am listening to now doesn't take that much life out of the battery. So... 7 hours later, it was still running (I had planned just 5): time really flies. Obviously- there are other means as well, that I already used in the past when I needed to learn something fast (and to check my language skills), but that will be for another day. Meanwhile: there is an added value- you can easily avoid distractions when either you do not speak well a language or (in case, as today, you hear people speaking languages that you know) you can pretend not to. And also in my work, I am used (as I was in the Army) to focus if I need to- while still listening/monitoring background noise or distractions (also when, sometimes, that "background" is actually in the foreground). Another step: buying local clothes and local newspapers, and leaving in my room backpacks and other details that say "tourist". But I will never beat my record from New York: on the way from the airport to town, on the underground... an old woman living in a different zone of New York asked me for directions! And now... back to my daily morning email routine, before wearing my earphones, and walking around another area. But maybe next week I will spend some time also to visit exhibitions. 22 The FSI courses are available online, and were originally produced for the US Government, and therefore are reportedly not covered by copyright- but check for a change of mind, as the corresponding DLI courses have been pulled out, due to the exposure of names of instructors, etc; you can still find and download the official DLI Headstart series from http://hs2.lingnet.org/index.html - Gigabyte courses, so do not dare to use your mobile phone! Do they work? Well, I did my tests in German and Spanish: see http://www.robertolofaro.com/robertolofaro/certifications
  • 26. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 15 2. GETTING AROUND BERLIN Berlin Infopack23 So, today I promised that I would not have limited this daily post to my personal views. Instead, I decided to first collect some information (yesterday I scouted a newsstand for relevant material), and then divert this post toward providing that information, should you eventually decide to visit Berlin. Just a quick note, as I had barely more than half an hour to write this note, this morning (I do apologize for any typos). We are in the XXI century, and therefore I assume that any traveller will have at least one gadget that comes "Wi-Fi enabled". I found few public spots around town (and I am NOT referring to those leaving their own network open), but, frankly, beside checking the GPS of your mobile phone without spending money on data traffic, standing in the middle of nowhere with a mobile or tablet in your hands isn't exactly what I call "convenient". 23 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012/11-17@09:58
  • 27. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 16 Instead, the Starbucks chain gives its customers up to two hours of free connection- using the BT services, with a good connection. Personally- I get a “cappuccino grande”, and sipping it while reading newspapers online (postings on @aleph123 selected articles) takes about 45 minutes, at high-speed, more if you find more than a couple of dozen of interesting articles, less if you are just below a dozen. And, quite conveniently, the system update of my Blackberry Playbook added the "URLTOPDF" application. Therefore, I do not need to "untangle" Android management. If you have an Android phone: it is a quite convenient application that takes the URL that you provide, and creates a PDF file- useful to read later or share articles or web pages that you found online (e.g. while going around and pointing at a QRCode). Why I have a Blackberry Playbook? Because I wanted a cheap tablet that could fit my pocket (hence, 7" was the limit), but with a screen good enough to read smallprint (and, at the time, the BB PB was the only one with that resolution). It was more expensive than other 7" solutions, but my eyes appreciated the gesture, and anyway when I bought it the company was thinking of disposing of the product line, and the price was reduced by 2/3; now they issued the LTE/4G version. My tablet comes only with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth: but that was, security-wise, a selling point, at least for me. I had already few connection attempts from unknown sources, and not having a 3G card inside my tablet is an advantage. And it lasts more than 7 hours also if you use Wi-Fi for few hours; it supports some Android applications natively, while others require some technical gimmickry.
  • 28. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 17 But the Internet connection at Starbucks is not free: the price difference between them and other coffee shops makes up for more than that- still, it is nice to sit on a couch. You can even bring your own chess set and play chess on one of the tables whose top is... a chess board. And no, there is no table with a Go board (but you can find decent Android applications that deliver a 9, 13, or 19 Go board). Incidentally: my week-end reading, started yesterday in a decently large pub in the Europa commercial centre, is on the 36 stratagems24 applied to Go25- interesting, also if you are not a Go player, as you can visualize each stratagem through the “patterns” that it creates on the board (remember then to re-read the Rand document on Go and swarming26!). The first morning I went out for breakfast: but, frankly, you end up finding so many tempting meat-based snacks (I got a cappuccino with a chicken&sweet chilli), that the following day I started another routine. So, in the morning I had a cup of orange juice, a bowl of Ayran or other dense yoghurt, and a cup of tea, along with some biscuits. Why? Because all that fermentation helps in digesting all the snacks and meat that you will find during the day. I resisted for two days to the temptation of eating the famous Curry Wurst, as I am quite partial to curry- my favourites? Green and Madras. So, I covered food and free internet- but what if you do not see a Starbucks nearby? 24 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-Six_Stratagems 25 Ma Xiaochun “The Thirty-six Strategems Applied to Go” (search online, the book is not available anymore, not even on the publishers’ website) 26 http://www.rand.org/pubs/documented_briefings/DB311.html
  • 29. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 18 I used services provided by a UK provider (only for voice) and Wind in Italy- interestingly, the former gives you for free while roaming conditions that Wind asks you to pay for! Anyway, Wind has two data options while roaming: 2.5 EUR/day for 50MB and 9 EUR/week for 100MB. If the former seems a lot... it isn't, if you use email, web, GPS, etc. The latter would be more useful if you just receive few emails. No, visiting social networks is not a good idea, while roaming on data (but I update my FB status via SMS). When you eat, walk (moreover in cold weather), and drink (it goes with walking), eventually you will need to find what seems to be optional everywhere: toilets. So, remembering the amount of time I spent looking for toilets when travelling with friends, instead of scouting for cafes, I looked for more "organic" solutions, i.e. something that is available everywhere. Let's say: the cheapest (whatever people think) and cleanest toilet in Europe were in Brussels and, overall, Belgium (generally- between 30 and 50 Eurocents, which covers the costs of those providing the service). In Berlin, some cafes charge (!) as much for toilets, also for customers, and you can find in any railway station (including largest underground and local stations) toilets at 1 EUR (as much as you would pay in Milan). Beware: the cleanliness varies, and usually larger stations are cleaner. Talking about stations: do not get swayed by the presence of signs both in English and German, as that does not necessarily imply that you will be able to access services- unless you speak or at least understand also German.
