Why do I like Richard Dawkins?


There may be many reasons but here is a footnote on The Greatest Show on Earth in which he rants against using the form “Beijing” instead of “Peking”.

The Greatest Show on Earth, p. 184

I’m no scientist but I do share this trait of character that makes you expect respect for the conventions and consistency across languages, rules, and systems… I’d really find very difficult to build knowledge on without it.


Fourteen funny features of Cologne, Germany


In April 2009 I stepped in Cologne. I arrived by train from Hanover in a night in which I hardly could see the monstrosity of its cathedral, just in front of the station. I used the following day to stroll around the most typical places of the city. I was a hot humid day which  persuaded me not to follow upstairs to the spire of the cathedral. Luckily, the next day, in which I should follow my trip to a Duesseldorf, started clear and shiny, ideal for the scheduled ascent.

April 13 2009, Köln, armed with my camera. That day I could see a number of curious things that I list in chronological order:

1. Achtung

One of the best-known German words among those who don’t speak German. We came across it in a sign to advise about the danger posed by the tramways. Certainly they are more difficult to be seen, and therefore more dangerous, when you walk looking to the ground, so the placement seems about right.



2. Grünfeld

A pub named after a chess defence which includes a chess knight graffiti on its wall. Nothing special, but otherwise I wouldn’t reach the magical number fourteen.

El bar Grünfeld

El bar Grünfeld

3. Fist and ear statue.

My imagination does not reach the meaning of this statue. It must be the fight against deafness as much as the concept that listening to others makes us stronger. None of the ideas that came to my mind seem to be specially full of sense. Inside the ear there was litter and some cigs butts, but I’m quite sure it is not an ashtray.

Oreja con puños

Oreja con puños

4. Ice-cream on the top

Best location for tourist photos. I have one myself, ice-cream crashed on my head in tower-of-pisa fashion, which I don’t include here out of sheer shame.

El helado estrellado contra el edificio

The icecream crashed on the attic

5.  Small piece in front of cathedral

The cathedral of Cologne is a spectacular mass. Certainly it is in the first place on the list of things worth seeing in town, but it has not place on this list.  What does fit on my list of funny things is the piece in front of the cathedral of which it is said it is identical to the one on top of each of the towers, 140 metres above. One can imagine the efforts to put it up there. Awesome in every sense.

Catedral de Colonia

Catedral de Colonia

6. Pixelated glass.

There is an interesting example of stained glass inside the cathedral. It looks like a tribute to the geek world. The colours of stained glass have always fascinated me and this is no exception in spite of its low definition.

Vidriera pixelada

Pixelated glass

7. Goldfish lamp

In the old town, die Altstadt (actually not so old as not much of the city survived WW2) there’s an area of narrow streets and restaurants. In one of those this lamp held by a whale could be seen.

En la parte vieja de Colonia

Cologne, old town

8.  Football urinal

In an Italian restaurant’s gents there was a football-themed latrine with its goal and all that. There’s a pink football and even if I’m saying too much I’ll let you know that you can move the ball but it is impossible to score.

Deportes en todos los lugares

Sports everywhere

9.  Street ground, orchestra ceiling.

The auditorium in which the Philharmonic rehearses is under the street, more specifically under a square beside the railway tracks. near the cathedral. Apparently, people stepping may disturb the acoustics, so whenever there’s a concert or rehearsal some men prevent pedestrian from stepping over the musicians.

Aquí explican la jugada

Here it is all explained

Los agentes de la ley acústica. Al fondo la catedral.

Acoustic law and order agents. The cathedral on the background.

10. Space invaders.

A friendly alien on a post beside the tracks. It must be one of those guerrilla art actions.



11. Love locks

This is a meme which has been spreading recently. I think I’ve heard the city of  Florence is going to fine the assholes which may uglify it with this kind of junk. The happy couple places its lock with names or initial in a public place and then get rid of the key, or eat it, or keep it until their love is rust. In Cologne the chosen venue is such a city icon as the railway bridge.

Quincalla sentimental

Sentiments rusting

Los candados van en la valla que hay entre el paso de peatones y las vías

The locks are on the fence between the pedestrian gangway and the tracks

12. Buildings in inverted L shape

Futuristic architecture is everywhere but it is still interesting to watch buildings of this type and size. As I saw them from the distance I’m not sure whether the shape is  designed in order to keep the room at the base or to provide with shadow and shelter from the rain.

Las dos eles invertidas. O elle invertida.

Two inverted L’s.

