daylight stroll

Hotel Garni’s rooms are nothing special, but they are spacious, clean, and it’s perfectly quiet. The bed is good and I slept very well, although not too long. At the reception I ask where I could get a coffee and she points me to a coffee-vending machine near the door … of course—I am going to attend a cyber-conference. The machine’s coffee is hot, outside it’s decidedly cold at that time of the morning, nevertheless I decide to skip the shuttle-bus to the university and to walk there instead. According to the citymap it shouldn’t be much farther than three or four kilometers. My way leads me up the hill first, and now I understand why the advertisement for the Hotel Garni boasted about this ‘finest neighbourhood’. The whole hill—with the exception of the concrete-slab construction the Garni is a part of—is covered with mansions, unique pieces of architecture, planted onto large pieces of property. Later on someone explains to me that during the 1920s and ’30s the hill was very much in favour by architects who worked in Vienna—which is roughly a 120 km to the south—but lived in Brno, up on that hill, in houses designed by themselves. Some of those houses of course now are in a state of decay, but others seem to be perfectly renovated, and on some it is busily worked on.

Once beyond the hilltop I start to descend into the real town of Brno. At the foot of the hill I turn around a corner into one of the city-centres streets. The sight takes my breath away. Up and down the street, as far as the eye reaches, there is architecture stemming from the last centuries. Most of the huge houses I’d say were built during the 19th century, but some of them may well be 400 years old. There they stand, side by side, no gap between them. Seemingly during the whole war not a single bomb has hit the centre of Brno. The architectural glory of ‘Old Europe’ surrounds me. If I compare that to Munich, which had been almost flattened out during the war … Of course there are the usual belts of suburbs and industrial quarters around Brno, but the city’s core is decidedly beautiful. The mixture of old buildings decaying, others perfectly renovated, the occasional singularity of socialistic architecture, present day advertisements, and so on induce a certain ambience. Not exactly cyberpunk, but Half-Life-2 ambience [Gosh, am I infected by computergames and pop-culture stuff].

Speaking of the things ‘cyber-‘—the conference towards I am walking right now, very self-consciously is called Cyberspace 2005, just as cyberspace was a given concept. That of course never was on the mind of the organisers, as Radim Polčák, the conference general chair tells me later. Last year he was invited for an interview on Czech national radio, and the first question they asked him live on air was “What is cyberspace?” And now try to give a clearcut answer to the nation listening. Well, “the place between the phones” (Sterling 1992) would have come in handy. Maybe because of the conference’s title, or maybe bacause of the sheer bore of having to spend hour by hour on the highway, I yesterday night meditated about the concepts and meanings of cyberspace. My vintage Audi quattro knows nothing about a CD-player or even more evolved things. Instead the star of the center-console is a vintage 1987 Blaupunkt radio. So I was forced to listen to what the radiostations breeze on air, not to anything canned. [Of course, what the stations broadcast is canned, too—but in a way it feels live. And evokes a sense of communitas with all the other unknown listeners out there in the night.] Well, yes, there is a cassette-deck integrated, but if you’d have seen my collection of music cassettes you’d opted for the radio, too. During my course through the night the stations came and went. One fading out, the radio automatically searching, the next one coming in. Is that a symptom of travelling through different provinces of ever-present cyberspace? And now, while I am walking through the streets of Brno, is cyberpsace potentially present, too? Can I tap into it right now. I need Czech crowns and there’s a cash-machine on the other side of the street, set into the wall of a 19th-century building. I feed my card into the machine and after some time it gives me money. Obviously it could connect to somewhere, cyberspace is here. What about the phone-system which denied service to me last night? There’s a phone booth at the next corner. The payphone takes my coins, connects me to Munich flawlessly [surprise, surprise, I know]. It is here, around me all the time. And, the Gibsonite I am, I very much dig that thought.

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