Astana has a history going back to the Russian Imperial Era. It was then called Aqmoly in Kazakh and Акмолинский приказ (Akmolinsky prikaz) in Russian. But nearly all you can see today has been developed after the independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and when Astana became the capital of Kazakhstan in 1998. The development of the city was mainly funded by a special form of tax on the development of the national oil and gas reserves. And Kazakhstan is one of the more than 65 countries participating in the Chinese initiated "One Belt, one Road", also sometimes called "The New Silk Road". There are major ambitions and Kazakh activities often mentioned in this context is Qorğas (Khorgos) or 霍尔果斯 in Chinese. It is a large rail connected dryport and anout 10 km North-East of it a new transnational Kazakh-Chinese city, sometimes called "The Kazakh Dubai". And then, of course for the oil rich country, which has just started to develop major oil fields in the Caspian sea. It is a world of plenty and a region of fast development. This is not driven, but supported by "One Belt, one Road" and of course non-oil-and-gas infrastructure becomes an enabler for the expansion of manufacturing. I enjoyed the trip to Kazakhstan, I met wonderful people, a great spirit, and I will go back.
The Arthouse Cinema in Frankfurt is located at Roßmarkt 7 (take subway to Hauptwache). There is another one in Frankfurt Sachsenhausen, but this is a but further for me, and I really like the Roßmarkt Cinema for the venue and the movies they pick. Quite frequently there are also special events in which the director or producer is invited for a question and answer session. I got myself a rebate card, and found it very easy in the last few weeks to break even, because there is so much to see. The list below is just my start. I am not a cinema critic, but I also wrote a few words how I found the films
- Das stille Klassenzimmer (The silent classroom): excellent
- The Post (Die Verlegerin): kitsch
- Die stille Revolution (The silent revolution): too many platitudes, Jannike Stoehr did a great job in her interview
- Zwei Herren im Anzug (Two men in a suit): excellent
- The Mercy (Vor uns das Meer): trying to make a romantic story of an idiot trying to sail the world
- The Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri: excellent, not what I expected
- Sami blood (Das Mädchen aus dem Norden): interesting
- Drei Tage Quiberon (Three days Quiberon): interesting, but hard to think myself into Romy Schneider's tragedy
- Death of Stalin: so bad that I left the cinema half way through
- Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire): still very good, digitally remastered, and rare chance to see on big screen
Senglea (Isla) is the one of the "Three Cities" which involves the dockyards. This was the part of the Grand Harbour which was the center of British Naval ship maintenance and suffered consequently heavy damage during World War II. A lot if the region was abandoned and people were forced to move to the more rural areas, causing a lot of tension in the Maltese population which sometimes is still funnily present in some respect. Those who remained in the Grand Harbour region, specially in the South, had to live in ruins. The dock yards became a major employer, and rebuilding started. With the independence of Malta from British occupation (some call it "protection") this became the heartland of the Labour Party. Today, I personally think it is one of the most beautiful places on Malta. Sure, there is still a lot to do. But I rather see the potential than the deficits.
There are rarely exhibitions like this in Malta, and I found the Picasso and Miro exhibits an excellent contribution to the Valletta 2018 initiative in which the capital of Malta presents itself as the European Culture Capital. This was possible with the help of the Fondacion MAPFRE and is open until June 30th in the Palace State Rooms. The hanging had to be a bit improvised, as a palace is not an ideal venue, but lighting and presentation are excellent. The ticket also includes a visit of the armoury, which is a bit like an ancient gun shop, for those who like it.
Dead people are very good companions. That's why I like sitting down at the Kalkara Naval Cemetery to read my book. Specially now with mild temperatures, this is very pleasant. The place itself has also some historical relevance, which I am not too interested in. It is one of the Commonwealth War Graves. I always found the term "Commonwealth" rather cynical. I also don't like "Heros" very much, specially when we talk about people who put themselves into service of brutal expansion and invasion of others to serve economic or ideological interest. There are a lot of this kind of Heroes here. But when they are dead, they are fine for me.
When I travel to new places, I always try to visit two venues: a cemetery and a market. They both tell you a lot about the local culture, sometimes much more than the municipal museums. There are many differences in cemeteries: sometimes people are cremated and put into small compartments, and in other places cemeteries are like cities for the dead. They all have in common that they function as a memorial for the deceased. It must be a basic human desire across all cultures, that people want to be remembered. And when you read the tombstones, there is the second commonality: they want to have made sense. The third thing which is important, you can't find on the cemetery, but when you talk to dying people. They want to be forgiven. And that's not so much the forgiveness of a superior being, like a "god". But they want to be forgiven by those who they disappointed. No matter where in the world you are, I think these three things are the same.
