Ryan Hellyer is a former chemist, software developer and creator of Comic Jet, a fun and colourful site that enables you to learn German from comics.
I’m a Kiwi who somehow made his way across the globe to wonderful Berlin. I work as a software developer, and can usually be found working from a cafe some place in Berlin.
What is your favourite place in Berlin?
Herman Schulz cafe. I regularly go there to meet friends, get work done and experience their yummy cakes and soups.
Tell us about Comic Jet
Comic Jet is my attempt at helping people practice their German skills. It doesn’t actively teach, but allows readers to begin reading proper stories in German (or English) and when they get stuck, they can simply click on the comic to switch into their native language.
I had been trying to improve my German by reading comics, but it was driving me nuts having to constantly look things up in a dictionary. I ended up scanning both the English and German versions and putting them on my phone so I no longer had to take the books with me, and could easily switch between the two. This was useful, but it still took me a second or two to switch languages. So I set about working out how to switch languages quicker, and the basis for Comic Jet was born.
What is your favourite comic on the site?
The XKCD comics are my favourite for reading in English, but for learning German I prefer any of the Gaia comics, as they use much simpler language.
What is your favourite German word?
My favourite German word is “duh”. Most people use der, die or das, but I prefer to just say duh, as it makes the language a whole lot simpler! If you say it fast enough, people don’t even notice.
What other projects you are working on?
I have a whole fleet of open source projects on the boil. Most of them are posted on my geek blog. The most popular one is my Disable Emoji’s plugin for WordPress which is currently installed on over 50,000 websites.
What are your future plans for Comic Jet?
My main goal is to add more comics. There are very few comics which are available in both English and German and have licenses which allow me to use them on Comic Jet. If the site becomes popular, I will look into having existing comics translated.
The novel centres around a suicide pact between Zach and Owen, two philosophy students at Oxford University. Although they come from vastly different backgrounds – Owen from a working class British family and Zach from New York money – they develop a close friendship.
Zach becomes obsessed with obscure German philosopher Hans Abendroth and his elusive book The Zero and the One. So it is to this book that Owen returns after Zach’s violent death as he tries to grapple with what happened. Every chapter of the novel begins with an excerpt from the philosophy book as Owen navigates a story that shifts between the locations of Oxford, New York and Berlin.
In a way, the feel of the novel corresponds to how it was created. Ruby said that he wrote the first draft while travelling. Often he would work in one New York cafe, then go for a walk, letting ideas come to him, before settling down to continue in another. A good part of the novel was also composed on trains, planes and buses.
Details, observations and episodes from different places are lines connecting the dots of the narrative. Many sentences are like the lofty thoughts that drift through the mind of a walker. Of course Owen and Zach, like the author, are students of philosophy. This too gives the book a particular quality. Fiction and philosophy are linked – both are exercises in thought experiments. Philosophy, however, is abstract, whereas fiction builds its arguments through characters and feeling. With this novel, the intellectual is present, but the emotional is lacking.
Ryan Ruby will be reading from The Zero and the One at 7 pm, 22nd April 2017 at St. George’s Bookshop in Prenzlauer Berg (Wörther Strasse 27, 10405 Berlin)
Berlin is a city haunted by the past, built on layers of memory. Holger Raschke, founder of Berlins Taiga, a tour company that focuses on the Soviet history of the city and its surrounding areas, is also fascinated by the past. He grew up in Potsdam, at a time when the Soviet army was omnipresent, surrounded by barracks, fenced-off military facilities and gigantic military training grounds.
Holger organises tours of his native Potsdam, the hinterlands of Brandenburg where remote Soviet outposts still remain, and, of course, tours of central Berlin – one of which I took.
Soviet Berlin II – Through the Red Metropolis begins at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, crossing over to the government quarter via the red Moltke Bridge, which Soviet soldiers crossed when they took the city at the end of World War II. The Soviets amassed 2.5 million soldiers for the Battle of Berlin, and their presence still lingers throughout the city.
It lingers just beneath the grass of the Soviet War Memorial of Tiergarten, where 2,500 Soviet soldiers are buried beneath the unmarked, inconspicuous earth. It lingers in the various Soviet murals, the stark architecture and the recurring shape of the Sputnik. Holger unveils the Soviet history of these familiar sites by showing archival photos of the exact spots you visit on his tour, narrating anecdotes and recounting historical facts. The tour leads down Alexanderplatz and Karl Marx Allee, which used to be called Stalin Allee, finally ending at Berlin’s biggest Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park.
Soviet Berlin II lasts four hours and covers five kilometres by foot. It’s perfect for tourists, who would like a unique walk through central Berlin, but as a local I also learned a lot and enjoyed Holger’s extensive knowledge of the subject. Not only was he was able to answer all my questions, but he could recount personal stories about his experience, and those of his friends and family. I would be especially interested in taking his Potsdam and Hinterland Tours, which are more off the beaten track and will certainly take me into as yet unexplored territory.