Dashiell Hammett – Red Harvest

Dashiell Hammett has become one of my favourite authors in only two books, love on the first read if you like. He wrote detective stories in the 20´s and 30´s of the 20th century and is considered the founding father of the hard-boiled detective novel. In this niché category of novels the protagonist is an ambivanlent private detective who has to and will solve a more or less complicated case and people will die on the way. Also these stories include femme fatales, corrupt cops, lots of drinking, shady gangsters, murder and fast-paced action. As I would put it, these are dark Sherlock Holmes stories on speed and exchanging the snobbishness and gentlemanness with starightforwardness and violence. And what can I say, I love this stuff.
I got into him because my favourite sci-fi author Richard Morgan claims him to be one of his incluences and now I know where he got the inspiration for his main characters from.
His most famous story is “The Maltese Falcon” where private detective Sam Spade solves a mystery about some valuable artifact on which said shady persons take a lot of interest in.

But this story is topped by “Red Harvest” which is an absolutely hilarious book.
Anyone knows the movie “Last man standing” with Bruce Willis? If you like the movie then this is a must read. A nameless detective comes into a small town only to find his contractor dead. Turns out he was the son of the old grandfather of this town who got himself embroiled with some gangsters which now more or less control everything. So the detective is hired to clean up and he does this by playing all sides being friend and false friend to everybody. The story itself is quite complex with around 30 to 40 people being involved and its very difficult to find logical flaws because of this complexity. But anyways, if there are any, you wouldn´t notice because the story always goes on and on without time to take a breath. Top notch storytelling. Highly recommended.

Daniel Suarez – Change Agent

Daniel Suarez is IMHO the best and most important contemporary science fiction author.

His books all deal with relevant tech topics and their consequences on the future of mankind, nothing more, nothing less. Reading his books is not like ‚oh, that was nice entertainment – next‘ but rather ‚Daniel, thats a rather fictinous story you spun there, but it´s still fiction. Or not? Could such things eventually happen?‘

His first book, „Deamon“ deals with an AI influencing the real world, „Freedom“ a follow-up to that. „Kill Decision“ is about autonomous drones and is scary as hell. In „Influx“ scientists which discover breakthrough technologies are adbucted by a secret organization.

All books share the same action-paced, story-driven style, the stories itself make sense and are conclusive. His character development is not the best and the reader should not expect much poetry, this suffers from his action-focused style, giving the books a certain B-movie pulpy feel, so it´s more cheeseburger than dry-aged rib-eye slowly grilled, he surely doesn´t play in the same league as William Gibson or Thomas Pychon. I surely like his style though.

What he does incredibly well is world-building. His worlds are full with technologies which are in development in the real world or could be invented in the future. For example in „Deamon“ HUDs are a common thing; the book was written at a time when Google Glass was a mere speck on the horizon. In „Change Agent“ genetic alterations are common, in the real world, well you know the discussions about designer babies from China… His books are full of that and he casually mentions such technolgies, he doesn´t even rub it in. It´s just great. This gives him a very inventive (you could even say prophetic) touch, his books are thought-provoking and go beyond the stories. He shows a could-be world with all the positive and negative consequences on society, human development, politics etc. and in my opinion this is what sciene-fiction is about (at least the ‚real-world‘ science fiction, for the ‚Star Wars‘ science-fiction other rules apply): to show the dangers and benefits of technology, bring it on the radar and start a discussion about it.

„Change Agent“ is his best book beside „Deamon“ book, I think. The topic is gene-editing and he thinks it beyond eradicating inheritable diseases or attribute enhancement via embryo editing, in fact these things are common in the world he creates.

The story centres about a criminal organization which developed a way to … Sorry, no spoilers today. I want you to read it. In fact, I´d say that with „Change Agent“ there is now no way round Suarez when it comes to contemporary sci-fi. This one and „Deamon“ are must-reads if you´re into it. No excuses. You can thank me in 30 years when you´ll say about a technology: ‚I´ve read about this some years ago. Where was that? In the newspaper? No. a company brochure? No. Ah, now I remember – it was in a Suarez book.‘

Charles C. Mann – The wizard and the prophet

Excellent book, but only for specific readers.

And no, it not a fantasy novel. (By the way, my favourite fantasy book is – sorry for being conventional – ‚Lord of the rings‘. Although I have to admit that fantasy is not my most read genre, maybe because of Grandmaster Tolkien…)

Charles C. Mann is journalist and author and did some thorough research for this one. It is a mix of 2 autobiographies, science, philosophy and politics and circles around one question: How can humanity provide food for 10 million people in 2050?