I like cemeteries also because they are quiet and somehow a good backdrop to being a bit philosophical. Cemeteries at least show a direction in life,
As few days ago it looked like, we could get a White Easter in Frankfurt. That would have been extremely odd. But temperatures picked up, and the sky is blue again. A good moment to scare away the winter ghosts cycling and walking though the countryside.
Anton rarely talked much. But when he spoke to me, his words were brutal and secretive. He stood above the law, did not respect concepts like governments, and if you wanted to come closer than 3 meters, you needed a visa. He was a one man country, in which he tolerated his family and close allies only. All he was up to, was to defend this country - whatever it takes - absolutely, whatever it takes. He lead his family on the refugee track from Eastern Prussia, to the Soviet Occupied Zone of Germany, then further to West Germany. He wanted to continue to Canada, but then aborted the idea. He lost three children, and fought on the Eastern front. Anton Siegmund was my grandfather. And I believe, he was not what we like to think he was. I think he was worse.
Recently, I made the suggestion to bring my mother to her birth place in Voigsdorf, close to Rösel (now Poland), not far from Kaliningrad (back then Königsberg, now Russia). I received stiff opposition from all my mother's family to my idea, not because of my mother's weak health, but I was told: "It is not what it was". Of course, I respect that and vented the idea that I go myself and take a photo of my mother's birth house. And the response echoed: "It is not, what it was". This made me think, that it may have never been what "it was" in their minds. It is not uncommon for refugees to exaggerate their origin, and not uncommon for Germans to blur their Nazi past.
Anton had gaps, when talking about what he did in Russia. Sometimes, he was making jokes about dead Russian soldiers, and was mocking the wives and loved ones on the photos he found in their rucksacks, when he was searching them for food. He told about loosing his horse, but just being able to grab his rifle from the animal, and that nothing else matters than a gun, ammunition, water and food. And of course, for me as a teenager back then, he was a hero, and independent mind, who knew what is important in life, a rebel and all what the perceived "looser generation" of our parents were not. As a matter of fact, my parent's generation rebuilt this county after my grandparent's generation destroyed it. Then of course, all my aunts echoed the stories of Anton deliberately missing women and children with his gunfire, and being rescued by his Polish workers from the Russian military tribunal because he treated his workers so well. Well, maybe not. I remember that once in a delusion, he asked me to put his household helper in chains, as a punishment for a bad haircut. Anton was handicapend by a bullet wound in the right shoulder. But he was an exceptionally strong man. His stubborness was sometimes interpreted as some kind of wisdom. I think it was dementia which brought him closer to the truth. He told me, that I have to be a good boy, otherwise he will have to stay in hell for the rest of eternity. He made me promise, to get him out of there by being a good person. I promised. Of course I did. I love my grandpa. Anton kept being the undisputed patriarch of the family until his last breath and beyond.
I decided to go this summer in June to the house my mother was born, and try to close the circle of a long story. Anton Siegmund, had a long shadow over two generations. It was a cold shadow, with sharp edges. And it may have rescued his family. But it blocked the sunshine for far too many years.
I was on a short visit to Rome and the first time had an arrangement to jump the line into the Vatican and St. Peter. The public part of the Vatican arts museum feels a bit to me like the British Museum: on the one hand fascinating, on the other both collections are results of centuries of robbery, extortion and blackmail. There is sometimes the argument that these art works have may have been saved from destruction and chaos. This might be true in some cases. But often the chaos itself has been planted by the intrusion itself, may it be colonial or religious agression of the past, proxy wars or the recent history or plain destabilisation of regions to have advantages in trade and keep the Petro Dollar in the game. It might be a long shot from the Vatican to Petro Dollar. But maybe not.
Rome is a wonderful city. It was quite chilly though for this time of the year with strong winds. But culture, flair and interesting little historical excursions compensated for the few initial rain drops. Actually, one of my colleagues long ago graduated in Christian Archaeology and led us, among many other places, to the San Sebastian catacombs in the South of the city, which were very interesting. Flew back through Zurich to Frankfurt for the weekend. I always enjoy the bird's view on the alps on a clear day in winter or early spring.
