Category Archives: Geography

Survey Says…

Stolpersteine at 15 Prenzlauer Allee
Stolpersteine at 15 Prenzlauer Allee

Well, one day into my fieldwork and the initial results show:


This is going to be hard.

Well, maybe not too hard, but nonetheless at least as difficult as I thought it might be. I observed 90 pedestrians today at three different Stolpersteine sites in our neighborhood, and two people looked at them. And by looked at them, I mean they glanced at them. No one stopped to read them, but I kind of expected that with these particular Stolpersteine because they were located in out-of-the-way parts of the sidewalk.

One, in fact, was almost covered up with a restaurant menu/sign. I plan to follow up with the owners of the restaurant in the next few days, after I build some rapport with them. I just had a coffee today as Karen and I used their space to do observations, and I didn’t explain what I was doing, but I’m going to attempt to show up regularly over the next few days to strike up more conversations and see what happens. Despite the menu board almost covering up the memorial, this was the best observation spot in our neighborhood because I could sit at the outdoor table and observe people without looking awkward (walking around with a brightly colored clipboard and pen.)

However, before anyone things I’m discouraged or anything, allow me to explain some of my other thoughts about this set of observations. First, Prenzlauerberg is well-known as a hip district that has been thoroughly gentrified. What was once a squatters neighborhood has been replaced with trendy 30-somethings, including quite a few Americans, with baby strollers in tow. Seriously, I would bet that more than half of my observations today were women, and quite a few men as well, with kids in strollers, babies in slings, or with slightly older children riding bikes at pace with their (walking) parents. Makes for a great neighborhood to stay in while abroad, but it might not be the best neighborhood to find people interested enough in the past to be on the look out for small memorial stones.

At the same time, there are some interesting things that can be gained from this observation: A vast majority of Berlin (geographically) and Berliners themselves have moved on. From the Holocaust, from the Cold War. They have come to terms with the past for themselves, and I think that will be confirmed once I get survey and interview information as well. I don’t really want a hypothesis to skew my research in any way, but I have a hunch that this might be the major finding.

At any rate, there is still much to learn and much to uncover. Hopefully I’ll find the time to keep everyone posted!

Actual New Year’s Resolutions

Spoiler: This has very little to do with Geography. (Also, this is my 60th post! Woohoo?)

Regarding New Year’s Resolutions, I’m not usually very good at keeping them because I never have any concrete goals in mind at the beginning of any given year. Since I don’t usually take these seriously, I figure that if I’m going to have some this year, I may as well have several so at least I can accomplish some!

So here you go. Silly, impossible or otherwise, my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions:

• Lose 30 pounds. Sure, why not? This time… I think I won’t rely on Crohn’s Disease to, ahem, assist me, so perhaps they will stay off a little longer this time? I haven’t gained it all back, but if this trend continues I should be able to be a contestant on the Biggest Loser by 2013.

• Train for and run a race of some variety. 5k, etc. Preferably more than one, but that will all depend on how more time I can devote to training. The good news is that Karen has agreed to do it with me this time. The bad news? We’re both really good at wimping out after a few weeks.

• Travel the world. (As a geographer, this is pretty much always a goal, not really a resolution. And since I’m planning on going to Berlin and other parts of Germany for thesis research this summer, this one should’t be too hard!)

• Read something other than the literature for my Master’s research and/or class. This one might actually be sort of hard! I’m thinking of reading the Lord of the Rings, but I seriously doubt I’ll find time for it this year, so I may stick to a few Star Wars novels I’ve been saving. Wouldn’t hurt to read some of the photography books I’ve amassed over the last 2-3 years either!

• Play my trumpet. Regularly. I’ve decided to break it back out from hiding/storage. Cleaned it up nicely last year but never played it much. The first step, however, is to get Story used to it so she doesn’t freak out and bark every time she even sees it.

• Become more fluent in German. The two German courses I’m auditing this semester should help with that, but I’m still slightly terrified that I won’t be able to interview people in German this summer!

