About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

10 October 2007


The old town centre of Bamberg is an UNESCO world heritage site .. that's right - the entire town. Thus it is quite the tourist attraction, and there are quite a number of interesting buildings to be seen. Apart from old houses, there are really three major highlights: old churches, the older town hall and Little Venice.

The old town is built between two major canals, and Little Venice, is the highly decorated, and spruced up section of the old fishing village. With the recent floods accross Europe, I cannot help but wonder at the rationality of living right next to the water, but I suppose it is easier to control the flow of water on a canal than on a river.

While Little Venice is built next to the canal, the older town hall (Rathaus) is built in the middle of the canal. Apart from the unusual architecture of having a building in the middle of the canal, the Rathaus is also highly decorated with paintings on the outside and a number of statues adorning the building and the bridges connecting the Rathaus to the dry land.

I am not sure how religious the people of Bamberg really are, but most likely, the answer is not very. They must have been at one point, because there are so many religious symbols, such as the statue above outside the Rathaus. There are also a number of churches.

Churches, and for that matter, all religious buildings have always facinated me. Especially old ones. They are highly decorated and offer visitors a free art gallery. And apart from wondering at the extent people went to, to raise money and build these buildings, I can also marvel at some of the incredible inconsitencies thrown by the contents in the churches. Take the statue of Zeus, hurling lightning down to the earth while a sleeping Jesus lies below comforted by angels. A mixture of the unholy and holy in almost perfect harmony - I wonder what the religious conservatives of today would think. This is from the St Michael's Benedictine Monastery (founded around 1050, not sure when the work was created and installed).

St Michael has a number of beautiful artwork installations, including the entire roof painted with medicinal plants. The lighting makes it quite spectacular, even without any fancy stained glass windows.

The Imperial Cathedral (Dom) is slightly older, and more well known, particularly for having a papal tomb. While it is certainly majestic, it seems a lot colder and impersonal, and I found St Michael a lot more interesting.

Bamberg is certainly an interesting town to visit and walk around. However, it is not a place which draws you to see it again and again. It does however seem to host a fair share of rock concerts, including Nightwish in their new tour (after I leave Germany :( ). In a city of churches, it is somewhat ironic.

08 October 2007

Way of Darkness II Festival

Germany is well known for hard rock and heavy metal bands, and the vast number of fans of the genre. The chance to attend a heavy metal festival, just a short train ride away in Bamberg was hard to resist, although due to various reasons, I only managed to attend Saturday, and even then, not for the whole 13 odd hours. I did return to Bamberg on Sunday, and I will have a separate post on that later.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself. Yes, it was louder than any concert I have ever been to. Yes, it was a bit weird to be one of the few non Caucasian people in the hall (I did spot two Chinese guys). But this is also Germany - it was the most organised music event I have been to: sets were changed within the allocated 20 minutes, bands stuck to their time limits, sound and lighting were fantastic, refreshment stalls were quick and efficient, and even the merchandise stalls were efficient. Even language was not an issue; primarily because it was an international event featuring bands from a number of different European countries.

Heavy metal music is actually quite fascinating. Despite the colourful names of the songs, there is not much in the sense of lyrics ... it is usually someone screaming into the microphone. And it seems that much the screaming effects are done at the mixing desk, not by the singer himself (well all the screaming frontmen were men), as a number of the frontmen chose to use a separate microphone to talk to the crowd. In fact, I am not too sure what the purpose of the frontman is really ... after all, anyone can scream (and have it distorted accordingly). It is also quite easy to see why heavy metal attracts labels such as satanic: just look at the names of the song: anything and everything on the "wrong" side of morality: illicit sex, drugs, disease, violence and hell. But above all, it is about the show. The show featured many things that I have never seen on stage. Metal music, above all, is about non conformance. And this is what makes it so fascinating.

So with that, a run through the bands that I saw.

Morning Beloveth (Ireland)
I only caught the last part of the act, so can't really say much.

A.O.K. (Germany)
Of all the acts I saw, A.O.K. was the embodiment of non conformance. The performance was, I think, the most fun I have ever seen a band have on stage. It started with a food fight ... started with a song called baguette ... where the one of the lead singers (there are two frontmen) bashes a baguette on his head, while the other throws baguettes into the crowd. And off course the crowd throws the baguettes back. But the food fight carried on, including wieners, lettuce and corn flakes. The food fight between parts of the crowd and the band was hilarious to watch ... esp since the band actually just carried on playing.

It did not stop at the food fight either ... first the front men mooned the crowd, and eventually ended up prancing naked on the stage, head banging during the last part of their show. If nothing else, A.O.K embodied what is different about heavy metal.

Exrementory Grindfuckers (Germany)
They were not as impressive as A.O.K, and coming in after them must have been difficult. There was one highlight though: a duet, in English (a love song to boot) with a female singer (I presume from a band that played earlier). The lyrics were quite funny actually ... although I can't remember the details.

