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A Fish Out of Water

Ever since I was a kid, I had a deep appreciation and respect for the demoscene. I instantly fell in love with Starshine, Ice Frontier, and Bridge to the Universe. Never in my life did I think I would have an opportunity to mingle with the talented computer hackers, musicians, and artists that made up the core of the demoscene engine. But, ten years ago, it happened. This is my story.

The Digital Garden

Ever since the mid 1990’s, I’ve been a fan of the demoscene. The only thing I had back then was a 386 with a couple megs worth of RAM and a few dozen megs worth of hard drive space. I was introduced to the demoscene by Damage on EFnet when he sent me a copy of Purple Motion’s “Starshine,” a tune that can still be found on my playlist to this day. I couldn’t really run any demos back then, my computer just wasn’t fast enough, but these days that’s not really a problem.

Back then I had troubles running a 16-channel S3M on my slow 386 (I eventually could do it by selecting 8-bit mono for the sound settings,) but now demoscene music composers just release their music as MP3 or OGG. What my full-size desktop 386 couldn’t play 15 years ago, a tiny ipod the size of a cigarette lighter can play without missing a beat.

These days, the biggest hurdle for me and my ability to watch demos in their native environment is the fact that I choose to run Linux instead of Windows. Fortunately, groups are releasing their demos in all sorts of various movie formats (including full-HD formats,) something that really wasn’t possible (or at least easy) even in the early 2000’s. Being able to watch a demo in full 1080p with the sound booming is a great experience.

Once I found out that I was going to Germany – something that came about by pure luck – I decided to do some research on whether or not there would be any demoscene events happening while I was there. As luck would have it, the biggest pure demoscene event in the world, Breakpoint 2008, would be occuring over the Easter long weekend. I had long read about these parties, legendary events where people code for days on end and get next to no sleep. I was excited to watch the new demo releases, listen to demoscene music all day long, and possibly to meet some people from all over the demoscene.

After weeks of waiting, the tension from 14 years of demoparty denial having built up to a fevered pitch, the day finally came. I took an InterCityExpress (ICE) train to Frankfurt Airport, where my intention was not to board an airplane, but to transfer to another train heading due west to Bingen-am-Rhein.

On the train to Bingen, I met a devoted, long-time scener and tried to strike up conversation. He asked me what production I was bringing to the show. Sheepishly, the best I could muster were my recent efforts working with Synchronet. You see, the demoscene is about contribution. It does not tolerate ‘consumers’ who do not contribute. Even fanatic demoscene consumers (such as myself) were considered lamers. Contribution was required to be a member of this community.

Bingen-am-Rhein could easily be considered the crown jewel of Germany. I checked into my hotel overlooking the river, taking a few minutes to watch the trains gracefully slink around the opposing side of the river from my room. Gorgeous.

I caught the Breakpoint shuttle to the demoparty location, where I stepped into the first demoparty experience of my life. The party was set up in a large sports hall, with tables lined up one after another, seats arranged all around. Two gigabit switches were placed on each table. It’s about at this point when I realized that I had brought no CAT5 cable with me, so I had to spend 5 Euro to buy a short cable from the front desk. No matter, it would come in handy later.

As I toured the tables trying to find a place to sit, I noticed that each seat had a sheet of paper in front of it marked with the group that was designated to sit there. “TRSI,” “Farbraush,” “ASD;” these were all some of the biggest names in the demoscene. The huge projector to the front of the hall was displaying announcements on a fancy slideshow program. As I prowled through the mess of tables and chairs, it was becoming increasingly clear that there were just no seats available — the papers with group names were everywhere. Then, an announcement popped up on the screen at the front noting that the papers were all meaningless; all empty chairs were up for grabs and there was no such thing as a reserved seat.

So, I sat down in a seat marked for “Still,” at the very end, so that I wouldn’t inconvenience the group too much. Of course, about thirty minutes later, the guys from Still showed up and weren’t too impressed that I was taking up one of their seats. I think the only saving grace in that case was the fact that I was Canadian — it’s just so rare for a Canadian to show up to a demoparty that I was a bit of a spectacle all unto myself.

That seat marked my life for the next four days.

