Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Berlin, the poor man's Vegas

Low rents and down-and-out residents touch off an epidemic of gambling.

By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost - February 26, 2014

BERLIN, Germany — The sign on the window promises “fun and games.” But inside the slot-machine arcade, it looks more like compulsion and mundane clerical work.

Behind the colorfully painted plate-glass window, it's impossible to tell if it's 3 in the morning or the afternoon. Apart from the faint strains of light rock music and an overriding mechanical hum, it's as silent as an intensive-care unit.

The two shabby patrons are so intent on their screens that they may as well be wired them.

Presiding over the fun is 28-year-old Ayesha, a bleached-blonde German of Turkish origin who declined to give her last name to avoid trouble with her boss. It's like this day in and day out, she says.

“A lot of people in this neighborhood are unemployed. After the first of the month, when the unemployment checks come out, that's when we get a crowd.”

Described as “poor but sexy” by Mayor Klaus Wowerheit, the German capital is home to some 600 gambling arcades, 300 sports betting houses and around 2,500 cafe-casinos, according to police. Nearly 20,000 of Germany's more than 100,000 gambling addicts are in Berlin, according to Caritas International.

Tough regulations designed to protect gambling addicts from themselves — including a rule against opening a new gambling outlet within 500 meters of an existing one — have failed to make a dent so far.

Across the southern district of Neukoelln, which is home to many immigrants, betting shops, gambling arcades and cafe-casinos line blocks of major thoroughfares including (ironically) one named Karl-Marx Strasse.

“I never saw this many gambling shops until I moved to Berlin,” says Ayesha, whose arcade stands across the street from three sports betting shops and two more arcades.

During a recent crackdown, Berlin police found that a whopping 90 percent of the city's gambling shops violated tough regulations adopted in May 2011, says Wolfgang Petersen, head of the department's gambling wing.

“Berlin is Las Vegas for poor people,” Petersen said.

The authorities continually monitor Berlin's few full-service casinos. But there are too many slot machine arcades and sports betting shops for regulators to visit frequently, according to Germany's federal association of private casinos.

"Operators of arcades feel they are unobserved, so many of them violate the regulations,” Miriam Benert, a spokeswoman for the association, said in an email. “This only comes to light once the police conduct a surprise raid.”

Police say the arcades are guilty of more than just minor infractions.

In addition to around 2,000 violations of the new gambling rules — which prohibit smoking and the consumption of alcohol in gambling outlets, for example — the police have filed another 1,500 cases of robbery, assault, money laundering and drug-dealing connected with gambling outlets.

Gambling hall workers such as Mustapha, a 50-year-old employee at another Neukoelln arcade who also declined to give his full name, say the stricter regulations have had little impact.

A genial, gray-haired immigrant from Turkey, Mustapha sits at a podium behind a bank of CCTV monitors, buzzing in customers when they approach the arcade's locked doors.

He doesn't serve alcohol or allow smoking, and there's a stack of pamphlets about gambling addiction next to his laptop. Other than that, it's business as usual.

“Sometimes they lose and sometimes they win,” he says. “But almost no one takes his winnings and goes home. It's a sickness, like drugs.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Germany's in a tough spot with this Ukrainian mess

Analysis: Supporting sanctions and leading negotiations in Kiev, Germany risks alienating Russia if it wants to make good on its pledge to take on a bigger role in world affairs.
By Jason Overdorf

GlobalPost - February 20, 2014

BERLIN, Germany — As violence and disorder in Ukraine continued Thursday, Germany's foreign minister met with representatives from both sides of the country’s current face-off, beginning what could be the first real test of Germany's pledge to take a more robust role in world affairs.

But accepting its natural responsibilities as the European Union's most powerful nation could come at a cost: the deterioration of improved ties with Moscow that have taken years to build.