He does not give an answer to this question but rather shows the approach from two opposite school of thoughts. On the one hand we have the ‚wizards‘, the agroscientists, which believe that this problem can only be solved by raising the efficiency of agriculture. On the other hand we have the ‚prophets‘, the environmentalists, who say that humanity has to reduce consumption and generally speaking has to make the world a more ‚green‘ place.

To delve deeper into these two contradictory approaches he autobiographs two exemplary, relatively unknown persons: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, the former being the ‚father‘ of agroscience, the latter being the ‚father‘ of environmentalism (well, in the eyes of Mann of course, but he may not be far off). So the first part of the book is about the life of these two men, from childhood to death with an emphasis on how they found their believes and grew into their fields of study. And these two stories alone would make excellent books. Mann seriously has a hand for writing.

The second part explains the scientific backgrounds for the schools of thoughts, never losing touch with Borlaug and Vogt and also details the political, environmental and economic influences on the topic of environmentalism. I think you may find flaws in some of the facts and argumentation chains but overall this also would make a very good book on the topic.

If there is one thing I would critizise it is that the book is in parts dry and stiff to read. Overall it is exemplary for illuminating all aspects of one of the most important question mankind has to solve. As I said, he doesn´t answer the question, he doesn´t take sides (which is another excellent feature of this book). The question of how to feed the world may be far off the normal lives we all live (like climate change) but if you want to have an understanding not only of the scientific framework but also where the mindsets of protagonists from both sides come from – this is the book you have to read, no doubt.


Paulette Jiles – News of the world

Good book which can be considered as a contemporary, small, western-like story.

Paulette Jiles has a vivid writing style immersing the reader into the world. You can almost smell the horses in the little towns, see the inscriptions on the weapons used and feel the heat or rain while reading.

Storywise its on the classical western side (old man and young girl travel through dangers), a bit too harmless and short for my taste, but well, not everything has to be an epic orgy.

It may sound strange but I´d say that if western movies or books are not your thing give this one a chance, it´s a nice, smooth book. If you´re a hobby Clint-Eastwood it´s maybe not you thing because of shallowness.

Vernor Vinge – A fire upon the deep

Are you in for some old-school sci-fi?
Written at the beginning of the 90s by mathematician Vernor Vinge „A fire upon the deep“ can be put into the subcategory „Space Opera“ and is a well-written book – I definetly enjoyed reading it. Vinge doesn´t put emphasis on developing concepts of high-technology, has no direct, raw spelling, doesn´t create superheroes or supervillains – no, he tells a story set in a sci-fi environment which encompasses the large (a mysterious power about to destroy the whole universe and a small motley crew fighting to prevent this) and the small (the story of two children being stranded on a medieval world of dog-like creatures… seriously!) scope. Actually this is a book I´d rather recommend for children aged 12+ than for adults to read because reading it spurs your imagination, two of the main characters are children and it is urging you to read on. Also it doesn´t contain much violence (and definetly no brutal hardcore shit), no sex scenes – actually, if I put it on a meta-level regarding these two plus storytelling abilities, character conceptualization and scope of the story I´d compare it to „Lord of the rings“. No, seriously, the setting may be completely different, it doesn´t contain a truckload of characters or even author-created languages but still – it sucks you in, telling an interesting story… Good book.

Grenoble

Took a trip to Grenoble middle of September, all started with an anger and ended up with me owning something I never wanted, so here´s the story.

As I wrote in the Vienna text I wanted to do this by bike as preparation for the Athens trip and because taking long motorbike journeys is my preferred style of doing holidays. I planned the trip to be 4 and a half days long starting Friday after work driving to Stuttgart to stay overnight at a schoolfriends place and continue Saturday to France and return on Tuesday. So I decided to grease the chain of the bike on Thursday evening. Putting oil on the chain is something I too often neglect because I´m a lazy bugger, but actually it makes your bike running more smoothly especially in wet conditions. Ok, to do this you have to put the bike on the main stand to let the rear wheel run free and you have to put the gearbox into neutral – to check if its in neutral one can turn on the ignition shortly – easy peasy. I forgot to turn the ignition off however but said to myself ‘nah, can´t be that bad if it is on for 30 minutes’.