  • 30. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 19 Also first class service offices (as the one that I used in Oststation) do not necessarily come with English-speaking clerks, and therefore you should use your German (or prepare your “script” before). Luckily my German was useful: I asked to retrieve my prepaid ticket, and the clerk was instead trying to sell me a ticket, assuming that I had only reserved a ticket. It was quite funny to see that, in Berlin as in Zurich, some employees assume that they can decide who buys what. Incidentally: a long-range 1st class ticket is only marginally more expensive than a 2nd class one, and if you consider the additional services... cheaper. In Zurich, it ended up with a complaint, and a nice (for me) letter from the marketing office of the SBB stating that their clerk received a lesson that he would not forget, for making unacceptable comments (my Swiss partner translated: he got fired). The reason? I had used my credit card often enough to have the signature half-erased, and I offered to confirm my identity with my passport, as I did before; he made some remarks that were clearly levelled at my Italian passport, and refused to accept the credit card, until I asked him to call the supervisor (he even resisted to that suggestion). But I was working there, while here I am just surveying: not my point to improve service. As for the areas that I visited: yesterday it was a shift toward East Berlin (I went by train to the extreme Eastern side of the A B zone, and then walked/travelled back, and after lunch north to Pankow).
  • 31. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 20 I promised some material, and here it is:  Berlin "New in the city" guide (I got a similar one in Brussels)- better and more up-to-date than any guidebook, and if you avoid the obvious "plugging" for products and services, quite useful (it comes with a mini- map); dual language in English and German27  Monopol Berlin Kunst and Kultur 2012-2013, with over 400 places worth visiting (444, according to the sticker on the cover), with a calendar of art events, museums, etc; in German, but easy to use also if you do not speak German28  Der Spiegel Geschichte Berlin- Berlin across (social) history; in German29. I went through them yesterday (my usual quick-read), and I plan to use them to improve my knowledge of the town and German while doing a long travel next week. As for this first week... my aim was just to wander, pick up chances to test my language skills, while being reassured that my Italian/EU circus will not let me down with additional entertainment30. Enjoy your Saturday! 27 http://www.newinthecity.de/en/berlin-news-en.html 28 http://www.monopol-magazin.de 29 http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/spiegelgeschichte/index-2012-5.html 30 For older material on my circus: http://thecircusbxl.wordpress.com
  • 32. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 21 Walk the talk (and few thousands steps more)31 The first day in Berlin I did a small (for my standards) walk, from around Adenauer Platz to Potsdamer Platz. Yesterday I decided to do something similar- but through a different path: walking along Tiergarten, up to Potsdamer Platz. Incidentally: it is where you will find embassies. I did not know that I would end up walking through embassies and up to Stauffenberg (right after Hiroshima), and then turning right on Ben Gurion to get in Potsdamer. I might be wrong- but it seems that only the Italian Embassy isn't surrounded by a fence32: maybe also because it was recently renovated, and therefore, in the new Europe, you do not really need a fence. My original idea was to have a quick lunch and then continue to the Brandenburger Tor (a short walk from Potsdamer Platz). But then, having already seen it during the day from a bus, I said: why not having a look after sunset? So, I went to check the schedule for the next show of Cloud Atlas, whose trailer I saw a couple of days ago- intriguing (as I posted on my FB status- I haven’t read the novel or, to be more precise, I did not even know that it existed). I could have chosen "Judge Dredd 3D"- but, frankly, I had had enough gunshots and flying corpses with "Skyfall" few days ago, while I had enough noise in my "audio test" in a pub few days ago (live music, but in a place large enough to spread the sound). 31 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-18@10:14 32 http://www.ambberlino.esteri.it/Ambasciata_Berlino/Menu/Ambasciata/La_sede/ for a virtual tour, while, according to the website, you can also schedule a visit
  • 33. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 22 My first German movies were probably "Heimat" and "Zweite Heimat" in the 1990s- but only in theatres (in weekly segments). Instead, on DVD I lost count of the number of times that I watched "Das Boot", long ago. More modestly, this time I was looking for a movie to start with in English, continue in German, and maybe have a look at it live on stage, as I did with Spanish long ago- in this case, it was "39 steps", the Hitchcock version33. As it was not immediately available... I went for a small and funny movie- "The King's speech"34. So, it is now three times in a week that I see it- first in English, then in English with German subtitles, and finally in German with German subtitles, while I began yesterday night a fourth run immediately after the third- in German with no subtitles. I liked the movie, I liked the speech, and... I was looking forward to a much slower talking speed than the one delivered by “39 steps”. The Gettysburg Address, Ulysses’ speech within the “Divine Comedy”... it seems that the best speeches are the shortest ones. Why? Because each word counts, and you can keep the attention of your audience focused on each and every word. Instead, when you deliver a 30 minutes speech, there is enough time to do way too many “balancing acts”, to satisfy so many constituencies, that each one can get from the speech what was expected... as it was told of UK’s Prime Minister Blair as a mediator- both sides assumed that he sided with them! Anyway- it is a good test, as, for obvious reasons, is a movie built around what is said. 33 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0026029 34 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1504320
  • 34. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 23 My aim? Of course- to build some patterns that I can then visualize, and therefore recover and use flawlessly whenever appropriate. It is an old mnemonic trick (read Frances Yates’ historical tour in "The Art of Memory") that I and others adapted to language learning: you can quickly learn patterns in a language by picking up examples that are associated with memorable images- and what better than funny moving images? But maybe you do not like to walk as much as I do- in that case, if you want to see the town, you can rely on the complex but useful and comprehensive network of busses. You can even procure yourself the shopping guides available for each section of the town (e.g. I got a couple), with detailed maps of the shops- including in shopping malls that are scattered everywhere. Before you start laughing: yes, I met people who plan travels across shopping malls as if they were planning military operations. Personally: I just have a look at the map, have an optimal walk (i.e. minimal length) across all the mall, and then go back where I want to see more. A female friend said to me that I was one of the few men who would not complain about shopping tours, instead of just dropping into the first shop. Also in my recent travels to the USA in spring 2012, I would rather do my “exploration tours” by myself and then join my colleagues, than follow the others, as I usually pass at least twice through the shops that I consider as potential suppliers... Talking about WWII ("The King's speech" ends at the beginning of that war), the detailed material available in every shop (you can find those shopping guides almost everywhere) made me remember a book that I read on the scientific research branch of the British Intelligence during WWII35, written by a member, where he related how for a while they believed that the Germans had a secret weapon, because their radar antennas were too perfect to be used just for a radar. 35 R. V. Jones “Most Secret War”, 1998
  • 35. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 24 So perfect that... they were used in radio astronomy, after WWII. I actually kept a couple of those shopping mall maps available in shops nearby the shopping malls as souvenirs: you cannot criticize the Germans for missing a chance to plan. Incidentally- by chance I entered the Potsdamer Platz shopping centre, and, along with interesting (and relatively cheap) food shops (plenty of fish and Asian food, including obviously sushi), I found on the top floor a place called "Caffé e gelato", where they sell a spicy chocolate ice cream that is a distant relative of the best one that I found (in Turin), but still much, much better than most chocolate ice cream (including in Turin and elsewhere in Europe). I remember that a professor at LSE in London said in a conference that the mere English word "square" is a sign of a closed space, but a "piazza", "place", "Platz", and similar in other languages, all point to an open place set up for inclusion, not for exclusion. Potsdamer Platz, Alexander Platz... what's interesting is that any major square in Berlin is a "melting pot in sedicesimo". Or: a smaller scale convergence of multiple cultural tribes that intermingle, maybe also thanks to the presence of Christmas markets everywhere, selling food, Winter accessories, and all sort of candies (and seasoned meat). And yes, I never saw so many different types of bicycles- albeit it seems that, here as in other "developed world" countries, tribes are often defined by what they wear and what they use: the Jack Wolfskin tribe, the iPad tribe. It reminded me what I studied in Sweden in Summer 1994 (a summer school on Intercultural Communication and Management at the linguistics department in Gothenburg) about American Indians and “group membership”. We replaced a tribal, cultural identity, with an identity set up by a brand manager, that can be easily swapped, to comply with current fashion trends. Witness the number of tattoo and piercing shops, increasingly not too far away from... tattoo removal shops!
