A brief tour of Budapest

I know, it’s a bit off-topic for a Berlin blog — das Berlin blog — but it’s where I was this weekend. Here goes:

The train station, my first glimpse of Budapest, looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1950s:

By contrast, Castle Hill, the main attraction on the quiet Buda side of the Danube, is quite lovely:

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Everyone: ‘Germany’s the greatest!’ Greeks: ‘No, actually, we’re the greatest.’

A new poll out from Pew today shows that despite Germany’s insistence on austerity and reluctance to deepen its financial exposure to its neighbors, it remains by far the most respected country in Europe. Citizens of every European country rank Germans as the hardest-working Europeans — well, every country but one:

The British, Germans, Spanish, Poles, and Czechs all see Greece as the laziest country and Germany as the most industrious. The Greeks say they’ve got it backwards. (And to be fair, they’ve got some evidence on their side: In 2010, the average Greek worker worked 2,109 hours, to just 1,419 for the average German worker.)

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Merkel bumbles her way through

This is a very well-written take on Angela Merkel’s clumsy approach to the euro crisis and politics more broadly.

Two things I witnessed today that you’re not likely to see in America

1. In the drugstore: A woman paying for a pack of toilet paper with a 500-euro bill.

2. In the supermarket:

Customer: Do you sell bagels?

Employee: Do we sell what?

Customer: Do you sell bagels?

Employee: Oh, you mean those rolls?

Altbier v. Kölsch: The showdown

One of the nice things about a weekend trip to Düsseldorf and Cologne was that I got to sample both sides of Germany’s fiercest beer rivalry.

In Düsseldorf, they drink Altbier. In Cologne, they drink Kölsch. They do not mix and match.

The irony, of course, is that Altbier and Kölsch are actually rather similar. They are both brewed using the old top-fermentation method, and are served in small glasses. Your waiter will continue to bring you refills, and tally the number of beers you’ve consumed on your coaster, until you put the coaster on top of the glass.

Not that you can’t picture a small glass and a coaster, but here’s a glass of Kölsch I drank on the Cologne waterfront:

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A whiff of Cologne

On my way back to Berlin from Düsseldorf, I thought I’d stop at one of the many cities that form the Rhine-Ruhr cluster in North Rhine-Westphalia. And soon as I stepped outside the train station in Cologne, I knew I’d chosen the right one.

This view greeted me immediately upon exiting the station:

The Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral, is one of the two or three most magnificent churches I’ve ever seen. Work on the cathedral was begun in the 13th century, but not completed until 1880. It survived World War II mostly intact while most of the city was leveled (see this photo), possibly because the allied bombers hoped to continue using its twin spires — the second-tallest church spires in the world — as a navigational landmark. It’s the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and the tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world.

And it’s truly something to behold. Unfortunately, my photos can’t quite do it justice, since I had tremendous difficulty fitting the massive thing in my frame (despite some creative climbing efforts). But here’s a little sampling of views of the cathedral’s exterior and interior:

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The joys of Düsseldorf — no, really!

This weekend, I traveled to Düsseldorf to hang out with a band of pirates.

The occasion was the state of North Rhine-Westphalia’s election for state parliament. And the upstart Pirate Party was set to secure enough votes to enter its fourth consecutive statehouse — this time, in the country’s most populous state.

My story on the Pirates will appear in the LA Times in the next few days. But I thought I’d give you a quick visual preview of my experiences in Düsseldorf.

It may surprise you to learn that Düsseldorf, which I’d previously thought of as an airport, was named the city with the fifth-highest quality of life in the world last year. And it turns out to be a rather lovely place.

Unfortunately, it’s a convention city, and I was there during convention time, which meant I had to overpay for an under-quality hotel. But even funky Hotel Fürstenhof was on a gorgeous little square. The view from my window:

The city lies on the Rhine River, and is best known for the area along its waterfront:

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