A recent survey found that the Danes are the happiest nation on earth. No wonder. The rest of the world cannot afford Copenhagen. Or could it?
Copenhagen (and Scandinavia in general) is notoriously expensive. When we went there, we were ready to open our savings account in order to get a can of soda. However, we found out that budget travelers can also enjoy Copenhagen.
Our first stop on our way to Copenhagen was useit.dk UseIt is a service offered by the Danish Tourism Agency, which basically gives you many tips on visiting Copenhagen without selling your kidney first to finance it.
We found accommodation through the Danish Bed & Breakfast. The B&B we stayed at (actually, only bed – you fetch your own breakfast) belongs to Ulla Jargil. Ms. Jargil also lives on the second floor, while the third is dedicated to guests (she has 2 guest rooms). You are sharing the bathroom and the kitchenette, and you have very narrow stairs to climb all the way to the third floor. These are the disadvantages. Despite sharing the bathroom and kitchenette we enjoyed full privacy, and Ms. Jargil is very friendly and would assist you around town (she leaves brochures in the room). Some people have a problem to sleep at somebody else’s house; others may have problem sharing a bathroom. While I can relate to the latter, staying in a house is much better than staying in a lousy motel, and since one of our colleagues stayed at a cheap motel we know that he even paid more.
We chose Ms. Jargil’s holiday apartment, because on the map it looked close to the university (which is where we had to work). However, be careful about that if you come to the university, as it is spread all over town and some faculties are relatively far away. In our case, the B&B also proved good despite the fact that it is not located in the old town – which is something you should know: if you don’t mind walking a little (and Copenhagen is the perfect place for strolling) and unless the weather is horrible, you don’t have to rent an apartment at the centre of town, in 15 minutes walk (and less with public transportation) you’d be there. I’ll get later to more strolling tips.
Getting to the city from the Kastrup Airport also proved pretty easy. First of all, exchange to Kroner in the airport – there are several bank counters in one of the terminals (and it is later much more expensive to exchange in the town). There is also a train going directly from the airport to the central train station in Copenhagen, so taxis are a waste of time; please note though, that the trains put their final destination (which is usually after Copenhagen) and you should be aware where they are going.
In general, public transportation is very good and affordable. There is a bike service for free, where you can rent bikes all over town. The bikes I’ve seen were not in the best shape (apparently, you can’t get free lunches), but it’s still worth a try if you’re a biker and have no children around.
Taking children along is not a problem (not with the B&B we were at, and not in general) – the Danes are very child-friendly, and would coo, smile and help you around. They do mind noise in general, but would smile when they see that it comes from children. The city itself has many attractions for children, not only the famous Tivoli (in which we haven’t been, because we’ve been there in the only month Tivoli takes off!). Just an example: the National Museum (Nationalmuseet), which is recommended in any case, has a lovely children museum, where kids can play and have a learning experience at the same time. The only thing that you might be missing is regular variety of mashed food jars and formula milk (if you’re not breastfeeding) – there’s very little offering at a normal supermarket (I asked someone and she said that most Danish parents make their own mashed-food mixtures; and that breast feeding is a big issue – if someone cannot, she may go to the chemist and get it as part of her medical insurance). Nappy changing facilities are available everywhere, but especially mind the public libraries, where you can find a children’s reading corner with toys (and also books in English, though most books are naturally in Danish). Not only that they have neat changing facilities, but in some libraries they have a librarian who’d mind the child for a while, to let you time to read.
Public libraries also have Internet access, and they’d let you use the first 15 minutes for free (which is usually enough for a quick email check and reading this article); and everything is available in English, even if they’d rather speak Danish. UseIt also say that they have free Internet at their offices – haven’t checked it. As Internet-addicted as I am, there is so much to do in Copenhagen you’d hardly notice your floating email box.
Basically, Copenhagen has several main boroughs, each with its own unique character. There’s the city centre, where you can find small enchanting streets and magnificent rococo to modern architecture, including the Celebration Hall of the University (on Frue Plads), which is especially recommended visit. Then, you have neighbourhoods around the city centre, more or less similar to it - but with more gardens, residential areas, etc. Across the bridges southwards or northwards you find slightly different, a bit seedier neighbourhoods, where you’d find many immigrants and their restaurants.