• Somehow, find a way to not “overdo it” this year. I came close to overdoing it this semester, but I was able to stay on top of all my various projects, papers, performances, etc. by the skin of my teeth. I’d like to take a step further back from the edge, but I know in all likelihood that I may actually be inching my way closer to a plunge, given my course load and responsibilities this semester alone. I know Summer and Fall won’t be as bad, but there’s still field work and comps and thesis writing death to think about then. Speaking of field work, I’d like to request that everyone consider gifting money for field research travel costs in lieu of gifts this year, at least for my birthday. This perhaps may not be the ideal for unwrapping on March 9, but at the moment it looks like I will not know how much scholarship and grant money I will have until very close to the actual trip. I’ll keep you all posted…

As my small collection of devoted readers, you should probably know that despite my best intentions, I will truthfully not have as much time to spend online with you in the usual places (here, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) this year and into spring 2012, but I will try as time permits!

Rainy-ville on the Hill

I love a good rain. Just not when I’m in it. (Isn’t that true for a lot of life? All good urban and economic geographers are aware of the powerful NIMBY: “Sure we need a new subway line, nuclear power plant, and shelter for the homeless, but Not In MY Back Yard!”)

I somehow managed to avoid the rain today while going from Burchfiel (my proper geographic home away from home on UTK’s campus) to South Stadium Hall (under part of Neyland Stadium) where I have my Anthropology of Genocide class. After class, I was even more fortunate: the sun came out and surprised me, given the bleakness that had previously filled the sky. The heavens opened up during my evening class tonight, and I peaked out the window from the fourth floor of my safe haven in the Burchfiel conference/seminar room and watched other less fortunate students without umbrellas get out of class only to find themselves immobilized by the rain. There were some who dared it, and others who were prepared to face the downpour with their umbrellas held high.

But for those who forgot, or ignored the prevalent warning signs swirling in the atmosphere above them today – they found their space suddenly limited, their comfortable space narrowed to the underside of a pedestrian bridge between our hallowed halls on the hill.


I do appreciate those of you who slugged your way through my feeble attempt to write at the end of the day. Thursday are an inimitable pain. I can’t complain too loudly, as I brought this academic hardship upon myself and, indeed, I do enjoy all of my classes thus far, it just so happens that the lineup of Thursday classes pushes my brain to the boundaries on a day when I usually could use an extra nap.

I have had an excellent first few weeks here at UTK. That’s mostly an understatement, for it fails to do justice to the situation. Despite being constantly overwhelmed with my school workload (mostly reading for the Geographic Thought seminar), I am really enjoying the camaraderie of fellow grad students who are as enthusiastic about geography as I am and having a wide range of professors who don’t mind you picking their brains on occasion. This is no way a slight to my undergrad experience at UTM – the program does an excellent job with the resources it has, and I think undergrads get a much more personal education than they would here, simply because of the sheer number of students here compared to at UTM. Both are high quality programs, and both provide a service for their universities – there is just a difference of scale. At the graduate level, however, we are known. Professors know our names and our research interests, considering us colleagues in training.

Perhaps the best part, though, is simply interaction with fellow grad students. There is almost a sense of “finally!” that can be added after that sentence, because a person like myself longs, at times, for intellectual interaction on that level with peers who are as completely engrossed by the subject as well. My advice to any potential grad school applicant (whether any of my readers fit into that category, I do not know…) is to make sure that the schools you apply to are schools that have that interaction and camaraderie among grad students. Yes, it requires more work than simply surfing a departmental website, but it is worth it.

While I’m spitting out mostly unrelated items to blog about, a sad product of not blogging often enough, I’ll just briefly say that Karen and I are enjoying Knoxville apart from campus as well. We’ve gotten to know some of our neighbors recently, through a Labor Day/Boomsday get-together (yes, we call it Boomsday here, for the magnificent 20-minute fireworks show that the city spends millions on each year). We’ve also decided to join Church Street United Methodist Church, a very exciting church in the heart of Knoxville, perfectly situated between downtown and campus. And on an related note (however selfish it may sound), CSUMC has stone floors, a pipe organ, a choir that can tackle complicated classical choral music, and handbells. We’ve also auditioned and been accepted into both the Knoxville Choral Society and its smaller chamber ensemble, the Knoxville Chamber Chorale.

