Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A riddle

Ruth, Hornsby, Hornsby, Hornsby, Hornsby, Hornsby... more Hornsbies, Klein, Gehrig, Williams, Williams, Musial, Williams, Musial, Williams, Williams, the other Robinson, Yaz, Lynn, Brett, Walker, Helton, Bonds, Bonds, Mauer.

Reports from the internet

Heywhaddyaknow:

Congratulations - you have completed Movie Lines.

You scored 4 out of 11.

Your performance have been rated as 'Failed'

I get nightmares. Evidently. Or something like them.

Okay, beyond-odd confession.  I've been having this recurring dream wherein I'm playing this computer game that somehow becomes real? you know? not like in Tron but sort of, but where all of a sudden the game pieces that I manipulate on the screen are duplicated in the real world around me?  Anyhoo, this particular game seems to be a sort of board-game Dungeons & Dragons type, where you can generate archers, cavalry, peasants to till fields, etc., then deploy said pieces and watch them fight.  (Note:  This was probably inspired by the video game Trogdor.)  It being a dream, the context is always a location that's almost familiar---e.g., it's the hotel where I stayed that one New Year's Eve when somebody still loved me, but out the window it looks more like Los Angeles in the summertime, and if you go around the corner, it's the sixteenth floor at my old law firm job.  This particular time it was part of Treptower Park where I like to read when it's nice out, only in the middle of it was my father's house, and then next door there was a Hardee's.  I believe this last point was a plot point my subconscious intended to develop in a later scene but somehow lost track of.  Anyway.

One of the pieces available to the computer but not to the player (i.e., me) is a piece called the Black Knight, who can travel anywhere on the game board, has many different kinds of weapons like a mace and a sword, can attack every variety of the player's pieces, and is incredibly difficult to defend against.  So when that piece appears on the screen, and accordingly, appears in real life, it is of course rather a nerve-wracking experience, as this armored and powerful figure is now trying to kill me.

Now, here's where it gets weird.  The Black Knight character, when it appears, stops obeying the rules that govern real life.  For the moment, kindly pretend that the "rules that govern real life" can be read to permit video game characters to leap out of your screen and chase you around your father's living room and/or old office building.  Just humor me on this point; I'm hoping later to engage Ms. Pac-Man in an adult-themed fantasy you may wish not to think too closely about.  But I digress.

Anyway, here's where it gets weird.  The Black Knight, which as far as I can tell in the game is the one character who can use many different kinds of weapons---like a spear against cavalry, or a sword against peasants, or a torch against ... enchanted haystacks, I don't know---when he comes into my so-called real life abandons even that little bit of restraint, and starts using crossbows (not that weird) and ninja stars (weirder) and those stormtrooper-style laser guns from Star Wars (weirder...).  

No, wait:  Here's where it gets weird.  The Black Knight, this faceless, hulking creature tramping around in six feet of black armor, like with wings on the helmet and stuff, flips up his visor to reveal that he's none other than 1980s and '90s pop star and former Smiths frontman Morrissey!  And not current Morrissey, either, the one you can vaguely imagine being beefy enough to trudge around in a full suit of armor and angry enough to shoot a crossbow at someone.  No, this is '86 vintage Morrissey, the one who wouldn't hit his worst enemy with anything deadlier than a gladiolus.

Interlude:  When he pulls up the visor, Black-Knight Morrissey is singing this song, this song I don't quite recognize but that I can hear vividly in my memory even as I wake up, but of which I now can remember nothing other than the phrase "wonderful world" (not "Wonderful Woman").  And not a Smiths-era song but more one of those plinky-plinky songs from between Kill Uncle and Southpaw Grammar like "Sunny" or especially "Swallow on My Neck," like---but it still sounds like a really good song.  And now I can't remember a damn bit of it other than those two words.  You remember the story of how Paul McCartney originally dreamed "Yesterday" then woke up and played it on the piano and wrote it down and the next thirteen days kept asking all his friends if they'd heard it before because no one gets so lucky as to write a song in their sleep?  Yeah, this is, uh, a different story.  To say nothing of a different song.

