M&M Creative, Berlin
art, Berlin, events, Humour, Language, Life in Berlin, Literature, News, people, politics, theatre, things to do

M&M Creative: Workshops for Individuals and Business

I’ve started a company! Everyone else in Berlin has a startup, so I thought I’d launch one too.

M&M Creative, Berlin
M&M Creative, Berlin

I’ve joined forces with actor and writer Mary Kelly, and together, we’re devising original workshops to help individuals and companies maximise creative expression. We have twenty years combined coaching experience (BBC, The Opera Stage, Berlin and The Gaiety School of Acting, Dublin) and our publications include The New York Times, Nick Hern Books, Penguin Random House, Stinging Fly Press, Asia Literary Review and more.

Great. So when’s the first one?

Our first workshop is for women, trans and non-binary people who want to start writing, continue to develop their craft, or anyone who needs a creative boost. It will take place on Saturday 9th March, from 10 am — 5 pm in Kreuzberg.

How is it original?

We are combining an actor’s approach to character and story with a writer’s.

We will be working on character development, dialogue, structure, layering and subtext by getting people on their feet, into their bodies, and using their physical voices, so what lands on the page is the most connected and full-bodied expression.

What will I get out of it?

You will leave the workshop with new and original work, energised and equipped to continue.

What other workshops are we devising?

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M&M Creative, Berlin

Improv for Writers.

Improv for Women in Business.

Writing from the Body with Bowspring Yoga.

From Page to Publication.

Flow sessions for writers.

Storytelling and Acting Coaching for Presentations in English (for non-native  speakers)

To learn more and keep up to date, like us on Facebook.

Use Your Voice: A Creative Writing Workshop for Women will take place from 10 am – 5pm on Saturday 9th March 2019 at Lettrétage, Mehringdamm 61, 10961 Berlin. Book now via Eventbrite (€150).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

nineties berlin at the alte münze
art, Berlin, events, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, Museum, music, things to do

Nineties Berlin at the Alte Münze

“Berlin ist vorbei,” says Andreas Jeromin, a former Berlin squatter. It’s a phrase we hear often. Berlin is over. The coolest, most creative time the city had ever experienced, just after the fall of the wall in the 1990s, is long gone. But the current exhibition at the Alte Münze attempts to revisit the era with Nineties Berlin.

nineties berlin at the alte münze

The Alte Münze seems like a good choice for such an undertaking. The former mint factory now serves as a blank canvas that is regularly repurposed for different events and exhibitions, much like the morphing and the repurposing of old and abandoned spaces that took place in 1990s Berlin. The space lends itself to immersive audio-visual experiences, whether its being used for a Boiler Room event or the wonderful Monet to Kandinsky art show that was on earlier in the year, and the first room of Nineties Berlin is no different.

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A moving collage of old photos and video footage of pianists playing on heaps of rubble, love parade ravers and artists occupying old buildings float by, giving us a feel of the political energy, creative freedom and hedonism of nineties Berlin. A jagged passageway in the centre of the room is lined with old black and white stills of the city.  But to find out more about them, you have to log in to the website and use the ‘interactive bot’, which takes you out of the experience by making you look at your phone and seems like a case of using technology for technology’s sake. Why not just put some text beneath every photo?

The next room consists of videos of contemporary witnesses talking about Berlin in the nineties, including the former squatter mentioned above. I found this room a little disappointing: Of the 14 people featured, only two were women, and the majority were involved in the music scene. What about the rest of the people living in Berlin in the 90s? Surely there was more to the era than the Love Parade?

Nineties Berlin at the Alte Münze

The creators of the exhibition might have had the same thought, because the forth room was a breath of fresh air. No, cold air. Literally. It was a freezing room, which consisted of a brutal and effective memorial to the people who had been shot down before the wall came crashing down at the end of the 80s. However, you couldn’t spend much time contemplating these lingering political and human effects of the wall because the cold temperature moved you swiftly on to the last room, which, again, focussed on club culture before spitting you out into the gift shop.

The gift shop felt like an extension of the exhibition. Poppy and expensive, it commercialised the image of 1990s Berlin without really moving beyond the surface. Everything felt like a simulation of simulacra, making me wonder if, indeed, Berlin really is over.

Nineties Berlin is currently on at the Alte Münze, Molkenmarkt 2, 10179 Berlin.

Anna Holmström performs performs Debris
art, Berlin, dance, events, Life in Berlin, theatre, things to do

Pi – Petricore Movement & Zentire Music at Pfefferberg Theater

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Pi, a modern dance performance at Pfefferberg Theatre. There is something about bodies moving through space in exceptional ways that is both delightful, energising and emotional — and this performance was no different.

Anna Holmström performs performs Debris
Anna Holmström performs performs Debris

As a writer, it always takes me a few minutes to let go of questions of narrative and story and enter the flow of the piece. But choreographer Anna Holmström does an artful job in creating a structured and engaging performance that expresses different characters, theme and conflict through movement.

The first composition, Dim 4, is about time, presenting different views of the same moment. It snakes through various moods and music — from the resonant and conflictual to jazzy and playful. The five dancers convey complex feelings and relationships without the use of flashy extras — a cardboard object and a net are the only props used.

In Debris, performed solely by Holmström, a piece of plastic takes on a sublime, airy quality as she dances with it. The piece is about the beauty of the ocean, which is becoming suffocated by plastics, and indeed we genuinely become worried for the dancer as she becomes more and more entangled in it. But the emotion that lingers is  the one of sadness that we see in the long, still moments on the dancers face.

Pi is on at Pfefferberg Theatre for only one more night, so grab your tickets for tonight!

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, things to do

Guest post by Sophie Poulter-Patel: Daimler Art Collection

The Daimler Art Collection is hard to find. We walked past it twice before spotting the little door that led to it. You have to ring the bell and then the door opens by itself. We went up in the small lift not knowing what to expect and quite confused before reaching the gallery, which was completely silent. There was nobody else there which is probably the result of its hidden location.

The current exhibition is ‘Visions of Exchange’ which focuses on different perspectives of Berlin and Tokyo and includes paintings, videos, sculptures and photos.

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One of the first things you notice is a 3D pentagonal sculpture that at first glance looks like painted plastic. After having a closer look I realised it was polystyrene that had been covered with a very glossy blue paint. This paint seemed to be so shiny that you could see your reflection in it. Around the corner there was different piece by the same artist, Jan Scharrelmann. This time the polystyrene was coated with bright orange glossy paint, which reminded me of mirror glazed cake.

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Just as this polystyrene sculpture creates a weird perspective in the middle of the gallery, these Japanese and German artists present us with different points of view from both Tokyo and Berlin.

Rita Hensen is a German photographer who went to Tokyo and created little booklets of different series of photographs, all contained in a small box. The one that stood out for me was about transport. The first thing I saw when I opened it was truck with picture of radishes all over it. When I think of Tokyo I think of tall buildings and crowded streets, and not small details like how the trucks are decorated differently.

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From the other side, Japanese artist Taro Izumi, came to Berlin and has two pieces of his experience in the gallery. The first is a map of Berlin that had been turned on its side which is quite disorientating and changes your point of view. Different parts of the map link to videos showing parts of Berlin that are not stereotypical, like trees. The cameras were streaked or splattered with paint, adding to the strange perspective. His other piece was a video of him in Berlin using his body to trace lines of graffiti on a wooden fence. It was quite absurd and funny but also made you look at the different and unusual way he moved through the city.

Another perspective-focused piece was a video that had a double-sided screen suspended in the middle of a separate room. Each side of the screen showed different images, although the dialogue was the same. One of the clips was a close up of a man’s mouth as he was eating. The point of view was unusual and made me feel like I was invading his personal space. The dialogue kept on repeating with different images each time, making you reevaluate what was going on each time. You eventually realise that the man and the woman, who are discussing World War Two, are blind, and that this has to do with historical blindness, patriotism and being blind to what the future holds for you.

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The exhibition as a whole focuses heavily on different perspectives which really interests me because I went in with certain ideas and images of Berlin and Tokyo and came out with a different point of view. It’s a very quiet place that I personally really liked despite the complexity of trying to find it. The only problem I had was getting out at the end. To get in you press the bell and the door opens, but, at the end you press a button and the door didn’t open so we ended up in a funny fight with the door. Luckily there was a woman on the other side who opened the door, or else I think we’d still be there.

The exhibition Visions of Exchange is on at Daimler Contemporary Berlin (Haus Huth, Alte Potsdamer Straße 5, 10785 Berlin) until November 4th 2018.

The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin Jens Ziehe
art, Berlin, history, Life in Berlin, Museum, politics, things to do

Welcome to Jerusalem at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Jewish Museum Berlin is a disorientating place. It is made up of various buildings from different periods, most recently The Libeskind building.

Architect Daniel Libeskind created his design around a series of intersecting voids and straight and zigzagging lines. Corridors veer off at angles, and lights, mirrors and installations constantly make you aware of the strangeness of the space.

Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman, Jewish Museum Berlin

One of my favourite installations in this are is Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman. You hear it before you see it, a distinct clinking reminiscent of chains or shackles. The work consists of over 10,000 screaming faces cut from iron plates, which you walk over as you approach a dark void. It is a disturbing refection of victims of war.

Adding another layer to the confusion of space is the newly opened “Welcome to Jerusalem” exhibition in the old building. The exhibition transports you through the history, sights and sounds of the city in over 15 rooms. One room, dedicated to maps, displays The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, showing Jerusalem as the centre of the world. Disorientating again, from a geographical point of view, but accurate from a historical, religious and political point of view.

The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin Jens Ziehe
The Whole World in a Clover Leaf by Heinrich Bünting, Magdeburg, 1600, Woodcut © Jewish Museum Berlin, purchased with funds provided by Stiftung DKLB, photo: Jens Ziehe

 

The exhibition successfully shows the changing landscape of Jerusalem, from 5000 years ago to the present day, where old and new constantly overlap and collide. The exhibition is full of interesting insights and facts, for example, that the keys to one of the holiest sites in Christianity, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are held by two Muslim families, or that Muslims once faced towards Jerusalem to pray, before this was changed to Mecca, or that when the Jewish temple was destroyed, Judaism fundamentally changed to focus on the study of holy texts. In addition to all this, the exhibition provides you with a good understanding of the current conflicts that occupy the city today.