Well, it has been raining on and off as I’ve written this, and my brain, despite being frazzled to begin with, is starting to clear with the writing, so I’m saying goodnight before I wake up any more and miss my chance to fall asleep to drip drops on the window panes.

Church Hunting (and a small dose of Geography)

If you need any proof that Knoxville is as much in the buckle of the Bible Belt as West or Middle Tennessee, the other day while returning the ladder we rented from Home Depot I was scanning through the FM radio stations from bottom to top (the 80-somethings through 100-somethings) and I found three Christian radio stations. Before I even got out of the 90’s. And those weren’t the only ones! Now I no longer have an excuse to switch to NPR or classic rock if I’m bored with hearing a song three times in a day (as happened often in Martin while listening to K-LOVE or AIR1). I can just rotate between Love 89.1, K-LOVE on 103.1, and a plethora of gospel stations.

And man, are there are a lot of churches.

Karen and I are starting the church search today at Fountain City UMC at 11. We decided we would see about the services on our first visit, then narrow it down, and then try out some Sunday Schools/Bible studies with the ones we really like. Of course, being musicians, we’ve narrowed the expansive list of churches down to those that are Methodist, Baptist (and one non-denominational church recommended by our pet groomer), have a choir and handbells. This, however, does rule out several churches that are only contemporary (for some reason, choral music and handbells aren’t found in contemporary churches…hmm…), but we’ll probably visit some contemporary churches as well.

So many to choose from, so little time! As we have been driving literally all over town the last several days, Karen and I have seen so many church buildings in so many shapes, sizes, and denominations. If there are any Christians out there in the world who need a place to try to find out what they personally like/need from a church, Knoxville is the place to do so. Within about a 10-15 mile radius from the center of town, that person could probably visit a different church every Sunday and not be done before new ones are started. Seriously.

All of this is very good, of course, and it reminds me of how similar things can be between places if you look for the similarities. Take for example, Martin and Knoxville. You wouldn’t think, on the surface, that the two cities (and I use that term loosely when referring to Martin!) would be all that alike, but you’d be wrong. Both are fairly typical Tennessee cities. Both, with four-year universities but also a strong (and large) conservative Christian demographic, are some of the most interesting places in the country to have intellectual political and moral debates. These isn’t your Boston or New York or LA, where it’s (naively) easy to assume that everyone is a liberal, Democrat, non-church-goer. These are interesting spaces!

Right here in Tennessee, who knew?

Business as Usual

I had a bit more to say than could be said in a tweet or status update, so here you go!

Yesterday, we had a lovely half day at UTM due to impending doom (AKA snow), so Karen and I went to check out the semi-new restaurant in town, Parnell’s Grill. It’s a small place, as the building used to be a donut shop, but the food was great. I’ve heard they are doing well enough to be looking to expand the building or something along those lines, which isn’t usually the case for new places in Martin.

However, a more typical scene for Martin’s economy taking place at our last stop, Movie Gallery, was a going-out-of-business sale. I know that the chain is probably downsizing because they just filed for bankruptcy (again), but I don’t know if our local store was doing a good job of competing with the well-established (and cheaper) Movies to Go. Regardless, they are selling a good majority of their wares. Karen and I picked up two Wii games and Ironman on DVD just in time for the snow day. Guess we won’t be getting anything productive done…

To complete the (sadly ironic) picture of the Martin economy, there is a new store being built just down from Movie Gallery in the University Shopping Plaza. (Can anybody tell me what that is going to be?) It’s being built where the old KFC sat empty for five or so years as an wonderful eyesore. So the big net gain on new stores in Martin this season? (Or year, for all we know…) A big fat zero.