Next morning, me in full gear, everything packed, ready to roll, the bike won´t start – battery empty. For fucks sake Phil, damn you lazy ass. So I called my boss if he can take me to work and was already dwelling on a solution. So we went to a motor shop to buy a new battery, but it seems that every bike needs its special type of battery – next damn, my mood deteriorated even more. Then my boss asks me if I need a car for the trip and it took me 1 second to think about it before I asked him if he was serious (we´ve known each other for 5 months only and I mean he´s a nice and good guy but still, to have this trust in someone is a bit out of the ordinary. I´d have done the same by the way because I´m also a good and nice guy but would never expect this from others.) and since he was sincere it was agreed and my bad mood turned into enthusiasm and my mind started spinning about the different nature that the trip would take but also about the opportunities.

And since every vehicle that belongs to me needs a name, it was pretty much clear on first sight what this one would be called – Orca.

 

So before telling you about the journey here´s some philosophy about the differences between a car and a motorbike.

One of the very obvious advantages of a car is this:

  

You can carry heavy stuff like beer or wine and of course non-alcoholic stuff in ample quantities. I leave it open for guessing which was the the direction of travel.

Another advantage is that you can listen to music and believe me on this journey I made heavy use of this (all in all I spent 30 hours over 4 days and listened through some parts of my library and also to some Greek sagas so if you wanna know something about Ulysses or the war of Troy just ask. Although maybe don´t since I have forgotten most of it by now.). I tried to listen to music once on a motorbike with headphones but never again. The noise from the wind is too loud and you cannot change the volume of the music. Most importantly music is way too distracting, on a motorbike you need to hear whats going on around you, especially in cities, hearing is a very important sometimes life-saving sense on a bike.

And of course when its cold outside or raining, driving shelled is more comfortable. But as I said in the Vienna text, driving through rain has its advantages and I´m pretty much indifferent. But driving through rain for several hours or driving through some heavy downpour can be very, very dangerous. On this journey to Grenoble I had 4 or 5 torrential rain episodes where I was very relieved to sit in a car, on a motorbike this would have been unbearable.

Theres some minor stuff too like driving at high speeds is possible for a longer time, you´re able to drive with other people and have a chat, stopping at scenic views to take quick picture is easier.

But these advantages all get eaten up by the fact that driving a motorbike is way more direct, intense and closer to life as I would put it.

Besides that, cars are slow and sluggish, and when it comes to acceleration you have to come up with a sports car to beat a bike on the traffic lights or when overtaking. Nothing to get carried away I know, just observing the obvious.

Coming back to the trip, I decided to leave 4 am on Saturday to be at Stuttgart for breakfast and then decide if I´ll continue or stay for one day. I did the latter and spend a day at my friends family with their two kids, had some nice chats and watched football with the 5-year-old son, great.

Left on Sunday for the haul to Grenoble, easy peasy, music-listening highway action. Arrived in the evening to have a chat and try some wine. I´m not the big wine expert and am quite determined on the grapes, I basically only drink red wine from Gamay grapes (Beaujolais) or heavy stuff like Syrah or Spanish Tinto, white wine only in summer and the mostly mixed with lemon water. Since I´m German I prefer beer anyway.

Side note: Just today I was thinking about my top 3 beverages, on place 3 we have beer, place 2 is occupied by milk and the winner (with distance) is, well, water. There is no better liquid on this planet than pure, plain water. To add another, a bit morbid anecdote, I tried distilled water once (thats pure H2O without minerals) and if you ever want to taste nothingness this is what you have to drink. So whoever says that tab or mineral water tastes like nothing is wrong. Well, not too far off maybe. Word of caution though: Dont drink more than maybe 50 or 100 ml of distilled water, this shit can kill you, you´ll dry out from the inside (has to do with osmosis in your ingestines).

Man, I´m drifting away. But basically the rest goes like this: I arrived in the evening at my friends place near Grenoble. He lives together with his wife and three kids in a house constantly under construction, theres always something to do. I feel the same about my flat – each year it grips me and then I start to refurbish the kitchen or paint the bathroom.

Next day I took the Orca for a ride to the Gorges d´Ardeche, a mini mini version of the Grand Canyon. The ride took me through the Vercours mountains, a historically important place (in WW2 the Resistancé formed there or at least provided formidable opposition against the German invaders) and a beautiful and scenic place to drive through as is basically everything that stretches from Grenoble to the south – South France with its ethereal scenic landscape is one of my favorite spots for just driving through and being there.