So, if you’re getting tired of the grey Berlin winter, take a trip to the Jewish Museum to be transported through time and space.

Welcome to Jerusalem is on at the Jewish Museum Berlin (Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin) until 30 April 2019.

The Wall Museum Berlin
Berlin, history, Museum, things to do

The Wall Museum East Side Gallery

The Wall Museum at the East Side Gallery, which opened last year, is situated in the same building as the Pirates Bar. Less well known is the fact that the roof used to be an observation point when the Wall was up.

The Wall Museum Berlin

As its name indicates, the museum focuses on the years of the Wall, 1961-1989. It starts with a short video that summarises the events leading up to the building of the Wall, and then leads you chronologically through events until its climactic fall.

The exhibition mainly consists of videos, showing interviews with escapees to watchtower guards and ordinary people whose lives were affected to key players such as spies and politicians. The atmosphere inside the museum is almost oppressive, with no windows and the blaring noise and heat of screens in each room. This may be apt, seeing as the Wall itself was oppressive and the Cold War was a battle of ideologies, often fought out on TV screens.

Nowadays, with a pivot to video taking place on many news sites and media creating and catering to shorter attention spans, there is something disturbing about a museum that relies so heavily on the moving image. I want space to contemplate in exhibitions, more depth, and a variety of different sources to peruse so that I collect and evaluate information independently. Sure, everything is curated, but relying solely on videos feels lazy and fleeting.

The Wall Museum at the East Side Gallery is open daily from 10 am to 7 pm and entrance is €12.50 for adults / €6.50 for students and children under 10 go free. 

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Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre, things to do

A Christmas Carol at theaterforum kreuzberg

Christmas is here! But despite the sprinkling of snow and Christmas markets popping up everywhere, I hadn’t been feeling the Christmas spirit until I saw A Christmas Carol at theaterforum kreuzberg.

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Dickens’ novella is the quintessential Christmas tale. It has spawned countless adaptions, from Scrooge (1951) starring Alastair Sim, to The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). This year, however, it seems to be particularly en vogue, with a film about the story’s creation – The Man Who Invented Christmas and stage productions on in London, Stratford, Hull, Bolton, Dundee, Scarborough and the State Apartments at Windsor Castle. Even Berlin will experience two different productions of the play this December.

ChristmasCarol-051.jpgWith its production, Berlin English Repertory Theatre (BERT) has decided to go traditional, embracing the story’s simple morality and ghostly spirit with a touch of humour and pantomime. Along with the Victorian costumes, there is a hint of contemporary Berlin in the outrageous and sparkling appearances of the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. But the icing on the yule log is the quartet of singers that punctuates the performance with Christmas carols.

ChristmasCarol-111Pale, thin-faced Bruce Woolley makes a wonderful Scrooge, who is at first mean-spirited, then moved by pity, shame, and finally fear, to change his ways. He renders each emotion beautifully as he is guided along on his journey by the ghosts of Christmas, keeping the audience connected to the true heart of the story. We can see in him the lost, little boy he once was as he is forced to watch a party where the guests make jokes at his expense.

BERT’s production is not scrooge-like at all — the stage overflows with vivacity, children, songs, dancing, rattling ghosts, and a good dose of shadowy darkness.

A Christmas Carol is on at theaterforum kreuzberg until 23rd December 2017.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, things to do

Jeanne Mammen at the Berlinische Gallerie

Jeanne Mammen, Berlin
Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976) was a Berlin-based artist, most famous for chronicling life in the city during the 1920s.

Born in Berlin, she studied art in Paris and Rome and lived in France until the outbreak of World War One forced her to move. While her family relocated to Amsterdam, she chose to return to Berlin.

At first, Mammen struggled to support herself as an artist, and she took any work she could, creating artwork for movie posters, satirical magazines, books, and fashion plates.

Particularly striking are her sketches and watercolours that depict people from all walks of life with a sympathetic yet unsentimental eye. Much of her focus was on women. Some her works, which capture swinging, glittering 1920s Berlin could be mistaken for contemporary party scenes.

Jeanne Mammen 3But in addition to these more well-known works, the retrospective at the Berlinische Gallerie also shows how the artist’s work developed over decades, with 170 pieces from a career lasting over 60 years.

The artist lived in the metropolis during some of the most monumental shifts in modern history, and this is reflected in the range of her output. For example, during Nazi rule, she sketched the image of a menacing wolf on the markets page of a newspaper (right), linking war and terror to capitalism. Later on, she made theatrical collages, and moved towards abstract art, using different materials such as sweet wrappers, pipes and wire.

Jeanne Mammen, art, Berlin

 

An illuminating retrospective of a multifaceted working artist who continually changed yet maintained her unique style, refusing to be pinned down to one particular movement.

Jeanne Mammen, The Observer: Retrospective 1910-1971 is on at the Berlinische Gallerie (Alte Jakobstraße 124–128, 10969 Berlin) until 15th January 2017.

 

Photo of OSMO, a musical performance at Ufer Studio's in Berlin
art, Berlin, events, Life in Berlin, music, people, things to do

OSMO: A musical performance by Sebastian Blasius and the Sonar Quartett at Ufer Studios Berlin

You walk into room at Berlin’s Ufer Studios. Swirls of salt are scattered across the black floor, orange curtains hang from the ceiling, reminding you of segments of an orange, a silver ball, musicians, music stands and chairs are spread across the studio. As you crunch, crunch, crunch your way across the floor, you stop at one of these stands and pick up an envelope. Inside, is a picture and the words: Perform a dance that hardly anyone can recognise as a dance.

Photo of OSMO, a musical performance at Ufer Studio's in Berlin
Photo courtesy of Ralf Ziervogel

With OSMO, where Beethoven’s last string quartet meets an installation meets an audience, Sebastian Blasius has directed a musical performance with Berlin’s Sonar Quartett that hardly anyone can  recognise as a musical performance. Grating sounds, such as a bow across the hollow wood of a violin, are woven into familiar bursts of classical music. Recordings of children reciting the capitals of countries become a metronome. The musicians keep moving around, and so do the audience.

What results is a space where the line between performer and spectator is blurred. There is also a blurring of the lines separating the arts, so one is constantly stimulated in surprising ways. The ever changing constellations of people, lights, sounds and visuals creates something completely fresh and original. An engaging experience.

OSMO was on at Ufer Studios in Berlin on the 22nd and 23rd September 2107.

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Tess Motherway, Berlin
art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, people, theatre, things to do

Creative In Berlin: Tess Motherway

Tess Motherway is an Irish filmmaker, visual artist & film curator, based in Berlin. She will be demonstrating her first performance piece ‘Things Men Have Said To Me This Year’ on Saturday, 16th September at 6pm at Alexanderplatz.

Tess Motherway, Berlin

You’re used to being behind the camera, so you’re really putting yourself out there – in Alexanderplatz on a Saturday evening no less! How do you feel about the upcoming performance?

I’m really nervous about it. I’d definitely describe myself as an introverted extrovert, so this piece is really taking me out of my comfort zone and is definitely a personal challenge. But that’s part of why I’m doing it too. I like pushing myself and embracing things that feel scary. I think doing things that we’re afraid of is really empowering.

What made you do it?

In Ireland, I grew up under a social pressure to laugh off sexist jokes, for fear of being deemed anything from ‘no craic’, to a bitch. For a long time I followed suit, or buried my head in the sand, not having the confidence to oppose it or wanting to have to have ‘those conversations’. But, I realised that by ignoring the problem, wouldn’t make it go away & that by calling out sexist behaviour and engaging and challenging people about the topic simply felt right.

This last year I’ve been reflecting particularly on the culture whereby comments and judgements about women’s bodies pervade not just social & professional spaces, but more intimate situations for women. There still seems to be a pretty prevalent entitlement and freedom to openly judge women’s bodies. I think this behaviour, even today with all our awareness, is still very normalised for women, which is really sad. I devised this piece because I wanted to do something with that feeling – the feeling of disempowerment that comes from being judged or slighted or commented on inappropriately. By handing these comments back – just some that I have personally received this passed year – I’m taking control and hopefully opening up a conversation.

Why Alexanderplatz?

When I came up with the piece, I knew it had to be in a really central, public place. Alexanderplatz is a pretty iconic centre of Berlin and I thought it would be the best spot to reach a mixed demographic – it wouldn’t feel right performing it in a smaller Kiez or a gallery space.

What is your favourite place in Berlin?

I love all the kinos of Berlin. I’m primarily a filmmaker so I’m in kino heaven here: Sputnik Kino, Babylon Kino, b-ware Ladenkino, Colloseum Kino – the list really is endless and I keep discovering new ones. I live in Neukolln which I love too because you’ve got the canal and so many great parks like Hasenheide park and Templehofer Feld – I love how much sky you can take in in Templehof. I feel like I can breathe there. Maybe that’s my favourite place.

You’ve been here since 2016. Is this your first Berlin piece? How have you found being an artist in Berlin? 

This is my first Berlin piece. I moved last summer and had a piece in an exhibition last June, but it was realised back home, so this piece is particularly special to me because it’s kind of my Berlin premiere. Being an artist in Berlin is great – you can’t throw a stone without hitting another creative and there’s such a culture of collaboration and experimentation here it kind of feels like anything is possible. I love the DIY, can-do vibe – there’s so many amazing spaces it can feel like the city is just handing you the keys and saying ‘off you go’.

I moved here to be around a larger group of international creative people – I’m from Dublin which is also crawling with loads of amazing creative types, but it’s a small place and after years of living there I wanted to change things up. I have also been looking for a place to learn analogue film development and when I was researching places to go, I found a collective called Labor Berlin based in Wedding which I’m now a part of. Other more practical reasons such as being a much cheaper city to live in with a high standard of living.

