It took me nearly an hour to pack for a three week trip, and as always, I used only carry-on bags. My last minute weight reduction exercise led me to leave all the tourist guidebooks behind, since they are more interesting to read when I get back anyway. In new aircraft configurations even the standard carryon bags are a tight fit, so one cannot assume that a fully stuffed carryon bag is still a carry on bag. It pays to grab the first overhead bin available that looks big enough; why carry them all the way down the narrow aisles? As I squeezed into my American Airlines seat I wondered what happened to the increased leg room they had been advertising.
I have discovered a common traveler's ailment that tourist books fail to warn about. I think almost everyone gets it, and everyone thinks it is unique to him. I find that knowing about it makes it easier to cope with. As I sit in the plane with a 15 hour journey ahead of me, I feel a little depressed and stupid as I wonder why am I putting myself through this when sitting on my back porch and watching the cats play among the flowers would be a lot more enjoyable. For years I asked myself the same question on the first day and sometimes even the second. By now I know that tomorrow I will be enthralled in the pleasures of strolling down the streets of Zurich, Switzerland, wondering what the next adventure and strange sight will be, and wondering why I had been depressed.
After talking with many other people I found this to be a common experience, especially among adventuresome travelers. I finally accepted that the first day blues are a price one must pay to be a tourist, good or bad. To begin with, the baby screaming across the aisle doesn't help and the knowledge that in 15 hours I will be in a strange land where most people speak something other than English, looking for a place to stay in a city that I have not been in for thirty years has its toll. But there is more to it than that. Something within most of us urges us not to do anything different than we have always done. Something makes us feel bad when we don't conform or when we choose to try new things. Fortunately, for the world, some of us do it anyway.
I agreed to make this trip 9 months ago at the Pultusk conference in Poland when a friend invited me during a beer party to come to a conference on Holography in Lugano, Switzerland. Neither of us took my positive response very serious until a German friend, Wolfgang Osten, agreed that if I would come to Lugano, we could meet in East Berlin afterwards and drink beer together. It happens that Wolfgang comes from East Berlin and was one of those who was quite content with his life in the GDR (East Germany). It was this second offer that made the first sound good. I could see East Germany with a local guide (the famous ResHan maneuver).
To me the universe is a cacophony of events most of the time. Like a surfer waiting for the perfect wave occasionally I see a harmony of events with a certain coherence inviting me to jump in and ride a large wave for a while. Many things coming together in harmony is like a symphony. This coherence was providing an opportunity not to be disregarded. To add to the wave my business partner has a brother in West Berlin, who had also extended me an open invitation, and second, the city of Dresden, another German city I have always wanted to visit lies a two hour train ride away, and not the least of all, I needed an escape from work for a while.
I had decided to throw myself into typical WWT mode from the outset. I would hit Zurich at noon with no hotel reservation, relying on the WARHOT (Walk ARound HOTel) maneuver . Zurich is one of those wonderful cities that has a Haupt Ban Hof (main railway station) that is surrounded by wonderful sights to see, hotels, and Swiss stuff. At least it did thirty years ago. I was hoping that in the intervening years it had not become another American city where the downtown had disappeared and been replaced by shopping malls. I would spend one night in Zurich and head off for Lugano on Tuesday. Since the first day is like Zombieland anyway, it doesn't much matter where one stays.
Zurich is a tourist friendly town and a good place to start of a trip to Europe, also a good place to get over jet lag. Customs is almost non existent and the train to town was easy to find. All you need to know is that HB stands for Haupt Bonhof, the main train station. I bought my ticket in a machine for about 7 bucks roundtrip. Ten minutes later I was walking down Bahnhof Strasse (Street), using the WARHOT maneuver. After walking for a few minutes I cut off of to the left of the main street and headed up a cobble stone street into an interesting looking neighborhood made up of a million tiny little streets. The only down side was some difficulty in pulling the bag, which was bouncing around on the cobblestones. Soon I spotted a good candidate, a tiny little hotel with about 10 rooms called The Kindle Hotel. I took a quick look at the room on the second floor and signed up for about 130 bucks a night, which isn't bad for Zurich where hotel prices can be astronomical.
My choice turned out to be almost perfect. I was in the center of Alt Stadt (Old Town) with a great view of St. Peters Church a block away. I decided to stay awake until night time so I hit the streets again. Zurich is full of pedestrian friendly streets, shops, and scenery everywhere. To my surprise the streets were almost empty and the stores all closed. It was May Day, I found out later. Nearby is the Frau church, which possesses an incredible set of stained glass windows by Marc Chagalls. I sat in a small chapel and meditated a while hypnotized by the windows. Across the river I visited the Gross Muenster, which is adorned by stained glass windows painted by Giocometi. I liked the Chagalls windows the best. the area South of the river is called the Niedersdorf and it is full of tiny streets lined with restaurants and shops. I realized I had not eaten in about eight hours and I became incredibly hungry smelling the foods.
