Internet Findings of the Week for June 26, 2015

I found an interesting mix of things this week, including film news, cultural discussions and scientific breakthroughs.

Video of the week

My Hijab has nothing to do with Oppression. It’s a feminist statement.

Twenty-two-year-old muslim student Hannah Yusuf wants the world to know why she wears a hijab or head-scarf. She says she chooses to wear it, and it is not a sign of oppression. She finds it liberating in that she is not judged by her looks and doesn’t have to conform to society’s requirements for women to look a certain way. She says it’s true that many women are forced to cover up and wear hijabs, but people shouldn’t assume that all women are forced to wear it. Many choose to wear it as a form of empowerment.

Excitement of the week

First Photos from New Ghostbusters Movie Set

The original Ghostbusters HQ in NYC. Photo by Rob Young via Wikimedia Commons

I only just found out this movie is being made here in NYC! And starring three amazing female comedians! The original Ghostbusters movie starred three male comedians, Bill Murray, Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis, and was awesome. I think this is a fantastic idea to remake it with women leads. I have been a big fan of Kristen Wiig for a while. She is a brilliant actress, a hilarious comedian, and talented writer (she wrote and produced the film “Bridesmaids”). I discovered the versatile Kate McKinnon watching Saturday Night Live – she is equally convincing playing both Justin Bieber and Hillary Clinton. And the third comedian Melissa McCarthy is one of those comical people who shows up in all sorts of interesting TV shows and films (like Gilmore Girls and The Hangover Part III). I am so excited to see the new Ghostbusters film!

Podcast of the week

Antibodies Part 1: CRISPR

E Coli bacteria. Photo by Mattosaurus via Wikimedia Commons

A type of common bacteria called E Coli has shown scientists that it is possible to easily edit DNA. This easy-to-understand and often funny podcast explains how it is now technically possible for scientists to add in or exchange genes in an organism’s DNA and easily change the characteristics of that organism. They can pinpoint the exact gene they want to edit, and replace it. I find it fascinating that this is possible. And scientists say it will have amazing implications for genetic medicine and curing cancer. But it could also be dangerous and negatively affect evolution if done incorrectly. This method of editing DNA is called CRISPR. I like the name as it sounds like my last name.

Worry of the week

Exposure to mixture of common chemicals may trigger cancer

This is scary because scientists are saying that chemicals humans are exposed to can mix together inside the body and cause diseases like cancer. But the scariest thing is that they don’t seem to know yet which chemicals are mixing and how we can avoid them. Scientists plan to start testing combinations of common chemicals soon.

 

Internet Findings of the Week for June 19, 2015

This week my findings, although varied, are all quite serious or thought-provoking issues.

Article of the week

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Programmed to Kill You?

Google_self-driving_car_in_Mountain_View

Photo by Mark Doliner via Wikimedia Commons

Google, Mercedes, Audi, Daimler and others are currently developing computer-driven cars. Now an ethical debate has arisen over how to program self-driving cars to react when a collision is unavoidable. What happens if the car has to decide between swerving into a bus of people or hitting a pedestrian? Will it use utilitarian ethics to cause the least harm to the most people, or will it be programmed to choose randomly in these situations to reduce any blame on the programmers? For me as a philosophy and ethics major, it is an interesting issue and one I am keen to follow to see what happens. Although apparently, driver error causes 94% of all crashes, so if all cars on the road at any time are computer driven then the collision rate should be statistically lower.

Podcast of the week

As Global Population Grows, Is The Earth Reaching The ‘End Of Plenty’?

Photo by Alosh Bennett via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Alosh Bennett via Wikimedia Commons

This is a worrying topic – that food production can’t keep up with the pace of population growth. This podcast is about journalist Joel Bourne’s book “The End of Plenty” about exactly that. He talks about how growing animals for meat is not sustainable, because you have to grow the grain to feed them as well. Inefficient use of water is also a problem, especially in areas with droughts or water shortages. He also talks about new, possibly more efficient, ideas for producing protein such as deep-sea fish farms. But what he doesn’t talk about is the huge amount of food that is wasted every day. This is an issue that is very current right now, with a new documentary coming out called Just Eat It which claims that 50% of edible food is wasted every day. A new supermarket also opened recently which sells food that other supermarkets were going to throw out.