For while the EU has entered the diplomatic morass on the side of Ukraine’s protesters, condemning police violence against them, Moscow has blamed radicals among the protesters themselves, and the EU for failing to condemn them. After all, the protests originally started with citizens demanding greater integration with the EU, which President Viktor Yanukovych rejected in November in favor of greater closeness with Russia.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier — a longtime advocate of a so-called “special relationship” between Germany and Russia who last month pushed for Germany to take a bigger role in international affairs — is now in the eye of the storm, says Judy Dempsey, a senior associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Europe branch.

“It's not easy for Steinmeier because the rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin is very harsh against the EU and against the protesters in Ukraine. So Steinmeier for the first time is forced to actually speak out against the violence in Ukraine without alienating Russia,” Dempsey said.

Early Thursday, Steinmeier met with opposition leaders along with his counterparts fromPoland and France. Later in the day, after erroneous reports suggested the EU negotiating team had left the country, the negotiators met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for four hours of closed-door talks.

The EU team exited the negotiations with Yanukovych with grim faces and declined to answer questions from reporters on the scene Thursday evening. But the trio of negotiators have reportedly proposed a roadmap for solving the crisis, and are staying overnight in Ukraine to continue the discussions, according to Der Spiegel.

Under their proposal, Ukraine would be put under control of a provisional government and embark on constitutional reforms until new parliamentary and presidential elections can be held.

It's too early to say what the outcome may be. But Nina Schick, of the EU-focused think tank Open Europe, suggests that Steinmeier's place at the head of the table and Germany's decision to back targeted sanctions against those responsible for the ongoing violence in Kviv already marks something of a watershed.

“It's hugely significant that Steinmeier is there with the Polish and French foreign ministers and that other countries that usually take the lead in EU foreign policy or try to create an aligned foreign policy, like the UK, have been far more hesitant,” Schick said.

On Thursday, the EU was preparing to impose sanctions against those responsible for the violence and impose an arms embargo on Ukraine, according to a draft ministerial statementobtained by Reuters.

Germany has traditionally opposed sanctions and is perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest thing to an advocate in Europe. But German politicians were in fact instrumental in this case in pushing an otherwise divided EU to take a stand.

“If Germany hadn't come out supporting the sanctions, I wonder whether or not the other countries of the EU would have agreed to pass them,” Schick said. “Countries like the UK,Spain and Italy were not keen.”

Germany's role could be as problematic for the protesters in Ukraine as it is for Yanukovych and Moscow, however. It is by no means certain that Steinmeier's presence will smooth the course toward a political solution, says Strategic Europe's Dempsey, who notes that the German foreign minister met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov before traveling to Kviv.

Pushing for an end to violence, Steinmeier continues to view Ukraine through the prism of Russia, Dempsey said. Meanwhile, the protesters and the opposition in Ukraine are deeply suspicious of Moscow, following Putin's efforts to effectively buy them off with $15 billion in soft loans and cheap natural gas in December.

In essence, it's Russia's monetary (and military) might against the more nebulous power of Europe's democratic values, with Ukraine caught in the middle. And the ambiguity of Steinmeier's, and Germany's, relationship with Russia won't make things any easier.

“There are two diametrically opposed players on the west of Ukraine and on the east of Ukraine. The Ukrainians themselves have to decide who they want at the negotiating table,” Dempsey said.

Easier said than done: That’s what these protests were about to begin with, right?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Germany's undercover operatives will check your — subway fare

A bid to save public funds has turned Germany's public transport system into a cat-and-mouse game between ticketless travelers and Kontrol.
By Jason Overdorf

GlobalPost - February 11, 2014

BERLIN, Germany — As the subway train hisses to a stop and the doors slide open, the rider in the army surplus jacket glances up from a German translation of “The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.” A nervous scan of the new passengers, and his eyes drop back to the novel. The doors slide shut.

“Ticket, please,” says a young woman dressed like a typical Berlin hipster.

The reader's head jerks up. It doesn't take a psychic to know what he's thinking. The single, dreaded word might as well be written on his forehead.


