Friday, August 11, 2006

The Homecoming

Aptly enough, on my plane ride back to Hong Kong I finished reading Bernhard Schlink's new book "Die Heimkehr" or "The Homecoming". Best known as the author of the best-selling "Der Vorleser" or "The Reader" (which caused quite a literary sensation upon its publication in 1997 and is now read by everyone in Germany from Abitur-students to housewives), Schlink is trained in law and is a professor of Rechtsphilosophie (Philosophy of Justice) at the Humboldt in Berlin, but started his literary career writing crime thrillers. "Der Vorleser" caused a sensation because of the juicy/graphic descriptions of a relationship between a 15 year old boy and a 30 something year old woman, but the most controversial aspect of the novel was the revelation of the woman's role in an act of Nazi atrocity, pitting the law-student protagonist's abstractly idealistic notions of justice against his conflicting emotions for his former lover. By the end I was so caught up in the story that I ended up bawling at the conclusion, yet beyond its emotional factor, the success of The Reader was due to its brave voicing of his '68 generation's ambiguous feelings towards their fatherland's horrific past.

I remember reading Der Vorleser for the first time in English (unfortunately it garnered the attention it did from Oprah's book club) and flipped through the book in two hours in a Borders. I wasn't impressed by the flat prose and the unlikely plotline. So when I found out we were reading it in the original for my German 4 class senior year of high school, I was less than thrilled. However, I quickly realized that the English translation had lost much of the simple elegance and turns of phrases present in the original. The prose was chillingly direct, stalkingly beautiful, complex and succinct. I became so emotionally caught up in the story that I ended up bawling at the conclusion, and now it's one of my favorite books hands down, in any language.

Of course, one of the critiques often heard about Der Vorleser was that it beautified or excused Nazi actions since the novel's ostensible representative of Nazi power was crafted with such compassion. How dare he give an ex-Nazi protagonist a complexly human facet--with the ability to love and the propensity to hurt? But by no means does Schlink excuse the actions of his fathers. In fact, quite the opposite: he simply wanted to capture the crisis of conscience that confronted so many in his generation, the students of '68 who clamored for a more honest discourse about Nazi horrors and the complications throbbing in WWII's aftermath. Yes, our grandfathers were Nazis, and yes they are to blame--but how much of their actions came of their own volition? or were they simply caught up in the banality of horror, as Arendt said?

Schlink's protagonists stand at the crossroads of Germany's national history and private sorrow. Like characters in a Greek tragedy, they pick their lot according to the bad hand Fate dealt them--a function of being an unwitting subject in the problematic history of their Fatherland. Die Heimkehr deals with especially problematic fields in the history and philosophy of law and transfers them into the realm of suspenseful fiction. Schlink uses Homer's Odyssey as a leitmotif to weave together Germany's most significant recent historical events (Nazism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, problems of Reunification) with the protagonist's search for the mysterious figure who left behind a trail of written tracts that theorize justice not according to any conventionally moral standards, but rather to a perversion of the "golden rule" (do unto others what you would others do unto you) called the "iron rule" that essentially justifies any act of evil because it preempts an expected act of evil from the opponent. "Das Buch ist böse", says one disgusted protagonist of these tracts [the book is evil]. How much more complicated then, when this starry-eyed Odysseus discovers the sins and secrets of his father--and realizes that the notions of justice that he holds true to his heart run contrary to those of the man whose blood courses in his veins?

This journey takes him through tests and trials to the heart of a philosophical darkness wherein life begins to imitate art - most unsettling is how Schlink charts the way this "iron rule" easily metamorphoses from disturbing abstraction into harrowing reality. The climax purposely alludes (I think) to Holocaust accounts, a la Wiesel or Levi. The specific moment where the protagonist understands the banal notions that propagated such extreme evils illustrates how innocent millions were taken to the slaughter based on seemingly intellectual, justified grounds in the Third Reich. Die Heimkehr is a tour de force of penetrating philosophical inquiry bound up in a suspenseful story of love relationships.