13. Elephant

Germans love antiques in street markets. In this Flohmarkt (flea market, as it is in French or English) and other similar one can trade coins, stamps, old postcards. Also some more unusual stuff such as this elephant. I cannot imagine its price or the use it can serve.

Elefante de pega

Pretend elephant

14. Books as steps

A bookshop chain example of advertising in an underground crossing stairs. The concept is that each step represents the spine of a book. A metaphor full of beauty and wonder, as every book is a new step in life.

A punto de ascender por la escalera del conocimiento

About to ascend the knowledge stairs



This post appeared originally in Spanish as Hamburgo

After several months 14 funny things I saw in Cologne about the city of Cologne (Köln), is one of the most successful posts in this blog, so I started working in an attempt to show some of the interesting things I could see in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg some days before. I’ll get the pictures out of its folder and will comment them more or less in chronological order.

Deutsches Schauspielhaus

The first day in town we were strolling around the city centre where we could see the German Theatre (Deutsches Schauspielhaus), which reminded me the Opera of Prague. Funnily, once we got closer we saw a plaque in which they mentioned the architect was actually the same man.

Hans Hummel, in yellow and blue

Hans Hummel. This water carrier is a typical character in Hamburg. He can be found in different places around the city, especially on postcards. Apparently he was one of Hamburg’s water carriers before the times of the running water, but he was also a poor man the children laughed at. The German Wikipedia says he lived between 1787 and 1854.

Beautiful building

Some of the buildings in Hamburg made me remember the houses of Amsterdam. I’m not sure if the architectonic style when from city to city on the ships that sailed the northern seas. Art and commerce together.

Jungfernstieg in front of Binnenalster, seen from a second floor

From one of the wonderful bookshops of Hamburg (an urban feature from which Spain should learn) we can see the area of Jungfernstieg, a street in front of river Alster at Binnenalster, which seems a lake but it is not one. Hamburg is placed where two rivers meet. River Alster is a tributary of the Elbe. Interestingly, the port of  Hamburg on the banks of the Elbe is 88 km away from the river mouth into the Baltic Sea. Hamburg, which boasts one of the most important ports of the world is a port city but not a seaside city.

Hamburg City Hall

Hamburg’s City Hall is a building of peculiar beauty. It is at the very centre of the city, a few metres away from  Binnenalster. Even if we arrived at dusk and could not see its interior, it is not difficult to realise that this is an impressive building. I spent some time looking at statues, as the one of victorious archangel Michael. I still ignore what the function of the post in from of the city hall is, but it includes a nice ship on its top.

Mapa tridimensional para ayuda de ciegos y deleite de cartógrafos

3D Map

Beside the city hall there is a 3D map of the city centre. It is certainly some help for the blind and a pleasure for cartographers and map aficionados. Binnenalster and the city hall square in which the map sits can be seen perfectly. The farther side of the map represents the flow of the Elbe.

Geographical coordinates of Hamburg

We came across the geographical coordinates of Hamburg 53°33′18″N 9°59′24″E in a shopping centre. For Spaniards, it is Important not to mix the O for Ost (East, in German) with the O for Oeste (Spanish for West, which in German is W, West, the same as in English). Meridian 10° E runs trough the city. In fact, Google Maps provides 53°33′55″N 10°00′05″E as coordinates.

Coat of Arms of Hamburg

In the underground station “Rathaus” (City Hall) the tiles in the wall showed the city’s coat of arms, which I’ve seen so many times on a coffee cup at home.

Emergency device to stop trains

One thing which drew my attention was a lever to stop trains, if needed, sitting on the platform. I had seen this kind of device on trains, but never outside them.

Tree decorated with easter eggs

The easter egg thing is not specifically from Hamburg, but a tradition in the whole Germany. The next morning we found several shrubs decorated with plastic eggs, but the real ones are edible. Typically, children paint them in gaudy colours.

Chilehaus yard and Instituto Cervantes’ entrance

Interesting architecture. Chilehaus, with its geometrical design, is one of the outstanding buildings in Hamburg. Seen from one of its angles it shows a ship shape. It is said that the project was commissioned by a man who became wealthy in Chile. Among other things, it houses Instituto Cervantes.

Der Spiegel

Hamburg is the capital for Germany’s newspapers, publishers and media. In your walk you’ll recognize the famous names.

An old VW, with the Chilehaus in the background

The storehouse area is a whole journey to the 19th century. I loved coming a cross an old small Volkswagen Beetle beside the old depots.


Speicherstadt. When I arrived in this place I experienced some kind of déjà-vu, as I knew it thanks to old photographs, even if I didn’t know that it was in Hamburg. The ship could be unloaded directly into the warehouses. Today the whole area is being renovated.