What else are you working on?

This year has been pretty productive for me – I completed my first ever artist residency in Switzerland where I realised an experimental short film called ‘8’ in response to the Repeal the Eighth campaign which is fighting for a referendum to legalise abortion in Ireland. I also just finished a new short documentary called ‘Company B’ about Ireland’s only all boy contemporary dance group and I’m currently programming for the next Dublin Doc Fest short documentary film festival which I founded in 2013 back in Dublin. The next few months will see me learning analogue film development and gathering archive and photos for a series of personal, experimental short films.

Does this relate to the rest of your work in any way, or is it completely different?

I haven’t had a clear trajectory with my practice. In fact, when I finished art college, I took a creative hiatus and it’s taken me time to explore, experiment and find my way back to a focused practice again. I never used to put myself in my work before – both literally and in terms of drawing from my own experiences in a deep way. I was always looking outward – which is great – but I guess really putting yourself in your work comes with confidence. For the last two years I’ve really thrown myself – literally – into my work. So in terms of the use of my body, and the performative element, this piece really is a new thing for me. Regarding the content, though, my work has always been anchored in feminism and equality.

Tess Motherway will be beside the fountain, outside Primark, at Alexanderplatz at 6pm on Saturday, 16th September. The performance will be one hour long — check it out! 

Máret Ánne Sara, Pile o’ Sápmi (2017) Curtain made from reindeer skulls and metal wire
art, Germany, Life in Berlin, people, politics

Weekend Trips from Berlin: documenta14 in Kassel

Kassel is a 3-4 hour train ride from Berlin. It is a strange mix of regal buildings and monuments from its time as a princely residence, and bland concrete.

In the town’s main square, fountains arch hopefully into the sky only to land directly into to drains a couple of metres away. However, the small town is most notable for documenta, a contemporary art exhibition which takes over its galleries, museums and public spaces for a period of 100 days every five years.

Máret Ánne Sara, Pile o’ Sápmi (2017) Curtain made from reindeer skulls and metal wire
Máret Ánne Sara, Pile o’ Sápmi (2017) Curtain made from reindeer skulls and metal wire

After I had exhausted my two-day exhibition ticket, I visited the marble bath, where the tour guide asked me if I had enjoyed documenta 14. I said I had, very much.

“Gut,” she said, surprised. “Alle meckern.” (Everyone’s complaining.)

And she’s right. Everyone is complaining. The well-known writer Moritz von Uslar went so far as to tweet that he found the Zeit’s weekly journalists meeting more inspiring than anything he experienced at this year’s documenta. Here’s the thing: He is wrong.

different perspectives: documenta14This year’s documenta was surprising, wonderfully curated and impactful. For this first time this year, the art exhibition was split between two locations: Athens and Kassel, acknowledging the two different sides of Europe, one destitute, one rich, one central, and one at its southern edge that deals with a stream of migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa.

And it was this alternative, disorientating, multi-sided view of Europe that dominated the exhibition. For example, Janine Antoni’s wonderful Slumber posits the idea that the fabled adventures of Ulysses had perhaps all taken place in  Penelope’s dreams. The Sámi artist Máret Ánne Sara presented us with an alternative perspective of Norwegian history, and Gordon Hookey hit us with a big, bold, political statement about Aboriginal people and Australia.

Altogether, the exhibition was political, unapologetic, anti-neo-libralist, and anti-capitalist. Probably, exactly, the kind of thing a white, German man like von Uslar, who is primarily interested in other white, German men didn’t get it, or didn’t want to, or whatever.

I found that looking at art for a couple of days was nourishing. The fresh and interesting ideas, the visual and cerebral excitement, the new perspectives and experiences you engage in, if you are open to it, makes you look at everything in a new way. At one point, me, and the entire group of people I was with, all stopped to look at this lamp fixture on the side of a building. Wasn’t it weird?

fascinating lamp fixture kassel
Fascinating lamp fixture

Artists and their works only do half the job, you have to meet them half way. Obviously, not everything is for everyone, but to call an entire, massive exhibition uninspiring and to rubbish the work and ideas of some of the most exciting contemporary artists in the world in one tweet reveals more about the tweeter than about his subject.

Documenta14 is on until 17th September 2017 in Kassel.

 

TOA, Berlin, Tech Open Air, 2017
art, Berlin, events, Life in Berlin, News, people, tech

Berlin’s Tech Open Air Festival 2017

Last week, Berlin’s Tech Open Air (TOA) festival took over the city. Now in its sixth year, TOA is an interdisciplinary festival that brings together technology, music, art and science.

The festival consisted of a two-day conference at Funkhaus Berlin, a sprawling complex along the banks of the River Spree that used to house East Germany’s central radio station, and over 200 satellite events that happened all over the city over four days. This year’s festival was the biggest yet, with over 200 speakers and 20.000 participants.

TOA, Berlin, Tech Open Air, 2017

The festival, a bit like technology itself, was pervasive, and, with conference talks lasting an average of 15 minutes each, mimicked the hectic effect of switching between multiple tabs in a browser. It also came with some of the frustrations of modern tech – the conference app did not work, and men dressed in black talked about how important and life-changing their work was without a hint of irony. For example, Magnus Olsson, founder of Careem, which is basically Uber for the Middle East, talked about the principles he lived by, why Careem was life-defining for him, and its social impact, when really, all the dude had to say was, “It’s Uber for the Middle East.”

It was all a bit like this:

 

But there were also tons of interesting talks, and key trends this year seemed to be A.I, VR and Fintech.

My personal highlights included Edda Hamar, Founder and CEO of Undress, talking ethics and sustainability in fashion, Prince Fahd Al Saud, who gave an enlightening perspective on the Millennial Middle East – one that challenged the West’s prejudices and perceptions – and spoke about his aims to support and promote women and feminism, and BBC R&D’s Senior Firestarter (yes, that’s his job title) Ian Forrester, who raised some interesting questions about the future of storytelling while demonstrating the prospects of object-based media. Last but not least, Imagining Coordinator Rebecca Roth, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, presented some mind-blowing and beautiful images of space. All these talks will be available to view on TOA’s YouTube Channel within the following week.

In addition, I got the chance to try out some VR porn, have a drink at the Amano Grand Central’s Rooftop Bar, hosted by Invest Hong Kong, attend a Mobile Industry party at coworking space Rent 24 in Mitte, as well as an Afterwork Jam at start-up community hub The Factory. All in all, a fun, enlightening and diverse festival.

For more information, visit the TOA Berlin website.

 

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Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, relationships, sex, things to do

Book Review: Berlin: 69 Erotic Places

Berlin has often been termed the sex capital of the world, famous for its sexually liberal attitude, vibrant gay scene, sex parties and clubs.

berlin erotic places

Berlin: 69 Erotic Places does exactly what it says on the cover, dedicating one page of text, coupled with one image, to each ‘erotic’ attraction. The book has the look and feel of a 1970s porn mag, and its attitude is equally outdated. The term ‘erotic’ implies positive sexual arousal and mutual pleasure, but the book is skewered towards straight men.

Much of the content covers the city’s many brothels, strip clubs, and massage parlours, and although the author might find it erotic that “between 10 and 15 girls will fascinate you with their strip dances” at Rush Hour, the women working there might have another point of view. Of the 69 images in the book, 32 sexually objectify women.

The book itself demonstrates this issue. It gives voice to a few women, and these passages are disturbing and decidedly unerotic. For example, 25-year-old prostitute Alexa, who works the street-walking strip along Kurfürstenstraße, says: “The first time was really uncomfortable and I had a horribly bad conscience and felt totally filthy afterwards.” Another woman, Sue, 26, a ‘hobby whore’ who attends gang bang parties, describes how a fellow guest ‘hounded’ her to join her first party while she sat nervous in the hallway. She eventually relented and ‘spent 9 hours straight getting fucked.’ She talks about how she was aroused by erotic films in her youth, her need to be desired, and sense of fulfilment when she turns a man on, and how she equates this with money. Internalised misogyny, sexism and sexual objectification are also unerotic.

Despite all this, there are some gems in the book. The author clearly knows his topic, and this shows even when he covers famous attractions, like Kit Kat Club, which “has some of its own artists whose artwork decorates the club. The most-well-known is the ‘Träumer’ with his glowing nude images. Works from Till Bernesga, Jürgen Fenegerg and Dimitrij Vojnow are also on display.” Other gems include Kuschelparty, where people experiment with touching different people in different ways, Darkside, where late night lovers of bizarre eroticism, fetishists, and bondage artists meet, and Liebesinsel or ‘love island’ one of Berlin’s 34 islands where you can enjoy peace and nature with your partner(s).

Berlin: 69 Erotic Places by Dirk Engelhardt is out now.

Ryan Hellyer
Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin, people

Creative in Berlin: Ryan Hellyer

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.

Ryan HellyerIntroduce Yourself

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.

Where did the idea come from?

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.

For more, check out Comic Jet, or follow Ryan on Twitter, Instagram or his blog.
Berlin, food, Life in Berlin, things to do

The Berlin Neukölln Tasting Tour

When people first settled in Neukölln in the very south of Berlin, it was like a new colony, hence the name. King Friedrich Wilhelm I welcomed Czech refugees to the area in the 18th century. The farm houses he provided for them can still be seen in the neighbourhood of Rixdorf. But even today, Neukölln retains the feeling of an area that is still developing, with much to be discovered.

DSC04179

Neukölln Food Tour Guide Iris has lived in the area for fourteen years. Among the many changes she has witnessed, some of the most exciting are the new restaurants and cafes that have opened in recent years. In other Berlin districts, eating establishments open and close at a surprising rate, but in Neukölln new places are rare novelties, and they thrive.

Iris leads a three hour walking tour through Neukölln, punctuated by stops at a range of eating establishments, from bakeries to vegan cafes with coworking spaces attached to them. It’s a lovely way to discover the area – by literally getting a taste of it.

