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I Heart Wiener Linien

Der Wiener der Woche!

Over the last nine months, I have developed a great affection for Vienna's public transportation system by both using it as my primary means of transportation and through traversing every kilometer of the U-Bahn network with Nikola. For a city of its geographical size, I think the density of public transportation stops is excellent. The subway and bus systems are a great start but when you add a comprehensive tramway/streetcar network on top of that, the options for getting to most parts of the city become very convenient. The trains and buses are clean, they run on time, communication is good when there are issues and the kids love riding around on them. What more could you ask for? I think the public transit system is a great and distinctive feature of the city and I will gladly show it off to anyone that visits us. So just to lay some groundwork here, I was already a big fan.

A few weeks ago, I sent an email to Wiener Linien, the company that runs all public transportation in the city, with a link to our U-Bahn project, just in case anyone would be interested to see it and to thank them for everything they do. Two hours later I got an enthusiastic email reply saying that they loved the site and had fallen in love with Nikola. As if that wasn't enough, they also invited us to the Wiener Linien headquarters for a tour and offered to let Nikola check out the driver's cabin of an U-Bahn (not on the public lines, of course) and even drive it! We knew that a day like that would be the highlight of Nikola's year and we quickly accepted and set something up.

On Wednesday, the day finally came and it was wonderful. Nikola was emotionally overwhelmed for at least the first half and couldn't bring himself to do much of what he had dreamed of but eventually he was able to relax and enjoy it. He got to see the main control room for the entire city's U-Bahn network, push the buttons that open and close the doors of the train, and even sit in the driver's seat (some pictures will be appearing on the kids site in the next few days). At the end of the day, he got a bag full of Wiener Linien-related gifts, including a bus that is now his constant companion.

In addition to the personal tour and U-Bahn ride, Wiener Linien also asked if they could send a photographer along and have a journalist interview us, which we gladly agreed to and which turned into the article above (shorter online version here). I went out and picked up ten copies at our nearest U-Bahn station this morning so if you'd like a hard copy, let me know. Finally I know and understand the exhilarating feeling that my parents and grandparents had when I was in the local paper as a kid.

For all the non-German-speaking readers of the site, here is my approximate translation:

Little Nikola (3) is the biggest fan of the Vienna U-Bahn

In the last half year, Nikola (3) visited all 101 U-Bahn stations! "My son is thrilled by the U-Bahn. He watches the tunnel eagerly until the next train finally comes," said his father. He explored the U-Bahn network with Nikola and photographed him in every station.

Wiener Linien invited their youngest and most faithful fan to their headquarters in Erdberg. Nikola was even allowed to drive a train. "[It was] a tremendous exception," said the train operator. That was reason enough for us to make Nikola Vienna's Person of the Week.

We all loved Vienna's public transportation before this week but now we're also Wiener Linien's biggest fans. How many public agencies do you know that would do so much for a three-year-old that was smitten with their services? What a company! What a city!

July 15, 2011 | Comments (2)

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

I saw The Tree of Life two weeks ago and absolutely loved it. I have attempted to recommend it to people a few times and felt completely inadequate but I am compelled to try again. It is a film of few words so I will try to follow suit in my recommendation.

There are limits to what we are capable of expressing with language and The Tree of Life bravely spends much of its time beyond those limits, meditating on the ineffable—man's place in the universe, the wonder of existence, and the source and destination of our deepest longings. It does all of this in the only way possible, that is, almost wordlessly. The communication of its ideas and story is almost completely visual and it is remarkable how much can be said without words. The imagery is always beautiful, abstract but purposeful, and the words that accompany it are sparse but memorable, whispered prayers of longing. In this aspect alone it was a singular experience for me.

Wrapped in this larger context is the story of a family with three boys growing up in mid-century U.S.A. Despite the shift to a more traditional narrative, the storytelling remains almost completely visual. The things that the camera notices—the power and nuance of physical contact, the expressions and reactions that often go unseen, the powerful sensations and memories of childhood that are impressed so firmly into us—invoke an almost unconscious state, as if the images were being pulled directly from one's memory. As a parent, I was moved by the father and mother, the two sides in all of us. As a child and brother, I identified with the boys and the way they acted and interacted.

For me, the film is a prayer, a beautiful and moving meditation on life. I recommend it unreservedly.

July 12, 2011