Something closes just as something new is about to open, and though we citizens of Martin might be happy or maybe even proud for a few months when this new store opens, we still have virtually no new growth.

I’m not really complaining, because I like Martin, unlike a lot of people my age. Plus, Martin’s economic/business situation doesn’t impact me that much because I’ll be off to grad school soon. But for those still here, and for those students coming here in the near future, I wish Martin could successfully add and KEEP a few more businesses (stores and restaurants in particular) thriving.

What are your thoughts?

Let’s get the creative juices flowing again…

It’s been about a month since I’ve really worked on my University Scholars project. I’ve done some data-gathering and organizing over the break, but I really wanted to get more written…and it didn’t happen. Now it’s time to start cranking out a page or two every day (except Sundays) from here until mid-March or early April.

And I can’t seem to get started. I’ve false-started two or three times this week. (That means that I’ve gotten as far as opening the Word document, scrolling down to the place to start writing, and then I’ve let it sit there.) So far, on my next two-three page segment on Unter den Linden that I’ve been wanting to finish for a month, I’ve got this much written:

“Throughout its history, Berlin’s most well known boulevard”

And that’s it. I can’t even write a complete sentence!

Anyway, I’m blogging just to get a feel for writing a few things out again. I don’t know if I’ve hit a road block to creativity, writer’s block, or whatever. I don’t think it’s senioritis creeping in, cause I’m really interested in most of my classes this semester and I’m not even that busy yet.

Well…Karen came over and wants to eat lunch now so I’m off the hook for the moment. Any inspiration you want to send my way, readers, would be appreciated.

Fall Break: Money, Money, Money, Money (and a little Geography)

Fall Break started for Karen and me on Friday afternoon, when we frantically packed and got ready to go to Jackson after a busy Friday. Her Thursday-Friday involved Spanish, Voice Pedagogy, and Aural Skills tests, so she had no time to pack. I had three geography tests (Geog of Europe, Remote Sensing and Cartography) Monday-Wednesday, so by Thursday I was ready to get a break (and thus went to the awesome UTM-Eastern Illinois football game) and didn’t pack for Jackson.

We were only kind of late (later than said we would get there, but still in time to eat supper before Julie and the kids got there!) We called it an early night because Karen, Anita, and I had to get up and go to Memphis early the next day.

We got to Memphis around 10:30, and I was promptly dropped off at the Apple store while Karen and Anita looked at wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses. Lucky for everyone, the store had both the right dresses and a good deal, so we were spared a drive to Low’s Bridal in Brinkley, Arkansas, to continue the quest. I was able to burn an hour at Apple before “burning out.” One can only look at the same tech stuff for so long, without drooling or running out of things to play with.

So I sat outside for a while.

For an hour. But the weather was very nice! The high was only 85, and that didn’t occur until later in the day, so my guess is that it was upper 70s, with mostly sunny (I watched the frontal boundary move through the area with puffy cumulus clouds.)

On top of doing some impromptu meteorology, I also took an amateur’s stab at analyzing the urban landscape around me. In case you aren’t familiar with the Apple store in Memphis, it is technically located in the Saddle Creek outdoor shopping center of Germantown. The area is easily describable as affluent, with its upper-middle class shoppers, expensive clothing stores, Williams Sonoma, and Apple. Needless to say, I felt a bit out of place with my blue jeans and UNC shirt…

But I wish I had had my camera. I got a few shots of the area when Anita and Karen came back (my camera was in the car) but there were a lot of good photo opportunities I missed!

I thought long and hard about the whole Saddle Creek set up, and in the end I decided that I like the concept and (mostly) approve of its design. The layout of the main section (there are two smaller sections across the road) is similar to an “M” with parking inside the outer set of shops and building space for two stores at the focal point in the middle of the shape. If you are really curious, see a PDF of the layout.

