Monday, April 17, 2006

Tee und Mitleid

Back at the Cafe Sarotti-Hoefe, known as my second home. My actual home's Internet is kaputt, so I have to haul Günther everywhere (for the uninitiated, Günther is the name of my darling laptop) to enjoy access to the online world. There's been so much going on that I don't know where to begin. I guess I'll just describe my daily thrills and spills which add up to a mosaic of happiness.

I've now included a link on my blog to Another Country, the wonderfully quaint English secondhand bookstore around the corner from my apartment. Amy and I met Sean, originally from Philly but now working a theater technician and celebrating his 12th year in Berlin. He spoke English softly and haltingly, his accent no doubt tempered by years of speaking deutsch. "I was originally doing a round-the-world trip, but I somehow stuck around Berlin. My son was born here and now he's 11. Whoa!" He told us, seemingly surprised himself by this fact. Sean told us about Alan, the British man who founded and owns the bookstore, whom I had the pleasure to meet a couple of days later. While holding a big pot of cabbage soup he told Kate and I about his Friday dinner/movie/book group meetings in which he cooks dinner for twenty plus people...Amy and I vow one of these days to go there and flirt with members of the Berlin expat intellegentsia. And also to stalk Jeffrey Eugenides, who apparently lives in Kreuzberg. My roomate Esther has spotted him and I am determined to have some literary-celebrity sightings myself.

(Random side note: the cafe is now playing a German version of Puff the Magic Dragon. And the disco ball is turning around and around. I finally put two and two together yesterday and realized that the reason why all the waiters in this cafe seemed a little "alternative" may have something to do with the fact that the Schwules (Gay) Museum is one door down. Ah, Kreuzberg.)

My new favorite museum in Berlin: the Pergamon Museum. I never thought I'd care so much about ancient Greek and Roman art, but I was quite taken with the sculptures in this place. As soon as one enters one is confronted with a huge reconstruction of the Athena altar at Pergamon, an ancient capital of Greece. Funnily enough I was reminded of the
Low Steps at Columbia--in terms of the marble flight of steps, creating an imposing facade sitting high above everything else. There was an incredible frieze that narrated the story of Telephos, the mythical founder of Pergamon who was wronged by Achilles and sought revenge but ended up founding a cult instead. The Gates of Babylon were also incredible--the curator of the Pergmaon in the early 20s had basically lifted a huge section of gorgeous colored tiles from Babylon and reconstructed them in Berlin. I remember being slightly disturbed by the fact that these amazing artefacts were all in Berlin, and not in Athens, or Turkey, or reaction is really a blend of incredulousness that they managed to transport these colossal works halfway across a continent, but I'm also reminded of the violence that must have been a part of acquiring and removing these things from situ to begin with. It is slightly troubling, I must admit. I'm still not very sure where I stand in terms of "art belonging to the nation" debate. I remember being convinced by Kwame Antony Appiah's argument, namely that it would be absurd to label one work of art as belonging to nations that a) no longer exist; b) never existed according to the contemporary geographical or cultural definition. The romantic part of me (I, who have never been to Greece or Turkey or Iran) somehow wished the statues of one specific grave could be displayed together in its original place, yet the rational part of me knows that had those works stayed in those countries, we probably would never have known about it--worse still, would probably be destroyed today. I also hopped over to the Alte Nationalgalerie but other than Manet's In the Conservatory, it didn't really have anything particularly breathtaking, unfortunately. And now the Neue Nationalgalerie is completely given over to the much touted Melancholie exhibit, which is much hype but not so great in reality...but I won't bitch about how badly the Caspar David Frierichs were hung, or how inexplicable the inclusion of certain fruit still lives were as they hung next to Goya portraits.

Kate was in town for the past week and I had a great time exploring and hanging out with her. I also went to the Stars concert at Magnet Club in Prenzlauerberg. I nearly got trampled by the crowds at the beginning, but it was totally worth it to get a view of Amy Milan and her Montreal men. The band was great and they also appreciated the audience--I'll never forget the guy who shouted "eins, zwei, drei, vier!" at one point during a song--the frontman really dug that. In his cute Canadian accent, he effusively said something about thanking

us that the Stars can be "a part of the soundtrack to your lives". That comment was pretty scoff-worthy at the time, but it occurred to me as I was running around Kreuzberg blasting Stars on my iPod a day later that yeah, they totally are part of the soundtrack to my life in Berlin--just like Sufjan on the beach, Iron and Wine on the plane (I'm seeing him and Calexico here in May), Wilco in the subway.