Sounds like something out of the Matrix, right? Or maybe John Le Carre? Welcome to Germany's subway system, the playing field for a cat-and-mouse game between fare-dodging “schwarzfahrer,” or “black riders,” and the freelance spies tasked with making them pay.

Pretty much every city with a metro system has turnstyle jumpers. But since the 1960s, Germany's buses and trains have been run under the so-called “proof-of-payment system.” That means subways and streetcars don't have turnstyles to stop people from riding without tickets. It's like the honor system — with random spot checks.

Proof-of-payment is common throughout Europe, though it was recently abandoned as a failure in Los Angeles.

But in Germany, there's a twist: “Kontrollers” work on commission. They're not conductors. They're plainclothes operatives who work undercover on the trains, earning bonuses from the fines they issue, on top of a modest hourly wage.

The relative cost of gaming the system is simple: Ride for free, you save two or three euros each trip. Get nailed, you face a 40-euro fine. But for old pros like Johann — a 47-year-old “black rider” who asked that his real name not be published — stealing is practically a civic duty.

“I never buy a ticket,” he said. “Not once in the past 20 years.”

He isn’t unusual.

“I've been doing it since I was about 10 years old,” said 29-year-old Anna (another pseudonym). “There was even this one time in school when we had this class trip, and everyone had a ticket except for me. When Kontrol caught me, the whole class had to get out of the bus and the entire trip was canceled.”

Every year, Berlin Kontrollers catch around 400,000 schwarzfahrer. Around 20,000 a year are prosecuted for repeated violations. At one point, as many as a third of the inmates in the city's Plotzensee jail were behind bars for failing to pay fines of up to 3,000 euros.

They're not all the delinquents you might expect.

A surprising percentage of schwarzfahrer are otherwise upstanding citizens who do it just for the thrill — like one elderly dowager who insists that holding an unvalidated ticket in her hand, ready for action, works better on Kontrol than garlic on vampires. There's a Facebook page and an iPhone app that alert “black riders” to the lines Kontrollers are working on any given day.

“When those people come in, I know them,” said Anna. “Even though they don't wear any uniform, I just know, and I get out of the train. A certain kind of people work for Kontrol.”

Anna wouldn’t elaborate on who that certain kind of person is, and the Berlin transit authority didn't respond to a request for an interview. But GlobalPost has casually observed that some of the conventional wisdoms about Kontrollers — that they are always burly young men, for instance, or poorly dressed — are myths.

But nobody likes Kontrol. The checks, which usually commence with a fellow passenger suddenly standing up and asking for tickets, are considered a chronic nuisance.

Proof-of-payment is usually reserved for transit systems where the small number of travelers makes it a waste of money to staff ticket booths and maintain gates and turnstyles. It arguably works in large cities like Munich and Berlin — where as many as a million people ride the subway every day — only because of Germans' notorious willingness to follow the rules.

At the same time, a history of secret police and citizens informing on citizens — both with the Gestapo and the Stasi — gives black riding political resonance.

And even here, Berlin writes off tens of millions of euros in fines every year when fare dodgers fail to pay. Some of them wind up in jail, costing the government more money for courts, guards, and cells. Others are too clever even for that.

Ominous name aside, Kontrol doesn't have the powers of the police, explains veteran schwarzfahrer Johann. They can't make arrests or even touch train passengers. So it's easy to beat the system.

When Johann gets nabbed, he pats his pockets, looks dismayed, and tells the Kontroller he has an annual pass but must have left his wallet in his office. Then he gives them a fake name and address.

“I just throw the tickets away,” he said.

Schwarzfahrer: 1. Kontrol: 0.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Brought to you by BMW: The US Olympic bobsled team

Why does Germany lead the medal race at the Winter Olympics? Engineering.
By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost - February 5, 2014

BERLIN, Germany — Here’s a tip: In Sochi next week, watch out for the little sled.