Elbe Philarmonic (project)

A dream for the future. This infographic shows the project for the new building of the Philarmonic, on the banks of the Elbe. The base of the future building is on the left of the image. It will be very recognizable, beside the river. I’d love coming some time and listen to a Wagner opera.

We took a boat tour around the port on that same day. It is a very pleasant experience which I recommend to everyone visiting Hamburg, but there are some many views that the tour deserves its one post. I hope you enjoyed this photos to the point that they are some encouragement to visit this city.

Make Your Own Maps


Make Your Own Maps

I threw a fiver at this book on my last extravagant spree. I wouldn’t have paid it by its nominal price but then again, what are discount bookshops for? I was intrigued and looking forward to finding out whether it actually contained some user-friendly software with which you’d be drawing nice lines on top-quality or at least funny maps. Not at all. Actually, the CD includes several country layered maps in psd format for which you will need Adobe Photoshop or similar. The book is made out of a series of screenshots which actually may come in handy, as I’ve always hated to jump from on tab to the next, back and forward, which ends up happening whenever you are checking an online tutorial. Good for a fiver, but nothing special.

En mi último arrebato consumista he tirado cinco leuros en la compra de este bonito libro con cedél. No hubiera pagado los veinte papeles que se supone que cuesta ni harto de grifa, pero para eso tenemos librerías de descatalogados. Creía que en el cedé vendría algún programa fácil de usar con el que trazar rayitas en mapas curiosos pero nainas. Vienen unos cuantos mapas en formato psd con sus capas y tal, pero para los que hace falta Adobe Photoshop a algún programa parecido. El libro está hecho a base de pantallazos que en un momento dado pueden venir bien, por el rollazo que es andar saltando como poseido de una pestaña a otra, que es lo que uno acaba haciendo cuando uno consulta un manual en el propio ordenador. Que por cinco euros no está mal, pero tampoco es nada del otro jueves.


Interesting world map


In order to spend a weekend and visit some friends I travelled with some other friends to Milan five years ago. I believed the trip pictures were in the hard drive of that old laptop from which I still need to rescue stuff, but luckily I had save them in one of the DVDs that I seldome made in my rare attacks of lucidity. I’ve spent a nice time watching them and I may publish some at any moment. The first thing I’ll drop is an advertising billboard (or may be not, as I never quite knew what it was advertising) that we came across at Linate airport. It was a very beautiful world map and I couldn’t resist the temptation to take it with me, in my camera.

Western hemisphere

Eastern hemisphere

It was quite large due to the hurry to get out of the airport, the lugagge , the passport control and stuff I didn’t manage to take a whole picture of it. I first thought I would just drop these two with maximum definition, but it is maybe more interesting to go into details:


In Europe we have a nice collection of clichés. Sure I don’t know all of them but, for instance, I can see a bull saying hola! in Spain (and Portugal?). Also a guitar and some wine; a shoe probably for the zapateado and a cathedral that looks like Barcelona’s Holy Family, but placed rather in Santiago. Italy, ciao bella, is inescapably a boot. We also have the English bobby and the Irish shamrock, a Balkanic ballerina, a cook which is maybe from Croatia and a Turkish or Greek waiter. Most of my dear Estern Europe is woodlands in Germany there are sausages, beer and a horse! Scandinavia is a place of wood, skates, deer, sleighs, viking helmets and liquors and in the Russian motherland we can see the Kremlin, matrioshkas, icons and space shuttles from Baikonur. And the decorated eggs called pisanky. Last but not least, the Caucasus is a place of tractors and mountains.


I don’t know so much about Asia and I expect to be missing even more, but I can see that Russia says до свидания to say farewell to Europe and then a quite empty Siberia is filled with pictures from which the Russians extract petrol barrels and gas. Then the Chinese Great Wall, an important defence element whose main mission is to have hundreds of restaurants named after itself. China is reduced to a water buffalo and the spiky Himalayan mountains; a rice bowl and a the multi-colour terracotta army. The Indian subcontinent is represented with images of  The Book of the Jungle: elephants and snakes, frankincense and a holy man.  In Indochina, a big-bellied Buddha and a Balinese dancer, mountains that could be Krabi islands. Korea is a dragon and Japan is a geisha ¿is it possible that a football player, a memento of that World Cup, sits between them?



Africa is the craddle of mankind. If we start in the Maghreb we find some mountaints that must be the Atlas, palm trees, camels, heaps of sand and the pyramids of Egypt. A little farther away in Palestine is where God lives and that’s why his eye is showing up. In the Gulf of Guinea, masks and djembes and also a football, probably because the best teems in the continent (Ghana, Ivory Coast) belong to the area.  Southwards the wildlife including giraffes, zebras, elephants, lions… and the Madagascan lemur.


