Explore the dark past of Germany’s capital city Berlin

WHAT would the Stasi make of taking a selfie and sticking it up on Facebook? We all do it these days yet in the former East Berlin this simple act takes on a grim irony. The secret police spent 40 years spying on its citizens. But they wouldn’t need to bother now – people happily post their private lives online for the world to see. If you want a taste of life behind the Berlin Wall, visit the forbidding Stasi HQ, now a museum, where tyrant boss Erich Mielke’s office has been preserved. It is a world of Bakelite telephones, switchboards with oversized buttons, tape recorders, typewriters — and paper shredders. When the Wall came down in 1989, East Germans stormed the building, demanding to see what the Stasi had on them. Panicked officials frantically started shredding files. But not quickly enough. Some 140km of dossiers on six million people were discovered. The Stasi’s mission was to stifle any dissent that might threaten the East German Socialist “utopia”. Discover just what that utopia was like at the brilliant DDR Museum. Displays recreate the dismal world of surveillance, rationing, poverty, fear and relentless propaganda — all soundtracked by terrible “official” pop music. No wonder so many risked being shot while escaping over the Wall to the West. Checkpoint Charlie, one of the crossing points, is still there and is arguably Berlin’s most famous sight. Today it is very touristy, with actors dressed as border guards, hamming it up for foreigners’ selfies. But the museum next door gives you a good idea of the ingenuity of the escape plans and the bravery of those fleeing. One of the best ways to see Berlin is to follow the Mauerweg — the route of the Wall — a double-brick line that zigzags across Berlin showing where it stood. Parts are still standing, such as the East Side Gallery where in the heady days after the fall, graffiti artists daubed the Wall in slogans and Continue Reading

‘He does not deserve to be in Jackson’: Trump’s visit to civil rights museum met with protests

JACKSON, Miss. — Reiterating their decision to boycott the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and flanked by foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and NAACP President Derrick Johnson on Saturday denounced the appearance of President Trump at the state’s new museum.Lumumba called Trump's stances an affront to the movement’s goals.“It is my appreciation for the Mississippi martyrs not here — the names both known and unknown — that will not allow me, that will not allow many of us standing here today to share a stage with a president who has not demonstrated a continuing commitment to civil rights,” Lumumba said during a news conference at the Smith Robertson Museum, about a mile from the state’s new civil rights museum and Museum of Mississippi History.U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who was scheduled to speak at the event at Smith Robertson, was not in attendance due to travel delays.Johnson and Lumumba’s perspective represents the quandary that many activists and black Mississippians found themselves in after learning that Gov. Phil Bryant had invited Trump to the museums’ kickoff event. More: Civil rights veteran on Mississippi museums: 'I felt the bullets. I felt the tears' More: Reserved Trump praises 'true American heroes' at Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Many had hoped Saturday’s ceremonies would be a unifier in a state that was ground zero for some of the pivotal events of the nation’s civil rights movement.But word of Trump’s possible appearance left many progressives in a bind: They could either not celebrate the museum's opening, or they could attend an event that would provide a platform to a president whom many have called racially divisive — citing his statements in the aftermath of a deadly clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va., his views against Black Continue Reading

Many played role in 2 new Mississippi history museums

Two museums telling the story of Mississippi are opening on the eve of the state's bicentennial, culminating years of planning.Many people deserve credit for pushing the projects from vague concepts into see-it-and-touch-it reality. High on that list is former Gov. Haley Barbour.During his final year in office, in 2011, Republican Barbour persuaded lawmakers to approve $38 million in state financing for the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum — two entities under a single roof. The plan came with a provision that money also had to be raised from private donors."The civil rights struggle is an important part of our history, and millions of people are interested in learning more about it. People from around the world would flock to see the museum and learn about the movement," Barbour said in his 2011 State of the State address. More: 'We gave so much': Reflections on Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Ground was broken in 2013 for the two new museums , which are a short walk from the current state Capitol and the Old Capitol Museum in downtown Jackson. They open Dec. 9.Ideas for a general history museum and a civil rights museum had been developing for years on parallel tracks.The civil rights museum, in particular, was the subject of debate.Democratic Sens. Hillman Frazier and John Horhn of Jackson were among the sponsors of a resolution that lawmakers adopted in the spring of 2006, creating a study committee for a civil rights museum somewhere in the capital city. Months later, Barbour sent committee members a letter saying he supported them and wanted to join their effort to create a "world-class museum." More: Mississippi made a lot of history in 200 years Some wanted a civil rights museum to go on the campus of private, historically black Tougaloo College in north Jackson, which was a haven for activists during the civil rights movement. Others suggested an appropriate place Continue Reading