Thanks to designers at BMW, the United States bobsled team is going to the Winter Olympics with its smallest, sleekest two-man sled ever — and, with pilot Steven Holcomb and pushman Steven Langton, at least one clear favorite to win gold.

“It’s a very efficient, almost diminutive package,” said lead designer Michael Scully.

That could make the crucial difference.

If the Summer Olympics is about raw athleticism, the Winter Games are all about engineering.

That’s why Germany had won four straight Olympic golds in the four-man bobsled race going into the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver — where Holcomb piloted the US team to victory. It’s why the Germans have won three straight golds in the two-man event, where an American hasn’t stood atop the podium since 1936. And it’s why, this year, Holcomb will be driving a BMW.

The key to Germany’s success is a secretive little Berlin outfit called the Institute for Research and Development of Sport Equipment, where engineers beaver away at bobsled runners, speed skates and luges with the aid of state funding.

Like a football quarterback treating his offensive linemen to Rolexes, four-time bobsled gold medalist Andre Lang invites the nerds to his house for barbecues.

This year, BMW is hoping the cookout moves from Berlin to Park City, Utah — Holcomb’s hometown.

Schooled in building race cars, the engineers developed 69 iterations of the design before creating the first prototype, and took that through another 78 iterations after seeing how it performed in a wind tunnel, Scully said.

They honed the sled further so the team can climb into their seats faster after the crucial “push” that starts the run.

And they used special carbon fiber materials developed for the company’s lightweight electric cars to slash the overall weight of the sled.

That might seem counterintuitive, since regulations require every bobsled to weigh in at 170 kilograms (374 pounds). But reducing the weight of the sled’s fixed parts allows the athletes to shift ballast forward and backward according to the demands of the course, Scully explained.

Together with the smaller overall profile, that makes the sled more maneuverable — like a sports car on the hairpin turns of the Alps.

“We tried to really centralize the mass of the sled. That was dictated because the course is so circuitous, and the sled is constantly changing direction,” Scully said.

So far, the design looks to be paying off. Holcomb won the two-man bobsled world championship for the second time this year and comes into Sochi favored to win.

But the bobsled championship is based on cumulative results, a bit like Formula One car racing. The odds-on favorite for Sochi backed into the victory with only a seventh place finish at the season finale in Konigssee, Germany, last month.

“The results of the [bobsledding World Championship] are something that we’re very proud of,” Scully said. “[But] the Olympics are the pinnacle of a sport like this.”

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Popular film jokes about the Holocaust, Germans laugh

Is it time to forgive if not forget?
By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost - February 4, 2014

BERLIN, Germany — Midway through the hit film “Fack Ju Gohte,” schoolkids groan when a comic stand-in teacher proposes a class trip. “Please, not another concentration camp!”

Cue rimshot.

Still too soon? Germany doesn't think so — even though many people are reluctant to voice such sentiments in public.

The irreverent schoolyard comedy is on the way to becoming one of the top grossing German films of all time.

The concentration camp gag never fails to get a spit-take or two in packed cinema halls.

That's because the joke hits home. After decades of self-flagellation, more and more Germans are starting to believe it's time to forgive, if not forget, what post-war Germany has long maintained “must never be forgotten.”

Last weekend, even President Joachim Gauck joined the foreign and defense ministers in calling for Germany to move beyond the legacy of its wartime past.

Berlin resident Dzems Bruvelis is one of those ready to move on.

“Those events were terrible,” he says. “But I was not part of it, and I venture to say my parents were not even part of it. History, after a certain point, should become history. Everyone around us is trying to keep it alive.”

Such views put Germans at odds with the rest of the world.

When another German film — “Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter” (“Our Mothers, Our Fathers”) — was released in New York this month as “Generations of War,” New York Times film critic A.O. Scott excoriated the popular epic as an attempt to “normalize German history.”

But experts say it's not fair simply to say that Germany wants to deny its past.

Germans have gone through three phases of dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust, says Yascha Mounk, a German-Jewish doctoral candidate at Harvard who has written a new bookabout Germany's changing attitudes toward Jews.