What does this actually have to do with my own Heimkehr? Well, reading the book certainly made me hunger for more Schlink, or at least for people with whom I could discuss him and such themes. After coming back this time to Hong Kong, I realized with alarmingly apocalyptic clarity that this is not the place where I can be at home spiritually. It's an uncomfortable part of growing up when you realize the home that you loved so much growing up cannot remain your home forever. I know it's quite coarse for me to dismiss the entire population of such a cosmopolitan city and say no one here cares about history, philosophy, literature, art, music, etc. etc...but there are certain objective standards that betray the geist of the city, such as quality of bookstores, cultural monuments, average person's value/worth judgments. In any case, it's good to be home, but just like Odysseus or Schlink's protagonist, I will be off again pretty soon after my homecoming. And just like them, I vow never to rest until I've found a spiritual resting place.

p.s. some of you may know I write a weekly column in the English section of a daily newspaper in HK, Ming Pao Daily. I've been writing for almost a year now, but starting in September they'll be making some changes to the page and will be discontinuing my column. Auf wiedersehn to that, I guess...but I've been grateful for the opportunity to chronicle such an eventful year--I doubt I would've had the discipline to write so much had I not had deadlines to meet. But my energies will be directed other forms of writing!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Goodbye to Berlin

In German, the phrase for “to say farewell” translates literally to “to take farewell.” I find this somehow more poetic than the English phrase because it signifies a palpable loss or taking away from the thing or person at hand.

Today is my last day in Berlin. More than six months ago, in anticipation of my time in the same city, I’d read Christopher Isherwood’s memoirs, “Goodbye to Berlin.” These loosely connected narratives incisively and empathetically capture portraits of the characters he met while working as an English teacher in 1930s Berlin. His sketches convey the chaos and confusion of the bustling, volatile Weimar Republic, parting decadently as it was poised on the brink of a fascist takeover. One of the most famous lines from this work is as follows: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” The influence of the booming film industry and fascination with a new visual culture is manifested in these words. For Isherwood, Berlin was a heady confluence of the rush of people, cabarets and cabs. He simply allowed the onrush of images to seep into his mind and eagerly recorded these fleeting impressions with words, mixing in snatches of his own subconscious.

I recently visited the Bauhaus Archive and saw a small display of pioneer photographer and artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s photogramms, a form of sans-camera photography that consisted of light-sensitive paper being exposed to objects, culminating in dynamic and interesting light patterns. Not knowing that photographs could be created without cameras before, I immediately became fascinated with the intense subjectivity of these photographs. When Moholy-Nagy did use a camera, he would allow Berlin street scenes to turn out unfocussed and blurry, as if providing a companion illustration to Isherwood’s contemporaneous observations of the exciting and bewildering city.

I have certainly taken a fair amount of pictures with my camera while living here for the past six months, but my most precious images of Berlin have been pressed into my mind, like an invisible photogram. The past week has been a rush of “Goodbye to Berlin” activities and at first I tried to snap pictures at every turn, but quickly realized the futility of the activity.
I will remember walking from the TV Tower at three in the morning along Alte Jakobstrasse, the street I took every morning on my bike to go to the Berlinische Galerie, and noticing for the first time that further up the street ran the diagonal seam of bricks demarcating the former location of the Berlin Wall. I’ll remember the train running over Hallesches Ufer with two swans drifting under the bridge at the exact same moment, then turning the corner and seeing the sun come up over my street at five in the morning.

Isherwood and Moholy-Nagy both knew that the only constant in the clash of urbanity and art is fleeting instability. No images or words can pin down the essence of a heavy glance, a brief flash, a silent moment in conversation. Years from now, my pictures of Berlin will evoke fond memories for me, but they are only shadows of the pictures and sights captured in my imagination and memory.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Silent Films, Starry Night

Berliners love the summer. It’s the season when beer gardens spring up in the middle of the city, when groups travel en masse for bathing in the lakes, when grill parties dot the landscape of every public park, and when films are screened in the open air. The city-wide “Freiluftkinos” (“open-air cinemas”) show a mix of new hits and old classics and attract an equally varied crowd nearly every night of the week. Last Saturday, underneath the cool Berlin night sky, a friend and I saw two silent films from the 1920s accompanied on live piano music by renowned silent-film accompanist Carsten-Stephan Graf von Bothmer.