  • 36. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 25 I am quite doubtful and sceptical about this being called "freedom"- moreover when I read articles about riots to be the first to get the next iPhone. To look on the bright side: with so many "tribes" intermingling, it is less visible the “cool smart ass by brand association” that you can find elsewhere. But next week, after visiting the shopping malls, I will try to explore bookshops (no, I do not think that I will apply for a library card- maybe next time!). Meanwhile, today I will have a relatively long journey across the town- West to South East, and I decided to take a bus, to have a chance of having a look at different areas. Therefore, it might well be that my next posting will be... a photo album. Have a nice Sunday!
  • 37. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 26 3. A DAY IN TOWN Testing and common wisdom36 Today, a double billing, as I will skip posting tomorrow morning. So, after the post this morning37, but inspired by yesterday's tour, another posting, inspired by a comment and ensuing exchanges at a brunch that I had today with members of a club I belong to since 1989 (one of the two clubs I belong to- I will probably join a third one next year). My view is partially known by older online readers- I think that there are few tests that can have even the faintest claim to "objectivity": and any IQ test is not one of them. My comment today was about the obsession of seeing mathematical series as objective, one-way roads, i.e. with just one possible solution. Give time and opportunity, and anybody with a working brain can find multiple solutions- and a logic series of steps supporting them. 36 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-18@23:58 37 See previous chapter, “Walk the talk”
  • 38. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 27 So, what you are really testing with mathematical series is a) previously acquired knowledge b) conformism. But then, consider my previous assertion on why we submit to tests: to be accepted. Therefore, it would be nice to see more tests where you are required to explain your logic, instead of just acting as a monkey within a test environment. Are you looking for cultural compliance? You can see if the proper training background is there, either through formal training (institutions, etc), or through informal on-the-job training. If you are looking for creativity and a mathematical mindset that is not just the result of schooling, you might be interested in unusual solutions. And if you are looking for pragmatic genius... …you expect that the path of least resistance is followed, adopting obvious solutions whenever available, while introducing innovative new patterns where no obvious one exists. “Pragmatic genius”? Someone fitting your own definition of “genius” but also able to deliver in a realistic, unstructured environment, as fast as possible, using the smallest amount of resources. As somebody wrote, with unlimited time (in business, add also unlimited resources), even a bunch of monkeys typing by chance could write again all the plays ever written by Shakespeare. Following the most “logical” existing solution according to the “standard” approach would be a sign of ability to apply learned skills and patterns, not of ability to innovate.
  • 39. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 28 Personally- I have been subject to so many formal and (mainly) informal tests even before this century began, that I got used to the idea that most of the testing is testing for the testing sake, i.e. some people work in a factory assembling products using the same limited set of movements and tools day after day, and others process people through a limited set of tests and expected results, day after day- and both have a job. Under that perspective, a test is as corruption: up to a certain level, while being parasitical (it has no intrinsic value, only a projected value as enabler or denier), can catalyze organizational innovation, as it clearly shows a path through a maze of rules and regulations that have been layered across time, a path that ought to be removed and replaced by something more consistent with current needs. Because tests generally are created based upon past experiences, and validate compliance with a reference model. The trouble with corruption (and testing) begins when it starts to generate its own “controlled environment”, i.e. creating conditions that require passing through signposts whose existence has no inherent, structural reason whatsoever. Except to create a territory where corruption is not only possible, but a “conditio sine qua non”: when parasites convert their hosts into a reason for their own existence. And the same applies to tests: as, in the end, any test covers a finite amount of patterns, whose finiteness is a side-effect of the finite knowledge of its creators. In any test, I met people who, while lacking initially the experience-based “patterns” required to pass the test, did exercise long enough to build those patterns- and pass the test: any test. Believe it or not- I was explained in the UK how it could be possible to do so also with IQ.