This is the German part of Switzerland so the language, the food and the culture are more German than anything else. I decided to eat Swiss food, so I picked a place called "The Swiss Kuch", which I figured meant Swiss Kitchen; it was a good choice. I had a dish that was made of cheese, bread, onions, and mushrooms, topped with pickles. I had forgotten how good the German white wine is. by the time I had finished off a half liter of wine, I wondered if I would be able to find the room again.
Back in the room, I still needed to stay awake another hour so I turned on the TV and looked for something unusual. I found that I could pick up several languages. I found myself watching a live bullfight in Madrid. At first I could hardly keep my eyes open, but eventually I got caught up in the action and found myself amazed that man had somehow decided that killing a bull in this fashion was something good to do. By the time the first bull had been killed I began to feel sorry for the bull and his inevitable fate. I found myself becoming angry with the torodor who was about to show his heroism by sticking a sword in this poor bleeding animal whose tongue had begun hanging our from exhausstion. At that moment the bull got some special energy from somewhere, lifted the torodor high in the air, impaled upon his horn and tossed him like a rag doll over his head. The bull followed through with another charge, goring and trampling the man again before help arrived. By this time I was caught up in the violence so much that I was wide awake for another two hours. Thanks to melatonin, I slept for eight hours after that, rising to a beautiful Swiss morning.
On Tuesday I walked the entire town and enjoyed the scenery especially along the shore of Lake Zurich and the river. I bought a Rolex watch in Zurich 30 years ago for $350 when watch making was the largest industry in Switzerland next to hiding the Mafia's money. Today, the only reason anyone wears a Rolex is to prove he is rich, the same reason people carry the American Express card. I think that one could make a lot of money by selling large, very expensive badges that are totally copyrighted and protected that say, "I am so rich that I can afford to pay $5,000 for nothing." Today I wear a $25 Casio that is about an order of magnitude better than the Rolex, which now costs $2000. My Casio is a time piece, a phone book, alarm clock, timer, and calendar. I used to be proud that the Rolex was accurate to a minute each month. I haven't set my Casio in years. (I also cancelled my American Express gold card when I realized that Visa was better and cheaper)
Before leaving town I discovered the new Swatch watches called "Skin", and could not resist buying a few as gifts. These are so cool looking and so thin who cares whether they tell time or not. The Swiss watch industry had been decimated by the electronic watches. Here, the Swiss recovered a little by incorporating skills at making thin watches into the thinnest watch that I had ever seen, and also the added feature of making it transparent. The Swatch is more a conversation piece than a watch. I was somewhat amazed to find that the price of these watches was the same (about $60), no matter where they were located, even in the airports, even in Germany.
The train to Lugano was a special treat. The Swiss countryside and mountains we transited were like something from a storybook. Little villages and churches dotted the sides of the mountains, with swift streams and waterfalls everywhere. I was almost sad to reach Lugano where I demounted from the train. The map I had gotten of Lugano was good enough to allow me to walk to the hotel La Paix, a short kilometer from the station.
Lugano is a beautiful Swiss city with mostly Italian culture and language, sitting on the edge of a lake surrounded by mountains. My fourth floor room had a balcony that overlooked Lake Lugano and a few castles perched high on the mountain sides.
The meeting was attended by 120 people from 19 countries all who had come to discuss optics and to honor professor Phlug, who was retiring as the director of the institute of optics at Lussaine. Apparently, Phlug was extremely well known amongst the Swiss, but almost no one else including myself had ever heard of him. At the banquet he was honored by representatives from many of the countries giving a congratulation speech. (I think this must have been the idea of Werner, another German friend), Except for the Swiss representative most speakers began by saying "Although I didn't have the honor of knowing Professor Phlug.............". The couple sitting in front of me were slowly dozing off as we all dreaded the thought that this could conceivably continue for 19 speeches. Fortunately, the waiters kept pouring a great French Bordeaux during the whole ordeal.
Some of the papers in the meeting were excellent. Others, including a talk by a well known American scientist were totally awful. I was completely amazed and baffled at why an Oakland University professor would give the same talk he had given nearly twenty years earlier to such a sophisticated audience. He said absolutely nothing that would not be expected to be already well known by all of the audience. He had at least twice too many slides and his talk became a comedy when he ran out of time with many slides left in his stack. That his lecture made the audience laugh was the only good thing to be said about it. He seemed baffled that he should not have extra time to show viewgraphs that the audience had already seen years before. I kept asking myself over and over, "If he is not stupid, why is he doing such a stupid thing?"