There are seven stops in all, and the tour is careful to select good quality owner-run places. This specification is representative of the shift in Neukölln – departing from one euro donor joints to places that cater to a more gentrified clientele. It is a source of controversy and conflict, as can be seen by the graffiti that reads Hass auf Yuppies (Hate for Yuppies) on the wall of Zuckerbaby, one of the first cafes we visit.

Despite this, Zuckerbaby is packed. It has a warm, living room atmosphere. The two sisters – one of whom lived in the United States – play with their different backgrounds by offering dishes such as grilled cheese with sauerkraut.

One of my favourite places on the tour was CocoLiebe, a vibrant cafe decorated with bright colours. It’s Lebanese-owner offered us a taste of one of his ‘pizza’ creations, which mixes aspects of Lebanese, French, and Italian cuisine.

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This unique mishmash of different culinary cultures is typical of Neukölln, the district with the highest population of immigrants in Berlin. At Alfred-Scholz-Platz, Iris pointed out the cobblestones, which are different colours. Each colour represents a different ethnic group of the population, to proportion.

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Part of the pleasure of Neukölln is its diversity. And the particular pleasure of this tour is that you get the chance to know and chat with the diverse group of strangers you find yourself meandering through the area’s streets and stopping every now and then to share a bite with.

Eat-the-worl’d Neukölln Tour costs 33 Euros per person and is available to book via phone or online.

Zero and the One novel
Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, people

Reading: Ryan Ruby at Shakespeare and Sons

Last night, Berlin-based author Ryan Ruby read from his debut novel The Zero and the One at Shakespeare and Sons bookshop in Friedrichshain.

Zero and the One novel

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) 

Clash, screened at the Arab Film Festival
Berlin, Film, Life in Berlin

Clash at the 8th Arab Film Festival Berlin

Last night Mohamed Diab‘s Clash, set against the backdrop of Egypt’s 2013 revolution, screened at City Kino in Wedding as part of the Arab Film Festival.

Clash, screened at the Arab Film Festival

The story follows the journey of a police van as it travels through the riotous streets of Cairo during the chaos of 2013. The van becomes filled with people from all sides; Muslim Brotherhood protesters, anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters and everyone else caught up in between.

The van becomes a microcosm of Egyption society, and like Egyptian society, it is fraught with divisions and violence. As the van moves along, picking up young and old, male and female, the heat inside rises. At one point it becomes so hot that the people trapped in it risk suffocation — a frequent occurrence during the revolution.

Those inside the van, like the audience, have no idea where the van is going. Limited to the tight, crowded view from the inside with only the narrow windows and grate in the roof providing glimpses to the world outside, we feel as powerless and apprehensive as the characters. The van moves relentlessly on, pelted by rocks, targeted by shooters, and rocked by protesters and helpers, even though there seems to be no destination. The prisons, after all, are full.

Egypt, like the van, is undergoing a violent upheaval, and the people in it have no choice but go with it. Families are split up, friendships broken, and new alliances are formed. In the end, however, all descends into turmoil, confusion, and tragedy.

The 8th Arab Film Festival Berlin runs from 31st March to 7th April 2017. 

Berlin, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, people, things to do

Soviet Berlin with Holger Raschke

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.

Soviet_War_Memorial_in_Tiergarten,_April_2014
By Ethan Doyle White at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

Berlins Taiga operates public and private tours of Berlin, Potsdam, and the Hinterland.

Shop selling fireworks in Berlin for New Year's Eve
Berlin, Germany, Humour, Life in Berlin

Why the Germans turn into werewolves on New Year’s Eve

Over the last few days, firecrackers and rockets have been filling the air with smoke and the smell of gunpowder. As usual, the Germans have been getting warmed up for New Year’s Eve — the one night of the year when they go completely crazy.

Shop selling fireworks in Berlin for New Year's Eve
After my first New Year’s Eve in Berlin, I bought my first ever fire extinguisher — and I have been the proud owner of one ever since. For there is only one word for what takes place here on New Year’s Eve: Carnage.

People ignite batteries on the streets, throw rockets off balconies and firecrackers into bins and trams. This recording of a New Year’s Eve drive through Berlin that went viral last year illustrates the madness:

Amidst all the noise and confusion, you’ll sometimes hear a dog barking its head off as if trying to figure out what on earth possessed the humans. I, too, ponder a similar question every year: What happens to the Germans on New Year’s Eve?

Among expats, the common joke is of course that the Germans haven’t started a war in a while, so they need to blow things up once a year. I don’t buy that explanation, but maybe someone from Germany’s Ministry of Economy should look into it, because it might just be cheaper to have an actual war than to carry on like this. This year, the Germans spent 15o million on explosives. New Year’s celebrations usually result in around 12,000 fires and more than 30 million euros worth of damage to cars, houses and other property. Last year, in Berlin alone, the fire brigade responded to 1500 emergency calls. The night always ends in countless injuries and even deaths.

Just recently, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) proposed banning fireworks in Stuttgart altogether. Clearly, we have a problem when even the far right party of Germany thinks that things have gone too far. Another attempt to get things under control came from Klinikum Dortmund, a German hospital that publicised an image of a mangled hand resulting from a firecracker accident on Wednesday. I doubt this will change anything, however, because New Year’s Eve is to Germans what the full moon is to werewolves.

For most of the year, the Germans are busy wearing sensible shoes, putting their rubbish into the correct bins and following rules and regulations. Everyone is just so efficient and responsible and good. And then, on New Year’s Eve, they completely transform.

Take for example, the environment – something the Germans are usually very concerned about. On New Year’s Eve, the sheer number of fireworks let off makes January 1st is the most polluted day of the year. Or safety — if you try crossing the road when the pedestrian light is red, about ten people will point out your error and tell you that you are setting a bad example for children. But on New Year’s Eve, drunk parents will hold lit fireworks in their hands while standing next to their children without a second thought for safety.

Clearly, the Germans repress their wild sides for the entire year to such an extent that it eventually has to break out in a terrible way. They are like those children with very strict parents who at some point go completely wild. The best solution would be for everyone to just let loose a little at regular intervals throughout 2017…maybe go out in the rain without a waterproof coat, be a few minutes late for an appointment, chuck some brown glass in the white glass bin, jaywalk, go crazy.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, people, things to do

English bookshops in Neukölln

Guest post by Álvaro Sendra González 

A lot of things have changed in Neukölln in the last five years, for good and bad, and a new international community is growing in the former “problem neighbourhood”. Suddenly those dark streets with empty casinos and betting offices were taken over by cafés, restaurants, vintage-shops, and art galleries, and many locals who couldn’t afford their apartments anymore had to leave.

Books in Neukölln

Part of this new-Neukölln encompasses numerous independent bookshops that have recently opened their doors in an era dominated by multinational companies with “creative“ tax strategies. I’ve always believed that books unite us; bookshops are meeting-places for book lovers, be they newcomers or locals. Because many of us newcomers can read English better than German, I made this list of six English-speaking bookshops in Neukölln:

Berlin Book Nook
This cosy place offers a broad selection of second-hand books, mostly fiction, humanities and art.  Gardening and cooking fans will also find joy here. Children are always welcome, since they have a wide range of books for readers aged 2 and up. Thursdays is the Book Nook Late Night, when they open till 10pm!

Pflügerstraße 63, theberlinbooknook.de

Buchbund
Even though this is a mostly Polish-German bookshop, their English selection is very well curated. Here you’ll find new books, mostly literature, including many translations of sadly overlooked Polish authors, as well as other literature from around the world. Buchbund is a good place to buy philosophy and history books, or to just sit and enjoy a cup of good coffee in the best company (a book).

Sanderstraße 8, buchbund.de

Buchhafen
The newest bookshop in Neukölln is a great destination for international book lovers looking for new books in Turkish, German and English, while enjoying a delicious cup of coffee. They specialise in anglophone literature, and their theory section (philosophy, politics, social sciences, humanities etc) is remarkable. Don’t miss the room in the back, which houses second-hand books.

Okerstraße 1, buchhafen-berlin.de

Curious Fox
Probably the best English bookshop in Neukölln. Their broad selection will satisfy pretty much everyone: fiction, poetry, new and second-hand, graphic novels. Especially remarkable is their crime, sci-fi and fantasy selection, and also their children’s books corner. Like them on Facebook to keep up with the many readings, poetry-evenings, quiz nights and other activities they organize.

Flughafen Str. 22, curiousfoxbooks.com

Pequod Books
This very organised, clean bookshop sells second-hand books in more than 25 different languages, hand-picked by the owner’s taste (actually by me, the author of the list you’re reading. Hi mum!), among them some 1000 books in English: mostly fiction, but also children books, humanities, theory, art… If you’re looking for books written by Paolo Coelho or some football player this might not be your place.

Selchower Straße 33, pequodbooks.de

Topics
And last but not least, the most interesting bookshop of the six: a concept bookshop. Here the books are not organised from A to Z like in other places, but by topic. Instead of shelves, they have boxes, each of which has a topic: drugs, post-modern westerns, conspiracies, love triangles, black literature… A great place to discover new authors.

Weserstraße 166, topics-berlin.com

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Informed Consent at the English Theatre Berlin

Friday evening saw the English Theatre Berlin’s staged reading of Informed Consent by Deborah Zoe Laufer. The play centres around genetic anthropologist Jillian (Jill Holwerda), who has inherited the gene variant for early onset Alzheimer’s disease from her mother.

Grand Canyon

Jillian is desperate to find a cure before she succumbs to the disease. She witnessed the demise of her own mother, and although she is fearful of losing herself, she is most concerned about protecting her daughter from the same thing. In her belief that science has the answers, Jillian appears overzealous and unstable. At work, she claims that science will one day make humans immortal, while at her daughter’s princess parties, she convinces fellow parents to submit their DNA to research.

So it is no surprise that when Jillian takes over a project from a social anthropologist, which gives her access to the DNA of a Grand Canyon tribe of Native Americans in order test their susceptibility to diabetes, she oversteps her boundaries. Jillian tests for all sorts of other things too and although she finds no genetic connection to diabetes, she does discover that the tribe originally migrated from Siberia. This  contradicts the tribe’s own origin myth of springing from the Grand Canyon and creates a social and political quandary that the white scientist cannot possibly fathom.

