Berlin, events, Life in Berlin

What attending a TEDxBerlinSalon does for your mood

Tuesday afternoon was the TEDxBerlinSalon – a series of inspiring talks on the topic of Leading in a Complex World. I didn’t want to go; I was feeling blue, the Bavarian had been annoying me, the days were getting colder and darker.

Besides, why was I attending a conference on leadership? I am not a leader. I have no interest in leading people. People are idiots. But I had my ticket and had planned to blog about it, so I decided to go Gonzo. Think An English Man in Berlin on PMS instead of Hunter S Thompson on acid…

tedxsalonberlinThe first speaker was Amel Karboul, entrepreneur, author, former Tunisian Government Minister – ugh, what an over-achiever. There’s just no modesty nowadays.

Karboul talked about how some companies – Nokia, Yahoo, Kodak – fly into the ‘coffin corner’ due to ‘railroad thinking.’ Yeah, her metaphors were all over the place. To complete her bag of images, she threw a pomegranate into the mix. Companies, she said, should be structured like pomegranates if they want to keep their edge. Despite myself, I actually liked the idea. Mostly, because it confirmed my position in a recent disagreement I had with The Bavarian, who thinks my way of moving between different things – blogging, fiction-writing, an up-coming venture into podcasting – is chaotic.

“Hah!” I argued with him in my head, “It’s the latest in pomegranate-thinking; having no core, but many separate yet connected seeds. And it’s high in vitamin-CI!”

The audience clapped. I almost stood up and bowed.

The next talk gave me more ammunition in my imaginary argument with the Bavarian. Director of the School of Design Thinking Ulrich Weinberg talked about the end of ‘Brockhaus Thinking’. Brockhaus is the German encyclopedia that recently discontinued after 200 years, having even missed the opportunity to go digital. Weinberg’s point was that our companies and education systems must reflect the ever-growing complexity of the world by transforming from ‘linear’ to ‘network’ thinking.’ This comprises 3 core elements:

  1. Working in multidisciplinary teams
  2. Having an iterative, rather than linear process
  3. Working in variable physical spaces

Bosch, for example, recently changed its model from individual to group incentives for its entire 300,000 strong workforce, encouraging collaboration rather than competition within the company. Weinberg argued that even university theses should be done in groups. Oh god. I completely forgot my argument with the Bavarian as a dystopian vision of the future – similar to Dave Eggers’ The Circle – opened up before me; constant connection, team activities, no space for the individual.

The man sitting in front of me clapped loudly, heralding in this new era defined by the shape of technology. I hate loud clappers. I wanted to find a cabin where I could curl up and flick through dusty pages of Brockhaus encyclopedias, alone.

Thank god for Janina Kugel, member of the Managing Board of Siemens, whose grounded and substantial talk on the power of being different served as an antidote. She spoke about her experiences as a woman of colour in Germany, and how exclusion and being different produces good leaders because it a) helps you to look beyond the obvious, b) teaches you how to fight for your position and point of view and c) gives you the skills to understand and adapt to different group dynamics and people. By the time she finished, my mood had settled at a tranquil turquoise.

Next, Hermann Arnold introduced himself as a former CEO, who had stepped down. Great. This was my kind of guy. Modest. Of course, he went to India after quitting, but he admitted to the cliche. Nice. Not only did he step down, he had a downbeat sense of humor. Arnold claimed that stepping down could be educational, and create better leaders. Society and the ego’s expectations of always climbing the career ladder and staying on top could be damaging. Instead, moving in spirals (and here we circle back to round structures, like pomegranates), where you learn, then step up and instruct, then step down again to mentor and let someone else take your place is more beneficial leadership pattern.

Serial entrepreneur Waldemar Zeiler stepped onto stage next, but I didn’t listen to him because he had a ridiculous beard.

Despite this, my mood was somewhat lifted. This might have been the result of cheap tricks like being offered chocolate cake during the break, and doing breathing exercises with Patricia Thielemann of Spirit Yoga.

However Ratna Omdivar made me forget my moodiness altogether when she recounted the story of how she suddenly became a refugee. Leadership for her requires key qualities of resistance, renewal and flexibility. Most important, however, is compassion. As well as being vital to leadership in complex times (just look at the complexity of the refugee crisis Germany is facing today), Harvard University research has shown that compassion is good for you; it makes live longer, appear more attractive to your partner, and feel better. And it did – Omdivar’s story took me out of myself and connected me with her and my fellow humans.

The next speakers continued this positive surge: activist Yörük Kurtaran talked about the Gezi protests in Istanbul, Regina von Flemming recounted the tough challenges she faced as Publisher and CEO for Axel Springer Russia, and Nuhu Ribadu spoke about his fight against corruption in Nigeria. Ribadu not only took on international companies and politicians despite being stonewalled, bribed and threatened, but even ended up arresting his own boss. He received a standing ovation. These were fascinating, diverse people who had survived difficult situations and continued to do good work. I was a warm, inflamed orange.

tatatatamThe final presentation by conductor, composer and performer Roni Porat swung everyone’s focus back to themselves.

With the help of a string quartet, he demonstrated why Beethoven’s 5th Symphony was so powerful: Repetition. Apparently – and I guess he’s counted – the ‘ta-ta-ta-tam’ motif is repeated 176 times in the piece. His question to us all was, What is your ta-ta-ta-tam? By this, he meant, what thoughts were we filling our minds with? Negative s***? Ideas? Questions? Love?

This was profound for me in a few ways. Firstly, as a wonderful insight into how art works – through repetition and variation of motif. I may have been attending a conference on leadership, but I was getting a lesson in composition. Secondly, it made me reassert my control over my thoughts and my mood. And lastly it made me re-focus my energy on what my ta-ta-ta-tam was in life.

By the time I walked out of the TEDxBerlinSalon, I was humming Beethoven’s 5th symphony, burning red.

art, Berlin, Film, Life in Berlin

Short Film: Rhino Full Throttle, A Berlin Love Story

This beautiful, award-winning short film Nashorn im Galopp (Rhino Full Throttle) directed by Erik Schmitt plays with a bunch of crazy filming techniques and perspectives all over Berlin.

Check it out:

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Mars One – Venus Zero at the English Theatre Berlin

Mars One – Venus Zero is the funny, provocative one-and-a-half-man show currently on at the English Theatre Berlin.

marsonevenuszero

The ‘half-man’ refers to a woman, Gem Andrews, and if you’re offended by the suggestion that a woman is worth half a man, prepare to be further shocked, because this play is all about Mike (played by Richard Gibb), an anti-feminist – or as he refers to himself, a meninist.

In fact, Mike thinks planet Earth is becoming so overrun by feminists that he’s preparing his audition video for the “MARS ONE” space program. Under the red glare of the recording light, we get an insight into his views and anger. This might sound intense, and at times it is – but mostly, it’s funny. The comedy arises darkly from Richard Gibb’s sincere portrayal of a man lacking potency, insight and intelligence.

Between recording sessions, Gem Andrews provides the emotional score to Mike’s story with haunting, soothing songs. These contrast with Mike’s on-screen persona – not just the video he’s recording – but his tweets and browsing activities which are projected on stage, provoking gasps and mutterings from the audience. It’s one thing to have such content out there in the mush of the Internet, quite another to bring it into the space of the theatre.

As the layers of this complex production click together, so does Mike’s story and we begin to see that he is not just an angry red alien – but deeply, touchingly human.

Mars One – Venus Zero playing at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstraße 40, 10965 Berlin): at 8 pm tonight and tomorrow.

art, Berlin, Film

Elixir at the 5th Down Under Berlin Film Festival

If the 1920s surrealists were alive today, where would they be situated? Berlin, naturally.

This is the premise of Australian director Brodie Higgs’s Elixir, which opened the 5th Down Under Berlin Film Festival last night.

Elixir filmOf course, he’s right. Berlin is a city of pallid men with thin mustaches who take themselves very seriously, artists dressed in black, and cavernous buildings where people from around the world come to be creative without worrying about paying the rent.

The film focuses on one building in particular – the Glass House, based loosely on the Parisian house of the same name and the group surrounding Andre Breton that gathered there. It starts just after the death of one their members, Jacques Vache, and the arrival of Lexia, a troubled artist. Lexia stirs up tensions between Andre, the writer who runs the house, and Tristan, who plans to violently disrupt a pop artist’s upcoming show.

Between these two plots is the art; late night photo sessions, poetry readings, games to access the subconscious, a man wearing a pig’s head saying ‘I am bored.’ These scenes are both ridiculous and magical, stylistically shot by cinematographer Michal Englert, and wonderfully scored by Daniel Wohl. But while the artists are frolicking, the bills are piling up. They risk losing their space, which provides an apt comment on gentrification in Berlin but also pulls the film in yet another direction.

The number competing story-lines and characters leads to a lack of focus. Who, exactly, is Lexia, and what does she represent? What are the relationships between these people? What is the role of art in our world? These questions are touched upon but never fully explored. Similarly, the film seems caught between its own surrealist elements and its traditional narrative drive, never fully embracing either.

Elixir looks fabulous and has some funny moments, but, like the surrealist movement of the 1920s, ends up feeling fractured.

The Down Under Berlin Film Festival is showcasing features and shorts from Australia and New Zealand at Movimento Kino in Kreuzberg from 16th – 20th September 2015.

Berlin, Germany, News, politics

Five Ways To Help Refugees in Berlin Now

Following on from Sara Chahr­rour’s wonderfully informative 10 ways to Help Refugees in Berlin, I wanted to share the ways I have found most effective.

BerlinEverything feels a bit ad hoc at the moment; there does not seem to be one central point of co-ordination or information, organisations like Start with a Friend aren’t even sending out standard responses to registrations, others, like Give Something Back To Berlin seem to be a little backlogged – although they do have an information evening coming up on the 18th September at Agora, and most emails go answered. I’ve been seeing a lot of How do I Help? posts online, so here’s a list of direct ways to help now.

1. Register at volunteer-planner.org and help out at Rathaus Wilmersdorf

Rathaus Wilmersdorf Notunterkunft has by far the most organised online presence. They have a regularly updated google doc of stuff they need, and a Facebook Page. If you would like to volunteer, just register at www.volunteer-planner.org and put your name down against a particular time and activity (e.g. sorting donations, translating, distributing food, being a runner, or even providing entertainment if you’re an artist / performer), and turn up. The Fluechtlingsheim Weissensee also uses this service, so there are opportunities to help out there as well.

2. Check out Free Your Stuff Berlin

The Free Your Stuff Berlin Facebook Group has become a hub for people who would like to help, and people seeking help – either in terms of specific things, or help with translating German documents etc. Just yesterday, a nice woman posted that she would be happy to pick up anything people have to donate and drop it off to the nearest station – if you don’t have stuff to give her, you can help her carry out this task.

3. Offer your spare room to a refugee

Refugees Welcome, which helps house refugees in normal homes, is a well-organised scheme that seems to be working well. It is an effective way to help and earn money from your spare room. The Guardian called this the ‘airbnb for refugees’ in a recent article.

4. Donate some stuff

Here are some direct links to what is needed and when / where to give:

The Kreuzberg Hilft List. Only accepting donations from 9th September. Donations can be dropped off at Dieffenbachstraße 15, 10967 Berlin from Tuesday to Friday from 12 to 18:30 clock.

The Willkommen in Westend List. The address is Eschenallee 3, 14050 Berlin.

The Moabit Hilft List: This list also has details of how to donate money, as well as specifics on what they need and where to drop it, and what they need in terms of help (at the moment: people to sort donations and give food from 09.00 – 18.00 and translators from 12.00-20.00)

The Spandau Askanierring List: Information on what is needed in terms of donations and volunteers.

The Lichtenberg List: What they need, and where to give it.

The Marzahn / Blumberger Damm List: What they need /address, or check out Willkommen in Marzahn on Facebook.

The Wedding Hilft List. What they need, where to give it.

5. Share these articles

Many people want to help but have no idea how. Use social media to share articles like this, the previously mentioned 10 Ways You Can Help Refugees in Berlin, The Local’s 5 Ways You Can Help Refugees in Germany and The Independent’s Five Practical Ways You Can Help Refugees Trying to Find Safety in Europe.

If anyone out there has more practical information on how to help or if you are a refugee / organisation that needs help, feel free to leave a comment, or contact me.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, people

Pigeon Posts: Letters from Berlin and Giveaway

Letters from Berlin is a collection of twelve essays by writers, film-makers, photographers and artists based in different districts of the German capital. The essays are being released in staves, or weekly installments, by Berlin-based digital publisher The Pigeonhole.

Like all good start-ups, The Pigeonhole has managed to combine an old idea – serialising books (the model in Victorian times) – with modern technology. You can read on your Kindle, laptop or other devices, click on extra content like photos, sound recordings and videos, and interact with the writer and fellow readers as the book is released – or simply catch up with everything afterwards.

The first essay The Squirrel Principle by writer and translator Lucy Renner Jones, who’s been living in Berlin since the late nineties, was released last week. It starts:

After a morning run, as a friend of mine lay stretching on the grass in her local park, she spotted a red squirrel running up a huge oak tree. Clutched in his mouth was a coffee-to-go cup, plastic lid and all. Once he reached the first branch, he took the cup between his paws, flung aside the lid, and, head back, drained the last dregs of latte.