While freely mixing themes from classical, jazz and pop music, Graf von Bothmer perfectly improvises along to the film and matches his playing to the story. I observed him as he played: not for a single second did he take his eyes of the screen. He seemed to want to absorb himself into the film—his eyes glowed in euphoria as he trilled and clanged away, adding musical color to the black and white images on screen. As the audience laughed, he laughed along too. The whole time I couldn’t help thinking (well, other than the sound-synths from his computer and the DVD-projector), this must have been similar to how audiences in the Twenties enjoyed their silent movies.

The first short film was called “The Mysteries of a Hairsalon” from 1922, directed by Erich Engel and Bertolt Brecht and starring Karl Valentin, famed for his exaggeratedly long nose and macabre wit. In the film he plays a hairdresser who cuts off the head of a client, but then fastens it back on with a bit of tape. Foil-sword duels and pop-gun shoot offs ensue. A touch of the vaudeville comes through the hinted-at love story between an angry client and the hairdresser’s female apprentice. I was kind of unnerved by the slightly racist overtones of the film though (the aforementioned angry client is angry because he's been made to look like a Mandarin, with a two-pronged beard and has had his beard moved to the top of his bald head. What's wrong with having a topknot??), but I suppose I'm just too 21st Century PC.

I found the second film much more entertaining: “The Oyster Princess” from 1919, directed by Ernst Lubitsch (the Jewish filmmaker who later emigrated to Hollywood and made the classic anti-Hitler comedy “To Be or Not To Be”), is a riotous comedy of errors set against a visually opulent mansion ruled over by a profligate patriarch, Mister Quaker. His spoiled daughter, played by Ossi Oswalda, threatens to throw a tantrum big enough to tear the mansion down if she doesn’t get to marry a real live prince. An old matchmaker ferrets out the dingy quarters of impoverished Prince Nucki—a cocky gambler and drinker who keeps one loyal servant by his side, the incorrigibly simple Josef. Jam-packed in this gloriously low-brow slapstick are, amongst other things, a female boxing match, a phalanx of masseuses, an outbreak of the “foxtrot epidemic”, and a wedding so large and fabulous that it would make J.Lo's seem paltry. Through a series of not-too-sober misunderstandings and naughty hints of innuendo, the happy couple finally gets together and everyone goes home happy. Lubitsch’s sets and scenes were spectacularly designed, and he kept the tempo quick and the atmosphere light as in an opera buffa, with a bite of satire to boot.

Somehow the evening hearkened back to an era I had only read about in books, when Berlin was carefree and risqué and fast living was the order of the day. The Twenties were the short-lived summertime in Germany before the winter specter of Fascism set in. Now at the height of the summer almost ninety years after the films were first shown, Berliners were enjoying a valued cultural inheritance from that era. And the fact that such a large audience showed up to a silent film shows that the spirit of the Golden Age is still very much alive.

Monday, July 10, 2006


To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really want to go on the required excursion to Dresden arranged by our study abroad program at first —my parents were in town, I had research to do for my final papers, and on the night of the World Cup semi final we were scheduled to attend a staging of Verdi’s Macbeth at the Semper Opera House. Plus my friend who was there for a day en route to Prague had mentioned that due to postwar reconstruction, the city had a strange Disneylandish vibe about it. Short of “It’s a Small World” humming out of speakers disguised as lampposts, the center of the Old City did feel somewhat inauthentic. But much to my pleasurable surprise, it didn’t take long before the lovingly restored churches and spectacular Baroque palaces worked their magic—and I became smitten with Dresden.