America is the most mixed continent. Canada shows up a a huge nature reserve. The United States are the largest arrival country and the iconic one par excellence. The skyscrapers in its Big Apple, its Route 66, baseball, Californian paradise. Mexico looks just like holidays and sombreros and farther South we’ve got pre-Columbian pyramids, many palm-trees, some Amazonian Indian, the Corcovado Christ, o futebol, and the imposing Andes.


In Oceanía everything is commonplace: kangaroos, boomerangs, crocodiles, koalas, dreamlines, rugby and the typical hat. I can see a bit of green Kiwi sheep. I never understood whether the continent is Australia or Oceania. I will have to study better both continents and what they contain.

If anybody detects an object that I may have omitted (I simply couldn’t write about them all) with an interesting name or story, I thank you in advance for the comment.

Fourteen funny things I saw in Cologne


This is the approximate translation of a previous post: Catorce cosas curiosas que vi en Colonia, originally written in Spanish.

I passed by Cologne in April 2009. I came from Hannover, arriving in town one night in which I just could admire the enormity of its cathedral, which can be found next to the train station. I devoted the next day to go around the most typical places of the city. It was a hot, humid day that made me give up the idea of ascending up to the belfry of the cathedral tower. Luckily the following day (in which I had to go to Duesseldorf) showed up shiny and clear: clearly favourable to the expected ascension.

Köln, 13 April 2009. Armed with my camera I saw a series of funny things that I list in strictly chronological order:

1. Achtung

One of the better-known words among those who don’t speak the German language. We can find it here, in a sign advising of the danger implicit to tramways. Certainly, tramways are more difficult to be seen -and therefore more dangerous- when one walks looking down. Thus its placement seems appropriate.



2. Grünfeld

A bar named after a chess opening. It also has a grafitto representing a chess knight on its wall. Nothing special, but I need help to reach the magical number fourteen.

Grünfeld Bar

Grünfeld Bar

3. Fists-and-ear statue.

I simply cannot imagine what this statue is representing. It may be struggle as much as deafness or the idea that listening to others makes us stronger. None of the things that came to my mind seems to make total sense. There was litter inside the ear, butts mainly, but I do not thing it was an ashtray at all.

Fisted ear

Fisted ear

4. Ice-cream on the attic

A favourite of the tourist photos. I have one myself, I just don’t show it out of embarrasment. It is in Pisa-tower style, the ice-cream seems to have landed on my head.

The ice-cream crashed on the building

The ice-cream fell on the building

5. The littel piece in front of the cathedral

The cathedral of Cologne is a spectacular monstrosity. Certainly it goes first on the list of things worth seeing in the city. It just does not fit in this list. We can make some room among the funny things for the piece in front of the Dom. It is said that the piece is identical to the one on top of each of the towers, 140 metres over the ground level. One can hardly imagine the effort to put it up there. Formidable, in every sense.

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

6. Pixelled stained-glass window.

Inside the cathedral this curious stained-glass window can be found. It looks like a tribute to the geek world. I’ve always been fascinated by the colours of stained-glass windows and this one is no exception in spite of its low definition.

Pixelled window

Pixelled window

7. The fish lantern

In the old town, die Altstadt (actually not so old as not much of the city survivied WWII) there is an area of narrow streets and restaurants. In one of them I found this lantern, with a whale as ornament.

Cologne, old town

Cologne, old town

8. Soccer latrine

This urinary was in an Italian restaurant’s gents’, goal included. There’s a pinkish football and even if I’m telling too much I muss confess that you can move the ball, but it is impossible to score.

Sport everywhere

Sport everywhere

9. Urban ground, Philarmonic ceiling.

The auditorium in which the Philarmonic plays is under ground, specifically under a square next to the railways and close to the cathedral. Apparently, people’s steps disturb the acustics, so whenever there is a concert or an audition, some gentlemen prevent pedestrians from stepping over the musicians.

It is all explained in here

It is all explained in here

Acoustics law's agents. Cathedral on the background.

Acoustics law's agents. Cathedral on the background.

10. Space invaders.

A friendly alien on a post beside the railways. It must be one of those guerrilla art stunts.



11. Love locks

This one is a meme which has been expanding lately. I think I read that the city of Florence is going to fine the dummies which make it look ugly with this junk. The happy couple places a lock with their names or initials in a public bridge and then they throw the key away or eat it or keep it until the point of oxidation. The iconic train bridge is the selected place in Cologne.

