Posts Tagged ‘europe’

Lisbon street art

August 9th, 2012

Outdoor stairwell in Alfama Street art Street art Perception reception Street art Street art Street art Street art Dream amplyfyier Go Shopping Mickey Mouse Adults with imaginary friends are stupid Street art Outdoor stairwell in Alfama

Lisbon is one of those rare places that looks just like the postcards. Even the street art is beautiful. Above are the best of what I happened to see.

Stay tuned for a subsequent post on Lisbon’s obsession with Mario, which will include some street art that deserves an Official Nintendo Seal.

Lisbon vs. San Francisco

August 9th, 2012

I spent the last week in a small seaside city that seemed eerily reminiscent of home. Everywhere I looked, there were these little moments of deja vu. Here’s a list of some (surprising) similarities between the two cities, with a few differences thrown in for good measure.


25 of April Bridge

Both cities have a red/orange painted suspension bridge.

Belém Tower

Near the bridge, there’s a fort with cannons inside in both cities.

Super Mario

Restaurants close too early, so you have to go to a bar to hang out late.

Column of Pedro IV, Rossio Square

San Francisco is known for its hippie beliefs and open spirit — but we have nothing on Portugal. In the 70’s Portugal had a goddamn hippie revolution that toppled a dictator and instated democracy, and it involved flowers.

Elevator tram

Lisbon has steep hills, so they gouge tourists to ride streetcars. Sound familiar?

A Brasileira

Both cities have charmingly historic poet cafes that now serve mediocre coffee to tourists.

View from Elevador de Santa Justa

An earthquake and fire leveled Lisbon in 1755. San Francisco’s big quake was 151 years later. Pretty much everything you see now in both cities was built post-quake.

Watch out for thieves!

Instead of being normal and installing an air conditioner, the folks in Lisbon and San Francisco prefer to pretend that we’re not affected by heat. The only option for cooling down is to visit a chain store or mall that doesn’t adhere to the local HVAC customs.

Outdoor stairwell in Alfama

Small alleys throughout the cities contain a treasure trove of various types of street art.

Pena National Palace in Sintra

A tasteless, impractical mansion built by a looney heir exist not far outside both cities.


Lisbon cobblestone

I didn’t see much biking and skateboarding in or around Lisbon, for an obvious reason: cobblestone.

Festa Avante!

In spite of what Fox News would have you believe, there are no more communists in San Francisco than you’d find in any other American college town. In Lisbon they’re also a fringe element, but have a visible presence.


San Francisco’s local drink of choice is intended to put hair on your chest. Lisbon’s favorite shot of liquor, ginjinha, features a sweet syrupy flavor — and follows with a fierce headache.

Lisbon Metro

While cars drive on the right side in both cities, the Metro and commuter trains in Lisbon drive on the left. This really messed with my head, particularly after a few shots of ginjinha.

Bull fight

I haven’t seen any bulls getting tackled head-on in San Francisco.

Castle of the Moors in Sintra

Portugal’s long, fascinating history is still visible, particularly in the form of castles. In fact, it’s the most castley place I’ve ever been.

Are American alcohol prices a ripoff?

July 26th, 2012

Wine at Spanish supermarket Amstel at Spanish supermarket

Ever feel like you’re overpaying for alcoholic beverages? If you’re in the US of A, you are probably right; our society seems to treat alcohol as a luxury rather than a commodity, and it’s priced accordingly.

I took the above two photos in Spain. If you factor in the exchange rate the bottle of wine comes out to about $2.25 and the six pack of Amstel is about $2.85. These prices seem low but neither of these were on sale or special deals; these are everyday prices in Spain.

Granted, you can pay more for imported alcohol (i.e. from outside the EU) or for fancier wine, but even the top shelf wines top out at about $30. The prices here are simply a fraction of what us Americans are used to paying. I’ve found this phenomenon to be true throughout western Europe.

This all makes me wonder: are we getting ripped off? Sure, you can attribute some of this to the import tax — but that can’t be the entire story since domestic alcohol isn’t much cheaper. American has a sad history of puritanical anti-fun policies, a particularly embarrassing heritage when our supposed “freedom” and “abundance” aren’t reflected in the prices we pay.

It makes me wonder: are we simply getting ripped off? Why is the rest of the world paying a fraction of what we pay for alcohol when we purportedly value capitalism and freedom? Who’s pocketing the difference, and how are they getting away with it?

Berlin street art

August 18th, 2011

The only people who know how cool I am are the secret police!

Evil monster Guy with gun Pringles? IMG_2917 Street art Hung & shot animal Pink girl The $heepe$t Street Urban Street Art Shoes Pointer Woman Poor Hannah Darth Vader Sleep is commercial The finger Painter

All the photos of street art above come from Mitte, the central borough of Berlin. It’s the “capital” of Berlin, if you will. Around the backstreets of Mitte you find abandoned buildings filled covered in illegal art.

There’s some real creativity there, it’s refreshing compared to what we see here in San Francisco. Lots of paste, text, airbrushing, even mixed media. There’s a tinge of geekery to many pieces that you rarely see in the local scene.

But what impressed me the most was how well the artists integrated their pieces into the surroundings. For example, I didn’t even notice the mouse pointer until the forth or fifth time I walked past it. Or the “secret police” in the first image above, which was in and of itself quite secret as it was only visible from one spot.

The best art is the art that belongs where it is in some intangible, indescribable way. Which is to say my photos don’t just suck because I’m a shitty photographer — they suck because it’s not as good as seeing the art in person. And that’s the excuse I’m sticking with.

