Scotland Independence Debate: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I spent a week or so in Scotland before the independence vote to report on the historical effort to break from the United Kingdom. My first story was a look at the border towns of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and Coldstream.

This story, the second of three, was all reported in Edinburgh, a lovely town.

I met many people from both sides of the debate; everyone was passionate about their position and nearly everyone seemed to have perfectly valid reasons for why Scotland should remain part of or depart from the UK.

Ultimately, as we know today, the vote failed and Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. They did manage to get some concessions and new powers from Westminster, however, so the YES contingent does not go away entirely unsatisfied.

Germany’s Offshore Wind Push

The small German island of Heligoland off the northern coast of Europe is the site of a major gamble on renewable energy. A half dozen huge wind farms are being built or are currently operating and providing power to German homes. Eventually over a million homes will likely be served by these towering wind machines. They are part of a massive national energy project called the energiewende, or energy transition, taking place in Germany. This is the first of three stories I have produced on this truly revolutionary, but also troubled project.

Germany’s Grass-Roots Energy Revolution

I visited a small cluster of villages in the north of Germany called the Aller-Leine-Tal, where the people have banded together to reduce their carbon footprint and get 100 of their energy from renewable sources like wind, solar and biogas.

It is just one of many energy cooperatives that have contributed to the success so far of Germany’s Energiewende, or energy transition, perhaps the most ambitious national energy project on the planet right now.

Scotland Independence Debate 2014: Bracing for the Referendum

I pay a visit to the border towns of Berwick-Upon-Tweed (that is, the Tweed River) in the UK and Coldstream, Scotland to see how the residents in these places view the Scottish independence movement. It is a very big issue here and passions are running high. A great deal of uncertainty surrounds the issue, which, if the vote goes yes, could have a very significant impact on people’s livelihoods.

Scotland and England border, which could become much less porous after next week.

Scotland and England border, which could become much less porous after next week.

Dubbing 007
Meet the man who does the German voice for James Bond, Adam Sandler and many others. Dubbing is big business is Germany as nearly 90 percent of all English-language films are dubbed for the German audience. The Germans bring their legendary attention to detail to bear on dubbing, and are regarded by some, as I was told when reporting this story, as the best dubbers in the world.

I spent several days with one of Berlin’s top dubbers, Dietmar Wunder, talking about the Berlin movie scene and just hanging out as he did his work. It was a fun story to do.

Germany’s biggest folk hero is an Apache named Winnetou who fights for justice outside of Hamburg. Best-selling author Karl May, who created him, never traveled to the American West.

My colleague at the New York Times, Axel Gerdau (who is German) and I, traveled to Bad Segeburg and Radebeul in Germany to produce this short documentary about the German fascination with Native Americans. I had read several articles about this phenomenon before coming to Berlin and knew I wanted to do a video about it. I’d not seen any videos and knew that there would be great visuals and characters involved. Axel, who grew up watching the Winnetou movies and knowing Karl May stories, was also very interested in doing something.

So we spent several days at the Karl May festival in Bad Segeburg talking to as many people as we could about the phenomenon. One of my favorite interviews was with a man who calls himself Lonely Man, who actually lives in a teepee on the grounds of the Karl May museum in Radebeul.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Elaine Stritch Video Obituary

About 7 years ago at the New York Times we started a very interesting project called Last Word where we would interview famous people who were in their later years, post success, and talk to them about their lives. The premise was simple: let them tell us who they were/are in their own words. There would be some voiceover, but mostly it would them talking. We shot many of them, and most have not run yet. The person is aware, when we connect with them, that the video will not be released until they die.

I produced nine Last Word videos and none of them had run. Until now. This was my first one, actually, featuring the Broadway actress Elaine Stritch.

We filmed in the Carlyle Hotel, where she lived until recently when she moved back to her home town in Michigan.

She was a larger than life character and so full of energy … and opinion. It was a blast spending time with her. She was intense and sometimes demanding, but ultimately very kind. When my daughter was born, she called me and left a message saying how happy that made her. I thought that was very nice. RIP Elaine.

The Bomb Collector of Ypres

I traveled to Ypres, Belgium to report on a young electrician named Stijn Butaye who lies on a farm with his family. The farm is the site of a major battleground during World War I, and where numerous German bunkers were built. Around Ypres and Flanders many bombs are still found every year from the First World War. Millions were fired or buried or just left to rot during the war and they are scattered over such a large area that they were never properly cleaned up. Farmers find them especially when they begin to till lands that have been fallow for decades or centuries.

Over the years, Stijn has discovered numerous World War I relics, including unexploded shells, on the farm, and a few years ago ,he decided to build a small personal museum on the family farm. I went and spent a day with him as he walked me around the farm and showed me the museum. There was a small cage behind the museum where he kept live munitions that are still being found on the farm. There were probably a dozen or more bombs in there. One of them was a mustard gas canister that was still live. Stijn said he was waiting for the Belgian civil protection corps to come ad take the bombs away for disposal and detonation.

Destroying Bombs From World War I

We spent a day out with the mine clearance squad of Verdun, France, where hundreds of tons of unexploded ordnance still lay buried in the soil. Verdun was the site of one of the worst battles of the war, a battle of attrition that took hundreds of thousands of lives. It remains one of the great horrors of modern warfare.

While out with the mine clearance crew we did two pick ups. The first was on an open field where about ten bombs had been found in nearby fields. The second was on a large farm where about eight rusting canisters were found, most of them live. The farmer walked us around his farm and showed us all sorts of debris from the war that is coming to the surface or lies just beneath. Belt buckles, shrapnel, horse shoes…it was like a raw, real museum of the war.

The bombs that we collected were detonated later in a large field. The explosion, which is in the final moments of the story here, was very loud.

The Neanderthal Inside Us

A piece I did with Svante Paabo, a Swedish biologist who studies evolutionary genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. I spent a few hours with Svante in his lab, where ground-breaking work is being done to decode the Neanderthal genome and compare it to the human genome in hoe of teasing out the genetic differences that make us human. That is, how did we develop the ability to create and build cities, send spacecraft to mars and invent the Frito?

Berlin Rainbow
Shot this earlier from the window of my home in Berlin. That’s not a pot of gold at the end…it’s Germany’s Wal-Mart.

Berlin Rainbow
Shot this earlier from the window of my home in Berlin. That’s not a pot of gold at the end…it’s Germany’s Wal-Mart.

Bringing Back Europe’s Bison

In Bad Berleburg, a German prince (and the largest land-owner in the region) is leading an effort to reintroduce European bison into Germany.

They have started with a group of 8, that has since grown to 9 animals. It’s pretty neat. The animals are huge. In fact, the European bison is the largest land mammal in Europe. They almost went extinct in the early part of the 20th century. Now, places like Poland and Germany are bringing them back.

The effort is part of a larger program across the continent called Rewilding Europe which is seeking to take abandoned farmland, underused land, and to find ways to repopulate it with wildlife that has not existed in abundance in Europe for hundreds or even thousands of years.

I spent two days in and around Bad Berleburg, Germany, hanging with the bison, interviewing people and learning more about this fascinating project. My favorite character, by the way, is Jochen Born, the bison ranger, who has no fear of these massive animals and himself is rather bison-like.