Yes, this essay is about Prenzlauer Berg, where even the squirrels are gentrified. Part of me clung to the hope that Renner Jones would pursue the caffeine stoked squirrel and, like Alice, fall down the rabbit hole of absurdity, or, at the very least, discuss her friend’s dubious mental state. Another part of me was resigned to the fact that this essay would, inevitably, be about the demographic changes that have affected this particular area of Berlin.

But this is not just another whine about the good old days. Renner Jones is honest about the ambiguity she feels as a Prenzlauer Berg resident. On one hand, she struggles with flocks of tourists, on the other, she admits she is part of the problem. She sidesteps buggies and wonders “why people can’t be more considerate,” while her own “daughter almost slices off their toes with her longboard.” Moreover, Renner Jones knows her topic. Her portrait of Prenzlauer Berg is filled with acute details, funny observations:

The most radical thing you can do here nowadays is give your kid a bag of crisps in public instead of an organic rice waffle.

I’ve been living in Prenzlauer Berg for a while and, being nosy, thought I knew everything about it. I was wrong. The Water Tower is not filled with luxury apartments; a housing commune on Lychener Straße had a yoga studio, library, and communal bathrooms you had to wait half an hour to use every morning; eighty-five per cent of the original population of Prenzlauer Berg has left the area since the Wall fell.

Gentrification is a particular Berlin neurosis (see my recent review of Berlin film Victoria) and, although I still mourn the loss of the latte-sipping squirrel, it’s probably apt that the opening essay of a collection about the city tackles the issue head on. I’m curious to see what insights and discussions the other essays, about districts of Berlin that I’m not so familiar with, will provoke.

The Pigeonhole are giving away five subscriptions to Letters from Berlin to readers of An Englishman in Berlin. To win, leave a comment below saying which area of Berlin you would most like to read an essay about.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

NippleJesus at the English Theatre Berlin

Last night, NippleJesus, a one-man play based on a short story by Nick Hornby, premiered at the English Theatre Berlin.

The setting was intimate, with chairs arranged in a horseshoe shape around the space where Dave (Jesse Inman) talks about his job as a bouncer, or, as his wife calls him, a security consultant.

NippleJesus
Photo: Casey-Tower, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

Dave is a family man. Working class, cockney, no pretensions. Until recently, he worked at a club called Casablanca but after someone jabbed a rusty weapon at him, he quit. His job was just to allow “people to have a good time without fear of arseholes” – nothing worth getting stabbed over.

His new gig is at an art gallery. Dave isn’t sure if he’s ever been inside an art gallery before, and he isn’t sure why they would need a bulky guy like him in one. All becomes clear when he sees the painting he’s supposed to be guarding. It’s a picture of Jesus – beautiful, suffering, realistic – which, upon closer inspection, is revealed to be entirely made of pornographic images of nipples. This is NippleJesus. Dave is shocked, then outraged.

But after studying the picture some more, standing in the same room as it, meeting the artist, and defending it against religious nut jobs, Dave’s interaction with the painting evolves. As his perspective switches, so does our perspective of the art world. How does art affect people? How manipulative is the contemporary art world? What is modern art? Moreover, as Dave’s interaction with the painting deepens, so too does our insight into his character.

Jesse Inman, with his shaved head and stocky build has the right physicality for Dave, and like Hornby’ text, he has the ability to play with the clichés of the character yet hint at something more. He relies on subtle gestures, like the fidgeting of his forefinger and thumb while his hands are clasped behind his back as he talks. Like a bouncer, he only uses his physicality when he needs to.

At times. it was apparent that the piece was adapted from a short story rather than written for the stage, as it lacked a sense of build and dramatic explosion. As always with Hornby, there are laughs to be had – perhaps the biggest is the pay-off for the only two stage props – a tent and an onion – at the end.

A good evening out without fear of arseholes.

NippleJesus is on at the English Theatre Berlin until Saturday 25th July 2015.

Berlin, Film, Life in Berlin

Film: Victoria

“Victoria (2015 film) POSTER” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

When someone first told me about this Berlin film shot in one continuous take, I flat out refused to see it. It will be rubbish I said. How is it possible to make a good film in just one take? Editing exists for a reason you know. And so on…

Then, more people talked to me about it, and I decided to go along and see what all the fuss was about. Yes, I am easily persuaded. It has led to many bad decisions. The muttered answer to my mother’s question, “If everyone jumped off a bridge would you do it too?” was always, “Yeah, probably.”

Luckily, seeing Victoria was not a bad decision. In fact, it turned out to be a unique and powerful cinematic experience.

The film opens with strobe lighting, pumping music, a camera pushing through a crowded dance floor until it settles on a girl dancing with abandon – in ecstasy or agony? It’s hard to tell.

This is Victoria (Laia Costa), a young Spanish woman who ended up in Berlin after realising she hasn’t got what it takes to be a professional pianist in the highly competitive world of classical music. Now, she works at a cafe in Mitte during the day, and parties at night.

As she heads out of the club, she encounters four young men; Sonne, Blinker, Fuss and Boxer. They are Berliners, who can’t get into the club. They invite her to accompany them so she can see the ‘real Berlin’, which, as Sonne (Frederick Lau) puts it, ‘Isn’t in the clubs, where any Spanish person can get in.”

Victoria goes along. Like me, she is easily persuaded. We follow with a sense of trepidation: Do these boys pose a threat, or will they be some fun company for this lonely girl?

They turn out to be a good bunch. The dialogue is funny, with that quality of long nights and early hour conversations. But the film continues to play on that edge between lightheartedness and darkness. Like when Victoria stands too close to the edge of a rooftop. She is exhilarated – young and free – but she is also reckless. After all, the pianist dream she has been training for since childhood has been taken away, leaving an abyss.

All this sets up her character for what follows: Victoria is drawn into a criminal plot with the boys. Although this provides a welcome spike in pace and tension, it introduces a few implausible plot developments and characters –  most notably the villainous mastermind, who looks like he got lost on his way to a James Bond film set.

This is where the power of the single take works its magic – the camera relentlessly pulls us along – we, like Victoria, have little pause for doubts or distractions. We’re along for the ride whether we like it or not. That tension, between everything turning out fine and everything being damned keeps us engaged. We are rooting for these characters. Inevitably, however, the plot twists towards a final, dark ending after a fatal police shoot out.

Throughout all this, the camerawork, by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen who won a won a Silver Bear at the Berlinale for his extraordinary artistic contribution for work on the film, is stunning – not to mention the tireless work of the talented actors. After two hours and twenty minutes, when Victoria finally walks away from the camera, leaving us behind, we feel the ache of separation. We want to continue, to see where she will go, what she will do.

The main character of the film, despite its title, is not Victoria, but Berlin, where the action plays out – from techno clubs to blocks of flats, spätkaufs to car chases along Zimmerstrasse. However, the city is not just a setting – it is the basis for the film’s preoccupations and themes. What is the ‘real Berlin’ and how is it changing?

The last image, of a Spanish girl walking past a Rolex shop towards a horizon towering with cranes at the dawn of a new day, holding a bag of money in her hands – hands that used to make art when she played the piano but are now stained with the blood of Berliners – speaks for itself.

Victoria is showing at Hackesche Hoefe Kino with English subtitles.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, people, radio

Creative in Berlin: Benedict Etz

Benedict Etz recently started a summer internship at Berlin’s multicult.fm, which broadcasts from Marheineke Markthalle in Kreuzberg. You can hear him on CultureClash, a bi-lingual English/German show that airs fortnightly on Saturdays from 10 to 11 am.

benedict etz - CopyIntroduce yourself

Hi I’m Beni! I’m 19 years old and currently a Philosophy, Politics & Economics student at the University of Warwick. I grew up in London but both my parents are Austrian and I am myself an Austrian citizen only. Due to this I grew up bilingual in German and English.

What’s your favourite place in Berlin?

A tie between the Dussmann on Friedrichstraße and Space Hall, a record store on Zossener Straße in Kreuzberg. 

Tell us about CultureClash

CultureClash is a bilingual show, which always has 60% of the presenting in German and 40% in another language, which for my shows is English. There have also been shows in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Polish – and we are keen to expand the number of languages! The aim of the show is to celebrate Berlin’s diversity. It is also the youth magazine of the station so it caters to young and creative people in Berlin, and especially those with a multicultural background.

What is working at multicult.fm like?

Multicult.fm has a very creative and inclusive vibe. We are all free to find projects we are interested in and explore our own interests, amidst the backdrop of catering to many different cultures. The studio is located on the second floor of the Marheineke Markthalle in Kreuzberg, so there is food from the whole world within a few metres of the station, which is a pretty ideal situation come lunchtime! The station is pro-integration and tries to broadcast in as many different languages as possible with some great world music being played around the clock. There are not many full-time employees and many who work part-time so I meet new people who are linked to the station most days which is always fun!

Take us through your process – how is your show made?

In the week leading up to the show I start to think about what themes I want to feature and who I would like to interview for particular segments and features. I try to get those done during the week so that I can apply them into the show as effectively as possible. We pre-produce the show fully as it is too complicated with the constant change of languages to record in one take. Before recording I try to write out what we should say in each part of the show in both languages but in different colours so that it is obvious when the language is being changed. Then, a couple of days before the show is scheduled to start we go in and record everything in the studio alongside the music that will be played. After this, I take all the recordings and edit them using audio software so that the show sounds the way we want it to. When it is perfected, the show is uploaded, ready to be played on Saturday morning!

What is the best thing about working in radio?

My favourite aspect of radio is the chance to nurture interests. To make a good feature, a good amount of research is needed and this is incredibly interesting. It also give me the chance to interview really cool people, which is exciting!

We’ve been hearing about the decline of radio since Video Killed the Radio Star, yet it’s still going strong. What do you think the power of radio is, and what attracted you to this medium?

Radio is brilliant because it only engages one sense. As a result, it enables multitasking while still being engaged. I got into radio, as I wanted to get a chance to talk about my interests, which is not always possible otherwise. It is also an incredibly satisfying and fun activity!

Can you recommend any great radio shows out there?

My favourite radio station is an Austrian one called FM4, which also has bilingual segments funnily enough. It’s primarily a music radio and plays some great alternative and indie music. A radio station from Seattle in the U.S. called KEXP also has a great online presence. And finally, one from Dalston in East London called NTS is good too!

What is the most interesting thing you have learned while making CultureClash?

How well radio can work in different languages! It is a very interesting dynamic because we try to convey roughly the same information in both languages so anyone who understands either language can follow. This may seem like a limiting factor but it leads to a fun dynamic that works perfectly for a youth show, particularly for a station like multicult.fm.

Benedict’s show airs this Saturday 4th July, 10-11 am. The show features a little interview with yours truly, An English Man in Berlin. Tune in via multicult.fm or on 88.4 if you are in Berlin, and 90.7 for Potsdam. If you enjoy the show and live in Berlin, you can get involved – just send an email to cultureclash@multicult.fm.

If you are being creative in Berlin and would like to chat about it, contact me.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Impro Embassy featuring Joe Bill and Lee White

Ratibor Theater ended their season of monthly English improv last Thursday with an amusing show featuring Joe Bill and Lee White, with accompanying music by Harry Hawaii.

Impro Embassy with Joe Bill and Lee White at Ratibor Theater
Photo by Sappho Wohlgemuth, courtesy of Ratibor Theater

Special guests Joe Bill (USA) and Lee White (Canada) have been touring Europe with their improv show Paradigm, which varies each time they perform it. The novelty is guaranteed by the audience, who provide prompts. The Berlin audience input included short skirts, a potter, Jurassic Park and mettbrötchen (raw minced pork, seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped onion, on bread)…

Interesting set-ups emerged – an artist with a starving family, a dinosaur in need of a therapist, a love story involving the daughter of a mafioso – although the sketches sometimes felt a bit tired, with the actors repeating lines. Perhaps this was an effect of having just two people, who were familiar with each other, carrying the show. Harry Hawaii’s musical accompaniment helped to provide accents and pace.

In the second half, however, the actors picked up the original sketches and ran with them. The humor escalated – a Scottish dinosaur-hunter picked up a boomerang to kill the depressed dinosaur, the mafioso murdered everyone in a Finnish McDonald’s because of their so-called ‘New York’ burger, and the starving artist used his skillful hands to make mettbrötchen. Bill and White had found their flow, and the audience were in stitches.

Even the actors’ familiarity with each other paid off. They got personal, and goaded one another (at one point White challenged Bill to bring in each member of a big mafia family to see their dying father, and Bill, feeling the strain after the sixth one, revealed that the rest of the family had been murdered).

As a writer, it was an interesting process to see; ideas start slowly, then characters and stories take on a life of their own. On the other hand, it might just have been the consumption of beer and wine that made things looser.

Apart from a few slip ups (the Scotsman spoke with an Irish accent), the actors demonstrated a good level of craft and creativity and, as always with improv, provided refreshing moments of surprise. Moreover, there was real pleasure in seeing characters recur, stories develop and a pattern – or paradigm – emerge from randomness.

Impro Embassy will continue their monthly high-quality, entertaining improv evenings in English after a summer break, in October.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Soundpainting in Neukoelln

“Where are we going?” asks The Bavarian for the hundredth time.

He does that sometimes. Repeats things. Last week, he came home perplexed because two people, independently of each other, said he had autistic traits.

“Soundpainting,” I say.

“Aha,” he says, eyebrows creased, nodding gravely.

I know what the next question is going to be.