So here's the thing.  Apparently the only thing that can hurt the Black Knight is this crossbow that's a real pain to wind up and only shoots this dinky little arrow, so I'm winding it up and aiming carefully and shooting at him.  Meanwhile, Morrissey the Black Knight has abandoned his sword and mace for---and I'm not making this up----an M-60 upright machine gun.  Wikipedia says it fires 600 rounds a minute, which are now coming more or less directly at me, as I'm trying to squeeze my entire body behind whatever cover there is, which is invariably something like a big bush.  (There may be variants of bulletproof bush in the computer logic of the video game, but not in quote-unquote the real world.)  So I'm hiding, trying to duck machine gun fire behind the shrubbery, winding up this pain in the ass crossbow, and then I duck out, point and fire, and the arrow hits him, but apparently you need to hit the Black Night three times or something, so he starts firing back and me, and I just sprint and leap behind this really short stone embankment that barely covers me as I squeeze into the corner where the bank meets the ground, I can feel the air being torn by ten bullets a second  passing just millimeters over my shoulder blades, which just. won't. squeeze down any farther, and without moving my arms enough to push myself over the bank I'm fumbling with the crossbow to try to reload it and it just won't fit right...

... and that's when I wake up.  So I gotta stop eating before bedtime.  I think, perhaps, maybe for a solid twelve hours before bedtime.  

And a very merry Yom Kippur to you as well

[ed. n.: Back to regularly irregular blogging schedule. Thank you, and good to be back/I'm so, so very sorry]

Most or all of my readers are former New Yorkers, at least, if not outright Landtsmen (sp?) themselves, so my announcement that yesterday's sundown ended the Days of Awe likely comes as no news at all. I haven't belonged to a synagogue in... far too long, and Berlin's not, um, noted for its vibrant and active Jewish community, so I didn't attend services. To be honest---that is, to confess my omission---I didn't even know where the nearest synagogue is, or where any is at all. Checking now, there appear to be four---the Rykestra├če Synagogue in Prenzlauerberg, the Stiftung Neue Synagoge in Mitte (that address doubles as that for an Israeli restaurant) , the Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judiacum in Wittenau (another restaurant, this one Russian-Jewish and called Kadima), and the Joachimstaler Street Synagogue in Charlottenburg (on Joachimstalerstra├če... natch). It's hard to tell for sure, as many Google hits are duplicative---the Stifting Neue receives foreign-language hits as both "Jewish Synagogue" and "La Grande Synagogue"---and the Stiftung and the Centrum Judaicum share not only the generic nomenclature "Neue Synagogue" but, confusingly, also the same street and number (Oranienburger Str. 28) albeit in separate neighborhoods. (I did a reverse search using each address and they appear to be legit. Odd. But I suppose when you're talking about the existence of a synagogue at all in Berlin, you're already agreeing to suspend your disbelief.)

Surprisingly, two days ago when I checked Google yielded few results for "things to do in Berlin on yom kippur" (the abbreviated "yom kippur in Berlin" yielded---no exaggeration---but a solitary hit, in the ahistorical hypothetical).

Going back online for the first time was an odd thing---I shall have to try it as a regular habit, to the extent consistent with my obligations to you-the-humble-reader. Well, I suppose it's always odd, but there's an extra layer to unfamiliarity when you don't quite speak the language on local teevee screens and newsstand front pages. Maybe it's just hte summer of Michael Jackson, Ted Kennedy, et al., but when I see an old celebrity's face and/or name, my first thought is the most final. But Roman Polanski (btw, least effective segue from Polanski to football. Ever.) evidently did not die but has merely been arrested in Switzerland.[fn1] Bridget Bardot has evidently only turned 75. William Safire is really dead, apparently of cancer. (He'd want it noted that no one ever died of "apparent cancer.")

Shanah tovah, everyone. Fifty-seven seventy, woo.
-----
fn1: Those notorious intermeddlers in world affairs, the Swiss. Honestly, even with sixty-odd years intervening, is there not something a bit outrageous about the inconsistency? "Gold for the Nazi war machine? Eh, not my department. Director hiding out in France to avoid prison for a rape thirty years ago? This will not stand, man, this aggression."

The "X" isn't for "Xavier"

Hey, so this thing has been going on a while, and no one's asked about the extraneous first initial in the email address up there in the corner. But I'm out of things to talk about, so: How many names really begin with X, anyway? The one that springs to mind the fastest to the most people seems to be Xavier (alternately pronounced "Havvy-air" and "Zave-yer"). Would that it were so, but no. One, I'm not Catholic; two, I feel like Xavier's only ever a middle name (following Francis, after the Catholic saint; cf. point "One," supra). Three, I'm enough of a comic book nerd that, were my first name even slightly relatable to Marvel's X-Men, you can bet your sweet patootie I'd be broadcasting that fact.