For Jillian, there is only one story; the story of science – the greatest story of all. In her attempt to hold on to her identity, Jillian must confront the question of what makes us, us. Is it our DNA or is it the stories we tell ourselves?

In the end, this story is about a battle of stories. But the play suffers from a battle of stories itself. The question of informed consent – the play’s title and a fascinating concept that sprung from the Nuremberg code, after the Nazis conducted scientific experiments on unwilling subjects, becomes muddled with the story of Jillian’s home life, and the politics of Native American tribes in the US. Ultimately, the issue at the centre of the play – and the play itself – becomes confused.

In addition, although Jillian – the white scientist – is presented as a complex character, the  representation of the members of the tribe are simplistic and inauthentic to the point of frustration. It is an example of what the play itself is trying to demonstrate – the dangers of one story, or voice trying to dominate all others. In this case, it is the story of a white, liberal playwright.

Informed Consent was read at the English Theatre Berlin on Friday, 25th November 2016.

 

 

art, Berlin, events, Film, Life in Berlin, politics, science

STATE Festival Berlin: The Sentimental Machine

Berlin’s second STATE Festival, which brings together leading scientists, innovators, social-scientists, artists and members of the public to explore one topic took place recently at Kühlhaus in Gleisdreieck. The topic in question was emotions.

Emoji balloons at the State Festival Berlin, 2016

Emotions are a fundamental part of being human, and our understanding of them not only illuminates our experiences and interactions but also raises important questions about our growing reliance on machines and the nature of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

We often think of emotions as immaterial and internal, but the festival demonstrated how physically palpable and measurable they are. Adam Anderson from Cornell University’s Department of Human Development and Human Neuroscience Institute talked about how our sight and emotions are linked. Emotions, like colour, are created by the visual regions of the brain and everything we see is affected by emotion.

The Festival’s screening of Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Film, in which the prominent designer embarks on a navel-gazing journey in the search of happiness confirmed the strong link between the body and emotion. Sagameister pursued happiness using three methods; meditation, therapy and drugs – and drugs was the most effective. The chemical changes they affected in his body made him deliriously happy to the point of falling in love and almost getting married within a matter of weeks.

The link between the emotion of love and physicality was put to the test at the festival’s interactive Sniff and Date session, in which participants did an aerobics session, captured their sweaty scent on a small patch of material, then sniffed out a potential partner. Although smelling numbered patches of sweat felt dubious, it worked! I matched with a lovely Romanian artist with whom I had a lot in common. Yes, it was a woman, who was there with her boyfriend, but it was nice to have a drink with her.

In such social situations, the hormone oxytocin plays a big role. It helps in social bonding, sexual reproduction, birth and nurturing as well as increasing the recognition and mimicry of facial emotions. Neuroscientist Sebastian Korb explained how he used electromyography (EMG) to detect facial mimicry which is so fast and subtle that it is difficult to inhibit. Facial mimicry is important to social interaction as it is key to feeling empathy (therefore procedures such as Botox, which restrict people’s facial movements, impact their ability to empathise).

As we become more dependent on technology, the ability of machines to understand and respond to our emotions will become more important. The Android game Emotion Hero demonstrated what computer recognition of facial emotion could look like. Naturally, this led to questions about whether machines would eventually be able to experience emotions themselves and what the implications of this would be.

If machines could feel, would they be granted the same rights as people? As it stands, scientists use the human brain as a model to make intelligent, self-learning robots. Of course, companies like Nvidia, Google and Intel are nowhere near creating something as powerful as the brain with its 100 billion neurones and 250 billion synapses, but the possibility is on the distant horizon. Toby Walsh, one of the world’s leading experts on AI, said he did not think the Singularity – the point where robots overtake humans – was coming any time soon.

Still, the warnings of prominent people such as Stephen Hawking, who said AI “could spell the end of the human race” and Elon Musk, who compared developing AI to “summoning the demon” were at the forefront of many discussions. Clearly, AI and its implications must be thought about. In fact, people are already thinking about it, but they belong to an elite with commercial interests. For example, those developing the self-driving car are already making ethical decisions such as who the car should kill or injure in certain crash situations.

One of the most interesting interactive sessions was the critical thinking workshop AI Ethics and Prosthetics run by Marco Donnarumma, an artist who explores human-machine corporeality. The conversation took interesting turns, exploring questions from “Would you live with an autonomous prosthesis?” to “Where does the fault lie if a machine is responsible for killing a human?” The conversation raised more questions than answers, highlighting the complex nature of this crucial time in human history.

What was unique and fulfilling about this festival was how it hit all senses – with music, sound, visual art, films, talks, discussions and physical activities. It stimulated anxiety about a machine-filled future, passionate debate, and joy at the meeting fascinating minds – an important, emotional experience.

This year’s STATE Festival took place between 3-6 November.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, people

Creative in Berlin: Bernhard Vierling

dsc_3582Bernhard Vierling has been a working artist in Berlin since 1986. His studio in Schöneberg is an orderly space filled with books and sketches. Big silk screen prints dominate one wall, while smaller sketches crowd the other. A few sculptures stand on surfaces.

Vierling has been sketching since he was a child – it is a medium that comes naturally to him – although he started out as a performance artist. Like this studio, his vibe is calm, thoughtful, focussed.

His first studio was in Neukölln, which in the 80s was considered a remote outpost – hardly the destination for young partygoers it is now. At the time, he was doing a lot of meditation, and the sound of the engines from Templehof airport reminded him of the hum of Tibetan monks.

The anecdote is revealing of a particular artistic tendency – imaginative, and perceptive of things beyond the obvious material sense. This quality is reflected in Vierling’s energetic tangles of sketches. For example, one of his series focussed on breath – he sketched lots of models, but his lines focussed not on their bodies but the way in which their breath moved in and out of their bodies.

Another interesting series of sketches focussed on the initial bodily reactions we have when we meet or see people. Vierling started paying attention to his initial, physical reaction to a person, which happens before the cerebral, and started representing these in his sketches of their bodies.

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As a working artist, he is involved in multiple projects – as well as sketches and sculptures, he also does workshops. His current projects include his fascinating portray-society performance art and a series of sketches based on the traditional representations of sexual positions that were given to newly married couples in China (image above). Because of the scope of his work, his studio in Schoenberg is not his only working space.

He is of a generation of artists who create for the sake of inquiry and creativity rather than for commercial success unlike, he says, some artists who start conceiving based on what is in currently in vogue. For him, this leads to a healthier relationship to money and art. He does some things for money, while enjoying the freedom to create as he likes without the pressure to sell. A useful perspective for those of us who are trying to build a career in the arts.

You can visit Vierling’s studio by signing up for his lecture performance on Essence as part of the upcoming open studios in Schoeneberg this November.

 

Berlin, Humour, Life in Berlin

Tinder in Berlin

IMG_20160617_182853_165The Bavarian and I have split up so for the first time ever, I am open explore Berlin’s modern dating scene. This can be summed up in one word: Tinder.

For those of you who have been trapped underground or in a relationship for the last few years, Tinder is an app that almost everyone who is single (and a quite a few who are not) is on. It’s like flicking through a catalogue of men in your vicinity on your phone – swipe left for no, thanks, and right for yes, please.

If it weren’t for Tinder, I have no idea how the Germans would hook up. They all either meet in school and stick to each other for life, or through friends later on, which is a pretty limited model. German men, unlike the British men, would never dare chat you up in a bar, or club, or hell, even on the street. As a woman, this is kind of nice because it means you never get bothered or objectified. On the other hand, it makes meeting new people difficult.

There is one subtle thing the Germans do do – so subtle, in fact, it took me years to notice: they look at you. Yes, that’s it. They look. And what the hell are you supposed to do with that? The German government should probably throw Tinder some support, because the app might just help raise the population’s happiness as well as poor birthrate.

Anyway, all this to say, in this exciting new world, I’ve noticed 5 curious things about Tinder in Berlin.

1. Height

Almost every guy on German Tinder specifies his height in centimetres. Apparently, it’s something they get constantly asked about by women, which why they list it.

Conclusion: height is pretty important to the Germans.

2. CEOs

If you were to believe everything you read on Tinder, you might conclude that there are a disproportionate amount of CEOs residing in Berlin. Curious, since Berlin is hardly a business or financial capital. Even more curious; these CEOs are often in their 20s, kinda scruffy-looking, and incapable of writing a sentence without using emojis. The only possible explanation is that we are a city of start-ups, and these men with their over-inflated egos and sense of accomplishment think they can call themselves CEOs because they secured enough funding to spend on ping-pong tables or whatever.

3. Open Relationships

A lot of men list themselves as being in open relationships. In real life, I interact with many different types of people, but I don’t know anyone an open relationship. So either a disproportionate number of Tinder users are in open relationships, or they are lying. In more than a few photos, you can glimpse wedding rings or the cropped off body of a partner. Come on, people.

4. Bathroom Selfies

Why oh why are so many photos taken in bathroom mirrors? What is attractive about that? And it’s not even private bathrooms. Most of them are taken in public bathrooms. How does that work? So you’re out for dinner, or in a bar with your friends, and all of a sudden you decide to go to the toilet, take a photo of yourself in the mirror and post it on Tinder. Why don’t you use literally any other photo of you in the world? Can someone please explain this to me?

5. Sebastians and Christophs

There are a lot of white men in Berlin, and most of them are called Sebastian and Christoph. From the point of view of someone who has had it with German men, this is kind of disappointing. I would love a little more diversity, which I would get in another city such as (my hometown) London. To be fair, of all the cities in Germany, Berlin is probably the most diverse, but it’s still pretty hard to find someone who is not called Sebastian or Christoph, 190cm tall, a CEO in an open relationship and likes taking selfies in random bathroom mirrors…

Here’s to hoping.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Guest Blogger Pat O’Day Sleeps Over at Ballhaus Ost’s Hotel Berlin

Museum overnights have become well-established, but I had never heard of a sleepover at a theatre venue before. So I was curious when I read about theatre Ballhaus Ost’s temporary project Hotel Berlin.

