Friday, December 29, 2017

Deutschland- Tag Sechs (Germany Day Sechs)

For our sixth day in Germany, Kath and I planned an excursion to Hamburg. Why Hamburg you may ask? It's because Hamburg is home to Minatur Wunderland- the world's largest model railroad! Yes, I love model railroads. You can be a cool transgender girl and still enjoy model trains okay!

Let's go back in time a bit. When I was a little kid, one of my favorite things in the world was my original VHS copy of the Star Wars Trilogy. I watched it so much that I actually wore out the tape of The Empire Strikes Back. But it also came with a bonus VHS of a making of documentary called From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga. This I also watched numerous times.

My favorite thing about the making of special was all the amazing model work that was done on the Star Wars Trilogy. Ten inch tall stop motion AT-ATs on baking soda snow, the four foot long Millennium Falcon, eight foot long star destroyers. It was all amazing and I realized then that I wanted to be a model maker when I grew up. So I built miniature city-scapes, invented my own star ships out of trash, and even made historical dioramas which included details like forced perspective. And then I blew them up with fireworks. Because that's what they do in movies, right? Somewhere there are photos of the 8' x 10' scale model of Mos Eisley spaceport that I built with a hundred buildings, perfect 1/72 scale freighters and shuttles and plenty of moisture vaporators. Perhaps one day when my dad dies I'll dig through his hoarder basement and find them. (Quick side note, but I grew up with Star Wars. It was my childhood, and I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Jedi).

Well, I live in Brooklyn now so I no longer have room to build models or blow them up. But I'm still fascinated by the meticulous artistry that goes into well made models. So I was super happy when Kath got me surprise tickets to Miniatur Wunderland. How could I not be excited? Check out the video below.

We started out our Hamburg adventure with some good old fashioned getting lost. We were only going a half mile or so from the train station, but Hamburg is a medieval city with crazy winding roads. There is a no modern grid at all. So we ended up doubling back on ourselves, taking wrong turns, or taking correct turns onto roads that curved in the wrong direction! Well, thankfully we managed to navigate our way to Miniatur Wunderland! 

Okay, first off Miniatur Wunderland is amazing. The level of detail is absurd. Not only is there a ton of detail in every perfectly built miniature building, there are also realistic details like stains and corrosion under drain spouts, piles of trash in gutters, pot holes in the streets. It's insane. I could have stayed and looked at each section for hours.

Unfortunately, there was one issue and that was that everyone wanted to stop and look at every section for hours. It was quite crowded even though we went on a weekday at lunch time. Sometimes it was hard to see a lot of exhibits unless you waited patiently for twenty minutes for people to get bored and move on the to the next one. We ended up having to double back a number of times to get a better look at things we missed. The massive airport set (which must have been fifty feet by a hundred feet or so) was a particularly strong crowd magnet. 

Miniatur Wunderland also goes through a day/night cycle every twenty minutes or so. This also means you have to double back as some sections are better seen during the day light and others look best at night. These cars in the tunnel look perfect at night. In fact if it weren't for the ceiling beams in the top left of the picture, I could swear this is a photo of a life size scene.

The sections are divided by country and there are at least thirty different countries and regions to explore. Here's the rusted hulk of a sunken ship in the Mediterranean section.

And here are some snowy factories from the Scandinavia section.

Beyond the giant towns built with incredible detail, the designers have also suck in hundreds of easter eggs. Every single display seems to have myriad hidden details there to spot the clever observer. Here in one underground bunker we found the Philadelphia Projekt's teleportation lab.

And on the gigantic airport we found a familiar looking YT-1300 model freighter. That ship is garbage!

On the edge of a bucolic farm scene, here are the police and medical examiners recovering a dead body from a stream.

And this display of Neuschwanstein Castle features Kath popping up behind it!

Obviously, this blog isn't entirely about model trains, so I'll spare you the many, many photos I took. Instead I'll simply say that you should check out Miniatur Wunderland in person if you have a chance to get there. Even with the crowds, it is well worth the visit. 

After a couple of hours of exploring model trains, we figured it was time to explore the rest of Hamburg. But first we stopped for a bier at the Miniatur Wunderland restaurant where the booths look like train seats. Don't you just love Germany? Even family themed attractions serve giant beers. 

