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

M&M Creative: Workshops for Individuals and Business

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

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

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

Great. So when’s the first one?

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

How is it original?

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

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

What will I get out of it?

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

What other workshops are we devising?

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M&M Creative, Berlin

Improv for Writers.

Improv for Women in Business.

Writing from the Body with Bowspring Yoga.

From Page to Publication.

Flow sessions for writers.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Berlin’s Tech Open Air Festival 2017

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

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

TOA, Berlin, Tech Open Air, 2017

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

It was all a bit like this:

 

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

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

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

For more information, visit the TOA Berlin website.

 

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Berlin, 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.

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, 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?

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.

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, Life in Berlin, News

Dirk Nowitzki receives the AmCham Germany TransAtlantic Partnership Award 2012

Last night Dirk Nowitzi was given an award by the American Chamber of Commerce for his foundation’s work with disadvantaged children at the Ritz Carlton, Potzdamer Platz.

Dirk Nowitski signing autographs, Ritz Carlton, 5 October 2012

I had no idea who Dirk Nowitski was until the Bavarian announced we were going.

Dirk, who?

You know, basketball player, Dallas Mavericks, NBA Champion 2011, best European – no, best white basketball player ever, urged the Bavarian.

I shook my head.

He’s probably the most famous German in the world! yelled the Bavarian.

That would be Hitler, I pointed out.

Well, living then! Most famous living German!

That would be Heidi Klum.

Actually, it’s probably the Pope.

He doesn’t count, I replied, and so it went on…

Anyway, apparently Dirk’s big – and not just because he’s 7 ft tall (2.13 metres for non-Brits).

I also had no idea what the AmCham Germany TransAtlantic Partnership Award was, but they should think of a catchier name. It honors a significant contributions to the German-American relationship. Previous winners include cool people like Bill Gates (2011), and bizarre people like Arnold Schwarzenegger (2009).

There were about 300 guests. Attendees included Mark Cuban (Owner, Dallas Mavericks), Britt Dillmann (Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team, Gold Medalist London 2012 Paralympics), Timo Boll (Professional table tennis player, Team Bronze Medalist, London 2012 Olympics), Jaka Bizlij (CEO, Star Entertainment) and interestingly, Dr. Dirk Notheis, who stepped down as Head of Morgan Stanley Germany after a scandal involving the German state overpaying for a stake in EnBW by about 840 million euros.

Obviously, we didn’t fit in (we were probably the only ones who googled “black tie gala dinner” beforehand and travelled there and back via public transport). Chandeliers glittered. The wine was excellent. Grammy-nominated Till Brönner and Band played jazz. We had a merry time.

Poor Dirk, on the other hand, was surrounded by people asking for autographs the whole time – and there was a crowd waiting for him outside too. The Bavarian, however, was interested in someone else –  the CEO of ING-DiBa, with whom we have a loan that we’ll be paying off for the rest of our lives. With every glass of wine, he became more convinced that it would be a trifle to have a word in his ear and get him, at the press of a button, to erase our debts. Thankfully, I managed to distract him from this goal until the evening was over…

Germany, Life in Berlin, News, politics

Opening of the Google Offices in Berlin

Opening of Google Offices BerlinOn Wednesday night, Google officially opened its offices at Unter den Linden 14. We used our best gate-crashing skills to get in, but the party was disappointing.

Google’s presence in Berlin will help the company influence government Internet policies. Germany’s strict privacy laws have recently resulted in a couple of high-profile cases being brought against the company here; Max Mosely is making a fuss because the site references photos of him taken at a sex party, and former wife of German President Bettina Wulff says it’s defamatory that her name appears in combination with ‘prostitute’ and ‘escort’ when typed into search. (Bettina happens to be releasing a book; the publicity can’t be bad for sales).

Although the Berlin office functions as a lobby, it has that colourful, nerdy, Googly feel aGoogle Offices Berlinbout it. The meeting rooms are named after Berlin clubs like Berghain and Weekend, you can doodle on chalkboards, lounge around on bean bags etc.

German newspapers such as Die Welt and Bild have been fascinated by the interior deco, but it felt predictable. Besides, hanging kinky toys on the wall is trying too hard…

The attempt to combine lobbying with the image of cool new media company also made the party fall flat. It started off promisingly, with proffered trays of cocktails in Google colours (blue, red, yellow and green) and an interesting flying buffet  (smoked quail eggs served with vegetarian caviar etc). A hypnotizing projection of a globe showed searches going on in different languages around the world, there was a photo booth to mess around in and a massive screen rendering Google Earth in 3D.

Google searches around the world; different colours represent different languages

This was ruined when chief lobbyist Annette Kroeber-Riel began her speech. It took 5 minutes for people to realise she was speaking, her speech was over-long and she read from paper. Then followed speeches from Hans-Joachim Otto (Deputy Economy Minister) and Nicolas Zimmer (Deputy Minister in the city of Berlin) and an uninteresting three-way video conversation using Google Hangouts, by which point everyone had stopped listening again. This would have been tolerable if alcohol was allowed to be served during speeches, but the folks at Google Berlin had told the bar staff to stop serving during this time, showing their true, dull colours.

There were a few celebrities on show, including Jette Joop, but altogether, it was pretty boring…

Looking at other coverage of this party makes me wonder whether those writers were at the same party as me, or whether they’re just making sure their articles will appear in search…

For more, read The Spiegel’s article on How Google Lobbies German Government

Berlin, Germany, history, News

Hitler and the Germans

Unlike the Austrians, the Germans have always been open about the whole business of Hitler and the Nazis. Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek famously said that the nature of German toilets, where “the hole into which shit disappears after we flush is right at the front, so that shit is first laid out for us to sniff and inspect” revealed their existential attitude as a nation; that of “reflective thoroughness”, and it would seem that he is right.

Spiegal Magazine covers featuring Hitler
Spiegal Magazine covers: countless articles have been written on Hitler

Policemen stand outside synagogues, countless books, articles, studies and films have been produced, and almost every discussion, from politics to art, comes back in some way to the Nazis. (Godwin’s Law, that as a discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison to the Nazis or Hitler approaches 1, is a fact of life round here).

However, of the many exhibitions about the Holocaust and the Nazis, the one currently at the Deutsches Historishes Museum (German Historical Museum) is a first. The exhibition Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime focuses on the dictator and his relationship with the German people.

It opened in mid-October amidst fears that such a strong focus on the dictator would attract and encourage Neo-Nazis. However everything on display – Nazi flags, street signs, decorations, swords, medals, newspapers, Hitler busts, portraits, propaganda images and films – serves to illuminate the relationship between Hitler and the Germans, from the hopes that he embodied for them when he first came to power to disillusionment, resistance, and representations of him in the media up till the present day. It shows how fiercely the dictator permeated every day life in the Third Reich, and throws a unique light on questions such as ‘How could such a thing have happened?”

Street sign: Adolf Hitler Platz
Street sign: Adolf Hitler Platz

Most strikingly, it draws attention to the volume of things that have been hidden, taken away and replaced, such as grave stones featuring swastikas. It also raises the fact that although the process of denazification did remove Nazi iconography from public view, its success did not extend to people and institutions.

Although a few elite were brought to trail, the majority of people who were complicit, from CEOs of companies to government officials, kept their positions – especially as the Americans abandoned their denazification programme at the onset of the Cold War. This enabled people such as Kurt Georg Kiesinger, a member of the Nazi Party and official at the foreign ministry, to continue in politics and eventually become German Chancellor in 1966.

As if to illustrate the point, just a week after the exhibition opened it came to light that the German Foreign Ministry, who had for years maintained that they had disapproved of the Nazis and their aims, had in fact, according to historian Eckart Conze, “actively supported all measures of persecution, rights deprivation, expulsions and the Holocaust.”

So it seems that Germany is suffering a kind of schizophrenia regarding its history; on the one hand there is an open, even over-compensating attitude, (I saw an example of this yesterday around Mauer Park when a group of people felt the need to protest against war whilst coach loads of old people attended a military music concert), and on the other, silence and secrets.

Yesterday around Mauer Park: People protest against war during a military music concert
Yesterday around Mauer Park: People protest against war during a military music concert

Günter Grass embodies this contradiction; he acted as the moral voice of Germany, but took 60 years to admit that he was a member of the SS.

Maybe Zizek was not entirely correct about the Germans; after all nobody has even begun to inspect the history and Nazi involvement of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND, or Federal Intelligence Service), and I’m sure there is a lot of shit lurking there…

The exhibition “Hitler and the Germans” is on until February 6, 2011 at the Deutsches Historishes Museum.

Life in Berlin, music, News, politics

Gazprom celebrates 20 years in Germany at the Berliner Philharmonie

You can say what you like about Russia’s largest energy company Gazprom, but they do know how to throw a party. Yesterday evening we found ourselves amidst a bunch of people, a disproportionate number of whom had face-lifts, celebrating the company’s 20 year partnership with BASF’s Wintershall in Germany.

Valery Gergiev Berliner Philharmonie 3 November 2010And how did Gazprom celebrate? They hired out the entire Philharmonie, invited 2000 people along to fill it, employed the services of Berlin Rundfunk Choir (Germany’s oldest radio choir) and flew in an entire orchestra from St Petersburg (the Marinsky Theatre Orchestra no less) along with conductor Valery Gergiev, who the New York Times describes as one of “Russia’s most potent cultural symbols.” Oh and they had pre and post-concert receptions flowing with food and wine, and dress code that stated that women should wear short dresses. Ah, the Russians…. 

The concert was wonderful; Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini followed by the third act of Wagner’s Parsifal – music chosen to represent Russio-German co-operation.

The evening, however, displayed a different type of co-operation; that between money, politics and music – a fact reflected by the attendees, from Vladimir V. Kotenev, former Russian Ambassador to Germany and recently appointed CEO of Gazprom, former politicians Egon Bahr , creator of the “Ostpolitik“, and Otto Schily ,  Minister of the Interior in Schröder’s cabinet (Schröder is currently head of Gazprom’s shareholder committee, and his taking the position was widely criticised as in this Washington Post article) to singer Vicky Leandros and Janice White, young ex-wife of German music producer Jack White.

Life in Berlin, News, politics

Christopher Street Day (CSD) Parade

christopher street day berlin 2010Yesterday was the CSD Parade (or the Gay Pride Parade) in Berlin. The parade ran from Ku’damm to Brandenburg Gate and the entire area from Brandenburg Gate to The Victory Column was converted into a party zone crowded with gays drinking champagne, lesbians drinking beer, drag queens strutting about with seemingly no effort at all in six-inch high-heels and everyone in between.

The location ws perfect due to its proximity to the Tiergarten, which meant that people easily coud slip into the woods for a bit of hanky panky. (Tiergarten has traditionally been a gay cruising area). More poignantly, the city’s memorial for gay holocaust victims is also nearby. Approximately 54,000 men and women were convicted of homosexual acts under the Nazis and 7,000 died in the camps.

Berlin’s gay mayor Klaus Wowereit gave a speech encouraging tolerance, and the motto for the day was ‘Normal ist anders’. The parade involved 64 groups, and attracted half a million people. However, of the groups in the parade, most of them – apart from the five political parties and a footballers’ group – were commercial groups such as Ikea and DildoKing.

Compared with Pride London, where almost every institution from the Metropolitan Police to teachers’ unions have a float, the Berlin parade seems to be politically impotent. Even the political parties were handing out general manifestos and agendas rather than specific info pertaining to gay rights. Perhaps this is an indicator that despite appearances Germany lags behind England when it comes to championing diversity and equality…

American gender theorist and Berkley lecturer Judith Butler, who was presented with a prize for civil courage on the CSD stage last night, critisied the march as too superficial and commercial. She rejected the prize and claimed preference for the alternative CSD, which due to take place is Kreuzberg next Saturday (see her speech on YouTube).

For more photos, the Tagesspiegel has a good gallery.

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Language, Life in Berlin, News, politics

English perverting the German language?

Last night, The Bavarian and I went to a terrace party in the Bundestag. At some point, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle showed up. Someone suggested that I should go and talk to him – in English. The joke being that Guido’s English is nicht so gut. Here’s a clip of him trying to answer a question in English a few years ago:

Did I mention that he’s the Foreign Minister? Then, at the end of last year, he was asked a question in English by a BBC journalist. This was his response:

Now, this man has turned his little insecurity about his ability to speak English into a political campaign to promote the German language and purify it of anglicisms. According to a recent article in The Economist, Guido would like the European Union’s diplomatic service to hire German-speakers, probably so he’ll finally be able to understand what the hell is going on.

Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer also jumped on board, saying that he would replace English words like ‘brainstorming’ and ‘meeting-points’ with ‘Ideensammlung’ and ‘Treffpunkte’. According to him, there is “no country in the world where people treat their own language so disrespectfully.”

He obviously hasn’t been to England. The English language is about as pure as the Gulf of Mexico right now. I’m pretty sure that English is polluted with more German words than vice versa: angst, kindergarten, sauerkraut, hamburger, lager, zeitgeist, schade, blitzkrieg, schnapps, schadenfreude…

If I were to get as touchy about my language as dear Guido seems to be about his, I would say that Germans are actually perverting English rather than the other way round. The use of ‘Handy’ to refer to a mobile phone, for instance. Or that jerky idiot Lena winning the Eurovision Song Contest by singing “Like a satellite I’m in an orbit all the way around you”  with terrible pronunciation. But I won’t, because the English model of openness has proved more successful than the French protectionist model that Guido would like to imitate. Sure, it leads to a lot of messed up English, but this gives entire blogs a reason to exist.

 (And why are the French and the Germans always so concerned about anglicisms? Why not go the whole way and say you’d like to purify the language of Italian and Russian words too?)

Languages are alive; they grow and evolve organically through usage. To try and curb that is futile, not to mention anti-democratic. The state has no business interfering with this process. The last time Germany tried, with the orthography reform of 1996, it proved disastrous; there were many opponents, including  Günter Grass, Siegfried Lenz, Martin Walser, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Walter Kempowski and Christian Wulff, and the issue was taken up in the courts. Many editors refused to implement the new rules, and only very recently have newspapers incorporated them into their in-house orthographies (and not all of them at that). Most German people still disagree with the reform.

So, Guido, if you would like English lessons I’m available…

Life in Berlin, News

Carnival of Cultures

carnival of cultures 2010The Carnival of Cultures (Karneval der Kulturen) is a four-day street festival that takes place in Berlin every year to celebrate the city’s cultural and ethnic diversity.

Now in its 15th year, the carnival is expected to attract approximately 1.4 million visitors between Friday and Monday (21st – 24th May) – the highlight being the parade that took place yesterday involving 4,800 performers from 70 nations.

Although the Germans always gush about Berlin’s multicultiness, my impression as a Londoner has been that the city is unexceptional in this sense apart from its large Turkish population (Berlin has the second biggest Turkish population in the world after Istanbul). So seeing the parade yesterday involving troupes from Thailand to Latin America was a pleasant awakening – there was even a group (albeit small) of Hawaiians.

carnival of cultures thailand 2010

Unlike Notting Hill, this carnival is not limited to one particular ethnic background but  to literally  anyone (there was even a carnival of cultures 2010Flintstones group!) From open bars and living rooms came the clash of different beats, from techno to latino, and stalls selling foods from all over the world lined the streets. Another notable difference was the lack of police presence, restrictions on where you could go and all that rubbish that’s really made Notting Hill more of a hassle than a pleasure to go to in recent years. As a result, despite the hoards of people, there was a feeling of space, safety and general laidbackness in Hallesches Tor and the surrounding areas.

For more info, photos and clips go to the rbb website…

Life in Berlin, News, politics

May Day, Schönhauser Allee

Preparations for the 1st May around the Schönhauser Allee area started a day early; shops boarded up their windows and a police presence in Mauer Park prevented anyone from carrying in glass bottles and weapons. The result was a festive atmosphere, a ratio of two policemen per civilian and a disconcerting absence of beer bottles.

Today, contrary to my expectations, the atmosphere was much the same. I had heard that Berlin turned into a regular war zone on May Day, and this year had the potential to turn violent since a Neo-Nazi march was due to make its way from Bornholmer Strasse, through Schönhauser Allee to Landsberger Allee. The aim of the anti-demo protesters was to stop the demonstration, which the police have the right to do if it turns violent.

As it turned out, the approximatley 600 Neo-Nazis barely managed to make it out of Bornholmer Strasse; they were due to start their march at 12, and, after fires were started and arrests made, got moving at about 2.30 only to be turned back at the corner of Bornholmer Strasse and Schönhauser Allee and sent back home.

Some 250 Neo-Nazis foresaw that their effort to demonstrate might prove futile, as happened in Dresden in February of this year, and started an unofficial and therefore illegal protest on the Kudamm. Bottles and stones were thrown, and they were promptly arrested.

However, around the Schönhauser Allee area, there was hardly any violence. Music played, while families with children, punks, anarchists (mostly identified by their Schwarzer Block style clothing) and hippies danced, sang, shouted slogans, sat in the road, drank and ate and had a party in the traffic-free streets. The atmosphere was so laid back that someone even dragged a sofa out on to the road to sit on.

The diverse crowd no doubt reflected the fact that almost everyone is against the Nazis, and the politicians took advantage of the fact. Wolfgang Thiere, Deputy President of the Deutsche Bundestag (The Bavarian accidentally stepped on his foot once) sat down at Bornholmer Strasse to stop the march, and on the corner of Greifenhagener Strasse, Christian Ströbele, the Green MP for Friedrichshain, gave a speech. Representatives from the SPD, DKP (communist), the Left Party and the unions (Verdi and DGB) were also waving their flags around.

There was a massive police presence; between six and seven thousand police from all over Germany have come to Berlin for the first of May.  Most of them seemed to come from Bavaria, which pleased The Bavarian greatly.

Police dogs barked while helicopters droned above (apparently, the police increase the sound of their helicopters in crowd situations to make their presence felt) – but there was no need for all that as everything remained peaceful apart from a few trouble makers.

Tonight, however, will probably be a very different story – in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg it is almost certain that Molotov cocktails, stones and bottles will be lobbed, street fights will break out and cars set on fire.

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Sorry about the spelling mistake in the above video – can’t seem to replace the video on YouTube, so I’m just going to leave it!

Film, Life in Berlin, News

Daylight Robbery

The big news in Berlin at the moment is the daylight robbery that took place at the Grand Hotel Hyatt this weekend – and no, I’m not referring to their room prices.

Armed gunmen stormed into the hotel in Potsdamer Platz on Saturday afternoon and plundered the PokerStars European Poker Tour. There ensued much confusion over how much money they actually got away with; on Saturday evening it was €800,000, on Sunday morning it was €100,000 and by Sunday evening it was €200,000. (I think the final figure is €242,000 – the BBC News website still has the wrong figure.)

Police Chief Rainer Wendt claimed that the gunmen were amateurs anyway, and would soon be caught…yet more confusion, as another police spokesman said that they didn’t really have any leads. And was it four gunmen or six gunmen? Ah, bless the Berlin Police Force, who don’t come across much crime in this city. Here, even the Punks queue up nicely at ATM machines, and in most cafes, kebab places and bagel joints, you pay for your food or coffee after you’re done. Sometimes, they even ask you what you had. So much trust…it would never work in London.

At the same time as all this was going on in Potsdamer Platz, I was round the corner in the cinema (I have the ticket stub to prove it), getting robbed of €8 to see Men Who Stare at Goats. The film is based on the book of the same title by Jon Ronson, about his investigation into the US Military’s attempts to incorporate New Age concepts. Ewan McGregor plays journalist Bob, who reacts to his wife leaving him by going off to cover the war in Iraq where he meets George Clooney’s character Lynn, who claims to be part of a secret paranormal unit of the army.

As sometimes happens when adapting a non-fiction book into a fiction film, the story suffers. And in this film, the story didn’t really go anywhere; it felt like a series of expositional flashbacks showing one quirky bit of history after another.  Sure it had all the obligatory character arcs and so on, but these felt contrived and made the film soulless.

Another big problem was the lack of humour. Okay, there were some funny bits, but these were ALL in the trailer (which is below to save you from watching the entire film). I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t laughing at this so-called comedy. In a packed cinema, few giggles could be heard. As luck would have it, the only idiot laughing loudly all the way through was sitting next to me (yes, Row K, seat 9 – you know who you are). He also had the annoying habit of repeating the last line of dialogue in every conversation OUT LOUD. That’s the kind of person who would enjoy this film.  

I have no idea how such big stars were drawn to this project. It’s a shame for Clooney, who’s done a run of good films lately such as Up in the Air. Spacey, who is involved in the Old Vic and TriggerStreet should know a thing or two about good drama. McGregor gives a particularly bad performance; the biggest question about his character was What kind of accent is that? See if you can figure it out…

Life in Berlin, News

Berliners track Google’s Street View Car

In Britain we’re used to constantly being watched by Big Brother, but in Germany, due to the country’s history, invasion of privacy is a big deal.

Although things like CCTV cameras are gradually and inevitably growing in this country, it’s nice that the Germans make a bit of a fuss about it once in a while. 

Yesterday, when Google’s Steet View Car was drving around Berlin, members of the Free Art & Technology group (F.A.T.) decided to attach a GPS device to it, resulting in a map tracking the car’s movements – until the good folks at Google realised that someone was watching them and took it off.

Google Street View Car being tracked on Google Street View
Google Street View Car being tracked on Google Street View