The pictures below would not be anything special, if taken in Frankfurt during the time December to February. But now, getting off for my morning run on March 18th, this is quite a surprise. It should be spring-ish by now.
Arrived in Frankfurt after about 2 weeks in Bonn. I always enjoy being there, first of all I have very good friends in town, and secondly following its former status as a National capital of Western Germany, it still has a very extravagant cultural budget and very good museums. I was fascinated by the exhibition Bestandsaufnahme Gurlitt - der NS Kunstraub und seine Folgen in the Bundeskunsthalle. It is, but not only, what came to light after in 2012 an old man's flat was raided by the police for suspected tax fraud: one of the largest private art collections in Germany, and some of the works subject to the Nazi's confiscations and plain robbing of art works. Now the art and relevant documents are open to public, so that the rightful owners of stolen art works may claim their rights and the art works to be returned.
Today I explored the German National Library in Frankfurt and found this an excellent place to work. Far better than the Library of Goethe University in Bockenheim, and still easy to reach by bike in less than 15 minutes. I also tried a few coffee places, one of which was the Hoppenworth & Ploch (which was okay, but not great) and Kaffee Rösterei Wissmüller on Leipziger Strasse which may become an alternative "hang out" to Café Laumer.
I spent the last few weeks in Malta and now came to Frankfurt. There are things to prepare here this week. Back in Malta I was giving guest lectures, joined the Malta Photographic Society and got to know a nice little creative network called the Malta Creative Collective which is brining together people from various creative industries. Also, there were some events related to Valletta being the European Capital of Culture 2018. Some individual performances were not too bad. But all over, at least at the moment, this appears to be an uncoordinated melange of procured contributions and "Maltese Humpapa". At least it's lively though. Perhaps it becomes better in the high season. Frankfurt yesterday had it's coldest night of this winter at below minus 10 Degrees Celsius. That's very late, given that by the meteorological calendar spring is at the gate. However, the sky is blue and it is a nice and crisp atmosphere. I also took the chance to finally see Vermeer's Geographer in the Städel Museum, and strolled through the Rubens exhibition hosted there. But Rubens is not so much my thing. Or perhaps it's just because I only arrived from Malta and couldn't appreciate further seeing obese women. I liked his painting of Prometheus though, and recalled one of Johann Wolfgang Goethe's better poems. I also revisit the Jil Sander exhibition in the Museum of Applied Arts, specially to look into the garden design again, which is outstanding. A very nice discovery for me became the Arthouse Movie Theatre at Roßmarkt, where I watched Phantom Threat, and this was an enjoyable break from digging into Bayes Theorem and Marcov Chains for my Saturday Quant lecture in Mannheim.
Spring is trying to make its break through in Malta. That means very changeable weather and also quite a bit of the well needed rain. We will be happy about it when the summer kicks in, as the water table is rising. I walked to the Marsaxlokk fish market along the coast from Kalkara. It takes about three hours one way, and is a very nice walk. I like the food section of the market, and of course specially the choices of fresh catch. Even Malta is in the Mediterranean, and you would think there should be supply of fresh food everywhere, there are in fact not many choices. One is the Marsaxlokk market on Sundays and then there is the farmer's market in Ta Qali and a small one in Birgu. Strangely the common food culture in Malta is very "English", even the traditional Maltese cuisine is excellent. My Sunday was filled with all together a 7 hours hike to get a fish back home, and all of it (hike and fish) was very nice.
I am in Malta since a while again, where I am hiding in my cave - writing reports, and preparing lectures. So far I only came out for sports, meeting friends and strolling a bit around. I also joined the Malta Photographic Society, and put my newly repaired first generation Fujifilm X100 back into action. It is great to learn new things there and meet fellow photographers which cover the whole spectrum from committed amateurs to professionals. Further, I tried a few events of "Valletta 2018" in which Malta is hosting the European Capital of Culture. Though, except a fun (but chaotic) opening there is not much going on yet (?). It is also low season now, so perhaps it will still pick up. I just hope it does not go like last year's EU Presidency, which was kind of a joke in the end. Still, the streets are more lively than last winter and even the rainstorm the night before yesterday hindered the street carnival a bit, the mood is high and the parties keep going. So, perhaps that's what a culture capital should be like anyways.