Issue of the week

Frozen Human Eggs

More and more women seem to be freezing their eggs for one reason or another. Some freeze them because they have an illness which could damage their ovaries and they want to be able to conceive after they get better. Others want to delay motherhood and focus on their careers, so they freeze their eggs while they are young to try and increase the likelihood of having a healthy baby at a less-than-optimum age for conceiving. There are new issues with these practices every day. A woman in the UK died of cancer, leaving behind unused frozen eggs, then this week her bereft mother tried unsuccessfully to get permission to use those eggs to give birth to her own grandchild. In May this year “Modern Family” actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-boyfriend had a dispute about whether to destroy fertilized eggs they had frozen before they broke up. But there are other issues as well about how reproduction is now going to be explained to children, when there is more than one way to conceive a child. Musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates give a very crude (and negative) but funny suggestion of what a parent might have to tell their clinically-conceived child:

Internet Findings of the Week for June 12, 2015

Here is a rather eclectic mix of things I’ve been watching/reading/clicking on this past week.

Videos of the week

Seth brings Jon Snow to a dinner party


For anyone who watches Game of Thrones and is becoming wearied of all the blood, gore and unjust death, this is the video to cheer you up. Late-night talk show host Seth Meyers some how managed to get the real Jon Snow to transcend time and reality to come to a dinner party in America. Unfortunately Jon’s knowledge of 21st-century small talk is non-existent and it makes for a hilarious and awkward situation.

NikkieTutorials – The power of makeup


I don’t usually watch makeup tutorials. I’m not the biggest fan of makeup because I hate taking it off at night, and if I wear it too much I get pimples/zits. I also think women shouldn’t be expected to wear makeup all the time, and society’s perception of what makes a woman pretty needs to change. But this video is very interesting because it shows how jaw-droppingly different you can look with and without makeup. When impressionable young people see celebrities looking flawless, and they feel unhappy because they themselves don’t look like that, I have two responses:

  1. These celebrities usually have amazing makeup artists who make them look that good. So people shouldn’t compare their natural-looking selves (or their peers) to these extremely made-up people, and realise that these people do not wake up looking like this.

  2. People should know that it is possible for anyone to get that “flawless celebrity look” if they have the right tools, makeup, tutorials and time to spend getting that look.

#Hashtag of the week

#distractinglysexy

This is a brilliant hashtag that female scientists are using to get back at Nobel prize winner Sir Tim Hunt for the sexist comments he made. He reportedly said: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.” Now hundreds of female scientists around the world are posting pictures of themselves working hard in labs to mock Hunt’s warped perception of working with women.

Article of the week

How corporate cult captures and destroys our best graduates

This article caught my eye because I saw many of my brightest and most interesting peers head into corporate jobs like accounting, finance and corporate law. Many of them displayed great creativity in the arts, or great scientific minds while at high school, but for some reason they felt their talents would be best used for corporate jobs and that’s how they chose what to study at university. Many of them were given scholarships to study accounting, finance or law, usually financed by a company that wanted to employ them. There seems to be a perception that these are the most prestigious jobs that anyone can have. But are they satisfying or fulfilling? The world needs more scientists, innovators and creative-thinkers. But it seems the monetary reward of these finance jobs are just too hard for people to resist.

Internet Findings of the Week for June 5, 2015

Here are the things I’ve been reading/watching/making this week from the internet!