Saturday night a bunch of kids from the program celebrated the end of the verdammtes Sprachpraktikum by going to Weekend, a highly hyped club on Alexanderplatz. (For the exact level of hysterical hype from the NYT Travel section, please see my post below.) Weekend's big selling point was that it was located on the 12th floor of a building and boasted a view over Berlin. Um yeah, but that basically meant one looked over Soviet-era Plattenbau and DDR highways. One could say it was a wannabe version of Aqua or every other place in Hong Kong with its killer view of the Hong Kong Harbor. But I sound like a snob. A good time was had by all in any case.

Books: I finished reading Max Frisch's Homo Faber. It's fucking incredible. It completely blew me away. It tells the story of Walter Faber, a Swiss engineer going through a midlife crisis. I won't relate the details of the novel here, but it's basically a modern rewriting of Oedipus Rex--except the transgression is with his daughter and not his mother. In any case, it's incredible. I'm deciding whether or not to continue with Schnitzler's Traumnovelle (aka. Eyes Wide Shut) or finally read Mann ist Mann by Brecht, which I saw at the Berliner Ensemble last week. It is kind of ridiculous that theater tickets cost 7 euros, opera tickets 8 euros--two weeks ago the Academic Director of our program, Prof. David Levin
got us tickets to the Generalprobe (dress rehearsal) of the new production of Tristan and Isolde. It couldn't have been more different from the version I saw in Vienna. The stage was set up like a panoramic cinema screen, none of the characters touched or looked at each other really, and the entire 'scape was very dreamlike and slow. Whoever lit it was a genius. The Verfremdungseffekt doesn't quite work for Wagner, unfortunately--still it was cool to get to go to the staff cafeteria, under and past backstage in the Staatsoper, rubbing shoulders with the members of the cast and crew.

Film: Saw Das Leben der Anderen, a film about the Stasi in DDR. It's making a huge splash here in Germany because it's apparently the first serious film that has to do with the East/West divide (after Goodbye Lenin! and Sonnenalle). I found it fascinating because I guess I hadn't realized how seriously the secret police had infiltrated every level of life in the DDR. I talked to my roomate who grew up in the East, and she'd told me that even as a four year old she'd already realized the terribly suffocating atmosphere of society there. "There was always this latent paranoia in the air, that people could not freely speak and think as they'd like. I remember coming home from the Kindergarten one day, proudly singing a song we'd been taught--"Glory to the Army" or something like that, and I'll never forget how angry my mother became. 'Do you know what that song is about??' she shouted. That's when I first knew that I had to leave the country, so I got out when I was 14 to start my studies in the West." She did her undergrad degree at the Free University in linguistics and speaks German, French, English, Italian, Hebrew--and wants to do her thesis on museum education. "Sometimes I think it's funny that the country I grew up in doesn't exist anymore. What a funny concept, oder?" But in no way is it Ostalgie. Actually, the city I grew up in doesn't exist anymore as I knew it--it's not Hong Kong the British colony, but rather Hong Kong the Special Administrative Region of China. As I reluctantly told someone at the Kreuzberg city hall while I was getting my police registration, Hong Kong is part of China, no matter how much I refuse to write that in at the end of my mailing address.

This coming Friday the Salon Noir in the Neue Nationalgalerie is screening In the Mood for Love as part of its Melancholie events.
I will go watch my all-time favorite movie and get very very homesick. Found the video rental places near Bergmannstrasse--one namely the Kim's of Berlin, "Videodrom". I'm definitely looking forward to those lazy nights where I'll snuggle down under my thick German down blanket and watch a "deh-fau-deh."

Am off to make some dinner and then feier the completion of Amy's Junior Paper. Work? What work? Classes haven't started yet...and considering I registered for Columbia classes today, that is slightly ridiculous.

I saw this statue in the Pergamon and immediately thought of the Catherine statue from Jules et Jim. Richtig schön, oder?


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