In the 1950s and '60s, the country failed to face up to Nazi crimes. Then there was a “heroic moment” in the 1970s and ‘80s, when people seriously engaged with the past. Since the 1990s, however, there's been a growth of what Germans call the “finish-line movement” that seeks to close the long period of introspection.

“Some people want to draw a concluding line beneath the past and say, 'It's been so long, it's time for us to be a normal country again,'” Mounk says. “That mood is very widespread.”

The debate is by no means finished.

Watched by many, “Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter” prompted serious discussion because of its clumsy effort to show Nazis as human beings.

In another characteristic episode, a talkshow host named Lea Rosh prompted a protracted national debate ensued by proposing the building of a huge memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust at the site of the destroyed headquarters of the Gestapo.

At question wasn’t whether Germany should remember the Holocaust at all, but rather if locating the memorial on a site so closely associated with Adolph Hitler would seem to place the blame on him alone and absolve other Germans.

“If you compare Germany to a country like Japan or Austria, there has been a very serious engagement with the past — it's one of the most impressive and honorable things about Germany's post-war history,” Mounk says.

“What I don't think is that means there are absolutely no issues anymore.”

Mounk opposes the "finish-line movement." But the historian and many others nevertheless suggest the continual singling out of the Germans as somehow culturally disposed toward genocide — or at least vulnerable to the impulse — has serious practical implications.

Many who would like to draw a line under the Holocaust believe the euro zone was designed first and foremost to prevent a reunified Germany from growing too strong. Experts say that belief has enabled the far right in Germany to benefit from otherwise healthy euroskepticism while muddying the debate over the euro.

Opponents of the euroskeptic Alternative for Germany Party had only to accuse them of harboring neo-Nazis in their ranks to scuttle their chances in an election last year.

And when Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier dared criticize Israeli settlements in the West Bank earlier this month, at least one columnist accused him of “historical amnesia” for daring to “tell Jews where to live.”

“Every time some stupid protester in Greece holds up a poster of Merkel with a Hitler mustache, the German media focuses on whether we have a moral responsibility,” Mounk says. “It leads to bad foreign policy.”

Others argue that extending guilt to yet another generation of Germans would alienate a society that sees its identity as under attack and underscore the idea that Germany remains a monoculture, something many Germans are trying to battle.

The creator and star of the comedy “Fack Ju, Gohte,” after all, is of Turkish origin.

Monday, February 03, 2014

20 reasons living in Delhi is awesome

Pack your bags, sell your house: It's better in Delhi, India.

By Jason Overdorf
GlobalPost - February 3, 2014

1. Fast food comes to you

(Eileen Delhi/Flickr)
It's not just the ice cream man. Even in Delhi's most residential neighborhoods, hawkers selling roasted corn on the cob, tender coconut juice, and local favorites like the deep-fried mashed-potato patty known as “aloo tikki” troll the streets, calling out their wares in sing-song voices. Listen for the aloo tikki wallah clanging his ladle against his wok and chase him down. You won't regret it.

2. Shopping experiences that absolutely cannot be beat

(Vikram Aiyappa/Flickr Commons)
An outdoor market with stalls selling food and handicrafts from India's many states, Dilli Haat offers a great shopping experience — no touts, no beggars — and only high-quality merchandise. Don't be a stupid farang, though: Tibetan momos and chowmin (i.e. friedChinese noodles) is not the way to go here. Try the Fish Fry and Egg Roast at the Kerala stall or the Uttaranchal Thali.


3. Kebabs are everywhere. And they're delicious.

(Sajjad Hussain/AFP Getty Images)
Whether it's a catered party or a drive-up restaurant like Colonel's Kebabs in Defence Colony Market (DefCol to locals) or Qureshi's in Alaknanda, Delhi's fried and tandoori-roasted kebabs are amazing. The chicken tikka kebab (boneless chicken) and mutton seekh kebab (ground goat mixed with green chiles) are the tandoori standbys. But pan-fried goat kebabs — such as the mutton shaami kebab, which melts like butter in your mouth — are the real gems.


4. The bustling wholesale market Chandni Chowk is a dystopian paradise

(AFP/Getty Images)
Built in the 17th century by the same Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal, Chandni Chowk is today a teeming wholesale market, selling everything from glass bangles to bulk spices. My go-to itinerary here includes a lot of street food — deep-fried dough at Old & Famous Jalebiwallah, fried crisps and potatoes topped with yoghurt (papdi chaat) at Natraj Dahi Bhalle Wallah, for instance. Then take a wander through the winding lanes to the Wedding Market or climb to the roof of the chili powder factory for a view of the city.


5. There are endless incredible and ancient monuments that tourists don't even know exist

(Varun Shiv Kapur/Flickr Commons)
Some of them are beautiful. Some are falling down. Others now serve as home to itinerant laborers. Delhi's medieval ruins are all over the city — not only in recognized “sites.” The government is sitting on a tourism gold mine. But for now, you get the joy of discovery, without the pesky guards and ticket takers.


6. Delhi, despite its reputation, is actually pretty leafy

(AFP/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, Delhi is one of the leafiest cities in Asia. It's strewn with big, forested parks — some of them, like Jamali Kamali, featuring stunning medieval ruins. Beat the heat in the early morning at Jahanpanah City Forest, which features paved two-kilometer, five-kilometer and seven-kilometer jogging paths. Birdsong beats your iPod any day.


7. This place is the perfect locale for an afternoon of quiet reading

(Stephen & Claire Farnsworth/Flickr Commons)
The tomb of India's second Mughal emperor — who ruled what is today AfghanistanPakistanand northern India in the 16th Century — is a stunning, red sandstone mausoleum reminiscent of the white marble Taj Mahal. Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993, it's one of the few architectural marvels in India that has been lovingly restored. And it's quiet enough to dip into a book like William Dalrymple's “The Last Mughal” or Khushwant Singh's “Delhi.”


8. The Delhi Metro actually works

( Raveendran/AFP Getty Images)
There's no better equalizer than public transport. But the Delhi Metro has done more than get middle-class Indians rubbing shoulders with migrant laborers. One of India's few successful infrastructure projects, it's provided a glimpse of the struggling country's possible future. A great antidote to the pessimism that creeps in during the daily skirmishes on the street.


9. The street dogs are really cute and friendly

(Sajjad Hussain/AFP Getty Images)
There's no better testimony to the soft heart beating under Delhi's tough exterior than its huge population of street dogs — most of which are friendly and well fed. Thanks to the Punjabi penchant for exotic purebreds, there's a healthy variety of sizes, shapes and colors. But they all seem to be evolving toward the same khaki colored, short-haired uberdog. (Now and then people complain about biters, but my suspicion is that only happens to those who deserve it).


10. Jama Masjid will help correct your misunderstandings about Islam

(Emmanuel Dunand/ AFP Getty Images)
The main mosque of Old Delhi — the city's medieval core — Jama Masjid was built in the 17th Century. Outside, destitute children and crippled crones beg for alms amid the teeming frenzy of a market selling second-hand auto parts and the like. Slip off your shoes and step through the gates and silence descends. There's no better place to recalibrate your misconceptions about Islam.


11. Hauz Khas Village, or HKV, has (finally) brought the pub crawl to Delhi

(abrinsky/Flickr Commons)
The dozens of bars, bakeries and boutiques of this bohemian enclave sit smack dab in the center of an ancient village — absorbed into the city as Delhi expanded. Work up an appetite — or a thirst — by touring the medieval madrassa and tomb of Feroz Shah Tuglaq (1351-88), which now serves as a makeout spot for young couples. Then from the open-air terrace of the ultra-boho Gunpowder, which offers the city's best Kerala curries, you can look down on the medieval lake that once supplied the water to the Tuglaq's Delhi Sultanate in the 1300s.