(Note: If you or a loved one is addicted to gambling with their patootie, the State of Nevada urges you to call the gambling helpline. Trained professionals are waiting to help you get the help you need.)

This is all by way of the elaborate buildup that's necessary when one is explaining that his damn hippie-cum-yuppie parents, two highly-educated urbanites with perhaps a slightly deficient grasp of the classics, decided to name their firstborn "Xerxes." Couldn't even be "Xander," like the other way to shorten "Alexander," which while distressingly analogous to Topher Grace's name, at least sounds kind of tough.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, this was not me. I wish it had been, as I probably am keeping too much stuff, but it's not. Godspeed, young man, whoever you are.)

Anyway. One long and meandering digression to say: I kind of hate my parents.

Ein volk, ein ball, ein volkerball!

[Disclaimer:  Due to an unforeseeable sports injury involving the blogging muscle, I have not updated in, to quote one reader, "a bazillion forevers."  Posts previously conceived  and/or composed, including this one, are being processed as quickly as possible and will be released when I goddamn get around to it!  Please note that the time and date of posting bear little if any relation to those of the events recounted.]

Okay, my bad with the Hitler reference in the post title there.  Fine.  Sheesh.  Get more sensitive about it, whyncha?

The Volkerball tournament!  The American squad comprises about a dozen members some of whom even show up to both the mandatory practice and the match, including, conveniently enough, The Roommate.

You might think of it as a fun, low-key way to spend a sunny weekend afternoon.  Or you might think of it as basically like the Olympics, a zero-sum struggle amongst the peoples of all the world's nations for glory, eternal fucking glory, on the field of sport, but unlike the other Olympics here it's just the one sport, because there is only one sport, and that sport is dodgeball!  (This was the attitude of at least one enthusiastic participant I shan't name.)  Or you might think, as did evidently that team in the green shirts with the tin-foiled helmet and the alien theme, that it's the one German context where it's legally permissible to participate in Scientology rituals. 

In addition, the teams are expected to bring concession goods, usually food, that are somehow representative of their homelands.  I'm happy to report that The Roommate's mac-and-cheese was a tremendous hit, and I'm informed my own humble contribution (apple pie, with shredded cheddar mixed into the crust) was popular... although there was an awful lot of it left over at the end.  Oh well.  

At the end, the Americans made the first cut, surviving qualifications, and were shortly dispatched in short sets of the main event.  But it's a moral victory.  Or that's what we keep telling ourselves.  Next year, I'm making the team, and it's going to be like the '69 Mets when Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw got out of their early-twenty jitters and finally put it together.

Currents:
... reading:  Middlesex by Eugenides.  Comes highly recommended by several dear friends with whom I evidently have seriously different taste in literature.
... listening:  "Roadkill" by Dubfire.  I know it's last summer.  It still pwns.

Island

[Disclaimer: Due to an unforeseeable sports injury involving the blogging muscle, I have not updated in, to quote one reader, "a bazillion forevers." Posts previously conceived and/or composed, including this one, are being processed as quickly as possible and will be released when I goddamn get around to it! Please note that the time and date of posting bear little if any relation to those of the events recounted.]

Further note: The events recounted in this post were originally recollected in the author's travel diary, an honest to god travel diary which is this adorable little physical item left in the author's apartment by two lovely ladies in thanks for one wonderful weekend. Aforementioned ladies shall go nameless, and the character nicknamed for inexplicable reasons AtoZ shall receive no further identifying characteristics, as the mention above and the details below may qualify as defamatory and may be actionable, depending on jurisdiction.

I write this whilst returning from Iceland to Berlin after spending one week there (Iceland) with AtoZ. I landed last Thursday night, just a bit before midnight, not to the hostel until well after midnight (still light out), and didn't see AtoZ until the next morning. Although it should be conceded that I heard him as he entered our shared room, boozily and some time after... I suppose I'd place it around three a.m. Friday and Saturday nights we moved from our affordable hostel to more impressive digs, a hotel in the center of Reykjavik, and then rented a car to tour the rest of the island. (Each of these itinerary points was at the suggestion of AtoZ, who'd recently broken up with his girlfriend and had heard that Icelandic women are easy and ... well, you can imagine, can you not, what was on his mind?)

