Thursday, October 31, 2019

Halloween 2019

Halloween started to become a thing in Germany over the past 28 years.  Fasching is Germany's carnival season that starts at 11:11 am on 11 November and lasts until midnight on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) which is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  In 1991, Fasching was cancelled because of the First Gulf War and somehow Halloween stepped in to fill the gap and over the years its popularity has grown.  

In the USA Halloween costumes can be pretty much any genre imaginable, from princesses and cowboys to vampires and zombies.  In Germany Halloween costumes should only be spooky or scary like a ghost or a witch because the non-scary costumes like a clown or whatever is reserved for Fasching.

One of the benefits of having an American godfather is that Tünde gets some Halloween support.  For school today she dressed up as a witch.  After school we carved a pumpkin together.  We lit candles outside and decorated the door so that kids knew to stop by and she handed out candy in her ghost costume.  

Instead of "Trick or treat", the children say "Süßes, sonst gibt's Saures" (Give me sweets or there will be sour things).

We had maybe five or six groups of children that came by.  This may not sound like a lot but for a quiet street in Friedrichshagen this was a respectable number.

While Halloween is growing in popularity here not everyone is happy about it.  For a couple of reasons.  First, Fasching starts two weeks later on St. Martin's Day (11 November) and children go around the neighbourhood with lanterns, while singing songs or reciting poems in exchange for treats.  

Note: St. Martin's Day in Czechland is about drinking young wine and eating goose.  

The second, and probably biggest problem with Halloween is that 31 October is Reformationstag (Reformation Day) which celebrates Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation that split the Catholic Church.  It's an important day for Lutherans and it is an official religious holiday in the German states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia.  All the states that used to make up East Germany.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Great Gatsby Ballet

For my birthday Claudia got us tickets to see The Great Gatsby at Admiralspalast.  This was the coolest show!  It's a contemporary ballet with modern visual effects.

The theatre at Friedrichstraße, in Berlin's Mitte district, opened in 1910.  It somehow suffered very little damage during WWII.  

There were only three performances in Germany this year, in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg, so it was great to be able to see it.  

The dancers are from ballet companies from the USA, Russia, and Ukraine.

Here's the official trailer of the 2016 tour that I found on YouTube.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Tünde's Ghost Costume

I'm in Friedrichshagen for the week.  A cute, little area in East Berlin.  Which is cool because I get to put in some godfather time.  

Apparently Halloween is starting to catch on a bit in Germany.  Tünde wants to be a ghost for Halloween so one of the items on the to-do list is to sort out her costume.  

Let's see how many trick-or-treaters we get on Thursday.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Prague Visit and Dalíbor

One of the gifts I received at my 10th anniversary fiesta were tickets to see Dalibor at the National Theatre in Prague.  So Claudia and I made a weekend of it.  On Friday night we meet up at the main station, checked in to our hotel and went out for dinner and drinks.

On Saturday we did a bit of sightseeing around the city.  

We met up Vilma and Marco who we haven't seen in a few years since they moved to Prague.  It was so nice to catch up.

I had the best hazelnut eclair ever at IF Cafe.

On Saturday night we headed to the National Theatre to see the opera.

Dalíbor is Bedřich Smetana's third opera and premiered in Prague in 1868.  The opera is basically a romantic tragedy and the music was simply incredible.

This morning we caught a train to Berlin so I'll be in Friedrichshagen for a week.  Now to help with Tünde's Halloween costume.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland finally joins England, Scotland, and Wales in allowing same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom.  This was the only part of the UK where it wasn't recognised.  The Republic of Ireland passed it in 2015 so now same-sex marriage will be legal across all of Ireland

Northern Ireland has allowed civil partnerships since 2005 but that doesn't give same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as a civil marriage.

It's been a long road in Northern Ireland.  Same-sex marriage was voted on five times between 2012 and 2015 and even though it narrowly passed on the fifth attempt it was vetoed by the Democratic Unionist Party.  

It will be law in January 2020 and on Valentine's Day, 14 February 2020, the first marriages may be registered.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Don's Walk

Pretty soon it will be the 30th anniversary of the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.  