Anyways, next day I left at 9 am and drove the whole 1,000 kms back to Jena in one ride and arrived midnight. I decided to take the road in France, not the highway. Takes much longer but is way more scenic and this trip was all about driving through beautiful landscapes, letting the mind flow and drift and put eyecandy into the brain.

So here are some pictures from the trip

  

 

 

    

 

 

Vienna

Took a four day trip to Vienna beginning of August. The occasion was that my grandma had her 80th birthday this year and each year she visits an Open-Air-Operette south of Vienna and this year my mother, sister, aunt and uncle decided to join her. I went there by motorbike, 600 kms each way through the Eastern Czech Republic. So, the first part will be a motorbike story, if you don´t want to read (which I don´t recommend) scroll own to till to the first pic and you´ll be fine.

This was my first big drive since two years (the way to Vienna took me 10 hours, the way back 9) and I really enjoyed it, was one of the best things I´ve done this year. Going on a motorbike tour requires you to be at your best, it requires you to function at a very high level for a long time, keep up your concentration, have the skills, endure the weather, make decisions with little time and those are the things I enjoy, this is where I work best (and I´d even say where I excel) and which rewards me with (sometimes unbelievable) highs and experiences. Sure, not all rides are fun, sometimes its just about reaching the goal and push through the shit and on one shitty ride I almost lost my life but most of the tours were very good to extraordinary.

The two rides to Vienna and back were of the latter kind although it was raining at the beginning of each for two hours. So lets talk about rain first. Driving through rain sucks a bit, mostly because it drains your stamina faster. You need an extra bit of concentration especially on curvy roads, you have to drive slower (which is also a good thing because you drive more carefully), of course you´ll get soaked sooner or later and after arriving you´ll need more rest. I´m ambivalent with these conditions though, I like nice weather more thats for sure, but that extra toughness I need to show, pushing the limits – I enjoy that. And there are only few more beautiful sights than a misty forest with a wet road which looks like a mirror and the rain dripping into small ponds, just beauty. Anyways, motorbike driving is an outdoor activity and theres no sense complaining about the weather, if you want it easy drive a car or bus or don´t go at all.

Ok, after two hours of rain the weather got better, on the way back I even had sunshine half the way, and compared to my driving style throughout the last years I was driving faster and better, the skill I acquired is clearly showing. The biggest difference is that my style is more fluent and faster. Minor changes are that I take no prisoners when overtaking (in the past I was more hesitant when there was something slow ahead of me. These days I make decisions faster, am taking a bit more risk, am more decisive), my orientation and map-reading is better and my whole mindset is more evolved. I´m also more laid back when driving through villages (I don´t speed through towns only on road or highways) or having an obstacle in front of me which I can´t overtake on the fly, I just keep my distance and wait for the right occasion. But ok, all in all, I hope I never get stopped by the police because most of the time I´m driving more than is allowed, overtake where it´s not allowed (but safe), my driving style is defensive and doing no harm to anyone, but sometimes outside of the law.

This year I have two more tours coming, one to Grenoble which will be 1000 kms each direction and one to Athens which will be real test with 2500 kms each direction, most of it boring highway through Croatia and Serbia though.

Vienna I found to be overwhelming, flocks of people, classical architecture all over the place, bustling nightlife, everything expensive. I´m not sure about this city, not my favorite travel destination I know that much. I went there in 2009 on a bicycle tour so this was my second visit and this year was the more intensive visit but still, I enjoyed Kiev more for example. Still it is a nice city to stroll around, enjoy some architecture, visit cafes and see lots of people. I visited the Albertina, an art gallery which I think is one of the best. The Hall of the Muses is clearly a highlight, 10 marble statues of intense beauty, first time I saw this I imagined that if I were to become an artist later this life I´d try to create something like this; then I could go to the grave without worries. Just joking.

We went to this operette which was cancelled at half time because of bad weather – it was raining, of course. So, this was a trip where the rain spoiled the three most interesting parts of it, the two drives and the event for which we came. Still, I wasn´t too disappointed by the cancellation, an operette is basically a mixture of an opera and a theater piece, you have a story which is partly performed with dialogues and you have music pieces which are sung in a difficult to understand way. Definetly not my piece of cake, this was most certainly my first and last endeavor into this kind of performance.

