samedi, août 30, 2008

The Last, Almost-Lost Weekend, Day 2

Well, this was my last weekend in Berlin and I definitely got my money’s worth, so to speak. My itinerary was pretty damn exhausting, though, so I can’t really give my usual play-by-play. I’ll give some descriptions of the DJs that struck me as particularly interesting or exciting, but otherwise this is really just an aide-mémoire for my marathon weekend. Of course, amusing anecdotes will abound.

My daytime activities were pretty simple and boring. I blogged the previous two nights, answered some emails, cleaned myself up and put on some clothes for the night out. I was supposed to be meeting a friend-of-a-friend at midnight for much-belated drinks in Kreuzberg, but first one of my French boyz suggested that we meet at Bar25 for drinks, with the strategy of getting the much-sought-after stamp on our arms before entry became impossible. A stamp for Bar25 is good all weekend for entry, and the place will often stop letting in non-listed people by about midday Sunday. So, after finishing with a bit more work and writing, I hopped on my bike and headed over. Yes, that’s right, I’m taking my bike out on a night of hard clubbing. Since I had to bounce around between several clubs tonight, it seemed like a much faster and more economical plan (trains run infrequently during the wee hours of the weekend). Nonetheless, you'll note that I'm keeping track of just how far I biked tonight, 'cause it really added up.

Drinks and DER STEMPEL at Bar25

I made my way to Bar25 without incident [3.5 KM SO FAR], chained my bike to a lamppost, and then headed into the Bar. Since it was still about 22h30 and I was all alone, I got in without any problem and got the all-important stamp. Immediately, I started worrying about sweating it off before I could make proper use of it on Sunday. I sweat a lot, after all.

My Frenchy buddy was already there, so I grabbed a drink and sat down with him near the fire-pit (NOTE: for those who are joining this blog late, look here for a description of the place; it’s essentially a wild-west theme park turned into a club). By the time I got back with my drink, my buddy was talking to a German guy next to him that was very clearly drunk. Thankfully but also somewhat unfortunately, he was a “friendly drunk,” trying his best to make conversation with a combination of slurred North-German dialect (from Hamburg) and very broken English. It was pretty funny at first and there is always a certain pleasure in being on the receiving end of well-intentioned friendliness, but it did get taxing after a while. He would ask for sips from our drinks and cigarettes and so on, while convincing us that his friends were coming any moment with a beer for him. When they did arrive, they (much less drunk) hadn’t brought him a beer, which prompted some sort of lewd reprimand that I could barely understand, and then he went and ordered a beer for himself and another one for each of us.

At some point, this guy put his arm around my Frenchy buddy and says in English, “My friend…my boyfriend…” in a way that was supposed to be joking. However, he was just drunk enough to make it difficult to gauge the un/seriousness of anything he was saying, so my friend quickly said, “Sorry dude, I’m not gay…wait, are you gay?” While his friends chuckled the guy smiled and then slurred, “Me? I’ve got a boy. A little boy, only 26 centimeters.” It took us a moment to realize that he was trying to tell us that he’s the father of a baby, and not the boyfriend of a very small person, a pedophile, or maybe alarmingly attached to a particular sex toy. I maintain that the last interpretation would’ve been funnier.

Anyway, we continuted to humor his rambling questions for a while, and then he and his friends decided to head out for some food and then on to some other party somewhere in Spandau. A few minutes later, it was about 23h30 and needed to head over to my next “appointment.”

Drinks and Chat around Kreuzberg

A friend of one of my former roommates was going to meet me at a new-ish techno bar called Luzia on Oranienstraße. This guy is originally from California, but has been living in Berlin and active in the techno scene since 1992. So, as you can imagine, I had a really strong “professional” interest in meeting him before I left Berlin. As it turns out, he’s also really nice guy and a very interesting conversationalist, so yay!

I made my way over from Bar25 to Luzia [+2 KM = 5.5 KM] and parked my bike. We ran into each other right in front of the bar, and then made our way in. There was a guy at the door, apparently taking a cue from Berlin’s clubs and doing the ‘face check’ thing, but my drinking companion got us in and soon we were sitting at a small table against the wall and chatting rapidly. Before we even touched on Berlin’s techno history, there was a substantial discussion of current American politics (and the impending election), an update on Canadian politics (and an possible election), and a review of same-sex marriage rights in our various countries of origin and residence. Considering that I had budgeted roughly an hour of talk-time, we were clearly going to run into over-time.

