Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lazy Sunday

Unbeknownst to either Brad or me, daylight savings hit Berlin today. Were it not for the inexplicable talents of my computer, I would probably still think it was an hour later than it "actually" is (what is actual, anyway?). That, however, is not very important, as it is a sleepy Sunday of laundry and cranked-up radiators. It's as good a day as any for an extra hour.
The last week was busy with work and friends in town (both of which are still current events). A strange fog moved into the city and riled up my sinuses, so I'm glad for a couple days of home-bound tasks and reading. (I've been reading the Pulitzer-Prize winning book Middlesex, which, despite my misgivings, is very well-written). And, of course, now I have time for you.
I've got a couple weeks to tell you about, don't I? Alright then.
Two weekends ago, Brad and I went to a town called Leipzig. Anyone been there? I see some hands.
It was a small town, at least compared to Berlin. A university town, I couldn't tell if their "Stamp out White Power" march (or whatever it was called) was for or against the aforementioned Power. I almost thought it was a party of soccer houligans. That aside, though, it was a very picturesque little community with an obsession with Bach and shopping.
Leipzig's Stasi Museum occupied the building that was formerly the Stasi headquarters. Though I have no photos of it, it smelled funny in there. It was cold, white and cubic. Aside from that, though, Leipzig was grand and friendly. The narrow cobblestone streets almost always gave way to unexpected and lovely structures, and the people were jolly. The "new" parliament building was storybook-worthy (except for the modern rust of electricity and gas in the foreground).
Neues Rathaus
We only spent two days there, but that was pretty much enough. It was very charming, but I was glad to return to Berlin. The longer I'm here, the more at home I feel, and there's nothing to emphasize that like going away and coming back. To amplify that sensation even more, the bizarre but awesome October Lights festival went on here for two weeks, and it was worth fighting the cold for. Crowds of people roamed the city with tripods and friends and snapped pictures of already-eerie building with even more eerie lights cast on them. Here is the Berliner Dom with the TV Tower in the background:
Berliner Dom
And the Brandenburger Tor:
Brandenburger Tor
While I'm not always impressed by the Brandenburger Gate's appearance, I am impressed by the fact that Napoleon dragged the chariot on top all the way to France, and that it was then dragged all the way back. There is a distracting amount of construction going on around the Gate, and that sort of dampens its magnificence, as well. All of Berlin is a construction zone.
We took the opportunity, given the nighttime sight-seeing, to actually go into the Reichstag. It only took a half an hour waiting in the cold, rather than two or more hours like it can sometimes take, and I suppose it was worth it. The inside of it has been well-documented by any and all travel books about Berlin and/or current German parliament, but it's irresistible, once you're inside. It's like every person thinks "I can take THE defining picture of this, I just know it". Here was my attempt:
Reichstag too
OK, it's a little blurry, and the eagle is visible but not detailed, and the flag is present but a little stick-like, but hey. I gave it a shot. The walk to the top had made me a little woozy, anyway. Not usually afraid of heights, there was something about the spiral march to the top of the dome that gave me a touch of vertigo. It was awesome.
And now, it'll be a pretty standard week. Maybe a couple hours of struggling to get a tax-id number, a sum of a few hours on the train to various works and back, and, with any luck, sufficient sleep. Should be pretty uneventful. The constantly-running CNN International being broadcast into my living room will bring me excitement enough - you know, fires in California, flooding in the Congo, Putin, the frenzy of hopeful Democratic presidential candidates. (It turns out that CNN International is much better than its domestic counterpart, thank heavens). Hope all is well elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Just a Little Hello

It's the middle of what is proving to be a fairly long week. With a friend in town and work continuing (thankfully), I haven't had much time to sit and call forth any interesting vignettes, nor have I had the time to find my way to the internet cafe to post any pictures. However, I thought it best to check in.
What's in store for next time:
a. Some lovely pictures and lovely tales from a wonderful weekend in the university town of Leipzig, about two hours from Berlin by car. I know the distance by car because that's how we got there. We don't have a car; rather, we caught a ride there and back with strangers, and it was a very odd and somewhat un-American experience (Americans, as some may know, are wary of long car rides with strangers). Leipzig was beautiful and quite lively, except for a few hours on Sunday afternoon when all the stores were closed.
b. Some images from the still-continuing October Lights festival that's going on here in Berlin. All the major monuments are eerily lit with different colors and flashing lights. I believe they do this because it's beginning to get a little chilly out and it keeps the people still feeling happy. I've never seen so many people with tripods. The Brandenburger Tor and the TV Tower, among other things, are decorated with strange images. It was quite beautiful, and also quite cold.
c. I went into the Reichstag, finally. The wait was thirty or so minutes, though we went at night. During the day, the wait can take hours. It was fairly beautiful on the inside.
I'm sure that by the time I get around to sharing words and images about these things, I will have even more fun times to report on. However, it being past one in the morning, I'll leave it for later. And happy birthday to my Uncle Billy!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