The Lugano conference combined with the Pultusk conference in Warsaw last year provided me a communication insight I had never felt so clearly before. I had referred to a type of communication used by foreigners as Universal Bad English, recognizing that people from English speaking countries were least understood by the rest. I remembered how all the students in my Spanish class could talk with each other but could not understand Spanish speakers. Realizing that the concept was more than just a philosophical idea gave me a new freedom and ability to communicate I had not known before.
It first dawned on me when my friend Mitsuo from Japan told me he could not understand me. And yet he did understand all these people who spoke "universal bad English". Upon coming to the realization that my foreign friends could not understand me, I first went into a state of depression. Finally, I gave in to the fact that I needed to learn to speak Universal Bad English. I have since changed this name to Universal Spoken English (USE) realizing that there is nothing bad about it at all. It is a language based on English and it should not be confused with English. Once one realizes that and abandons any notion of teaching people correct English it becomes easy to learn and communicate. Face it. Foreigners are not going to learn to speak English and they don't need to. (Learning to read and write English may be a different story).
The rules are fairly simple, and can be learned simply by listening. Speaking USE is a bit painful, and one must concentrate to prevent drifting back into English, which will be understood by almost no one. The concept is so important that I have written a complete article on it as a must for people who want to travel abroad and communicate with the natives.
I will state here only a few of the more important rules. Words are spoken distinctly with a pause between each word. (this is hard to do at first) Say something trivial at first to let the listener know that USE is the language to expect. Most of the speakers will be translating in their heads to their own language from USE, so slow down. Grammar is irrelevant, use simple verb forms mostly present tense, short words, short sentences. You will be able to see some experts begin thinking in USE during a conversation, depending on when they last used their own language. English speaking people, like Indians, Scottish, Africans, and so on have dialects. The different dialects are not to be confused with USE; they are just other forms of English that can be as hard to understand as USE and will not be understood by USERS.
Vowels can be pronounced with any hardness or softness in any word and the word still has meaning. The listener must be prepared and able to recognize all such pronunciations. Emphasis can occur on any part of a word, so one must expand ones vocabulary of pronunciation to cover all of these; that is, one must first translate USE into English until you can begin to think in USE.
USE is a very efficient language (especially if no time is wasted on translating it to English or attempting to 'correct' pronunciations) with a large ratio of information content to number of words used (unlike, for example, British English). Consequently some of the time lost in slowing down can be made up by efficiency. The real meat is still present. Something trivial cannot be flowered up with meaningless words. One can even test the real value of a statement by hearing it in USE, so this may actually be a new application for USE. If a statement is trivial and/or meaningless, its meaninglessness will be more obvious when it is translated into USE.
The Swiss do a good job with meetings; they included the usual banquet, an outing on a boat, a reception at the local mayors offices and a program of extras. Wolfgang had arranged tickets to a ballet at La Scalla in Milan on Wednesday. Okay, I admit that I had never heard of La Scalla before. It seems that La Scalla is the most famous opera house in all of Europe. All of the famous composers and operas had performed there. To Wolfgang's amazement, I had never heard of Karl Maria Von Weber, the great German composer. Of course, he didn't seem too troubled that he had not heard of Rod Serling or The Twilight Zone. How could anyone not recognize the famous theme song, "DaDaaah Da, DaDaah Da........"? He could not even recognize the ominous great white shark theme from Jaws, Doom.... .Dah...... Doom......Dah........Doomda, doomda, doomda, doomda....So much for cultural differences.
Werner drove a party of five to the ballet in his Mercedes. It took less than an hour to get to Milan, but then getting from the freeway to the city center took as much time. In Europe the freeways rarely run through the center of cities. I suppose they would have to destroy too much old stuff to make that happen. We walked through the city center with a view of the magnificent Dome cathedral arriving with half an hour to spare to view the architecture and sculpture that surrounds every vantage point. Da Vinci's statue stands immediately in front of La Scala. Inside is a classical opera house. We had great seats centered at the back of the front orchestra. The only problem was that the seats are packed so close together that once you are in, you are in until everyone moves.