The University of Copenhagen itself is spread all over town, and if you have meetings or conferences there, make sure that you know where it will take place – although the city makes fun walking and has great public transportation, it is still advisable not to stay at the other end of the town. Humanities and parts of Social Sciences, for example, are in Islands Brygge, near Amager (one of the sites on the Internet concludes only “not the place to go, unless you’re looking for a fight”, regarding Amager, but I’ve been there and except for being very cheap in comparison to Copenhagen and totally non-trendy, I didn’t feel anything threatening in particular. I was not involved in any major fights). Islands Brygge is on the south part of the harbour, and it is full of interesting architecture.
The only reason I think that you may not visit Amager or Islands Brygge is not that they’re not interesting, but that there’s much to see in all quarters, including an almost compulsory visit to the Little Mermaid (which is indeed very small), the changing of the guards at the palace and other touristy stuff. UseIt and other guides to Denmark are full with advices what to see and what to miss; and the only thing I could say is that many museums are either for free or have a students’ discount; many parks are for free; and other sites, like the marvelous City Hall are also for free (the university also gave us a wonderful lunch there, in a hall used by the royal family). You will spend of course, on Tivoli and other interesting sites that cost money; and on food.
However, also here, the rumours on “expensive Denmark” are a bit farfetched. Of course, you could dine splendidly for €300 a person, but you don’t have to. There’s plenty of affordable good food and you don’t have to stuff your face at the nearest McDonalds/KFC/whatever (this is really weird and I could never understand tourists who’d do that, unless the food in that country is absolutely horrendous. The whole point of travelling is trying local stuff, right?).
In the fast food category, alongside the McFood chains, you also have hotdogs (a local variety which is very popular in Denmark, haven’t tried though, because I am more of a cow person when it comes to food). You can also buy affordable sandwiches with wonderful combinations in many shops, usually they are marked as “Smørrebrød”, despite the fact that the term “Smørrebrød” actually refers to open sandwiches buffet, not to any sandwich.
Buffet is in general a good possibility to enjoy a meal without digging into your savings account. Almost every restaurant, certainly in the city center, offers an “eat as much as you can” buffet for a fixed price. We went to a pizza place once, and once to a Chinese place, both were OK but nothing I’d write home about. We ate one evening at a very good fusion café, called “Picknick”, which offers fusion between Kurdish and Danish food for friendly prices. It is somewhere near Fælledvej (maybe at the end of it? I just remember it was close to the Police Historical Museum, which is there), although unfortunately I don’t have the full address.
One thing you should definitely not miss – and is also not expensive, is the Danish bakeries. I come from Germany, so I thought that I can’t be taught about cool bakeries. Wrong. On the one hand, the Danes are the Japanese of Europe. Their baked goods and sandwiches are very aesthetic and innovative. On the other, they are not the Japanese of Europe, because they have those wonderful baked goods, so sweet and interesting. Not only the “Danish” pastry. I ate, for example, something that is called “Potatosomething” (Idon’t understand Danish, the word Kartoffel was there), which turned out to be a thin bun filled with sweet pudding and covered with “potato” pattern from Marzipan. One of the most fabulous bakeries I’ve found is Lagkagehuset, near the Christianhavn metro station. Just sit there, drink your coffee and eat something amazing, while looking at the swans in the canal. That’s life!
Another option, especially if you live in an apartment, like we did, is to buy something in cheap supermarkets and cook it yourself. There are several cheap supermarkets with interesting local variety of food, like Netto or Fakta. You can then try the local variety and eat according to your own diet. In any case, if you want to take some souvenirs home, you can buy Danish stuff at those supermarkets, including lots of licorice (the Danes are big on licorice – they even have several types of licorice ice cream treats!), Danish or Swedish chocolate (which is very good), etc.
Copenhagen, to sum up, is a wonderful city, and even if it is not that cheap, it also doesn’t deserve its horrible reputation. Go ahead with your kidneys intact, you won’t have to sell them.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
A recent survey found that the Danes are the happiest nation on earth. No wonder. The rest of the world cannot afford Copenhagen. Or could it?