While I was at Breakpoint, I got to experience and witness some of the best programming talent on the planet. All of it was displayed in glorious 1080p for everyone to see. Farbraush wowed everyone with Masagin. TRSI showed off their ‘wannabee’ demo 2nd Element. The best I could muster was helping a kid who grew up in East Germany install a copy of XBMC onto his obsolete PC while the sweet tunes of “Remark Music” blared and coders more talented than I drunkenly pounded away at assembly code on their C64’s.

On the train back to Nürnberg, where my job as a “Microsoft Excel spreadsheet master” awaited, I felt inadequate. There was no way I could ever measure up to any of these people in my lifetime. They knew that too, but even so, they were polite enough to welcome me into their home for four days and have a glimpse at what they were up to. For them, Breakpoint was sacred ground, and they shared that with me. For that, I am eternally grateful.

A year later, I was watching the livestream of Breakpoint 2009 from home, where I was recovering from having my wisdom teeth pulled. This was where Rgba & TBC wowed the world with Elevated.

A year after that, Breakpoint was no more.

The Wizard – A Circle Tour

There hasn’t really been a comprehensive guide written yet about how to visit the most significant filming locations from the 1989 cult classic “The Wizard”. After researching the various filming locations, reading through newspaper articles, and doing a field visit, this should be the most comprehensive guide on the Internet as of this writing.

This guide will be focusing on the filming locations in the area of Reno, Nevada. The majority of the film was shot in the area. However, a minority of scenes were not:

This is the “Twin Peaks Motel”, one of the very few filming location that nobody’s been able to find. The phone booth does show a “Nevada Bell” sign, but the film makers have masqueraded locations in California as Nevada before. For example, these scenes filmed at Agua Dulce Airpark, a favourite Hollywood filming location that was also used in MacGuyver:

Also worth mentioning are the scenes filmed at Universal City and Cabazon in California. These are popular tourist destinations that speak for themselves.

The best and most obvious place to stage any tour of the remainder of The Wizard filming locations is Reno. Hotel rooms are plentiful and cheap, it itself was a filming location, it has a major commercial airport with on-site rental cars, and the filming locations make a circle that start and end there. Staying in downtown Reno will let you see how the strip along Virginia Street near the “Biggest Little City” sign has changed and evolved since The Wizard was filmed.

The Peppermill Casino, south of downtown Reno, was used as a filming location during the “training montage” scenes where Haley sits poolside while Corey relays messages to Jimmy from Nintendo. However, the Peppermill has been heavily renovated since then, so it’s now unrecognizable compared to what was shot for the film.

This guide will be following a clockwise direction starting in Reno. Note that this is not the chronological order of scenes, which will be in a brief follow-up article after this one.

Total round trip, without accounting for “stop and look” time is about 6.5 hours. Adding 15 minutes per stop (there are ten stops total) brings this up to about 9 hours, so this is definitely a long tour that will take an entire day to complete! Please take the time to study the route carefully until you understand it all on your own. In winter, some of these routes might be dangerous or impassable, especially around Lake Tahoe.

1. Hirschdale, California

Take the I-80 west from Reno across the California border until you reach Exit 194 marked for “Hirschdale Road”.

Turn right on Hirschdale Road and you’ll drive by some cozy-looking country homes before crossing the Truckee River over a small bridge. Keep going along Hirschdale Road and it will eventually dead-end at where “Hirschdale Auto Wrecking” used to be.

If you look at the above picture closely, you’ll see the company name clearly on the banner near the top of the frame. Compare the picture to your location and you should be able to find the exact spot it was filmed.

The story goes that Hirschdale Auto Wrecking was forced to close and move away from the area due to environmental concerns.

From here go back the way you came along Hirschdale Road, until you go under the I-80 overpass. Pull over and look behind you – this is the exact spot where the kids were filmed walking under the overpass, towards Hirschdale Auto Wreckers, to spend the night in the wrecked truck cab.

2. Truckee, California

Continue along I-80 west until you reach Truckee. It’s a town that’s well signposted and easy to find. Downtown Truckee is where the “in the shorts” scene was filmed, as well as the brief part of the “Send Me An Angel” montage where the kids were sitting outside a shop holding a “Reno or Bust” sign.

3. Pyramid Lake

Take the I-80 eastbound back to Reno, and turn north onto Nevada Highway 445 (Exit 18). This is a long drive through some picturesque Nevada high desert. You’ll eventually connect with Nevada Highway 446, turn right (eastbound) here and enjoy the view of Pyramid Lake to your left. Drive until you reach the rest stop at the end of the lake. Not too far further east from here you should be able to find the tree on the right-hand side of the highway where the film’s opening sequences were filmed.