As the capital of Saxony, Dresden has a long history of economic and cultural influence in Eastern Germany. Dresden’s architecture and art constituted the showpieces of the Saxon kings' might—the Semper Opera House, built in 1841 by Gottfried Semper, is a cultural icon in Germany and world-renowned for the quality of its performances. The cavernous house was decorated in breathtaking grandeur that put Berlin’s State Opera House to shame. Plus, their particular staging of Macbeth, in comparison to the one I’d already seen in Berlin, was correspondingly more impressive. The performance had me riveted to the seat, so much so that I forgot about France versus Portugal!

I was most impressed, however, by the array of quality art Dresden has in its various museums. The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister contains the most famous pair of cherubs in art history, the two puzzled putti at the bottom of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus of 1508 was to be seen next to the work of his friend Titian. The galleries also had an impressive array of Rembrandt paintings as well as two Vermeers. The Art Academy was having an exhibition of “Rodin in Germany,” which focused on the French sculptor’s influence and relationships with notable contemporary German artists and intellectuals, such as cultural critic Georg Simmel, one of his earliest dealers Georg Treu, and poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who actually worked as Rodin’s secretary for a while.

Dresden’s New City district, populated mostly by students from its Technical University, felt like the trendy Prenzlauer Berg district in Berlin with its array of ethnic restaurants and hip novelty boutiques. There was the Kunsthofpassage (“art courtyard passage”) that united a felt craft workshop with art, music, dance studios and a calligraphy store, along with a Vietnamese restaurant behind a decorated wall that displayed a “water show” on the hour. This is not to say, however, that my friend was entirely wrong about the kitschiness of Dresden’s Old Town. Dresden’s Frauenkirche, reduced to a pile of rubble by British airpilots in WWII, was recently reopened to much fanfare after a decade of painstaking restoration. Indeed, they organized old blackened portions of the church with new stone masonry, giving the distinctive dome and exterior an interesting hybrid façade.

After an introductory video tried to impress us with its thorough documentation of the rebuilding efforts (accompanied by appropriately sentimental horn music), we stepped inside the church…and I immediately wanted to shield my eyes from the blindingly gaudy gold leaf, blue/pink/yellow paint juxtaposed with pseudo nouveau-Baroque paintings. Kitschy doesn’t even begin to describe the tastelessness with which the interior was outfitted—though I suppose it provides an interesting case study for post-period aesthetics, by which I mean it is easier to call certain artwork beautiful merely because the ameliorating effects of age have rendered them so. What I feel they should have done with the Frauenkirche—it being an important memorial to the centrality of faith despite human folly—is to leave the interior as austerely simple as possible, or even built around it, like the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. As a testament to post-war generations’ efforts to literally lift the city out of the rubble, a minimalist design would have been more appropriate, and truer, to the project of memorializing.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Balls to the Berlin Wall

It has begun--the World Cup fever has officially set in with the summer heat in Germany. The past week has been pretty crazy: enjoying the raucous atmosphere at the Kulturbrauerei for the opening game between Germany and Costa Rica (beer and bratwurst galore), pushing through crowds/gasping for air at the opening of the Fan Mile in front of the Brandenburg Gate (B-list singers but enjoyed Pele's gracious presence), and cheering loudly in front of drunk 16 year old Americans at the adidas World of Football stadium, despite the US's embarassing play against the Czech Republic. As much as I am the most unpatriotic pseudo-American ever, I still liked to think that our boys could put on a good fight against the 2nd-seeded team in the tournament (and perhaps the best in Europe). Obviously that was too much to ask. I mean, what can one expect, when you call it by a different name, that may just compromise how well you play FOOTBALL. It just goes to show that in this case, the US can't just make up a sport and declare itself "World Champions" when only its own teams play within the league--as in basketball, baseball, American football (i.e. rugby for wimps) etc. Enough griping...I guess we couldn't hope for a last minute turnaround as the Ozzies did with Japan. At least there was some goals to see, unlike the French and the Swiss. The Czechs are actually my favorites amongst the Europeans, much more impressive than the Germans...oh, did I just say that? Yeah, it's hard to be amongst the entire German populace who keeps chanting "Deutschland wird Weltmeister" every two seconds...but the team's more likeable now that Ollie Kahn's monster-bear face is no longer constantly scowling from one end of the pitch. Nonetheless I felt it my duty to show my quasi-loyalty to the host country (who FINALLY granted me a visa, 3 months later), so I halfheartedly bought a 1.99 euro mini-flag from a random emporium on KuDamm. As an afterthought to my huge Brazil flag, of course. (and as for my even larger US flag...oh well, at least I can reuse it on July 4th.)

