Friday, January 20, 2006

A Whale of a Tale

What does the protocol department of the Japanese Embassy in Berlin do when unwanted guests arrive at the front gate? It was precisely that question, which had to be answered last night when Greenpeace arrived with a 17-meter long dead whale on the back of a flat-bed truck. This was not your average embassy incident. While in Washington, Iraq protesters and a supporters of a deported Holocaust denier were among those outside the gate on Reservoir Road. But a whale… that has to be a new one for the embassy incident book!

17 meters (for those who are metrically challenged) is about the length of a city bus and a half. The poor whale (let’s call him Fritz) became stranded on the coast of the Baltic Sea and died on Sunday. Greenpeace brought Fritz to Berlin to protest Japanese whale hunts that are taking place in violation of a 1986 ban.

I paid my respects to Fritz on my way to work this morning. As I mentioned before, I am now working right across the street from a bunch of embassies. It was quite a scene: Greenpeace members in yellow jumpsuits and matted dreadlocks, parents with their children, television crews, LOTS of people taking pictures with their camera phones and LOTS of police. You could touch Fritz’s fin, but the idea of that creeped me out, so I took a pass. It was quite an amazing experience to look into the eyes of a whale…sad but amazing.

Greenpeace was taking Fritz back to the Black Sea region at 11:30 this morning so that he could be studied. Their actions may be too late to change Japan’s hunt this coming weekend, but hopefully enough minds were changed at the embassy this morning to make a difference eventually.

On a personal note, I really need to carry my camera with me at all times. The picture above is from Spiegel Online. Today proves that you never know when a giant fin whale will greet you on the street.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

New Job

Day number two at my new internship and all is going well so far. I arrived at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on Monday morning and was slightly surprised that my boss wasn’t there and the secretary was unaware I was starting work. But the secretary helped to get me settled and my boss showed up after about an hour. The Ebert Foundation is the liberal sister to the Adenauer Foundation, where I was this fall. I wanted to work at both in order to see the different political perspectives.

After going through the “what exactly do you want to do here,” “how can I help” questions again, my boss and I seemed to settle into a good system of working. I ask him questions as they pop up, he takes time a couple times a day to tell me anecdotes that he thinks will be helpful for my project and he passes along any documents that he thinks I would be interested in. I’m also speaking almost exclusively auf Deutsch and have expressed my wish for that to continue.

All of the colleagues are very relaxed. Most introduced themselves and immediately said, “we use the informal ‘you’ here,” a very clear German sign of how laid back the office is. There is a great cantina, with a veggie option every day, and all of the colleagues in the Middle East dept. eat together. The building itself is very modern. The offices surround a circular auditorium/atrium that is used for lectures. All of the stairways are glass and the doors open automatically when you touch the handles. I feel like I am back in Woodley Park in a way because the building is across from or next to the UAE, Japanese, Italian and Saudi embassies. Located on the border of the Tiergarten (Berlin Central Park), apparently the Japanese and Italian embassies are located here because it was a nice spot for the axis powers during the war.

I’m also slowly but surely adjusting back to Berlin time, it’s snowing today and I had cheese spaetzel for dinner. It’s the little things in life☺