... in berlin

Twice as fast = twice as nice

So today the dutch railways (NS) ran a one-time Amsterdam Berlin intercity service that was 27 minutes faster than the usual 6 hour 30 minutes Amsterdam Berlin intercity service. They achieved this by omitting all stops between Amsterdam and the German border (Hilversum, Amsersfoort, Apeldoorn, Deventer, Amelo and Henglo). According to the NS it should be possible to further reduce travel time to four hours by aquiring engines that are capable of running 200 km/h on the Dutch and the German railwys (right now there is a change of engine in Bad Bentheim that takes about 15 minutes) and by skipping most stops on the German side (Bad Bentheim, Rheine, Bad Oeynhausen, Minden, Wolfsburg, Stendal and Berlin Spandau). The main obstacle against this badly needed upgrade of the Amsterdam Service? According to the Volkskrant all these little places insist on having the train stop in their stations.

Still the NS seems to be fairly determined to upgrade the line and bring the travel time down to four hours1, which would make it roughly competetive with direct flights between Amsterdam and Berlin. Four hours between Amsterdam and Berlin would mean an average speed of 160 km/h which is nice compared to the current average of 98 km/h but it is a far cry from the 200 km/h reuired to qualify as a high speed rail service. By comparison i have recently had the pleasure to travel on the so called Zon Thlays (a dedicated summer weekend only service that connects Amsterdam with the south of France) which runs the 1244 km from Amsterdam to Aix en Provence in 6 hours 47 minutes (an average speed of 187 km/h including a 15 minute crew rest stop at Paris CDG Airport, required by labour regulations). This is nearly twice as fast and makes the 6 and a half our drudgery of the current Amsterdam Berlin service even more unbearable. It brings Marseille within 7 hours of Amsterdam which feels quite amazing in more than one way (both of them being old port cities on opposite sides of the continental European land mass that culturally feel much further apart that a 7 hour train ride).

Now most of the service runs on dedicated high speed lines (with the notable exception of the bit between Antwerp and Brussels which the Belginas refuse to upgrade, in their own petty version of the i-want-the-train-to-slow-down-and-call in-my-little-village described above) and it does not make any sheduled stops between Brussels and Valence, bypassing Paris to the east (see routemap below). The trip feels like a triumph of infrastructure over time and it illustrates that if we ever want to get Euroepans of their addiction to low cost flights we will need to substantially invest into better high speed rail infrastructure.

There is no good reason why people should be able to fly across the continet, destroying the climate in pursuit of the next city trip if we had infrastuctire linking major cities that would allow travelling 1200 km or so within 6 hours (think breakfast in Amsterdam, dinner in Marseille). Now such infrastructure does not come cheap2, but given the climate destroying effects of our addiction to cheap short haul air travel, there are little alternatives.

The most logical source of the required investments would be a suracharge on intra EU airline tickets. A modest €20 per ticket would bring in €12,5 billion per year (based on the 626 million passengers of national and intra EU28 passengers identified in the 2016 air transport statistics). To make the point that people should take the train insteard of the plane it this surcharge should be inreased to €100 per ticket for routes that compete with trains services that take 4 hours or less such as Amsterdam-Paris (1,26M passengers in 2017 = €101M extra ), Paris-London (1,07M passengers in 2017 = €86M extra) and many others. Over time such surcharges could result in substantial funds that can be invested into building a better high speed train infrastructure (think Japan) and in the short run they would make train operators on existing high speed connections much more competetive.

Given the political clout that the airline business has (they have succesfully resited the idea of taxing jetfuel for decades) such a measure would require a lot of political will to enact, but given the untenable trajectory that we are on when it comes to airtravel, there may be little other choices. The only other alternative would be for people to actually travel less. While undoubtably better, it is quite a hard sell on generations raised on cheap jet-fuel and the idea that multiple city trips per year are a basic human right.