  • 40. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 29 Why would you do so? In some cases, it is just the intellectual equivalent of having always the latest gizmo- to gain acceptance and appreciation from others. And, for business-related tests, to increase revenue while limiting the expenditure required to build up the experience needed to naturally develop the appropriate patterns (what is usually called “on-the-job training”), as this would involve both the trainee, and a significant chunk of the time of somebody who already developed the patterns. In other cases, most organizations and communities have barriers to outsiders- but once inside, the concept that supposedly you cannot enter unless you have the appropriate forma mentis and “patterns” enables diverting the purposes of any organization: with the willing, active support of other members. Why now and why related to tests? Because in Europe we are structurally replacing common sense with increasing layers of formal tests, from those in the banking industry, to potentially a EU-wide test on “curriculum compliance”, that probably could become a pre-requisite to work across the EU. Within a couple of decades, we will be “celebrating” the anniversary of two cases where two democracies used a test-based approach coupled with a suspension of common sense to bring a Mussolini and a Hitler to power. I always found quite annoying to hear that in school history books both were discussed as mere dictators, as if they had seized power by force: I am afraid that that is a fig leaf on the disappointing truth. Which one? That democracies can legally enforce dictatorship, one step at a time38. 38 See e.g. the documentary “Five Steps to Tiranny”, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0498671/
  • 41. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 30 Maybe you do not know- but both Mussolini and Hitler had legal and temporary authorization to their exceptional powers: brought about through formal and informal coercion, but it is quite significant that both found desirable to have at least a veneer of formal, legal authority. And anyway Mussolini was deposed in 1943 through a legal vote of his own supreme council while, if my memory doesn’t fail me, Hitler had had his powers extended until 1947. In both cases: proving that it wasn’t a mere formal act. Now, back to tests and their replacement of common sense. The main difference between the two is that a formal test is a point-in-time event, even if repeated once in a while, with a formal structure, while common sense is a continuum, and is (hopefully) constantly evolving. Hopefully constantly evolving? Yes, because otherwise you get witch hunts, McCarthyism, and the like- as you end up doing with common sense exactly the same mistakes that you can do by crystallizing in tests yesterday’s fears and knowledge as a guide for tomorrow’s choices. It is common knowledge that usually wars are fought thinking about previous wars39, with current technology- with effects sometimes dramatic (e.g. in WWII)40. Look at the movie “The Village” to see what happens when a fictional common sense is frozen in time41, or, for a dark humour perspective, “Hot Fuzz”42. 39 cfr. Norman F. Dixon “Our Own Worst Enemy”, 1987, discussing the WWI example 40 cfr. James F. Dunnigan “Dirty Little Secrets of World War II”, 1996 41 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0368447 42 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425112
  • 42. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 31 So, let’s hope that tests will not replace common sense- or that, at least, a commission based on common sense (and not under the direct or indirect control of those benefiting from the administration of tests) will be set up to continuously monitor and evolve tests. A “commission based on common sense” could sound as blatant an oxymoron as “military intelligence”- but, in both cases, the secret lies in routinely shuffling the cards, rotating positions, and swapping people in and out. As, following current trends, there is no escape: within the EU, there will be an increasing number of tests aiming at moving fast-forward European integration (yes, also political integration). All this without a real open market, and through legalistic gimmickry. Instead, we need to carry out the deep structural and cultural changes required to make this integration process work, through real convergence. We had already paid for expensive side-effects of legal gimmickry, such as the Italian “tassa per l’Europa” (a temporary tax to fulfil the parameters), and Greece’s adoption of “national creative accounting”43. For the time being, have a nice week! 43 Smith, “Accounting for Growth - Stripping the Camouflage from Company Accounts”, 1992
  • 43. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 32 A quiet day that wasn't44 Well, yesterday I did expect to spend a night watching a Go game- live: instead, I had a reminder of other games in BeNeLux45, and a déjà vu of the labyrinthine buildings of LSE in London... but in a much larger building at a Berlin university. A professor at LSE told us the first day on our Summer School on International Economy in 1994: a degree at LSE implies a degree in whatever you studied, plus a degree in topography. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable day- if you read previous posts since November 14th, probably you remember that my visit to Berlin isn't an ordinary vacation: more an exploration tour coupled with a language testing and a "how would life there be" set of activities. So, after roaming North, East, Middle, I decided to start the week by looking around the area were I live (around Adenauer Platz, West), by first walking South toward Hohenzollerndamm, then up North to Charlottenburg and through the Tiergarten, up to Bellevue, Friedrichstrasse (the old East/West border station, I am told), and then the Branderbuger Tor, up to Potsdamer Platz. The interesting point? As yesterday was the first day in a new week, I had planned to shift from the "observing" mode to the "be local" mode- looking for shops that I could visit if I were to be living here. Why yesterday? One of the reasons why whenever I went in Europe I looked for residences, is that it takes just 3-4 nights for me to start calling "home" wherever I have a fridge, few books, and can eat what I want when I want. So, having been in Berlin for the first time in my life for few nights (since the 14th), yesterday was the right day (and, by accident, a Monday) to explore the neighbourhood as a local, not as a tourist. 44 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-20@09:23 45 See http://thecircusbxl.wordpress.com
  • 44. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 33 If you know me, you know what I first went for: bookshops! But, despite falling to the temptation in the evening to buy a German edition of Animal Farm (it is nice to start again to understand ordinary books in German, as I did in the early 1990s), I got just a couple of books. Albeit, I must confess- I was tempted by a piggy money bank that came in the shape of a 1mt tall elephant outside an Ayurveda shop. Only... it looks to be heavier than me- therefore, definitely not what I could call "hand luggage": maybe if I will move to Berlin! Of course, I am joking: when choosing furniture, I am closer to a minimalist approach. And no, before you ask: I haven't yet tried a Curry Wurst (but maybe I will today). Instead, after a pre-sunset stop at the Starbucks nearby the Friedrichstrasse station, I went up to the museums island nearby, to look at it from the outside and while the sun was setting down. It is fascinating to watch the works to drain water nearby a museum, and have a look at the buildings with few people around. Then, I moved to the Gorky studios and the nearby German museum- and spent enough time watching a running exhibition on a screen from an artist, that a small bird decided to start hopping around me and to attract my attention: it was my "St Francis" moment in Berlin (eventually, I will post the picture online). It was mildly embarrassing to have a bird staring at you and hopping around you for a while, but what was running on the screen was more a set of artist's perspectives on politics and society turned into visible jokes than your ordinary exhibition46. 46 Part of an exhibition on freedom, “Verführung freiheit”, opened between October 17 th 2012 and will close on February 10 th , 2013