Richmond, Virginia is transforming from parochial to cool, and one of the East Coast’s most intriguing cities

I was thrilled to discover jeans by the Ridgewood, Queens brand Left Field, an under-the-radar New York label, at an indie clothing store. Except I was in Richmond, Virginia, not Manhattan. And the thoroughly tattooed owner of the shop, Yesterday’s Heroes (instagram.com/yesterdaysheroes), knew more about artisan menswear brands than most of the clerks at Barneys. Richmond’s becoming that kind of place. While there’s a pronounced Southern languor here, the city’s cultivating its own mellow buzz, a kind of counterculture vibe tempered by genteel character and aw-shucks self-awareness. Like many midsize cities, its cost of living and quality of life are drawing culinary and cultural talent who may have once fled to New York or Los Angeles. And they’re transforming Virginia’s capital city from a parochial, roll-up-the-sidewalks burg to one of the East Coast’s most intriguing places to visit. “I wouldn’t have said this a decade ago, but Richmond’s pretty cool these days,” owner Drew Dayberry told me at Roaring Pines (roaringpines.com), his gleaming new soda counter/hardware store. There’s a Slayer espresso machine and American-made tools and textiles here. Dayberry pulled one of Roaring Pines’ signature handmade fountain drinks, a vanilla-infused coffee concoction called The Bebey. It was superb. Church Hill, Dayberry’s neighborhood and Richmond’s oldest, makes an apt symbol of the city’s evolution. “It was dilapidated,” longtime resident Erin Powell, who owns Ginger Juice (gingerjuiceco.com), Richmond's first cold-pressed juice company, told me while selling her juice at a nearby Farmers Market. “It’s gentrifying fast.” Church Hill’s exquisite stock of Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne homes — in various states of repair or restoration — make Continue Reading

Pope Francis’ Rome: Cut the lines at Vatican City’s top attractions like the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica

As papal fever in the U.S. reaches new heights during Pope Francis' first-ever visit here this week, it’s no less fervent in Rome. Travel to Italy’s capital city has jumped 13.5% since 2013, when he was elected Pope, according to American Express Travel. A recent survey from Pew Research Center showed Pope Francis’ popularity at a 90 percent rating among U.S. Catholics and at nearly 70 percent among all Americans. And Global tour operator City Wonders — specializing in exclusive tours and one of only three providers with an official Vatican partnership — has seen a 175 percent increase in sales of their renowned Vatican tours since 2013 and an overall 35% sales increase of its Rome tours so far this year, compared to 2013. This was all too evident on my recent trip to Rome, just days before the U.S. papal tour. It was my third trip there, my first in 12 years. I was taken aback by the throngs of tourists. It was Times Square at every turn and felt far less Roman than I had remembered. On previous trips, I toured on my own. This time, I put City Wonders to work to cut crowds and maximize my time in town. Today the company offers a total of 42 tours, double the 21 available in 2013. Currently there are 14 Vatican City specific tours, with an additional 28 tours available throughout the city of Rome. My first day in Rome, I got a real taste of the Pope’s world, with City Wonders’ Extended Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel tour, with the original Bramante Staircase (not available to the public) & St. Peter’s Basilica ($99.33). Thanks to the tour company’s exclusivity to sites, early access, extended hours, private entrance use and cut-the-line access, my group cut the Vatican line upon arrival, which can last two or three hours. Even with our access, the tour was uncomfortably crowded at times, yet no less wonderful touring the Pinecone Courtyard, Gallery of the Continue Reading