This article has some more specifics about this location. In particular, the opening sequence was a combination of two shots. Odds are good that the other shot was filmed around Pyramid Lake as well, so keep an eye out for it!

4. Hazen, Nevada

From Pyramid Lake, continue east on Nevada Highway 446 until you reach the intersection with Nevada Highway 447. Turn right (southbound) and continue until you reach Wadsworth and Fernley. Do not get back on the I-80 here, instead, take Main Street until it turns into US50 Alternate east. Continue east along US50 Alternate until you reach the small town of Hazen.

Once you reach Hazen, you’ll need to turn left to come back around to Hazen Market. Notice how in the film, US50 was a simple two-lane highway, but today, has been upgraded to four lanes. This is a big part of why, as of this writing, Hazen Market is permanently closed. The barrier separating westbound from eastbound traffic caused visits to this iconic market to drop significantly.

5. Fallon, Nevada

As you proceed east, US50 Alternate will meet up with US50 proper. Continue east until you reach 7227 Reno Highway just outside of Fallon. At the time of this writing, it was easy to spot thanks to the large “for sale” sign there:

This is the location of the old Star-Vu Drive-In Theatre. It’s mostly a barren field now, but the theater concession/projection building was still standing at the time of this writing, complete with old projectors inside. Here’s where Haley, Corey, and Jimmy talked after discovering the contents of Jimmy’s lunchbox:

Note that this is private property, so it’s important to obtain the owner’s permission before exploring around.

6. Historic Downtown Dayton

Turn around on the US50 back westbound until it intersects with US50 Alternate (the “Reno Highway”). Turn southwest towards Carson City to continue along US50 proper (the “Lincoln Highway”). Once in Dayton, turn right onto Main Street from US50, and you should be in the heart of historic downtown Dayton. The Fox Hotel is easily recognizable on the left-hand side.

7. Mound House

Not far west from Dayton along US50 is Mound House. Specifically, stop at 10087 Highway 50 East, and if you’re lucky, this “black widow” from the “Send Me An Angel” montage might still be there:

8. Gardnerville & Minden

Continue along US50 west until you reach Carson City. In Carson City, turn south and eventually you’ll reach the intersection of US50 and US395. Take US395 south until you reach Gardnerville.

In Gardnerville, turn left off of US395 onto Eddy Street. At the end of the street you’ll find Reid Mansion, or what was known as the “Greenriver Institution” in the film, where Corey absconded with Jimmy.

Take US395 back north until you reach Minden and turn left onto Esmeralda Avenue. This strip was used to film a variety of shots. For example, the bus station where Corey and Jimmy met Haley for the first time is now a casino:

Across the street, the Minden Inn was converted to a restaurant specifically for the film. The scene where Putnam pops the tires of Sam’s truck was filmed here, too.

9. Genoa, Nevada

Take the US395 north and turn left onto Genoa Lane, and about halfway between US395 and Genoa, you should find a view like this:

This is where Haley, Corey, and Jimmy were robbed of a few bucks by a group of cow farmers.

10. Tahoe Lake Overlook

Take US395 back north until it intersects with US50 again, but this time, turn left to go westbound towards Lake Tahoe. Once near the lake, turn right to take Nevada Highway 20 north. It follows the shore of Lake Tahoe a little and takes you through some picturesque vacation villages before intersecting with Nevada Highway 431. Turn right there to go eastbound and climb back up into the mountains. You won’t have to go far before finding this iconic outlook on the right-hand side:

Be sure to take the time to celebrate the end of the tour by playing “Send Me An Angel” as loud as you can while you drive along highway 431 back to Reno!

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Pirate Vietnamese Famicom Carts

Photo 2012-12-26 11 56 35 AM

It’s Christmas here in Vietnam, and look what Santa brought me: a selection of pirate famicom cartridges!

Stadium Gate Station

The BC pavilion at Expo ’86. Stadium Gate Station can be seen at the far end of the monorail track. Photo courtesy of Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD, licensed under Creative Commons.

The theme of the 1986 World Exposition in Vancouver was Transportation. Vancouver’s state of the art driverless, computer-driven SkyTrain mass transit system had just opened, showcasing the best in Canadian engineering talent. The expo grounds were filled with varying examples of transportation. Japan had its HSST high-speed rail system on display. Gondolas transported expo-goers high above from one podium to the next, giving breathtaking views of the expo grounds. Water ferries carried passengers across False Creek from one area of the expo to the next. The history of world transportation was chronicled at Expo ’86, from the steam engine to modern magnetic propulsion.

