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Friday, July 14, 2017

They paved Hitler's bunker and put up a parking lot. Really.

Tuesday July 11th

A very full, and fulfilling, day. We began with a presentation by Cecilia, a member of our group from Mexico. She has spent time at a refugee camp on the Mexico/Guatemala border.  She went first to accompany a friend who was producing a documentary, and was so moved by the plight of the people there, and their individual stories, that she has gone repeatedly.  She relatively quiet and soft spoken, compared to the boisterousness o some of the other members of the group.  She also speaks less English than most of the other group members, most of them who speak remarkably good English. Michael from Australia and I are the only native speakers,and I am impressed by how they all speak English most all of the time, which I know is a strain.

Ceci’s is the first presentation from the group. We’ll have a couple of others, from Viola, who is from South Sudan, and from Larissa and Pollina, who are from Latvia and Russia, and were roommates at the university in Russia together.

I think Ceci was very brave to do the first presentation, and it was very moving. She started with a short piece she had produced with a friend,  named Carolina, to explain the significance of the Day of the Dead. She had painted half  her face a skeletal white, that added to the poetic quality of her  film piece. And then she spoke about her experiences in Guatemala, quoting from some of the people she met.

After a delicious lunch of omelettes and rice cooked by today’s cooking team, we went off to visit the social service agency Café, Kuchus  which works with lgbt refugees.  The co-director of the agency, a gay German man, told us about the various services the agency provides, including legal help, counseling, and a shelter that is home to over 100 gay, trans,  intersex people. And also, about the complicated issues people face, including discrimination  and even violence here that they ddin’t expect,  dealing with depression, the tensions of having to deal with people from their own cultures who don’t understand or respect their life styles, etc.  They have a 3 year non governmental grant that has one more year to go. He is very optimistic about securing more funding, partly because the government has become very positively impressed by what the program does and now refers people in need of services to them. The other co director is a man who came here as a refugee, and so knows first hand the kind of issues people face.  I had a lot of questions, and was worried that I was monopolizing the conversation too much. But a few people in the group thanked me later because they didn’t feel able to ask many questions, mostly because of the language, I think.

Then, he introduced another young man, Michael,  to also speak with us. He was a refugee from Georgia (the country, not the state) who has been here for several years. He was very open about his situation, saying that he had suffered from depression both at home and since he arrived it Germany, where he had been attacked and beaten. Now he has a boyfriend here, from Yemen, and a place to live, and is studying German. He spoke very good English, which he told me he had basically  taught himself.  He plans to learn enough German to go to school here. Ideally he’d like to study psychology, which he has always been interested in and had studied in Georgia.  But one has to have extremely high grades, so he is now thinking of geography.  I asked about his family situation, if they accepted and supported his being gay.  He said that his father did not approve, and they didn’t get along. He knew his mother and his sister were okay with things, but could not openly go against his father. Now, his father has died, and so he was never able to reconcile with him. But he is working on improving his relationship with his mother and his sister, who is four years older.

I was so touched by his story and his willingness to be open with us, a group of strangers, and went up to tell him so afterwards. I was in tears, so moved his openness, and so was sniffling afterwards, causing a number of people in the group to ask me what was wrong. I assured them I was okay and tried to explain.

 Later, we decided to go on the free city tour that we missed the other day because we were 10 minutes later for our reservation. I didn’t realize at first that this is the same company, Sandelman’s, that ran the also free tour that I took a few years ago in Jerusalem. Their approach is to make the tour free, but ask for tips. I think that’s a fine way to do it.We were split into two groups, because they try not to have a large number of people form the same group together. The reason is a practical one that they were open about -that a large group together doesn’t tip as well. Fair enough. Our group gave each of the two guides 40 euros, and then many of us gave them additional tips as well. Plus there were another dozen or so people in each of our groups, so I think they made out pretty well.

Our guide was a woman who sounded almost American, but I wasn’t entirely sure. I thought she might have been from another country but spent a lot of time in the U.S.  Turns out she was half American, half Scottish, and had grown up partly in Chicago, partly in Scotland. Her name was Kyle, which she said her parents had named her because they wanted a boy!

The tour was a full three hours, with a little break for coffee and pastry. We had a choice of Starbucks, or a smaller German bakery/café across the street.  I had no desire to go to Starbucks. Half our group went to each place. I had a huge chocolate ball with sprinkles. I had a feeling it was a rum ball, and was right. Was on a sugar high for a while afterwards.

Kyle was full of information and spoke at length about the history of Germany, Berlin before and after the war, the Wall, etc. I hope I can remember enough of the details to relay a good amount to you, but have to stop for now because supper is ready. Tonight we are having a Vietnamese meal cooked by Khan/Brian, who we are mostly calling Khan despite his initial efforts to use Brian. It’s 9:45, but that’s ok because we’ve been having lunch between 1 and 2 pm, and had a snack at about
 6 pm. (that rum ball)

It’s really interesting to see what creative meals each cooking team comes up with, and also the combinations people put together on their plates.
Well, time to eat. More later.

We learned about how almost all the "older" buildings we saw were reconstructions of what had been there before, bombed by the Americans. I believe she said that 80% of Berlin's buildings had been destroyed. The reconstruction process is a long term one that is still going on all these years later, because of the need to preserve the architecture according to complex regulations. One way you can tell which parts are actually old is the blackened state of the statuary, for instance. Much of the statuary had been removed to protect it, and then replaced post war to the whiter marble reconstructions. 

We stopped at a parking lot that served a couple of apartment buildings that surrounded it. Kyle told us thatHi underneath us was the bunker that Hitler, Eva Braun, and some of his staff had hidden in at the end of the war. They discovered it some years ago when doing construction and decided to preserve it but seal it up. They wanted to make sure that it didn't become some monument or site for neo Nazis or others to visit, didn't want to memorial it, and so turned it into a parking lot. 