Soundpainting is a live-composing sign language. The soundpainter (composer / conductor) uses gestures to direct a musicians, actors, dancers and artists in an improvised performance. It’s a thing.

soundpainting in berlinLast night, the Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra teamed up with the Swedish Soundpainting Orchestra for a performance at NK in Neukölln. The performance was supposed to start at 8.30. At 8.30 a couple of old-timers from Afro-American jazz collective The Pyramids were talking about how 1968 was an interesting year; Martin Luther King, Kennedy, the Vietnam War. That’s what you get when you go out in Neukölln.

Thankfully, you’re also never far from a beer in Neukölln. Another couple of beers got us to 1972, Besançon,1974, San Francisco – the moderator was not doing his job. I had never heard of The Pyramids, but now I’m an expert. If you ever see them, don’t give them a microphone.

Finally, it was time for soundpainting. The performance began in the courtyard. At least, I think it began. It was hard to tell whether the musicians were just warming up. A guy made sounds crushing a plastic water bottle; another shook a colander.

The performance moved upstairs, where two soundpainters directed two different groups in different areas of the hall. Each one seemed to make sense on its own, but clashed with the other. You could walk between them, and grab a beer on the way.

Finally, we moved into a space where the orchestra arranged itself in front of the audience. There were seats. One sound-painter took charge, and something happened. It started working. The soundpainter made gestures, the orchestra followed, performers moved, stories formed from sounds.

It became clear that the musicians could play and the singers could sing. They knew what they were doing, but they were doing it with abandon – playing, plucking, banging their instruments in unusual ways, using their voices to sing, shout, whisper, murmur and make animal sounds. Everyday noises and props were brought into the composition.

Out of cacophony, emerged music. It was like walking down a busy street, and hearing a symphony drift down to you from an open window, or like listening to a radio being tuned. What was happening? And what surprising thing were we going to hear or see next?

It was engaging, funny, weird, and weirdly satisfying.

Also, it was educational. I picked up the soundpainting gesture for ‘be quiet’ – maybe I’ll start using it on The Bavarian.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra will be performing with The Swedish Soundpainting Orchestra in what promises to be a special performance tonight at 18.30, at Urban Spree.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Exhibition: Obedience at the Jewish Museum Berlin

God said, ‘Take your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains.’

Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac
Caravaggio, The Sacrifice of Isaac, ca. 1603. Videomapping auf Repro © bpk | Scala

The story of Abraham is one of the oldest and most intriguing in the Bible: God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abraham obeys, although ultimately a ram is killed in Isaac’s place.

The text, handed down in Judaism as the “Binding of Isaac”, is also significant in Christianity and Islam. All three religions interpret the episode, and the questions it raises, differently. In Islamic texts for example, Abraham’s son Ismail, not Isaac, is sacrificed, and there is no binding at the altar.

Multimedia artist Saskia Boddeke and British film director Peter Greenaway have revived this old text into an immersive installation. Their new exhibition Obedience, at the Jewish Museum, takes you on a journey through 15 rooms, focusing on the different episodes and characters of the story.

It is heavy subject matter, and the rooms are loaded – with video installations, music, objects, modern images and old manuscripts. Every room has different floors, lighting, smells, sounds and visual stimuli, resulting in a heightened sensual experience.

However, subtle aspects carry through, binding the narrative together. For example, the pebbles on the floor of The Devil’s Room, that glow like hot coals in the dark, red light, take on new significance when we read about Hajj pilgrims stoning the devil, like Abraham, in The Islam Room. The sacrificed ram of Judaism becomes the Lamb of God in Christianity; the firewood that Isaac gathers becomes the wood of the cross.

What becomes a constant, ever louder echo reverberating through all the rooms is a focus on Isaac / Ismail, the child Abraham was willing to sacrifice. Boddeke and Greenaway have interpreted the story as a human drama, in a modern context. Images of children and their parents make us question Abraham’s obedience, for which he was praised and rewarded.

A video of children from all over the world repeating the lines “I am Isaac” or “I am Ismail”, allusions to child refugees, and contemporary images of suffering children make us question whether we, like Abraham, are sacrificing children in obedience to wealth. Provocative.

Obedience: An installation in 15 rooms by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway opens at the Jewish Museum today and runs till 13 September 2015.

art, Berlin, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, News, politics

The Bode Museum marks the 70th Anniversary of End of World War Two

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. To celebrate, Russia staged its biggest military parade, involving thousands of troops marching across the Red Square in Moscow, displays of ballistic missiles and over 100 war planes.

Here’s a clip of what it looked like:

While such scenes of nationalistic machismo, mirroring those that led up to the second world war in the first place, are clichéd and shallow, here, in a quiet corner of Berlin’s Bode Museum, a much smaller display makes for a deeper impact.

The Lost Museum Exhibition is about the hundreds of art works from the Berlin collections that went missing, were stolen or destroyed, due to the second world war. It consists of partly destroyed works, reconstructed pieces, photographic reproductions and information about the lost works.

The partly charred or smashed statues are devastating to see, but worse are the black and white photographic reproductions of paintings, like this Rubens:

photographic reproduction of lost Rubens at Bode Museum, BerlinA masterwork like this, drained of the colour and brushstrokes that bring Rubens’ paintings to life with fleshy sensuality, makes one feel the absence of the original even more.

IMG_20150510_140410Other stand out pieces, like this plaster cast of Donatello’s John the Baptist – the original has disappeared – demonstrate the value of such a restitution project as it reintroduces the piece to the narrative of art history.

The exhibition also raises interesting questions about itself. For example, should the few remaining fragments of works that survived the Friedrichshain Bunker fire be reconstructed, taking the artists’ original visions and intentions into mind? Or should, according to the standards of historic preservation, any change in the state of a work of art be respected? In short, is it more important to show the original idea of a work of art, or its history?

The exhibition is insightful and questioning and, on a positive note, is possible due to the ongoing and ever-strengthening collaboration between German and Russian museum professionals.

What remains though is the feeling of loss for all those hundreds of works that have vanished. It is a loss to civilisation. A fissure in art history. The visions and spirits of the people that lived in those works, forever lost.

The Lost Museum: The Berlin Sculpture and Paintings Collections 70 Years After World War II is on at the Bode-Museum until 27th September 2015.

Berlin, food, Life in Berlin, restaurants and bars

Celebrating the Burger’s 60th Birthday

If you find yourself walking down Prenzlauer Allee and see a massive burger where the planetarium should be  – don’t panic. You aren’t suffering from one too many beers or hallucinatory hunger cravings.

Berlin Planetarium made to look like a burgerLieferheld, Germany’s online food delivery service, has covered 800 square metres of the planetarium’s dome with 1082 mosaic panels to make it look like a giant 3D burger. It’s an unusual sight, possible only because the planetarium is currently closed for renovations until Spring 2016.

As readers of this blog will know, the Bavarian and I are big burger fans. It’s one of the few things we agree on. Like us, the burger is a curious Anglo-Deutsche combo. Most people associate hamburgers with the U.S – Lieferheld are using the opening of the first McDonald’s, in April 1955, as a marker for the burger’s 60th birthday – but the word hamburger does not come from the English word ‘ham’. In fact, in Germany, if you use ham in something you call a ‘hamburger’ or ‘beefburger’, you’re breaking food laws.

Instead, ‘hamburger’ comes from the city of Hamburg, and therefore has German roots that go back further than 60 years. The Hamburgers, however, do not seem to take much pride in their culinary heritage – last time I was there, I couldn’t find a good burger joint.

Berlin, on the other hand, is a great place for hamburgers (check out my Top Five Burger Joints in Prenzlauer Berg) and, according to Lieferheld, Berliners order more burgers per head than the people of Hamburg – or any other German city.

As part of the celebrations, Lieferheld is offering English Man in Berlin readers a 30€ voucher for their site. Of course, you don’t have to spend it on burgers – you can also order pizzas, sushi, Indian…Just leave a comment below, telling me which burger you think is most popular on Lieferheld: BBQ & Bacon, Chicken, Vegetarian, Cheeseburger, Hamburger? First person to guess correctly will be emailed a voucher code – good luck!

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

The Little Foxes at Berlin’s Schaubühne

Thomas Ostermeier’s revival of American playwright Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes at the Schaubühne begins with a dinner party: A German family, united and happy, entertain an American businessman who promises to make them all very rich. There’s only one problem…

Photo: Arno Declair
Photo: Arno Declair

Brothers Ben and Oscar, who inherited their father’s business, need one more investor for their transatlantic venture. To keep control of the company within the family, they want their sister Regina to convince her sickly husband Horace to be the third investor.

The three siblings are equally ambitious. Ben (played by Moritz Gottwald) is smart, pragmatic and hides his greed with fine talk. Oscar (David Ruland) is not as subtle and, the weakest of the three, has an inferiority complex that manifests itself in his tyrannical abuse of his wife Birdie and son Leo. But Regina (Nina Hoss), whose desire to escape her miserable marriage and the provincial life that her father’s decision not to give her an inheritance has condemned her to, is the most driven of all.

Regina manipulates the people and situations around her with skill, switching from charm to blackmail. Hoss portrays her with ice-queen composure, negotiating percentages and luring her husband home from hospital, but when it becomes clear that Horace has no intention investing, fissures appear. Regina’s brothers hatch a murky plot to get the additional funds, and we realise that once more, Regina is being disempowered by the men around her.

Photo: Arno Declair
Photo: Arno Declair

Indeed, this is a play about women, and the tragic consequences that follow when they are denied self-determination, like Oscar’s aristocratic wife Birdie (Ursina Lardi).

Lardi steals the show with her portrayal of a musically talented woman who has turned to drink, going from breathless enthusiasm to writhing about on a floor – someone whose wings have been clipped by marriage.

But Ostermeier’s decision to move the play from its original 1900 Alabama setting to modern Germany is jarring. It provokes questions such as why do these two women – Regina and Birdie – stay in their marriages? Why does Regina, so intelligent and calculating, not figure out other ways to do what she wants? Why did her father leave her out of her will? While it is believable that maybe one of these things could have happened in a modern German family, as the questions pile up, they interfere with one’s suspension of belief. After all, there is a big difference between the American South over 100 years ago and Germany now.

The skill of the actors distract from these questions of logic and that final moment when Regina stands alone on stage, having gotten what she wants at the cost of her familial relationships, is still potent.

The Little Foxes (Die kleinen Füchse) is on at the Schaubühne, with shows with English surtitles.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Creative in Berlin: Jenny Brockmann

Berlin artist Jenny Brockmann, whose exhibition Chronicle of a Place is on at Die alte feuerwache in Friedrichshain, talks about her work and relationship to the city.

photo courtesy of Jenny Brockmann
photos courtesy of Jenny Brockmann

You were born in Berlin. How do you think the city has influenced your work as an artist?

Although I spent 16 years of my life abroad, I feel at home in Berlin. I am convinced that architecture and urban landscape shapes us as individuals as in the idea of Leib (connection between body/senses and mind) described by phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty and I am sure it subsequently affects our interaction with others. My work is deeply influenced by Berlin in particular in how I deal with space and built structures and the resulting social and societal references.

What’s your favorite place in Berlin?

I like those places which give us a different, unusual view of Berlin. The small port in Treptower Park for example, the Tempelhofer Feld or Teufelsberg, with its derelict radar station, telling us about former times. 13

Tell us about your current exhibition.

The exhibition ‘Chronicle of a Place’ shows part of a huge archive of drawings, texts, material samples, photos and film recordings I collected over the past one and a half years in three different places: Istanbul, Tel Aviv and New York. I followed paths in these cities which are connected to the migration of German people in the last 150 years. However, the work is not primarily  about looking back in history; it is more about approaching the city in a situationist kind of way, exploring the structure of the city in present time.

What themes are you concerned with in your work?

The main idea behind this work is dialogue. Starting with the interactions that occur when working in public spaces, affecting people’s perception of their daily routes, then bringing the collected materials into the exhibition space in a distant city and last not least creating space for dialogue through workshops, talks and events. Taking a different perspective and experiencing new ways of thinking is one major point. The aim for dialogue is also the reason I invited the curators Kristina Kramer and Ece Pazarbasi to talk about their perspective on my project, which will take place tonight in the exhibition.

Where do you work?

I work throughout the city, in scientific laboratories, in the middle of nature, in the workshop, in the exhibition space, in my studio, at home or in a cafe. It depends on how the actual project needs to be conceived.

Describe your process.

Working on a project involves considering it from many different angles. In terms of output, this includes many different media such as drawing, sculpture, photo, film, collected materials and measurements, texts, installation, performance.

What are you working on now?

I am working on 07a participatory project I began last year, in which I ask Berliners for a photo of their horizons. I want to share what people see. These photos give us the opportunity to look at the horizon from a proximity; I think the horizon that is close to us is predestined to be looked at in an abstracted and thus interpretative way. It reveals something about the people who photograph it. I believe the horizon of people in Berlin is different to that of people in Tokyo or New York.

Curators Kristina Kramer and Ece Pazarbaşı will talk about their responses to Chronicle of a Place tonight at 7 pm, followed by music by Jeff Özdemir and friends at 9 pm at die alte feuerwache / Projektraum – Galerie, Marchlewskistraße 6, 10243.

If you are being creative in Berlin and would like to chat about it, contact me.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Impro Embassy at Ratibor Theatre

Impro Embassy is a fresh and funny English-language show at Ratibor Theatre that takes place the first Thursday of every month.

Impro Embassy, Ratibor TheatreI went to last Thursday’s performance entitled City Beats. The show featured professional improv actors from different countries – Helena Lindegen (Improvisationsteater, Stockholm), Luisa Schnittert (Die Gorillas, Berlin), David Arcuri (Teatribu, Milan), along with music by Rudy Redl (Die Gorillas, Berlin) and Mike Russell (Black Heritage, Washington D.C) – working together in a unique constellation.