Yesterday, the Brno Expat Centre held an event called "Don's Walk: Brno Then and Now 1989/2019."  It started off at Moravské náměstí at noon and lasted just over two hours.

It was a nice day and Don had plenty of insight on just how much Brno has changed over the last 30 years.  It was interesting seeing old pictures of the city compared to what's here now.  And of course there's the different street names.

The shop on "Victory Road" is now a Premod on Masaryk Street.

At the corner of Mečova and Dominican Square, which used to be called Friendship of Nations Square) was a parking area.  Now it's Velký Špalíček, a small shopping centre with a movie theatre.

I really enjoyed this kind of nostalgic walking tour of the city.  I'm sure that's there's much more to discover about Brno.

While not part of the tour, we passed by "Totalita" at náměstí Svobody which is a temporary exhibit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

I've always seen photos and video of the protests in Prague.  But here's a photo of the people gathered together protesting in Brno in 1989.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Pride Business Forum Diversity Workshop

One of my personal goals for a while has been for the local IBM office to host a diversity & inclusion workshop and today it finally happened.  Today's workshop was on "Creating a workplace free from discrimination, prejudice and exclusion and an opportunity to learn, discuss and debate key issues relating to diversity and inclusion in the workplace."  In cooperation with RWS Moravia and the Pride Business Forum, this was the first workshop of its kind in the region.  

This was the first time that the Pride Business Forum has held an event outside of Prague so I'm extra proud that IBM Brno hosted the event.

Initially we thought that we would have only a small number of participants attending but we have over 20 delegates from 15 different companies plus even a representative from the Brno City Council.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Uzbekistan Trip Summary 2019

Well my Uzbekistan adventure came to a close.  I can't believe that I finally made it there.  It's the item that's been on my bucket list the longest but after 32 years I did it.   

I also had my first Aeroflot flight and made it to Moscow.  Only as far as my "capsule" hotel in transit hall at Sheremetyevo Airport.

I started off in Tashkent.  It reminded me of other former Soviet cities with the way things were laid out.  There was plenty to see but it didn't have the rich history of the other cities I visited.  

I'm glad that I took the half-day trip out to the mountains and Lake Charvak.

One thing worth checking out is the Tashkent metro.  Many of the stations are simply stunning.

One of my friends knows a guy who works at one of the embassies in Tashkent, who he put me in touch with.  On my last night in Tashkent he invited me over to have some wine and to meet his boyfriend.  It was a lovely evening.  I would post a photo and use names but I can't because being gay is illegal and can be punished by a three to five year prison sentence.  It was still one of the highlights of my trip.

I then caught the train to Samarkand.  My Russian failed me a bit here because instead of getting on the high-speed train I ended up on the normal Uzbek railway.  Overall not bad and I got some extra time to relax with my book.

Samarkand was small but so much to see.  In one day I walked 20 km (12,5 mile) walk where I visited mosques, museums, a souq, an ancient observatory, a necropolis, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cemeteries, and the tomb of St. Daniel.

This photo of Registan is for sure going up on Facebook.

For anyone going to Uzbekistan I can't stress this enough.  Bring either U.S. Dollars or Euros with you to exchange.  Very few places take cards so you need to have cash on you.  Most of the ATMs across the country don't work with foreign cards.  Some machines only work with Visa while some only work with MasterCard.  And it was very common for ATMs simply to be out of cash.  

Use the ATM at the airport when you land and take out more money than you normally would.  When I first landed I only took out 1,5 million Uzbek Som (€145 or $159).  I should have taken out enough money for the entire trip because trying to get more cash later was a bit of an adventure.

After a couple of days in Samarkand it was another train ride to Bukhara.  There is so much history to explore in Bukhara.  You can't turn a corner without coming across an ancient mosque, madrasa, mausoleum.

Things only get more beautiful at night when the lights come on.

After a week my Russian was pretty functional again.  An Uzbek woman said that I spoke pretty decent Russian for a Czech.  Not sure how I felt about this because the joke goes that when a drunk Czech speaks Russian what you end up with is Slovak.

The food was really good and cheap.  Lots of shashlik which are basically shish kebab.  The Plov (national rice pilaf dish) was excellent.

