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

Book Review: Berlin: 69 Erotic Places

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

berlin erotic places

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 The book has the look and feel of a 1970s porn mag, and its attitude is equally outdated.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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading: Ryan Ruby at Shakespeare and Sons

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

Zero and the One novel

The novel centres around a suicide pact between Zach and Owen, two philosophy students at Oxford University. Although they come from vastly different backgrounds – Owen from a working class British family and Zach from New York money – they develop a close friendship.

Zach becomes obsessed with obscure German philosopher Hans Abendroth and his elusive book The Zero and the One. So it is to this book that Owen returns after Zach’s violent death as he tries to grapple with what happened. Every chapter of the novel begins with an excerpt from the philosophy book as Owen navigates a story that shifts between the locations of Oxford, New York and Berlin.

In a way, the feel of the novel corresponds to how it was created. Ruby said that he wrote the first draft while travelling. Often he would work in one New York cafe, then go for a walk, letting ideas come to him, before settling down to continue in another. A good part of the novel was also composed on trains, planes and buses.

Details, observations and episodes from different places are lines connecting the dots of the narrative. Many sentences are like the lofty thoughts that drift through the mind of a walker. Of course Owen and Zach, like the author, are students of philosophy. This too gives the book a particular quality. Fiction and philosophy are linked – both are exercises in thought experiments. Philosophy, however, is abstract, whereas fiction builds its arguments through characters and feeling. With this novel, the intellectual is present, but the emotional is lacking.

Ryan Ruby will be reading from The Zero and the One at 7 pm, 22nd April 2017 at St. George’s Bookshop in Prenzlauer Berg (Wörther Strasse 27, 10405 Berlin) 

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

English bookshops in Neukölln

Guest post by Álvaro Sendra González 

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

Books in Neukölln

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

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

Pflügerstraße 63, theberlinbooknook.de

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

Sanderstraße 8, buchbund.de

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

Okerstraße 1, buchhafen-berlin.de

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

Flughafen Str. 22, curiousfoxbooks.com

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

Selchower Straße 33, pequodbooks.de

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

Weserstraße 166, topics-berlin.com

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature

Inkblot Berlin: Berlin Writers Read

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

Inkblot Berlin: Berlin Writers Read

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

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

Let us tell you our stories.

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

art, Berlin, Literature

Exhibition: There’s no place like time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, 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.