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Never having been to Berlin, Germany, I really didn’t have any idea what to expect when we traveled there a week ago for the annual CIES IT Conference. And what I found was a wonderful city, open and expansive, with wide boulevards and beautiful modern architecture and fabulous food, beer and wine. I didn’t have a lot of time to do the tourist thing, but made it my business to visit the Reichstag parliament building, which has been remodeled since World War II but remains a startling reminder of Nazi Germany’s horrors; I also went to the rebuilt Brandenburg Gate, which has been rebuilt but had an amazing photo essay showing how the city has changed over the past decades. Also impressive – the remnants of Checkpoint Charlie, where people traversed between East Berlin and West Berlin during the days of the Berlin Wall, and where there is a small memorial consisting of crosses carrying the names of people who died trying to escape from east to west. And, there is the new and controversial Holocaust Memorial, which consists of 2,700 stone slabs of various sizes through which one can walk and think about the what the Nazi’s tried to do to an entire people – this memorial is both sobering, enthralling and provocative.

And the food…wonderful. There was a traditional beer garden behind our hotel where we enjoyed a couple of quick meals – beer and pizza (which was more like a enormous tortilla with sauce and cheese) one night and beer and lamb chops another – and everything was robust and tasty (and cheap!).

The most amazing meal was one evening at the extraordinary KaDeWa department store in Berlin, which features a food hall that is like Harrod’s with lower ceilings. CIES had a dinner there for the conference delegates one evening, sponsored by IBM, and it was amazing as we all moved from counter to counter partaking of a wide range of cuisines. Being from out of town (the only folks who may have flown farther to get to Berlin were the guys from Bentonville), I settled on the more traditional German cuisine – and enjoyed a spicy potato soup and then an extraordinarily flavorful and tender German blood sausage with potatoes and sauerkraut. The only problem was that the sausage was the size of a Volkswagen, which made it difficult to eat much more (for, like, three days). The beer was unbelievably fresh and cold.

What a week.

The only hard part was that while I was in Berlin on Monday night, the two-hour season finale of “24” was on television here at home. Watching it wasn’t a problem – I had the TiVo set and ready to go – but making sure that I didn’t read any news stories about how it ended was a little more problematic. (You don’t want to invest 22 hours in the suspense and then have a newspaper story blow it for you in the home stretch.) But I avoided the stores and saw the amazing finale – and once again have to say that “24” is amazing television, and this year’s episodes were the best ever.
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