The evenings I spent mostly talking with my sister and her boyfriend, one evening we went to the Hard-Rock-Cafe, my first (and maybe also my last) visit, its basically an expensive pub full of tourists, but a good way to get a party or some other night activity started, you´ll find lots of like-minded people there. I canceled this part though because I was to done from sightseeing and walking around.

The drive back started with rain as mentioned but nevertheless was a pretty nice one and I´m looking forward to the next motorbike frenzy which will take me to Grenoble where I´ll visit an old friend of mine. Next time I will maybe have some pictures of the bike and tell you a bit more about this beauty.

Reversing forced right-handedness III – Experience

Being one month into this now, let me tell you some experiences.

It is amazing how mundane tasks work better with the left hand, be it lighting a match, opening a lock, using cutlery, stick to the rhythm of music or using the left foot as the tact-giver or holding or using something; its amazing. The left is my stronger side, I´m pretty much aware of this now, one month after switching.

The first weeks it felt quite awkward because procedurally and intuitively I´m used to do anything with the right and I had to force myself to do stuff with my left. But now it almost feels natural and everything small and simple works equal or better with the left, I also intuitively use my left in the first place. Writing still is a big problem, it will take me months if not years to switch it and these days I´m not a hundred percent convinced if it will ever happen. This is the biggest task but I´m willing to test myself. What also does not work pretty well is gaming on the computer, it´s too deeply wired. But my gaming career which lasted for more than 20 years now is coming to and end anyways or at least I´m reducing it to a much lower level, don´t have the time these days.

It´s pretty much clear now, I´m a left-hander. This is definitely one of the most important conclusions and experiences I´ve ever had and if only for this moment of clarity it has already been worth considering myself with this stuff. Feels good.

Reversing forced right-handedness II – Science

Before we start: I will not use footnotes or state my sources on every corner, this is not a scientific thesis in the end. Some of the science is not fully researched or there is very little data I have access to, especially when it comes to the topic of forced right-handedness (there is no to little science available on this). Also, the topic of laterality is not a quite common one especially when it comes to influence of handedness on individual characteristics of a person, there are only hints and signs as I´d call it. I have some of it ready though, so if you want to know and do some digging on your own or if you want to test me please do so, I´m always happy to share knowledge, am grateful for confrontation or up for some scientific fighting.

And a last one. I´ll mark important sentences with – at the beginning and end.

Ok? Then lets get this thing on the road.

Construction of the human brain

The stuff that comes now is scientifically backed knowledge, you can start on Wikipedia under ‘brain laterality’ and click through. It´s actually quite interesting how this knowledge was gained, go check it out.

The human brain consists of two hemispheres, a left and a right one (I´ll abbreviate them as LH and RH from now on) which are connected via the corpus callosum, strings of nerve fibers. – The hemispheres are organized counterlateral meaning that stimuli on one side of the body are processed by the opposite hemisphere and that impulses to the muscles are sent from the opposite hemisphere – , this also applies to eyes ans ears (although this is a bit more complicated to explain). Besides these physiological functions the two hemispheres have different specializations and areas of responsibility which cover all tasks that the brain performs: reception, processing, reaction and retrieving stored knowledge. The corpus callosum integrates sensoric inputs and outputs into coherent perception and behavior.

– The most fundamental difference between the two hemispheres is that the LH houses the analytical, logical thinking and works linear, meaning one step after the other, whereas the RH prefers synthetic, integral, holistic thinking which is simultaneous and rich in associations. – From these two very different ways of processing specific functions of each hemisphere can be derived. Apart from that the LH tends towards an optimistic view of the world and vice versa (You also wonder how they find that out? Go exploring and start with “Deglin”, “Geschwind” or “Norman” and “brain damage”).

The centre of speech is normally located in the LH. Practice and science shows that the ability to use speech verbally as a reliable tool is responsible for the development of certain characteristics of a person especially concerning social interactions. To anticipate a bit, this becomes important later because a left-hander who is forced to be a right-hander overuses his LH and the centre of speech can be impeded in its development.

To get a bit closer to the topic, in each person there is a dominant hemisphere and this defines whether you are a right-hander or a left-hander. More precisely, this also (but not with a 100% certainty) extends to feet, eyes and ears, so the correct term would be left- or right-sider, but I´ll stick to -hander. This is an either-or, there is no such thing as a born mixed-hander or born ambidextrous person, people who consider themselves as such are most likely forced right-handers. But I´m not saying that true ambidexterity can´t be achieved, meaning that you can do things with either hand in the same quality as with your strong hand, through training it can be possible, but honestly, whats the point, except for some very special situation and you have to tell me one because I can´t think of any.