Credit must be given: AtoZ's a natural traveler. His strategy (such as it was) of stopping at tourist info centers and asking the clerks, or assistants, or whatever, to suggest sleeping accommodations in the area where we were likely to end our day, and upon receiving such suggestion to lean on them to phone ahead and make reservations on our behalf, was inspired (if forward) and never steered us wrong. I shudder to think, though, what would be the fate of two Icelandic vacationers in America without a plan who hoped for such a favor to be repaid them as they drove down, say, I-95. But then some countries speak about crime in terms of "the murder" (no exaggeration, there---they had one murder there. Not one in all of last year; not one since 2001---one.) and some countries eat their young.

The rumors are, I can report, all true: Everything in Iceland is the most beautiful gorgeous got-damn thing you've ever seen. Well, in the case of the women it's exaggerated: people there look just like people. But Reykjavik is very pretty, and the countryside is nothing short of spectacular. AtoZ can't drive stick, and in any event spent the days dozing while trying to recover from what he blamed on a hangover and then overwork and what I suspect was swine flu (recall), so it was me behind the wheel as we cruised counter-clockwise 'round the country, my cursing at the natural splendor becoming more repetitive each time we turned the corner upon another scene of really just incomparable beauty. "Goddammit!" "Jesus Christ, will you look at hat?" These required more effort than was consistent with maintaining appropriate concentration upon the road, and after the first day or so took second stage in favor of the simpler replacement: "Fuck." That was short for "This scene of the Iceland countryside rushing past my eyes is so astonishingly beautiful I'm rendered incapable of but the most guttural and monosyllabic utterances." But within the cabin of that car perhaps most of the subtlety was lost.

The Icelandic believe in elves---not the Santa's-workshop variety, but human-sized dark creatures that lurk amid the countryside at night and play pranks upon their neighbors---but believe in them, not in the sense of belief in the afterlife or in humanity's inherent goodness but like belief that the sun will come up tomorrow or that it's carbohydrates that make you fat, like of course there are elves out there in the darkness beyond the bedroom window. But you can't really understand that intellectually, or at least it feels immediately different when you've been there, crossed the countryside. The eastern coast of the island, where the island's sole highway turns northward along the short, climbs the mountainside one hundred feet, and passes between the deep blue waves making their assault on the rocky foothills below, slashing through the jagged surfaces and points of the mountains' tiny pickets, those points and edges shearing the aerated seafoam swept along atop the waves, a beach if there even was one appearing only amid brief coincident moments when the tides all ebbed at precisely the same time, the ocean's spittle ricocheting off hard black stone and taking to the air as a blanket of mist soothing the angry surface of a stormy sea, below, and above, the mountaintops stretching up until they seemed to puncture the clouds in the sky, immense and glowing green with the grasses that managed everywhere the impossible feat of clinging to their near-vertical face, here and there a shelf appearing where the winds and the rains and the ices of winter had pried loose a stone wedge from the stony giant, where you hadn't actually yet you would've sworn you must have spied a lone eagle circling slowly above it all. It's so much more beautiful than anything you've ever seen that the natural world, that mundane thing you deal with all the time, seems somehow insufficient as an explanation. Here one understands superstition. Here one cannot disbelieve in magic, or in elves.

Our nights we spent in those few inns randomly dotting the highway map we got from the rental agency. Tourism seemed an oddly underdeveloped industry away from Reykjavik, in keeping with the generally depopulated tone of the back country. Travelers could (as we did) sleep in a converted schoolhouse in the southeast, an odd sailors' lodge in the north. But for three quarters of the perimeter of the country, which encircles probably fewer than ten thousand people (although possibly more sheep), the evidence of human intrusion into the land is only occasional. Settlements reaching a size worthy of the title hamlet are the exception, although one of which yielded us our beds on our first night away from Reykjavik. The rest of development consisted solely of a farmhouse and a barn, perhaps some odd other structure useful for agricultural purposes, but not after that first night's stop did we see a church house until the whaling village all the way on the other side of the island, in the northwest.

