Saturday, July 24, 2004

Amsterdam - July 2004

since my last email, i have visited dresden and berlin in germany and rotterdam and amsterdam in the netherlands.


my one day in dresden made a big impression on me.

for those of you that don't know the dresden history, i'll give you a little lesson. in the last months of world war II, the allied forces firebombed dresden and left it looking like "the face of the moon" (slaughterhouse five by vonnegut) 136,000 people were killed in a matter of hours and one of the prettiest cities in europe was no more. after the german split, dresden fell into the eastern german block and the german government decided that they were going to try to build some of the city back to it's glory.

the results are amazing! out of a sea of cement communist block buildings, rises a piece of old world beauty graciously wrapped around the elbe river.

they are still building block by block and i mean block by block. all the rubble was sorted through and all blocks that could still be used were categorized by computer so they could be put back into the building in the same location that they had been in before. the result is a 33% old and 66% new building that looks like it was built in the 1800's.

due to the lovely industrial pollution of the eastern block, many of the new parts of the buildings are as dark as the originals, so it is impossible to tell which part has been rebuilt without looking at the post-war pictures.

i stayed in a residential area of town that must have missed the ravages of bombing. its now very hip. there are tons of bars and restaurants and the people are so "cool". i was just hoping some of it would rub off on me if i sat near them!


their coolness started to prepare me for berlin, which is certainly the hippest city i have been to thus far. berlin has an edge and really almost compared with new york for me.

basically 70% of berlin was bombed in the war and the scars are all over the city. the old restored buildings are literally pock marked with bullet holes and the architectural layout is a mismatch of styles and sizes, which jarred me at first.

all the history that happened there was screaming out and wanting to be heard at the same time. all i could think was that really bad history had happened on these streets. after all this was the city where hitler came up with the final solution and the city that the cold war was fought.

somehow seeing the berlin wall in person again jarred my soviet memory. how could someplace be so bad that it was worth getting shot trying to cross the border? how could families be split in the middle of the night? (yes, the wall was built in the middle of one night while families slept.) maybe the soviets really were trying to take over the world???

and yet, in 15 years, the city has exploded. its so full of life and hope that its about to burst at the seems. the new architecture is a feast for the eyes. you can tell these architects were allowed to create their wildest dreams with no boundaries. thinking big gives the city a big bright attitude. the berliners are diverse, hip, and fashionable.

i just happened to be in berlin for the love parade, a giant techno parade where the best techno dj's play from trucks and the music blares in the street. the people dance along beside them. buildings pulsed with the rhythm.

last year, there were 1.5 million people and this year they supposedly canceled it, but it still went on with about 100,000 people, which was much more my speed.

try to imagine that many people dancing in the streets to techno on fifth avenue. in berlin its possible!

i also took the time to explore some of the ethnic and hip outer neighborhoods. there is a vibrant young urban family community and a huge turkish community.

one last exciting thing: clinton was in berlin on his book tour while i was there and i bumped into a crowd outside his hotel waiting to see him.

there were at least a 1000 people and he came out and shook every hand. it was totally moving. the next day, he was on the cover of every paper. they were calling him a berliner, a great compliment that was last bestowed on kennedy. the whole scene almost brought tears to me eyes.

again i say we need a new president that understands the usa's role in the world and respects the role other nations play. if we had a president like that, the world would view us differently.

anyway, back to the topic at hand... you can probably tell i am a big berlin fan but i had to move on to rotterdam.


rotterdam is the home to the largest shipping port in the world, so i visited to see just what that looked like and i can tell you first hand that it is impressive!

it too was bombed in the war so it is in the process of reinventing itself. there is cutting edge architecture shooting out of the skyline. what is different though, is the activity on the waterfront.

as i approached the river, i couldn't miss the container ships speeding by in all directions.

i took a boat tour of the port and got to see enormous container ships being loaded and unloaded. they said that there are now ships that can hold 8000 containers. if you lined them up they would reach 30 miles long. i'm sorry to say that none of those boats were in the part of the port i was in, but the boats i saw where bigger than anything i have ever seen before.

as a waterfront advocate, all i could see was the economic power that comes from have such a vibrant port and it gave me new resolve to keep fighting for new yorks ports.

the other thing i noticed is how diverse the netherlands are. rotterdam's streets were filled with people of all colors and creeds. (that is something i particularly missed in eastern europe and so i was really happy to get a chance to watch people.) it seemed like the real melting pot that new york tries to be.


amsterdam is a city much like venice with canals built like avenues that seem to circle the city. today they told me that there are over 1000 bridges within the city. the architecture is mostly made of brick and the buildings are tall, narrow and pretty. many people live in houseboats that line the canals and lots of people have boats to travel the canals. also it seems like most people travel by bicycle, which is easier in a totally flat place.

amsterdam seems to have a booming social scene with outdoor bars everywhere, enticing you to laze around with a fresh beer. the city looks young, rich and urban. the red light district is even more outragious then i expected.

today i went out to see windmills, which was my most pressing reason for coming here. they are even quainter in person and the small towns that they rise out of feel totally different than anywhere i have been on this trip.

the most interesting thing about traveling in the countryside is to see the canals in the big open fields. farmers travel by boat to their fields.

the netherlands are all below sea level and protected by dikes throughout to monitor the water height. this means that there is lots of water flowing everywhere and the lushness of everything is apparent. the postcards show fields of tulips in the spring which is something i would love to see someday.

this is my last new city, since i go back to london tomorrow to spend the last few days of my vacation with my sister.

the trip has made the world smaller for me. we all eat, drink and wear similar brands. it has been yet another reminder that everything doesn't start and end with the united states. it also brought the damage of war even closer and made me want to learn even more about world war II.

i will be back in new york in one week and will spend the next month enjoying the summer, attending the political conventions and getting ready for my trip to africa.

it has been a great trip and i am glad that i still have the africa portion to go. i'll be happy to have a break, but i still have a little adventure left in me!

happy summer!


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