After finding my seat I realized that I was trapped after ten huge Italian women took their seats on both sides of me. To get out would have required all of them to leave. At that point I saw that Wolfgang had found a high balcony from which to view the entire house and was waving for me to join him. To make matters even worse, being trapped gave me the tremendous urge to take a pee before the ballet started. There would be no bathroom break once this thing started lest I shut down the ballet to get past those ten fat Italians. I checked in both directions and judged that no one was looking before stepping over the back of the seat to get out. No sooner than I had cleared the seat I heard this loud resounding, reproaching, screeching "SENOREEE!!!!!!" from a female usher who was not going to let me sneak out without punishing me for my indiscretion. She raced across the aisle and for a moment appeared to be having a heart attack while chewing me out in Italian. (Although I could not understand a word she was saying I think it is safe to assume that, indeed, she was chewing me out) I thought for a moment she was going to kick me out of the place. So all of the fat Italian ladies rose and smirked at me as I sheepishly squeezed by to get back in my seat.
Things seemed to go downhill for the usher after that. Cameras were flashing all around (a no-no in La Scala) and she began to confiscate them. In the middle of the ballet, someone's cell phone (they call them 'handies') went off. The ballet itself was wonderful and not to be forgotten. At the end the hero died when his very strange lover kissed him. We followed the ballet with a great Italian meal and arrived back in Lugano around two AM. I made up for the loss of sleep during some of the more boring papers the next day. The only problem with sleeping during lectures is that my head keeps getting off balance and falls over waking me up.
Lugano is one of those cities where one can choose between many ways to spend pleasureful time, the kind of place where people who have more money than they can spend built houses where they go a few weeks each year. Hans, another German friend, Werner, and I spent a few hours in the local art museum at a special exhibit on Koechner, a well known German artist, who was active during the early twentieth century. His work resembles that of Gaugin. He wound up killing himself, like a few other artists of that type. Franckly speaking, if I could not draw any better than Koechner, I would probably kill myself. We may never know if some of these guys could draw or not, since nothing in the three floors of the exhibit could tell you.
On Friday my Russian friend and I took another walk into town and used the internet cafe. We managed to time our email activity perfectly so that it rained the whole time we were inside. By the time we had finished lunch, the sun was back out. It was during this lunch where my use of USE became most adept. For the first time of the trip I counducted a deep philosopical discussion in this new language and finally felt that I could communicate completely with my foreign friends. I discoverd among other things that Nadya is a psychic and has many of the same beliefs in the paranormal as I.
That evening Werner invited our group for a trip around the lake in his Mercedes. We stopped at a small village along the lake and hiked up the mountain to another small village, Morcote, that he had visited before. The footpath that winds among tinty alleys, up stairs and along steep mountainside trails was marked along the way with signs that tell you how far you are from various places in minutes. The first sign we saw said "Morcote- 30 minutes". After walking for what seemed like a long time and being almost out of breath we came to a new sign that said "Morcote-30 minutes". Curiously, the singns on the way down don't seem to account for the fact that walking down is a lot easier.
In my life, I notice that about once a year, pouring a beer down my throat is more pleasureful than anything I can think of, may even better than sex. After the walk to Morcote, we stopped along a seaside cafe and ordered beer, minestrone and cheese. This turned out to be one of those times.
Werner and Wolfgang had driven to Lugano and offered me a ride back to Berlin. Having experienced a rather weak blatter an no fondness for car riding in Europe and a sense of dread over twelve hours in a car, I could only think of the comfortable train ride I had experienced on the way down from Zurich. So I turned them down. At the Lugano station I began to realize that I had turned down a rare opportunity to see Switzerland and Germany in their entire breadths from a car, and I wished I had thought longer before rejecting the offer. When the train rolled in I had even more regrets.
The universe offers us opportunities in almost every moment. When we turn down a truly unique opportunity, I believe that we are punished. When I mounted the train, I encountered aisles filled with people, no seats, and hardly standing space. I spent the next three hours cramped in a hallway. After a half hour I began to wonder if I could handle three hours of this. I began thinking about the Jews who rode these rails stuffed in cattle cars for days and I began to get sick. Two old ladies sat in the floor behind me. Finally, a young man rose and offered his seat to one of them. Then at the next stop, another lady mounted the train and kicked the old lady out of her seat that she had reserved. Fortunately, the time passed without me decorating the floor; I was really glad to see Zurich and really sad that I had thoughtlessly passed up the car trip.
Being totally exhausted and a little sick after the miserable ride from Lugano, I elected to have a nice meal in the Zurich station. The Zurich station is a city within itself, having several levels of stores and restaurants. Interestingly enough on the second level, one can have a pee for the cost of $0.75, while on the bottom floor it is free. Guess where all the locals pee.