Ballhaus Ost, Berlin

It was not booked out, so I just turned up and chose between three categories; mattresses on the floor in a dorm sold for 13€, while bunk beds and private rooms came for just a few extra euros. Most of the rooms, however, did not come with doors.

I got my hand-stamped at the door, night-club style, and then tried to find my bed among the 75 scattered all over the listed ramshackle six-storey building. Less than half of the almost forty guests finally decided on staying overnight, so everybody could pretty much have their pick regardless of which category they had booked. If you felt like it, you could sleep on stage or next to the bar.

Artistic director Tina Pfurr welcomed the guests. She introduced the people actually living at Ballhaus Ost: designer and performer Lisa, Brazilian architect turned mixed media artist Fernanda, and octogenarian former circus acrobat Herr Diano, who can no longer afford the rent in Prenzlauer Berg.

The members conducted entertaining tours of the building, full of anecdotes about the theatre company’s ten year history, the history of the building and adjoining enclosed park – a cemetery that is now also used for wedding receptions. Recently, the space has seen conflicts over apparently incompatible uses. For example, when a co-working space was separated from experimental theatre rehearsals by only a plywood panel.

At first, the founders of the theatre company had rented only the theatre hall, but then they made a hole in the wall to take over the empty spaces as offices and living quarters on the sly. Some rooms are filled to the brink with props, trash, or kitschy memorabilia. There are surprises all over the place, like a game room with a miniature bubble bath in the basement.

The diverse art work is even more interesting. Fernanda presented a bedsit installation where every item apart from a suitcase was covered in white paint. She said she wanted to demonstrate what it feels like to keep moving from one furnished flat to the next where nothing really belongs to you and you have no personal connection to the objects you chance upon. She also reflected that she was a victim as well as a perpetrator of gentrification.

In between tours, there were staged live links between Tina and the company’s off ground rehearsal, which quickly descended into chaos.

At midnight, we gathered at a long table where an architect explained how the partially dilapidated building structure could be preserved and generate more income for the company. Ideas included adding a new floor on top of the building, tree house offices and camping in the park, and a regular hotel service. Afterwards there was a vegetarian or vegan pasta dinner (for a small donation) that Lisa and her crew had prepared.

Shortly afterwards, I retired to my bed. Time passed quickly. The atmosphere made it easy to start conversations with other visitors, artists, and performers. The night felt like a weird mix of sleepover, museum tour, school trip, gallery walk, TED talk, late night dinner, and of course unconventional theatre.There was also a complimentary breakfast. The night porter even got up before 5 am to serve it to one guest who needed to leave early. All of that for a very competitive price that probably no nearby hostel can beat.

Hotel Berlin was on at Ballhaus Ost from 7 – 18 September 2016.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, people

Tobo at Teufelsberg

Street Artist Tobo is a Berliner who has been tagging the city since he was eight years old. His easily recognisable character is a sassy dog called Erik Rotheim, named after inventor of the aerosol spray can Erik Andreas Rotheim.

I’ve always liked the idea of having a dog – especially as almost everyone in Berlin is accompanied by one – but their loyalty and sincerity are a little overwhelming. This dog, though, could be my best friend.

Here are some recent images of Tobo’s Erik Rotheim from Teufelsberg.

Tobo at Teufelsberg

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Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Two For A Girl at the English Theatre Berlin

Travellers tell tales around camp fires, late into the night when nothing else is stirring…

Two For A Girl at the English Theatre Berlin

What happens when two people from different spheres in Ireland – a traveller woman and a settled man – transgress the boundaries of their communities? Actress Mary Kelly takes us on a journey into the far-reaching consequences of such an act, inhabiting five characters in a tale that spans several decades in her one-woman play Two For A Girl.

This might sound complicated – one actress playing five characters – but it is not. Kelly is a nuanced actress whose posture, demeanour and energy change as she transitions from one character to the next; sassy teenager, prim housewife, stout farmer…

Each player in this tale is given enough space to breathe – they have their own voice, their own truth to tell. Most interestingly, Kelly puts a marginalised voice – that of traveller woman Josie Connors – at the centre of the narrative. Not only does Josie provide a fascinating insight into a group rarely heard from, and into the complex relationship between Ireland’s settled community and traveller community, but she knows how to spin a tale.

The pared back production matches her style, drawing on the oral tradition of travellers and Ireland. This is storytelling at its purest. At an hour-long, the play will draw you in, twirl you around, delight and touch you before spitting you back out into the sun.

Two For A Girl is on at the English Theatre Berlin | International Performing Arts Center (Fidicinstraße 40, 10965 Berlin) on Thursday 14th, Friday 15th and Saturday 16th July 2016.

 

 

Berlin, Germany, Life in Berlin, politics

A #Brexit Playlist

Stunned. There’s nothing else to say about Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. For the past few months, I’ve been reassuring everyone the Brexit wouldn’t happen. I mean, us Brits like to complain, but we’re not complete morons.

It turns out that we are, proving that a) people are stew-pid-er than you think, and b) there is an Abba song for every situation.

Here is your Brexit playlist – or playlists, a separate one for Britain and Europe, since that’s the way it’s going to be…

Britain:

Crazy by Gnarls Barkly

Knowing me, Knowing You by Abba

London Calling by The Clash

The End by The Doors

Europe:

Take A Chance On Me by Abba

If You Leave Me Now by Chicago

Rolling in the Deep by Adele

I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor

What wold be on your Brexit playlist? Post any ideas below!

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, things to do

Glass Making in Berlin Schönholz

Jesse Günther plies a molten blob on the end of a red-hot pipe, turning it this way and that as he tugs out a shape. Within minutes, he has created a glass figurine of a graceful, long-tailed horse, which he taps off the end of the pipe with a clink.

Jesse Günther at Berlin Glas e.V.

We are at the Berlin Glas e.V., a non-profit association that offers glass making courses and opportunities for students, refugees and artists. Their studio is located in the complex of an old brandy factory in north Berlin. Jesse adds his figurine to a crowded shelf of glass objects and mythical-looking creatures. He likes working with glass because it’s collaborative and challenging.

Berlin Glas e.V.

I had never really thought much about glass or how it was made before going to the 3-hour introductory workshop, so I’m not sure what I was expecting, but one thing is right: It is challenging. And hot. At the centre of the studio is a furnace that runs at over 1000 degrees celsius, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is only turned off for one month during the year, when everyone goes on holiday.

Powdery pellets of raw glass are thrown into the furnace, where it then sits in liquid form, waiting to be ‘gathered’, or spun onto the end of a hot pipe. Then, there is the ‘glory hole’, another furnace used to reheat pieces while you’re working on them, and finally the ‘lehr’, where the finished glass pieces slowly cool at around 500 degrees. Altogether, it’s hot work. I was on the course with a couple of blacksmiths, who seemed more used to working with such high temperatures.

Together, we attempted to make one paperweight and one glass each – a task that kept us all intensely occupied for the afternoon. There is a lot of be mindful of in the workshop: making sure you don’t burn someone with the 900 degree pipe you are wielding, making sure you don’t burn yourself, constantly spinning the pipe so the molten glass does not just drop off it (I lost a paperweight in the glory hole because I stopped spinning the pipe for a couple of seconds), getting a feel for how malleable the glass is – a quality that is constantly changing as the glass cools – while twisting, shaping, blowing, plying and re-heating…

The workshop certainly gives you a new appreciation for glass, ensuring you’ll never look at it the same way. They say the strongest steel as forged in the hottest fire, but glass is forged at the same temperatures and can turn out to be brittle or strong, with certain qualities, like air bubbles and colours, not fully visible until the glass has cooled, giving it a certain unpredictability and nuance. So, after a week of cooling, how did my pieces turn out?

Pieces made at glass making workshop

As you can see, the glass didn’t really turn out to be a glass – not even a vase, which was my next aim. Maybe I can claim it’s simply a piece of art – after all, as well as being collaborative and challenging, glass-making is also creative and beautiful.

Berlin Glas e.V. offers a number of courses as well as opportunities for students, refugees and artists.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Lippy at the Schaubühne Berlin

Lippy, a theatre piece based on a true incident that occurred in Leixlip, Ireland, where four women committed suicide by starving themselves to death, starts with a postshow discussion.

LIPPY by Dead Centre, Direction: Ben Kidd/Bush Moukarzel Photo: Jeremy Abrahams
LIPPY by Dead Centre, Direction: Ben Kidd/Bush Moukarzel, Photo: Jeremy Abrahams

I was so hungover, I wasn’t sure if this was part of the show (it is) or whether I was late and had somehow missed the play. It was possible: I had already turned up to review it without something to write on, or with.

So while the reviewer next to me furiously scribbled notes in his little book, I decided to rely solely on my wits and the power of my pounding head. The theatre, at least, was nice and dark Besides, how hard could it be? I’ve reviewed loads of plays…

The problem was, like its subject matter, Lippy is a confounding. Why did Frances Mulrooney and her three nieces, whom she raised, choose to end their lives this way? Why did they shred all their personal documents? A play that tried to answer these questions would be putting words into their mouths, and Lippy is intelligently aware of this conundrum.

So in the play’s sinister and expressionist imagining of the women’s last days, starving to death in the same house, much emphasis is put on the impossibility of ever achieving clarity. Words overlap, get lost, become distorted. People speak without moving their lips, or move their lips only to have different people speak for them. The play constantly disorientates and disturbs, thwarting any attempt to grasp a coherent meaning. Yet, I continued my attempt to grasp, leaning forward in my seat – like that would help. The whole thing was enough to make my head hurt – more than it already did.

The play ends with a mega Beckettian soliloquy delivered from the lips of the last living woman in the house. It is dark, and impactful – especially after almost an hour of not receiving a clear sentence – leaving the theatre in stunned silence.

