restored Spanish colonial houses in Havana

Water trucks, like the one on the left, are a common sight in Cuba, there to provide fresh water where infrastructure isn’t working or is simply not available.

There’s only so much you can learn about a city in a day, but what struck me most in Havana was the stark difference between the tourist zone and what lay beyond its invisible borders.

Old Havana is the heart of the tourist district, a collection of beautiful narrow streets stained with age and disrepair and lined mainly with two-floor colonial-era houses, many with slender balconies wide enough for hanging clothes to dry and watching the street bustle below.

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CN Tower sequence 03

Toronto launched an eye-popping fireworks display from the CN Tower on Sunday night to mark the end of the 2015 Pan-Am Games.

The show capped off two weeks of intense international competition and performances from artists who came to Toronto from across the Americas. Canada broke its Pan-Am medals record and came second to the USA in the overall medal count, winning 217 medals.

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taxi driver looks at camera through rear view mirror

I had a remarkable and revealing exchange with a Cuban taxi driver when I was in Santiago, Chile last September. With today’s news about the re-establishing of relations between the United States and Cuba, I thought it a good time to post this.

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a man and woman stand in a crowded room

Andreas and Nele Zechel await the start of the Die Drei ??? (The Three ???) audiobook premiere at the Hamburg Planetarium (September 2014).

Update, Jan. 9: This piece was singled out in CBC radio’s December ratings report as part of a very strong end to the year. “The Spark story, ‘In Germany, audio books are insanely popular and the voice actors are rock stars’ earned 29,000 page views.”

Update, Dec. 17: I just got word that this piece was the driver for an excellent week on the Spark website where page views more than doubled from the previous week. The mini-documentary provided nearly two-thirds of the page views to the site for the week.


“Each year, Germans buy more audiobooks than e-books, and the voice actors are as big as rock stars. This past summer, 20,000 Germans filled a Berlin stadium just to listen to the most popular audiobook series. Tomas Urbina gets inside the audiobook craze.”

This mini-documentary originally aired on CBC radio’s Spark on November 30, 2014 and again on Wednesday, December 3. See the post and listen to the piece on Spark’s website, here.

young man stands in front of historial Berlin Wall photo outdoors

Franz Hildebrandt-Harangozo at the Berlin Wall memorial trail on Bernauer Strasse, September 2014.

It signalled the end of the Cold War and cleared the way for German reunification, but for a generation of young people born after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, its impact is first and foremost a family affair.

Read the full article on The Local Germany, here.

This mini-documentary originally aired on DW’s (Deutsche Welle) Inside Europe on November 2, 2014. It is a radio version of a story I reported for Deutsche Welle online (DW.de).

One of Germany’s oldest music publishing houses marked its official return to Leipzig in October, more than 75 years after its owner, Henri Hinrichsen and his family, lost nearly everything in the Holocaust. His granddaughter, Martha Hinrichsen, born in New York, never thought she’d live to see it happen. Tomas Urbina went to meet her at the publishing house home in Leipzig.

The following report aired originally on CBC radio’s weekend newscast The World This Weekend, on November 1, 2014. It is a radio version of a story I reported for The Local Germany.

Canada is one of the world’s most wired countries, but some rural areas are still waiting to get high speed internet. They may have something to learn from Germany. A group of tiny villages has managed to go digital and they’re helping others step it up. Tomas Urbina reports…

woman in her sixties stands in front of wrought iron gate

Martha Hinrichsen, granddaughter of Henri Hinrichsen, at the ‘Florentine’ gate of her grandfather’s former home and music publishing house in Leipzig, October 2014.

Dispossessed of his famous company, Jewish music publisher Henri Hinrichsen was put to death in Auschwitz. His grandchildren can finally celebrate the return to Leipzig of his Edition Peters – more than 75 years later.

Read the full article on Deutsche Welle (DW), here.

Mogadishu, Somalia seen from the International Space Station.

Mogadishu, Somalia seen from the International Space Station. Source: ESA and astronaut Paolo Nespoli, user Magisstra on Flickr (http://bit.ly/1vMB2S3).

Long before I set off for the Arthur Burns Fellowship in Berlin, I came across an American-German journalist named Michael Scott Moore, with whom I corresponded about a story I was chasing for As It Happens back in 2011.

On a personal note, we connected when he told me about how he came to be working with Der Spiegel International and what it was like to work in Germany. I had thought about the possibility of working there because my girlfriend is German.

About two months after we communicated, he traveled to Somalia to gather material for a book on piracy. On that trip he was kidnapped. He was was still being held hostage when I got to Berlin in July.

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Germany’s military said on Thursday it was ready to send its first shipment of arms to Kurds fighting Islamic extremists Isis in northern Iraq.

I went out to Berlin’s Alexanderplatz to ask people what they thought of the move.

We embedded the mix of opinions in an article on The Local Germany, which you can find here.