Article of the week

New grocery store sells food discarded by supermarkets

Dumpster-non

Photo by Niteowlneils via Wikimedia Commons

This is the kind of thing all cities need. So much edible food is wasted every day, even though there are food shortages and hungry people all over the world. An ex-Trader Joe’s manager has started a new nonprofit grocery store in Boston which sells food close to its expiry date, that other grocery stores would have thrown away. I’ve read a lot about dumpster divers and freegans since I’ve been living in New York, but that can be illegal. This new grocery store is a way to save that food, and distribute it cheaply and legally to those who really need it.

Video of the week

Three “Potentially Habitable” Planets For When We Completely Destroy Earth

A very interesting look at which planets in the universe have the potential to be suitable for human life. It made me think of the Christopher Nolan film “Interstellar”. The film is set in a time when Earth is becoming increasingly unpleasant to live upon, so a group of astronauts venture into another galaxy to check out some planets which, from a distance, appear to be habitable. In real life, we have to hope that governments and corporations will actually reduce global warming before this happens, but it’s fascinating (not quite comforting) to think that there could be other places humans could go if Earth became unbearable.

Ebook of the week

Rebel With a Cause by Ray Avery

I’m about three quarters through this intriguing autobiography ebook about scientist, social entrepreneur and inventor Ray Avery. I interviewed this fascinating man a few years ago for a story about third world baby incubators, and was very impressed by how kind and intelligent he was. So I was shocked to read about his absolutely horrific childhood in England. At a young age he was taken away from his abusive parents, and shuffled between disgusting orphanages and foster homes, before he eventually used his naturally creative and entrepreneurial mind to find his own successful path in life. He has a wonderful writing style and way of phrasing things. It’s a compelling and inspiring read. Profits from the hard copy of the book go to Avery’s charity Medicine Mondiale.

Recipe of the week

Beginner Sourdough Sandwich Loaf

Sourdough loaf 2

My freshly baked bread

I baked my first sourdough loaf today and it was delicious. It was also my first time using our amazing KitchenAid mixer to make bread. I made the sourdough starter about two weeks ago, and since we have guests staying I decided it was time to try it out. The sourdough starter was easier to make than I expected, but I used it to make sourdough pancakes last weekend, which didn’t taste sour at all. I think waiting another week to make bread was a good idea because today’s loaf was a lovely texture and had just the right amount of sour taste. It was pretty quick and easy to make too! The dough took about 10 minutes to make, then I just left it to rise overnight. I popped it in the oven when I woke up in the morning so we could have warm bread for breakfast.

Internet Findings of the Week for May 29, 2015

Here are my picks of the most interesting things I’ve come across on the internet this week!

Podcast of the week

A Neurosurgeon Reflects on the ‘Awe and Mystery’ of the Brain

Cerebral_lobes

Gutenberg Encyclopedia/Wikimedia Commons

I appropriately discovered NPR’s Fresh Air podcast while running through the fresh air of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park a few weeks ago. I am always interested in anything about the brain, and this podcast is fascinating, albeit quite gory and graphic. British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh describes, in wonderfully easy-to-understand detail, many of his notable experiences as a brain surgeon. He laments many failures where patients often died, but also enthuses about his passion for constantly learning more about how the brain works. Compelling things I learnt: the brain itself can’t feel pain; some patients stay awake and watch their own brain surgery on a screen; scientists still don’t know what some parts of the brain do.

Videos of the week

Groundskeepers Turn into Acrobats


I wish I had seen this live! On an April day in NYC, some workers tending to the lawn in Bryant Park (near the New York Public Library) suddenly dropped their gardening tools and appeared to spontaneously start an acrobatic routine! I love that random things like this happen in this city! There are so many talented and creative people. This stunt was done by an awesome group called Improv Everywhere which regularly coordinates amusing, surprising and unexpected performances around the city.

War and Tensions in the Middle East Traced Back Decades


If you’re wondering why western countries feel a duty to intervene in tensions in the Middle East, then watch this video. Although very simplified, it gives a great overview of how the problems Middle Eastern countries are facing now could be rooted in decisions made for the region by westerners following World War I.