Monorail in service at Vancouver’s Expo ’86. Photo courtesy of Ian Alexander Martin, licensed under Creative Commons.

Most attractions were built as temporary features, and the Expo ’86 Monorail was no exception. Built as both an exhibit and method to transport expo-goers from one site to the other quickly, the monorail spanned the entire length of the expo grounds. Because of this, the monorail can be seen in the background of many Expo ’86 photos, and was fondly remembered by attendees. After the expo, the monorail was dismantled and sold to the Alton Towers amusement park in England.

When most people think of abandoned transit stations, they think of New York or London, with their maze of tracks and tunnels going back a hundred years. Most people attending an event or concert in the Plaza of Nations have no clue that an abandoned station is just over their shoulder, footsteps away.

A section of the monorail actually ran through several of the temporary buildings. One trio of temporary buildings, the Plaza of Nations, still stood as it did in 1986, a full twenty years after the expo was over. Few people will remember that Stadium Gate Station was a stop on the monorail route, and actually stopped within the Plaza of Nations building itself. In fact, rumours circulated the Vancouver Transit mailing list for some time about an ‘abandoned’ monorail station, so I decided to go for a walk around the Plaza of Nations to find it. In the photo to the left above, you can see the last remnants of the monorail track, held up by metalic, white pillars as it curves around.

Finding the station itself proved to be a bit of a challenge. I walked around all three buildings numerous times before spotting the telltale ‘U’ shape of a guideway where the rail would have gone. You can clearly see this, on the second floor of the building in the picture to the right. Gaining access was a simple matter of climing up a set of stairs (used as exit stairs while the station was active) that was only blocked off by a chain. As you can see from the photo, there is equipment all around, preparing for the building demolition.

Stepping into the station is like stepping back in time. It is amazingly free of graffiti and vandalism, thanks to its inconspicuous location. In fact, with a little cleanup and restoration, the station could be ready to resume full service the next day.

As you can see from the photo to the left, the station is surprisingly intact. The wooden slats along the roof are all in pristine condition, the station signs in excellent shape. The metal bars guide passengers to the individual train doors. Even the lights and speakers are still all intact. All that’s missing is the one solid rail down the middle of the guideway, and you’d have a perfectly functional station.

The exit markings are still in perfect condition, used to guide passengers out of the station. We get a good look down the center of the empty guideway. You can still see most of the intact multi-colored lights where the wooden slats end on the roof.

Unfortunately, this piece of history is now gone – it’s been demolished.  The Plaza of Nations, which housed Stadium Gate Station, was originally built as a temporary structure. It was supposed to be destroyed immediately after Expo ’86, along with the rest of the temporary structures. However, the Government of BC saw new possibilities in the use of the Plaza of Nations, so it (and Stadium Gate Station along with it) stood for over twenty years after the expo. Now, the only remaining remnant of the Expo ’86 Monorail is a short section where it passed through the opposite building.

Vimy Ridge

The Battle of Vimy Ridge is the most important battle in all of Canadian history. It was also a very important strategic win by the allied forces in World War I, where Canadians and other Commonwealth troops smashed through hardened German trenches that had been solidified for years thanks to the war of attrition. The battle is taught to every Canadian child in school, and represents a turning point in Canada’s independence from Great Britain.

Some people like to say that the United States paid for its independence with blood and that Canada won its independence through peace. This isn’t entirely true. It was the Battle of Vimy Ridge that caused the British to look at Canadians in an entirely new light. For it was a British General that said of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, “In those few minutes, I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

After the war, France gave a piece of land at Vimy Ridge to the People of Canada in perpetuity, as a show of gratitude. The Government of Canada then built a monument on this soil, now technically Canadian soil, a testament to the strength and resilliance of Canadian troops that carries on to this very day. The monument at Vimy Ridge is the largest Canadian monument anywhere in the world. One could consider it our very own Statue of Liberty; an irony given that the Statue of Liberty was also given as a gift to the United States from France in celebration their very own independence.