It was a kind of grey, chilly day but we walked along the Hamburg canals for a little bit, hoping to wind our way over to an area with a few gay bars. It was hopefully Hamburg's gayborhood.

There wasn't too much to the gayborhood, except that we did find a number of bars and businesses with pride flags outside. It was probably because it was the middle of the afternoon. Hamburg's gay nightlife scene is probably like other cities' nightlife scenes- they get going at night. That's why it's called nightlife instead of afternoonlife.

There was a random square full of little groups of men drinking. It kind of weirded me out and I wasn't sure I felt entirely safe. It's hard to be a transgirl, or even just a girl, in a situation like that. Men, especially random groups of men standing around doing nothing, make me nervous. Thankfully we were okay.

We eventually found a small gay bar fittingly called Gaybar Extratour. It was sort of an old man bar, but there were sexy beefcake photos on the walls. Plus they had pride flag coasters. We had a couple more beers. It was an okay bar, though like all German bars I wish it weren't smoky. Europe is ahead of the US on so many basic things like education, healthcare, politics, the environment, social safety nets, workers' rights, Kinder Eggs being legal, and gun control. But I wish they would catch up with us on banning smoking in bars. 

Well, when we got back to the hauptbahnhof, we were a little tipsy. Okay, we were drunk. In fact we were drunk enough that when I started joking about how fun it would be to eat a hamburger in Hamburg, Kath suggested we hit up the McDonald's in the train station. Also, we were slightly curious to see if McDonald's was in fact better in Germany (as we had heard). Honestly, it seemed about the same. But I did get to eat a hamburger in Hamburg.

And yet on this whole trip I never ate a berliner in Berlin. Ah well. Stay tuned for the finale of our Germany trip. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Skyline Pics

Way back in like 2003 or so, back soon after I first moved to New York, I remember taking my first super freezing pics. At that time it had dropped to about 5F as it often does in NYC in winter. But a friend of mine, one who fancied herself a photographer, came over to my place and offered to take some pics of me. So naturally I jumped at the chance. That led to me out in a red cocktail dress, freezing my butt off for some pretty good photos. 

Earlier this month, after I had gotten my new little black dress, I decided that I needed that weather be damned, I was going to go out and take some pictures, with the skyline of NYC as a backdrop. So, I threw on my favorite pair of heels, hung my coat on a nearby fence post, and proceeded to take some pictures.

For these pictures I went out by myself and used a new blue tooth camera remote that I had picked up. Like any photo shoot, I took a few hundred shots once I had found some decent lighting. I was actually standing right under a yellow streetlight. I thought it made for a nice effect, with me in warm yellow and the background a dark blue. 


While I was taking photos, a random stranger came up and asked if I needed help taking pictures. It was a woman so I was creeped out. This has happened many times before. It's NYC so there are few if any places in public where one can take photos in private. It's crawling with people. And this has happened before.

My usual response is to politely say "no thanks," but I also think it's funny. To me it's the most normal thing in the world to go out and take tons of photos by myself. I've been doing it for ages after all. I guess it might seem a little weird to other people. Thankfully I'm not the only weirdo in NYC who doesn't care what people think about me.

Sadly, I still haven't had a chance to wear this dress out. Perhaps I'll have a chance coming up in 2018. Well, maybe spring of 2018 so I don't freeze my butt off.

Happy holidays, everyone! 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Deutschland- Tag Fünf (Germany Day Five)

For our fifth day, Kathleen had booked us a visit to the Reichstag and a English-language lecture on the history of the building and of representative government in Germany. Of course I love history, especially detailed minutia, and so the lecture was really entertaining. Also, I got to learn some more about current German politics. We were actually touring just days before the big election. 

After the lecture, we hung back a little bit and nabbed a couple photos in the empty seat of Germany democracy. The giant eagle is the un-official symbol of German democracy and was brought to Berlin from the Bonn Bundstag after reunification in the early 90s. 

Afterward, we went up to the dome of the Reichstag. It was built after reunification and is brand new. The glass dome is about ten or fifteen stories high all on its own. There's a ramp that goes around the entire dome so you can walk up to the top. Plus there is a giant upturned mirrored pyramid/cylinder which I think is there to direct natural light to the main meeting room. 