With a couple of hour's to spare I mounted a train that said "Flugafen". A half an hour later, I realized that somehow I was not going to Flughafen. I had no idea where I was, but certainly not at the airport. I left the train and searched for another route from a tiny station outside of Zurich. Fortunately, I had time to recover from the mistake. I was in the airport within another half hour, with not much time to spare before the flight to Berlin. I suppose that only the WWT makes this kind of mistake.
Swissair presented me with yet another unpleasant surprise. "We overbooked the flight, and we apologize," they told me. Soon I realized that no Swiss regulation forces them to do anything at that point. They offered me no options, no compensation, and no promises. I had only one choice to get to Berlin; buy a business class seat on the plane. Not having the time to argue, I shelled out more than the entire flight had cost to purchase a seat on the plane. Never before did I realize that an economy fare on Swiss Air in Europe is nothing more than a lottery ticket. Maybe you can fly, maybe not.
This episode had a happier ending to it a few months later. Sometimes
complaining simply calls the right person's attention to something that needs to
be changed. I hope this happened in this case. I complained fiercely about being
denied boarding on the Swissair flight to Berlin. I wrote letters and emails to
anyone in Swissair for whom I had an address fully documenting the entire
episode. And people in Swissair listened. They apologized for the problem
I had encountered, refunded my airfare and even gave me coupons to use on
Swissair. This made me feel a lot better about Swissair and maybe it will make
it easier on some other guy who gets stuck in the same situation.
I am not very tolerant of complainers who piss and moan about every little screw up that people and companies make. We all screw up here and there and I figure the world is better off if we just overlook most of them. No one enjoys someone looking over his shoulder to call him on his next screw up. That said, however, there is a difference between a minor screw up and a bad trend. I believe that it is not only the right, but also the duty for each of us to sound off when we observe that something is moving the vectors in the wrong direction for the whole society and for all time. That is one reason why I complain about tight aircraft seating and changing the name of Third Street to Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. When complaining has a chance of making the world a better place for others to live in, then it should be done. I don't expect, however, that anyone is ever going to change Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard back to Third Street.
Upon arriving at Berlin's Tegal Airport, Werner had to me to search for a "magic" monitor near the front of the airport that would guide me to the hotel. Not too much surprise that it was no where to be found. While searching, however, I saw a bus labeled "Unter Den Linden", the name of my hotel. The friendly driver invited me aboard and told me he would drop me at the hotel. What a welcome experience for a tired traveler in a new foreign town! I was the only passenger on the bus for the entire 30 minute trip. I sensed the universe had punished me enough and was again on my side.
On the first night I walked the strip from the Brandenburg gate to the Berliner Dome. It was hard to imagine that a wall had separated this city into two totally different cultures a dozen years before. The amount of construction underway is totally unreal. As far as the eye can see in every directions huge cranes tower over massive building projects.
The first day plan called for a walk, a few churches and one museum. The Berliner Dome (cathedral) was in the midst of church services so tourists were asked to return later. I walked in the "Lust Garden" towards the four museums behind the church. I chose the famous Pergaman museum since I had been to Pergama a few years before. What I saw at Pergama was still mostly a pile of granite rubble, so it was nice to see some of it put back together, even if the Germans had to steal it. Still, I have to admit, museums can never replace the real place. Someone once said with much truth that galleries and museums are hospitals for sick art. The museum contains many copies of ancient structures and art made my German archeologists over 100 years ago, some of which are now better preserved than the real thing. This concept that a copy can be more meaningful that the real thing set me thinking for a long while.
For some reason, Germans seem to really love the sun. None of them seem to have discovered the hat, and my hat drew quite a few looks. An old German lady approached me and looked me straight in the eye, said a few words and smiled. I can read German and speak some; however, it was five minutes later that I realized that she had told me she loved my hat. I am sorry I did not respond to her when she said it. After spending an hour walking in the sun, I began to search for shade. Standing at the rivers edge beside the National Gallery I looked across the river to a small park, Monbijou Park, and chose to stroll through it before returning to the church. The entry to the park begins with a nice sculpture, but the park itself held another surprise. Taking the path that runs closest to the river, halfway down the path I turned away from the river to look into the park itself. My eyes fell upon a row of frauleins stretched out in the sun with only a tiny patch of cloth covering one spot on gorgeous bodies. It was really hard not to stare. I figured then, as tempting as it was to sit there for a spell, that I had better head back to the church.