Recipe of the week

Vegan Coconut Bacon

My delicious homemade coconut bacon.

My delicious homemade coconut bacon.

I first tried this scrumptious stuff as part of a vegan BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) sandwich at Little Bird Unbakery in Auckland, New Zealand. At the time it didn’t even occur to me that I might be able to make it myself. Then last week, wanting to make a vegetarian Cobb salad, I decided to go on a mission to make it. I finally found a key ingredient for it on Tuesday this week – liquid smoke. My first attempt turned out perfectly! Coconut bacon is far more delicious and flavorful than any type of meaty bacon I ever tasted before I became vegetarian. It’s also low-fat and cholesterol free!

 

Internet Findings of the Week for May 22, 2015

This is the first in a weekly series where I will be writing about the most interesting things I have come across on the internet in the past week. They aren’t necessarily new or recent things, but just things that I found particularly memorable or interesting.

Website of the week

HitRECord.org

HitRecord.com

This website is fantastic! I follow sexy actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, 3rd Rock from the Sun etc) on Twitter and often see him tweeting about something called “Hit Record”. I was reading it like the phrase to describe a top-selling music album, and half-wondered what his connection to music was. Today he tweeted about a “tautogram” competition – which piqued my interest. So I clicked on the link and finally went to this mysterious website. And it’s this amazing collaborative creativity website founded by JGL himself! Where people upload videos, writing, sound clips and photos to collaborate and contribute to projects. And if something you contributed ends up in a Hit Record production, you can get royalties from it. And just for the record, Hit Record, is actually using the verb to record, not the noun record.

Videos of the week

Meet Brooklyn’s Hasidic Hipsters

I was so intrigued to come across this awesome little video about a group of people who live in my own Brooklyn neighbourhood of Crown Heights. I see Hasidic people every day, and have noticed their distinctive style of clothing, but I never knew the reason behind their style. This piece delves into the world of two Hasidic women and how they express their personal style within the limitations of their religion. It was heartwarming to see how their pursuit of edgy, yet modest fashion, brought them together with women of all races and religions.

Jade’s Journey Marked by Drugs and Death


I am utterly shocked at what is happening in Myanmar to feed China’s desire for jade jewelry. I have a few pieces of jade jewelry, some of it from New Zealand (greenstone/pounamu), and some of it probably from Myanmar, so I was compelled to watch this short doco. It links the spread of HIV in small mining Myanmar mining villages, right back to China’s increasing demand for jade. Miners struggling to carry on in horrific conditions are tempted into taking heroin to help them get through. Now there are countless addicts without proper rehabilitation clinics, and needle sharing has led to an HIV outbreak.

Article of the week

An injured toucan is getting a 3D printed beak

I love it when technology and real-life needs collide like this. A gorgeous toucan in Costa Rica had his beak hacked off by some unknown animal-haters, and now an Indiegogo campaign has raised $10,000 to fund a new beak! The beak will be made by Denver, Colorado-based Orthopets, which specialises in orthotics and prosthetics for animals. So happy for Grecia the toucan!

14 Resources That Women in Tech Should Know About

This post was first published on Tech Cocktail

With women only making up an estimated 12 percent of software engineers in the United States, and a growing shortage of software developers, momentum is gathering to encourage and show women that they can succeed in technology roles. Grants, scholarships, intensive developer courses and support networks are helping women realise their potential, get qualified and out into the workforce.

So why aren’t there more women already?

One of the problems which may be preventing women from getting into tech is “imposter syndrome”. She++, a documentary about women in tech, explains that girls who are just beginning in the field often worry that they can never catch up with men who have been coding most of their lives. “It was just very intimidating to be around all these people who could just hack out code and I was just struggling to write my first hello world programme,” Shubha Nabar, a development lead at Microsoft says in the documentary. But now things could be getting easier for women.

Intensive developer courses

To help encourage and fast-track women into the tech workforce, a number of organizations are offering incentives and scholarships for intensive short courses, often suitable for beginners.