Internet was long hailed as the place, where alternative views could be heard and anyone, from those who love sheep (not platonically) to those who believe in the annihilation of the whole human race, could find a place to post their opinions. This is correct to a certain point: mainstream media still casts a shadow on alternative media – Google results show outlets like BBC or CNN way above some fringe newsletter. Moreover, as surfers from certain countries know, the Internet is not omnipotent – and prohibited propaganda sites are blocked. For example, surfers for Germany would get different results when they search for the Nazi term “stormfront” on Google.de and on Google.com; or would not be able to bid on “constitutionally prohibited” items on the German eBay. The intention of these German policies is to constrain the spread of extreme-right propaganda in the country, is the state views it is Verfassungswidrig – against the constitution.
However, despite the best efforts of these governments, information finds its ways to adherents and those vulnerable for recruitment. One of the ways Neo-Nazis manage to spread their propaganda is P2P networks. P2P networks and web 2.0 sites like YouTube are both useful in spreading non-mainstream propaganda. Films discussing conspiracy theories regarding the events of September 11, 2001, have been spread mostly through web 2.0 video sites and P2P networks. You can also find Nazi propaganda on YouTube.
On neo-Nazi sites, one could find e-Donkey-2000 P2P network links to Nazi and Neo-Nazi propaganda films as well as other films about Nazism, the Second World War and race domination. In one of them, which is managed in the form of a forum, the managers use the section “Propaganda” to discuss, analyse and give ED2K links to films such as “Saving Private Ryan” or “NAPOLA” – these are deemed “Allied Propaganda”.
In other sites dedicated to sharing links to file sharing networks, neo-Nazis and extreme-right activists post links to films supporting their ideology, under the auspices of “Documentaries”. A naive teenager looking for political or social documentaries would download it and be exposed to the ideology; similarly to the spread of fascist rock-music in secondary school yards, as exposed by the German media. Games, movies and other pieces of media, which seem harmless are disguised through these networks, and reach those in Germany and other countries, where the law prohibits the free distribution of such media.
Opponents of P2P and file-sharing would probably deduct from this activity that “P2P leads to Nazism” (just as smoking pot leads you to a life of crime). Proponents of P2P would claim that by illegalizing file-sharing, users find themselves with strange and dangerous bedfellows, whom they wouldn’t have met in a legal system. One conclusion that could be drawn from this issue is that technology would always find ways to succumb censorship, and that governments might think of other ways to deter their most vulnerable members of becoming Nazis.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Once a year, I am also allowed to complain. So here is a list of ten things that annoy me in Germany. Naturally, they are generalisations. But let me get the steam out:
1. They don’t like children. Germans often complain that they don’t have enough children (population growth rate is negative). On the other hand, when it comes to the point of social friendliness towards children – I am talking about smiling towards a baby instead of being annoyed of her being, well, a baby (making noises, putting things she shouldn’t in her mouth to “test” them) – you see that many Germans fail the test. Social policies are indeed very baby-friendly; but the message a woman gets if she has one, is that she should stay at home, be a good German mother, and hide that thing from the public, not get back to work. Let’s put it like that: there are more aisles for pets in the supermarkets than there are for babies. These are the creatures really adored by the Germans, who’d probably call the police if they see a maltreated dog, but couldn’t give a toss about the well-being of the child next door.
2. They smoke, and still think it is somehow cool and related to their civil rights to poison everybody around them. Germany is behind most of the civilised world in anti-smoking laws. Get that: they argue whether to prohibit by law smoking in hospitals and schools. Yes, I am not talking about restaurants, they are so far from that. If you mention that to a German, they’d say that banning smoking would violate the rights of those poor smokers to be able to go out and have a cig. What about my rights? My child’s rights? The waiter’s and the barman’s? Do they all have to suffer of passive smoking? Apparently.
3. Passport-Photos are part of every job application. The Germans probably don’t get what’s wrong with that. I have no idea what is the source of this tradition – it is probably something old, because it has been also used in East Germany, not only in West Germany – probably, in the pre-computerised world, to make sure that the person in the job interview and the person on the file are the same people; or to save a pic once the person is admitted – to put on their files. However, it is quite clear what it is used for today: to reject those who look a little too dark-faced.