A few more highlights from the road:
  • Glaciers are imposing things. The first we saw up close we came close to treading upon, but only watched it, as it stretched from mountaintop to valley floor on its way to a long black sandy, hilly span between land and sea, from a little ridge to its west. The second had already plunged into a bay and was in the process of breaking up, surrounded by flocks of birds swooping, otters splashing, and one assumes fish, although those last remaining at a safe depth beneath the surface away from the innumerable predators floating or flying above. Barn-sized slabs of eerily blue ice hung in the water, the water the same perplexing color as the undersides of the icebergs, which invited the question which, ice or water, was naturally that color and which only reflecting the hue of the other. It seems water at that temperature, a thin sliver above freezing, adopts a new property whereby its coldness becomes visible, as though its component molecules were brittly near to solidifying as semisolid ice the same temperature but instead vibrated faintly on the surface of the sea, giving off a telltale pattern of little shivers. The icebergs, lapped on all sides with the slow waves from the otters and the sea birds' business, appear almost to be rocking back and forth, but when one focuses the eyes again the movement becomes that of the water surrounding them, and the 'bergs remain still, moving if at all only downward at an imperceptible pace, sinking lower into the water a thin sliver above the freezing point of water or the melting point of ice, as amid the caws and squawks and chortles and camera snaps and whirs, one imagines it possible to hear a dull, slow cracking sound.
  • There's a tiny ancient village squeezed among the inlets and coves that shred the island's northern shore. Or actually there are many, but I'm speaking of one. There's a village up in the north, enormous if you're coming from Reykjavik in the counter-clockwise direction and in three days you haven't seen anything larger than two farmhouses back to back, where when you drive into town you're greeted by what appears a great whale skeleton, a cluster of mere trace outlines against the sunlit sky until you get closer and see it's actually a structure built of thick beams the size of masts, lashed together as a building began and abandoned, or else some odd plaything for children to climb atop, which one later learns is or was once intended for great hides to be stretched and dried. A town where a handful of east-west avenues cross but a single north-south street, yet that street changes names multiple times without so much as a traffic sign to warn visitors, so comfortable is the assumption that one must be a native, mustn't one? One imagines being built up when the whaling trade could support a town of such size, and dwindling with the passage of time and the revolutions of the earth out of that era when whaling could support a town like that, before the rise of the petroleum age at once made going to see an expensive proposition and provided a cheap substitute for the whale oil that was the whole point of the venture, before humane causes scowled on the whole practice of whaling and a newly small world pulled away all the children who once might have grown to learn the trade, and one imagines a Northern summer, chilly and short yet bright, inexorably giving way to the long winter of history. And then one imagines the same town being discovered by the industry of international tourism, of a town nearly forgotten to history awakening sleepy-eyed and confused by the thought that Americans, Italians, South Africans would pay to ride along on the ships, the same ones that once hunted whales in these waters, and merely take photographs of them.
A beautiful country. I could say more, I could go on forever saying more---and perhaps I should, perhaps it's not fair that I even should try to wrap up this week in scant paragraphs---but they're announcing our descent into Berlin now. It's odd---I could tell when I really had moved there when flying into New York felt unmistakably like coming home. There's no other home for me, now, but Berlin doesn't feel like that. Not yet, at least; hopefully soon.

Currents:
... reading: The Recognitions. Still. I am... very still.
... listening: Billie the Vision and the Dancers. Everything by them. Especially this one.
... obsessed with: ... pitching a reality show: "Housecat versus Roomba. Two will enter. One will retreat to the top of the dresser and look nervous until dinnertime."

Fahrrad beschaedigt

[Disclaimer:  Due to an unforeseeable sports injury involving the blogging muscle, I have not updated in, to quote one reader, "a bazillion forevers."  Posts previously conceived  and/or composed, including this one, are being processed as quickly as possible and will be released when I goddamn get around to it!  Please note that the time and date of posting bear little if any relation to those of the events recounted.]

So I took a very long bicycle tour the other day, and wouldn't you know it, the bike I bought from a street vendor for thirty-five euros isn't quite the most solidly built thing I've ever put my ass upon.  (That honor, of course, being reserved for yo moms.  Ach, schnappen!)  Anyway, at about kilometer ten or twelve or so in the midst of crossing the street and attempted to make the right turn into the bicycle lane...

... and suddenly felt the front tire wobble out beneath me.  While I'm, mind, more or less flush in the middle of the car lane.  n what turned out to be a minor freeway's on-and-off-ramp.  Thankfully no automobiles were terribly close by and I hobbled to the side of the road, legs stretched out on either side and tilting left and then right 'til sneakers scraped pavement.  