Sentimental junk

Sentimental junk

The locks are on the fence that separates the pedestrian walk from the railways

The locks are on the fence that separates the pedestrian walk from the railways

12. Building in inverted-L shape

Futuristic architecture has arrived everywhere, but buildings this size and kind are still curious to see. As I just watched them in the distance, I’m not sure whether their reason is to preserve the space on the ground or to provide it with shade and shelter against the rain.

The double inverted L.

The double inverted L.

13. Elephant

Germans love antiques markets. Coins, stamps and old postcards can be traded in this Flohmarkt (literally “flea market”) and similar ones. Also some funnier items, such as this elephant. I can’t imagine its price or what it is good for.

Bogus elephant

Bogus elephant

14. Books as stairs

In an underground pass, advertising for a bookshop chain. The idea is that the stairs represent the book spines. A beautiful and funny metaphor, as each book is a new step in life.

Just about rising on the stairs of knowledge

Just about rising on the stairs of knowledge

Wroclaw, 20 February 2010


This is the approximate translation of a previous post: “Breslavia, 20 de febrero de 2010“, originally written in Spanish.

Some weeks ago, the tragedy of the Polish presidential plane crashing in Smolensk made me think about Katyn again, and also about that war and the idea of Poland and Polish identity. Some time ago the similarity between Poland and Korea occurred to me and how strange it is that both countries have survived sandwiched by such large empires or cultures. To be honest the simil is nothing but the typical nationalist deformation of history but it is not exempt of interest. Poland between Germany (Austria-Prussia) and Russia; Korea between China and Japan.

Tower of St Elizabeth church, Wrocław

Actually, there are ways to imagine Poland inside the Russian Empire as Catalonia is inside Spain today. They would have been Catholic Slavs, one more nationality withing the Great Russian Motherland. Even more in a 19th century in which Eastern Europe was all about cultural and ethnic diversity. However, the story is what it was and if 19th century was the century of nationalisms, the wars of the 20th century and the population movements in its aftermath would consolidate them. The stones of our Breslau-Wrocław know well.

House at the Rynek, St. Elizabeth on the background

When I first read about Katyn I denied the facts. The Nazis had to be the perpetrators. I even believed , for a long time, that the pact Molotov-von Ribbentrop was a necessary wrong for the expansion of socialism. The story of the Polish-Russian relations is a complex one. It’s true that Stalinism assessinated more that twenty thousand Poles at Katyn, but the Soviet Union also won a country for Poland, or for a certain Poland, or to grab what today is Western Ukraine. Anyway, without the participation of the USSR Wrocław would still be a German city.

Rynek (Wrocław)

The exiled Polish Government in London (whose last president also died in Kaczynsky’s plane) was prepared to return to the 1939 borders. However, the new Polish communist government wanted and should annexionate Silesia and Pomerania. They needed that space to fit the “repatriated” from the Kresy. They called the conquered territories “recovered”, based on the borders of the territories of the Piast dinasty in the 12th century. Hardly a word in a Slavic language had been heard West of in the last two centuries. The population of the whole of the Lower Silesia and Oppeln (Polish: Opole) was German and mixed in Upper Silesia. That fact contributed to the expulsion of almost all of the Lower Silesians whereas in Oppeln and Upper Silesia some Polonizable were left. That’s the origin of the German minority that still exists in Poland, that sometimes defines itslef as “Silesian” and had to go through a process of Degermanization during the four decades of Communist regime.

Plaza de la Sal (Breslavia)

Salt Square, Wrocław

The denazaification policies were also policies of degermanization. Wrocław’s last German school closed in 1963. Nowadays advertising for bilingual schools can be seen around. It is complicated to find vestiges of German culture. Old signs, memorials. In most places cemeteries graves were destroyed. Some old plaques can be found at St Elizabeth. Searching this legacy is as much of an interesting passtime as the photographic safari of dwarfs and gnomes.

Estatua de Alexander Fedro en el Rynek, en el lugar que antes ocupó la del Káiser Guillermo

Alexander Fedro's statue in the Rynek

The Rynek is a good place to start the passtime. For example, the statue of the writer Alexander Fedro is in the same pace as the previous occupiers’ Kaiser Wilhelm. Under the City Hall, which nowadys is a Ratusz and it was a Rathaus in the past, there is a famous restaurant, one of the oldest in Europe, as we were told. It is Świdnica’s cellar (Piwnica Świdnica), called in German Sweidnitz Keller, named after the city which rivalled Breslau in days of yore.