Each player took turns in providing a prompt, either from the audience, a video, song, or a personal tidbit inspired by their city to get the action going. What resulted was a series of entertaining, sometimes surreal, always surprising sketches that took us on a whirlwind journey from a rap performance on the streets of Washington D.C. to breakfast with a suicidal Swedish family.

Mother:     I’ll wake the boys. Larsen! Andersen! Nielsen!
Daughter:  Why did you name us all with surnames? It’s so difficult…

Other sketches included a noirish love story featuring a cat called Snowball, a woman addicted to dressing up as a lizard and scaring Berlin clubbers on their way home in the early hours, and a contemporary movement performance illustrating the life and death of a snowman.

Detective:  I’m looking for this cat.
Woman:     Yes, he is here.
Detective:  That was easier than I thought. This is the first place I have visited.
Woman:     Well, this is the only cat hotel in Poland…It was a good idea.

The actors worked hard to find a tone and sense of narrative in each sketch, aided by the musicians who intuitively provided a score. The creative process was fascinating to watch – affirming the importance of play and rolling with an idea until it turns into a gem – and the evening sparkled.

The most telling piece was one in which each actor spoke only in their native language (Swedish, German and Italian). Through the confusion, they eventually managed to connect with each other and create an engaging, comprehensive story. For me, this is typical Berlin; that on a rainy night in Kreuzberg, people from different places can come together and collaborate despite their differences, to create a special, one-off experience.

The next Impro Embassy entitled Click will be at 20.30, Thursday 5th February 2015 at Ratibor Theater (Cuvrystr. 20a, 10997 Berlin, nearest U-Bahn Schlesisches Tor).

Berlin, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, News, politics

Pegida

Icky as it is, I’m going to have to touch the whole Pegida thing because I saw this BBC video yesterday, and it’s been bugging me ever since.

Unless you’ve been living in a vacuum for the last few months, you’ll know that Pegida, which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (so wordy!), is a new movement that has been holding weekly marches in major German cities.

The group claims not to be racist or xenophobic, but like all “I’m not a racist but…” statements, there’s nothing not-racist about it.

Surprisingly, many people have turned out in support of Pegida. On Monday, about 18.000 people took to the streets of Dresden, while around 4,000 people joined a counter-demonstration. The group has not been as successful in other cities such as Berlin, where Pegida opponents outnumbered supporters.

The first guy in the video was predictable; “Germany for Germans” is a phrase you’d expect to hear at one of these things, along with the ‘no mosques’ stuff. Of course, he neglected to tackle details like how exactly one defines a German. Is it a race? What if you are of Vietnamese origin but have a German passport? What if you German but have converted to Islam? What if you are Turkish but support Germany in the World Cup? And what about that CDU politician who does a good job of pretending to be German, but with a name like David McAllister, has to be Scottish?

And what happens when all the non-Germans leave? The country would shrivel up and die – literally. Germany’s aging population means that the meagre working population would collapse trying to support all the pensioners. In fact, immigration is the only sensible way out of this problem. And what about Germans elsewhere? You can’t swing a cat in London without hitting one – should we gather them up and send them, kicking and screaming, back to the Fatherland?

I recently visited The British Museum’s Germany: Memories of a Nation exhibition (visited by Merkel today), which illustrates that defining Germany is a shifty business too. The German Nation was originally an idea, consisting of many different territories and peoples, ranging from Austria and the Czech Republic to parts of Romania. Clearly, the mapped boundaries of Germany were questionable to Hitler, who figured that Poland was part of German territory. By reverse logic, should Germany accept Polish, Czech and Romanian immigrants?

And about the mosques – should the constitution upon which modern Germany is founded, which guarantees freedom of religion and freedom from religious discrimination, be re-written? Anyway, I’m sure the nice man has thought it all through. He’s grand. What stunned me was the woman talking about her four daughters with long blonde hair.

It reminded me of a propaganda photograph I saw at the Topographie des Terror in which a Jewish man who had a Christian girlfriend was forced to hold a sign saying he raped a Christian girl.

The idea of the purity of one’s women being polluted by outsiders is a primitive narrative. It is the oldest fear-mongering tactic in the book. It was used in the United States to justify lynchings in the South and now, in Germany, it is toppling out of an articulate woman’s mouth – without any shame or awareness of what she is actually saying.

So why the rise of Pegida? It could be down to timing; Germany’ s recent intake of more immigrants than ever before coupled with sufficient time passing since the war might mean that people no longer feel there is a stigma attached to marching in the streets, waving German flags and expressing such views.

In theory, the Germany was supposed to be ‘de-Nazified’ after the war, but a look at Topographie des Terror exhibition demonstrates that this was not the case; judges, politicians, and civil servants remained in their positions for the most part, and there was a real reluctance to dig up the past and prosecute war criminals.

Now, these buried views appear to be resurfacing. Pegida is attracting a mix of people of all ages, from right-wing activists to ‘normal’ citizens, and a recent poll of just over 1,000 people by Stern magazine found that one in eight Germans would join an anti-Islam march if Pegida organised one near their home.

What do you think about Germany’s Pegida phenomenon?

Germany, history, Humour, Life in Berlin, politics

The German State and the Church (with Father Ted)

The Bavarian and I recently visited his hometown (well, village) to attend his nephew’s christening.

During the service, he dug a sweet wrapper out of his coat pocket and tossed it onto the pew, hissed into my ear about how fat the priest was (the priest was thin), complained about how stingy the Catholics were (the church was not heated) and muttered “useless little beggars” as he passed the priest’s helpers on his way out (they were holding contribution baskets).

Clearly, The Bavarian has issues with the church. Rather than attributing this to his usual irrational eccentricity, I’m putting it down to the unique relationship between the German state and the church.

IMG_3003Despite Europe’s secular values, Germany remains closely entwined with the church.

In fact, if Turkey were as non-secular as Germany, there would be no question of it even being considered for EU membership.

The German State currently pays about half-a-billion euros per year to the church as a result of 200-year-old contracts drawn up during German mediatisation – a series of property transfers from the church to the state that took place between 1795 and 1814. That’s half a billion euros of everyone’s taxes – whether they are Catholics, Protestants, atheists or Jedi, at a time when Europe is in financial crisis and Germany is pushing for austerity and a balanced budget.

On top of that, the German state subsidises bishops wages, priest’s salaries, events such as Kirchentage (church congresses), church-run kindergartens, schools, hospitals, care homes, the maintenance of religious buildings – the list goes on, and it adds up to billions.

The church runs so many institutions (schools, hospitals etc) in Germany that it is the country’s second largest employer after the public sector.

As if all this wasn’t enough, when you register yourself as a resident in Germany, you are asked to state your religion. If you answer with ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’, you are promptly charged again in the form of church-tax (Kirchensteuer). In classic German form, when an American friend said he was ‘Southern Baptist’, the box marked ‘cult’ was ticked. He was offended, until he realised that this exempted him from paying the additional tax.

Church-tax is calculated at 8% or 9% of your income tax (depending on what state you live in) – no small amount – thereby provoking many people to leave the church upon receiving their first pay cheque – a privilege for which they must of course pay an administration fee.

In July 2008, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that charging a fee for leaving the church was an infringement of religious liberty – but most German states still charge (between €10-60). In Berlin, it’s free, causing the church to complain that the city is positively urging members to drop like flies.

If anything is making people leave though, it’s this whole church-tax business itself. When you see a significant amount of your pay being taken away, you start questioning your beliefs and whether you really want to belong to the church.

Also, the binding of money with religion seems crude. After all, wasn’t it the Catholics trying to sell places in heaven that incensed Luther to nail his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door, causing one of the biggest schisms in Western Christianity? Have they learned nothing?!

And on a spiritual level, can one really leave the church via bureaucratic means? I thought Catholics had to be ex-communicated by the pope himself, like Henry VIII.

I know a woman in Ireland who wanted to officially leave the church to demonstrate her outrage following the child-abuse scandal – she was still writing letters to Brussels a year later. It’s almost impossible for the Irish to leave the church (she eventually did it), unless they move to Germany, in which case they just need to fill out some paperwork.

The Bavarian was the first person in his family to leave the church. He waited till he was far away from his village so as not to embarrass his mother. However, his glee was cut short, because soon afterwards, the Protestants started charging him church-tax. He was practically foaming at the mouth when he wrote to them saying that he was not nor ever had been a Protestant. The response he received said he had to prove it. This would have been tricky if he hadn’t recently left the Catholics, which was proof enough that he would never go near the Protestants – but the system does sometimes prove Kafkaesque.

What is especially opaque is the question of where all the money goes. Despite being financed by German taxpayers, the church is not obliged to disclose its spending – and it doesn’t. The bureaucracy is clueless as to how much real estate the church owns in this country, even though it’s one of Germany’s biggest property owners. For any other individual, corporation or body, this would be unthinkable.

What was revealed earlier this year is that the Bishop of Limburg spent over 10 million euros on his private residence alone – who knows what other skeletons are clacking around in the church’s walk-in wardrobe.

Despite all this, people are still christening their children in the alpine villages of Bavaria. One aspect of this is faith, although I suspect The Bavarian’s sister does not really believe in the prospect of her child languishing in purgatory in the after-life. It didn’t seem like the right time to survey the congregation about the strength of their belief, but I suspect the conversation would have gone something like this:

So why the christening? Tradition. What The Bavarian’s wrath blinded him from was the warm sight of children lighting their Taufkerzen (baptismal candles) together. The ceremony was the chance for the family to unite in good faith, and then eat cake.

On the other hand, the desire to protect tradition supports a deep-rooted conservatism; a system in which doctors and nurses are afraid to leave the church or re-marry because it affects their job prospects in church-run hospitals, a patriarchal system (it was only yesterday that the first female bishop for the Church of England was named, which indicates just how behind they are – not to mention the Catholics), an unaccountable system (how is the money being spent?), a system under which The Bavarian was taught ‘religion’ in school by a priest who only covered Christianity (in London, we were taught about the five major religions by a person who had a degree in the subject), and a system which allowed the abuse of thousands of children.

The New Yorker’s recent, brilliant profile of Merkel pointed out that the current trend of German conservatism is keeping her in power (Merkel, as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, does not support any change regarding the relationship between church and state).

The need to keep status quo and fear of what will replace the Christian tradition prevails, but there are still other European traditions – enlightenment, humanism, democracy – to build on. Maybe it’s time more people left their crumpled sweet wrappers on the pews and walked away.

Life in Berlin

Liebster Award

Maths and science blogger Merel has nominated me for the Liebster Award!liebster_award

The rules are as follows:

  • Post 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate 5 – 11 bloggers, the bloggers you award are to do the same.
  • Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)

11 Random facts about myself

  1. Even though this blog is called An English Man in Berlin, I am a woman (bear that in mind when you contact regarding blind dates – I am also married)
  2. I write fiction – to find out more about that, visit madhviramani.com
  3. I eat pancakes almost every day
  4. The line between me and Garfield is blurred
  5. Occasionally, I cheat at cards
  6. I havent lost the game of Connect 4 since 1994
  7. I love reading, travelling and eating
  8. I think popcorn should be banned in cinemas
  9. Whenever someone on a bicycle stops near me, I have to suppress the urge to push them over
  10. If I’m at home, I don’t always bother answering the phone or the door
  11. If I ever write a best-seller, my dream is to move to Las Vegas and live in a hotel suite

Answers to Merel’s questions

  1. Describe yourself in 3 words. Curious, skeptical, kind
  2. What is the most beautiful beach you’ve ever been to? Mirissa, Sri Lanka
  3. Do you speak any other languages, other than English? Yes, all badly
  4. What is your favourite hobby? Reading
  5. What is your favourite book? Oh, too many! At random: László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance
  6. What is the most recent movie you watched? Interstellar
  7. What always throws you off your guard? Interstellar
  8. What do you enjoy doing in your free time at home? Lying on the couch
  9. What’s your favourite hot drink? Glühwein
  10. Where do you see yourself in 20 years time? Living in a suite in Las Vegas?!
  11. Which country have you never visited, but really want to visit? Japan

Nominate 5-11 bloggers

  1. Physics and Art: Book reviews and other interesting posts written by a physicist
  2. Kreuzberg’d: One of my favourite Berlin blogs
  3. The GDR Objectified: Collection of ephemera related to the German Democratic Republic
  4. A woman’s wisdom: Book reviews, storytellers, life and humour
  5. Chapter Book Chat: Great place for reviews and discussions about children’s chapter books
  6. Nerdy Girl Notes: Fab Geek-Chic Guide to TV and other media
  7. Living Libraries and Dead Languages: Fascinating posts by librarian specialising in rare books and languages such as Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Tibetan
  8. Art discarded: Photos of original art found at thrift stores, garage sales and odd little shops.

And here are my questions:

  1. Describe yourself in three words
  2. What’s the most interesting thing you have learnt this year?
  3. What is the most beautiful beach you’ve ever been to?
  4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  5. What’s your favorite book?
  6. Favorite film?
  7. Favorite art piece?
  8. What’s the one piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
  9. What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?
  10. Which country have you never visited, but really want to visit?
  11. What have you given as a gift this year? (yes, I’m looking for Christmas present inspiration)
art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Creative in Berlin: Laura Fong Prosper

Visual artist Laura Fong Prosper has been living in Berlin since 2007. Her solo video exhibition Gēn opens tonight at the Vesselroom Project.

