The other day I decided to try an experiment. I bought identical chicken breasts. Two organic, two normal. I wanted to see if I could tell the difference between them after they were cooked.
The normal ones didn’t list ingredients, so I don’t know if they add saltwater or preservatives or whatever. This is socialist Germany, so I’m assuming this package would have to have a little red siren on it if they did.
Given the generally high meat quality on this continent, I feel like the organic breasts sort of need to ‘splain why they’re almost three times more expensive.
Maybe it’s just the lighting, but I must admit, the organic breasts looked nicer raw. They have clearly been bred to conform to the golden ratio, whereas the non-organics are shaped like Bolivia.
I kept the cooking method simple: Dried on paper towels, salted and peppered, fried in butter.
Verdict: The organic breasts tasted noticeably better. More juice, more chickeney flavor, less athletic little sinew to get stuck in your teeth.
But the real question is whether the slightly superior taste is worth the significantly higher price. And the answer, obviously, is fuck no. On the basis of this experiment, I’m definitely gonna keep eating non-organic chicken. Sorry planet, I tried.
It’s too big and complicated to understand in just seven days. I am very blind, and it is very an elephant.
My friend remarked ‘I think I actually know more about North Korea than South Korea’, which is a little weird but a little true.
But this is the internet, so I’d like to share my uninformed observations and premature conclusions.
First: Korea is hella developed-er than you expected. Per capita GDP is higher than Spain and Italy, and just a tad below Japan.
Trains, buses and boats run often and on time, augmented by ubiquitous bilingual touchscreenery.
There’s no graffiti anywhere, and by all accounts South Korea has petty crime like Greenland has chopsticks.
You get the feeling people from Seoul come to European cities and go ‘how do they live like this?’
The most amazing thing about the living standards here is how quickly they happened.
Before the Korean war, the north was the peninsula’s industrial powerhouse, and the south was the backwards, agricultural Redneck Belt.
South Korea doesn’t have any natural resources, and only 40 percent of the land is even arable.
After the war, with all the country’s industrial output locked up above the 38th parallel, South Korea shoved all its resources into infrastructure and industry.
And basically stole the ‘we work hard for cheap!’ market from Japan, which had done the same thing 10 years before.
In the same way you walk around Berlin and marvel that everyone your parents’ age lived through three decades of political division, in Seoul you’re staggered by how different life must have been here just a generation ago.
Anyone born before 1945 experienced Korea as an exploited Japanese colony, then a Cold War bargaining chip, then a military dictatorship and now an enviable diorama of shopping malls, tech companies, earbuds and functioning democracy.
As a tourist in 2012, meanwhile, I experienced South Korea primarily as an inaccessible culture beset with a baffling variety of pickles.
My presence there was equal parts serendipity and curiosity
so it was difficult to decide how to spend the few days I had.
Between meals, there aren’t many ways to participate in a culture where you don’t speak the language or know any locals.
No matter where you’re looking from, you’re at a distance.
In the end I mostly just walked around zigzaggically.
Humans are incapable of true randomness, so eventually a pattern set in: Church, shrine, mall, church, shrine, mall.
One day I rented a bike and explored the Han River and the riverlets that lead into Seoul’s rolling, infinite suburbs.
If it wasn’t for the canals, I would have had to drop bread crumbs to get back to the city center.
Like visible poverty and non-animated signage, bike lanes are a thing of the past.
According to Wikipedia, Seoul is the world’s 2nd biggest metropolitan area, and the 9th densest.
Or maybe it just feels that way because of the traffic, and the smells.
I happened to be reading a book on chaos theory the week I was there
and by day five, I started thinking that the only way to understand something as big and complicated as Seoul is as a fractal diagram.
No matter how much you zoom in, there’s just as much detail as last place you looked from.
So you lean forward, or you lean back. And reach for another pickle.
This weekend I got a tour of Le Corbusier's famous apartment block. I'll tell you what I learned:
Four identical buildings were built, two in Germany and two in France. Each is slightly adapted to its setting.
The French apartments, for example, have slightly lower ceilings since French people are shorter than Germans. Corbusier wanted the ceilings low enough so that residents could paint them without standing on a ladder.
I know it sounds like I'm making that up, but it's true. Architects are weird little dictators sometimes.
The Berlin apartments were built in 1957, as ammunition in a war of aesthetics between East and West Berlin.
Corbusier is often blamed—fairly or unfairly, what the hell do I know?—for the trend of up-built project blocks surrounded by empty green space.
In spite of all the criticism that idea receives, our guide insisted that this particular model was successful. The apartments are all occupied, there's a long waiting list.
Almost all of the apartments span two floors. Most of them consist of a narrow kitchen and living room above (or below, depending on which floor they're on) a big-ass bedroom.
The trim pattern is standard across all four Corbusier buildings, but the colors are customized to the location. These are apparently meant to evoke Northern Germany.
Indeed, staring at these you can almost smell a currywurst rotating.
All of the railings are specifically designed to be at chest-height of the average German.
The building is designed to face precisely north-south, to maximize the amount of sunlight that comes in.
The font is Corbusier's; the doodle, not.
The hallways have special corrugated roofs to reduce the echo effect you find in every other apartment hallway ever.
The walls between the apartments are thicker on the lower floors, since they're supporting more weight.
The apartments were built to isolate noise, but apparently Corbusier forgot about smells, and residents routinely complain about experiencing each others' dinners.
The laundry room was deliberately built too large for its purpose, so residents have to mingle with one another.
So the main thing I learned? If architects ran the world, our lives would be different in a number of ways. But mostly our laundry, our ceilings and our smells.
It's big and historic and charming, and you get the feeling that if it was in another country, it would be a majorer tourist attraction.
But since Germany is already so sardined with cute cities, it's like 12th on everyone's list.
The list of former residents reads like Germany's greatest hits: Bach! Mendelssohn! Schumann! Kafka! Wagner! Leibniz! Goethe!
The rich history informs current lifestyles. In the malls, all the dollar stores are called Faustian Bargains.
The bike share scheme is called The Ride of the Valkyries.
And the gyms have signs outside that say 'Metamorphosis!' in the imperative form.
OK, those are lies, but people here probably get those references.
Leipzig has the same basic biography as most of Berlin's surrounding cities:
City founded in random location un-near river, lake or major trade route.
City gains reputation through robust university and cultural life.
City significantly bombed in World War II.
City restored to snowglobe status by East German government.
The particulars are where it gets interesting. This is the monument to when Leipzig beat Napoleon in 1813. It's shaped like a middle finger, and the Latin inscription reads 'How's the weather on Elba, punk?'
The statues inside depict sullen teenagers, as a tribute to Germany's youthful soldiers at the time.
Shortly after this was built, Leipzig became famous for cotton production, pastries and Nazi resistance.
And you can still find two of the three here today.
In the '80s, Leipzig was a site of major resistance to the East German regime. Nowadays it's an overstuffed college town, full of students and artists gliding around on bike paths.