Piwnica Swidnica

Not everything is about nacionalization. That’s maybe a process which is exhausted by its own success. Other processes are at work today: multiculturalism, globalization. A walk around the Rynek gives us the chance to see fast-food and sushi restaurants, and a salsa den named -in Spanish- La Casa de la Música. This is globalization working at its best. It first arrives to capital cities and then to cities with airports. Border areas are the first ones to receive the influx of funds and cultural influences.

Wrocław's City Hall. East facade.

That’s how pizzerias, hotel chains, rent-a-car companies and dealers of cars and foreign brands which fight for a niche in the market fill the landscape and the vocabulary with strangely spelled words. All of it mixed with the local roots and the history of the place. In the North side of the Rynek there is a bar called pod Zlotym Jeleniem (the golden deer) and the Schubert jeweller’s, some antiques shops, the aforementioned Casa de la Música and a Taverna Española (with a v, but in Spanish the word must be written with a b: Taberna).

Rynek, North side

Then we left the Rynek towards the Northwest and passed by one of the most damaged areas of the city during the war. That’s why the houses have been substituted by Soviet-style concrete blocks. It is easy to criticize their ugliness, but it is likely that they saved the lives of many in years in which life allowed for very few embellishments. Wita Stwosza, close to the church of St Mary Magdalene.

Wita Stwosza, Wrocław

Following that street you can reach a Gallery Dominikanska, where one can see a Germanic invasion through commercial brands and shop chains. A functional building, converted into a capitalist temple. Twenty years back, one of these would have seemed impossible. We head to another temple, this one about the identity of the country and the city, which is also very intersesting in order to understand how it has been built: the Panorama Racławice.

Panorama Racławice

The Panorama Racławice is a masterpiece worth seeing. Actually is a picture. Several canvasses in circular sucession giving form to the landscape in which the Battle of Racławice was fought. This battle saw Russian and Polish troops facing each other in 1794. The space between the platform from which the observers admire the work of art and the picture itself is covered by earth, vegetation, war spoils and other atrezzo elements that highlight the feeling of authenticity.

Miniature model of the Battle of Racławice

So far, nothing special except artistic greatness. The point is that the picture used to be exhibited in de city of Lvov (Polish: Lwów), now in the Ukraine, but pertaining to Poland before WWII. Apparently, most of those who repopulated Wrocław during and after the expulsion of the Germans came from Lwóv and around and they brought along their masterpiece. The problem was that the piece represented the victory of the 18th-century Poles against the Russians, then their enemies, but allied in the communist block one and a half centuries later. The panorama could not be exhibited for more than forty years. In the socialist Republic of Poland, Polish nationalism was a key element of political direction as far as it was anti-German, but it could never appear as anti-Russian. For the sake of the relations with the Soviet Union, proletarian internationalism and panslavic brotherhood could be taken out of the Marxist resources library. Hence the big lie of Katyn and others which live to this day.

Section of the wall that evoked the cold that the contending sides in the Festung Breslau episode suffered 65 years before.

I have the impression that Poles look at their history with a certain victimism and from outside it. Today it is very easy to criticize the Soviet Union and boast about anticommunism. It is hard to find a communist Pole or an openly francoist Spaniard, but it would be very difficult to explain how those regimes could last forty years which such a meagre social base. I admit that the sample of the people I talk to must be quite biased, as I have never ever found and Italian who admitted having voted for Berlusconi. In general, Poles have spoken to me about Communists using the past tense and the third person in plural, as if they were aliens. Regarding Russia, in spite of the slight improvement after the joint commemoration of Katyn y and the tragedy of Smolesk, the love-hate relationship between both Slavic brothers is a thorny one. I’d guess the Lower Silesians know the USSR won the war and this Silesian country for them.

I had never seen so much snow

From outside the building of Panorama the Cathedral can be seen, across the Oder (Polish: Odra). Before being there I had seen some short footage filmed in the city in en 1938 which starts with the same take. The fact that it was filmed in colour, infrequent in the 1930s, called my attention. Some sights of the city can be seen. A German military officer and his son go to the Polish border, that back then was quite far away.

Wrocław Cathedral, in front of the frozen Oder

Citing Goethe, Singer or Zymborska may be more appropriate but when I think in this city, the extermination of its Jews and the Jews of all of Central and Eastern Europe, or when I think in that German Breslau which does not exist anymore and other exteinct universes I understood Machado’s “yo amo los mundos sutiles, ingrávidos y gentiles como pompas de jabón” (I love the subtle worlds / weightless and charming / worlds like soap-bubbles).