Rompeprop (Netherlands)
This was the first foreign band, and it featured the biggest moshpit I have seen - in size and number of participants. The hall was fairly large, and the mosh pit took a significant portion of the audience space.

Delirium Tremens (Germany)
While A.O.K's show was about celebrating chaos, this band had the most interesting and impressive stage show. It started off with the frontman emerging wearing what can be best described as medieval armour ... his entire body seemed to be covered with studded clothing ... and massive studs at that. And slowly the show evolved ... two pigs heads appeared, carried by two men wearing hangman’s hoods. After removing himself from the armour, the frontman briefly joined the moshpit, grunting and screaming from the middle of the moshpit, before moving back to the stage to perform some fire breathing. Quite impressive really.

Tyr (Denmark)
Tyr was the replacement band, for the more interestingly named Prostitute Disfigurement. They were by far the most mainstream band of the evening ... playing music much closer to the likes of Metallica and the like i.e. more heavy rock than heavy metal. Musically, it was the performance I enjoyed listening to the most.

Fleshcrawl (Germany)
One of the main bands of the festival, it embodied all the screaming and heavy riffs and drumbeats. In fact listening to them, I was wondering what the border was between noise and music ... and for the first minutes of their set, I think it was more noise than music. But they are really impressive musicians, and I think part of the problem, from my view anyway, was the screaming. Unlike the previous bands, Fleshcrawl did not have any on stage antics. And the music was actually quite impressive, especially when the frontman shut up :)

They were the main band of the day, playing a 80 minute set. Unfortunately, to catch the last train out of Bamberg, I had to leave sometime in the middle, so when the band took a break in their set (after 40 odd minutes), I decided to leave. Simply put, they were a better version of Fleshcrawl and Tyr put together. Their music was brilliant, especially when their songs required solos, and their songs were more than just screaming. In fact, I even recognised a few :). It was easy to see why they were the headline act, and I wish I could have seen more of them. But the next train out of Bamberg was at 5am the next morning, a whole 2 and bit hours after the last act was scheduled to finish.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself, and I would consider going to another metal festival ... but only if it is organised by Germans :p

Banking Crisis

No, this post is not about the credit crunch. On that front, I am not surprised. After all, how many emails have you received offering low cost mortgages and low interest credit cards? Just like viagra and penis enlargement, some people must be taking up these offers.

For the past month, I have had no access to my savings or current accounts through the Internet portal at Standard Bank (SA Bank account). At first, it was because of scheduled downtime, but it did not appear, long after the downtime was over. And, despite emails to the Internet banking team, nothing seemed to be resolved. Anyway, after 4 weeks, I got an email from the email support unit saying that I had to go to a local branch to get it resolved ... and the email acknowledged that was going to be difficult seeing that I was on a different continent.

So, I loaded up my Skype account, got myself to one of my regular net cafès (luckily the weather was good, so I could sit outside ... I did not know, how long I had to rant at the operator) and got on the phone. Predictably, the customer service, at first could not help ... since it was a Saturday noon, despite advertising support number that operates until 4pm. Eventually, after about 20 minutes (bow down to Skype ... it still costs less than 5 minutes of a cell phone call in either South Africa or Germany), I found out that my savings and current accounts (not my credit or notice deposit accounts) were closed due to FICA reasons; so I was directed to the FICA helpdesk.

The FICA helpdesk could not work out what went wrong either. They mentioned that someone at the Musgrave branch in SA loaded a FICA related notice on the 17th of July, but I was already in Berlin, a full 6 days after I went to the Musgrave branch to buy foreign exchange and put a change of address notice (complete with the relevant FICA documentation). It is also about three weeks before I noticed problems my account. It was also distressing that I was not notified at all about this, considering the amount of money I have in the accounts. However, the FICA rep could not help me on a Saturday, but did promise me to get it sorted out first thing Monday morning.

Which she did - Monday morning, it seems it is all sorted out, and I can access my accounts again. The main downside to all this - I have to fork out about R2 000 (approx 200 €) more in flights and accommodation costs for my conference travels this month (ACM DRM in Washington DC and Virtual Goods in Koblenz). I still have no idea what went wrong, and why my accounts were suspended. It is at times like this, that I really miss 20Twenty.

And to really put the situation in crisis mode - I had no access to my German bank account either, and with sorting out the visa, I had all of 5€ in total on Friday night. My Deutsche Bank account provides me with two cards: a savings card and a current card. But these accounts are different, and not linked. Furthermore, the current card expires ... as it happened on Friday. So, since I had no money in my savings account (which has since been resolved) and my access to my current account disabled, and no open bank offices over the weekend, I was in a really financial distress. Luckily, I had some US dollars on me, and I got on a bus to Nuremberg (they don't check to see if you have a ticket on the bus), changed my dollars to Euros, and managed to ride out the weekend (quite well too ... see my other posts this week).

So in summary ... it is possible to live life without bank accounts, as long as you have cash in hand. US dollars seem like the best bet, but I saw that the forex office also buys and sells Krugerrands. I think, above everything else, that could be the best cash equivalent of them all.