But tonight, after watching the Brazil-Croatia game, all I can say is, Kaka is the SHIT, pun fully intended. (It doesn't hurt that he's some eye-candy on the pitch.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

An der Wildbahn 33

I woke up to a blustery grey day and felt kind of light-headed and dizzy (from too much dancing and too little sleep) as I went to meet my boss, the curator of the artists' archives division at the Berlinische Galerie. We were driving that day to Heiligensee, a suburb right on the northenmost edge of Berlin city limits, to Hannah Höch's old abode at An der Wildbahn 33 for an afternoon with some members of the BG's foundation.

To most people she's known for being the lone female representative of the Berlin Dada-movement and for her daring lifestyle during Weimar/pre-Third Reich times (she was the mistress of Raoul Haussmann for time and after their lengthy but stormy relationship, her next serious partner was Dutch authoress Til Brugman). She was married for a short time to doctor and pianist Kurt Matthies, but she broke it off in 1944 because "I wanted children and he wanted a mother."

Her photomontages were some of the most polemically feminist and aesthetically innovative works ever created in the 20th century and it was a genre she mastered and whose singular style she even carried over to oils (like in The Bride, the painting below in the previous post). This one is called Roma:

Although hardcore Dadaists like Hans Arp reveled in the mechanization of mankind (a la the Italian Futurists), HH refused let go of that rural small-town girl part of her aesthetic vision. In 1939, after all her Dada compatriots had fled the country, she spent a good portion of her inheritance and her own income as a designer for the Ullstein publishing house on the estate in Heiligensee. She cultivated her garden according to her own tastes and whims, and as a result her small little garden feels like a nature-collage: cacti are plopped up right next to lilacs, a cherry tree grows over a patch of asters, next to a tropical flower called dim-dam which gives off a lemongrassy aroma. One can really feel lost and disoriented in this small little garden. We watched two videos in what used to be her atelier (now taken over as the studio of the artist who lives there now with his family). The first one was made in 1975, three years before her death. I was struck by how lively and gregarious she was, even as a white haired little lady of 83. She actually had a very girlish giggle after she would say something brash or amusing. HH was a student of Emil Orlik's in Berlin, a fact I somehow find so apt because in Prague I was particularly impressed by Orlik's work (I had never heard of him before) that I wrote his name down and my thoughts on him at the time. Anyway, HH really impressed me as a person, from what I could tell from the video.

The second one we watched was much more haunting. It was taken by her nephew exactly two weeks after her death in 1978. Nothing had been moved or disturbed in her house or garden--he recorded it on his amateurish Super 8 videorecorder and provided a languidly monotone voiceover commentary. The only moving things on screen were the flowers nodding in the breeze, the leaves rustling through the grass. No people, no animals; just the living plants that HH left behind. The commentary mostly consisted of free-association memories of his aunt and incredibly insightful quotes from and about the artist herself. Near the beginning of the film, as we see stuttering images from her garden, he says: "Hannah Höch war meine Tante. Es gibt kein Garten, der so wie meiner Onkel ist wie dieser." (
Hannah Höch was my aunt. There is no garden that is so like my uncle like this one.) She never had any children and loved her nieces and nephews dearly, but she often talked about her flowers as if they were her children.

During WWII and the following Soviet takeover, Höch kept her art collection in a tiny attic hidden underneath a trapdoor. She was afraid the fascists would come and take away her and her friends' "degraded art", as they were so labeled once. It struck me sitting there in her old atelier that there must have been something about this house and her garden that compelled her to stay there through the worst of times. It was not just a source of inspiration to her, but it was her private paradise that sustained her sense of beauty in a destroyed world.

