Archives For Society

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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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.

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…

a man and three women stand holding internet equipment

CEO Ute-Gabriel Boucsein (second from left) and members of the Buergerbreitbandnetz Gmbh team.

Shunned by government and big telecom companies, a group of villagers in rural northwest Germany is set to expand the super-fast internet network they built to a second village. The Local’s Tomas Urbina went to meet the villagers as they prepare to put shovels in the ground.

On a Thursday evening in August, about half the residents of Sollwitt, a village of 123 homes nestled in the green fields near Germany’s border with Denmark, jammed into the only restaurant in town. They were there to hear how lightning fast internet service was going to launch their village into the future.

“I think in future we will need this bigger bandwidth,” said Roger Cattin, a retired computer science professor who moved to Sollwitt a year ago.

“I like it very much that the local people are doing something to get this fast internet to our village.”

Read the full article on The Local Germany, here.

illuminated signs in the Frankfurt Airport terminal, blurred figures in the background

Franfurt Airport, Terminal ‘A’. Source: Flickr user AngeloAngelo (Angelo DeSantis), http://bit.ly/1I6x4tu

Figures from the European Union show that while many German professionals are able to find work abroad with their well-recognized qualifications, Germany doesn’t always extend the same courtesy to foreigners.

From 2003 to the end of 2013, Germany topped the list of countries whose professionals have sought to relocate and be accredited in other European countries, with 45,175 licensed professionals trying to establish themselves around Europe, mainly in Switzerland and Austria.

Germans also enjoyed the one of the highest rates of recognition around Europe, with 89 percent of professionals like doctors, nurses, teachers and architects being accredited outside Germany.

Read the full article on The Local Germany, here.

a run down country estate

The Haus am Bogensee, north of Berlin. Source: Flickr user Stadtkatze (https://www.flickr.com/photos/stadtkatze/7085231647).

After two failed attempts, Berlin is trying again to sell the sprawling estate and villa once known as Joseph Goebbels’ illicit love nest, but so far, nobody’s buying.

The address of the former villa of Hitler’s propaganda minister is as misleading as it is revealing.

Number One, Friendship Place, northeast of Berlin, is thought to have been where Joseph Goebbels produced some of his most virulent speeches against Jews. But it’s also where Goebbels wooed the starlets of the Berlin’s Babelsberg film studios.

Read the full article on The Local Germany, here.

Kurdish Army forces

Kursidh Army, Peshmerga, July 2014. Source: Flickr user bijikurdistan (https://www.flickr.com/photos/112043717@N08/14689372605/)

Germany’s new-found determination under the third Merkel government to take its place on the world stage may be standing on shaky foundations.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reaffirmed his commitment to increasing Germany’s role in the world’s conflict zones at the annual conference of German ambassadors in Berlin on Monday.

“We need the courage and willingness to intervene,” said Steinmeier amid national debate on whether Germany should send weapons to Kurdish forces resisting the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Iraq.

Read the full article on The Local Germany, here.

a senior couple walks down an empty pedestrian street

A senior couple walk down Delmenhorst’s main pedestrian promenade, amid a string of vacant storefronts.

Home to two-thirds of Germany’s population, many of its small cities and towns are struggling to revive their declining centres. The Local’s Tomas Urbina reports from Delmenhorst in Lower Saxony, as it tries to dig its way out of the economic doldrums.

It’s 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon and the downtown promenades in Delmenhorst, built for the bustle of pedestrian city life, are mostly deserted. A trail of signs in empty glass storefronts leads visitors through the main drag, calling out in muted desperation: “To Let.”

It wasn’t always like this, says 65-year-old Ewald Bieler, a civil engineer who retired last year after a career working for this northwestern Germany municipality with some 74,000 inhabitants.

Read the full article on The Local Germany, here.