Sachsenhausen concentration camp

August 17th, 2011

"Work will set you free"

Relief map of the original complex

While in Berlin, I took a tour of the Schsenhausen concentration camp through Insider Tours, a tour company that offers fantastic (and cheap) walking tours in a variety of languages.

Schsenhausen was the first facility built as a concentration camp. Just outside Berlin, it replaced a lot of temporary facilities in existing buildings with a large facility custom designed for its purpose. The main feature was triangular layout (above) which allowed an SS guard just above the gate to see the entire prison yard and aim a giant machine gun anywhere he liked.

Schsenhausen was a work camp. Prisoners were used for free labor and as test subjects for horrible inhumane experiments. It began as a camp for political prisoners, but it also grew to include Jews, gays, the handicapped, and social outcasts. All of these people were mixed in with murderers, rapists, etc. sent from other prisons in Germany. Eventually POWs were included as well.

Prisoner's bathroom Prisoner living quarters Paint peeling

300 or so prisoners — all male — were crammed into fairly small buildings. I say fairly small because they don’t look too small from the outside, but inside there were probably 50 or so tourists and it was difficult to move around. It’s hard to imagine how cramped it would have been with 6 times as many people.

One of the remaining buildings was torched a few years ago by a neo-Nazi. It’s since been rebuilt and turned into a museum, but many burned parts including the peeling paint above remain as a memory.

Kitchen murals Kitchen murals

A large building contained the kitchen in a basement. There’s a number of happy murals here which seem in stark contrast to the concentration camp. It’s not known exactly when or why these were painted. They’re now preserved behind glass.

Soviet memorial

After the Soviets took over half of Germany, they built this hideous thing on the site to memorialize the prisoners — but only the political prisoners. Red triangles were worn on the uniforms of political prisoners. Other prisoners wore different colors. The statue represents a working-class man communist rescued by a Soviet soldier and a politician.

Station Z Station Z

Station Z was called “Z” because it’s the last letter in the alphabet, and it corresponded to the end of life for prisoners who were sick or had grown weak or injured. Originally prisoners were simply mowed down by machine guns in a ditch, but this was determined to be “inhumane.” Not to the prisoners of course, but to the guards who felt bad about just shooting defenseless people.

So they built a new Station Z, which was disguised as a medical office. Prisoners entered and were examined by a fake doctor. They were sent into another room with thick walls, where their skulls were measured. A second fake doctor would enter and look at the prisoner facing away from him (so he didn’t have to make eye contact) and shoot the prisoner exactly in the base of his skull with a small pistol. This minimized the mess. Later, they started experimenting with gassing prisoners using fake “showers” in the same building.

The dead bodies were then sent to be cremated in the next room. To make money, the Nazis sold the remains to their families with a fake death certificate. The workload was too high to clean the cremation furnaces after every use, so the remains were likely a mix of several people.

Autopsy bed

The Nazis claimed they did an autopsy on every prisoner, but in reality they only did autopsy on prisoners with unusual bodies or those who they had performed surgical experiments on. Above is one of the two autopsy beds in the camp.

End of the camp

When the Soviets began to win the war, the Nazis moved prisoners out of far away concentration camps to Schsenhausen. The camp became overcrowded despite the SS’s best efforts at killing as quickly as possible. But it was too late; they were surrendering. The remaining SS soldiers marched the prisoners out into the forest, then told everyone to go to sleep. The soldiers ran away in the middle of the night.

Once the Soviets had taken over, they used the prison camp for a while as their own to hold Nazis and other political prisoners. Thousands of Soviet prisoners were buried in a mass grave near the site. Eventually they shut down the camp, and most of what remained was lost in the next few years before the GDR government turned it into a memorial site.

Read more about this horrible place at Wikipedia.

Einstein’s desk drawings

August 17th, 2011

Desk drawings

Okay, I doubt Einstein really drew this. But the desks at his old university are very old, and many of them had fun drawings like the one above.

And in all fairness, the school has seen many other famous folks as well including Karl Marx, Max Planck, and the Brothers Grimm. Perhaps Karl Marx drew this as a critique of the failed capitalist state? We may never know.

Spotted at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Bad Fucking

August 17th, 2011

Bad Fucking

Bad Fucking

Spotted this on display yesterday at a bookstore in the Tegel airport in Berlin. I tried really hard not to laugh (but wasn’t very successful.)

Who Killed Bambi?

August 13th, 2011

Who Killed Bambi?

“Who Killed Bambi?” is unfortunately not a mystery novel, it’s an unusually named women’s clothing store in Mitte, Berlin.

Dolores California Gourmet Burritos in Berlin

August 10th, 2011


IMG_0067 IMG_0065

On a small side street near the touristy hellhole of Alexanderplatz is a San Francisco themed burrito place. If you’re a burrito lover in or around San Francisco, you may have heard of this by now: they have a San Francisco Muni map covering on the wall and Anchor Steam (imported via Amsterdam) by the bottle.

The burritos are made traditionally, but they didn’t use an “assembly line” format like you find in so many SF taquerias. Rather, you order at the counter and they call your number.

To me, the burrito I had tasted more like something from Rubio’s than a traditional SF burrito. It was more sweet than spicy, very light on the rice, and wasn’t tightly rolled. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t good! It’s just different. Unsurprisingly, the place seems to attract American expats in Berlin longing for home. And I can’t say I blame them — after a few days of heavy carb-and-fat laden German food, a burrito really hit the spot for me.

What happened to Zeitgeist?!

August 10th, 2011


Oh man, first that whole debacle with Anthony Bourdain, now a new storefront with a big pink heart? Oh well, as long as the beer and bloodys keep flowing we shouldn’t complain too much.

Spotted in Berlin near Alexanderplatz.