  • 45. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 34 Witness to our frenzy times: nobody (except me) bothered to stay for more than a couple of screens, while I saw some of the same people stare inside the museum for minutes to equally "light" art. So... art is art only if you are inside a museum... Luckily, nobody considered that true when, over the millennia, our ancestors decided to add monuments around- otherwise, our towns would look like warehouses! And, again, I saw that some areas are worth visiting few times a day- change the light, change the crowd, and you get a completely different perspective. Incidentally: if you are interested, in my search for bookstores nearby my residence, while walking up to Charlottenburg, at the end of Wilmersdorfer Strasse, nearby Richard Wagner Platz, I found an army surplus store (if you like to dress tough, but do not like to walk, get the U Bahn to Richard Wagner Platz). And yes, there is another Starbucks nearby, as there are plenty of shops (and not just used books shops). I do not know why- but I was thinking that maybe today I will do a tour between old bunkers: in other countries, destroying WWII bunkers was deemed to be too expensive, and therefore some were converted (also into art galleries- I remember a project in France, on the Atlantic seaside, converting a U-Boot bunker47). So, considering that there are few bits and pieces here and there, it could be interesting. But, before, maybe a tour on the museums island during the day- also if I plan to visit the museums only either this week-end, or next week. Meanwhile... have a nice day! 47 E.g see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/16/books/review/Thomas- t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
  • 46. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 35 4. PAST AND FUTURE WARS A day in the past48 I am afraid to say that today my tour was closer to my main purpose whenever I travel (studying cultures) than to an ordinary tourist "Besuch". But if anything, temporarily or on a permanent basis, I am not interested in becoming just a Gastarbeiter- and therefore better to know before you start embedding. And also if your aim is just to be able to understand the local culture, you need something that cannot be found in a guidebook. Anyway, beside a test of yet another Starbucks, I decided to walk up to Charlottenburg and then move onto the Northern side, i.e. Westhaven. Not really a tourist area: but as I said to others, Paris isn't just the VII and VIII arrondissements, and therefore I decided to spend some time visiting not-so-fancy areas. 48 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-20@19:19
  • 47. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 36 The walk up from Adenauer Platz to the Beusselstrasse S-Bahn stop was enough to get a taste, but then I jumped on the first S41 to Ostkreuz, a line literally running circles around the centre of Berlin. It runs on the surface, and therefore it is the fastest way to see how Berlin looks like outside the "New York style" Potsdamer Platz. But then I decided to continue my exploration of the West with a small diversion, taking the S1 to Wannsee. Yes, it seemed an appropriate detour to provide any circus member that was to appear some education- also if probably they would rather have a pub or striptease bar tour. On the former, maybe I will help- yesterday night on my way back home I tested an interesting dark beer (I think from Poland): smoother than a Murphy's, less bitter and more refreshing than a Guinness- nice for a Winter grill in the garden. On the latter... do as in London, i.e. I will visit a bookstore, and you will go to your bar tour, and report otherwise... My detour was obviously to visit the Wannsee conference site49 (incidentally, it is free, but I bought a book on the conference- in German). If you are unwilling to do the more than 5km walk from the railway station, or to wait the bus, you can watch the movie with Kenneth Branagh50. Actually: watch it also if you plan to visit- it is a chilling statement of how ordinary people can become mass murderers, and make you feel the cultural context that made “ordinary” an Eichmann, the bean counter of genocide, who basically claimed that he was just doing his job51. 49 http://www.ghwk.de/ 50 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0266425 51 As a further source that avoids gory details and is worth reading to know a little bit more, read Wiesenthal, “Justice, not vengeance”, 1989
  • 48. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 37 Somebody said that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary feats. But, unfortunately, by study and experience I know that there are better chances that ordinary people will do something inhumane, than they will create the next social evolution step just by accident. And bureaucracies are the best conduit (or fig leaf) to exercise the basest reptilian instincts while being officially "guilty but not responsible". It all begins with meaningless acts, almost ordinary, everyday actions52. To de-dramatize, I will tell a short story that I remembered when I visited the surplus military store I referred to in my previous posting53 . While living in London, I found in St Albans a surplus military store, and, after roaming it, I saw that it was genuine. Most of the others, and not only in Italy, have few items, used just to attract customers who are then offered overpriced look-alikes that would be cheaper in ordinary sportswear stores. Yes, including the one in Berlin I referred to in my previous posting. Digression. How do I test? The simplest test is to look in the window for something original but cheap, then enter the shop and have a quick tour to see if it the original material is strategically mixed with plenty of ordinary material. If that is the case- go away, is a suckers'/military groupies (i.e. those who just care about looking tough) trap. 52 See the documentary “Five steps to tyranny”, quoted before, if you do not want to read books on how Italy and Germany turned into nazifascist regimes, while their citizens filled squares to show their support; yes, those dictators were drawing large cheering crowds, also if most of them started cheering democracy after said dictators bit the dust 53 See “A quiet day that wasn't”, page 31
  • 49. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 38 Confirmation: I asked for a watch cap in the window, and the clerk started piling up half a dozen fakes charged at 4 or more times, and, when I asked again for that one in the window...said that that was the last one, and could not be removed (even funnier offers were available for boots). Back on track. My neighbours were a multinational bunch (mainly Italian) and, supposedly, they had known each other long enough to be willing to share an apartment in London. One of them was fond of those green military jackets (albeit he was the kind of guy who usually protests against NATO, the military, capitalism, etc). As his birthday was around the corner, his flatmates asked me to look for a military jacket but, as we did not known his size, I enrolled him for a tour of St Albans (nice Roman town- worth visiting, and just few minutes from London). Of course, we ended up in the shop. Of course, I found an excuse to have him try the jacket (I said that it was for a friend, who had more or less his size). But then, I saw that he really liked it, and his flatmates started a strange mildly sadistic bantering on the jacket... Like a drill exercise, without any reason. Well, we were supposed to share the cost, but eventually I decided to stop that stupid torture the others were submitting him to, and give him the jacket- before his birthday; the others? Were upset- and never paid their share. So, it is not so difficult to convert even “friends” into a bunch of sadists… moreover when they start “the games” by themselves (exactly as it happened in Zimbardo’s experiments).54 54 cfr. “The Stanford Prison Experiment” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZwfNs1pqG0
  • 50. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 39 If you have a chance, have a look at "The century of self" documentary55, and you will find plenty of more chilling examples of how easy is to lose that veneer of civility that our society dropped over our really recent past... Anyway, beside a book at the Wannsee conference site (on the Wansee conference, but in German), I eventually dropped in a large music store in Friedrichstrasse, nearby the train station. Worth visiting, also if... between the foreign literature, I found a dual language edition of Cicero's speeches on Catilina (you know, the "quo usque tandem", i.e. “until when”, stuff)56. And you can guess what happened... So, I will have another book to read to improve my German, while, incidentally, testing my most definitely rusty Latin! As for the tour... over the next two days, I will be abroad, so the Berlin series will resume on Friday, with the museum island, while I will explore also another musical side. 55 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0432232 56 Available for free from Gutenberg.org: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/39355