The thing about this that made me nervous (other than my natural fear of heights) was that there were hundreds, maybe thousands of junior high age kids. I swear there is something evil about kids when they are this age, maybe 12 through 15. For some reason, human beings become absolute monsters for those pubescent years.

As a transgirl I am super leery of groups of teens or pre-teens. I imagine a group of them walking past, clocking me, then making it a game to harass me or make fun of me, maybe even attack me. So all these groups of kids made me super nervous. Luckily, they didn't pay me any mind. Phew. 

We went out on the roof of the Reichstag where there's a beautiful view of all of Berlin. We had great light so of course we took lots more pictures. Like the other areas of the Reichstag, there were a bunch of people on the roof. I was a little worried that I might get some stares or something, but everyone seemed to be ignoring me. Passing tip: try to stand next to a beautiful view so people don't pay much attention to you.

One really amazing thing I got to do was find the exact spot where the famous WWII Battle of Berlin photo was taken. It's one of the most iconic photos of the war and shows a Russian soldier holding up a Soviet flag over the Reichstag, signally a symbolic end to the Nazi regime.

While we were up on the roof, I downloaded the picture on my phone and we spent a little of bit of time trying to find the exact spot. The little pillar structures are all over the roof and most of the buildings one can see in the photo have been destroyed. But, the statues are still the same! We found the exact spot where the soldier was standing and I got a picture of me as close to the spot as I could get (there's no access to the edge of the roof obviously). It's one of my favorite pictures because I love the sense of standing at the exact spot (or near the exact spot) where major moments in history occurred. 

After the Reichstag, Kath and I wandered a little bit. We were staying in East Berlin and thus far on our trip had not ventured any further west than the Tiergarten. So we figured we would walk west towards Charlottenburg and explore the fancier (but less cool) parts of the city.

Though first Kath insisted on looking through her Berlin travel guide for interesting things to see and do in West Berlin. As I am one to eschew guide books of any kind (because I don't want to look like a tourist), I stopped to get a couple photos while we hung out in the giant park in front of the Reichstag building. 

Our trek through West Berlin got off to a slightly rough start thanks to Soviet artillery. The thing is that most of the city was destroyed in WWII in order to help kill Nazis (a worthy goal if ever there was one). After the war, whole sections of Berlin were rebuilt in the styles popular in the 1950s and 1960s. So that means lot of square boxy buildings and lots of space between them. Post war architects and city planners did not like walkability. They liked boxes, spaces, and highways. And we got a lot of that in West Berlin.

It took us a long while to walk to Charlotteberg. Hours. This happens a lot for Kath and me when we go exploring. At least once per trip we end up walking for hours in a non-desirable place. In West Berlin it was mostly empty office parks and universities. On a previous vacation we spent the better part of day making our way through the docks of Montreal. It's a hazard of exploratory travel. But it wasn't all bad. We did manage to stop for coffees that were essentially ice cream sundaes. So that was fun.

What we saw of Charlottenburg was pretty. But unfortunately, by the time we got there we were exhausted. We stopped in a couple shops, had a bier at an bar with outdoor seating, and then hopped on the U-bahn back to the East. What can say, we're East Berlin girls. 

After we got back to Prenzlaurberg, we explored around looking for a restaurant to eat dinner. Back several years earlier, Kath had visited München in southern Germany. And she joked about how strange it was that there was a Mexican restaurant in Germany. And I was like "how could you not try the German version of Mexican food just to see what it's like?" As a lover of traditional German food, she balked at my suggestion. So, this time, when we passed a Mexican restaurant I insisted we give it a try. After all, there's no German food in Berlin anyway. Might as well try it. 

It was different. Well, for one thing it came with cantaloupe on the plate and that's weird. Also my burrito had basmatti rice like you would get with Indian food. You wouldn't think that'd make a difference, but it does. It's weird. Other than that it was cheese, tortilla and beef, which are hard to screw up. There was one issue though. It wasn't spicy in the least.

Nothing in Germany is spicy. They simply do not have spicy food. My American friend who lives there said that spicy food was the thing she missed most about the States. Kath and I now have dreams of moving to Berlin and opening up a restaurant called Capsaicin. We would serve vindaloo, buffalo wings, chili, burritos and other spicy food for American expats or adventurous locals.

That'll be when we move to Berlin. For now we still had a few days left in our trip and we had way more Berlin to explore.