24 February 2011

Where to go in Germany part 9: Saxony

Saxony is the southeasternmost state of Germany. It borders Poland to the east and the Czech Republic to the south. Along the Czech border are the Lausitz (Lusatian) mountains and the Erz (Ore) mountains. Saxon Switzerland is also a beautiful natural park on the Czech border.

Dresden is known to Americans mainly as "the place the Allies bombed the crap out of during WW2," but Dresden has a cultural history which earned it the nickname "Florence on the Elbe." Notable sights include the Frauenkirche, the Hofkirche, palaces, museums, and gardens.

Near Dresden is Meißen, known primarily for its porcelain industry. If you have 30,000 Euro to spend on a tea set, you'll be buying it from Meissen. It's beautiful porcelain, to be sure, but I don't have that sort of money.

The other city of note in Saxony is Leipzig. I took a day trip there from Berlin last year and wandered through the old city. Notable sights include the Thomaskirche, where Bach worked as cantor for a while, and city halls (old and new). The restaurant where Goethe ate as a student and is home to a scene from Faust, Auerbach's Keller, is in the basement of what's presently a shopping plaza. My friend and I didn't eat there, because it was too expensive, but the statues of Mephisto tempting Faust and Faust's friends holding him back are on the public level. Rubbing Faust's foot is considered good luck for students, so it's a very bright gold.

Next stop: Thüringen.

23 February 2011

Where to go in Germany part 8: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the first of the former GDR states I'll be discussing. It's the northernmost of them, bordering the Baltic Sea and Poland.

I asked a German acquaintance on Twitter if there's anything to see in MV, and he said no. The state tourism council is trying to fix that conception.

Schwerin is the state capital, and the castle where the state government meets is very impressive. It's a picturesque town surrounded by lakes.

Rostock is a former Hanseatic League city on the Baltic. The town seems to have shaken off its association with radical rightists and hate groups in recent years, which can be a good thing.

Stralsund is another former Hanseatic city on the Baltic. It's got a maritime museum with a giant squid (since 2005). It's one of the main gateways to the island of Rügen.

Rügen is one of the islands in the Baltic, which are very sunny and warm in summer (and temperate in winter). The Baltic coast is a fairly popular vacation spot. On Rügen you can find megaliths, a Slavic stone fort at Cape Arkona, castles, chalk cliffs, and various seaside resorts. This is a place I definitely want to go.

If you like nature parks, there are a variety of nature reserves, conservation areas, and parks throughout the state.

Next time: hopping over Brandenburg and going straight to Saxony.

07 February 2011

Book review: Broken

Broken, by Susan Jane Bigelow. 2011, Candlemark and Gleam.

In the interest of disclosure, I received a free review copy of this ebook.

About a hundred years from now, Earth has been invaded by two species of aliens, and, thanks to a world war, is united in a single government based out of Australia. One of the invasions gave humans the capability of interstellar flight, and now there are colony worlds around the galaxy. For reasons not explained in the text, a fraction of people have developed superpowers since the Rogarian invasion, and, for reasons that will be familiar to X-Men fans, the "extrahumans" are all brought to Union Tower, where they're kept together (and away from "normal" people).

Michael Forward, a young prescient, is looking for Silverwyng, a member of the Union who's been missing for about ten years, because he needs her help to get a baby to Valen, one of the colony worlds. This baby, whose mother hands him off to Michael in a train station, has the potential to be humanity's savior or its greatest dictator. He finds Broken, who used to be Silverwyng.

Michael, Broken, and the baby, whom they name Ian, have to escape from the Black Bands, the enforcement arm of the Reform Party, who have just taken control of the government and are in the process of enacting totalitarian rule. On the way, they meet some people who follow the Räton (the other set of aliens) lifestyle, anarchists, and neo-nationalists.

The overall setup is a fairly standard dystopia, wherein an ostensibly fairly elected government turns totalitarian and outlaws opposition parties. Bigelow puts a very relevant spin on this classic trope. The Reform Party was voted into office on a wave of anti-alien sentiment and a hearty dose of fear of Extrahumans. The newsmedia has become a mouthpiece for the Reform Party and serves mainly to feed the public the Party's spin on events and whip up their fear of the Other, in order to cement their radical right-wing policies.

One of the most poignant moments in the book occurs about halfway through. Michael and Monica, one of the Räton followers, are picked up by the American Liberation Army, who proudly display an American flag, now banned as a symbol of nationalism. Michael remembers something his mentor Joe had said before he died, about how he'd fought in the Last War, that the flag "used to stand for something a lot better than what it ended up standing for," and that Joe's father had "hated Greenleaf [the last President]. But he loved this....they were two separate things to him." (p 191-2)

Highly recommended.

This novel is available in e-format only. I read it on my laptop using Preview. The cover is nice, and the typeface is very clean. There's a minor formatting issue where occasional words mid-line are hyphenated, but it doesn't detract. I tried it out on my Android phone using Adobe Reader, and it looked nice there, as well. It's also available for Kindle, in addition to the pdf version linked above.

04 February 2011

Where to go in Germany part 7: Hamburg & Schleswig-Holstein

These are getting spaced further out; I apologize. These are places I haven't been, and I find it difficult to muster enthusiasm.

Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany and the eighth-largest in Europe. It's situated in the middle of the border between Niedersachsen and SH, and close to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, on the Elbe River. It has your usual complement of continental architecture, as well as cultural opportunities like opera. It was once a member of the Hanseatic League, as was Bremen, and it's still a major shipping port in Europe.

Schleswig-Holstein is the northernmost province of Germany. It's the lower half of the Jutland peninsula, south of Denmark. Shipping is a major part of this area's economy.

Kiel is the capital of the state. It's the site of an annual regatta at the end of June.

Flensburg has the distinction of being the northernmost German city, at the Danish border.

Lübeck is Germany's largest Baltic port. It's practically on the border with Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It's also home of the marzipan industry.

Up next: a trip eastward to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and the Baltic coast.