Dev Bootcamp, a crash course in web development which launched in 2012, has already noticed the untapped potential of encouraging women into technology. Dev Bootcamp New York director Lloyd Nimetz is seriously concerned about the lack of women in the industry and wanted to do something about it. “We recognize that institutionalized sexism continues to limit women’s success in the technical workforce and often discourages entry.” For the nine-week courses at the San Francisco, Chicago and New York campuses, Dev Bootcamp offers both a $500 diversity scholarship for women, and in partnership with professional women’s’ group Levo League, a $2500 women’s scholarship. Nimetz says gender diversity is very important at Dev Bootcamp and the team wants it to be the norm. “While many of these forces are beyond our control, we believe that the first step is to acknowledge this reality and take some action towards addressing it. Doing nothing will only perpetuate inequalities.”

The Hackbright Academy runs an intensive 12-week software engineering program which is just for women. The founders of the Silicon Valley-based academy say “we want to do our part to equalize the imbalance, and we felt that a program exclusively for women was a good place to start”. The academy offers one full scholarship each quarter, and offers a $3000 refund to students if they get a job with a partner company.

Tech education hub General Assembly also regularly offers discounted courses and partial scholarships to women, and in the past has partnered with both Girl Develop It and Young Women in Digital to make it happen.

University grants and scholarships

For female high school students just thinking about their career paths in tech, there are also a lot of options. Each year Google’s Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship gives financial support to selected women studying computing and technology at undergraduate and graduate level. Borg worked to educate people, especially women, in the importance of technology and founded the Institute for Women and Technology in 1997, now called the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She also co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, which is the world’s largest annual gathering of female technologists, and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

The Society of Women Engineers offers a huge range of scholarships both for computer engineering majors and general engineering, in association with companies like Dell, Cisco, Honeywell, IBM, Intel, Texas Instruments and Verizon. Other scholarships and grants for women to study technology-related subjects are offered by Palantir, Microsoft, ESA, National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Individual universities also often offer specific scholarships for women studying IT or computer science.

The future

With so many organisations doing what they can to encourage women into tech, the future looks bright. The She++ documentary points out that by 2020 U.S. businesses will need 1.4 million computer scientists. “We need everyone we can get in this field, if Stanford graduated all its students in computer science, the [Silicon] Valley would hire them all,” Eric Roberts, professor of computer science at Stanford tells the filmmakers. Even The White House has realised getting women involved in tech is important, with Michelle Obama helping to promote “Women in STEM”, an initiative to encourage women to study science, technology, engineering and math. And hopefully soon there will be more strong female role models like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer who will inspire women to follow in their footsteps.

10 last-minute Christmas gift ideas

Don't have time to go to the mall before Christmas? You still have options!

Don’t have time to go to the mall before Christmas? You still have options! (Photo: Imogen Crispe)

What do you get someone for Christmas when you realise it’s too late to go to the mall and too late to wait for something to be mailed (where are those Amazon drones when you need them)? Never fear, you still have options! There is a huge variety of gifts which can be delivered instantly in an email, meaning even Christmas Eve or the early hours of Christmas morning are not too late to get your gift. Print out the information about the gift and pop it inside the recipient’s Christmas card, or if you’re creative make a little personalised gift card for them. If you’re not going to see the person, then you can send the gift in an email with a Christmas greeting.

Here are some great ideas to help you out:

1. Online store vouchers

This is an easy option if you can’t decide on a gift or if you don’t have enough time to find one. Most online stores have good gift card options which can be sent to the recipient via email, or you can print out a copy of the gift card and give it to your loved one personally. Choose their favourite store and select an amount! Some good ones are Etsy, The Body Shop, MYHABIT and Victoria’s Secret.

