Photos: Berlin, the first half, in the houses of power

After our two fun, introductory and jet-lag-battling days in Munich, we board a gloriously Internet-rich ICE train (Amtrak Internet service, you break my heart) and arrived in downtown Berlin Sunday afternoon. Our American-German Young Leaders Conference kicked off officially that night, and we met our German counterparts — as smart and friendly as the American contingent and, you know, having a hundred times the local-language skills. We also heard from our first speaker, Hella Dunger-Loper, state secretary and representative of Berlin to the federal government, essentially deputy mayor of Berlin.

We were off to the races and never slowed down.

Monday morning, we were out the door at 7:45 and on our way to the Bundestag, the parliament. But before we went, I appreciated the Grand Hyatt hotel art, especially the bear art. The bear is one of Berlin’s symbols, but you should know my love of bears crosses all borders.

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As does my love of Cheerios. Thank you, sixth-floor hotel elevator bank.

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We dressed up all week, not normal for me. But look at this guy! Sharp!

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Anyway, we were off to the Bundestag.

Continue reading Photos: Berlin, the first half, in the houses of power

Florida’s allegedly busiest thieves and bears

First, the allegedly busy thieves. “Over the past 10 years, ring members stole razors, vitamins and hygiene items worth to up to $60,000 a week. They hit as many as 60 stores a week, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law of Enforcement said Tuesday. Ranging in ages from 53 to 68, the five worked with a 22-year-old accomplice and sold their bounty on Web auction site eBay and through flea markets, authorities say.”

Now, the allegedly busy bears: “When Seminole County resident complained that state officials weren’t coming after bear complaints, wftv.com called the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It found the agency is backed up with complaints, fielding 50 to 60 calls per week. … They say the bears are so comfortable that several people have been able to get close enough to snap pictures of them hanging out by the pool of a vacant home.”

All brought to us today by the St. Petersburg Times and TampaBay.com, my favorite storytelling paper now fanned by me on Facebook.

Chased by a grizzly

“She and Kalin could hear its huge paws slapping the water. All Jennifer could do was paddle and focus on the river ahead. Paddle and hope they didn’t beach on a sandbar. Paddle and wait for the crash of the revolver — or the explosion of the raft when the bear clawed at it and snapped at it, lunging aboard.”

Hot damn. Probably the scariest adventure story in American newspapers this month — and maybe this year — came today in the Los Angeles Times.

In June, a grizzly killed a couple without provocation in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “The ransacked campsite was first spotted Saturday afternoon by someone passing in a river raft, according to North Slope police,” the Anchorage Daily News reported the following week. “The passer-by, a resident of Kaktovik, 12 miles downstream from the site, tried to approach the camp but was chased away by the bear.”

The Times today chronicled that chase.

I see your Boo-Boo

RedEye visits a Chicago-area nudist club and talks to the co-owner.

At Ponderosa, which Schmitt’s grandparents founded in 1965, around 500 individuals and families pay $400 a year for membership at the club, which has a swimming pool, tennis courts, volleyball court and a fishing pond on its 76 acres.

“It’s like a Jellystone,” Schmitt said. “But it’s nude.”

Jellystone but nude? Does that mean no ties?

Week 2: Fantasy football

Back in the small Eastern European village where I grew up, the town elder had a dancing bear. The elder would walk the bear down to the market square each Sunday at noon and slowly untie the bear’s leash as the shoppers settled in to watch. As the elder took a harmonica from his pocket and began to play, the bear would rise to its hind legs and begin to do the bearski — the ancient and beautiful dance of the trained bear in my country.

Unfortunately, on many Sundays, the town elder often commenced to drink early in the mornings. By his cabin on the far edge of the creek, the village boys regularly took up spots underneath his windowsills. They peeked inside and laughed when they saw the old man trying to teach new dances to the bear. The man would stumble and tip and fall, and the bear would continue to sleep in the corner.