Time for a statement, but don´t throw anything at your screen now, keep calm.

Statement: Ambidexterity is not an advantage, it is a handicap, in some cases even a very vicious one because ambidexters think that this puts them above others but in the end they are part of a very sad story.

We are all born with a clear preference for one side of our body and you can do things more precise, more forceful, faster and with lower reaction time with this side only. Time you spend for training the weaker one could have been used for other things and whats much worse than that is that your brain is overused and this WILL impede other functions.

I know that if you consider yourself ambidextrous this is tough to swallow and you may scold me for it but believe me, I´m not talking bullshit here. I´d consider myself ambidextrous to some degree but its all mundane tasks and pretty much worth- or senseless in normal life. But I can cope with this perfectly, it´s all fate and in the past, bla bla.

Next time I´ll talk about domination.

Kiew

I went to Kiew, capitol of the Ukraine, for a week. A friend of mine was visiting his mother-in-law (lets call her Tamara) together with his wive and daugther and he asked me one evening over a beer whether I want to visit and I had to think about it for maybe two breaths and it was clear – of course I´d do this. But believe me, I had few concerns which of course stem from the political situation but also because of some prejudices I have about former-russian states. I visited Kazakstan in 2011 and pretty much enjoyed it there. There was a wedding going on and we had some adventures in the steppe and endless forests in the north, 4 friends together on a journey. But still, if I should choose which countries I want to visit, former Russia would rate pretty low. Thank god that since my India adventure I don´t have any concerns or fears or bad expectations when it comes to traveling to anywhere – you can throw the gloomiest or scariest looking travel proposal at me and there is chance that I´ll agree, but I´d never say never on the first sight. And this was the case here to some degree but basically it was a no-brainer, thats why I needed only two breaths.

Anyways. I decided to go by train. There is a night train going from Warsaw to Kiew and since I don´t like flying I decided to took it, going from Jena to Berlin, from Berlin to Warsaw, then to Kiew. One day in the train, for two times and I can tell you that it was a very serene, reviving, educational and peaceful experience, a very good thing to do.

                                    

           

           

Once in Kiew my friend picked me up at the crowded train station and we drove 45 minutes with the Metro (which has only three lines) and the Marchutka, small buses with 15 or so seats but with 30 passengers. Transport in Kiew is multi-modal, theres the Metro (fastest), Bus, Martchutka and Tram (slowest) and everythings is dirt cheap, at least for a Westerner, for the Metro you´ll pay around 25 Euro-Cents, the rest is even cheaper. In general the Ukraine is a country where you´ll get around on a stringshoe budget, pack of cigarettes – 1 Euro, beer in a pub – less than a Euro up to maybe 2, transport – see above, vegetables, food on the street – just cheap. But ok, the income is pretty low so thats no surprise.
So we went to have a rich breakfast at Tamaras flat which ended with some liquor since it was my arrival and my first time. I usually don´t drink before noon but hey.

           

                                      

We then went downtown to do some sightseeing and this was quite overwhelming. We went to the artisans quarter, visited Maidan, strolled along the Kreshatnyk boulevard, saw the Rada (parliament) and the Lobanowsky stadium.

                                                               

          

          

                                     

             

            

                                       

              

            

                                             

I guess we walked 100km more or less in weather conditions which I´m definetly not built for, 30 humid degrees with an occasional rain shower in between.
Kiew is a city where you´ll find history on every corner, I´ve never seen a city with so much of a different and long history than Kiev; Rome or Athens maybe, but ok, I´d consider myself only average-travelled. Anyways, In Kiew you´ll find churches, statues or gravestones of warriors, monuments reminding of perils or reminders of of great people of art. But Kiew is still a former soviet city which can be seen on the outskirts where 13-story buildings cover the horizon. I was a guest in one of these for two nights but I got the feeling that it hasn´t been worse or was even nicer than living in one of these areas here in Jena (There are two of those huge socialist-high-story-apartment districts here and I lived in the worse one for half a year during my student time and don´t have many good but some bad memories on this one.). In Kiew even these areas have some flair, each building look a bit different, theres much green and space between them, you´ll find playgrounds for children and small cosy markets, and a nice atmosphere, I never felt insecure there, which basically accounts for the whole journey – no bad shit, no dingy places (ok, we didn´t try to find them), no situations of concern.