By now the Berliner Dome was open for tourists. I spent a half hour walking around the church until I found my way to the foot of the stairs to the tower. Normally, I never hesitate at a church tower. Today, I was tired and hungry and I stood there staring up at the endless spiral of too many steps for a tired and hungry man. Just as I was about to head for the outside I was surrounded by a nice aroma of perfume and I turned to see a nicely shaped, gorgeous, young, blond German lady wearing a very short skirt approaching the spiral stairs. As she ascended, even after only a few steps I could see the flimsy string constituting her underwear. Suddenly, my hunger and thirst disappeared and I mounted the stairs behind (beneath) her. As we ascended, I hoped the stairs would go all the way to heaven. I knew at last the Universe had forgiven me for turning down the opportunity for the drive up from Lugano, and I could not turn down this one. It was a good recommendation, since the view from the tower was almost as exciting as the view in getting there.
Under Den Linden street between the Brandenburg Gate and the Dome cathedral is one of the best strips to walk I have seen anywhere. The hotel is located perfectly about half way. Another nearby square surrounding the symphony house is often called the most beautiful square in Europe. While it is beautiful, I still hold out for Brussels' Grand Place as the title holder.
It is difficult to believe that this began as an idea to meet Wolfgang in East Berlin to drink beer. Wolfgang had expanded the idea into a workshop on holography that was attended by leading researchers from seven countries. On the first night we all headed for dinner in an authentic German pub. The next series of events showed me a renewed signal of coherence and synchronicity of events.
The series of events began in front of Humbolt University, where were to meet the next day, when Wolfgang realized he had forgotten his camera. As he ran back to the hotel to retrieve it we waited for him and Werner browsed through a used book stand and found a book by Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels titled "On the Luck of Being Together" and he purchased it for Wolfgang, who is a great admirer of Karl Marx. As we passed through a sculpture park, Wolfgang collected us all together around a statue of Marx and Engels and made photographs of us all together. Later in the restaurant Werner toasted Wolfgang and presented him the book and thanked him for bringing us all together. Wolfgang thought he had read every book Marx had written but he had never seen this one before. It was at that point that I recognized the strange relationship between the events that started with Wolfgang forgetting his camera.
The restaurant was one of those genuine German pubs that would never be found by a tourist. Most of us ordered the specialty of the region, boiled pigs knuckle, which turned out to be a huge chunk of pork complete with skin and bone.We washed it down with dark beer. Werner devoured everything, including the skin. Actually the skin was quite tasty, but I figured it contained enough collesterol clog my arteries before the meal was over.
After dinner we wound up in a night club district, complete with ladies of the evening sporting their wares on the streets. It was in one of these bars that we realized the wide variance in type and locatin of the toilets in the various pubs. A visit to the toilet was a venture in itself. At some point in the night we all elected Mitsuo Takeda the Toilet Minister, whose job it was to locate and escorto members of the group to the proper place. Mitsuo took his job quite seriously and continued in the role with competence through the rest of the trip. One of the toilets actually had a throne in an antiroom, as though built especially for Mitsuo, so we all surrounded it with him in the center and photographed the event. By the time we got home, around 2 AM, Paul, our French contendent was attempting to negotiate a delay in the next days 8:00 AM meeting start, but Wolfgang would no budge.
Our Monday meeting was held in Humbolt University. I had not heard of Humbolt University before; however, when I found out that it was once known as Kaiser Wilhelm I got very excited, since this was well known to me as the place where such greats as Planck and Einstein spent time. The meeting was more of a brainstorming session that was extremely refreshing. Werner and I had previously discussed the possibility and implications of transmitting electronic holograms over the internet. The idea had exciting implications to me and I had hoped that we could make such a project real with the people attending the meeting. To my pleasant surprise, we were then shown that such transmission had already been achieved between Humbolt University and University of Bremen. From my perspective this is a step towards developing a Star Trek-styled transporter that someday will send things of increased value, maybe even objects, perhaps even people, over the internet………..about a thousand years from now.
The afternoon included a historical city tour led by the brother of our host, Gunter. We heard each detail of Frederich the Strong, and Kaiser Whosits, right down to the day and hour. How could anyone contain so much detail on history? In Alexander Platz we stood in the hot sun before a rusting plaque in the sidewalk and heard how it honored the regiment who stood and held off charges of Napoleon's army. Nobody seemed to remember that more recently Hitler did some pretty wild stuff here and in the square built by Schiller and Fredierich, Hitler held his famous book burning. Clearly Hitler should not have a place of honor, here, but then it seems he should not be forgotten either. I have never heard a German mention Hitler's name during all my stays in Germany. Many of the monuments seem to hint that something went wrong here, but it is rarely clear what exactly it was that went wrong.