It was always a dream of mine to visit Vimy Ridge, to pay my respects to what is the most important Canadian monument anywhere in the world. But I never thought that I’d have the opportunity. Being in Germany for a few months on company business allowed me to make a quick weekend flight over to Paris from Munich. That’s where my trip started, in the Paris Gare du Nord, or Paris North Train Station. I took a TGV train, which flew along the tracks at speeds upwards of 200 kilometers per hour, to Lens, just north-east of the memorial.

From Lens, I caught a bus to the small village of Vimy, where the ridge that bore its name stood out prominently against the skyline. On the western edge of the ridge, the monument was clearly visible. Poking up above the trees, it viewable for miles around. Indeed, the locals are more than aware of the monument, which is also lit by bright floodlights at night.

The monument is a fair distance from the village of Vimy itself. There is a road that comes up the ridge from the south side, but I decided to approach it from the north. This let me meander through a few kilometers of pristine French countryside, where I had to jump over fences and cross farmer’s fields to make my way to the monument. It was difficult to imagine something so pure being at one time scarred with mud and shell craters. During World War I, my approach would have come from the German side.

The long fields eventually turned to brush, and then a deep forest as I hiked my way up the ridge. I was most certainly taking the difficult route as the fences became taller and the forest much thicker. Eventually, I saw a bright break through the trees, just up a steep incline, and over a particularly tall fence. I then emerged out onto a field of brilliantly green grass, the sun shining warmly overhead, illuminating the massive monument ahead of me. That’s when I turned around and observed a red sign in the signature Government of Canada font that every Canadian knows so well, in both of our national languages:

“Danger. No entry. Undetonated explosives.” That’s right, in walking up the north side of the ridge and through the forest, I had plowed right through pieces of land that were yet to be combed for possibly still-active ordinance from a bygone era. My sight then returned to the monument to take it in. I hadn’t expected anyone to be there, but it was simply crawling with people enjoying the weekend off.

The wall that wrapped around the base of the monument was chiseled out with the names of countless soldiers who had paid the ultimate price. I took a few minutes to sit down with my back against the wall, looking over a view that let me see Lens just off to the north. A couple also took in the view a few steps above, talking quietly to one another in French.

But there were people there who spoke English as well, Canadians mostly, and a surprising number given that the monument is in a remote area of France. To the east side of the monument a flock of sheep calmly grazed on the grass. I climbed my way up to the top of the steps, taking in the surroundings, again having difficulty imagining this ridge devoid of trees. During World War I, this place would be a deadly maze of barbed wire, mines, trenches, and mud. Now, families casually stroll on the paths surrounding the monument, and the loudest rapport heard on the ridge these days is not from mortar fire, but from parents telling their kids to stay away from the edge of the field where the ‘danger’ signs are.

The monument itself is huge, the tip of it an impressive 110 meters above the surrounding landscape. It shines brilliantly white in the sun, bearing over the surroundings in a way that can’t help but draw attention to itself. So impressive was this monument, that Hitler himself paid a visit and protected it throughout the duration of World War II with a special branch of SS guards. It was only for the lack of mentioning victory over Germany, in addition to its impressive architecture, that saved the monument from a demise similar to that of other World War I monuments in France.

Walking along the path, away from the monument, I spoke with a Canadian girl from Quebec for a while about how lucky we were to be able to visit such a historically significant site. I said my goodbyes and continued my way along the path, pausing for a moment to watch the modern Candadian flag fly alongside the Canadian Red Ensign that the soldiers of the Battle of Vimy Ridge would’ve fought under.

From there it was down a road to the allied side of the ridge, where a graveyard was started almost a hundred years ago. The graveyard was hastily started on the day that fighting began, in April of 1917, to bury the dead from the assault on Vimy Ridge.

Today, the graveyard is a pristine field of white tombstones preserved by the Government of Canada. Maple leaf after maple leaf adorn the monuments, commemorating the unknown soldiers buried here. The graveyard was like something straight out of Saving Private Ryan, or the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’: “We are the dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. Loved, and were loved, and now we lie…” It was an experience that I will take with me to my own grave.

The last stop on my walk out of the memorial park was to the preserved trenches, which sit between mounds of grass, remnants of shell craters immacuately preserved by the Government of Canada. Here also sit numerous tunnels dug by Canadian troops to literally come under and around to the German side in the most unexpected of places. An interpretive center is also here, the Canadian flag flapping proudly in the wind.