An affecting play, not to be watched when hungover.

Lippy was on at Berlin’s Schaubühne as part of the Festival International New Drama (FIND) 7-17 April 2016.

Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin

Learn German the Berlin Way

I always say there are two types of expats in Berlin; the language people – those who have a real interest in German, have studied it at university or work as translators – and the rest of us.

The rest of us take the occasional course, figure out the language as best we can and muddle along constantly fuddled by the dative and TeKaMoLo. At some point, our learning stops, and this happens at level B2.

B2 is the optimal point at which we can say everything we need to say and use the language in a way that doesn’t involve reading Goethe. Don’t get me wrong, we all feel bad about this, but let’s face it, part of the blame falls on what Mark Twain wrote an entire essay on: The Awful German Language.

But here’s a solution: Krimi in Berlin.

 

Krimi in Berlin v.2 cover

This mini e-book is long enough to challenge B2 German learners, but short and exciting enough to keep you engaged. It is comes with an audio track and explains key phrases, but doesn’t feel textbook tedious.

It starts, as all krimis should, with a dramatic shooting. Blood turns the wooden Berlin floors red. Merc, a hilariously Berlin type – leftie, vegan, hacker – has just been shot. As her friend Hercule takes this in, we pick up some colloquial German phrases, like Trick auf Lager (a trick up one’s sleeve), null Komma nix (very fast) and in der Scheiße sitzen (to be up shit creek without a paddle). These little phrases are useful and fascinating to learn as we figure out how and why Merc was shot, and wonder whether everything will turn out alright in the end.

A snappy, entertaining read.

Krimi in Berlin v.2 is available now on Amazon, and is currently free for a limited time.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

The Last Supper at the Schaubühne Berlin

The Last Supper by Ahmed El Attar, currently on as part of the Schaubühne’s Festival International New Drama (FIND), is a fascinating glimpse into the Egyptian bourgeois.

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Although the long table dominating centre stage is a nod to the Biblical Last Supper, the similarities soon end. Sure, the play starts with two men praying, but this is juxtaposed with another character singing Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind in Arabic. This curious mix of Near East meets West continues throughout the play, with characters taking selfies and arguing about Instagram, Emmental, and where the shopping is best: London or America?

The attempt to compare one city with a 52-state nation is of course shallow, illustrating the characters’ ambivalent relationship to the West. They have taken on our materialism, but at the same time, a character simply called ‘The General’ announces: America, and Iran, and Sweden, want to bring this country down, using Facebook.

These perceptions tickled the European audience most, and although they are hilarious, they are also disturbing. As the supper progresses, and animal carcasses are laid out on the table, so does the consumerist talk. Characters discuss servants like they are objects to be traded, the General refers to everyone as vermin, and Hassan, who is meant to be an artist,  reveals an alarming capacity for violence, including rape. The atmosphere is decadent, aggressive, nihilistic.

There is something missing here. In fact, there is someone missing. That important twelfth person, who, at this last supper, is Nadia. She keeps being called to the table but never appears.  Has she decided to sit this nauseus gathering out? Is she ill? Has she died? No one goes to check. Her absence reminds us of what else is absent at this table: Humanity.

The Festival International New Drama (FIND) is on at the Schaubuhne from 7 – 17th April 2016.

art, Berlin, things to do

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie at the Jewish Museum Berlin

It is rumoured that Boris Lurie’s No!art movement got its name when a woman entered an exhibition on 10th street in New York, looked his Railroad to America collage (below), and ran out screaming “No! No! No!”

Boris Lurie, Railroad to America, 1963
Boris Lurie, Railroad to America, 1963, © Boris Lurie Art Foundation, New York

Whether or not that story is apocryphal, the art of Boris Lurie is indeed provocative. Interestingly, he was very much against Warhol and the pop art movement, which also sought to be political and provocative. Perhaps this is because pop art lacks the harrowing depth of Lurie’s work.

This fresh, visceral quality is probably due to the fact that Boris Lurie, who grew up in Riga, was interned by the Nazis at Buchenwald and other concentration camps. His art is particularly Jewish – a visual and textual attempt to express a European Jewish experience. It seems apt, therefore, that the largest exhibition of his work – including pieces that have never been shown before – is now on at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

The retrospective presents an over-arching view of Lurie’s œuvre, consisting of over 200 collages, drawings, paintings, texts and sculptures, as well as documentary videos about the artist.  His vast body of work grapples with a number of subjects, from modern American society and politics, to concentration camps and depictions of women. Most impactful are his collages, combining photos of the Holocaust with pin-up photos from American magazines.

Perhaps the best sum up of the exhibition is the welcoming text at its entrance, by Lurie himself: If your eyes and mind serve you well, you will see something new. You will find no secret languages here, no fancy escapes, no hushed, muted silences, no messages beamed at exclusive audiences. Art is a tool of influence and urging. We want to talk, to shout, so that everybody can understand. Our only master is truth.

No Compromises! The Art of Boris Lurie is on at the Jewish Museum Berlin (Lindenstr. 9-14, 10969 Berlin) until 31st July 2016.

 

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Fear Industry at the English Theatre Berlin

Fear Industry is not really a play. Rather, it is a montage of movement and sound building on one theme; fear.

Fear Industry at the English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Achim Wieland

Performers Marios Ioannou and Elena Kallini skillfully switch between multiple characters in quick succession – a little boy called George, a politician with speeches about security, a mother watching her child play, a game show host – illustrating just how much our lives and society are governed by fear. The fear of wrinkles, the fear of swine-flu, the fear of flying.

The characters dance around a tightrope in the middle of the stage, accompanied by mezzo-soprano Marianna Pieretti. These people are constantly pulled, tied down by threads of anxiety. As one character says, “Birds and butterflies were meant to fly, but humans have to stay grounded.” By holding up a mirror to the ways in which our society is built on fear – from the focus on wealth to the decision to go to war – the performance encourages us to reconnect with child we once were. The child who, fearless, stuck their fingers into the lion’s cage.

However, the composition itself never manages to completely take off, hovering as it does, somewhere between drama and performance. I would have preferred it to commit more strongly to one or the other. As it is, the characters lack real depth or development, which fails to make it a satisfying drama, while the performance element is not pushed as far as it can go. Chekov famously said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” The same rule could apply to a tightrope; if it is on stage, someone should walk it.

An interesting concept that could have been braver.

Fear Industry is on at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstraße 40, 10965 Berlin) until Saturday 20th February 2016.

 

Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Friedenskirche: A journey through space and time with the Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra

Friedenskirche is a Baptist church in Charlottenburg with a history stretching back to 1897.

Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra at Friedenskirche

The red-brick building feels solid. Inside it is stark, modern. The only vibrant feature is an 80 square metre painting depicting the Berlin cityscape – with a donkey walking through Brandenburg Gate, making it sway, analogous to Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra started their concert at Friedenskirche on Sunday evening with a modern, relaxed groove. A pulsing sound that brought out the warm colours of the painting on the wall behind them. The mood matched the church – but then stopped. The church became dark and creepy.

Between 1897 and 1908, this space was a Catholic Apostolic Church, with ideas of renunciation and temptation, prohibition and sin, prayer and redemption. The orchestra recreated the mood of this time with ghostly wails and groans, chants, violins tight and high-pitched with anxiety, transporting us back to another time. Like the donkey walking through Brandenburg Gate, the orchestra made time and space sway.

From 1908 to 1918, the building served as a synagogue. The lights in the church glowed a little warmer, and the music became more unified with the sound of brass instruments, zingy violins, and rhythmic clanging, reminiscent of the Bronze Age. Time and space had shifted around us once again.

After a short intermission, the lights were fully on. Violinists and saxophonists walked around by themselves playing their own tunes. The church turned into the Baptist church, dating back to 1920, that it is today – enlightened, with a respect for inner individuality.

In 1943, during World War II, heavy bombing destroyed the church. The music became discordant, panicky, with disturbing squeals and screeches. The violins, high-pitched and frenetic, punctured by the sound of drums, produced a rising anxiety. The foreboding sound of the organ filled the church. We could hear propellers churning low above us, a bomb siren, symbols clanging, a saxophone bleating, and then it happened; chaos, destruction, screams, a voice singing out in agony. The music assaulted our bodies.

Then, quiet. A lone violin played like the wind, whistling through ruins.

Reconstruction began after the war. Somewhere amid the hard sounds and discordance, a few hopeful notes rose. The orchestra assembled in front of us, became jazzy, and brought us back to solid ground.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra is conducting a free workshop about soundpainting this Sunday, 14th January at 12.30 at Friedenskirche, or follow them on Facebook for details of future concerts.

art, Berlin, events, Life in Berlin, people, theatre

Palast-Talk: British Evening

Friedrichstadt-Palast – the glitzy show palace in Mitte – recently hosted an illuminating discussion about German and British theatre.

Berndt Schmidt and Alistair Spalding, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Photo: Sascha Radke, Eventpress, courtesy of Friedrichstadt-Palast

The talk focused on the differences between British and German theatre. Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells in London, observed that the British prefer to be entertained, while the Germans think theatre has to be difficult and painful. Also, British theatre is commercial, whereas German theatres are mostly subsidised.

This inevitably led to a discussion about the difference between art and entertainment. Does art have to be political? Dr Berndt Schmidt, General Director of Friedrichstadt-Palast, joked that although many people do not count what the Palast does as art, it must be – because they get funding for it.

He also stated that although the shows at Friedrichstadt-Palast were not political, the theatre’s attitude was open and tolerant. This is a fallacy: Everything is political. Even the choice not to engage in politics and just entertain people is political. It is a choice that says, the status quo is fine and we do not feel a responsibility or need to question it. That entertainment is more important than politics. It is conservatism of the highest degree.

