Sunday, May 23, 2010


RPK has for the first time yesterday appeared in London after being in exile for more than a year. He has publicly spoken about the evils of the ISA and challenged the Malaysian government to bring charges against him in the UK courts.

RPK said: “I will take on the government and I will fight them but I will do what Sun Tzu said, ‘Fight him in your territory.’

“So my territory is here in the UK,”

This is a snippet of the video taken during the talk yesterday.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


I was in Berlin during the first May bank holiday.

This year Berlin is celebrating its 20th anniversary of the union of the east and west of the city and the fall of the wall that once separated them. So this is a good time to be in Berlin. Yes, this city is relatively a teenager in the scale of history.

Mark showing the alignment of Berlin Wall

This city was once bombed heavily during the Nazi occupation. The British bombed the city almost every night from August 1943 to March 1944! Almost everything in the city was in rubble.
Berlin Dom

National Gallery

One of the landmarks that suffered heavy damage was the parliament building known as the Reichstag. The reconstruction of the building and Norman Foster's distinctive glass cupola have made the building now a top attraction in Berlin. The queue to the Reichstag took me 1.5hours. Fortunately the shows by street performers broke the monotony of waiting in queue. I'd have happily spent half an hour watching the performance without the incentive of being in line to the Reichstag. So it wasn't that much of a torture really.

Street performers entertaining people in queue to the Reichstag

Norman Foster's cupola

At the vantage point from the cupola, I enjoyed the view of the city skyline. This city reminded me of Osaka (even though the official Japanese sister city is Tokyo). Clean, systematic and safe. The transportation systems are brilliant! I had no problems traveling in Berlin even though I didn't speak German. The people were as nice as the Japanese too - friendly and polite.
Berlin main train station

Haven't seen a train this clean for a long time!

If there are any more similarities to draw between them, it would be their technologies and ideology to perfection. They have everything worth mentioning from generous public space, safe cycle lanes to clever designs for the disabled. Am not sure if I'm allowed to speak so well about the Germans in the UK, but really, if I get an opportunity to work here, I would certainly take it!

Brandenburg Gate

Victory column
(under refurbishment)

Holocaust Memorial

Jewish Museum

I've also enjoyed the many historical and artistic parts of Berlin especially those as a result of the Nazi occupation and the Cold War. Life in those two periods was to me like a living hell. People were not allowed to express their opinions. Freedom of speech was a taboo subject. The freedom they grew up with was a different type of freedom. It was the freedom to listen. Just as I would like to draw parallels with Malaysia today, I guess Berlin at the time was much worse. People could be shot on the spot for saying the wrong thing!

Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous military checkpoint between east and west Germany

It must have been so difficult for the people then. It seemed to me like it's a curse to be born an east German or a Jew in those periods. Life couldn't be any harder for them. Now these are the baby boomers. Today they leave a legacy of establishing a robust system of democracy from the political rubble of their predecessors.
Depiction of life of East Germans during the Cold War

Germans now have a lot more freedom than they ever had 40 years ago. The East Side Gallery in Berlin is a clear testament of that freedom- the once suppressed freedom of expression.

East Side Gallery

But how far is the freedom of expression now in Germany? Far, very far, in my opinion. If you are one of the people who tend to associate nudity and European cities after numerous encounters of nude sculptures, then Germany is a proper example of that. Germany is not only a country that boasts nude sculptures freely but also much on public nudity. In fact, a naturist movement called "freikorperkultur" or FKK is a German by-product of the freedom of expression. The FKK protects people's right to be nude or a free body in public. It has successfully removed extensive restrictions to public nudity in Germany for 30 years now.
Nude sculptures in Berlin - Three girls and a boy

But you need a good weather to be naked. No, I wasn't attempting that but in the time when I was in Berlin, the weather was still cold to dress in t-shirt only, let alone in skin. So, the real opportunity for that to happen is limited to the summer months. Now this explains why many German tourists flock to southeast Asian countries during winter to bare all! At the time of the year like now and towards the end of summer when the weather starts to cool, Berlin should be a good place for running and sports. I could imagine the Berlin Marathon in September will be absolutely brilliant!
Currywurst is the most popular German sausage in Berlin

Just as many German tourists flock to other countries for holidays, there are also many foreign nationals who flock to Berlin for holiday or work. The walking tour guide was an Aussie, the Hard Rock shop assistant who served me was a Malaysian and the hotel concierge was a British. In the Hard Rock store the two people behind the queue were Singaporeans, in the cafe the family sitting across the table were Filipino and the majority of the tourists were either Americans or British. This makes Berlin quite an international city, which explains why I didn't have problems with language at all.
Amy, a Malaysian who works in Berlin Hard Rock Store

A video of the Berlin Wall walking tour animated well by an Aussie tour guide
(notice the Conference Bike in the background!)

I took a train out of Berlin city to Oranienburg, where Sachsenhausen is located. Sachsenhausen was a concentration and mass extermination camp where more than 30,000 prisoners were brutally murdered. Even though this figure pales into comparison with Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen was nonetheless the first model that set the tone and standard for the mass extermination in Auschwitz.
Sachsenhausen concentration camp and the cynical slogan "Works make you free"
Panorama of the semi-circular concentration camp

Sachsenhausen memorial

There were more things in Berlin to see than I could cover. It was a shame I couldn't find time for the Charlottenburg Palace and Olympic park. This means I had to come back here for another time. Maybe a good reason to do the Berlin Marathon in September if I can't make it for my cousin's wedding.