As I exited the memorial grounds, I turned back to notice a sign in that iconic Government of Canada font, the same kind of sign in front of all of our federal Government buildings. But although the sign technically sits on Canadian soil, it felt somehow strange to be reading that sign, a font that I was so intimately familiar with back home, in a foreign country. It was on that note when I continued to walk south-east along the highway, along the south side of Vimy Ridge, towards the city of Arras to catch my train back to Paris.

The small villages and towns that dot the landscape around Vimy Ridge have a decidedly Canadian flavour to them. For example, the town of Neuville-Saint-Vaast features a “Maple Leaf Inn” and a “Rue du Canada” (literally, “Canada Street”) Or in Givenchy-en-Gohelle, which has a “Rue du 11 Novembre”. Likewise, there’s a small village here in Alberta called “Vimy” in homage to this historical battle. Dozens of towns and cities across the country have a “Vimy Street” or “Vimy Avenue” or “Vimy Place” and so-on, a testament to the importance of this historical battle in Canadian history. To say that I paid my respects to the memorial at Vimy Ridge is an honour.

Liechtenstein

01-Feldkirch_Hbf

I’ve always wanted to visit a micro-state. There’s just something neat about paying a visit to a truly sovereign country that is smaller than most cities. Liechtenstein is certainly no exception; it’s been settled in one form or another since the Roman days, and has been recognized as a sovereign country for longer than my home country of Canada has.

02-Feldkirch

So, Liechtenstein has always been on my list of ‘must visit’ countries, if only to say that I’ve set foot on the soil there. My original plan called for a train ride from Munich into the heart of Liechtenstein, a short two hour visit, and then back to Munich. But there was something that wasn’t glamorous enough about this plan. It needed something else.

03-Feldkirch_Soccer

After looking at a map of Liechtenstein, I decided that I could actually walk from one side of the country to the other. An Austrian “OEC” (express) train took me on a breathtaking trip through the Austrian alps from Innsbruck to Feldkirch. After a quick bite to eat at the Feldkirch train station (which turned out to be a very modern, clean facility,) I set off to walk the three kilometers within Feldkirch to the Liechtenstein border.

04-Border

The City of Feldkirch reminded me of the towns of Banff or Jasper in Alberta. It had that nice, high ‘alpine’ feel to it. The water was that ‘national park’ shade of green or blue. The weather was perfect for a hike across a whole country; it was about twelve degrees above and mostly sunny. As I continued to march along, the old European city gave way to a breathtaking view of the Rhine Valley.

05-Grenzuebergangsstelle

Along the way, you could see people doing all sorts of everyday things. A group of school kids playing soccer, someone walking out of a hardware store with the day’s project supplies, another person lights up a smoke and enjoys the great weather. In this photo, you can see the houses in Feldkirch, Austria in the foreground, and then houses in Schellenberg, Liechtenstein in the background. It also became increasingly clear why people would settle in this area: the Rhine Valley is completely walled in on practically all sides by the towering alps.

06-Schaanwald

The Principality of Liechtenstein is not a member of the European Union, nor has it implemented the Schengen Agreement which allows free movement of European citizens between sovereign countries. Because of this, there is still a checkpoint at the Liechtenstein-Austria border manned by Swiss guards.

07-FL_Countryside

I approached a guard house on foot, and engaged one of the Swiss border agents there. He didn’t seem to be too happy to see me. Whether that was because he was busy doing something else or because I was on foot is still up for debate. I asked the guard if he spoke English, to which he shook his head rapidly and said, “No.” I then frowned and said, “Do I need to show my passport?” The guard sighed and pointed at the desk, motioning that I should put my passport there. I did so, and he scanned it on some sort of imaging device (I presume, to check if I’m a wanted criminal, or something.) He then asked, “Where are you going?” I answered, “Liechtenstein.” That seemed to satisfy him, since he returned the passport and let me go on my way. (The photo to the right shows a sign marking the end of Austria. The word below it, “Grenzuebergangsstelle” means, “Border Crossing Point.”

08-FL_Countryside2

It was at that point that I crossed into the smallest doubly land-locked country in the world, a country with a population barely above the size of a large town or small city. Schaanwald was the first municipality on my trip across the country, a small border town set on a hill looking over the Rhine Valley. I noticed that gas in Liechtenstein was very expensive, almost two Swiss Francs per liter (more than $2.00 Canadian.) The license plates are a simple white on black prefixed with “FL” (Fürstentum Liechtenstein, or “Principality of Liechtenstein.”)