Second day was a bit different. We went to a park and met a friend who lives in Kiew since two years to have a chat and some Kwas (delicious bread drink). Afterwards we went to an art exhibition in the Pinshuk Art Gallery which was free of charge (Pinkshuk is the son of Kutschma, a former president, and could be considered an oligarch. So he has lots of money and decided to spend part of it to give the people free art. Make your own decision on this.) and hosted works of Ai Weiwei, Damien Hirst, contemporary Ukrainian artists and as a highlight a performance by Irina Abramowitsch titled “Generator” in which you have to participate to experience it (put on some ear- and eyeblinds and then enter a room with other paricipants. Then you can do whatever you want, walk around, sit, run against the wall or collide with others, for minutes or hours.) – cool experience. The day ended in a bar at the river promenade where we met some friends of my friend, had some beers and talked. Information-wise this was the most productive day.

 

 

 

The Ukraine is in a precarious situation, parts of the country are occupied by separatists and informally under Russian control (thats not the official version though). Huge parts are agricultural and could be considered underdeveloped, going to the rural part and also what I saw from the train was like traveling back in time 20 to 30 years. But the youth clearly has arrived in the western lifestyle without losing that Eastern European charm though. And I´m not sure which way the Ukraine will take in the next month or years and I heard different opinions on this. One was that the occupied parts should be given to the Russians to have some kind of peace, but honestly whats next? First, Russia would not accept this since it would mean to acknowledge the fact that they have been officially involved and second Putin would then never accept that the rest of the Ukraine leans towards the West. In my opinion Putins wants the Ukraine to be a buffer state against Europe and the NATO so one solution might be that the Ukraine buries its dream of becoming a Western state and decides to become something like a Switzerland of the East, being neutral and open for both worlds and avoids having foreign military in their country. And I think that sooner or later the people will vote for a president who is neither pro-Russian (they chased Janukowitsch away in 2014, see Maidan protests) nor pro European but rather modestly nationalistic with the best interest for the Ukraine in mind. The war in the east is a war the Ukraine cannot win, it is draining the manpower and people will be more and more tired of the ongoing conflict.

On day three we went to the Lavra, birthplace of Eastern Orthodoxy they say. It is a complex the size of a village with 10 or so opulent churches next to each other and some famous caves where monks settled down in the 10th century to, well, found a religion. We visited parts of the caves, it was crowded, dark and no photos allowed. If you´re religious then this would be something for you.

 

 

Later that day we drove with the train to Tamaras house in the countryside some 80 kms west of Kiev, check Fastiv on Google. Was a two hour trainride (for 35 cents), train was cramped but I enjoyed the ride. Again, although the train was full there was no hassle, no loud idiots, even the drunkards behaved.
We stayed in the small village for two days, there was a lake to swim, a lot of time to write and draw and let the mind wander. One day some friends of the family came over and we had Shashlyk, couple of beers and talks. Talking to the people was different because only few people spoke english, we tried with translating but its not the same and fucking difficult to get a talk going and we left it be after two or three sentences; it felt a bit sad, I´d have loved to talk more.

 

 

 

 

 

On day 5 we took the train back to Kiev, another ride through town back to Tamaras, had a shower, lunch, prepared some postcards, another ride to the train station and thats it, almost. I boarded the train, got into my routine of reading, sleeping, watching the landscape drift by, listening to music and waiting for the border. We stood at the border for 3 hours or so. First, thats because the rail is wider in the Ukraine so all the wagons have to be lifted and fitting wheels have to be assembled which goes with a lot of noise and is quite spooky actually.

            

But more importantly the Ukraine-Poland border is an outer EU border and the Polish border guys are very, very thorough and took the whole train apart looking for smuggled cigarettes and I think I saw them carrying a waste bag full of them. Strange experience and I felt a bit uncomfortable. Thank god I had two hours to switch trains in Warsaw which have been melted down to one hour because of the border action.
Anyways, in Warsaw it was raining so I didn´t leave the station but rather had half a liter of coffee and a sandwich in the local Starbucks (my first time at Starbucks. Coffee was ok, especially after only 4 hours of sleep).

 

So I boarded the train to Berlin, met a cool guy there and we talked our way through. Arrived there, boarded the train to Jena, no hassle, no shit from Warsaw on, easy going.