Jul 18, 2015

Travelogue - Berlin

Berlin lives & breathes history. No other city in the world would have gone through these many transitions in the last 100 years. From the rule of Kaiser William II, Weimar Republic, Nazi rule , war destruction, cold-war divide, re-unification, I wonder what all a 100 year old Berliner would have gone through. A 5 KM radius from Brandenburg Gate bears a number of sights relating to these times and much earlier as well.

The most remarkable thing about Germany that I've felt is the openness to admit mistakes. That is in-built into their culture. And Berlin has beautifully combined this openness & its apology to humanity with symbolism so that it is ingrained in every child who grows up in this city. Every historical memorial has an interesting twist or the other.

Holocaust Memorial - Berlin
Perhaps the most poignant one is the holocaust memorial next to Brandenburg gate.  Built at a staggering cost of about 25 Million Euros by Peter Eisenman , anyone's first reaction would be  - "Is this a staggering waster of money" ? .. But as you explore this and listen to the stories ( Narrated by our wonderful guide Jess  ), you tend to realize the rationale.. You cannot build an eye-candy to 'celebrate' this dark chapter in history of mankind. The idea is that one should feel a hollowness, should spare a thought for the millions murdered, it should leave an uneasiness in your mind -  all for a reason - so that anything like this should never be allowed to repeat.  As you sit back and think about it, I think this monument makes great sense.  Locate quite near to Hitler's bunker ( which is all covered now  - Only a car park is there at the site ),
Site of  Hitler's Bunker
this is a sad reflection of the generation whose life & aspirations were taken away from them

     Neue Wache , Central Memorial for the
victims of  war & dictatorship

The Neue Wache ( New Guardhouse ) is an interesting memorial along the same lines. Originally built during the time of Kaiser William III, dedicated & rededicated
many times, this houses a statue of a mother crying over her dead son in a war. The building has an opening in the ceiling exposing the statue to the changing weather of snow & rain.

Almost opposite to this, is this area called BebelPlatz where Nazis did the infamous book-burnings . An empty shelf underground which can be seen though glass stands as the memorial. Engraved on a plaque next to it - "Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen"  ( "That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people" ) 
East German Mural painting giving a propaganda about how
good life is under Communist Rule

A photograph of an East German uprising crushed by Soviets.
The photo is of the same dimensions as the painting

This symbolism is not just limited to the war era. There is this Mural painting by East Germans depicting " how good" is the life in East Germany during the cold war time. Next to it, there is a photo of the same length which frames a picture of an uprising in East Germany which was crushed by the communist rulers with Soviet backing. 

The area from the holocaust memorial to Check-Point Charlie & beyond is referred as 'Topography of Terror' which has several of the infamous Third Reich buildings of SS, Gestapo & much more. 

Numerous graffiti adorn most of the sections of Berlin wall as well as check-point Charlie.

To sum it up, Berlin beautifully combines history, its apology to the world and sensitizes the current generation of the past . Happened to
At Check-Point Charlie, The military check point separating
Berlin into different zones during the cold war
hear a teacher explaining the Nazi rule, war & its aftermath to a set of school kids. The way they are explaining is by telling the history objectively - telling the kids that our nation made terrible mistakes once upon a time - takes a lot of candidness

There are a large number of museums / exhibitions in the city. We could see Reichstag only from outside as well. To cover this city fully, one would need a full week I think.

Perhaps the city with the most integrated public transport system that I've seen so far. Buses,trams, U-bahn, S-bahn.  If you are physically fit, there is no reason for you to hire a cab to see this city. The 3 day Berliner pass was well worth it with discounts in museum entries as well.

Highly Recommended if you are in Berlin - Original Berlin Walks  . Perhaps the best way to experience this city 

Also , read my visit to a concentration camp memorial @ Dachau , last year

Jul 1, 2015

Travelogue - Prague

"None of us remember how or when we reached back. But all of us reached back hostel at some point in time"   - Overheard from a group of students who were discussing about last night's party. That signifies Prague for the youth .  Perhaps one of the cheapest partying capitals of the world.