Dinner one night in Bukhara was black tea, break, meat soup and meat dumplings for 36.000 Som (€3,47 or $3.82).

If I had a few more days in Uzbekistan then I would have made it up ti Khiva.  Since I didn't make it this time I guess a return visit is in order.  Hopefully it won't take 32 years to make it back again.

From Tashkent I had my first flight with S7 (Siberian Airlines) which is part of Oneworld Alliance.  Unfortunately there was some mechanical problems with the connecting flight in Moscow so I was delayed a couple of hours getting back to Vienna on Sunday night.  

Overall a great trip!  Now the only Central Asian countries still to visit are Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.  Hmmm....maybe in 2020.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Bukhara, or Buxoro in Uzbek, was founded around the 6th century BC and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Central Asia.  It's 240 km (149 miles) from Samarkand.  With a population of 272.000 people it is the 5th largest city in Uzbekistan.  

The city is located along the Silk Road and it was once a major intellectual centre in the Islamic world.  Bukhara is filled with architectural sights and the historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I never knew that there once was a Bukhara People's Soviet Republic.  It only existed from 1920 - 1925 and it then became part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Ark is the massive fortress.  The true age isn't known but the military structure was in use around the 5th Century AD.  It remained in use as a fortress until it fell Imperial Russia in 1920.  Today it holds a few museums, a mosque, and stables.

The Kalyan Mosque was completed in 1514.  It can accommodate 12.000 people.  It's beautiful during the day but gorgeous at night when it is lit up.

The Kalyan Minaret was built in 1127.  It is made of bricks at is 45,6 meters (150 feet) tall and 9 meters (30 feet) wide at the base.  As a minaret it is used to call people to prayer.  During war times it was used as a watchtower.  It was also known as the Tower of Death because criminals were executed by being thrown from the top.  Apparently Genghis Khan was so impressed by the tower that it was spared when his men destroyed the city.

The Mir-i-Arab Madrassah was completed in 1535-1536.  It is still a functioning madrassah where future imams and religious leaders train.  At night it looks like something from "Alladin."

Mir-i-Arab Madrassah at night.

Collectively, the Kalyan Mosque, the minaret, the madrassah, and another small madrassah, make up the Poi-Kalyan complex. 

The Abdullazizkhan Madrasah was built in 1651-1652.

The Memorial Complex of Imam Al Bukhari is a small museum that opened in 2001.  It is shaped as a partially opened book.

The Chashma-Ayub mausoleum is on top of the the spot where it is believed that the prophet Job struck the ground with a stick and fresh water came forth.

The Carpet Weaving Museum opened in 1991.

The Sarrafon Bathhouse was built in the 16th century.  I'm not sure if it is still a functioning Hammam.

The Magoni-Attori Mosque was rebuilt in the 12th century.

The Bukhara Synagogue is one of only two remaining synagogues in the city.  Back in the 1920s, over 10% of the city's population was Jewish and there were 13 synagogues.

The Lyab-i Hauz complex sits around one of the city's last remaining ponds as they were all filled in during the Soviet era.  It's a great place to grab a tea and write postcards

The statue of Nasruddin Hodja is the central character of many Central Asian children's folk stories.

The Kukeldash Madrasah was completed in 1569 and it is the largest in the city.

The Samanid Mausoleum was built in the 10th century.

The Museum of Fine Art building was built in 1912.  The museum has been here since 1982.

Zindan is the 18th century dungeon.

The prison's 4th cell was the most notorious and it was known as the "bug pit" which was reserved for the least favourite prisoners.

The trading domes are filled with souvenir shops.   

The observation tower was originally a water tower built in 1920.  The observation deck on top provides views of the entire city.

At night it's all lit up.

In the centre are the remains of ancient caravans and bathhouses.

Chor Minor, also known as the Madrassah of Khalif Niyaz, was completed in 1807.  It was a gatehouse for a madrasa that has long since been destroyed.

The Emir's Palace was completed in 1898.  During Soviet times it was used as the Palace of Culture of the Railway Workers.  It is not used today and is in desperate need of renovation.