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai

When Schubert wrote that Lied he was most probably soaking up the sun in the Wienerwälder and not freezing his Austrian heiny off up North in Prussia. May in Vienna may be warm, but it sure as hell is not in Berlin. With apologizes to Chaucer, apparently here it's April flowers bring May showers, as proved by a German folks' belief in a period called "Eisheiligen" when it gets really really cold all of a sudden after it's been warm and sunny for a while, so that all the plants freeze and die overnight. Lovely, huh? Now after getting caught in the rain at Unter den Linden I'm afraid I've caught a lite sneeze. So ein Mist.

Wednesday night I went to see Fellini's Intervista at Arsenal on Potsdamer Platz with Tandem partner #2, Linda who studies fashion design at the technical college here. She dreams about going to FIT in New York for a year and wants to make fashion "for fat people, because fat people can be fashionable too." Coming from a 5'8" girl who weighed maybe 115 pounds, this was quite an interesting statement.

Linda had never seen any Fellini before so unfortunately missed a lot of the allusions in the film. Not that I've seen much from him either, but I have to say that one must have at least seen Fellini's masterwork La Dolce Vita before seeing this one to enjoy it to its fullest. For example, the emotional crux of the movie is the moment where Anita Ekberg and Marcello Maistroianni sit and watch the famous Trevi fountain scene from La Dolce Vita. The looks on their faces were magical in their tragic tenderness as they watched shadows of their younger, reckless selves dancing in the heat of a distant Roman night now projected on a least it was immortalized on film forever. It was depressing though to see how corpulently wrinkly Anita had become, or how Marcello was still (disturbingly enough) incorrigibly sleazy but was now just a D.O.M. instead of a sexy Italian actor. I prefer remembering them as they were in their younger years: moody, aloof, and stunningly beautiful. Screw nostalgia when you can have escapism, right? Later that night I had a "I'm young and can do whatever the hell I want because I'm in Berlin" night, which basically meant chilling at Tom and his Viennese roomate's apartment with six other cool kids til 5 in the morning, and then walking home from Hallesches Tor, which although not far, is not exactly a hop and a skip away.

Thursday, Christi Himmelfahrt/Ascension. public holiday. Everything was closed, the weather was shit, I went to the gym and had lunch with Jeylan at 4pm on Bergmannstrasse and was unproductive until it was time to meet Manaal for dinner at Felix. This place was ridiculous, like nothing I had ever seen in Berlin before or could even imagine possible for Berlin. The restaurant/club is located off the Brandenburger Tor behind the Adlon Palais complex. Limos cruised in front of the marquee-banquette, the bouncers screened people for sneakers and good looks, and I had to wait in line at 8pm to get in for dinner. Inside, the music was thumping, the lights were spinning, video screens were projecting the requisite ass and titties videos and the people were shaking their thangs while holding up glasses of Sekt.
It could've easily been Asia de Cuba or Tao or home--and that was a totally out-of-body, out-of-Berlin experience I had for a night. I was back in New York!

I had dinner with Manaal and her mom, grandmother and siblings as well as their unofficial "guide" in Berlin, a German-Iranian plastic surgeon to the stars named Koko who has a world-renowned clinic in Potsdam. It is world-renowned because it is the only clinic in the world which guarantees an orgasm after a transsexual operation. In any case, it was quite an interesting experience seeing this sleekly dressed stocky middle-aged man purr and fawn on Manaal's dowager-empress of a grandmother, who was imposing as a walrus as she sat there swathed in sari and jewels and nodding her head sagely to "Pump It". Manaal's badass beautiful mother ordered us two glasses of red wine each at dinner, then after our overpriced and underwhelming meal ordered us a bottle of Sekt while the grandmother went off to gamble ("my grandmother LOVES to gamble") and led the way to the dancefloor. Partying with Manaal's mom?? Hells yeah! Afterwards Manaal and I went to my favorite hookah lounge in Kreuzberg, Die rote Harfe on Oranienplatz and smoked peach hookah over way too much douchebaggy Ivy League talk with Tom and his friend Andy. Then I walked back home from Hallesches Tor again.

I ran around all day Friday: grocery shopping at Lidl/Turkish Market, shopping shopping with Manaal, her mom and sister around Hackescher Markt (her grandmother went off to shop by herself as she mumbled something about Harrods; Manaal's brother dutifully accompanied the dowageress to KaDeWe), and then Mac-and-Cheeseing for Rebekah's down home, Southern cooking potluck dinner. We feasted on barbeque chicken, green beans, watermelon and banana pudding, and listened to way more country music than I would've liked. I also drank a lot of Berliner Pilsner, which would have been unimaginable for me less than 4 months ago. But since coming to Germany I've discovered that beer does not actually taste like carbonated piss and does not have to be drank out of a plastic cup while waiting in the keg line at a gross frat party and hoping that the drunk sorority chick behind you doesn't spill/boot all over. Nein, in fact beer is extremely civilized and a light something for an easy night. Plus, as someone wise once said to me, not drinking beer in Germany is like not drinking tea in China.

In addition to changing my mind about beer, I've also changed my mind about techno music since coming to Berlin. I took Manaal to Watergate, a gorgeous club right on the water at Schlesisches Tor. One side of the club is made up of all floor length windows which look onto the Spree. There's also a small barge right on the river, which would be stunning in the summer (dancing out there on the river til dawn??) but since it was pissing with rain no one was out there. Instead, Tom, Andy, Santiago, Manaal and I danced to music that I used to deplore but found myself somehow enjoying, the ringing in my ears notwithstanding. At 4 in the morning Manaal decided to go home because they were flying back to London the next morning, and I said a fond farewell to dear Manaal (I'm not going to see her until spring semester senior year!!) at yes, Hallesches Tor; and yes, guess how I got home. I deserve a medal for walking all that much in my heels.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

You don't send me anymore

Since my roomate's been gone traveling in Israel I've basically had my apartment to myself. Being alone definitely has its perks (walking around naked/blasting music from the living room/watching endless DVDs in her room that doubles as the living room) but I've gotten so lonely sometimes that I've taken to talking to the furniture. I've just been going a little whacko perhaps. Also I think I'm losing a lot of steam and Begeisterung for being in Berlin. No, I still like it here a lot, but this past week I've had such annoying brushes with the notoriously evil German beauracracy that I've had more than my fair share of "I hate Berlin" days. For one, my student visa is not yet ready despite three weeks of just waiting, which means if I want to go to Spain in June I have to haul ass at 6 in the morning tomorrow to go to the main office and retrieve my passport from a pile somewhere on a bitter, bored clerk's desk. And I can't get my 110 euros of "greeting money" from the city of Berlin for moving to Berlin and being a student (yay socialism!) unless I go back to the city hall and wait in line and get a stamp, even though I already have a stamp that is for the exact same purpose, but on another piece of paper. GAH!!!

Enough bitching. Wait, actually I lied. I need to bitch about one more thing: classes here. Nothing to write home about. Quite honestly, I would actually feel bad for asking for credit for them. For one, not only do they meet only once a week for "two hours" (actually one and a half), half an hour of that time or more is taken up by whichever student is giving a presentation (Referat) on a topic that day. The professor doesn't actually do any teaching per se, other than sporadic comments in reaction the student's presentation. And if no one signed up for a presentation topic, we just don't talk about it. For one of my classes (Art and Play, avant gardism and the theory of play in 20th-21st century art) our professor did not give us a syllabus, but rather narrated the syllabus to us on the first day of class. And no one wanted to do the Referat on Dada because it was the first actual class and too early in the semester. I asked her about the readings and the "reader" is a bound binder of some photocopied texts that aren't required ("you can read them if you want", she said) and is in the library, which is only open from 10 to 5 Mondays to Thursdays and 10 to 4 on Fridays. Weekends?! Fugeddaboutit. University libraries are never open on weekends because hey, librarians have social rights too--rights to their 38 hr work week. (boo socialism!)

Last Fri night was pretty crazy: we celebrated Dan's 21st birthday with food, wine and dancing at his place, then headed to Sage Club where my Tandem-language partner Luiza somehow convinced me to take a dip in the reflection pool there. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. But oh fuck was it cold. After attempting to "dance" off the water I hauled my wet ass home and then took a hot shower to make sure I wouldn't get a cold. Guess Germans don't believe in heating their reflection pools.

Luiza's this cute Polish girl who's striking it out on her own in Berlin to study translation (she wants to be a simultaneous translator and is learning 5 languages), she's in her second semester and is living in an apartment in Neukölln, known as the roughest part of town and has the highest crime rate in all Berlin (in all Germany, perhaps). To make money she works at a betting office around the corner from her place, which is where she met Siddik, her big Turkish boyfriend. It's quite a sight seeing blonde buxom Luiza with her swarthy Turkish man, but they've been together for two years already and just took a trip to Egypt together. So that's sweet.

I watched Veronika Voss a couple of days ago, it's the 3rd and last installment of Fassbinder's BRD trilogy. I remember seeing Maria Braun at MoMA a year ago and was totally blown away by the ending, literally--no pun intended, for those who've seen it. Fassbinder chose to film it in black and white in a hyper-stylized mode that cites American crime noir movies of the 50s as well as the archetypal washed-up-eccentric-old movie star story, Sunset Boulevard. This fits the conceit of the film perfectly because Veronika Voss tries to convince others around her that she has contracts lined up with MGM, 20th C Fox and the other big American film production companies of that age. Ominous reminders of the critique of Hollywoodization (or Americanization of film/society/culture) come in the form of creepy country music tunes piping in at bizarre moments throughout the film. All in all, the film is a very apt example of good narrative cinema that effectively embodies the ideals of the New German Cinema...I say narrative because Prof. Levin has us watching weird shit like Straub and Huillet's documentary-like, boring as hell Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach.

Just came back from Belle & Sebastian at Columbiahalle. They were so hilarious and endearing and tons of fun on stage. Some chick had the balls to shout her name "Alice!" to Stuart and he started spinning some psuedo-yarn about Alice while Stevie played Jonathan David, then Alice was invited to go up on stage and she danced with her plastic pfand beer cups. Amazing. A really short American hippiesh chick behind us was pontificating loudly about her existence in Germany: "I mean, it's so empty and meaningless anyway--I don't really have a purpose here unless it's being American for a living, for my German students." Is that so? I wonder what motivates someone just to pick up their lives and pack up and spin a globe or stand blindfolded in front of a map and stick their finger at somewhere on the globe and say "hm, I think I'll just go and teach English in, oh, Berlin for a couple of years." Would I ever be brave, reckless or spontaneous enough to do something like that? Maybe it's because I've been having doubts about wanting to come back here for a whole year to do research for art history after graduation. Berlin's a great town for it, no doubt, but how far will that really take me in terms of where I want to be in life?

I FINALLY rented Match Point and watched it last night. I thought it wasn't that spectacular and although the best part (the last third) was good, it certainly is not "the best American film this year." An American film with English pretentions certainly does not qualify as such. Some of the lines of dialogue were just laughable. Yet I did like the subtle hints of upper class philistinism in the Andrew Lloyd Webber reference as well as the disgusting art work that Chloe handles and puts on the walls. I would like to know, however, which aria keeps getting played throughout the entire movie (espesh when he goes to the kitchen and sees **SPOILER ALERT** the ghosts of Nola and Mrs. Isby). What is its significance, pray someone with a good opera background please enlighten me.

Alright, off to brave German bureaucracy in a few hours. That's probably one aspect of the DDR that lives strong and is encouraged to persist--hm, how to inculcate Ausländers' lives with much, much more red tape than necessary? After all, I'm here technically illegally anyway because I'm already enrolled and going to classes at the uni even though I don't have a student visa. Was auch immer. I think this country is pissing me off because it's been pissing with rain for the past week. I bought tickets to go to sunny Spain in late June and I am so, so, so looking forward to that.