This'll Be a Long One

As I sit listening to the strains of Family Guy in German (not as funny as the original, I'll tell ya), I'm feeling a little longing for home. All is well, though; a little homesickness is to be expected. (The voice on the tv shrieks "Luke Perry ist schwul?")
I've been passing the time working, going to museums, and sometimes venturing outside the city limits to see the ruins of former DDR towns. These ventures have been very interesting, educational, and sometimes frustrating, as I find out that the famed Deutsche Bahn, supposedly the most efficient and punctual rail system in Europe, is not so ideal. We went, last weekend, to a small town about an hour outside Berlin called Brandenburg an der Havel. We sort of structure our lives around the advice of the writers of Lonely Planet guidebooks (a shameless plug but well-deserved) and the lack of information about Brandenburg should've been a sign. However, lovers of desolate Soviet wastelands that we are, we thought we'd take a day trip there. As a town, it's sort of beautiful in a dusty way, a grimy way; there were truly, really cobwebs flying from everything; from signposts, from the corners of buildings, from cars. It was a sign, I think, of abandonment. The streets were nearly empty, and though there were pretty churches, it wasn't very picturesque, all in all. It was obvious that everyone had moved to the West or the city as soon as they could when the wall came down. But, for the most part, it was very quaint and pretty, despite the remnants of a former Russian presence. Well, this can't be called a "remnant", really. It's a little too big.
For viewing purposes
This tower was on top of a hill and offered a view of the whole town. We didn't go up in it. It seemed, somehow, out of place amidst the town's red brick architecture and generally pastoral attitude. And then, returning to Berlin from humble Brandenburg, we weren't able to simply the board the train, due to a collision on the tracks, so we had to stand around with about a hundred and fifty surly Germans who didn't know any more than we did about how to get where we are all going. After about an hour and a half of waiting, a single bus pulled up to save us, which seemed a little meager. We got on it, amidst a lot less pushing than I was expecting, considering the circumstances. The only benefit of this ersatzverkehr was that we were able to see much more of the countryside than we would have otherwise. All in all, it was tiring and frustrating but maybe...and only just maybe...redeemed itself with pretty scenery.
Speaking of pretty scenery... I feel obligated to include this, for the viewers at home.
The Reichstag
It's the Reichstag! Berlin debates and legislates here! I stayed far away from the throngs of tourists! And I went to the museum...
The longer I'm here, the more I am discovering that Berlin is hiding in her vast expanse a multitude of museums and galleries, some so hidden that the only trace of them is a bell at ground level. They are really quite wonderful. Touring these galleries, I'm beginning to see the Berlin that I thought I would find when I arrived here; the modern art, the minimalism and brilliantly ironic design, the freakish photography and video art that leaves me staring for literally minutes at a time (I know, that doesn't seem like a long time, just is). Even the metro stations hang striking, sometimes disturbing art on their greasy, blackened walls. Particularly compelling is this series by Turkish artist Nezaket Ekici, housed in the U2 station at Alexanderplatz.
Nezaket Ekici 2
Nezaket Ekici art in the U-Bahn
The pictures don't do justice to the surreal moment one finds oneself in when one is simply waiting for the train and begins to wonder, what are these pictures doing here? Are they ads? No. They are art.
But I'll close this rather long and rambling episode with a bit of art made by Bradley.
Brad's dinner
What's that, you ask? That's a dinner that he made for us while I was teaching English to a small but loud group of kindergarteners on Monday. It's couscous with a little cinnamon, wraps full of fresh veggies and bierwurst and cheese, and some amazingly fluffy meatballs full of walnuts, onions, cinnamon and coriander. It was a very lovely dinner.
And so, until next time. I'm happy that I get to share, thanks to the wonder of the internet, of which I am still suspicious. It makes me feel a little closer to home.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Oakland, Flashback