On the sidewalk, the diagnosis was easy to make, even for a layman---the axle that connects the center of the handlebars down through a shaft at the front of the frame and joins the center of the front wheel, evidently the victim of pronounced metal fatigue, had been wrenched 90% of the way around, or far enough that the remaining portion clung on but hung over the side like the top of an opened can of tomatoes.  It was, to put it lightly, not ridable for any farther distance.  

I walked it (slowly, agonizingly, like tourist-visiting-New-York-City slowly) to the nearest S-Bahn stop (which was probably this one, if I recall correctly---out there), bought myself a ticket, bought the wounded bicycle a ticket, and wheeled it to the bicycle shop down the street (mercifully still open).  I picked it up the next afternoon, good as new.

The next weekend I blew out the rear tire.  Not far enough from home to take the train, it still felt like forever to walk it back to the bike shop.  Although this time it was simple enough that I could get it fixed while I did my grocery shopping (conveniently, the store's across the street and I'd brought my bag).  

These two trips, plus the front and rear lights I've had installed, have run to eighty euros plus.  Which is more than double, not quite triple, the original price of the bike.  And if you include the bike lock I bought from another shop, post-purchase investment is 314% of the sticker price.  

Sigh. 

Currents:
... (about to be) reading:  two books by Doris Lessing, whom I just realized I'd never before picked up before.
... listening:  The National's Alligator.  Boxers has two great songs at least and I loved Cherry Tree, that latter an EP, but am finally giving this one a try.  Worth it.
... obsessed with:  the possibility of creating a "Don't"-themed monster-mashup with Foreigner, Pussycat Dolls, Simple Minds, Crowded House, The Human League, ATB and Brazilian Girls (both "Don't Stop"), R.E.M. ("Don't Go Back to Rockville"), Feldberg's "Don't Be a Stranger", et al.  If you're the kind of person who read that last sentence word-for-word, I would bet that now you are obsessed, too.  

Monday, September 28, 2009

Der Gross-Medien Matt

Bad Boy Ygs was in my adopted hometown these past few; go read some of what he has to say.  I note with some comfort that he is typo-prone in two languages.  You will also note the myriad postings occurring before the 7:01 sundown here (1:01pm EDT), meaning he blogged about, inter alia, bagels (!!!) during Yom Kippur.  And for some reason I thought he was Jewish...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Things haven't gone exactly as I'd planned---a wandering, desultory phillipic on why I haven't... what's that, now?

So the posts below promised a bunch of previously mulled posts would all be forthcoming shortly, and they promised it ... well, longer ago than can be called "shortly." My bad; travel obligations have eaten into posting, and I'm now not so sure this blog was really a commitment I could keep to, what with my busy schedule of waking up in or about the morning and then later going to sleep, with two or sometimes three meals filling the remainder. My apologies; no excuses; hope to remedy it son, but in this case at least, past results probably are a good indicator of future performance.

I've been away from the city, and fall came to Berlin before I returned. The air is chilly, and it has that almost-scent that cold air in the fall gets, where you think you smell fireplaces and frost-damp leaves but when you sniff again you can't quite be sure (the olfactory nodes in the brain are the closest related to memory

I've done little since returning other than buy a proper drip coffee maker (the Roommate prefers the superior European coffee you get from a stovetop espresso maker; I can't live without the American-style quantity pot); although I went running again yesterday. (My trail regimen while on the road was interrupted by several injuries to my feet. And also laziness: Fat, drunk, and stupid ain't a way to get through life, but it suffices quite well to get through vacation.)

My new favorite trail is a riverside (well, canal-side) pathway---it's a fair ways away from my house, but it's possible to bike there and chain my Fahrrad to a fence or a street sign, then jog on the path as far as I feel like. It's called Mauerweg, literally "Wall-way," and it follows part of the old Berlin Wall. Right at the beginning is a monument to Chris Gueffroy, the last person shot while attempting to cross into West Berlin, just a few months before the Wall came down. Google Maps doesn't mark the monument but you can spot it here; the small white court and the shadow of the monument are visible in the satellite pic. Certain American conservatives have a weary tendency of accusing their liberal countrymen of being apologists for Soviet abuses, and while I'm leery of validating that narrative, Berlin retains a presence of its history---which in the last century has been an unhappy one---and the immediacy of these sorts of reminders make me feel like I never appreciated the full extent of human misery perpetrated by the SSR governments before moving here. And, I'm sure, I probably didn't.