She also had fascinating stories about how Hitler married Braun right before they committed suicide, how  the Russians found Hitler's and Braun's  ashes,  got his dentist to identify his remains by the teeth, and much more that I can't remember at the moment. 

We went to Checkpoint Charlie where I'd crossed into East Berlin in 1970, now a big tourist spot, all reconstructed, to remaining pieces of the wall on the West Side, and more. The East side of the Wall is called the East Side Gallery, and I saved that to return to next week. 

Next morning, Wednesday, the 12 of July and 9th day of the project.  We are all set up in the meeting room at Mennnheim.  Look very professional, all set up with our computers at the tables we hauled In from the dining room, a major project in itself. Before now we’ve written in the dining/living room. I asked Martin to take a picture with my camera, supposedly showing me hard at work. I realized that with all the photos I’ve taken, I am not in a single one. 

Lea LaCroix, from the wiki office is coming to give us a presentation. In fact, she just now arrived. She’s manager of data, or something like that. We’ve begun an online tutorial of wikidata, one of the many facets of Wikipedia,  by which I will no doubt be overwhelmed. Either the others in the group have much more computer experience, or maybe are just doing more translations than original articles, and don’t need to credit all the sources, etc.

There’s also a reporter from a Berlin newspaper here. We are all wearing our Wikipedia t-shirts, which looks really impressive, even though I wasn’t too keen on running up to the third floor and back just to change!

There’s beginning to be some tensions in the group, as is usual after the honeymoon period, and to be expected.  Some people feel like they are working too hard, and need more of  a break. I understand, it’s hard to write and translate and research all day. On the other hand, we only have a few days left, want to publish as many articles as possible, but also have a chance to do some fun things in the city.  That isn’t as important to me, as I will have an extra week to explore the city with Loring after the project ends..

Some notes from Lea’s presentation:

Wikipedia is now 16 years old. Wikidata, her area of specialty .started in 2012. The goal is to have simple info all stored one place, to be accessed by all diff wiki languages made for humans and machines, very organized, all linked ,collaborative, public domain.  Anyone can edit, some have done programming to make editing easier.It can be utilized by people, but also by computers, and that is its primary use. Every entry is id’d by a #, so it is identified no matter what language the entry is in. The id # for Berlin, for instance, is Q64. That is called a label. It also links to other databases like freebase and openstreetmap, which is the free license equivalent of googlemaps.
We each tried to edit some data entry that was of interest. I went to the  wikipedia entry for Beverly,  found the  Cabot st. Theatre, among many other items, and edited wkiidata to add its website to the database. It is up to date as “The Cabot” but the website link wasn’t there.

I have been working on several articles. Published the first one, one of the first days, about Sister Joannes Klas, 1997 winner of the Nansen Prize. Saskia had suggested I start with some bio’s of Nansen winners, because they were easy to do. Right. Easy for most of the group, but not for me, perpetual tech novice..

 I finished that one, with lots of help, not for writing, but for formatting and putting it in the proper wiki order.  I’ve now completed another entry about a Nansen winner, Maryluz Schloeter Parades, from Venezuela. She won the award for her work with refugee children in Caracas.  From then, 1980, she went on to hold various  positions with the UNHCR, as well as teaching at the University of Venezuela in Caracas. But then she falls off the internet after 1990. I can’t find any other info or an obit, so don’t know if she’s still alive. Will have to see if someone else eventually edits it with more info.

Last, I came across a fascinating story about a Syrian man, a ballet dancer, who was forced to leave home in the refugee camp where he’d spent all his life, by his disapproving and violent father. He continued his dance studies in Damascus and eventually made it on to the Arab version of  So You Think you Can Dance.  That garnered a lot of attention,  and he was the subject of a short documentary by a Dutch tv station, which garnered even more attention. He’s now in the Netherlands studying dance and dancing with the Dutch National Ballet. 

 There’s a further doc now, which depicts his reconciliation with his father in a refugee camp here in Berlin.  I’ve done a lot of research about his story, and a lot of work on writing about him. Finally, with the help of Sergey in our group, I got it into the proper format, and published it this morning. It’s been gratifying to be able to give Ahmad a wiki entry. His story is poignant and inspiring.  Of course, now I’ve found both a couple of errors in the links, and some additional video, about a Danish choreographer who created a dance piece inspired by him. I’ve got a friend who will translate the story into Dutch for me, and   I’m hoping to get someone to translate the entry into German, also possibly Danish. And Khan, from our group, says he wants to translate it into Vietnamese! My original source was my friend Judy, who posted one of the tv pieces about him on facebook. Thanks, Judy!

Some other branches of the Wiki Empire (my term! -pretty sure they wouldn’t appreciate it)
Wikisource- old books in public domain
Wikivoyage – about travel, different from most of Wiki because has opinion, not neutral as Wikipedia entries have tobe. 
Wikidata currently 17500 editors, isone of largest facets of Wikimedia, many tools, used mostly by computers but available to people
Wikidata games nice way to start editing
Wikishootme is for photos shows places with  photos by red dots
Guessr – game to identify where photos are from get more points for items further away from you.
Wikidataquery  kind of fun – look, for instance, of pictures of cats. Why do people always use cat pictures? Both Lea and Matty did in their presentations. Or perhaps it’s particularly a wiki thing. Now that I think of it, there was some kind of cat drawing whiteboard at the office. 

I don't know how much I'll explore or use any of these, it's all rather overwhelming to me, but it's good to at least be exposed to them and know a bit about how to use them.

That's enough for one entry. But I'll post another to bring things up to date. 

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