Frankfurt's University Quarter is mostly Bockenheim. Then there is the "Westend", which has offices of mostly financial institutions, advisory services and upscale residential developments. This connects to the Alte Oper (Old Opera House). There is a new Opera House also, which is more suitable for all the technology which modern stages have. But the Old Opera also has an amazing programme. Then specially the University area is lively and has numerous small theatres and stages.
From Malta, Gozo island and Sicily are always nice escapes. As I needed a break from going through files and evaluating construction projects related to China's "One Belt, one Road" initiative, Gozo was a nice weekend destination. At the same time, was the opening of "Valletta 2018", the capital of Malta hosting the European Cultural Capital. I heard, it was spectacular. But personally I appreciate more the programme that follows than the launching ceremony. So, I opted for Gozo while many came to Valletta. It was a windy weekend, up to 8 Beaufort. So, I could only fly my drone once, before the storm caught up. I am really amazed about the camera stabilisier in the DJI Spark. Have a look below: this was already quite shaky, but the drone still produces clear pictures. Furthermore, I really enjoyed excellent seafood in Xlendi and a visit to Our Lady of Ta' Pinu Basilica in Gharb, which I have not been to before.
Today I had the rare opportunity to take a photo of my favorite work space in Malta: the National Library in Valletta. Normally, photography is strictly forbidden. But today, I did not go for work, but for pleasure, to attend a concert of the Malta Baroque Festival. So, I was not facing the librarian on duty - who is a wonderful person, helpful with any question you may have, but very strictly implementing the rules on weekdays for everybody's benefit. Today, on Sunday, I could turn to the security guard and ask: "It is so pretty. May I take a photo?" And I was answered proudly: "Okay. Quick!" So, that's the snapshot you see below.
The concert itself was a real pleasure, excellently performed and guided through. The ensemble was Les Contre-Sujet and they played mainly German Baroque composers (with one exception). I took the liberty to link in a photo of them from their website (below), as this illustrates nicely the spirit they brought to these prestigious halls. I strongly suggest you have a look yourself and hope you have the chance to see and hear them performing. They even kept their humour when the Maltese version of Humpapa Music blended in from the street. I really liked it. The ensemble performing was Samuel Rotsztejn, Koji Yoda, Maya Enokida, Eric Tinkerhess and Takahisa Aida.
It was windy the first two days I arrived back to Kalkara, and there was the long awaited rain or which the island needs every drop. Still I took my DJI Spark drone and flew it in the breeze, cutting a few clips together with Camtasia. This is the production software I am going to use for my online statistics tutorials. It does need a bit of practice. But flying the drone in the wind needs more.
There you are, 2018. I was expecting you. I learned some lessons from your predecessor. How about yourself? Looking for trouble? I am ready. I tell you something: you will be dead on December 31st. And I will still be around. If then you were a good year, I will cherish your memory. If not, I will forget about you, like I forgot about 2017. I know you don't care. Neither do I. Counting your days. Ready? - One.
I truly have not seen a major city as empty, as Frankfurt on Christmas Eve. Only a few Chinese were running around looking desperately for luxury shops. The few others were on their way to see their family and loved ones. And there was the atmosphere of preparation for something important to come. I had an extra piece of cake in Café Laumer. Then went to the Museum of Applied Art to see the Jil Sander exhibition, which I liked. Merry Christmas.
I often take the train along the Rhine from Frankfurt to Bonn and back. It is not the fastest, but the most beautiful connection. Most people take the fast InterCity Express which goes on a more linear track. They don't have the time I have. My trick is, that I get up at 5 a.m. That's why I have the time. I love that route because it is my home. And I have not been home for a long time.
Tonight, a man with a large empty suitcase passed by to collect the empty deposit bottles, which he can refund against cash. He was well mannered and polite. When the conductor came and asked for his ticket, the man just continued without response. So, the conductor performed his duty, correctly but he was not doing right. I asked the conductor to take a seat beside me, which he did. Then I requested him to agree that the man got on the train the station before and will get off the next one and that I will pay for his ticket. I also asked him, whether he could turn a blind eye to it if the bottle collector would not get off the next station, but continue to a place of his convenience. We don't want to drop a poor man somewhere on the Rhine river at night, right? It was very quiet, just between the two of us. The conductor calculated the fare, took out his private wallet and paid for the man's ticket himself. Then he took 50 Euro and put it discreetly into the hand of the stowaway passenger, said "Merry Christmas" and walked on. I continued watching through the window the forest and the river passing by in the dark. And I decided never to complain about the delays of the German Railway anymore. There are great people working in that company.