2. Ebooks and audiobooks

You can easily choose an ebook online and then send it to someone as a gift. You can buy Kindle books as a gift, where a link to download the book will get sent to your recipient. Or if your recipient prefers listening to books on the go, get them a subscription to Audible, where they can choose to download one audiobook per month. Apple’s iBooks Store sells both ebooks and audiobooks for download and although it doesn’t have the option to gift a specific item, you can always send someone an iTunes gift card.

3. Show tickets

This is great for people who love music or theatre. Find tickets to a future musical show, rock concert, play or ballet online. Then buy them and either print out the tickets and give them to your loved one, or email them the instructions for how to pick up the tickets from a box office. A good place to start is your local Ticketmaster site or try Lastminute.com for discounted tickets. For music concerts you can also try Songkick.

4. Charity gifts

Helping someone in need is a great gift for that caring and selfless person in your life. Many charitable organisations around the world allow you to donate to a good cause on behalf of your gift recipient. For example you can buy Christmas gifts from Unicef like vaccinations or mosquito nets which will go to children who really need them. Or Oxfam lets you send goats or chickens to people in third world countries. You can then choose to have a personalised card emailed to you or your gift recipient, telling them what has been donated.

5. Magazine subscriptions

This is an awesome option for anyone who has a favourite magazine. I’ve received subscriptions to Vanity Fair in the past and always loved them. Magazines seem like such a luxury and you can easily order the subscription online by putting your recipients home address in. Order them a 12-month subscription – it will seem like Christmas every month! If you order in December, the first issue will usually arrive in January or February, but you can put a message in the recipient’s Christmas card or send them an email to let them know it’s coming.

6. Dinner

What’s your friend or loved one’s favourite restaurant? Lots of restaurants have gift vouchers available to buy online, and some have a set menu or buffet price so you can make sure the whole meal is on you. If the restaurant insists on posting you a physical gift card which won’t arrive in time for Christmas, you could make your own little card to give them on Christmas day with the details, then give them the actual one when it arrives.

7. Spa vouchers

This is a great gift for both ladies and men, especially if they have had a stressful year! Get them a massage, a manipedi, or a full day of pampering at a spa. Websites like Lastminute.com sell a range of different spa vouchers which can be sent to you or your recipient in an email.

8. A holiday or excursion

If you want to give a special someone a very exciting surprise, why not get them a trip somewhere? From one night in a fancy hotel, to a weekend getaway or wine tasting tour, you can book it all online and email the details to your recipient. Just make sure you book one with flexible dates, just in case your loved one is not available on the dates you’ve chosen.

9. Theme park tickets

Running out of time to find a great gift for your kid or young friend? How about tickets to a theme park? Theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios sell tickets online which you can have sent to you via email, then send them to or print them out for your recipient who can use them whenever is convenient within one year (check the terms and conditions just in case).

10. Fun class

Does your friend love cooking and want to improve? Or have they been complaining about their golf swing? Then the perfect last minute gift is a one-off class. You can book fun classes online for all interests, ages and skill levels including cooking, cake decorating, sport, dancing, art and more. Once it’s booked, just forward on the details or print them out for your recipient.

Mauerpark flea market and karaoke

I’ve been to flea markets before, but never one so festive and absolutely overflowing with stuff. I would describe Berlin’s Sunday Flohmarkt am Mauerpark as a weekly festival. As well as stalls which appear to go on forever, selling a wonderful mix of old and new goods, there are musicians performing in the open grassy area with people dancing and having picnics. And then there is the famous public karaoke amphitheatre where anyone, no matter what their skill level, can have a turn in the spotlight, singing to hundreds of supportive spectators.

History
Mauerpark literally means “Wall Park”, because it used to be part of the Death Strip – the no-man’s land of the Berlin Wall. When the wall fell in 1989, the area was designated as a public space and made into a park. A section of the graffiti-covered wall still stands in the park, one of many pieces of the wall around Berlin that serve as a reminder of the city’s history. The flea markets began in 2004 and the karaoke sessions began in 2009.