At the two bends in the outer set of shops are brick facades with Roman-esque arched openings. The store fronts themselves are different, as per each parent corporation’s choosing, but they mostly work together in a modern design theme that incorporates similar materials–glass, steel, and brick–and shades to form a unified front that doesn’t have weird juxtapositions. My guess of when it was built was off a little: I was thinking mid-’90s, but according to their Web site,, the complex was built in the late ’80s. My guess of the age was based on a few small signs of wear: seams in the concrete that have been filled with a slightly different color; cracks in mortar of the brick columns; a couple businesses that are have closed in the last few months.

The site as a whole is definitely still economically viable. There were a lot of people out shopping, and many demographics were present: Caucasian, Asian-American, African-American; rich, white collar, not-so-wealthy; geeks (for the Apple store) and trendy high schoolers; old and young. This place appeals to everyone. If I had to guess at the motivating factors for people to shop here, I would say that it’s the atmosphere and the quality of shops that draw people. The outdoor atmosphere is fun and relatively peaceful (despite the tornado siren test that took place around noon.) The closed-in space feel more intimate than a huge megamall. There is light rock and oldies music playing on outdoor speakers, and there is a decent amount of green space (and two water fountains) included also.

There is also an effort to connect with the community. The shops of Saddle Creek currently are sponsoring an outdoor art exhibit of painted horse statues (remind anyone of the Berlin Bears?) in honor of the 60th Germantown Charity Horse Show.

So while I had to sit there for an hour, at least I got to put my geography skills to good use, right?

The rest of the day was spent spending money (that second theme I referred to in my title). Mostly buying clothes on my part…I’m sorry to say it, but I spent money at Gap and Old Navy. (Didn’t I used to hate those places with a passion…?)

Anyway, to continue the money theme, I’ve spent a large part of today dealing with money. I’ve set out a basic plan of setting up an IRA, converting my existing savings account to a money market account with a better interest rate, putting some money in a one-year CD through Capital One’s online banking services (top 3 in terms of high rates nationally, and a very stable bank according to multiple services), and finally investing some in either stocks or mutual funds. To work toward the IRA and investing, I set up an account on and started examining the wide variety of options they offer. I also checked my credit report online for my free annual check.

Again, money’s the big theme. Interwoven with geography and money have been Berlin (I’ve been catching up on some reading and now need to catch up on writing), family (we went to the UT Experiment Station today!), food (of course), and photography (I want a Nikon D90!)

The girls at the experiment station.

I kind of doubt I’ll post again during the break, but suffice it to say that tomorrow will be spent out in Jackson with Karen and catching up with my Germany buddy Tracy Shelton and his wife, and work on the Berlin research. (Hopefully I’ll get some photos posted to Flickr soon, either of Berlin stuff I’ve been meaning to upload or of new stuff from this fall.)

Exciting stuff, I know!


I am back!

And now with nearly one whole day behind me since flying back yesterday, I feel like I’m recovering nicely from any jetlag.

My travels to get here were certainly interesting, as some of you have already heard. For those who don’t know, I almost had to spend the night in Amsterdam yesterday after I was put “on standby” when I got to the AMS airport. When I checked in at Tegel Airport in Berlin the check-in people couldn’t give me a boarding pass for the flight from Amsterdam to Memphis, so they told me to go to the transfer desk at AMS. As it turns out, there are 8 transfer desks at AMS, but I quickly figured out with a transfer desk near the beginning of every specific gate hallway (B through H and M) and assumed that I should go to the desk for the gate of my flight (E9).

I was correct, and stood in line at the desk for nearly half an hour just to have the attendant tell me that they overbooked the flight because they have so many transfers (whatever that means) and that at that point I didn’t have a seat on the plane. She told me to go to the gate and go through security (at the gate) and that at the desk for that flight they would try to get me a seat. I wasn’t the only one waiting; four other people were currently seatless. One guy who looked like a business traveler got his seat fairly quickly, within about five minutes of sitting down. Then about 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time the other three got seats, and I was the last person waiting. Finally, after all the last two or three last-minute passengers showed up and went through security, the staff found me a seat. I then went into the tunnel to get on the plane (nearly the last in line) and as I waited a stewardess came up the tunnel from the plane asking for a Mr. Cook. She changed my seat on the spot in pen, as I assume someone had the seat they assigned to me.