Ducks and swans on the frozen Oder (and view of the cathedral from Piaskowy Most, bridge of Piasków)

Then we went to see the cathedral. A walk among the bridges. This is the oldest area of the city in which the first pre-historic settlements happened. I stopped to observe the cross in whose base the image of Saint John Nepomucene being thrown to the Moldau in Prague was sculpted. Then I had the occasion to see a similar image in Świdnica. Saint John’s cult was very popular in Bohemia and Silesia. Saint Hedwig (Polish: Jadwiga) is the local female saint.

Hala Targowa market in Piasków street

A brief stopover in Hala Targowa market, which is a market as any other. More attractive outside than inside, where its looks can’t escape the concrete ugliness. In front of it, quite old, ramshackle tramways still pass by.

Szewska st(university area). Maybe 20 years ago everything was just as grey.

Then we head to the university, where the Aula Leopoldina can be visited. We didn’t like it as we found it to baroque and overelaborate, even if its style causes a certain impression. There is an interesting exhibition on the Nobel prizes who were part of the institution. It is said that Wrocław is the Easternmost city of Poland, as its post-war population comes from the Ukrainian border. The Universitas Wroclawiensis has been called University of Lwów in Wrocław, as its after-the-war organizers came from there. There are several other exhibitions. The meridian 17 goes through the building and it is marked on the floor. The best ending for the visit is the city views from the attic.

University building. The cathedral on the background.

The morning flew away after all this. We went for lunch to the Świdnica cellar, inside the City Hall. Some special pierogys helped us to get warm. Then we had time for some gnome photographs and to go down the Świdnica street (before equally called Schweidnitzstrasse) to do the walk around the wall, close to the Hotel Metropol, and then return to the city centre and Rynek through the Salt Square.

House of many windows

February in Wrocław and me being unfair, thinking of cold and war and the past of the city that was.

Greek thoughts (09-11-2001)


And now today, after the euphoria of the ’90s has faded and a new modesty sets in among the Europeans, it falls again to Greece to challenge the mandarins of the European Union and to ask what lies ahead for the continent

Democracy’s Cradle, Rocking the World (New York Times)

alfanje:  I think History has very little predictive value but I am curious about your thoughts.

demi: Hola alfanje, I think History provides common (reference) elements and the basis for prediction. Do you mean my thoughts on the present situation?

alfanje:  Hola. I meant your thoughts on the article. I guess you could write a book on the present situation… and I would read that one too!!!

demi: alfanje, I am neither a historical analyst nor an economist. However, I’m a European citizen and mostly a pro-European one. I’ve had lived in several European countries where people really embraced me, plus I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to exercise my rights (and/or obligations) as a European citizen. I believe that the E.U., at this point of history, should evolve into a full fiscal union, with emphasis on the social dimension and the environment. In Greece, for many years now,the political system sucks (products of patronage driven system and corruption). Most politicians lack governing ability and they just push their way through for office (with very few exceptions); moreover, people are fed up with the ineffective economic austerity measures in the name of reducing public debt and deficit. As a result, we’ve lost our dignity worldwide. Cause of hard working Greeks? Where is (sustainable) development ?What about human rights? Where is the face of social Europe? The Greek media only speaks of Germany and its Chancellor-less France-what about the rest of EU&eurozone countries? Are they invisible? What happened to the so-called equality of member states? What is the kind of Europe that we really want?

Let’s assume that the Treaty of Versailles, the post-2nd world war compensations due by Germany etc. have become history, and, as you said,”has very little predictive value”. But, we are supposed to make a step forward (peacefully) in a common effort, under a common roof-to which now we-PIGS-pay our “mortgage”, really expensive, and, yet, no one seems to set aside their own interest. As a pro-European I consider that a real concern. Moreover, Greece is following requirements, and ironically endorses redistributive policies, at the expense of the poorest, to the benefit of the richest. I hope that the case of Greece would function as a kind of awakening for the E.U. of something greater than this, for all E.U.citizens, in order to become competitive facing the rest of emerging market economies. Also, I think that E.U. should focus on its democratic deficit, as well as inform Europeans-in depth- about its scope, and their rights and obligations. What are your thoughts?

alfanje: Thanks demi for all your ideas. I mainly read a lot of stuff criticizing Greece from outside and that’s why I am very interested in your opinion. I am quite pessimistic about the EU and its future, but I think that’s secondary now as there will no be politics about deepening the union for a while, only economics (i.e. survival).