  • 51. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 40 Turkey and NATO, or: pre-empting a proxy war57 A small sample of recent and not-so-recent facts (you can find the links to the articles supporting this list on @aleph123):  When the unrest started in Syria, Iran sent few ships through Suez, “training exercises”  Recently, it has been suggested that the missiles launched from Gaza on Israel might have been offered courtesy of Iran  Syria (also under the father of the current president) was, along with Iran, quite active in applying pressure to Israel via their proxies in Lebanon, to provoke attacks and then claim media wins (more about this later)  Provoking Turkey was just an extension- even before the first retaliation attacks started, it was obvious that there was a case for invoking NATO support- stronger than the one that was de facto invoked after 9/11 (when, incidentally, nobody even considered attacking the country of origin of most of the members of the attack teams, as it is an ally)  Over the last few days, news started piling up of the potential/planned/discussed/actual deployment of (German?) Patriot missiles on the border between Turkey and Syria  EU announced a de facto recognition of the opposition as a representative Government of Syria- a pattern already followed during the Arab Spring, and a pattern that could rule out invoking the NATO clause from Turkey against Syria if attacks on Turkey originating from Syria increase. It would be an interesting legal case: a representative Government that doesn’t control its own army is still something you can negotiate with to avoid a tit-for-tat response to attacks from its own territory? But a nice diplomatic way to at least give a try to attempts to avoid being dragged into an escalating war on the Southern border of NATO (Turkey), a war that breeds instability in the region as a way to also relieve pressure from Iran (which can then continue with its own preparations). 57 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-22@11:11
  • 52. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 41 As for the “media element”: what better to weaken the support from Western countries to Israel than to have proxies provoke into attack by keeping under constant pressure its civilian population (and not only in post-1967 borders)? Our freedom of press is the main support to the resilience of our democratic countries- but can also be converted into a significant chink in our social cohesion armour: ask in the US about how the Vietnam War was improving on the battlefield, and going sour on the inner front (hence, the “no more coffins/body bags on primetime” policy during the recent Gulf Wars). So, what’s next? Well, we will see. The Libya campaign showed that for all our pride and wealth, we Europeans cannot sustain a long-term campaign without the help of our American friends: not even when we have a logistical advantage (Sicily was used as an aircraft carrier, pretty much as the United Kingdom was a European logistical base during WWII- how could “resistance” movements in Continental Europe have been possible if UK had not been available to soldier on as a “beach head”?). Therefore, right at the time when we are pulling out of Afghanistan (latest figures: 500mln EUR to pull-out just for the French, and probably few billions overall for all the coalition members), we might actually be gearing up for at least some support to those already in the region. Somebody said that the Cold War was never really “cold”- but, at least, it wasn’t as close to our shores as what we keep getting now. Maybe we will need smaller but nimbler, more mobile, and better equipped forces: who is going to have the political will to say that we will need to spend more on that right now, during a recession? Incidentally: today brought other news- an extension of the investigation on the infiltration of extremist Islamist movements within the Belgian Army, to train, raise through the ranks, and then export training outside. May I kindly remind that this is not really news? Or have you forgot the storm that was reported by British newspapers when, during one of the various Gulf Wars, the National Guard of Puerto Rico was sent to UK to guard logistical bases- as there were doubts about potential infiltrations within the British military?
  • 53. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 42 The solution reported on today’s newspapers? To use the military to monitor the military. On my more limited side, I saw what the monitoring can brew when it becomes a pointless routine (I saw the same when I briefly studied the market for video surveillance). Yesterday I received a notice to update my CV on a Chinese jobsite- few minutes later, a recruitment agency in UK that hires former military sent me a CV request for a job position as a clerk in import/export in China, for 100,000 RMB/year plus accommodation. A practical joke. Hopefully, the monitoring that will be introduced to avoid infiltrations will have higher standards. But before setting up a monitoring operation, read the “semi-official” story of MI558 (yes, it is a huge volume, but worth reading): there are more lessons to learn there than in many other books on how to (and how not to) organize audit, surveillance, and the paraphernalia associated with any complex organization (and not only in the military). Meanwhile… let’s hope that the Patriots will suffice to avert a potential land intervention from Turkey in Syria. 58 Andrew, "The Defence of the Realm", 2010
  • 54. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 43 5. GAMES & THOUGHTS Games and gaming59 Well, I am mid-way through my testing in and of Berlin. And this morning I posted on my blog the first part of an article that nominally is about cloud computing.60 Nominally- because it is actually about introducing change when change alters the control structure. I could have prepared a more generic article- but, as I did in the past, I rather start from something which can provide a cultural context to a relatively wide audience, beginning with something practical, also if my line of thought was actually the other way around. Today I will finally have time to do in Berlin a couple (or three, or four) things that I had planned to do- of course, while walking. 59 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-23@09:35 60 http://www.robertolofaro.com/blog/2012/11/23/moving-to-the-cloud-and- achieving-organic-sustainability-part-1-thinking/
  • 55. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 44 Yesterday evening, on my way back from Luxembourg, I decided to have a long walk before a pint. Actually two: I had few emails to answer, and while one pint (or "cappuccino grande" at Starbucks) is enough to do my newspapers review, I needed more time. I went to the Irish pub under arcades of Hackescher Markt, and found myself in the middle of a small market, on my way from Hauptbahnhof, through Nordbahnhof and then Oranienburg Tor. Why there? Because it has both Guinness and Kilkenny (I still have to find an English pub in Berlin), obviously Wi-Fi is available, and... I assumed that it would be half empty. Ok- I wasn't the only one making that assumption. In the emptiest and quietest corner, there were two Italian students talking, talking, talking- quite loudly, as if their Erasmus issues were to be shared with everybody else! In this case, it is nice to simply ignore- funny the comments that you can hear when you pretend a) not to be listening b) not to understand what they say. But also if I had been deaf I would have understood: some of my fellow Italians do not simply underline what they say with their hands- they actually deliver a full additional track. In my line of business, I had often to talk while listening also to two or three or more conversations: or do you believe that when delivering a sales or workshop presentation you have the luxury of ignoring what those that you are trying to convert into (business) customers are saying? Often, you need to wait for the formal question that will never come, and therefore a polite way is to answer the question that wasn't asked through the one that was.