I had a dream.
Yesterday I talked to my friend Josh (who, shamefully, doesn't read my blog much) and he told me Oakland was the same ol', same ol'. People getting shot, mattresses in the street, etc. And then, last night, I had this dream.
In the dream, I was living in an apartment on College Avenue, not far from the bookstore where I used to work. Except this version of College was a bit darker and seedier than the affluent wonderland that is Rockridge. In my version, there were dog fights, people getting stabbed, people fighting, trash everywhere. And try as we, the tenants, might, we simply couldn't get the area cleaned up. Call the BPD, they'd say it was the OPD's responsibility. Call the OPD, they'd say Berkeley. Keep in mind this is somewhere around 60th and Telegraph, where the geography is a bit split up like that. That's pretty much all I have to say about that; I just thought it was interesting. Like home reaching out to me with a little bit of irony.
Another version of home reaching out to me (and one much more friendly) is that I went to see Jonathan Lethem read tonight. It was at a gallery called Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt (The House of World Cultures) and it wasn't the sort of intimate, folding-chair reading that I'm used to. It was an auditorium, and complete with very serious commentary by two women in black, who debated and reacted and got into the problems of copyright and influence. I was pleased. Jon Lethem was, actually, wonderful. I think so many stacks of so many copies of his books over the last few years caused me to turn away from him (though some very dear friends of mine endorsed him fervently). He was humble and well-spoken and truly interested in things other than himself (which is not always the case with Very Popular Writers) and so I come away with both thumbs firmly up. Unfortunately, a paperback copy of his new book cost almost 18 Euros, which is about 24 or 25 dollars, and I simply couldn't justify the expense. A shame, that, because the excerpts he read from his newest book, You Don't Love Me Yet, were wonderful.
And so, I had a 24 hour period of little bits of the Bay, and now I'll go back into Berlin, into tandem language partners and tax numbers. Stories from that to follow shortly.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Histories, Personal and Public

As I was saying in my last post, I spent the last week with an old dear friend, and so in tandem with the picture I posted of the two of us as children, here is one from more recent days.
katie and efrat
In addition to being a very complimentary photo of our small kitchen table, it's tangible evidence of something going right. Thank goodness. Now she's gone home but it was very special. Years and years ago, we were friends in a pretty foreign land, and that's the situation once again. I take it to mean that Taiwan 1984 was meant to be, as is Berlin 2007.
She came to Berlin with her longtime boyfriend, and while they were here we traipsed all over the city, in sun and in showers. We went to a Very Huge art opening, Art Forum Berlin, which we were able to get into because one of Efrat's professors had some work in the exhibition. It was a place to see and be seen, for sure, a place where skinny goth women slipped past wealthy fat men smoking cigars, trying to impress their Dynasty-era dates with names and numbers. There were hundreds of people there. It was distracting. I wasn't able to look at the art at all, actually...too much in my periphery. It was, though, fascinating to see such a ground-zero affair.
We went, too, to the Jewish Museum, and I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the permanent collection. The special exhibitions were works by Charlotte Salomon and Chantal Akerman, and both of them were beautiful. A picture of the Akerman installation:
Chantal Akerman installation
I was proud that I could even make this picture come out properly. It was an awesome installation, and I didn't do it justice, but I tried.
Other than these visiting shows, though, the permanent museum was a bit - how should I say - pandering? Thousands of years of Jewish history in Fun! Interactive! Multicolored! displays. It was as if they were trying to make it digestible. It looked like a children's museum. The design of the building is supposed to be groundbreaking, and I suppose the fact that the only entrance or exit to the building is underground is fairly interesting, but the whole thing was a bit pat. The only piece of interest was the clanging, ghostly Memory Void.
memory void, afar
There, you had to walk over all these iron faces, mouths agape, and each of them made a horrible, sharp noise, ringing against all the other screaming faces. It was quite haunting, but it was the only part of the museum that evoked any emotion in me whatsoever. Try as I might, I couldn't walk quietly.
And now, in two days, we'll celebrate German Unity. I'll have two whole days blissfully free, and I'll go to museums, be a tourist/artist as I stop in the middle of sidewalk to get lost/take a picture, and I'll try and relax a little after a couple weeks of endless running around. I'll be in touch.