4. “Perfect German”. In some job applications, they want “perfect German, no accent”. It is well known, that a cleaning lady must have a degree in German literature. Or let’s just say, that if her name is Sulimanğlu, they wouldn’t take her anyway, without inviting her first to an interview to hear what her accent sounds like. Naturally, I have met less assholes when it comes to high-skilled jobs, but this point about “no accent” actually demonstrates that they are basically not open for foreigners when it comes to the job-market. And this is really superb in a globalised world, where high-skilled migrants contribute to the economies of the countries where they live.
5. That they are spoiled. Germans got out to the streets, and toppled Schröder’s government because of social reforms. What were those reforms? The job centre is allowed to check if a candidate is actually looking for a job; they can also refer a candidate to a job outside their field of training, if after a certain period it is clear that he has no prospects of finding a job in that field. Oh, the outrage! How come the rude government actually sends us to work, instead of just paying the dole!
6. This has also happened with the German students. Many students spend their time idly, dragging their studies to the 8th or 9th year. The state governments decided then to install tuition for those dragging their feet. Again, the outrage was horrible. “Installing tuition would harm the opportunities of those potential students from poor families”. Let me tell you something: unfortunately, the rate of students from weak socioeconomic background in Germany is not higher than in tuition-land UK. You first have to reform your ridiculous secondary education system (which routes children as young as 9 years old to a school with no Abitur). This is where those poor fail, not at the university.
7. And if we’re talking about educational system, let me tell you that: officially, according to the Bologna Process, all EU certificates should have equal standing. Not when it comes to Germany, where German certificates worth much more. Peter Grotian, a professor of Political Science at the FUB, recently criticised the fact that the Germans now transform their Diplom-based academic system to a Bachelor-based one, would make everything superficial and inadequate. Right. Because of the so many great German Nobel-Prize winners and social scholars; in comparison with the rest of the stupid world – nobody from the UK has ever won a Nobel Prize or published an important scientific work; and those BA degrees from those superficial universities in Oxbridge, London or Edinburgh put you in much worse standing than a glorious Diplom from the famous university in, say, Bochum.
8. This is because, in general, the Germans think that they have invented the wheel, and the rest of the world is composed of plain retarded nations that lag behind the great German nation. It is not a Nazi thing. At least not directly. But a friend of mine once had this enlightening conversation with a help-desk of Germany’s top Internet providers:
He: I signed up for DSL, but the connection is incredibly slow. It is worse than having a dial-up connection
Helpdesk: Could you please give me an example where this happens? Give me a site.
He: Let’s say, I try to access CNN.com and it happens. Very slow
Helpdesk: CNN? What is it?
He: It is an American news site.
Helpdesk: Oh. In America. It is because they don’t have DSL there yet. It is not like here in Germany.
9. And if we got there, for a relatively modern nation notorious for being efficient to the point that have almost managed to kill all Jews, they are incredibly inefficient. Maybe it is the only thing they really denazified. When I ordered an Internet line, they told me that it would take 3-4 weeks to install it. At that time, it took about 2 days in other countries (now it probably takes two hours). They told me that they have to send my application for a line to Bonn, where someone would authorise that they can lift a finger and create a line… I am kidding you not. This doesn’t only get to Internet. Everywhere the Germans drown you with paperwork. The photocopy machine business in Germany is one of the only ones in constant demand: people need to copy documents the whole time and naturally, nothing could be done online. Now, think about this, add this with their love of foreigners as demonstrated in 3,4,7 and 8, and understand why Germany is the sick man of Europe, economically.
10. That they always complain. See points 1 through 9 to see how I became integrated…
Gepostet von Poli G unter 8:48 pm
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I like using Pandora (don't tell them I live outside the US...) and I have a Paul Simon station. Funny, I was never a huge Paul Simon fan, but suddenly it hit me that I've become one: that I really like his songs, and that his new album is just as good (cool! Amazon have a clip there!). I actually dragged my blub down to a store and bought it.