  • 56. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 45 Yes, it is a sales/change management variant of the usual political advice: answer the question that you would like to be asked, not the one that the journalist is asking. I must say: in Berlin, it is warmer than I had expected (before you ask: yes, also before drinking the beer!). Anyway, I appreciated also the usual games that I first noticed in Rome when I was working on Government projects in the early 2000s, then also in Brussels, but probably were there well before (as some people keep returning). As for the title... yesterday evening I was supposed to attend a meeting of a club I belong to since 1989. On and off few times- when I talked with the founder in London a couple of times, eventually he confirmed my reason for leaving more than once: too many people assume that by becoming the head of an association that requires an IQ test to enter they can become a "Lord of the Flies", replacing their lack of achievements/deliverables in ordinary life with an "IQ cocoon", as if they were representing the aggregate IQ of their members. Now and then, I met many people who actually admitted to try, fail, and then prepare on tests, until they passed: our brain is quite flexible, and as any test is based on patterns, if you want to pass a test that doesn't match your patterns, you just have to exercise. Incidentally: also some of those rated with the highest IQ spend a significant amount of time... to pass more tests and outperform each other- not my cup of tea. Anyway, once in, you can easily spot the "infiltrators/fifth columnists", as they do not necessarily convert their forma mentis to the "connecting the dots quickly" approach- and they assume that testing ends when they receive their membership card. I had a couple of funny tests also in my travel to Luxembourg, as when a taxi driver told me that once somebody asked for the scheduled time of a train, and was told that it was... 63 minutes after the hour.
  • 57. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 46 I immediately started laughing- and he said that sometimes people do not catch the drift for a while (hint: of course, there are only 60 minutes within an hour- at least, until you are on planet Earth). The funniest set of tests was in my brunch with the club last Sunday- but I cut it down when somebody started asking how many languages I know. I said none- and I mean it, albeit I can use with varying degrees of active/passive proficiency (i.e. talking and writing, or just listening and reading) a small number. The last time that I was again called for that "pony show", I closed up by adding a phrase in Russian. It reminded me when I had a girlfriend in Southern Germany, and, looking 20 while being 25, nobody believed that I was really doing what I was then doing- working on cultural and organizational change, after working to support senior managers in decision making. Moreover- with an Italian passport? At the time, I had supposedly "open minded" German artists challenging my knowledge of... my own business, that they had no clue whatsoever about, except for articles that they probably read to prepare the questions! If I had said "I am an Italian hairdresser" or "I work as a chef within a pizzeria"- nobody would have questioned anything... We can tear down any physical walls we want, but until we tear down the walls within our minds... we haven't yet started changing. Also, this week I was planning to attend some Go games. Well, the first one was a game within the game, a kind of "catch me up if you can", and the second one was supposedly set in an area that I visited in the morning, in the middle of nowhere.
  • 58. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 47 I think that I will attend my first Go games outside Europe, where people are more interested in playing games, than playing metagames (games about the games). But beside and outside my Circus61, I must say that people working in shops and people in Berlin are quite friendly. As for prices... on my way back from Luxembourg by train (this time, almost every train was on time), I read the "New in Berlin" guide (skipping the "Craiglist" parts- but useful to know that the list of addresses is there), and saw the rental prices: frankly, lower than in Italy. Why I waited until now? Because... I first wanted to "sample" the various areas of Berlin- what's the point of reading a list of addresses if you do not know the area? And I did not want to be “biased”- I wanted to build by own feed-back on each area. Almost a "catch22"62. Last but not least (as it is time to go out and start my daily tour): yesterday I walked through the K'damm from the beginning up to Adenauer Platz, as I usually walked only on the other side. Less fancy shops, but more interesting restaurants and real-life shops, as well as a theatre worth visiting. For the time being... have a nice Friday! 61 http://thecircusbxl.wordpress.com 62 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch-22
  • 59. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 48 Sometimes...63 It has been now one week since I started posting, on a daily basis, my travel notes from Berlin. This short story is inspired by both an article that I read yesterday morning (and I shared on @aleph123 on Twitter), and a first déjà vu that reminded me of somebody (a German/Austrian from Mainz) who tried to stick on me, in Brussels, various rumors- including, with some level of obsession, that I could be a… neonazi! Why? Well, a decent Italian speaker, with almost an obsession for Dante Alighieri (he kept over his computer monitor... a head of Dante), he considered a waste his assignment to Brussels- and looked forward to be assigned to Rome, thanks to his ability to understand Italian and Italians. Frankly- neither assumption was true: he reminded me more of those I referred to in the previous post64, that I met in the early 1990s when I had a girlfriend in Germany. Well… I will write later about yesterday in Berlin - meanwhile, as I announced on Facebook yesterday evening, this post is going to contain a bit of experience-based creative writing. “Sometimes, it looks as if movie scripts as complex as the ‘Cloud Atlas’ one are quite straightforward, if compared with the unfolding and overlapping of multiple threads of reality. And sometimes, we are so confident about the moral backbone of our organization and its ‘manifest destiny’, that we become unwillingly a vessel for what we are supposed to fight against. We say that we are a united Europe, but often you hear echoes of past wars- in jokes, and in more significant choices. 63 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-24@09:52 64 See “Games and gaming”, page 43
  • 60. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 49 But when we let past animosity interfere with future choices, we become way too easy to steer toward paths that support somebody else’s aims- while thinking that we are in control. Suddenly, in early 2007 I had a bunch of new friends in Brussels, as soon as my brother was relocated to Lisbon- and many questions. The champion was a German/Austrian that claimed to have a degree in history (well, never heard so many factoids from a supposed historian, moreover on WWII). He went a little bit over the board when organized a walk for the two of us that was actually the delivery of a history book from the early 1940s that he claimed he had to return to somebody. Only to then, after showing it to me, dropping it into the mailbox of his supposed friend, and then go away, to show me a monument that was, well, a little bit on the “conservative” side, and then, eventually, invite me to an exhibition at the war history museum in Brussels that looked as a glorification of nazi material (the allies? had limited lighting, exposure, and space). But I found puzzling the comments on the ‘foreign affairs’ role, then held by a Spanish diplomat that was supposed to be confirmed- and my historian friend repeatedly (when nobody else was there to listen) criticized that option- even more puzzling, as he had good relationships with Spanish officers. Then, it was even more puzzling when he kept inviting me to meetings and dinners or parties where I was the only one not belonging to the NATO and EU circles. It all started converging when I saw a small Dante Alighieri on his computer, and he confessed that his superior knowledge of Italian culture should have him in Rome, not in Brussels- a town that he hated wholeheartedly (he spoke a decent Italian- but, as his English, it had a strong cartoonish German accent). I did not accept any invitation to hunting activities with groups that sounded a little bit too far away from my political sensibilities (in the US, they would probably be considered “2nd Amendment extremists”)- even friendship has its limits (I fired guns only in the Army). Yes, he too went over the board few times in playing Cupid- including to set up with a Finnish girl that actually wasn’t Finnish at all, as I was warned by a Finnish contact.