Markets
Walking through the endless stalls, I said to my fiancé “wow I really wish I could furnish and decorate a whole house just from these markets”. There was new and old furniture, light fittings, artwork, candelabras, pretty vintage china – you name it, you can find it. I also felt like if I lived in Berlin I would never need to go to a regular clothes shop ever again, as there really are stalls selling every type of dress, shoe, hat, jumper, trouser, warm coat etc that anyone could ever want. If I didn’t have tight luggage restrictions, I would have been tempted to buy a whole new (recycled) wardrobe of clothes (and maybe an actual wardrobe). Costumes abounded – I saw wigs, military uniforms, and dirndls. Other random things for sale included old car number plates, old street signs, bikes, a lot of vinyl records, and vintage costume jewellery. There were also some really cool craft stalls including hand-made jewellery and clothes.

Food
I think I could have spent the whole day at Mauerpark. Wandering around, there is always the smell of a food stall just around the corner. There were the staple Berlin currywurst sausage stalls and Turkish food stalls, as well as freshly baked pizza-like cheesy tarts, traditional German baked goods, and something new for us – quark. We saw people walking around with coloured layers of yummy-looking stuff in a cup with fruit on top and decided we needed to try it. We found the stall which looked like an ice cream stall, but instead of many flavours of ice cream, it had many flavours of quark. I chose coconut, banana and white chocolate, with fruit salad and white chocolate pieces on top. It was delicious. It kind of tasted like creamy thick Greek yoghurt, but less tangy. Wikipedia says it is made by heating soured milk until it starts to coagulate then straining out the liquid. I’ve seen plain quark used like sour cream on jacket potatoes. My fiancé also got a beer and we went to the karaoke amphitheatre to see who was singing.

Karaoke
Hundreds, maybe up to a thousand people were crammed into the stone amphitheatre seats watching brave contenders come out and sing live. The first girl we watched sang “Yellow” by Coldplay. She started off quite quiet, but the audience cheered her on and she gradually got more confident and started to really get into it, albeit a bit off-key. The audience just loved the next girl, Natalia, who strutted her stuff and moved her hips to “Toxic” by Britney Spears. She made a good go of singing it too. A suavely-dressed French guy was up next and sang “Life is Life” by Opus, a song popular at sports games. I’m thinking maybe next Sunday I might have a go myself!

Flohmarkt am Mauerpark is on Bernauer Straße 63-64 and is open every Sunday from 8am to 6pm. The closest station is Bernauer Straße on the U-8.

Oktoberfest 2013: My experience and tips

image

My fiancé and me at Oktoberfest 2013

Wow. What I thought was going to be an over-hyped anti-climax was a fantastic weekend of close-to-civilised merriment, German culture, festive trachten (costumes) and, of course, delicious flowing beer. And that’s saying something, as I usually don’t drink beer. I also discovered there is a lot to know about and organise before you go, so I wanted to share my experience and tips to help out others.

What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is an annual festival held in Munich, Germany and millions of people come from around the world to dress up, dance and drink lots of beer in themed tents. It was first held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of a local prince and princess.

My Oktoberfest tips

  • Try and book a table in a tent. If you can’t book one on an official tent website, have a look on eBay. You may think it looks expensive to pay €400 for one table, but that is for 10 people and includes €30 worth of food and drink vouchers each. It means you can get there later, avoid queues, and sit in a nice area of the tent.
  • If you really don’t want to book a table, either go during the week, or get to your tent of choice at 6.30am or 7am to queue for a table on the weekend.
  • Drink Radler, a mix of lemonade and beer, if you’re not a big beer fan, or you don’t want to get too drunk. The only drawback is they cost the same as a full 1 litre beer (about €9), despite having less beer in them. Alcohol-free beer is also available.
  • If you don’t speak German, I suggest downloading a German dictionary app on your cellphone to look up food on the menus, or make some German friends to help you out!
  • As well as enjoying the beer tents, make sure you check out the awesome rides and games in the amusement park.
  • Take cash as you cannot use credit cards in the tents or at the stalls and amusement rides.
  • If you are buying your costumes, shop around for dirndls (women’s costumes) under €60 and lederhosen (men’s costumes) under €100. If you’re shopping in Munich, shops a bit further from the city centre are cheaper – I saw dirndls for about €40 on Haberlstraße near Goetheplatz.
  • Ladies – make sure you tie your apron strings to correspond with your relationship status. Front right means in a relationship, front left means single, and front centre means you’re a virgin. Tying it at the back means you’re a widow, or a beer server.

