Friday, December 14, 2007


To Berlin, for an Extractive Industries Transparencies Initiative Conference organised by the G8. Lots of people from all over the place. I think I met the guy with the most difficult travel arrangements - he comes from the EITI in Timor L'este. He flew from TL to Bali, from Bali to Hong Kong, from Hong Kong to Frankfurt, then from Frankfurt to Berlin.

It was an interesting day - the EITI is rapidly snowballing, with 15 countries at various stages of joining up, and Nigeria (along with Azerbaijan) very much in the vanguard. Beyond oil and gas, the focus of extractive transparency is widening to include diamonds and other gems, mining, forestry and so on. Sometimes I imagine that extractive industry transparency will achieve perfect results the exact moment there's nothing left to extract.

Enough of the day job, how am I finding Berlin? I haven't been here since passing by on a Euro-road-trip in 1991, when various angry people were bashing bits out of the wall, while enterprising types nearby sold post-bashed bits of the wall on tables - colourful chunks of concrete with graffiti on going for a premium. I remember we couldn't find anywhere to camp so we ended up sleeping under portakabins on Potsdamer Platz. A rabbit woke me up in the middle of the night, bouncing past my sleeping bag. Nearby, a squatter camp had created a makeshift mini-city out of old buses. They had a gripe against Mercedes, I seem to remember. I also recall feeling the tremors of war in nearby Yugoslavia as we drove around the city...

I haven't seen much yet - tomorrow is set aside for a full-on architectural tour: Libeskind's Jewish museum, the various Scharouns, the newish Frank Gehry bank, Renzo Piano's theatre, perhaps Foster's Reichstag - all the Berlin new urbanism that has taken place since Wender's seminal Der Himmel Uber Berlin.

What I have noticed is how ergonomic everything is at the immediate bodily level. The toilet in the Ministry where the conference was had the coat hook in exactly the right place as you entered the cubicle - it was almost uncannily perfect (not on the back of the door, but to the right as you enter). The safe in my hotel room is the easiest to operate I've ever come across. You know how it is with hotel safes - you spend 10 minutes practising before you dare leave anything inside and lock up. With this one, there was no need for instructions - just a simple diagram.

Then again, you notice the German affinity with tech. The taxi on the way in from the airport was a wonder: this guy had sat nav (which turned into TV for my benefit at one point - a strange 4 minutes of watching a fat man in a dressing gown doing the muslim prayer sequence); he also had a gprs phone with location -based services (a list of hotels scrolling/changing as we entered each new area). A bit later, I got another taxi - this one had the tariff and the temperature in digital letters in the main driver's mirror. All quite different from your average taxi experience in the UK.

After the conference I went for a wander round the neighbourhood (Friedrichstrasse) and had a tasteless Vietnamese meal. I looked out across the water at the Reichstag glass dome in the distance. Then back to the hotel. I sipped an espresso while a fellow Anglo dominated a group of Euros nearby, bitching about everyone and everything from a right-wing perspective...


Marin 8:38 am  

Viel Spass in Berlin. When do you leave?

Nkem 6:19 pm  

While you're in Berlin, I beg you to do just one thing. Go to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Then tell us what you think.

Anonymous,  6:30 pm  

sat nav, shmat nav - abeg just give me a taxi that gets me from A-B in one piece in any world city without ripping me off. how do they drive with all these gadgets flashing and whirring away without getting distracted, anyway?

anonymaus,  9:19 am  

Germany, when it comes to heavy weight, powerful nations, the Germans more than hold their own. One just has to respect their achievements and their dedication to improving their society.

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