Here’s your chance to meet her and find out about her work and relationship to the city.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Laura Fong Prosper. I am an artist and film editor from Panama. I love yoga, cats, nature, music and good food. I am a melting pot with legs. I am Chinese, Native American, black and white.

screen-shot-2013-04-03-at-6-30-35-pmWhy did you, like so many artists, choose to live in Berlin?

Since I came in 2004, I knew I wanted to live here. Freedom and creativity breathe in Berlin’s air. Since then, of course I’ve seen some dramatic changes; everything is more organized, controlled and less anarchic than it used to be, but I think change also brings other possibilities. More opportunities for artists, more spaces, more global exchanges and local community work. Let’s hope Berlin grows for the better.

What’s your favorite place in Berlin?

I can’t have one favorite place in this city. That’s why I love it so much. Some places are, Treptower Park, Richardplatz, Tempelhof Airport, Prinzessinnengarten, the Thai Park, Teufelsberg and anything in the outskirts of the city all the way to beautiful Brandenburg. I usually spend my weekends outside the city in the countryside of Brandenburg.

Tell us about your work.

I mix VJ (video jockey) techniques and film editing techniques into my work. I also like to use analog formats, and mix it in with newer media. I love color saturations, over impositions and glitch. I am into experimental film making, video installations and visual essays. My VJ work is more about video painting on a canvas and live video art projections than syncing video bits to music beats.

What themes are you conscreen-shot-2013-04-09-at-1-10-56-amcerned with?

Identity, the expat life, being a foreigner since 2001 in different places all over the world gave me a constant nostalgia or homesickness of missing family on a daily basis. But also, being a walking melting pot, I can’t relate only to one culture. And that’s how I feel every time I go back home. I feel I don’t belong there anymore. So I like to deal with that space in between. That identity limbo and its consequences.

Describe your process.

Trial and error and free play. There’s no other way for me. I came from film school where everything is very strict, pre-planned and hierarchic (especially fiction filmmaking). With my art I like to break from all those conventions and just play. I like unexpected – accidental – results the most.

Editing is on one hand intuitive/dreamlike and on the other about story-telling and construction – your video art seems to rely more on the former than the latter – or do story-telling principles still apply?

screen-shot-2013-04-03-at-5-57-42-pmYou’re completely right. When I work as a film editor, even though I bring my intuitive abstractions once in a while I have to rely on telling a story, thinking about the spectator… is it clear enough? Is it boring? How can we make it shorter? My art work is the complete opposite. Its more about feelings than rationality. Sometimes, I like to leave the interpretation open to the spectator. It’s more about telling fragmented stories than a linear one. I pay a lot of attention to trying to show moments of my life, seen through my eyes. It’s about creating an ephemeral experience.

What are you working on now?

An experimental film about Berlin. After all these years here, I haven’t done any project on the city yet. It’s about time. You might be interested. I’ll keep you posted…

Laura Fong Prosper’s solo video exhibition Gēn opens at 7 p.m tonight at the Vesselroom Project, near Kottbusser Tor and runs until 12th December 2014.

If you are being creative in Berlin and would like to chat about it, contact me.

Berlin, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, News

Fall of the Berlin Wall Celebrations at Potsdamer Platz

Last night marked the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To celebrate, 8000 lit balloons on 3.6m poles, match the height of the wall, were released into the night sky.

The balloons were released one by one along a 15 km stretch that followed the dividing line of the wall, symbolising the breaching of the wall by protestors.

Here are some photos of the event from Potsdamer Platz:

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Find out more about the celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at Visit Berlin.

Berlin, Germany, Humour, Life in Berlin

Will Arnett on Wetten, Dass…?

Wetten, dass..? is Germany’s biggest Saturday night entertainment show, attracting around 10 million viewers (at its high point, it drew 23 million – in terms of figures, it remains Europe’s most successful show). It’s been on air since 1981, runs from between 2 and 4 hours, and centres around celebrities betting on outrageous stunts performed by ordinary people.

The first time I saw it, I thought, “The Germans are crazy.” I remember the show – it was this one, in which one of the bets was whether these lovely people could guess the animal by smelling its faeces:

So when I stumbled across this clip of Will Arnett talking about his recent experience on Wetten, dass..?, I could sympathise:

Wetten, dass..? is due to come off the air soon, due to a number of reasons, among which is falling ratings since the show’s popular long-term host Thomas Gottschalk resigned.

Read more about ZDF pulling the plug on Wetten, dass…? at The Local.

art, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, Literature

Weekend Trips from Berlin: Weimar

One of the nice things about living in Berlin is its easy connections to other towns and cities. This weekend, The Bavarian and I went to Weimar, which is a two-hour train ride away.

Weimar

Berlin may be the heart of Germany’s cultural scene today, but Weimar was once one of Europe’s most important cultural centres. It’s the home of German Classicism, Bauhaus, and renowned figures, from Goethe and Schiller, to Liszt, Liebermann, Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger and Gropius.

In fact, so many famous people have ties to Weimar that it’s littered with signs like this:

Bach, Weimar

And this:

Hans-Christian Andersen, Weimar

And you get the feeling that the Weimarians are simply showing off.

The most famous resident of Weimar was Goethe. There are so many references to him in the city that The Bavarian and I started playing the ‘Goethe-Game’, where you gained a point for screaming ‘Goethe’ every time you saw his face or name. (I would record the winner, but really, it’s the taking part that counts…)

Goethe’s Residence and the adjoining Goethe National Museum provide a fascinating insight into his life, work and ideas. He had many interests and collections – from Italian majolica to rocks – so there’s plenty to see. (Below, Goethe’s study)

Goethe's study, Weimar

As we continued to tour Weimar screaming ‘Goethe’, we saw Schiller’s residence, Goethe’s garden house, ate a traditional Thüringer Rostbratwurst at the market square (Markt) and enjoyed coffee and cake at Cafe Frauentor.

Restaurant Elephantenkeller, WeimarWe sampled more traditional Thuringian fare for dinner at the Restaurant Elephantenkeller, which is part of The Elephant Hotel (as is the Michelin starred Anna Amalia).

The Elephant Hotel is the place to stay in Weimar. It was established in 1696 and has a reputation for being a social and cultural meeting point for poets, artists and intellectuals. Thomas Mann immortalised the hotel in Lotte in Weimar and was a guest, as was Wagner, Feininger, Ahner and others.

Of course, that was why I wanted to stay at The Elephant. The Bavarian wanted to stay there because of the eggs – specifically the eggs in a glass. He had stayed at the Hotel Fuerstenhof in Leipzig once, which belongs to the same hotel group, and has been going on about eggs in a glass ever since. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when you’re married to a nutter, you learn to nod and not ask too many questions.

Hitler at The Elephant

After dinner, we prowled the hotel floors examining the Baselitz and Liebermann prints on the walls, and the exhibition about the hotel’s history – where this photo of Hitler at The Elephant was displayed – on the first floor.

We stumbled across the suites (all named after esteemed guests) and discovered that a couple with a dog were staying in the Thomas Mann suite, sending The Bavarian into a tirade about how a dog had a better room than him, although it was kind of fitting because Thomas Mann was fond of dogs.

I had to admit though, while sitting in front of my shrimp omelette topped with caviar and watching the Bavarian delicately spoon a soft-boiled egg covered with truffle foam from a little glass, that he was right about the breakfast.

– Satisfied? Will you stop going about eggs in a glass now? I asked.

– Yes. This is better than the other place – it’s a Wagenfeld glass. From now on, I will only talk of one egg, in a Wagenfeld glass.

Rococo Hall, Anna Amalia Library, WeimarDue to our early start, we were able to get a ticket to visit the Anna Amalia Library (there’s a limit to how many are sold per day, so be there early if you’d like a slot).

The library houses an impressive collection focusing on German literature around 1800, and its Rococo Hall (right) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As well as old books, there are items from the library’s cabinet of curiosities, paintings and sculptures.

The last thing we had time for before catching our train back was a visit to the Bauhaus Museum, which has a great collection of art and design works from the school, as well as information about its history and development.

If we had a little longer in Weimar, I would have liked to visit Buchenwald – a place that marks the barbarism that followed the high culture of Weimar – as well as the Nietzsche Archive, Liszt House, City Castle and the Bee Museum  – all that calls for at least one more weekend trip to Weimar.

The Bavarian’s verdict: The egg was the best.

art, Berlin, Film, music

AV Postcard Berlin

Filmmaker Ismar Badzic and musician Sam Hanlan have recently come up with a way to reboot the postcard, from a physical card with a limited choice of landmarks on the front and limited word-space on the back that takes ages to arrive, to a digital, audio-visual experience.

And the first AV postcard is from Berlin!

What do you think? Does it capture Berlin better than a traditional postcard?

To explore the individual sounds, images and interviews that make up this postcard, and for more information, check out the Audio Visual Postcard website.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Erich Kissing at Galerie Schwind

Last night was the opening of an Erich Kissing exhibition at Galerie Schwind on Auguststrasse in Berlin Mitte. The artist, as well as gallery owner Herr Schwind, attended.

Erich Kissing exhibition, Galerie Schwind, 2014

Erich Kissing, painter of the Leipzig school and former student of Werner Tübke paints fantastical tableaux in a precise, realist style. He is known for his high-precision glazing technique which consists of several layers and takes months to complete. This fine technique in combination with images of flying, centaurs and dream-like landscapes creates a stunning effect. You can see his work on his website.

The Erich Kissing Exhibition is on at Galerie Schwind, Auguststrasse 19, 10117 Berlin until 8 November 2014.

Berlin, Humour, Life in Berlin

Things My German Husband Says

I occasionally tweet random things that the Bavarian says to me under the tag #ThingsMyGermanHusbandSaidToday which I thought I’d collect under one blog post for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter (why not?!)…

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ear

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on chocolate

the longer stick

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3a04a36d-8d99-4f6b-9e50-7cffb02905ef

c7bd9361-d384-4c8e-8658-c1a74b67c30a

22810fed-2a7e-4ec1-bca9-3f522ecb8e2d

a1bed69d-7f67-4707-be4e-bdf1be53bfe2

ade2832a-7195-4708-b5de-af93271e8a05

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little animals

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Join the fun @madhviramani

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Studio Visit Berlin

Berlin has long been known as a city of artists, but it’s often difficult to find them; galleries are hidden away and have strange opening times, and many Berlin artists exhibit elsewhere.

Studio Visit Berlin is a door to the city’s vibrant art scene. They provide personal tours (no more than six people per group) that take you into the homes and studios of artists and designers. Tours vary according to the interests of the tour group, take between 2-4 hours, and cost €40 per person, which includes a Prosecco sack lunch and a valuable goodie bag of prints and books from participating artists.

Here’s a summary of the tour I took this weekend:

Meike Legler

home studio of designer Meike LeglerWe started in the home of artist and host Kottie Paloma and his wife designer Meike Legler, whose workspace is a nook in their apartment. She designs colourful pillows with geometric designs, and fun bed set sheets and shower curtains.

Diego Rodriguez-Warner

Diego Rodriguez-Warner's studio, BerlinDiego Rodriguez-Warner was born in Managua, Nicaragua. He studied under Cuban Minister for Fine Arts Lesbia Vent Dumois, in Havana, and completed his Bachelor of Arts in COIN Theory and Fine Arts from Hampshire College. He received his Masters of Fine Arts from the Printmaking Department of Rhode Island School of Design.

Diego’s solo show will open at Das Gift, Donaustrasse 119, 12043 Berlin at 8 pm, 2nd August 2014.

Sophia Domagla

DSC_2834German artist Sophia Domagla processes the naive, ugly and the beautiful moments of life, with a view to humor. After a two-month scholarship in September last year in Kiel, she is now back in Berlin until the end of 2014 on a Goldrausch program scholarship. She was recently nominated for the Berlin Art Prize 2014 and won the Prize for “Best Script.” She lives and works in the same space, and yes, that’s a doll house next to the bed…

Sophia currently has a solo show at Agora Collective, Mittelweg 50, 12053 Berlin.

Yorgos Stamkopoulos

DSC_2839Yorgos Stamkopoulos‘s abstract paintings are composed of multi-layered minimalistic colour fields. His process is super-interesting (in fact, the process itself seems to be one of his main concerns). He refers to his current series ‘blind paintings’ because his method of masking the canvas ensures that the final result is random and unexpected.

Jadranko Barisic

DSC_2864Bosnian artist Jadranko Barisic works in icons, replicating paintings from the 1200s to the 1500s. His works can be found in private collectors’ homes all over Europe as well as in churches that wanted to replace lost paintings and restore their collections. He mixes paints the old way, using substances like egg whites and gold leaf. Barisic is a master forger!

Johannes Rodenacker

DSC_2857A graduate of the University of the Arts, Berlin, Johannes Rodenacke deals with abstraction, figures, and comics. He is in charge of an artist’s project space called Poseidon Projekt and recently launched his book and Risograph print publishing house called Nebenb’ Art.

Franziska Jordan

DSC_2861In 1984, Franziska Jordan‘s family escaped from the Communist block of East Germany into West Germany in the middle of the night with Franziska smuggled in the trunk of the car. In 2000, she enrolled at UdK, Berlin where she was a student of H.J. Diehl and Daniel Richter.