09-FL_Bus

The Liechtenstein countryside is simply a pleasure to hike through. There are multitudes of hiking and biking trails everywhere. The country capitalizes on its natural beauty extensively, promoting all kinds of outdoor activities. It’s almost a shame that I only had five hours to spend in Liechtenstein before I had to catch a train in Switzerland.

10-Schaan-Vaduz_Bf

I hiked through the small town of Schaanwald, and then the even smaller town of Nendeln. The houses and side streets gave way to a highway that wound its way down around the side of a mountain, into the Rhine Valley. Thanks to the great weather, there were a large number of bikes and motorcycles in attendance. The majority of vehicles on the road were from Liechtenstein, with a healthy minority from Austria, Switzerland, and Germany.

The Principality also has a fantastic transit system. It was great that I was walking from one end of the country to the other, but it would be very easy to catch a bus along the same route. In this photo, you can see the distinctive neon green ‘Liechtenstein Bus’ picking up a passenger across the street from one of the Hilti offices. (Hilti is the largest employer in all of Liechtenstein.) The bus starts in Feldkirch, Austria, goes across Liechtenstein, and ends in Buchs, Switzerland. Thus, this ordinary transit bus crosses two international borders many times in the course of a day.

It would have been a great honour to take the bus or train across Liechtenstein, but walking across made the whole journey more interesting. I eventually made it to the city of Schaan, just north of the capital of Vaduz. It was here where I originally intended to take a train. In this photo, you can see an Austrian train pulling in, stopping on its way to Feldkirch. The railway line that cuts across Liechtenstein (more or less following the same route I was hiking,) is owned by the Austrian railway company. Like the Liechtenstein Bus, several trains travel from Switzerland to Austria (and vice-versa) via Liechtenstein every day.

11-Rhine

The city of Schaan gave away to the countryside as I continued on, this time looking more like the Fraser Valley than anything else. It wasn’t much more of a walk before I came upon the bridge that crossed the Rhine, marking the western border of the Principality of Liechtenstein. In this photo, the land to the right is Liechtenstein, and to the left is Switzerland. I had crossed the whole width of the country in about two hours.

12-Schweiz

I also have to apologize for the poor quality of this photo, the sign demarcating the beginning of Switzerland. As you can see, the sun was already relatively low on the horizon, making it difficult for me to get a good shot of the demarcation sign and Swiss flag. There are no border controls on the Swiss-Liechtenstein border, since the Swiss guards check everything on the Austrian-Liechtenstein side.

13-FL_Bus_at_Border

From the bridge it was only a short walk over to Buchs, a town on the eastern border of Switzerland. At the point that I crossed into Switzerland, I had set foot on four separate countries in one day (Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.) The picture to the right looks back at the border from Switzerland (the little circular sign on the bridge marks the border,) with a Liechtenstein bus straddling the border in transit to Buchs, Switzerland. I looked back on the Principality one last time before continuing my journey to the Buchs Hauptbahnhof (Central Station,) to endure four more hours on the train back to Munich.

The Nuremberg Rally Grounds

It’s February 6th, 2008, and I’m in Nuremberg, Germany. Being such a fan of history (mostly cold war history, but World War II history piques my interest as well,) I never thought that I’d be in a place so rich with history. Not just World War II history, but ancient Roman history, and medieval history as well. I’ve been here for the past week on an assignment for the company I’m employed by. The hours have been long, which hasn’t given me a whole lot of time to explore my surroundings, but this is my first Saturday off and I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to go exploring.

My target today is the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds. The grounds take up more than five square kilometers of space, so I allocated most of the day to the purpose of finding each of the most important relics and photographing them, if only to say that I’ve been there. It’s doubtful that I’ll be in Germany ever again, so I’d best take the opportunity while I have it.

Canada is rich with history as well, but it’s entirely a different kind of history. Mostly, Canadian history involves explorers and settlers, stories similar to old westerns. Certainly not anything close to having hundreds of thousands of soldiers meeting in one place to watch their Führer speak.

It was a cool day in Nuremberg, -9 degrees Celcius when I left my hotel. Having survived -30 or worse this winter in Edmonton, the temperature combined with the brilliantly clear day made it feel like spring. I took the number nine tram to the Documentation Center located in the massive Congress Hall built by Hitler to look like the Roman Coliseum. As the tram rounded the corner to my stop, I knew that I had found the right place.