And then, I found myself singing "Duncan" to my son. Not exactly the material for children ("couple in the next room/bound to win a prize/they've been going at it all night long/I'm trying to get some sleep/but these motel walls are cheap" - what a scene of adulthood and lonliness in only a few lines!).
This song is almost 35 years old. It is as fresh as it was, even if you don't have any Jesus People (or maybe he meant Children of God?) followers, who'd sleep with you in order to recruit you, not in the numbers that we had in the 1970s, in any case ("A young girl in a parking lot/Was preaching to a crowd/Singing sacred songs and reading/From the Bible/Well, I told her I was lost/And she told me all about the Pentecost/And I seen that girl as the road/To my survival"). The long years of innocence are certainly over.
It might be hard to believe, but when "Duncan" came out, in January 1972, Times magazine had asked:
"Everyone knows what Art Garfunkel has been doing since then: acting in Hollywood (Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge). But what of Paul Simon, the creative half of the team, the composer of Bridge and all those other hits like Sounds of Silence and Mrs. Robinson?"("Simon Says" Time, January 31, 1972)
Isn't it nice to find such archeological artifacts in the middle of the day? Paul Simon would have probably written a song about that feeling.
Gepostet von Poli G unter 12:57 am
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
When Craig Silverstein from Google answered questions about Google at UNC last autumn, he also answered a question about Google Answers:
Craig said that many of the people on google answers are actually stay-at-home mothers who can make extra money doing research for others.(originally at tech-recipes)
Here you can see why Google shut down Google Answers. Not because it wasn't a good and helpful service. And not also because it was fee-based, which is what many commentators have suggested - that Yahoo's social network "Yahoo! Answers" site "beat" Google Answers. It is because people in the Googleplex saw the Google Answers Researchers not as the independent contractors and serious Internet researchers that they were, but as a bunch of bored work-at-home soccer moms.
From the Google Answers Researchers I know, about half are male. And from the females, not all have children, and almost none is a classic "work-at-home" mom. Pinkfreud for example, has written in one of her last answers:
Google Answers was my only source of income and very nearly my
only source of human companionship. Because my health is very dodgy, I
cannot work outside my home nor accept jobs with strict deadlines.
Google Answers was my dream job. The dream is over.
However, Google sees them as someone who could be easily dismissed away. They are not serious workers, they are first and foremost moms. I am not saying that Silverstein is a sexist pig. I am sure he doesn't think of himself as one.
However, I am saying that this is how gender stereotypes and positions are reproduced in cyberspace to the point where these genderised positions are actually tagged to people who at all do not belong to that gender (as I asid, many are male, many have no children). These positions and opinion mix gender ("work at home moms") with the real issue - class (how much does Silverstein make; how much do I make; and how much do people with no access at all to Cyberspace make) and culture/education.
Silverstein makes so much because he's a Stanford-educated "White" American male; the "work-at-home mom" makes so little because she's not a Stanford-educated-career-driven-male, she's first of all defined by Silverstein through her motherness. The centre of her life is not Google Answers, it is her children (or it is so in a reality constructed by these gender definitions). And the source of income is insignificant. She can be a Google Answers Researcher; but she could also do any other thing that work-at-home moms do. After all, it is not really of importance what she does. It is of importance what *he* (Silverstein, Brin, whoever, as long as he is not a work-at-home-dad) does. Therefore, Google Answers could be easily shut down. It is a feminine service, not an important one, and the mothers can get back into selling Tupperware or sending cute little emails with many emoticons to their other housewife-friends.
And this is the way it is. Cyberspace and the new Information Technology have not revolutionised gender relations, despite the fact that theoretically, on the Internet, nobody knows that you're a dog. Be a dog, but don't be a bitch - because unless you are career driven maniac who doesn't want a family (which is something most women are not), you cannot stand the hours in the high-tech industry. Even if you do have an engineering degree, which is a question in itself (less women than men study that).
And despite the fact that telework was supposed to provide people with the opportunity to do serious work despite disabilities, it is again pushed to the bottom of the social ladder. Those who telework are being stigmatised as "work-at-home-moms" even if they are providing a service that is unique and valuable as Google Answers, and provide real advice, unlike other similar services.
Gepostet von Poli G unter 11:31 am