Pulling down Berlin’s history

When we were in Berlin last year, a man sat down with us at a Bavarian restaurant and asked us how we liked the city.

We were thinking of moving there, we told him. We loved it: the way it felt, the cafes on the streets, the energy of change and art. He shrugged, and agreed, but only half-heartedly. Berlin is always trying to be a world city, he said (a Weltstadt). Not like Paris, or London. There is never any question there, he said. They don’t have to proclaim it.

Fair enough. And yet we’re going because it is a Weltstadt, because of its place in history, not because of its hotels and four-star restaurants and Armani stores. Forget that; it’s the squats and cafes in Friedrichshain that make it live.

A writer in the New York Times bemoans the deconstruction of the Palace of the Republic, an East German mall-slash-parliament-hall that was built to hold government meetings and let the workers go bowling downstairs. After much debate, it’s being torn down so that a replica of an old palace can be built instead.

Insecurity, says Nicholas Kulish. A shame to forget real history, even if it is unsexy and unpleasant, in order to romanticize the past. All true; and yet there is something interesting about that insecurity, something that gives the city more dynamism than Paris or London. After all that’s happened, Berlin is creating itself still.


Technology = making the treadmill move faster

A study supported by Acco Brands — the Day Timer organizers company — says that Americans feel much less productive than they did years ago.

It’s not that they’re objectively getting less done. According to the U.S. Conference Board, labor productivity overall grew at an annual rate of about 2.9 percent between 2000 and 2004. That’s respectable, if not spectacular, trailing Japan, but exceeding Europe substantially.

The Day Timer folks are instead tapping into the problem of expectations. Email, IM, cell phones and 24-hour workplaces have made everything move faster. People expect more from themselves, and managers expect more. Workers set out a plan for the day, which is quickly disrupted by email and other electronic interruptions.

Two ways to adapt to this: Carve out time to turn things off. That’s critical, if we ever want sustained thought. And the rest of the time, learn to surf, instead of fighting the electronic waves.


Europe Rejects Genetically Engineered Drug

EU regulators declined to approve a new drug produced in the milk of genetically engineered goats. No, it’s not the spidergoat. This is a human protein, secreted by goats who have had human genes inserted into their cells. The protein can then be purified and used in drugs — in this case as an anticlotting agent in in people who lack the protein.

The rejection was based largely on clinicial trial issues, rather than the fact that the drug was made in a goat instead of a test tube. The company, GTC Biotherapeutics, has sworn to return with new trials later. Other companies are pursuing similar procedures in the United States, but the GTC trial would have been the first to have been approved.

It’s difficult to imagine that European consumers fearful of GMO corn would accept drugs made from modifed goat-human DNA. Medical necessity could change minds in a way that ordinary store-shelf cereal boxes can’t, however.


Europe gets broadband over powerline spec

A European Comission-funded standards group has approved a standard for sending broadband data over power lines. Several German groups had experimented with the technology in the late 1990s, putting them ahead of U.S. efforts, but have abandoned the projects since, citing cost and efficiency concerns. Critics note that newer access technologies such as WiMax are better bets for reaching rural and other areas that lack broadband today.