Many times too, if the elder had passed out with his cup, the bear would also begin to drink. It would raise the bottle or spigot to its drooling mouth and eventually topple backward with every long gulp. When the boys laughed outside the windows, the bear growled but didn’t get up.

Between the elder and the bear, as each of their drinking habits grew worse, performances got rarer and rarer on Sundays in the market square. Sometimes months would pass with no shows at all. But every Sunday, no matter the weather or holiday, the villagers would gather and await the dancing bear. They would not hope openly as they passed between the stalls, but they would go about their shopping and glance up occasionally from their veal and rubakash buying to see who was around. The first to see the bear’s approach would give a great shout, and the entire crowd would knowingly fill out a roar. As the adults craned their necks, mischievous boys would try to grab a toy or firecracker from the tables and think themselves clever.

I was one of those thrifty boys, of course. When I was a very little one, my grandmother Lenoli would take me with her to shop and wish for the off-chance of the bear. Although old and weak in the ankles, Lenoli was one of the village’s finest bear-wishers. She had known the town elder when they both were young, and she was among few who could see him for what he had become. Troubled but trying. When he did not come, she would sigh but talk of no disappointment as we left the square. With our packages high in our arms, we had received enough. But when the elder did come — when he did untie the bear and when the beast rose to the pitch of the harp — my grandmother would pick me up from around her skirts and lift me to see the spectacle of the dancing bear.

“Any Sunday, babushka,” she would whisper in my ear. “Any given Sunday!”

It was those words of hers that came to mind this past Sunday as my fantasy football team, Too Angry for Soccer, rolled to victory over the Gridiron Biznitches, 87.60 to 73.75. The Angry boys got solid showings from quarterback Chad Pennington, wide receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Daniel Graham, promoted to the starting squad just days earlier. The team’s record improved to 1-1 and took up a four-way tie for second place.

Some spots didn’t shine as brightly, and subspots there showed the need for some tinkering. On the steady side, the Redskins defense and kicker Jeff Wilkins didn’t score big for me, but they did the best with what they were handed. Same with running back Clinton Portis. He handed himself a bad game, fumbling twice, but his track record showed the mistakes were exceptions. I kept faith in him. Drawing more concern were wide receiver Chad Johnson, wide receiver Brandon Stokley and running back Onterrio Smith. I promoted both Stokley and Smith after Week 1, but neither paid off. The demoted Andre Johnson scored twice as many points as the two receivers combined, but I didn’t get the points because he rode the pine. Running back Kevan Barlow left me in a similar prediction, playing big after I benched him.

Going into Week 3, I’ve reworked the roster for both the Week 2 weaknesses and the first bye week of the season. Andre Johnson has returned to the starting squad, replacing Chad Johnson. Also, with Pennington’s Jets resting, I’ve named Kurt Warner the starter, counting on the Giant to continue his solid play and counting on the opposing Browns to be pitiful. At tight end, with New England’s Daniel Graham on a bye, I’ve added San Francisco’s Eric Johnson to the team and immediately promoted him to start. Jason Witten of Dallas was my backup, but I’ve cut him. No Cowboy was going to play for me against Washington. I didn’t want the blood money.

Week 2: Real football

The Redskins lost to the Giants in a truly ugly game. Washington had seven turnovers and only their defense kept the contest as close as it was, 20-14. But enough of that week. We want Dal-las.

Mountain Man Pat

I went without shaving until about 5 this afternoon, thanks to various school projects that took me up to (and past) the starting time of my classes. It’s been a while since I’ve gone past 2 p.m. and forever since I’ve gone past 11 on a weekday, even with my no-morning class schedule. The experience made me feel very rugged. When the wind brushed the bristles on my face, I thought: This is the way to live. I could wrestle a grizzly bear and tame a cougar and roll the earth and spit fire. Grrrrrowll.

So, I say, bring on the grizzly bears. And my Norelco electric.