In the end, it was a great seat. I had the aisle seat on the second row of the economy class seating, which meant that I was one of the first to get food and drink service and was one of the first people off the plane in Memphis. The flight itself was pretty much uneventful, if not a little annoying because my “neighbor” in the window seat next to me was a 9 or 10 year old boy whose family (of 4 other kids plus his mom) were somewhere in the back of the plane. The first several hours were the annoying part, as he kept the window shade up, letting in the blinding sunlight on the video screens. I eventually switched to my iPod (for as long as its battery would hold out) and eventually went to sleep. The service was great, the food was better than usual, and the flight arrived in Memphis about 40 minutes early, so on the whole I can’t complain.

After riding to Jackson with Mom and Dad, we ate at Chik-fil-a and went to Granny and Pop’s house for dessert and to get the key to Anita’s house were I spent the night. I’ve been doing laundry, working on photos, and entertaining myself online while waiting for them to get back from their Destin vacation. They should get back at 6:15 according to their borrowed GPS. Only 37 more minutes to go!

Berlin Day Ten – Checkpoint Charlie and the Zoo

As I figured yesterday, Dr. Rogers and I met up at the famous Checkpoint Charlie this morning to see the site that served as a main crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. We went through the museum, which was very nice considering that it is a private collection though a bit expensive. The student price alone was 7.5 Euros, which is roughly 10 USD. It took us about two hours to read and view information about the Cold War and the Wall (its construction, those who tried to escape, those who helped, how people escaped, etc.) and some of the original artifacts (cars with hidden storage, two small helicopters, a hot air balloon) used to escape. The information signs were amazingly in German, English, French, and Russian all the way through the exhibit, and many of the signs looked like they had been around since the late 1960s when a private investor and some college students began the collection.

As seen in great detail at the Wall museum as well as subtly throughout the city at different museums, monuments and former Communist sites, it has been amazing to see and study how desperately the DDR tried to keep its citizens inside its borders. The cruelty and inhumanity with which the DDR used to keep a grip on its people is only surpassed in magnitude by the great ingenuity with which people tried to escape. These people weren’t necessarily those under heavy scrutinization by the Stasi (Communist state security) but rather mothers or children or fiances or normal college students who wanted to be reunited with their family and build a life with better opportunities. Not many of them went on to what we would consider great fame; aside from being listed in newspaper archives, books, and this museum, most went on to live quiet lives as doctors, teachers, human rights activists, etc. There was actually one student who helped with the escapes who went on to become a West German Astronaut, but that’s all that I know of.

After the museum we escaped from Checkpoint Charlie (tourist central!) and got a drink around lunch while deciding what to do. We didn’t really want to do any more museums after all we’ve covered in the last few days, so we opted for the zoo instead. It was a good, fun choice. We ended the day with lots of animal photos and really tired feet. My feet have actually been so sore that they haven’t even been fully recovering over night.(Germany’s sidewalks and cobblestone walkways just aren’t very forgiving.) We stopped in a shoe store off of Ku’damm and I bought some expensive (read: 20 Euros) gel shoe insoles to hopefully solve my foot woes.

After that we headed to a fish place on Ku’damm for supper, but I wasn’t in the mood for fish so I opted again for an awesome pasta. Dr. Rogers made the mistake of ordering some fish that wasn’t cooked, but rather at room temperature which he didn’t enjoy. Oops…He said he should have known better.

Anyway, after we ate we figured out how to meet up in the morning: we’re going to see the Sachsenhausen concentration camp site/museum in the morning and might go to the Bundestag (free English tours on Tuesday) or the Hertha BSC vs. Liverpool soccer match in the afternoon.

I’ve pretty much given up hope on getting my photos uploaded in a timely manner. Look for them toward the end of this week and when I get home.