The PIIGS didnt fare well. They were historically poorer, but Poland was even poorer and they kind of managed (maybe the only ones). For sure the people will pay. And sadly it will be the ones at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. I don’t live in Spain so that I don’t have to foot the bill in the form of unemployment.
Yes, there is only Germany and France, and nobody else has a saying in the Eurozone, the rest of the governments don’t have power even at home, not to say outwards. (Papandreu is out today, Berlusconi next week and Zapatero in the end of the month). The good thing for the PIIGS is that Germany is somehow on the same boat so they cannot totally rock it out of greed.

There was never a clear path towards the fiscal union. Some trusted the idea that trade would level the different economies, which hasn’t happened in 20 years. Whenever thresholds were demanded as for the euro some countries tricked the accounts, but the rest were equally guilty as they knew well what was going on.

I live in a tax haven on the edge of the Atlantic with a tradition of lack of European solidarity and I realise how difficult it is to persuade people to perseverate on the goal of a closer union. Now every country has to deal with a lot inside and nobody has time, patience and resources for anybody else. So my impression is that the key for the future PIIGS is more in the reforms (not only economic) they internally can agree on than in any money Ms Merkel can lend.


Then we watched this sad TV report about the current situation in Greece (RTVE, in Spanish)

History of Cairo




Last Saturday I spent quite some time at a bookshop where I had the chance to browse, very intensively, through the pages of Cairo: Histories of a City by Nezar AlSayyad. I am not very knowledgeable on the subject of the history of the city I learned to love, but I did read before Andrew Beattie’s Cairo: a cultural history before. It was in 2006, in order to get some background prior to our Egyptian holiday. So, at least I can claim I have some basic idea about the several historical phases Cairo has gone through and their relation with the current urban landscape the traveller can find. There’s people saying it is an unbearable city, come on, the capital of the Arab world.

I read a couple of chapters and had an overview of AlSayyed’s book and not being an academic myself and even if I didn’t find it tourist-oriented at all I enjoyed the experience, also because of the nice photographs and maps that are included. Definitely it is a book to be taken into account by anyobody who has an interest in things Egyptian and who has liked The Mother of the World. If I had to recommend one of the books I would choose both, but I would give AlSayyad’s to whoever wants to do serious reading and Beattie’s to the person who wants to know more about the capital of Egypt before or after a trip around the area.




Some months ago I read Brigadista: An Irishman’s Fight Against Fascism, the memoirs of Bob Doyle the last surviving Irish veteran of the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. Bob Doyle died in February 2009 after a long life dedicated to political struggle. He was active until the very end. I remember seeing posters advertising a lecture in which he would take part in 2007.

As he reached the Internet era you can find loads of online information about him. Still the book is worth a read, as there are not so many points of contact between the history of Spain and that of Ireland.

Due to my natural disorder I keep in my desktop a file with some notes I have taken when I started to read the book. At present the book is missing, or maybe I took it to Spain. Pasting them here may be a good way to keep them safe and it may encourage somebody to start reading the book.

I knew how to read an write, that God made the world, that Jesus Christ was killed at the desire of the Jews whom now I hated, and I knew what the last word of the catechism was and what it meant, ‘Amen – as it is meant to be.’ I later became bitter about my education. I knew nothing other than the story of Brian Boru, the King of Munster, and that Daniel O’Connell was the great Catholic liberator. Most of the time we had religion, Irish and Catholic nationalism. The nuns were severe of sadistic. (p.20)

The Evening Mail was the middleclass unionist paper. In those days, unionists weren’t just the Ulster loyalists who want to keep their link with Britain, they were the ones here in the South who’d lost the War of Independence only a decade before, who wanted all of Ireland under the British crown. (p.24)

Living in the slums as I did, the struggle over the question of the border became of secondary importance, as it did for the more socially and politically conscious and progressive elements in the leadership of IRA. This difference of priorities caused a build-up of opposition within the Republican movement which led to the Athlone Conference in 1934 and the split that followed. (p.39)

I was in a group of fifteen volunteers from Britain and Ireland, including the young writer Laurie Lee, who had entered Spain on his own on the night of 5-6 December. We left Figueras for Albacete on 11 December with Jack Tomkins of London, who found that some of [us] had no political knowledge whatsoever; one or two in fact could not discriminate between Franco and the Government and one person was a true Red, White and Blue – England right or wrong! (p. 54)

This had been my first experience of the destruction of churches that I had read so much about in the papers back in Ireland. But according to the press, particularly the Irish papers, when the Fascists attacked churches that we occupied, they were defending the faith fighting for the holy crusade declared by the Cardenal Primate of Spain, Gomá y Tomás. (60)

Bob Doyle (March 2007)