Route of the direct Thalys service from Amsterdam to Aix en Provence

  1. Which is probably an unrealistic excpection. This 2018 study by engeneering firm Royal HaskoningDSV (commissioned by Natuur en Milieufederatie Noord-Holland) comes to the conclusion that without upgrading the track the measures described above would result in a retuction of travel time of 46 minutes only (page 32). This would mean five hours and 38 minutes total travel time which is not much better than the current situation. The same study calculates that upgrading the route to proper high speed infrastructue would reduce total travel time time to 3 hours and 4 minutes (page 36, note that this tiem includes transfer to and from the train station) ↩︎

  2. The above-quoted Royal Haskoning study claculates the cost of buliding a HSL network that connects Amsterdam with most mayor metropolitan centers within a radius of 750km to be €78 billion. Such a network would consist of 3310 km of new HSL infrastructure (which, of course would be only one part of a Europe-wide HSL network). ↩︎

Berlin before the internet (part 2)

11 Nov 2014 | 165 words | 90s berlin history internet surveillance

From a Guardian piece about digital exiles in Berlin: Another reference to post fall-of-the-wall berlin as that strange place where the internet did not exist yet:

But then, it is the blink of an eye. It’s 25 years since the wall came down. And, in a strange historical collision, 25 years since the world wide web was invented. When I first came to Berlin, the internet didn’t exist and I was still some years away from sending my first email. In a historical time frame, the evolution of digital technology, its capabilities, the never-going-back cultural cataclysm that it’s precipitated, has all happened while most of us, a single generation, were working out what to have for dinner, or who to marry, or how to earn a living; a microscopic sliver of time that has changed not just the world at our fingertips but, we’ve discovered since Snowden, the secret world beyond our fingertips. What is known about us. Who we are. What our records say.

Berlin wonderland

10 Oct 2014 | 115 words | 90s berlin


I remember getting there in 1992 and feeling like I had already missed the main event.

Inside my head, the whole period has the quality of dreams, not memories; it was so long ago and the images in my head feel simply too implausible to have been real.

i also remember some of this although i mainly remember longing for more of this as i was only able to make it to Berlin in the weekends. what i find most striking tough, is that this was the end of the pre-internet era, recorded only in (dreamlike) memories (and a few rolls of 36mm film). this fundamentally changed right after this came to an end.


18 Dec 2007 | 216 words | dance berlin art review argentina theatre

Went to see Constanza’s latest piece at the Schaubühne in Berlin on Saturday and quite liked it. With Brickland Constanza (and the equally amazing rest of the the Dorky Park ensemble) manages to combine usual chaos with something similar to a narrative that does not get lost in 2 hours of brutal chaos.

Brickland is about despair, insanity end everyday evils behind the walls of gated communities (the name is taken from an existing decaying community in the vicinity of the international airport on the outskirts of Buenos Aires). One of the strongest aspects of the performance is the tight integration of the beautiful video material (shot by Constanza and Maria Onis on location in Brickland, Brazil and Berlin) with the on-stage action. Works even better than it did in Back to the Preset (which is probably also due to the fact that they finally seem to have learned how to do a proper video projection at the Schaubühne).

So if you are are in Berlin and you ever considered giving up your 3 bedroom apartment in prenzlauerberg/friedrichshein/mitte for a place where the kids can safely play outside, then go see this show. (plays again on 18 december and then from 24 to 27 january).

Knut Berger, Hyoung-Min Kim & Gail Sharrol Skrela (photo: Thomas Aurin)

The bittorent demon

This photo (by Rasmus Kopimi) is just too good not to blog. I am not even sure when it was taken but it is timeless (or very early 21st century) anyway:

Guess this is also a good occasion to thank the oil of the 21st century crew for a number of highly inspiring events, royal amounts of data and the 2 best breakfasts i have head this year…

Apparently NSFW

27 Oct 2007 | 20 words | berlin internet censorship

This website is (also) being blocked by the mindless web-content filter of the wireless network at einstein kaffee in Berlin.

Phantom menace

28 May 2007 | 102 words | berlin movies india china piracy file sharing

Lawrence gave a pretty amazing presentation on ‘what can be learned from asian cinema?‘ at piratecinema on sunday morning. His general point was how new forms of distribution (read shameless copying) slowly lead to another form of aesthetic/cinematorgaphic practice in Asia (or to be less general China & India). towards the end he showed a couple of slides form an earlier presentation he had given at the Asia commons conference in Bangkok last year. I really liked this diagram, which gives a little bit of context to my earlier post about obtaining the latest Bond movie:

Bonus recommendation: Suzhou he (Suzhou River)

Beirut safer than Berlin...