I knew the place was going to be big, but I wasn’t as prepared for how ominous the thing looked. I also knew that Hitler had a penchant for large, monolithic structures that conveyed power. But I was still somehow unprepared when the tram went around that corner.

My first stop was to see the Ehrenhalle, or ‘Hall of Honour.’ The monument was originally built to honour fallen soldiers of World War I, but Hitler perverted it during the Third Reich to memoralize those who ‘sacrificed their lives’ in the founding of the Nazi party. Thus, as you can see from the photo to the right, it became just one of many fantastical gatherings of tens of thousands of soldiers during the Nuremberg Rallies.

Unfortunately, the Ehrenhalle was undergoing repairs! The entire monument was shrouded from front to back, and I can only hope that the repairs are completed before I have to leave. I definitely need to return to take some fresh photos. At the very least, I can say that I was there — at the very spot that Hitler stood. Here’s what it should look like (thanks to Wikipedia,) along with two other photos I took of the monument.

I then turned around to take a stroll across the old Luitpold Arena, now a park for people to walk their dogs or have a picnic lunch. On the face of it, you’d have no idea that this great bowl of trees, grass, and dirt hosted some of the most fearsome military rallies on Earth. Just taking that walk gave me a great sense of the distances involved, and how many soldiers you could pack into such an area.

The great rows of seats on the opposite end of the arena were torn down after the war. However, bits and pieces of it can still be found embedded into the hillside. I always knew that Hitler was a big fan of solid granite for all of his construction projects, but I never had an appreciation for how distinctive granite really is. For the rest of the day, it was easy to pick out relics from the Nazi era, if only by the granite appearance alone.

From there, it was time to walk back past the great Congress Hall and the Documentation Center (which wasn’t scheduled to open for another hour) to the Zeppelin Field.

If you’ve seen an old black-and-white video of Hitler making a speech (in his trademarked shouting/commanding style,) then it’s likely that he was speaking from his podium at the Zeppelin Field. This was the first Nazi structure to be built, and perhaps the most famous of them all.

Today, the Zeppelin Field is slowly decaying. Apparently, it was constructed in a hurry, which has caused the City of Nuremberg to remove bits and pieces of it to make it a little more safe. The podium where Hitler stood has been reconstructed, so while that’s not the exact spot he made his speeches, it is a close enough approximation. Fortunately, unlike the Ehrenhalle, the Zeppelin Tribune was open to anyone wishing to have a look, so I took some photos.

Next, I turned West towards the “Grosse Strasse”, a wide avenue tiled with solid granite blocks. Hitler originally intended for this street to be two kilometers long, used for parading troops and other military implements between a corridor of people lined up to see the spectacle. Only 1.5 kilometers of the road was completed, and it was never used for its intended purpose. I did, however, walk its entire length back to the Congress Hall.

It was here where I entered the Documentation Center, a sort of museum established by the City of Nuremberg to document the concequences of Nazism and to preserve the history of the Nuremberg Rally Grounds. Although the information inside of the Documentation Center is well presented, very little of it was news to me. Of course, not everyone is a major history fan like I am. Never the less, it was well worth the five euro admission fee.

There also wasn’t much within the Documentation Center that was worth photographing. I was also a little disappointed that there was no option to receive a tour of the Congress Hall itself (the Documentation Center is in a small corner of the building.) They did, however, have a viewing deck that overlooked the inner courtyard of the Congress Hall. As you can see from the picture, only the outer layer of the building is granite — everything else was constructed by using regular brick.

I was quite hungry after a whole day of exploring the old rallying grounds, so, I decided to go in search of a rather unusual artifact of the Nazi era. The building shown in the photo to the left used to be a power substation created solely for providing power to the over one-hundred spotlights used during the “cathedral of light” at Zeppelin Field. In the photo, you can clearly see where the Nazi eagle perched atop a swatstika was chiseled off of the building.

The spotlights used in the creation of the cathedral of light required so much power that its own power substation had to be built. Now, it’s a Burger King fast food restaurant. To be able to have lunch in such a historic building was special in its own right. Most people buying burgers here had no clue about what purpose the building served.

That’s it for now. As I’ll be in Nuremberg for some time, no doubt I will be adding more photos and information here as time goes along. In the meanwhile, here are some more photos of the Congress Hall that I couldn’t fit in anywhere else: