Sunday, July 20, 2008

That Baader-Meinhof Complex

I realize that I’ve neglected (nay, abandoned) this Blogchen for the past couple of weeks. It’s been crazy busy here—I’ve started two jobs, and I’m in the middle of moving to a new place in Mitte between Bernauer Strasse and Rosenthaler Platz.

I was at the movies last week (on Kinotag admission is only 4,50 Euros!) and I saw the trailer for Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex. I nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement. As many of you know, I was mildly obsessed with the Baader-Meinhof Gang a couple of years ago. The cast includes some of Germany’s most illustrious actors, including Moritz Bleibtreu (from Run Lola Run) as Andreas Baader and Bruno Ganz (who played Adolf Hilter in Downfall) as Horst Herold.

The Baader-Meinhof Gang, also known as the Red Army Faction was one of West Germany’s most infamous radical left-wing organizations. Galvanized by the student upheavals of the 1960s, the organization became progressively more fanatic and violent throughout the 1970s and organized some of the most shocking and cold-blooded kidnappings and highjackings. In many ways, they defined the modern face of “terrorism.”

On October 17, 1977, the principal leaders of the organization, who were incarcerated in Stammheim Prison near Stuttgart, engaged in mass suicide ("Death Night") after an attempt at freeing them ended in disaster. Many members of the German left are still very suspicious as to the manner of their deaths. Stammheim was considered the most secure prison in the world at that time, yet Andreas Baader somehow managed to smuggle a gun into the prison (?!) in order to kill himself. Many people believe that the West German government (with the blessing of the US) may have executed them and made it appear as suicide.

The painting at the head of this post, by the Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, is titled The Murder of Andreas Baader. It is rather amazing how many artists (including Josef Beuys, Neo Rauch, George Baseltiz and Sigmar Polke) chose the Baader-Meinhof Gang as a subject for their work. The following is Polke's Untitled (Dr. Bonn) which feature portraits of Andreas Baader and Jan-Carl Raspe:

Perhaps the most famous example is the “October 17, 1977” painting cycle (completed in 1988) by Gerhard Richter, who is arguably the most important contemporary artist in the world right now. Here are 3 of the 15 paintings that compromise the whole work, which are currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York:

Finally, here is the trailer for the movie, which will be released in Germany in the Fall of 2008. I’m assuming it will come out in the US some time in the New Year. This sh*t looks like it’s going to be good. Trust.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The next less in Neudeutsch vocabulary, Teil 2: geferkelt

This particularly charming word stems from the German word for piglet: das Ferkel. Ferkeln is the zoological term to litter, but geferkelt combines both terms to mean: "dropping piglets" or, more precisely, giving birth. In the new context though, it refers to the upwardly-mobile couples of Prenzlauer Berg that defy Europe's negative birth-rate.

Example: Diese Tussi ist schon seit ewig schwanger. Hat sie denn noch nicht gerferkelt?!

Translation: That bimbo has been pregnant forever. Hasn't she dropped her piglets yet?

The next lesson in Neudeutsch vocabulary: Ökotante

: literally “eco-aunt”; a woman, generally of the same-sex persuasion, who enjoys wearing hemp or other such natural fibers (of course, made by workers employed under fair labor conditions.) These dull and sack-like articles of clothing are generally accessorized with chunky turquoise jewelry.

They only consume eco-friendly commodities and enjoy “multi-kulti” activities like performing in drum circles, collecting gourds and wicker baskets, and make fruit preserves.

Example: Diese Ökotanten geben mir ein Kopfschmerzen mit ihren Trommelei!

Translation: These eco-aunts are giving me a headache with their constant drumming!

Please note, that the above picture is precisely the opposite of an Ökotante. It is a remarkable image from a Berlin periodical from the 1920s—die Freundin--and captures the once and present glamour of the city.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I feel like I'm in a Kylie Minogue video

Going out, yet again. I know posting videos is just filler, but (to the five people actually reading this) I promise I'll write more tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I've finally gotten some pictures. Last weekend, I went to the Egyptian Museum with some friends, and yesterday I went along on a trip to Dessau with Edgar (aka Concepcion Ascuncion Dolores) to see the Bauhaus. I think this Blogchen has been a little word heavy lately, so here are some pictures:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What good is sitting alone in your room?

Tonight I'm going out dancing at the
uebercool Weekend. Here's Ellen Allien's Way Out (thanks, T$!):

Friday, June 13, 2008

We couldn't it make it to Istanbul, so we headed to Kottbusser Tor instead

One of the benefits of moving to Berlin (besides the culture, the cheap rents, and the nightlife,) is that friends who have disappeared for years suddenly reemerge from the woodwork and want to come visit and see what all the buzz is about. Such was the case for my friend Boris, who was in Switzerland watching the games for the UEFA Euro Cup 2008, and decided to head up to the German capital for a couple of days.

When he first emailed me asking for recommendations for “youth hostels” (an indirect but transparent means of asking to stay with me) I wrote back: “Boris, you once told me that as far as Germany is concerned, they make good cars and beer, and that’s pretty much it—why the sudden change in heart?” Of course, he vehemently denied ever saying this. Boris is originally from Russia, so he’s got two chips on his shoulder—they still think all things French are amazing (look where that got the Romanovs) and they don’t want to admit that their greatest ruler, Catherine the Great, who effectively brought Russia (kicking and screaming) into the modern world—was basically German. (Just kidding, Boris!)

Anyway, I told him he was totally welcome to stay, provided that sightseeing did not revolve exclusively around the Third Reich (which is, understandably, beginning to annoy most young, modern Berliners). Like most people whose image of Germany has been shaped by excessive exposure to Steven Spielberg movies, Boris was (by successive stages) pleasantly surprised, impressed, and charmed by the city.

But sightseeing took a back seat to watching the game (sorry, old Fritz). In total we watched 6 games (two on each day) but the most memorable one was Turkey vs. Switzerland. For that game, we headed to Kreuzberg, one of the hearts of Berlin’s vibrant counter-culture, a neighborhood where trannies and Turkish immigrants (sometimes begrudgingly) live side-by-side. It is known as “little Istanbul” and has the largest concentration of Turks living outside of their country of origin.

Thanks to my prodding (and running) we managed to get a seat in an outside restaurant which was projecting the game on a large tarp. We shared our bench with two enormous Turkish guys, who, after joining our table, promptly offered us their selection of mixed nuts and cigarettes. For a moment, I felt as if I had been transported back to the summer of 2002, and was hanging out in some remote village in eastern Anatolia.

The cheers of the audience and the blaring speakers that marked the start of the game brought me out my reverie. The Swiss scored first, and sent the audience (which overwhelmingly supported Turkey) into despair, but the Turks came charging back, winning the match 2-1. During each score, the four of us rose up and roared, throwing the bench back and hugging. Around us, fireworks exploded from countless rooftops and windows, and the chants of “Turkiye! Turkiye!” resounded down the streets.

When the game finally concluded, an impromptu band was playing and there was a euphoric pandemonium at Kotbusser Tor. But the evening wasn’t over—we raced up to chic Prenzlauer Berg and met up with Edgar, another friend staying with me (but who has absolutely no interest in soccer) at the Marietta Bar.

The Marietta is a great place to hang because you don’t need to deal with the hassle (and glacial service) at the bar—you simply cross the street to the South Asian (Indian? Pakistani? Krishna and Shiva occupied the same wall as the 99 Names of Allah) store and buy a Beck’s for 1 Euro. In summer, everyone stands out on sidewalk (in Berlin, they are enormous), much to the chagrin of the people that live in the apartments above the bar, I’m sure. By midnight, the bar owners have to force the people inside, who either deal with the heat inside, or go home before the public transportation shuts down. We chose the latter, as Edgar had class early in the morning, and Boris and I had to get in sightseeing before the next game at 6 PM.

I forgot the charger for Trevor’s old camera, and so I’m not able to take the sexy images that grace the pages of T$ and Erichen.; so instead, here the jingle/anthem of the 2008 Euro Cup. It is really, really catchy. One of the first leitmotifs of this Sommermaerchen, no doubt.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

No contest

Germany plays against Poland today in the UEFA Euro Cup. Like we even need to watch the game. We all know who always wins.

Addendum: Germany won, 2-0, against Poland.


Yet Another Lesson in Neudeutsch Vocaublary: Biedermeierei

Biedermeierei: The warped attempt to behave in a bourgeois, genteel manner, similar to the emerging German middle class of the Biedermeier era, between 1815-1848.

Example: Wir sitzten hier auf deiner Terrasse und essen Spargel und trinken Wein. Dass ist ja eine Biedermeierei!

Translation: We're sitting here on your terrace and eating asparagus and drinking wine. How very Biedermeier!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Aufwiedersehen to All That

I began this entry, my first serious attempt at this Blogchen, sitting in Kennedy Airport. It was impossible to write there; first, I had forgotten my adapter and didn’t want to use up my battery and second (and more importantly) I was too agitated to really write anything lucid or measured. And of course, once I popped those sleeping pills for the flight, I was in a stupor until I arrived in Berlin. Taking those kinds of drugs does strip you of that last shred of the experience of travel, a process that began with the supplanting of sea travel on great ocean liners with the far faster (but infinitely less romantic) means of travel by air. These days, you pass out in one place, and wake up in another, without being aware of the passage of time, or the movement over a great expanse of the earth’s surface.

In the last months and weeks before my departure to Berlin, many of you would hear me rant and rave about how New York was “over” and that it was saturated with douchebags. (At the head of this post, I initially wanted to place an image of set of actual douchebags a la Andy Warhol. But I figured this might be too rude.) I would post on Facebook every article I found about how cool and promising Berlin was and how inexorably dull and passé New York was becoming.

Of course, I needed these independent opinions, preferably in print (and preferably from the New York Times) to affirm my decision. I’m sure there were plenty of articles to the contra that I conveniently ignored that would have fuelled a doubt that stems less from the move to Berlin itself, but rather from the memories of a disastrous move I made to California 8 years ago.

I remember the days of August 2000, just after completing my undergraduate degree from NYU, about to embark on PhD in Art History at UC Berkeley, when I temped at a law firm in midtown Manhattan and made a killing billing the maximum possible number of hours (even if I didn’t quite work all of them.) Back then, of course, I could talk non-stop about the superiority of San Francisco to New York. Those were the days prior to the meltdown, when anyone could become an e-dork in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Two years later, however, that California dream was largely a nightmare; I could recount those horrors, but this Blogchen is largely about the Zukunft and not the Vergangenheit.

All what should be said, in the end is this: if there is one thing in my life I regret, if there is one thing I could undo, it would be the decision I made to move California. It is only now, eight years later, as I start my professional life as an architect in Berlin, this glittering and chaotic capital of the new Europe that I can finally say I have succeeded in a certain Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung. This obscenely long word is of course German: it means: “overcoming the past,” and generally refers to the means by which each successive generation of postwar Germans dealt with the tragic and horrifying events of the National Socialist regime. I’ve adopted the word for my own personal history, since so much of this move to Berlin ultimately is about overcoming the catastrophic mistakes of California.

Would it have been possible to do such a thing (“overcoming”) in New York? I doubt it, since the majority of my time in New York after moving back from California (with various breaks, 2002-2008) was essentially struggling to find a new path professionally and to quell the demons that had followed me from California. You could really say that the battle began to be won when I finally got accepted to a graduate program in architecture at Parsons. Not that there weren’t setbacks and hiccups during that time. But by then New York had come to represent less the embodiment of a transformation, and more a testament to that struggle; a battlefield littered with countless mistakes and errors in judgment. At every turn, the city represented less what could be achieved and more what was irrevocably lost.

Around the New Year of 2008, my friend T$ recommended I read Joan Didion’s essay Goodbye to All That, which recounts her departure from New York in the late 1960s (at the same age I am now), and why she felt compelled to leave. She writes:

I enter a revolving door at twenty and come out a good deal older, and on a different street… I want to explain to you and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer live in New York. It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also… a city only for the very young.

That was the year, my twenty-eight, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every word, all of it… [I]t was a long time indeed before I stopped believing in new faces and began to understand the lesson in that story, which was that it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair.

Of course, this essay is right in line with all the other material I’ve found that has endorsed my decision to leave. Nonetheless, the essay spoke to me on a number of levels. In New York, I’d be shackled by the past, by my mistakes, by the frequent (and colossal) waste of my youth; in the end, however, at a certain point it’s necessary to get away from where you are.

I can’t help but think of the characters of Holly Golightly in (the novel NOT the movie) Breakfast at Tiffany’s and of Malone in Dancer from the Dance. It frightens me, however, that following their departure, both figures disappear into obscurity. It is never known if Holly ever does find a place to call home like her cat (“African hut, or whatever, I hope Holly has, too.”) or if Malone finds the peace of mind that drove him from New York. Of course, that was a different time—communication then, if the two characters had chosen to keep in touch with those they left behind in New York, was infinitely more difficult. But did they in fact want to maintain some kind of ties?

In that sense, I am relieved that I have no intention of neglecting the ties to the friends, family and loved ones I left behind. You guys know how I am on g-chat. And, of course, I have this blog, quite possibly the most public attempt of “staying in touch” (although I wonder, in the coming busy months how much time I’ll have for it.)

Perhaps, then, it’s less about leaving New York behind (although, like Didion, I’ve “stopped believing in ‘new faces’”) and more about finally returning for good to a place that has always felt like home, always made my heartbeat quicken and always made my eyes sparkle: Berlin.

Monday, June 2, 2008


I've arrived two days ago, and still need to get settled. To keep you entertained, here some clips of the old and new Berlin. The opening Wilkommen Lied from Cabaret, and the video for Apparat's Arcadia (thanks, T$!)