5 burgeoning cities that didn’t exist just half a century ago

Most cities around the world have taken centuries to grow — but others not so much. Some metropolises are more modern than you may think, having only cropped up in the last few decades. Still, these new cities have managed to distinguish themselves as travel hotspots in the short time they’ve been around. Here are five cities that didn’t exist a mere 50 years ago: 1. Dubai, UAE Dubai may be the most populous city in all of the United Arab Emirates, but it only gained independence from Britain in 1971, according to the World Atlas. Today, the newfangled metropolitan city is known for its glistening night skyline, seven-star hotel and soaring skyscrapers — it is home to the world's tallest man-made structure, Burj Khalifa, which stands at a staggering 2,716 feet, according to the building’s site. It’s no wonder Dubai is frequented by royalty and the ultra-rich — it is the most expensive city in the Middle East and the 22nd priciest city in the world, according to a global study by UBS. 2. Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada This arctic capital is the youngest on the list, having been established in 1999 after Inuit Aboriginals voiced their desire for their own Canadian territory. Prior to 1999, it was used as an American air base for flights to stop over and refuel during World War II, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. At least 60% of the city’s current population is Inuit, according to Nunavut's tourism site, and boasts indigenous artists, musicians and filmmakers that attract throngs of tourists. Residents brave the bitter cold to enjoy the city’s pristine natural environs, which yield an abundance of wildlife that serve as food, clothing and supplies for the Inuit people. With a population of 7,250, Iqaluit is the capital with the smallest number of residents in Canada, according to a 2011 Canadian census. 3. Continue Reading

The well-preserved city of Cusco in Peru is the perfect gateway to discovering Machu Picchu

More than 400 years after the Spanish conquistadors executed the last of the Incan rulers, another mission has taken hold in Cusco, Peru: To preserve what’s left of the past while beautifying the present. Take one step inside the 17th-century cathedral in historic downtown and glance at the gleaming gold displays of religious artwork. Climb the stone steps of Machu Picchu or Saksaywaman. It only takes a moment to realize the term “ruins” only loosely applies. The missing pieces can’t detract from the majesty of what’s left. It’s what makes Cusco and its surrounding treasures an ideal getaway from the New York minute. Keeping this bucket-list destination both beautiful and authentic takes time, and so should every visit to Cusco. My stay started with an overnight in Peru’s capital city of Lima. Since the Cusco airport services only domestic flights, that’s the best way to avoid a long day of travel. Flights from Lima to Cusco are 80 minutes. Once in Cusco, don’t underestimate the challenge of adjusting to being 11,200 feet above sea level. Every glass of beer and wine in Cusco hits harder than a Manhattan in Manhattan, and every meal takes longer to digest. Inoculation comes in the form of eight glasses of water a day, starting a few days prior to your visit. Be sure to leave time for naps, grab a pack of altitude sickness Sorojchi pills at the airport, and sip coca tea to calm your insides. At the spacious JW Marriott Cusco, a tea dispenser sits inside the massive wooden doors. Downstairs, a machine pumps oxygen into any room upon request. These will serve as creature comforts to some and necessities to others, depending on your age, health and experience with elevation. A decade ago, what’s now the JW Marriott Cusco was a decrepit convent with rotting wood, crumbling stones, and dirt expanses interrupted by green weeds peeking through the earth. Marriott then bought the property and Continue Reading

From the arts to technology, the crown jewels of education help New York City high school students shine