Kottie Paloma

DSC_2870The last stop was host Kottie Paloma‘s studio. His paintings, drawings and sculptures reflect the darker sides of society in a humorous yet poignant and gritty manner. Many collectors consider his art the darker side of pop. His art is in private and public collections throughout the United States and Europe. Some of the public collections include MOMA in NYC, Harvard and Stanford University and the Bavarian State Library in Munich.

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DSC_2859For me, it’s always a pleasure to visit artists’ studios. Often, it’s more interesting to see the space where art is made – the creative mess, the half-formed paintings and sculptures, the paint spattered surfaces – rather than looking at finished works in a sterile exhibition space. It was also fun to meet the artists themselves, talk to them about their work and processes, and have the opportunity to buy from them directly – who needs galleries?

For more information about the tours and how to book, go to Studio Visit Berlin or check out the SVB Facebook Page.

Berlin, Life in Berlin

ILA Berlin Air Show

The Bavarian is really into planes. When he books a flight, he takes the aircraft model into consideration. Sometimes, he makes me play ‘guess the flight’; we live under a Tegel flight path and the game consists of guessing where passing planes are going. I always lose because The Bavarian has memorised the flight timetable. Occasionally, he will randomly inform me if a flight is delayed.

It turns out that he is not alone. This week thousands of people went to Schoenefeld to visit ILA, the Berlin aerospace fair that occurs every two years.

ILA Berlin 2014

ILA took place at Schoenefeld, where the big new Berlin airport was supposed to open  in 2011, but due to gross incompetence is still nowhere near completion. One highlight was the Emirates’ Airbus A380-800, which, The Bavarian informs me, is used for ultra long haul flights (for example Dubai to Los Angeles). People queued for hours to see the inside, which is something I will never understand, but in the end, I have to admit that the size and capabilities of the technology on show was impressive.

There were civilian and military aircraft, helicopters, drones and satellites on display on the ground as well as spectacular shows happening in the air. Here are my ILA highlights:

 

The ILA is on until Sunday 24th May at the Berlin ExpoCenter Airport in Schonefeld.

Berlin, theatre

Isaac’s Eye at the English Theatre Berlin

Photo by Magnus Hengge | studio adhoc, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Magnus Hengge | studio adhoc, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

Friday night saw the European premier of Isaac’s Eye – a snappy play tackling the history of science – at the English Theatre Berlin.

Young Isaac Newton desperately wants to become a member of the Royal Society; his older partner Catherine wants to get married and start a family, and the renowned scientist and member of the Royal Society Robert Hooke wants Newton to stop pursuing his work on light.

In Lucas Hnath’s imagining, these three maneuver around each other in an engaging plot involving a sex diary, a man dying of the plague, and an experiment involving the insertion of a needle into the eye…

The play is self-aware, letting the audience know which of its parts are fact and which are fiction via a delightful device in which things that are based on fact are written on one of the multiple blackboards that make up the set. This self-awareness is also manifested in the playful light and sound design.

While the play’s self-reflectiveness takes away any need to simulate a 17th century setting, and results in a fresh, direct approach, it can be clunky at times (I could have done without the act /scene announcements and a few of the “he saids / she saids”).

The actors, however, execute the piece with a strong sense of rhythm and flow; Oskar Brown is straight-backed and serious as the slightly-awkward young Newton, Ben Maddox is energetic as the drug-addled rock star of science Robert Hooke, and Mary Kelly is empathetic as the warm yet weary Catherine.

It’s only after the curtain has gone down and you’ve stopped smiling that you realise how serious the play is, dealing with great minds, personal sacrifice and questions of what’s important in life.

Isaac’s Eye is is on at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstrasse 40, 10965 Berlin; 030 691 1211; U6: Platz der Luftbrücke) until 10th May 2014.

 

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Schwarz Gemacht at the English Theatre Berlin

Photo by Dragan Simicevic, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Dragan Simicevic, courtesy of the English Theatre Berlin

Last night was the premier of Schwarz Gemacht, the first play to be developed and produced by the English Theatre Berlin. It’s an exciting choice; a play about identity set in Berlin during the Nazi era.

The story centres around Claus, a black actor who was born in Germany thinks of himself as German. This idea has been explored many times with patriotic German Jewish characters, but I’ve never seen the topic of Afrodeutschers (Afro-Germans) dealt with.

David L. Arsenault’s stark set design, consisting of a mesh of blank pages, signifies as much – these are untold stories. (Helpfully, there is a wonderful exhibition in the theatre lobby about the history of black people in Germany.)

Claus’s idea of his own identity is challenged by his night-time encounters with a jazz musician from the U.S (coolly played by Sadiq Bey) and reflected in the endeavours of a naive American girl to connect with her German roots – prompting a comparison of the treatment of black people in the U.S. and Germany.

However, the play falls short. This was mostly down to the writing. There was too much exposition – clumsily and undramatically done – and after one hour, the drama had barely escalated. Frankly, I was bored after the first half, so I left.

There was a time when I’d see anything through – bad films, books, relationships – just to examine where they were going and how they failed, but I can’t be bothered anymore. If I’ve given you an hour of my time, I’ve given you a fair chance to impress me and hold my attention.

Which brings me to the question; what is happening to theatre? Everything I have seen recently – in London and Berlin – has been mediocre. Either it’s conventional and Hollywood-ised –  as the popular plays that travel tend to be –  or it’s trying to do something different but ignores basic storytelling principles. It’s as if the only nuanced, interesting drama can be seen on TV nowadays.

Anyway, end of rant, off to re-watch Mad Men…

Schwarz Gemacht is on at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstrasse 40, 10965 Berlin; 030 691 1211; U6: Platz der Luftbrücke) until 15th March 2014.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

The New York Project at TheaterForum Kreuzberg

NYProjectvs_2-01KleinLiving Room Productions is currently staging two plays by New York playwrights Daniel Sauermilch and Barbara Hammond at the TheaterForum Kreuzberg. Each play runs for 45 minutes, with a 15 minute break in between.

Barbara Hammond’s play June Weddings is about two solitary people who meet in a bar in Washington Heights. I got lost on the way to the theatre – as always happens to me in the area around Schlesisches Tor for some reason –  so I missed it.

Nonetheless, here are my impressions from the foyer; a male actor’s voice projected very well; in the beginning, were noises that sounded like doors slamming; later on, a telephone rings; towards the end everything became very quiet. Then there was a big applause. I’ve seem Hammond’s work in Berlin before; she’s a talented writer, so I’m sure the play was grand.

Daniel Sauermilch’s The Rwandans’ Visit is described as Albee meets Polanski, or ”Who is afraid of Carnage?” 

Two couples meet for a drink in an apartment in Prospect Park. One pair has just returned from a ‘life-changing’ trip to Vietnam and the other has been looking after two Rwandan exchange students who have just gone missing.

The characters are pretentious, racist and self-involved, despite thinking themselves liberal, politically correct and philanthropic. The dialogue is witty and it’s good fun watching their evening descend into farce. Yet the play lacks the tension of Albee and Polanski. Probably because the players always feel like characters born of other characters. This may have been the point, but it still left me wanting more. What is the history between these people, and what, apart from the playwright, is keeping them in the same room together?

The New York Project is on at the TheatreForum Kreuzberg tonight and tomorrow night at 20.00.

Berlin, food, Life in Berlin

Pieoneers: Bringing British Pies to Berlin

Winter is coming.  Berlin winters are harsh with Siberian winds and temperatures dropping to -20 °C.

Spectacularly, the Deutschens carry on as normal; schools stay open, people go to work, trams run on schedule. I, however, remain true to my London routes by going into hibernation. I only come out when The Bavarian bribes me with a nice meal in a restaurant, which he does because, like all Germans, he believes in fresh air. Apart from our lovely restaurant trips though, winter is a time of canned foods and pizza deliveries.

I recently came across something that could help. Pieoneers delivers traditional British pork pies, vegetarian pasties and homemade chutneys to your door.

Pieoneers Berlin

Made by Brit Laura Harker and delivered by James Marnagh, the pies are authentic. Pork pies and vegetarian pasties are €2.50 each and you can order online for a Thursday or Sunday delivery.

The Pioneers are celebrating their six month anniversary at 20.00 on Thursday 7th November 2013 at Das Gift, Donaustrasse 119, 12043 Berlin (nearest U Rathaus Neukölln) where you can check out their pies. For more details look at their Facebook Page.

Berlin, theatre

Theatre: An Enemy of the People at the Schaubühne

Photo: Arno Declair
Photo: Arno Declair

Having recently seen Public Enemy at the Young Vic in London, I was keen to see what Berlin’s famous Schaubühne would make of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play.

Ibsen’s play is about a spa town’s chief medical examiner, Dr Thomas Stockmann, who discovers that the town’s baths are toxic. He attempts to publicise his findings, expecting praise, but ends up being labelled an enemy of the people by his mayoral brother, the town’s businessmen, and ultimately the town’s people, who all profit from the baths, leading Stockmann to declare that the majority is wrong, and the public itself is the enemy.

Thomas Ostermeier’s production brings the play to a modern setting.
Indeed, Ibsen’s play could be a mirror for our times of economic crises and environmental issues such as fracking.

However, giving the play a contemporary setting is problematic; with social media and the Internet, it is hard to see why Stockmann is battling to get his findings published in the town’s small paper and calling town meetings when he could achieve his goal with the click of a button.

While, on the one hand, the play does not address its modernity enough, it goes too far in its re-writing of Stockmann’s climactic speech at the town meeting, littering it with contemporary references from Ritalin to the economic crisis to sports shoe slogans. It’s too much, causing the scene to lose its power and the play to lose its original unity.

Furthermore, in the town meeting scene, the lights in the auditorium are turned on and the audience are encouraged to interact in the debate, resulting in a loss of tension and momentum when it should be at its highest. I can appreciate the idea, but inevitably, the people who voice their opinions at these things are either schoolkids or opinionated idiots and their words becoming part of the text causes further fragmentation.

Stefan Stern, who plays Stockmann, seems to completely step out of character during this entire session, before taking up his impassioned speech once again, thereby dissipating the play’s energy and obliterating our suspension of disbelief.

The decision to portray Stockmann as a young man in this production is interesting. He only has a baby (which we see at the beginning of the play, and then mysteriously disappears, never to be seen or mentioned again), not a grown daughter and two sons as in the original. This makes his naivety understandable, but Stern lacks the youthful zeal one would expect. Nick Fletcher, who played Stockmann in The Young VIc’s production, had more energy, and that production rose to a frenzy, whereas this play started well and petered out towards the end.

An Enemy of the People is on at the Schaubühne until December.

food, restaurants and bars

Neighbourhood Italian: Mami Camilla

The Bavarian and I have recently finished watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and have started watching Rome. We tend to get immersed in our dramas. While watching Boardwalk Empire, which is about boot-legging in 1920s prohibition era America, we got through one bottle of Laphroig and three bottles of Woodford Reserve. Rome, set in the 1st century BC during Ancient Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire, is more difficult. In lieu of being able to buy slaves, raise armies, or crucify people, we settled on going out for a nice Italian.

This may sound simpler than buying slaves, raising armies, or crucifying people, but finding a good Italian restaurant is no easy task – even in Italy. I once stayed with an Italian family in Montalto di Castro, about 2 hours from Rome, and when we visited the capital, we did not eat. According to them, the restaurants in Rome were for tourists; most of them were not run by proper Italians, and they did not use good tomatoes. It was not until that night, when we got to the pizzeria down the road from where they lived, that we finally got to eat.

So, the rules are clear; the restaurant should be local, run by Italians and use good produce. Mami Camilla in Bötzowviertel, Prenzlauer Berg, ticks all these boxes.

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It’s a quiet place. Simply decorated, softly lit, with solid wooden tables and background music that does not try to compete with the sound of conversation or the clink of cutlery.

The food has a strong South Italian influence; the owner is from the Amalfi Coast and the chef is from Puglia. They get special produce delivered from Italy as well as adapting their dishes to suit the season (working with berries in the summer, pumpkin in the autumn).

10For starters (between €10-15) we had burrata, an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, with apples, and cardoncello mushrooms baked with pecorino cheese, for the mains (between €15-25) the Bavarian enjoyed swordfish with baked red pepper and squid tagliolini, while I experienced the best ravioli I’ve ever tasted (made with rosemary, lemon-zest and goats cheese, topped with berries).  For dessert (between €5-10) we shared a tiramisu. To accompany, we had a bottle of Negroamaro Primitivo from Puglia.

pizza at mami camilla'sThe fact that everything is freshly made to a high-quality is reflected in the price and the time it takes to make certain dishes. It’s worth it, but if you don’t feel like going all out, they also have a wide selection of excellent, regularly-priced pizzas – made Neapolitan style.

There’s something for everyone, so the clientele range from couples to groups of friends and families with children. It’s refreshing to find a place like this that has a relaxed atmosphere and friendly service.

The Bavarian’s verdict: “You can say what you like about the Italians, but they know what they’re doing when it comes to food.”

Mami Camilla, Hufelandstrasse 36, 10407 Berlin, is open from Monday to Saturday 17:00-23:00, and Sunday 12:00 – 23:00. For reservations, call 030 40981537 / 0176 24686552, email info@mamicamilla.de or contact them via their Facebook Page.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, News

TEDxBerlin: City 2.0

In 2008, the number of people living in cities surpassed those living in rural areas, and that number is set to rise. So what does this mean for cities? What will the city of the future look like? What will Berlin be like? These questions brought designers, architects, engineers and artists together for this year’s TedxBerlin Conference.

tedx berlin posterThe conference took place at the ICC, one of the world’s largest conference centres, in West Berlin, coinciding with consumer electronics trade fair IFA, where products like 3-D pens and Samsung’s new smartwatch were being showcased. The centre was built as a modern vision of the future, but as with most 70s constructions, it’s ugly – and due to be torn down next year, providing an apt caveat for attempts to predict the future…

David Owen, author of Green Metropolis and staff writer at The New Yorker, nodded to this lesson by saying that the best urban planning ideas (and ideas in general) came about by accident. New York, for example, due to geography and chance, grew upwards, instead of sprawling outwards, resulting in the greenest city in the U.S.

New York boasts the lowest per capita energy consumption, lowest per capita waste production,  lowest rate of automobile ownership and the only significant transit users in the country. This is due to density, which results in smaller living spaces, less consumption, and walking or public transport becoming the main way of getting around.

trabiOwen proffers that congestion is great for the environment and that he finally ended his quest to find the world’s greenest vehicle in Berlin upon seeing the Trabi. The old DDR car was uncomfortable, didn’t work very well and frequently had to be pushed. What better way to deter people from driving cars than making it difficult? Cities, according to Owen, are the environmental future, not the environmental problem.

This idea was reiterated by Zhang Yue, Champions of the Earth Winner and one of the main people behind this incredible project:

There has been much talk about the cost, speed of construction and height of this building, which will become the tallest in the world when it is completed next year. Most significantly though, this building will contain an entire city; schools, shops, offices – everything a society needs, apart from a crematorium. A ramp will enable cyclists and drivers to travel right up to the 202nd floor, although of course, Yue has envisioned a city in which everything is accessible by foot.

Clearly, cities in China cannot keep sprawling, and the old model of having living quarters in one area and commercial or industrial districts in another, is unsustainable. If China continues at its current pace, it will soon have as many cars per capita as the U.S – that’s one billion cars – and the planet will be ruined. In addition to reducing air pollution, this building will be well-insulated, have quadruple-glazed windows, and be six times more energy-efficient than the average building.

Pollution seemed to be a pervading concern. An oft-quoted statistic was from the World Health Organisation, stating that air pollution kills more people per year than AIDS and malaria combined.

One brilliant solution referred to by several speakers was titanium dioxide. It’s used to make Skittles and M&Ms hard but more to the point, it absorbs air pollution. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as covering everything in M&Ms as Berlin-based architect Allison Dring highlighted during her presentation about her work producing 3D modules from the material for the facade of hospital Torre de Especialidades in Mexico City:

It seems that architects will have an increasingly scientific dimension to their work in the future.

In general, there appears to be a blurring of boundaries between the work of architects, engineers, artists and designers. Take the brilliant installation art of Tomás Saraceno:

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It is a combination of architecture, science and art. In his series creating 3D spider webs, he even found himself being quoted in scientific papers, although he is not a scientist.

Similarly, the awesome robotic scKolja Kuglerulptures of Berlin-based artist Kolja Kugler, created from junk and scraps, are a combination of art and engineering, although he is no engineer.

In the early 90s, Kugler collaborated with The Mutoid Waste Company, creating guerilla art out of leftover military equipment – including a Mig 21 fighter plane – in the wasteland that was Potsdamer Platz.

Kugler, who once wanted to be a zoologist, demonstrated how he sees natural shapes in man-made objects, and how chance plays a role in his work. He emphasised the importance of making good machines that reflect nature.

Indeed, art is an important part of the city. Cultural advisor Michael Schindheim recently worked on plans for Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, made to address the fact that, for such a major city, it lacks a strong cultural identity. Berlin seems to have the opposite dynamic; we are rich with art, but not industry.

So what is it about Berlin that fosters creativity? James Patten, involved in projects such as the Gravity Harp for Bjork, Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s interactive periodic table, and my favorite, the Barista Bot, which draws your portrait on your caffè latte, provided illumination. While working at The Metropolitan Exchange in New York, he pinpointed several optimal conditions for creativity; having a half-finished space – or a space that feels like it’s in progress – to work in, having a mix of random objects at hand to play with, and having a range of people from all disciplines who share a vision and are willing to muck in. Berlin ticks all of these boxes (as Kugler’s work demonstrates).

Overall, Berlin came out pretty well as a city. Due to Kiez culture, everything we need accessible by foot, resulting in a relatively green city (we could do better with energy efficiency, for example, by insulating old buildings and using LED lights).

There is a wealth of community-based, down-up projects, like the mini-gardens that have been cultivated around trees by the residents of Oderbergerstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg. This trend is set to grow; Priya Prakash is keen to roll out Changify in this city, although we still have a long way to go before we catch up with the Mayor of Seoul, who has installed a giant ear in his city that transmits the public’s complaints directly to city hall. The boundaries between people and governments are also set to blur through increased use of social media and technology.

We have the Flussbad to look forward to, which means that we might soon see people swimming around in the river near Museums Insel:

Berlin has great potential due to its abundance of unused space, and space that can be creatively re-purposed. Merkel’s recent pledge to make Germany nuclear power free also creates opportunities to use more renewable energy and rely on energy loops (waste from one thing being used as food for another).

Two significant talks drew our attention to those people in places not as fortunate as us. Writer and film-maker Lina Hadsbjerg focussed on the lives of refugees living in the inner city of Johannesburg, South Africa. I’d be interested in watching her documentary Into the Shadows to find out more:

On a similar note, photographer Alessandro Grassani presented his photos of environmental immigrants in Bangladesh and Mongolia. In 40 years, every 1 in 45 people will be an environmental migrant; 90% of these will be from the poorest countries, and as is often the case, the problem will affect the world’s poorest people.

The message is clear – cities are getting better, but there are still many growing challenges that need to be addressed.

If you’d like to watch any of the talks mentioned or find out more, visit the TedxBerlin website.

Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin, Literature

Blind Dates with books in Berlin

If you live in Berlin and you like books, you’ll be as excited as I am about Book Flaneur – a novel way of introducing Berliners to books!

I spoke to Nadia and Piotr, the people behind this new community project, to find out more.

Tell us eberswalder_bookhow Book Flaneur works.

We love to call Bookflaneur the ultimate matchmaker for blind dates with books in Berlin. The idea is simple:

Step 1: We lovingly wrap a book

Step 2: We label it nicely to hint at the genre, feel or plot

Step 3: We map secret pick-up locations via Twitter and Google Maps

Step 4: We drop it off at a local business, bench in a park, U-Bahn station or anywhere else

Step 5: A book lover picks up their date

How did you come up with the idea?

Both of us have a soft spot for books. Nadia likes stocking bookshelves with books from flea markets and Piotr likes giving books away to friends and lovely strangers (we make a good team, don’t we?). So, it’s needless to say that we had an itch to do something with books for a long time.

Initially we were inspired by a small library project somewhere across the pond (Piotr stumbled upon this picture of wrapped books while aimlessly browsing the Internet). A couple of entrepreneurial librarians in Australia came up with a simple idea to recycle books by wrapping them up and giving away to speculating readers. This is how our idea was born.

After that, we tweaked the concept several times and added a little jeopardy: We tweet about future book dates using hashtags and post book excerpts on our website to hint at the genre or plot. We also enrich the book-dating experience with geotagging. In other words, we pin our next book-date location on Google Maps. You are very welcome to check it out on our website.

Are the books in English or German, or both?

The original idea was to send only English-speaking books on blind dates with Berliners. However, having listened to the voice of our little community, we have decided to change this. We no longer discriminate books based on language and we spread our book love in both English and German. (*pssst* Expect to see a German version of our website sometime soon in the chilly autumn months to come.)

blind_date

How many blind dates have you set up so far?

Blind dates with books? Four (and counting) in two weeks of our existence. There are many more to come.

Blind dates with people? None so far, but you never know.

Are there any books on your own shelves that you are wed to, and would never give away?

This might sound quirky but Nadia would never part with her collection of dictionaries  – several rather thick volumes of Oxford English dictionaries and a much more humble collection of German, Russian, Polish and Finnish ones. Whenever she moves to a new place, there is a spot on the shelf ready for a new dictionary filled with words of an unfamiliar language.

Now, Piotr discovered a real gem of a book some time ago and he is certain he will never forget the life lessons this book once taught him. Overwhelmed by the speech of an upbeat and terminally ill professor, Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams, Piotr rummaged through bookstores in his hometown to find his biography. The title of the book is The Last Lecture and the said academic who captivated the world with his cheerful and inspirational take on human life is Randy Pausch.

What do you hope Berliners will gain from the project?

A thrill of anticipation. We would like Berliners to get impatient about books. But, of course, patient enough to get through the week until the next blind date.

In addition, we aspire to mainstream the understanding that books are more than just their covers and can live in an ecosystem in which they have several ‘lives’.

Book Flaneur is a free, non-profit community project. Follow them via Twitter @bookflaneur, like, pin, share, subscribe, and upvote their website to help spread the word. You can also support them by suggesting local businesses and interesting places to drop off books, donating a fiver, books, or giving them a high-five.

Berlin, Film, Life in Berlin, theatre

Guest Post: Training day with the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, by Pat O´Day

Have you been seeing posters like this all over Berlin? Wondering what it’s all about? Guest-blogger Pat O´Day investigated…

nature theater of oklahoma posters

The New York-based experimental theatre company Nature Theater of Oklahoma is in Berlin for the Foreign Affairs Festival. The critics love them. I remember having seen one of their shows at a different festival some five years ago. It was the remake of a Rambo movie shot in the apartment of the sole actor, who played along on stage.

The origin of the company’s name comes from Kafka´s incomplete first novel Amerika, in which a company of the same name promises employment for everybody. Repeating this promise to the citizens of Berlin, anyone interested could come along for an interview at a set date. More than 120 people turned up.

While people waited to be interviewed, cameras swarmed around them and a cast member drew their portraits. She did not look at the drawings at any point during the process. Therefore, it was not surprising that some bore only a slight resemblance to their subjects, but rather turned out skewed and cross-eyed as if they had been inspired by Picasso´s Weeping Woman series.

Then we had some one-on-one time with a video camera. It was not quite Andy Warhol´s fifteen minutes of fame. We had four minutes and twelve seconds to spontaneously answer questions about ourselves and what we thought the company could do for Berlin. It almost felt like a regular job interview.

I received an email the next day, inviting me to return to the venue an hour later. The organisers must have just told everybody who went through the process to come back. They could not possibly have found the time to watch all those casting videos, which will also provide footage for upcoming art projects.

During their time in Berlin, the company are staging shows almost every night, most of which are based on almost 16 hours of a cast member’s phone conversation recordings. As well as this, they are putting on two marathon events of up to fifteen hours, during which food prepared by the crew will be served, creating a completely new stage production, and making a feature-length film from scratch in a matter of weeks. Tickets have already been sold for both events. Other projects comprise a remake of Warhol´s unwatchable eight-hour slow motion documentary Empire as an animation film, and a collective diary on the whole creative process of the Berlin stint.

Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, the married couple who run The Nature Theater of Oklahoma © Nature Theater of Oklahoma
Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, the married couple who run the company © Nature Theater of Oklahoma

The organisers, dependent on the support of volunteers who can commit to several hours each day, admitted being scared of not achieving everything in time. It’s not just skills-based tasks on offer, like video-editing, providing backing vocals and setting up podcasts in the theatre foyer. According to the company, seemingly mundane tasks such as food-shopping, greeting people and ushering could be turned into art just by having somebody record these activities.

For the first day of serious work, we set out to make a music video clip featuring all volunteers, which was to be an integral part of the film. There were about forty to fifty of us. Most volunteers were in their 20s and 30s, with a fair share of internationals and people with backgrounds in the performing arts – and a female preponderance. Some volunteers looked as if they had just fallen out of their beds. The female director probably did not want to create this impression by keeping her curlers in till midday in order to maintain her somewhat weird hairstyle.

Warm up exercises began in the courtyard of the theatre. It was still a bit chilly, but when people started doing jumping jacks, they took off extra layers of clothing. The warm up culminated in dancing along to a piece of choreography intended for the video clip. It had everybody moving in sync like gingerbread men, wiggling bottoms while getting down and up again, pumping the air, hopping while turning, and pretending to be cheeky chickens stepping out of water. People took it seriously though, and tried to follow the lead as best as possible while leaving enough space for the cameras.

Next, the director tried to figure out how to shoot the whole seven minute clip without any cuts. He experimented with ways of getting people to move behind his (this time imaginary) camera as soon as they had passed so that he could find and record them in different places again.  It was more about moving the crowd and dividing flows of people than guiding people individually. Personally, I found it rather tedious to pace up and down the courtyard dozens of times. Some people developed individual mannerisms and personal routines, which the director neither encouraged nor sanctioned. Perhaps it was still too early for him to be concerned about these minor aspects.

After a short break we practiced the dance we had tried during the warm up. This time it was more serious. In harmony with company policy, a different person, who normally acts as production manager, took the lead. He was not yet familiar with the moves though. So he taught and learned the choreography at the same time.  Some exceptional female volunteers, who had managed to remember the routine from the warm up, were able to correct him. These ladies were also eager to discuss specific details and suggest changes. Unused to this kind of activity, I was happy to just follow along. New difficulties surfaced when the choreography, which for whatever reason we had first practiced to a waltz, was carried out to the original quadruple time song. Again, the ladies mentioned above knew how to adjust. For my own part, I was not too disappointed when this activity finally stopped.