Wolfgang had arranged a night at the symphony. I promised to not climb over the seats again. The symphony was a unique combination of a modern piece in the first half followed by Beethoven in the last part. The modern symphony had been topped off by an instrument I had never seen, a huge hammer that came down with the sound of an explosion. The hammer musician got the biggest applause of all. We had one last dinner together after the symphony. Luck was with us when a very nice French restaurant near the symphony agreed to stay open and set aside a special room for our group.
On Tuesday we visited the city of Potsdam and walked over the grounds of San Soucci, a summer palace of King Frederick the Great, also sometimes referred to as the Versailles of the North. Many acres of Gardens and sculpture form a wonderfully serene place fit for a king. Frederick is buried at the top of a hill along with his dogs. I was glad that Wolfgang chose to spend the time walking over the grounds to view the many buildings, fountains and sculptures from outside. We stopped along the way for a light lunch and a refreshing drink known as Berliner Weiss. This gave us all a chance to enjoy the environment mixed with conversation more in the way that Frederick himself would have intended.
I had chosen to move on to the city of Dresden, a city that was once known as the Florence of the North. Up until now, I had been cared for by German friends. As always it was a little scary setting out on my own and as always I began to wonder why I had chosen to do so. Soon, however, I rediscovered how easy it is to get around and enjoy Germany. The train rolled in to Dresden after two hours. I had been advised to reserve a hotel since Dresden often filled up its small number of hotels. The only problem with this is that one must now find the hotel. Since it was raining, I copped out and hired a taxi.
As in many European cities, the greatest bargain in Dresden is the tramway system. A day pass costs a few dollars. I rode some of the trams from end to end, stopping along the way at anything that looked interesting. As an example, line 11 runs completely outside Dresden along the river for several kilometers and passes three castles and two villages before turning around. It crosses the river and lends a beautiful view of the city skyline, which is especially beautiful at night. It stops near more tourist attractions than one could really see in a week.
As is often the case, the Altstadt (old city) is the most exciting location, full of churches, museums, palaces, and sculpture. It was hard to believe that the place had been turned to rubble by the Allied bombing in February, 1945. It seems the Allies finally said "No more 'mister nice guy' to the Germans" and destroyed the civilian city for no particular reason, killing over 35000 people. Some of the most magnificent architecture in the world was turned into rubble. It really pissed off the Germans, who could perhaps understand for the first time how the British felt when the Germans turned Cranfield cathedral into powder. The famous FrauenKirch (Our Lady's Church) survived the actual bombing but had heated up so much that upon cooling, the sandstone cracked and collapsed. This building is now being restored and should be completed in about six years.
I had saved art gallery visits for Dresden and the first gallery was the gallery of the old masters in the 'Zwinger'. The Zwinger is a work of art itself with hundreds of sculptures, fountains, and walkways. This gallery has an amazing collection of pictures from the 14th to 17th century and can compete with the Louvre in several areas, containing a large collection of Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens, Van Eyk, Vermeer, Rafael, Steen, and other renaissance painters. It is always exciting to stumble onto a famous painting by surprise. Rafael's "Sistine Madonna" that contains the two angels looking at each other is one of many Rafael's in the collection. I sat on the couch in front of it admiring its beauty for half an hour. Some lesser well known artists such as Lorenzo Lotto and Reni, who had become favorites of mine are also well represented here. I left the gallery after a few hours totally saturated, wondering if it would be possible now to enjoy the Albertinum Gallery, a famous gallery of later works, that unfortunately would be closed the next day.
Next to the Zwinger is the magnificent Sempoper, a house that is claimed to have better acoustics than even La Scalla. A week ago I had not heard of La Scalla, von Weber, or Sempoper. That day I was comparing their acoustics and admiring the statue of von Weber, who was the director of the Dresden Symphony for many years and hanging out in the city where he was buried.
I walked around the palaces, opera house, had lunch, and a huge beer trying to desaturate myself. Entering the Albertinum, I went immediately to the art section which arranges the arts from modern back to impressionism. The Albertinum is a nice collection but not as unique as the Zwinger Alt Masters Gallery. The Norton Simon collection in Pasadena is considerably better, for example. Seeing such a broad range of art in one day clarified for me something I have suspected all along. Some day people are going to look at the abstract expressionism hanging on the wall and say " What could we have been thinking when we bought this?"
Dresden is a wonderful city to visit. I would not call it a Florence of the north. I suspect that no city in the world will compete with Florence when it comes to art. I left Dresden satisfied that I had seen more than my system could process. One can only enjoy so many castles and galleries in a few days. It does not matter if I missed anything important. I saw more than I could handle anyway. I would like to go back to Dresden and just hang out in the squares and parks for a while without worrying about opening and closing days for museums and churches.