1. The Brooklyn Latin School223 Graham Ave., Brooklyn Enrollment ................................................. 509 Graduation rate......................................... 99% Report card grade............................................ B Average SAT score................................. 1740 Post-secondary enrollment rate..................................... 86% Admissions:Test-based. Applicants are required to take the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Admissions decisions are based on applicants’ scores. Brooklyn Latin’s emphasis on the classics manifests itself in a four-year Latin requirement that goes along with similar obligations in more conventional high school subject areas like history, mathematics, science and English. No student graduates without having built strong oratory and writing skills into his or her arsenal, as the young scholars are required to participate in Socratic Seminars and Declamation to build public-speaking techniques. The school’s rigorous expectations for independent thought and action manifest themselves in the required college-level research essay on a selected topic, as well as the 150 hours of creativity, action and service to be completed outside of TBLS. With this disciplined and challenging curriculum, it’s no surprise that the cream of the crop are encouraged to work in the International Baccalaureate Diploma program. 2. Bronx High School of Science 75 W. 205th St., Bronx Enrollment.............................................  3060 Graduation rate ..................................... 100% Report card grade ..........................................  A Average SAT score ...............................  1969 Post-secondary enrollment rate................................. 100% Admissions:Test-based. Applicants are required to take the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Admissions Continue Reading

The Grove Museum set to open

It took four years in the early 19th century to build The Grove.It’s taken nearly eight years in the 21st century to turn the antebellum mansion into a state-operated museum.But visitors should find the wait worthwhile. Following a thoughtful and assiduous restoration, The Grove, opens this week to the public – fulfilling the intention of its longtime owners, the late Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins and his wife, Mary Call Collins.► READ MORE: Director digs deep to tell story of The GroveThe Grove’s grand opening is this coming Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be guided tours of the two-story brick mansion, music performances, children’s games and food trucks.Following the grand opening, The Grove will be open to the public four days a week (Wed-Sat). Admission is free.The Grove is located immediately north of the Florida Governor’s Mansion on North Adams Street. The main entrance and parking lot are at 902 North Monroe St.“We look forward to working with our partners in the Tallahassee community to ensure The Grove becomes one of the top heritage tourism destinations in Florida, and in the nation,” said Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, whose agency operates The Grove. “Visitors will be able to experience the vision of the governor and Mrs. Collins to make The Grove a place for future generations of Floridians to celebrate our shared heritage, learn about critical moments in history and inspire a passion for public service.”The Grove is meant to be more than simply a tribute to some Tallahassee historic figures and one of the city’s oldest structures. It’s meant to use a local icon to help tell state and national history during the tumultuous eras of its existence.Born in the Seminole Wars, a flashpoint for Florida’s role in the Civil War, an integral part of the antebellum plantation economy and the longtime home of one of Florida’s most famous civil rights Continue Reading

Children’s museum, Roger Williams Park Zoo make Providence, R.I., ideal for a family escape

Virginia may be for lovers, but Providence is for mothers . . . and fathers . . . and kids, too. Rhode Island’s capital city provides all the ingredients for a fun family getaway: great food, affordable lodging and plenty of child-friendly activities. And at a mere 180 miles from the Big Apple, it was close enough for my wife and I to make the drive with our 3- and 4-year-old without one bathroom stop this December. We checked into the Providence Marriott Downtown, which is well-accustomed to dealing with young kids sprung from their seat belts. The hotel welcomes guests with freshly baked cookies, hot mulled apple cider and crisp apples. After settling in, it was time for window shopping along Westminster St., where the Craftland Shop was hosting its 10 annual “Super Celebration Bash.” The famed store is the perfect place to find unique holiday gifts, and it entices shoppers not only with its eclectic collection of handmade items, but also with wine, sparkling water, cheese, fruit and other snacks. We worked up an appetite — and drained our wallet — before heading over to Gracie’s for a meal that easily rivals the atmosphere, service and fine food you come to expect from your favorite local eatery. Quite possibly the only differences were the free valet parking and the hospitality shown to the aforementioned children, who had to adjust to sitting in a chair instead of a booth. The tasting menu featured beet salad, homemade cavatelli with rabbit confit and foraged mushrooms, fresh fluke with cabbage, filet with broccoli rabe, and finally a nice cheese plate that led to a most delicious root cake with cranberries. While Providence may be better known as the home to Brown University and Providence College, the city’s restaurants have surely benefited from the presence of the culinary school at Johnson & Wales University. The next morning began with a trip to the Providence Children’s Museum Continue Reading