Thursday, May 31, 2012

Euro Diaries - Germany (Part 2)

After the activities of the reunion, I was booked for some quality time with my friends Jan and Heidi. They probably recognized what I need. The next two days were a wonderful and serene tour of the many castles surrounding Dresden. All have been refurbished and renovated. Some of the blue-blooded original owners of the castles had returned to live in them, opening the castle gardens to the public. Many have become again sophisticated wineries and hosted fine restaurants.

For me it was a rediscovery of the beautiful surroundings of Dresden and as the weather warmed up and became sunny, the leisurely touring was exactly what I needed to recover from the tumults of the preceding travels and celebrations. But it was time to continue the journey. The next stop was Berlin.

I took one of the modern electrified Inter City Express (ICE) trains driving frequently between German and European cities. It displays rich information on the screens of each wagon, including speed. I noted a sustained speed of 226 kph for good stretches! We could use an ICE between Toronto and Montreal and Ottawa for sure.

After its reunification Berlin has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis. It is a city that I have come to love not only because of its revival and character, but also because it has become the location of many good friends. I was invited to a "senior" dinner of the Sandbox network hosted by Hans and Ida. Along with homemade Pasta Arabiata, wine, a healthy dessert and fabulous conversations the time flew away and I made several new friends in the city. Ida is a graduate of Kaospilot and together with Hans they are working on a start-up in the reproductive health area that could have tremendous implications globally if successful. Interestingly enough, two of the people attending the dinner are also working on projects related to incubation/acceleration of new companies. This topic seems to be popping everywhere and is encouraging me to complete my new concept for incubation/acceleration.
Mostly I was inspired by the energy of these bright young people and their quiet determination to change the world. It restored some of my optimism in the future. When it was time to take my leave, my host ordered a taxi using an app. It showed all the cabs in the vicinity, flagged which one accepted the order, displayed the driver's photo and registration number, provided the ETA of the cab and showed the cab in movement on the map towards us. Very cool. Toronto, wake up from your slumber!

In Berlin I linked up with my friend and colleague Jeremy Bowes, who teaches systems at the graduate Strategic Foresight & Innovation (SFI) program at OCAD University. Jeremy is a practicing architect, and being married  to one myself, I had also developed interest in aspects of architecture and urban planning. He was on a similar tour to mine and had just visited Vienna. Together we set on a discovery tour (not withstanding the ubiquitous construction works literally on every street!) culminating in a boat cruise on the Spree river, which provides an interesting perspective on the architecture of the city, both old and new. Berlin is known for its Spree beaches and for integrating art works in many aspects of the city, such as the sculptures on the bank of the river below.

Another interesting discovery in Berlin was my visit to the Heinrich Boell Foundation. There I discovered a world of peer-to-peer (P2P) activities and among other things an interesting study on the reasons international oil companies are pursuing unconventional oil sources. Much food for thought (and a separate blog probably).

Between the various work events there was always opportunity to enjoy a drink, a good meal, or just a good conversation over "Kaffee und Kuchen" in one of Berlin's uncountable cafes and restaurants. In the process Jeremy introduced me to the fad of documenting your love to your partner by adding a lock with (and sometimes without) inscriptions of the names or initials of the lovers. It is  usually affixed to the railing of a bridge. I was to discover later that the same fad is popular in Copenhagen as well. It is probably a better idea than sinking coins in every water fountain or river lovers encounter, but I suspect a very clever person from the lock industry must have had a hand starting this. You can see a small sample of a huge collection encountered on one Berliner bridge below.

We parted company as we each headed to our next destination. Jeremy was heading to Helsinki and I was bound to Copenhagen. My next blog would be from that city.