The trip back to the U.S was uneventful, originally planned with a stopover in Chicago. A last minute change required me go to a contractors meeting being held in Cashiers, North Carolina, a small resort town near Asheville. The simplest, cheapest way to do this was unbelievably to toss my ticket from Chicago to California and buy a round trip ticket to Asheville through Orange County, then toss half of that ticket. Things got complicated when our flight arrived in Chicago five hours late. My good luck had it that American Airlines booked me on a flight the next day, put me up overnight in a great hotel in Chicago and gave me $50 in meal tickets. I hope they don't find out that I never planned to continue on with them anyway.
Getting to Asheville was harder than getting to Berlin. For various reasons, ranging from bad weather to mechanical problems with the aircraft, four different flights were cancelled between Chicago and Asheville. It took 11 hours and four planes. On one flight we were half way to Asheville when the pilot returned to Atlanta because the two engines on the aircraft were not running in sync. It dawned on me that I was landing at the tiny Asheville airport at nearly midnight with no reservations for car or room. But luck was with me and both were available. On Sunday before driving to Cashiers, which is 65 miles South of Asheville I visited the Biltmore estate, a French-styled castle, constructed around 1900 by George Vanderbilt on 150,000 acres of North Carolina forest land. The mansion is billed as the largest individual dwelling in America.
The Biltmore, no doubt, is an unusual thing for Americans. It would have been more exciting had I not just come from the summer home of Frederick the Great. Biltmore looked more like Frederick's servant quarters, actually more like a typical old European hotel. The gardens are nice, but would be more exiting if there were not so much bare ground. To begin with I was somewhat stunned by the $32 price tag to enter. I should not discuss Biltmore much more because it was probably a lot better than my impression of it, which was somewhat influenced by jet lag and recent experiences in Europe. I was impressed that George Vanderbilt had life sized portraits of much of his family done by John Singer Sargent, himself. The highlights of his art collection, however, are two small Renoirs.
I knocked off Biltmore mansion in two hours, took a walk on the grounds, visited the winery, and headed for Cashiers.
The hotel comprised a series of cabins overlooking a beautiful lake backed up by a shear granite mountain face that rose another 3000 feet above us. The idea was to bring together scientists working for the Army on a specific topic in a captive environment where they could work, socialize, and relax together. The topic was biosensing, the detection of threat agents and hostile materials with sensors made by biologists. I was involved in this because of work in holography that used a bio optical material called Bacteriorhodospsin.
This was the perfect place for this kind of meeting. The cabins had no phones and no TV. I could sit on my porch and hear the water falls near by mixed with sounds of birds and crickets. In the three days I met, made friends and took walks with people I would never have met at a normal meeting.
At the first formal meeting I was in for a great shock. For a moment I thought I had entered the twighlight zone and was back in Germany. The language was totally foreign. These are biologists and I am a physicist. They were trying to create a synthetic nose, tongue, or other device to identify biological and chemical threats to a soldier in the field. A typical statement sounds like the following: "The phages dephloriziated the emphozmaphologen until the lathzises, the receptor peptides migrated over the kinophases where mutagenasis of the DNA and the P-44 mode ended in casmotorpism".
In recent weeks I had many philosophical thoughts about language and communications. Here in my own country my vocabulary was so limited I was not sure how to hold a conversation with these people. When I got up to speak, my only defense was to do the same thing they were doing to me with the language of physics. "Two spatial light distributions placed in the back focal plane of a lens can be correlated using the joint Fourier transform properties leading to a two dimensional correlation function that is created by interference in the bacteriorhodopsin." Eyes glazed over, so I hit them with one even better. "Speckle decorrelation of the stored hologram gives a three dimensional structure to the Bragg planes, which then allows angular and translation selectivity of great precision." After that they seemed to respect me a lot more. It took me a while to realize that behind this language were people just like me who were doing their best to impress the arny. How much was real and how much was bullshit was no easier for the Army to figure out than for me. I was wondering what would happen if I suggested we all speak in USE. By the end of the meeting I was still trying to figure out what ligands and phages were, and a few people asked me how holograms worked.
On the last day two friends and I hiked to the top of Whitewater Falls, the tallest falls in the Eastern U.S. Of every trip I have ever made I have never found a better way to get over jet lag than strolling along a North Carolina mountain trail.
The last leg of the trip from Atlanta to Santa Ana was a four hour sardines routine with a full load of passengers stuffed in too small seat spacings on a Delta Airlines. Delta must have run a contest to see who could come up with the most uncomfortable seats. After four hours in pain I felt I needed another vacation just to recuperate from the flight. Never again will I wait until getting to the airport to select seats. That is too dumb even for the world’s worst tourist.