My experience
My fiancé and I were lucky enough to be invited to Munich by a lovely German friend we had met in Pisa, Italy (that’s another story) for the first weekend of Oktoberfest. She took us trachten shopping in Berlin a few days earlier, which was an awesome experience in itself. My friend and I had endless fun trying on various cuts of dirndl, until I found a vintage one with the perfect amount of cleavage at the reasonable price of €45. We were a bit shocked at the prices of the lederhosen, so my fiancé decided to just buy the h-shaped braces to attach to some other shorts.
Our journey to Munich began at 4.20am on Friday, when we hopped on the sumptuous ICE train with our bargain €26 tickets – more civilised times cost up to €125 each! We lounged and napped on the comfy leather chairs until 11.30am when we arrived in München (German word for Munich). As soon as we got off the train we saw people wearing dirndls and lederhosen, and every second shop was selling them, even though Oktoberfest didn’t officially begin until the next day. I realised I had got a good price for mine, as most of the dirndls were between €70 to €150.

Oktoberfest day 1
On Saturday we woke up to a beautiful morning, and a traditional Oktoberfest breakfast of beer and pretzels which our German hosts had prepared! The combination of strong coffee and beer first thing was dizzying but delicious! My friend and I spent an hour putting our hair into complicated traditional-style braids before everyone was ready to head for the Weisn (a nickname for the festival) grounds.
It was overwhelming arriving at the expansive area filled with enormous temporary fairground rides and giant beer tents and biergartens. We felt like we fit right in, seeing and smiling at all the other people in trachten. Arriving at midday as we did meant no chance of getting a table in one of the tents, but our German friends had plans to take us to a cute shady biergarten just outside the Weisn area. We met up with other New Zealand and German friends and got our first round of Maß – 1 litre jugs of beer. Or in my case I ordered Radler, a delicious mix of beer and lemonade popular with ladies and anyone who doesn’t want to get drunk too fast. All the beer served at Oktoberfest has to be between 6 and 8 percent alcohol so one Maß of beer is the equivalent of 5 or 6 New Zealand standard drinks or closer to eight UK drink units. I think I had three jugs of Radler on Saturday, which was a good amount spread out over about six hours. In the evening we explored the Weisn grounds – had a dance in a cocktail tent, went on the bumper cars, shot some targets and watched our friends do a vertical fear fall. After drinking all day everyone was keen to get home early-ish, have some food and go to bed.

Oktoberfest day 2
On Sunday our friends had reserved a table in Löwenbrauhaus tent. It was unbelievably awesome! We had to be there by midday to get the table, which was up on a raised area far away from the rowdy drunken tourists (mainly Australians and New Zealanders), and with a great view of the 20-something-piece live band/orchestra. I decided it was time I had a proper 1 litre of beer. It was actually really delicious and easy to drink. I think German beer must be especially good. And all the Oktoberfest beers are brewed in Bavaria – the region of Germany where Munich is.
I was feeling pretty tipsy after one full Maß, and really getting into the songs our German friends were teaching us. “Ein prosit, ein prosit, gemütlichkeit” was a favourite, meaning “a toast, a toast, a cosy time”. Another one was something about jumping and swimming and had an easy “la la la la la” part in it. After that I stuck to Radlers, but others who carried on with full beer felt the consequences!
We ended our day on the haunted house ride in the Oktoberfest grounds. It was cheesy but fun!