During the break, some people were picked to help set up a vegetarian buffet for everybody. While waiting, we all received free T-shirts with the company logo. Individuals with specific skills, like video editing, were singled out to have their tasks set out. Others used the break to practice the group choreography and take notes. I left.

So what remained at the end of the day? Or rather, who would have profited and who would have loathed it? The experience certainly would have been a nightmare for anybody suffering from camera shyness. Conversely, it would have been perfect for somebody in need of a watertight alibi with cameras constantly pointed at them.

But what did it mean? On the surface it was an unusual day in the sun. We could do callisthenic exercises and recharge our batteries with free healthy food in friendly company. Although the organizers applied a non-authoritarian leadership style, they did not provide space for differing views. It was not about the volunteers rising to stardom or expressing individual creativity in the artistic process. Nor was there too much of an intellectual challenge, unless you find it in sorting out your dancing steps.

And then I have also been taught that there is no such thing as a free lunch, which may also be true for free T-shirts. I wonder how and where the recorded material will turn up. Most of all, I wonder how this atmosphere of creative chaos can give rise to anything worth watching in such a comparatively short period of time, that both critics and audiences might appreciate.  Maybe this is reason enough to monitor the projects’ progress and see where everybody’s enthusiasm originates from and whether it is justified.

For more, check out the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma Facebook Page or read this recent Guardian review.

The Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma is calling you! – A Movie is being screened on Thursday 11th July 2013 at HAU 1, Stresemannstr. 29, 10963 Berlin.

art, Berlin, Humour

Villa Grisebach

Villa GrisebachOn Sunday, The Bavarian and I previewed some works that are to be sold over the next week at one of Berlin’s finest auction houses – Villa Grisebach in Charlottenburg – because the Bavarian has registered to bid in their Autumn Auction.

He dragged me from room to room and floor to floor, past stone statues from the Song Dynasty and 19th Century Berlin-made hanging crystals, pointing at things like this – “Kneipe” by Käthe Kollwitz, expected to fetch between €70,000 – 90,000:

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And yelling things like Shall we buy it? We can bid on it next week! Or how about this?”

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It looks like that guy from Boardwalk Empire. I like Broadwalk Empire. I’ll make a note of the number, he enthused at the painting above by Conrad Felixmüller, estimated at between €40.000 – 60.000, before dragging me across the road to the contemporary exhibits and settling on a Daniel Richter:

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“But don’t they check whether you can afford this stuff?” I asked.

“Nah. You just have to register online,” he said – delighted.

“But what if you bid on something that you can’t pay for?”

“Ha! We’re gonna find out soon, eh?” said the Bavarian, pulling on some white gloves and studying a Max Beckmann print…

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Then yesterday, a woman from Grisebach called him.

“She asked for bank references and stuff,” he said.

“So we’re out of the bidding game then,” I said.

“No. I told her that I was considering bidding for something in the under €3,000 category and she agreed that there was no point in checking our bank statements for such a small amount.”

“Oh, so you can only bid in that category,” I said, kind of relieved that at least there was a limit to how much damage he could do.

“No – that’s just what I told her. Technically, I can still bid on whatever I like!”

Great. Now my entire week has become a mission to distract him from this auction that he is set, not only on going to, but participating in. He’s even honed in on a particular piece he likes by Berlin artist Georg Tappert (1880 – 1957), called called “Clown and Girl”, which appropriately sums up our relationship:

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So  if you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I no longer have a computer, or a home for that matter, and the Bavarian and I are out on the street, sheltering under our newly aquired Sigmar Polke.

Berlin, fashion, Humour, Life in Berlin

People in Berlin Sporting the Paedophile Look

A lot of people in Berlin are sporting beards and big plastic glasses at the moment, which reminded me of this video:

At first, I thought it was some weird flash phenomenon, but it has persisted. I’m pretty sure that it’s not the Germans doing it (they are rarely fashion victims) but the expats.

The question is, why? Clearly, it doesn’t make you look good, so that isn’t it. Maybe it’s the fact that it makes you look like you really don’t care? But that’s a lot of effort for ‘I don’t care’. Maybe it’s ‘the geek look’, reflecting the fact that, as sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson points out in this podcast, geek culture has become mainstream culture.

Then again, maybe it’s just fashion baby, and people will wear lemon peel in their hair and barbed wire dresses if its en vogue. In which case, I’ll point you to a short story about the dangers of being a fashion victim.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin

Gallery Weekend, Berlin

Friday 26th April to Sunday 28th April was Gallery Weekend – when galleries all over Berlin had exhibition openings. There were 51 official participants, but a lot of other galleries opened their doors to visitors during this time too, which was useful, because most Berlin galleries have random opening times. The Bavarian and I took a stroll down our favorite gallery-lined street in Mitte; Auguststrasse, and saw some fantastic art. Here are our highlights:

1. Silvia Gertsch and Xerxes Ach at Michael Fuchs Galerie

This exhibition is called Silent Moments – Cosmic Light, and they could not have chosen a better name.

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Silvia Gershe”s works seem to emanate their own light, whether it be the glinting sun, or the glow of street lamps at dusk. They are placed behind glass, giving them a reflective, photo-like quality. In fact, her starting points are photos that she takes herself.

Xerxes Ach’s works are more abstract meditations on colour. They are beautiful, sensual, pure. The work of these two Swiss artists go together really well, and I was interested to find out that they are a couple.

Silent Moments – Cosmic Light is on at Michael Fuchs Galerie, Auguststrasse 11-13, 10117 Berlin until 1st June 2013.

2. Photography at CWC Gallery

Just downstairs from Silent Moments – Cosmic Light, is a photography exhibition at the CWC Gallery featuring more than 100 chosen works from seven prominent photographers; Helmut Newton, Jeanloup Sieff, Herb Ritts, Nick Brandt, Jean-Baptiste Huynh, Paulo Roversi and Yoram Roth.

It’s worth noting that all these photographers are men, and of these, four (Newton, Sieff, Roversi and Roth), have a strong focus on female body / erotica, so it’s a bit like being stuck between the covers of an artsier version of PlayBoy. However, relief is provided by Nick Brandt’s African panoramas, Jean-Baptiste Huynh’s portraits from around the world, and Ritts’ series of ballet dancers. It’s a rare treat to see so many high quality photos and famous images (including disturbing close-ups of Jack Nicholson as the “Joker” in Batman) in one place.

The exhibition is on at CWC Gallery, Auguststrasse 11-13, 10117 Berlin until 24th August 2013. Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

3. Mariana Vassileva at DNA

If you like contemporary art, DNA’s Fold & Break exhibition of Berlin-based Bulgarian artist Mariana Vassileva is for you. It features video, installation and sculpture. I particularly liked the way she uses everyday objects in unexpected ways with a minimal style. Check out the illuminated tree of shoes in the basement!

Fold & Break is on at DNA, Auguststraße 20, 10117 Berlin until 25 May 2013.tatafiore

4. The Drawings of Ernesto Tatafiore, 1965 – 2012 at Galerie Dittmar

This collection of drawings from Neapolitan artist Ernesto Tatafiore focuses on the French Revolution; its polarities, contradictions and ambiguities. The drawings are simple – they look like they have been done on papyrus – yet funny, thought-provoking and sophisticated at the same time.

The Drawings of Ernesto Tatafiore, 1965 – 2012 is on at Galerie Dittmar, Auguststraße 22,  10117 Berlin until 8th June 2013.

5. Juan Miguel Pozo Cruz at Liebkranz Galerie

Juan Miguel Pozo Cruz is a Cuban Berlin-based artist, whose paintings reflect this combination, representing scenes relevant to both Havana and Berlin.

His paintingLiebkranzs have a flat quality, yet are composed of peeling layers, scratches and deliberate gaps, reflecting his concern with history, nostalgia and the falseness of visual propaganda. Very interesting work.

Juan Miguel Pozo Cruz: Market is on at Liebkranz Galerie, Auguststrasse 62, 10117 Berlin until 1st June 2013.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, sport

Ice Hockey: Eisbaeren Berlin v. Dusseldorfer EG

Yesterday I joined over 13,000 spectators at the O2 Arena in Kreuzberg to watch Berlin’s very own ice hockey team, the Eisbären, play against Dusseldorfer EG.

Eisbaren Berlin v. Dusseldorfer EG 15 Feb 2013

As it was my first ice hockey game, I paid close attention to the rules: the match is played in 3 twenty-minute sets, the timer is stopped whenever play is disrupted, and, short of whacking opponents on the head with their hockey sticks, there are no rules.

Yesterday, players shoved, elbowed, and tripped each other up. An ice hockey stick was broken and one of the goals was dislodged, disrupting play until a guy with a power drill showed up to screw it back into the ice again. At least 5 scuffles broke out, and while the referees tried to regain control, the Beastie Boys’ “You Gotta Fight, For Your Right, to Party!” was blasted through the arena.

It reminded me of animal football in Bedknobs and Broomsticks:

The game is fast, violent and graceful, making it strangely thrilling to watch – probably akin how the Romans felt watching gladiators battle it out in the Colosseum.

Eisbaren Berlin v. Dusseldorfer EG 15 Feb 2013The teams were evenly matched, making it a tense game. By the end of the 60 minutes, the score was 4 All. No-one scored during the 5 minutes of extra time, so it went to a penalty shootout; Darin Olver scored the winning goal for the Eisbären.

Naturally, I started out supporting Berlin, but I felt sorry for the visiting team, who were at a psychological disadvantage – there were dancing polar bear mascots; the arena shook with fierce polar bear growls at various intervals, the majority of the audience were cheering for the home team, and every time Berlin scored there was a massive fanfare, whereas the other team’s goals and players were hardly acknowledged by the commentator – so I switched sides. I suppose this testosterone-fuelled, competitive atmosphere was hardly the place to start getting all worried about fairness and all that, but there you go!

The ice hockey season runs till 5th March  2013. Buy tickets online or check out the Eisbären Berlin site for more information.

Life in Berlin

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

the-very-inspiring-blogger-awardWhat a lovely way to start the year. Beth, who writes the bi-lingual (German/ English) blog Phoenixrisesagain, has nomiated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

As part of the award, I have to:
1) display the award logo on the blog.
2) link back to the person who nominated me.
3) share 7 things about myself:

– Even though this blog is called English Man in Berlin, I’m actually a woman
– I am addicted to the German TV show Bauer sucht Frau (Farmer seeks Wife)
– I published my first children’s book this year – yay!
– Because I work from home, I tend to hang around in my pyjamas quite a lot
– Often, I have pasta for breakfast
– I’ve never seen Star Wars
– This is what I think Star Wars is about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8d66PXQ7CuY

4) Nominate 15 other bloggers and link to them:

andBerlin, a Berlin blog that’s so good it’s annoying
Berlin Cat Lady , another lovely Berlin blog
YR, the blog of Berlin-based fine art photographer Yoram Roth
The Berlin American has lots of cool photos, videos and stories about life in Berlin – I hope Andrew updates it again soon!
Bohemian Breakdancer , where Will McNeice entertains us with stories of his life as a Westerner in a post-communist country (Poland)
The Berlin Lunchbox, Berlin based food blog
Creative Writer Phd, insightful blog about creative writing
Wandering Stan I met Stan when he lived in Berlin and it’s a shame he moved because he’s super interesting and intelligent. Thankfully, he has a blog so I can still keep track of what he’s up to!
The Kid’s Literature Lady , wonderful children’s book review site
Waking Brain Cells, another great children’s lit blog
Sarah Gets Critical It’s nice to see someone passionate writing about feminism and other serious, thought-provoking subjects
The fountain Overflows , beautiful, contemplative blog about the writing life
Me Fail? I fly Jonathan blogs about books, art and culture from Australia

Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Top 10 Berlin Songs

Lots of songs are about or feature Berlin. Here are my favorite!

10. Kaiserbase – Berlin Du Bist So Wunderbar

Berliner Pilsner used this for their advertising campaign and it’s a real Ohrwurm (which literally means ear worm, but also a tune that you can’t get out of your head).

What’s particularly nice is that if your name has two syllables, like mine, you can replace the word Berlin with your name and go around singing how wonderful you are.

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9. Peter Fox – Schwarz zu Blau

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8. Zarah Leander – Berliner Luft

So apparently, the air in Berlin – the Berliner Luft – has a particular quality. Maybe you can smell it, or sense it when you breathe it in – personally I can’t tell the difference. However, it’s a thing. There are many songs about the Berlin air, and this is the most famous. Written by Paul Lincke, it is considered to be the unofficial anthem of Berlin.

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7. Franz Meißner – Im Grunewald (ist Holzauktion)

The Bavarian sings this uplifting little number every time we get on the S7 towards Grunewald. He sings it a lot…

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6. Rainald Grebe – Brandenburg

This song makes fun of the difference between Berlin and the surrounding, depressed area of Brandenburg – unfortunately you have to understand German to get it!

 

5. Nina Hagen – Berlin

I don’t know what it is about Nina Hagen, but I love her. Sorry, but I can’t help it!

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4. Amit Chaudhuri – Motz

Amit Chaudhuri lived in Berlin for a few months, which inspired some of his music. My favorite is Motz, which is the name of a paper sold in Berlin by unemployed and homeless people.

You can listen to it by clicking on the link below.

http://www.amitchaudhuri.com/music/clips/motz.mp3

3. Leonard Cohen

Having seen Cohen perform this at the Waldbuhne twice, it brings back brilliant memories…

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2. Lou Reed – Berlin

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1. Marlene Dietrich – Das ist Berlin

For more, check out Wikipedia’s list of Songs about Berlin.