05 Jan 2007 | 229 words | berlin lebanon beirut security

The German government advises against trips to lebanon unless you have important business or family matters to attend and recommends to stay well clear of political gatherings and the south of the country. It seems a bit exaggerated especially as the ongoing protest by Hezbollah and their allies in downtown is about the most peaceful demonstration i have ever seen. Most dangerous thing that has happened to me was being forced to sit down with a couple of Lebanese teenagers from boston to smoke the narghile and look at their phone screen-savers depicting Nasrallah in x-thousend different poses:

For the rest you need some tolerance towards armed men, as there are soldiers in full battle gear almost everywhere, plus you might want to consider not getting too drunk with all the razor wire on the sideways. At many times the army presence borders the absurd especially when you step out of one of the bars in rue Gourand and are suddenly in the middle of 10 battle ready soldiers patrolling both sidewalks and forcing the party crowd to step into the street risking to be run over by the endless column SUVs crawling down the road. So unless you are a giant pink rabbit or a chick that likes sitting on giant white rabbits you are probably safer in beirut than in berlin:

Berlin, march 2006

Beirut, january 2007

TXL --> BEY (revisited)

31 Dec 2006 | 531 words | beirut berlin lebanon airtravel

This post does not really make sense (in the sense of being one coherent entity) but rather shares a couple of observations that have nothing to do with each other. Fortunately i can tie them together by pointing to my first ever blog post (the ones that appear to have been posted earlier have actually been inserted at a later point in time) which was also written on the plane to from Berlin to Beirut.

What i wrote then also holds true for the behavior of the passengers on tonight’s flight (the crew is a bit more relaxed this time). Looks like flights from Berlin to Beirut are my favorite ones when it comes to social dynamics and the general behavior of the passengers. Of course there probably is a rather obvious explanation for the good vibe on this plane. Basically the whole plane is full of families and young people flying back to their ‘home’ country (or that of their parents) probably after not having been there for a long while. Couple that with the late hour of the day, the consumption of alcohol and the general excitement about seeing relatives and friends and you will have behavioral patterns that do not fit well with the rigidity of an economy class cabin. Tarek says that ‘they can turn an airplane in a souk in seconds’.

The only thing which is different today is that much of the conversations resolve around politics and a couple of people have asked me if i am not afraid to go to Beirut at this time, which as far as i can tell i am not. In contrast Lufthansa seems to be a afraid, as they do not allow their crews to have a lay over in Beirut because of ‘the political situation’, so the same crew has to operate both the in and outbound flight (10 hours in total).

For the rest i have just finished reading Steven Johnson’s ‘the ghost map‘ which is an absolute must read if you still read books. The whole book is a brilliantly written celebration of bacteria, map making, city dwelling and interdisciplinary collaboration (Commons based beer production for heather). and while i am recommending entertainment here i might just as well add that you should watch this little gem of a educational video on you tube.

Correction: i was lying, i did not finish ‘the ghost map’ on the plane, as i did not read the epilogue until today and this epilogue is worthless. Johnson suddenly starts talking about terrorism in an extremely annoying, hysterical and self righteous fashion (he is an Amercian after all). reading this made me question the whole book, so do not read the epilogue if you want to do yourself a favor.

Finally i hope to be posting quite a bit over the next few days, but in case i am not you might want to take a closer look at these two blogs (if you are interested in current events in Beirut): remarkz (more frequently updated) and anecdotes from a banana republic (much more entertaining! go read her observations about Walid Jumblat and Angela Merkel at the end of this post!)

Observing elections

17 Sep 2006 | 124 words | berlin germany elections democracy

If I was an election observer i would definitely sign up for the early shift. the one were the city is still half asleep and disgruntled volunteers head to the polling stations they have been assigned to to open them hours before the first 10% the electorate show up to exercise their democratic rights.

If there is a mood that expresses the status of those tired, self-defeating and worn-out parliamentary democracies societies it is probably the mood which prevailed in the streets of Berlin this morning at half past 7.

No clue where this particular party gets the inspiration for its economic program from but i would be rather surprised if attracting heavy industry to Berlin will really give the youth a glorious future.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: