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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative In Berlin: Tess Motherway

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

Tess Motherway, Berlin

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

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

What made you do it?

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

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

Why Alexanderplatz?

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

What is your favourite place in Berlin?

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

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

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

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

What else are you working on?

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Trips from Berlin: documenta14 in Kassel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fascinating lamp fixture kassel
Fascinating lamp fixture

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

Documenta14 is on until 17th September 2017 in Kassel.

 

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

Berlin’s Tech Open Air Festival 2017

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

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

TOA, Berlin, Tech Open Air, 2017

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

It was all a bit like this:

 

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

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

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

For more information, visit the TOA Berlin website.

 

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Ryan Hellyer
Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin, people

Creative in Berlin: Ryan Hellyer

Ryan Hellyer is a former chemist, software developer and creator of Comic Jet, a fun and colourful site that enables you to learn German from comics.

Ryan HellyerIntroduce Yourself

I’m a Kiwi who somehow made his way across the globe to wonderful Berlin. I work as a software developer, and can usually be found working from a cafe some place in Berlin.

What is your favourite place in Berlin?

Herman Schulz cafe. I regularly go there to meet friends, get work done and experience their yummy cakes and soups.

Tell us about Comic Jet

Comic Jet is my attempt at helping people practice their German skills. It doesn’t actively teach, but allows readers to begin reading proper stories in German (or English) and when they get stuck, they can simply click on the comic to switch into their native language.

Where did the idea come from?

I had been trying to improve my German by reading comics, but it was driving me nuts having to constantly look things up in a dictionary. I ended up scanning both the English and German versions and putting them on my phone so I no longer had to take the books with me, and could easily switch between the two. This was useful, but it still took me a second or two to switch languages. So I set about working out how to switch languages quicker, and the basis for Comic Jet was born.

What is your favourite comic on the site?

The XKCD comics are my favourite for reading in English, but for learning German I prefer any of the Gaia comics, as they use much simpler language.

What is your favourite German word?

My favourite German word is “duh”. Most people use der, die or das, but I prefer to just say duh, as it makes the language a whole lot simpler! If you say it fast enough, people don’t even notice.

What other projects you are working on?

I have a whole fleet of open source projects on the boil. Most of them are posted on my geek blog. The most popular one is my Disable Emoji’s plugin for WordPress which is currently installed on over 50,000 websites.

What are your future plans for Comic Jet?

My main goal is to add more comics. There are very few comics which are available in both English and German and have licenses which allow me to use them on Comic Jet. If the site becomes popular, I will look into having existing comics translated.

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

Soviet Berlin with Holger Raschke

Berlin is a city haunted by the past, built on layers of memory. Holger Raschke, founder of Berlins Taiga, a tour company that focuses on the Soviet history of the city and its surrounding areas, is also fascinated by the past. He grew up in Potsdam, at a time when the Soviet army was omnipresent, surrounded by barracks, fenced-off military facilities and gigantic military training grounds.

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

Holger organises tours of his native Potsdam, the hinterlands of Brandenburg where remote Soviet outposts still remain, and, of course, tours of central Berlin – one of which I took.

Soviet Berlin II – Through the Red Metropolis begins at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, crossing over to the government quarter via the red Moltke Bridge, which Soviet soldiers crossed when they took the city at the end of World War II. The Soviets amassed 2.5 million soldiers for the Battle of Berlin, and their presence still lingers throughout the city.

It lingers just beneath the grass of the Soviet War Memorial of Tiergarten, where 2,500 Soviet soldiers are buried beneath the unmarked, inconspicuous earth. It lingers in the various Soviet murals, the stark architecture and the recurring shape of the Sputnik. Holger unveils the Soviet history of these familiar sites by showing archival photos of the exact spots you visit on his tour, narrating anecdotes and recounting historical facts. The tour leads down Alexanderplatz and Karl Marx Allee, which used to be called Stalin Allee, finally ending at Berlin’s biggest Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park.

Soviet Berlin II lasts four hours and covers five kilometres by foot. It’s perfect for tourists, who would like a unique walk through central Berlin, but as a local I also learned a lot and enjoyed Holger’s extensive knowledge of the subject. Not only was he was able to answer all my questions, but he could recount personal stories about his experience, and those of his friends and family. I would be especially interested in taking his Potsdam and Hinterland Tours, which are more off the beaten track and will certainly take me into as yet unexplored territory.

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

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

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, people

Creative in Berlin: Bernhard Vierling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, people

Tobo at Teufelsberg

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

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

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

Tobo at Teufelsberg

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

Palast-Talk: British Evening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berlin, Humour, Life in Berlin, people

Daniel Sloss at Quatsch Comedy Club

I am loath to say anything critical about Daniel Sloss because he started yesterday night’s show at Berlin’s Quatsch Comedy Club by reading out the last letter of complaint he received.

quatsche comedy club berlinIn fact, I’ll take a leaf out of his book and critique of the audience instead. It was mostly German, with a smattering of ex-pats. The Germans were very efficient with their laughter. They laughed in short bursts, then fell silent in anticipation of the next joke to keep things moving along swiftly. I’m glad, because the girl sitting next to me hee-hawed like a donkey. It’s one of the things you notice at comedy clubs – the weird and varied nature of other people’s laughter.

The German audience were also not very well informed – when asked whether we have free healthcare in Germany, they all shouted ‘yes’ when really (especially if you are a freelancer) it is more complicated than that. So either the audience didn’t care to go into the ins and outs of how the German healthcare system, or they were ignorant.

As for myself, I laughed most during the latter half of the show, when Sloss’s routine turned more personal. Disability is not funny, he said. Then went on disprove the statement by talking about his disabled sister. He also had some life tips, like how to help friends deal with bereavement. The trick is to be consistent. If you are always a prick, don’t stop making jokes or treat people differently because someone close to them has died – continue to be a prick.

Although all this seems irreverent, Sloss’s show is actually quite sweet (especially his banter with his friend and fellow comedian Kai Humphries, which I would have liked to see more of), because it shows that no matter how tragic, difficult or absurd life gets, there is always laughter to be had.

The Quatsch Comedy Club (Friedrichstraße 107, 10117 Berlin) regularly features both English and German comedians from around the world.

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.

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.