The Palast’s current home on Friedrichstrasse was the last historic landmark building constructed in German Democratic Republic, in 1984. Under communist rule, the Palast’s shows were also used to entertain and placate. In Setting the Scene: Perspectives on Twentieth-Century Theatre Architecture, historian Florian Urban writes that the Palast hosted a selection of the regime’s most popular television variety shows, including Ein Kessel Buntes (A Cauldron of Potpurri); “the Saturday-night entertainment show with which East German rulers had, since 1972, attempted to win the acceptance of their subjects.”

The Palast’s shows supported the ruling order then, just as it supported the ruling order during the Nazi era, and it is – by choosing not to question contemporary society and politics – doing the same today. Luckily, we live in an open, democratic society, which is, apparently, the ‘general attitude’ of the Palast.

But how does the Palast’s ‘open and tolerant’ attitude manifest itself? When the director of Berlin’s largest theatre was asked whether he actively sought to bring diverse voices from the city into his production-process, Berndt replied that he was not thinking about how many women or coloured faces there were in his theatre; he was just hiring people he thought were cool.

If you are not consciously thinking about tolerance, openness, and diversity, you cannot have an open, tolerant and diverse attitude. People naturally choose to work and socialise with people who are similar to them (see Scientific American’s article on how people socialise, or Business Insider’s article on the fact that managers hire people who remind them of themselves). Berndt is a white, middle-class man. If he is just picking people he thinks are cool, he is most certainly picking people who share his background or attitudes, which is not promoting diversity or tolerance but perpetuating a system of privilege and bias.

This system is the reason that no black actors were nominated for the Oscars this year. It is the reason that female hires in orchestras have risen by half since the introduction of ‘blind’ auditions for orchestras, where musicians must play behind screens that conceal their identities.

It is the reason the director of Ireland’s National Theatre came under fire at the end of last year when he announced a line up of 18 men and just two women writers and directors. In response to the criticism, he tweeted: “I don’t and haven’t programmed plays on a gender basis. I took decisions based on who I admired and wanted to work with.”

To deny gender-bias with such a line-up is ludicrous. The people he admired and wanted to work with were people like him – men. The work he connected to was the work that related to his experience – as a white, privileged male. It was only when he was made to think about it – by a counter movement supported by Meryl Streep and Wim Wenders – that he recanted his words. But his comment is one the Director of Friedrichstadt-Palast echoed: I’m just choosing people I think are cool. As a woman in the toilets said afterwards; “Well whoopee for him.”

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature

Inkblot Berlin: Berlin Writers Read

This Friday, 29th January, I will be reading at Inkblot Berlin at the English Theatre. Come along…

Inkblot Berlin: Berlin Writers Read

Inkblot Berlin gives you the chance to hear the voices behind the words. Working writers from the city read their drama, poetry and prose.

Formed in the furnace of the writing scene in Berlin, Inkblot seeks to shine a light on what is happening in the writing groups and draughty garrets of this vibrant capital. For this inaugural event we present Mary Kelly, twice published playwright from Dublin, Madhvi Ramani a polymath who writes for children and adults and Ben Maddox, who turns his bitter gaze onto rural life.

Let us tell you our stories.

Inkblot Berlin is taking place at 8pm, Friday 29th January 2016, at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstr. 40, 10965 Berlin).

Berlin, history, Life in Berlin, things to do

EXIT Berlin – Live Escape Game

“You have both been – obviously wrongly – locked in an asylum,” says Toby.

I cast a sideways glance at the Bavarian, who could probably quite legitimately be sent to a mad house.

Exit Game BerlinWe are in the ‘Briefing Room’ of a former East Berlin bunker. The chairs are hard. The map across from us shows the sprawling territory of the USSR. Most of the furniture is original, from the 1970s, when the bunker was built.

Toby is telling us how EXIT game works; we will be shown into a room, and need to solve a series of puzzles and clues to find a route out of the asylum before a madman hunts us down and, well, game over. Grand. Just the kind of game for the Bavarian and I to tackle in our lunch break.

Half an hour later, I’m sweating over a Ouija board while the Bavarian fiddles with a lock. Edith Piaf is playing, we’re surrounded by skulls and the timer is counting down on a digital display behind us.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to get out of here,” sighs the Bavarian.

“And I don’t think I’m ever going to listen to Edith Piaf again,” I mutter.

Yes, the game was more difficult than we imagined. Either that, or we’re stupider than we imagined. According to the game-masters only 66 % of players manage to break out. In addition to being brain-intensive, the game’s setting gives it an extra edge. The macabre props and oppressive atmosphere of the bunker make you feel like you’re trapped in a horrific b-movie.

It is a smartly designed, immersive experience. Mad House, the game we played, is the most popular, but I’m determined to try one of the others (Secret Prison, Alien Invasion and Hackers Home Reloaded) and win. I hate losing. Of course, that means the Bavarian and I will have to do some serious training before we attempt it. Now, where’s that Sudoku book…

EXIT Berlin can be played in English or German in groups of two or more and can be booked online.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Berlin Street Art 3

One of my favorite walks in Berlin is along the S-bahn bridge from Alexanderplatz to Hackescher Markt.

You could be thinking about where you’re going and what you’re doing one minute, and the next, the plethora of street art in the middle of the city will snake around your mind and grab you.

It will make you smile or think or put a bounce in your step, like the dancing girl, who swirls along beside you for metres in a mist of glitter accompanied by the words, “It’s time to dance.”

Here are some photos taken from a recent walk along that path with a friend:

Berlin, music, theatre

Lukas, A Musical at TiltHAUS

Lukas is a musical with a difference; modern, minimalist, set in Berlin.

Lukas, a musical

The story centers around one decision; should Lukas leave his Berlin home and follow his girlfriend Olivia to Australia? Writers Nicole Ratjen, Ben Southam and Tom Hanley wanted to “explore the many facets of making a decision, simple and complex, familiar and distant,” and in this, they succeed.

They give every character in the story a voice – a song – and as these voices build to a crescendo, you realise just how complex making this decision is. The songs themselves are funny and touching, with tangible references such as playing Fifa on playstation.

Sarah Milligan (as Olivia) hit every note with a voice as powerful as any you would find on Broadway, Ben Southam (Lukas) gave a nuanced performance, and Blake Worrell convincingly played Lukas’s depressive father.

The music, provided by Laura Peterson (keyboard), Kenny Stanger (guitar), Stuart Nelson (alto saxophone) and Jano González  (bass), adds a layer of mood and feeling to each character, making the show an emotional experience.

But although the play manages to be emotionally complex, it falls down dramaturgically, managing to reach crisis, but never climax and resolution. Overall, however, it is a short, sweet experience, set in the intimate performance space of Berlin’s Factory, Germany’s largest start-up campus.

For more information, read Interview with Ben Southam: How to write a Musical in your Lunch Breaks.

Lukas, A Musical, is on at TiltHAUS (Rheinsbergerstr. 76/77, 10115 Berlin) tonight and tomorrow night.

Berlin, history, Life in Berlin, science, theatre, Uncategorized

Transcendence at the English Theatre Berlin

A hundred years ago, on 25th November 1915, Einstein proved his general theory of relativity, transforming our understanding of physical reality. Apt timing then, for Robert Marc Friedman’s Transcendence, a play about Einstein, at the English Theatre Berlin.

Transcendence, English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Gerald Wesolowski, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

The play transcends the barriers of space and time – running from 1911 to the second world war, spanning from Berlin, Prague, Zurich and Sweden to the USA – as it spins together three story strands.

One strand is the relationship between Albert Einstein and his fellow physicist Max Planck. Einstein and Planck came from vastly different backgrounds, with little in common but physics and music. Although their friendship builds despite their differences, it ultimately – in the face of a volatile political landscape (including the first and second world wars) – fails.

Another focus is the relationship between Einstein and Kafka, who almost certainly met, although no record exists of their encounters. This narrative highlights the similarities between science and art – both men use creativity and imagination in their work to search for underlying realities. Is there, they ponder, a moral equivalent to general relativity?

And finally, there are the maneuverings in Sweden concerning the Nobel Prize in Physics, influenced by politics and people who were reluctant to acknowledge Einstein and his theory (they eventually awarded him the prize for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, not for relativity = fail).

The actors (Ben Maddox, Logan Verdoorn and Max Wilkinson) approach these iconic characters in a realistic way, even lending them a comic aspect. Despite this, the play gets bogged down by its weighty subject matter. It presents too much information over too broad a scope; although each story-line is fascinating, each could have been a full-length play in itself.

Overall, it manages to string together an illuminating picture of how some of Europe’s most fascinating figures struggled to transcend harsh realities during the most volatile period of the continent’s history.

Transcendence is on at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstr. 40, 10965 Berlin) until 30th November 2015.

art, Berlin, Literature

Exhibition: There’s no place like time

There’s no place like time is an art exhibition with a twist. It’s a retrospective of the work of video artist Alana Olsen, curated by her daughter Aila, who lives in Berlin. So far, so good. It’s only when you look at the exhibition brochure, dated December 2018, that you realise something is awry.

3 s jetty colorPrinting error? No. The video artist Alana Olsen and her daughter Alia are actually characters out of Lance Olsen’s novel Theories of Forgetting. We are looking at the work of a fictive artist, curated by her fictive daughter. Olsen’s book has spiraled out of its binding and into our reality, or perhaps we have circled into its fictionality, becoming characters ourselves.

The exhibition is, in reality, a collaboration between author Lance Olsen and video artist Andi Olsen. Between them, they have brought the spirit of the fictive artist alive as well as her daughter’s attempt to put the pieces of her mother’s life together to try to grasp her and stop her spiraling away into oblivion.

The themes of time, place, deterioration and winding down run through the exhibition – themes which are also important to the novel. Lance Olsen’s creation can be seen as a spiral itself – first inspired by Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork The Spiral Jetty (above), the novel has unconventional page-layouts and two back covers so you can start from either end, it has now spun back out into a physical space and collaboration with a visual artist once more.

An immersive, multi-dimensional and unique approach to art, which people can delve into in many different ways.

There’s no place like time is on until Sunday 15th November at the Greenhouse Berlin (8th floor, Gottlieb-Dunkel Str. 43/44, 12099 Berlin).