Prague @ Night
The first impression that you get once you land in Prague is just like any other modern European city - impressive duty free shops, modern cars, you would find it difficult to spot any of those remnants of socialism or communism.  City is very well connected by a tram, metro & bus service .
Astronomical Clock

What Not To Do in Prague

We took an unplanned cruise through river Vltava which flows through the Czech capital. Perhaps, I'm drawn a lot more into these cruises after the magnificent Bosphorous cruise in Istanbul . Prague has nothing much to offer in this cruise other than Czech Music & good food - and perhaps a few photographic opportunities. So, if you are in Prague, this is something that one should not waste their time & money in.

What To Do in Prague

Take a walking tour escorted by a guide - We did this next morning and was really good. You are taken on top of Prague Castle Hill and from there, you start the walk down all the way seeing the castle, nearby shopping streets , Charles Bridge & Astronomical Clock.

Musicians, Portrait artists & road-side vendors along with the crowd gives sort of an old-life charm to Charles Bridge .A relic of the old Roman Empire -  Kamenný most  as they call in local language -  the bridge is perhaps the most visited landmark in Prague

What captured my imagination in Prague was a different landmark - John Lennon's wall -  
It was interesting to see the outpouring point of protests of an oppressed society. More on this in a separate post later
Charles Bridger @ Night

Franz Kafka lived in Prague . His house is converted into a museum now. If you are into those kind of philosophies, it could be an interesting visit as well

The so called Velvet revolution changed the face of Prague. For Czechs, it was an immersion into the end-less world of opportunities. Its leader & first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia - Vaclav Havell - has a unique place in the heart of people over here. The airport in Prague is named after him.

Prague's beauty is that it is converging point of the new world partying crowd & the old / middle aged crowd who throng to see the medieval part .  It gives an impression that everyone - from the street-side artist to the elite rich can enjoy life here .

May 29, 2015

Game Theory, Nash Equilibrium & Grexit

John Nash died last week. Someone asked me about the significance of his work and the so-called Nash Equilibrium & Game Theory which won him the Nobel Prize. It made me think a while.  Lot of economic theories are just theories with very little practical applications. Is this game theory like that ? 
Much of the geo-political situations , competitive decisions in many industries can be modeled by applying game theory principles. If you model the problem correctly, this can give you pretty good insights into your competitor's strategy & give a lot of structure & logic to your decision making . I could think of no better example than the looming possibility of Greek default & subsequent exit that media has labelled as the Grexit question
But before that, how do you translate / model a problem into a Game Theory situation where we can apply the Nash Equilibrium principles . I stumbled upon a structured approach illustrated very well here 
Its important to understand the modelling part here . You need to model the Co-operate / Not Cooperate aspect into strategies / positions here. You maybe tempted to model Greece's strategy as 'Default on Debt' / 'No Default'. But that,s actually the result of a competitive position , not the position in itself. And once you have modeled the competitive strategies, you need to assign pay-offs ( which can be just a relative number ) to those .
These payoff values are debatable. But as long as those are relatively OK, that serves the purpose ( unless you are getting into the next level of probabilistic calculations there ) 
Now, Identify Greece's best strategy to EU's ' Restructure the debt'  position. That is always to do the fiscal reforms. If you don't do the fiscal reforms, you tend to risk EU's co-operation, potentially fail to repay further installments etc 
What's Greece's best response to EU's 'No restructuring stance'  ? It is still to do the fiscal reforms as unless they do that, they risk defaults, potentially fall out of Euro.
Whats EU's best response to Greece's 'Do the fiscal reform' position ? Their best response is to do the restructuring as, if they don't do that, Greece may still default on its debt inspite of fiscal reforms and  EU / IMF may miss further repayments
EU's best response to Greece's 'No reform' position ? A grexit is a position that everyone wants to avoid at all costs. So, EU's best response is still to restructure the debt so that Greece can continue to pay the reduced debt interest & continue to be in Euro  
So, where do the strategies overlap in ?  Do the reform, Do the re-structure column.  Greece has played its part very cleverly till now. They have made the repayments so far, they have tried some reforms. They are trying to nudge EU & IMF into the Co-operate proposition now. We'll get to know by June - 5 & may be later in the month, whether they reach a ' Co-operate Co-operate' position 
Now, what does John Nash say ? " Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only their own strategy"
So, if they reach a Do the reform - Do the restructure position, no side has got anything to gain by moving off into a different position subsequently.
Let's see how it turns out !