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

Book Review: Berlin: 69 Erotic Places

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

berlin erotic places

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 The book has the look and feel of a 1970s porn mag, and its attitude is equally outdated.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

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

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

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

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

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Berlin, Life in Berlin, theatre

Fear Industry at the English Theatre Berlin

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

Fear Industry at the English Theatre Berlin
Photo by Achim Wieland

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

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

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

An interesting concept that could have been braver.

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

 

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, theatre

Every Man Dies Alone at the Maxim Gorki Theatre

You would think that a play based on what Primo Levi called “the greatest book about German resistance to the Nazis” (Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, or Jeder stirbt für sich allein) staged at a reputable theatre (Maxim Gorki in Berlin Mitte) would be watchable, if not enjoyable. Not so.

Director Jorinde Dröse has managed to turn an evocative, insightful work into a meaningless farce. The only emotion the play managed to stir was cringe-making dread, akin to something you’d expect to feel whilst watching a particularly bad village panto. This was not the fault of the actors, who, bless them, were trying hard, but the production.

The play lacked focus, attempting to recite the novel’s various story-threads and introducing new characters right up until the end whilst refusing to commit to what should have been the central story – that of the distribution of cards denouncing Hitler by Otto and Anna Quangel. In a recent interview with ExBerliner Magazine, the director said, “I thought the final part of the book, the part where the Quangels are waiting for their inevitable execution in prison, is very long and depressing, so we decided to leave this final part out.” Herein lies the problem – apart reflecting her general idiocy (a play about fascism should not be depressing?) – the comment demonstrates the director’s fear that audience, akin to a kindergarten class, would get bored at the least hint of serious focus. The result is a continuous assault of noise and activity, meaning nothing.

Problems of unity and consistency stretched to tone (the play did not know whether it was a farce or a tragedy), to the question of whether this was a dramatisation or re-enactment of a novel (characters mostly acted out scenes, but whenever the novel seemed too hard to dramatise, they simply read passages out, referring to themselves or other characters in the third person, the curious result of which reminded me of an unartful version of The Guardian’s Digested Read), and style (Frau Rosenthal throws herself out of the window in some weird-dancey sequence, and – I kid you not – characters express their love for each other by singing renditions Damien Rice’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.)

Even the subtitles in English were bad – they were by no means complete and either ran ahead or lagged behind the lines being said on stage – how hard is it to organise accurate subtitles?! The stage design, consisting of a sloping floor which characters were perpetually sliding down, could have been interesting, but since everything else was so dire I found it hard to give a shit.

Which brings me to the question – why is theatre in Berlin so bad? I’ve been here for well over two years now, and every single play I‘ve seen (with perhaps the exception of Hamlet at the Schaubühne) has been terrible. Indeed, I witnessed the worst play of my life in this city – Frank Castorf’s Nach Moskau! Nach Moskau! (again, based on the works of Chekhov no less, at Berlin’s famous Volksbühne). That play was so bad that after over two excruciating hours, with no clue as to whether the pretentious shit of a director would honour his audience with a break, I had to walk out mid-act – the only time I have ever done this. Sitting in the bar opposite trying to recover my senses, I saw that there was indeed an intermission about half an hour later; hoards of people dashed to the nearest U-Bahn station…the theatre must have been half empty for the second half. Seriously, they could use that play as a modern torture technique…

I love German books, films and music, but theatre is one of two things that the British do better than the Germans (the other is television – and I would go so far to say that British theatre is the best in the world.) I’ve heard that a fundamental difference between the two countries is that the director carries more weight than the writer in Germany, but surely this cannot account for the creation of such trash.

Maybe the clue to the answer lies in Dröse’s interview, in which she says that to direct in Berlin “you have to be more radical in your work.” This seems to be the problem; a director’s main concern should be the story. He or she should be concerned with a work’s themes, its characters and their journeys, but in attempting to be radical, Berlin directors are only succeeding in producing radically bad plays.

Jeder stirbt für sich allein is on at the Maxim Gorki Theater, Am Festungsgraben 2, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Friedrichstr.

art, Berlin

Preview Berlin

Preview Berlin 2011, Hangar 2, Tempelhof AirportWe went to the opening of Preview Berlin: The Emerging Art Fair last night.

Sixty-one international galleries, from London to Israel, have set up exhibits in the open space of Hangar 2 of the former Tempelhof Airport.

Most of the galleries are from Germany, and of those, the majority are from Berlin, presenting a good overview of the city’s art scene, unlike the poorly curated Based in Berlin exhibition earlier this year.

As can be imagined, the rangPreview Berlin 2011e of art on display is wide, and each gallery has used their section in a unique way. Sculpture, photography, installations, drawings, paper art – it’s all there in different styles, sizes and materials.

In addition, there are two new projects this year: Video Art Box, presenting contemporary video art by Israeli artists, and Focus Academy, showcasing work from a new generation of young and promising artists from the Bauhaus University of Weimar, the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg.

Preview Berlin is open from 1 – 8 pm, 9th – 11th September 2011 at Hangar 2 of the former Tempelhof Airport. Public Transport: U6 to Platz der Luftbrücke (exit Columbiadamm) or bus no. 104, 284 to Flughafen Tempelhof.