I recently heard on short notice that I would have some time to kill in Frankfurt, and just as I was wondering what to do there, Tim Bray posted something about a recent visit, so I asked him. He suggested the Sachsenhausen district, across the Main River. I booked a room in a hotel near there and wandered around a lot. It was great; I’d certainly do it again.
Sachsenhausen has its own Museum Mile on their side of the river, with a Saturday morning bonus of a large flea market. The only museum I went to was the Communications Museum (Museum für Kommunikation), and I highly recommend it: there’s plenty for geeks, plenty for kids (there were several birthday parties being hosted when I was there, and USA Today actually lists it under Fun for the kids), plenty for everyone.
The histories of television and telephones provide many great exhibits, like this 1961 Kuba Komet TV:
The telegraphy history also had some cool stuff. This input device is truly a keyboard’s keyboard:
The museum had a lot of communications-related art. Europeans seem better at making art-technology connections than English-speaking countries. (I know there are exceptions.) This part of the museum had everything from nineteenth-century paintings to works by Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Joseph Beuys, and Christo. My schedule didn’t allow my planned visit to the Museum für Moderne Kunst, so this part of the Communications Museum gave me my big city fix of modern art. Their temporary exhibition, pong.mythos, was particularly good at combining technical history with artistic interpretations of the roles and potential roles of the first video game to enter modern consciousness on a wide scale.
One of the museum’s many “specialized consumer hardware through the ages” exhibits was a collection of remote control units that could have been duplicated with about 20 euros at the flea market across the street. (Reproducing the “cell phones through the ages” exhibit would have cost about 200 euros.) Among the many old tape recorders and laptops at the flea market was one old computer that I had to take a picture of for my friends at Sun:
When I lived in a New York apartment, I got into the flea market habit of focusing on old photographs, because they take up very little room. While looking through some at the Frankfurt flea market, the guy selling CDs in the next booth was playing some North African pop in which a vocoder-like-Cher-“Believe”-thing was triggered by an EQ filter so that it only affected notes in a certain range, which sounded really cool as the singer did that fast melismatic thing they do in and out of the affected range. I bought the CD, by “Talbi One”, for five Euros (I later found out that YouTube has a video for the CD’s first tune), then went back to the old photos. To replace the CD that I had bought, the guy put on some more Moroccan pop. This tune was much more familiar, because the Chemical Brothers had sampled it for their hit collaboration Galvanize (“The time has come to…") with Tribe Called Quest alumnus Q-Tip: Najat Atabou’s “Hadi kedba bayna” (“Just Tell Me the Truth”). (If you’re interested in hiphop usage of North African pop, check out this background on and mashup of of Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin” and Abdel-Halim Hafez’s original “Khosara”, the song that Timbaland “borrowed” from to create Big Pimpin’s ’s main riff.) “Fünf Euro auch?” “Fünf Euro auch.” She’s really impressive, and the CD is much better than the Talbi One disk.
While in Germany, I also had an interesting insight about a classic German dish. A German co-worker had explained to me that real sauerbraten is beef cooked slowly in a vinegar-based sauce until it’s almost ready to fall apart. When a co-worker from the Philippines (of the seven people on my project team there were two Filipinos and no two others from the same country) ordered a “barbecue” plate, it turned out to really mean “grilled”. As I tried to explain to the others what “barbecue” meant in the States, especially in the south, it hit me: the closest thing to barbecue—North Carolina style, anyway, although they favor pork over beef—in Germany, and maybe in all of Europe, is sauerbraten! Web searches for sauerbraten recipes show other typical barbecue sauce ingredients such as catsup or tomato paste, garlic, peppercorns, onion… and of course you wash the finished product down with beer.
The next time I make some barbecue, I may have to crunch up some ginger snaps in the sauce, which seems to be common in sauebraten recipes. And the sauebraten I had tonight was just great.