12. Delhi is the seat of government, which for regular folks means great regional food at rock-bottom prices

(mycameraspeaks/Flickr Commons)
Goa, Kerala, Sikkim and (especially) Maharashtra all serve up some terrific grub. But Andhra Pradesh Bhavan is the real standout. On Sundays, Delhiwallahs from all walks of life push and shove and clamor at the door to get a crack at the chicken biryani. Don't worry, though, the canteen's patented number system — and the manager's booming voice calling out ticket numbers like a metronome — make AP Bhavan one of the most efficient establishments in the country.


13. The auto rickshaws combine the convenience of economical transportation with the pleasures of a roller coaster and the catharsis of a fistfight

(Andrea Kirkby/Flickr Commons)
It's the easiest way to get around the city, though you can find yourself spending 20 minutes haggling over $0.25 if you lose perspective.


14. There's a thing called jugaad, and when used for good, it's awesome

(Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP Getty Images)
Jugaad — which means everything from fixing your car with a wire coathanger to fixing the bid for a lucrative cement contract with a well-orchestrated bribe — doesn't really translate. But it's what makes Delhi tick. See the positive side of jugaad in action on any street corner, where you can get your shoes fixed or your coffee maker repaired, most of the time for less than a dollar.


15. The greatest weddings in the world are held here, and crashing them is practically encouraged

(Praksh Singh/AFP Getty Images)
Here Comes the Bride is great and all. But let's face it: All weddings would be better if the groom turned up riding a white horse, surrounded by a bunch of drunken, dancing maniacs. And that's not even the best thing about a Delhi wedding. The best thing is that there's kind of no real guest list. A 600-person turnout is small, and crashing is almost mandatory.


16. Jalebis are better than cronuts

(Rajesh_India/Flickr Commons)
Cronuts schmonuts. You want something decadent? Try jalebis. Here's what you do: Squeeze pastry dough from an cake-icing tube into a deep-frier filled with clarified butter and sugar syrup, carefully squiggling it into the shape of a pretzel. Repeat for 100 years, occasionally washing the deep-frier. Yep, this place in Chandni Chowk has been around since 1905.


17. There's the Paranthewallah Gully

(Yelp Inc./Flickr Commons)
Around the corner from Old & Famous Jalebiwallah, this is a narrow lane filled with century-old restaurants specializing in the stuffed north Indian flatbreads called “parathas.” Parathas stuffed with potatoes are a staple of every restaurant in India. But here you can get them stuffed with virtually anything — from bitter gourd (my favorite) to papadum. Better still, they dispense with the griddle and deep-fry the suckers.


18. The Old Fort is both stunning and charming

(Matt King/Getty Images)
The Old Fort or “Purana Qila” is a stunning medieval fortress built in the 16th Century. In the afternoons, couples splash around the moat in pedal boats — pleasant in Delhi's brief, sunny winter. And year round, there's a campy but fun sound and light show every night after sundown with a blaring recorded history of the “Seven Cities of Delhi.”


19. This gorgeous park in the middle of the city

(Bertram Ng/Flickr Commons)
A sprawling, manicured park, Raj Ghat proves that Indians can keep public spaces clean when they really, really want to. Raj Ghat itself is a memorial to Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi — the leader of India's freedom struggle. The park also features a memorial to India's first prime minister and greatest statesman, Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as a memorial to his daughter, Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mohandas).

20. India Gate is the ideal place for people watching

(rajkumar1220/Flickr Commons)
The national monument of India, this L'Arc de Triomphe-esque structure was designed by Raj-era architect Edward Lutyens as a memorial for the 90,000 Indian soldiers killed fighting for Britain in World War I. After independence, India removed the statue of George V from beneath the arch, making it a modern symbol of India's freedom struggle. It's a brilliant place to see tourists from all over the country — many of them of modest means — enjoying an ice cream and snapping photos.