  • 61. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 50 I discounted the comments on the need to learn to use weapons in preparation for the coming civil war and other racist innuendo: unfortunately, I heard a lot of that in business circles in Europe, and more than once in Schumann, Brussels- not all the “tolerance” that is posted on walls (sometimes literally, as once on the façade of the European Commission building) is anything more than skin-deep. Eventually, there was a change in the EU foreign affairs stewardship that matched what I had been told, and what I read yesterday in a newspaper article: leaving the German side in charge of the economic side, and the English side in charge of military and foreign affairs. As for others… they are welcome to support both (France is admittedly to play second fiddle to both, as it is involved in both areas, while Poland could eventually join them). Well… sounds eerily so early XX century. Trouble is: you can have all the formal powers that you want- but if you do not control the financial resources, then you can only sit on your hands- as the current holder of the post of foreign affairs for the EU often seems to do. Have a look at what was planned for something as simple as the ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize: United Europe? And we need to send a cohort of people to receive one prize? I think that it was Kissinger that said that when he picked up the phone, there was no Mr. Europe on the other side. Despite a joke few years ago by our new President of Europe, now and then we keep having a chorus (not necessarily singing the same tune), instead of a soloist supported by a chorus65. But after my German/Austrian contact informed me that he was not anymore allowed to move in Belgium outside Brussels, another twist- showing that even that separation of roles wasn’t enough, for some German elements- and that economic power is the one steering the European ship. 65 Read also Van Rompuy’s “Op zoek naar wijsheid” (seeking wisdom), 2007
  • 62. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 51 He started building up on Facebook the case for a love story in Georgia, around the time of the war, paving a reasonable way to relocate there but… privately, eventually in our long solitary walks he complained about the story. A typical “attrition leak”: you start talking too much when you are too often trying to extract information from the same people. So, what was seen in Facebook wasn’t the real story- and, again, it all became converging when I saw in Den Haag that the German and Georgian embassies basically shared the same building complex. Interesting- if you consider what happened in WWII in the region. But some cultural references and commentary, such as Monthy Python’s “Meaning of Life”, did not really match the political profile that he was increasingly presenting. It reminded more ‘Citizen X’66, when Donald Sutherland says to Stephen Rea that he apologizes for letting him on a serial murder case for years, instead of rotating after six months, as the FBI used to do, on a serial killer investigation that started before the end of the Soviet Union, and continued during the Perestroika. Leave anybody deep into a mindset that isn’t his/her own long enough, and (s)he will get closer and closer to considering ‘ordinary’ what should be only an occupational hazard. Moreover- (s)he will probably keep doing what sustains the ‘occupational hazard’, using the access and means that have been provided to be used against it- without realizing that (s)he is being used to achieve aims that (s)he was supposed to help not to achieve. So, in the end, who won? Probably, those whose plans were supposed to be interfered with”. The current deadlocked budget negotiations, increasing the attractiveness of splitting the EU in few subgroups- and making it easier to create a smaller, stronger core with various satellites economically linked to the core, but without any effective decision power. 66 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112681
  • 63. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 52 A scenario that is getting closer to “The Sum of All Fears”67 than to what we expected from all the talks and statements about the European Union becoming a different kind of superpower. Almost as if Europe were to adopt the old British Empire policy of seeding dissent between its potential opponents in Continental Europe, presenting itself as the natural candidate to keep it all together- but on a global scale. The only catch: this is being done as an uncoordinated jumble, with overlapping interests. With an increasing number of bilateral agreement from Member States with external powers and sovereign funds and other financial institutions: no amount of cohesion funds could replace the political will required to create a cultural convergence. As for my supposed association with neofascist, neonazi, and mafia circles: unusual and stupid defamation- but fighting rumours in court implies wasting the only scarce resource that any individual is endowed with- time. Born in a Catholic/Communist family (probably only in Poland you can find that combination, quite common in Italy in the 1960s/1970s), I was in a multi-faith group when I was a kid (still in elementary school). By my own choice, after I heard something that I did not like about a Jewish classmate- the usual slander on “being punished for killing Jesus”. Back then, I was learning how to sing few words also in Hebrew, basic greetings in various languages, and so on and so forth. Yes, I learned to say “venu shalom aleichem” before “good morning” (I mean- the Hebrew phrase before the English one). And, anyway- I share my position with that of a Catholic priest on a hijacked plane: if you partition between Jewish and non-Jewish, then you have to remember that also Jesus was Jewish... 67 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0164184/
  • 64. Interact on Twitter @BerlinDiaries and on Facebook.com/BerlinDiaries 53 In high school, I added to my eskimo (in late 1970s in Italy, a sign of leftist allegiance) a black Basque cap with two stars of David that I painted in red. When did I distance myself from Israel? 1982, Sabra&Chatila68: a State that supports a proxy army cannot then claim to be neither guilty nor responsible for their actions. Nonetheless: I think that nazis (as well as mafiosi) are etymologically “Barbarians”, i.e. “not from here”- you can wait until Hell freezes over if you want to see me consort with or support them, directly and indirectly. 68 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabra_and_Shatila_massacre
  • 65. #BerlinDiaries - a personal journey through the new nervous centre of Europe 54 6. SERENDIPITOUS WALKING A walk in town69 For once, I had to regret not bringing with me my backpack. Now that I got in my mind the main “vectors” across Berlin… while walking I found various small markets. Why “vectors”? Because I remember reading an article about how people remember maps- and how taxi drivers seemed to think about “vectors”, i.e. finding main “lines” to connect two points, and then add more lines to get to further details, e.g. a small alley. As I started my business travels in late 1980s, long before Internet was available in Europe outside academic institutions, I was used to buy the Michelin guide, look at the map whenever I went into a new town for the first time, memorize main routes across the map that could bring me back to my hotel or bring me to my customers’ premises, and then leave the guide home (i.e. in my hotel room). Back then, even photocopies were unusual, and we had a meter and code on the photocopiers, as in “The Firm”70. 69 First posted on Frype.com/robertolofaro: 2012-11-25@00:10 70 John Grisham, “The Firm”, 1991