But, if it’s any indication of what a great conversation we were having, I didn’t for a moment worry about being late for the next party—even though it was very far away and I was going there by bike. We didn’t bring the talking to an end until I was getting urgent text messages from my Frenchy buddy at the party, saying that the music was great and I needed to get my ass there. By then, we have moved over to Möbel Olfe a rather unlikely and lively gay pub in the heart of Kreuzberg-SO36 (i.e., the Turkish / punk / junkies area around Kottbusser Tor).

Rompecabeza night at Club Rechenzentrum / Funkpark

Now this was a colossal bike-ride, and in retrospect I have no idea what I was thinking at the time. I hopped on my bike from Kottbusser Tor and made my way to the Rechenzentrum / Funkpark complex, which was all the way out in Lichtenberg / Köpenick. This took me 40 minutes of riding at a pretty brisk pace [+8 KM = 13.5 KM].

I had a number of good reasons for making the lengthy bike ride there. To begin with, Tony Rohr was playing with Tim Xavier as The Afternoon Coffee Boys, and I was really excited to hear their live set. Also, Camea was going to be spinning and I had also heard good things about Andomat 3000. Also, the girl connected to Chicago’s Naughty Bad Fun Collective, that I had met about a month ago, was working for the organizer tonight, so I was planning to meet her there and hang out for a bit. Also, Rechenzentrum is just a great location.

3h00-4h00: Afternoon Coffee Boys live

Unfortunately, I had mistakenly thought that the Afternoon Coffee Boys started at 4h00, when they actually started at 3h00, so by the time I got there, it was 3h40 or so and I missed at least half of the set. On the other hand, when I found my French buddy in the crowd, his first words to me were, “Great timing! You got here just as thing are getting awesome.” Afterwards, he would tell me that their whole live set was great, but that the latter half was what really impressed him. In fact, by later that morning, he was declaring it the best live set of the summer in Berlin.

I was pretty impressed with what little of the live set I saw, too. The overall sound was less aggressive and percussive as Tony Rohr’s usual solo sets (and I don’t know Tim Xavier’s sound well enough), but the set still had a very full sound. There was extensive use of echo effects and other sort of atmospheric effects, which I’m less fond of, but my Frenchy buddy just loved.

When I caught up with my Chicago friend, she passed me a drink ticket (thanks!) and introduced me to some of her friends and co-workers. As we were chatting about what we were doing in Berlin and so on, I told her about the theme of my dissertation project (intimacy and public space in dance clubs) and she said, “You can use this in your research: The main reason I dance on the Slut-Box is so that I don’t have to be near other people.”

The Slut-Box™ is a term developed by her and fellow members of the Naughty Bad Fun Collective to refer to the large bass-bin speakers or some other sort of large box in a club that can support the weight of a girl dancing on it. It should preferably be something that wasn’t intended to be danced on, and it is generally the domain of women (no boys on the Slut-Box, please). This girl in particular was well-known back in the Chicago techno-scene for workin’ it on the Slut-Box.

So, there’s something kinda awesome about the fact that she felt motivated to engage in something that seems exhibitionistic and overtly sexual for the purposes of avoiding contact and proximity (i.e., intimacy). What’s interesting about this is that the usual logic around this sort of self-display is that it constitutes an invitation to desire, approach, maybe touch; but in this case, this is a kind of self-display that isn’t a lure. To put it differently, dancing on the Slut-Box (for her, at least) isn’t about drawing attention but creating distance.

4h00-6h00: Camea

Camea’s set was very good and expertly performed, but also somewhat unremarkable. This isn’t meant as a pan of her set—I actually really enjoyed it—but it was well within the style I have come to expect from Berlin DJs. Her one distinguishing characteristic was that she passed a few tracks with Black-American male voices singing/rapping so-pornographic-it’s-kitschy lyrics. Of the ones I could identify, this included “Sandwiches” by The Detroit Grand Pubahs and “Breakfast” by LeLe. Very cute.

Sometime toward the end of Camea’s set and the beginning of the next one, my Chicago friend started climbing up on the speaker near the front and doing her Slut-Box™ thing. When she headed to the washroom for a moment, another girl climbed up on the speaker and started dancing. When my friend returned, I said in mock-indignation, “Bitch is on yer box!” To which she said,

“The first rule of Slut-Box: always give away the Slut-Box.

6h00-??: Andomat3000 live

This set started rather late, since he was having trouble getting his gear connected and working, so I think this set actually started a good half-hour later than I’ve listed it here. Anyway, what I heard of this set was great, combining thick texture with rather abstracted, floating elements. However, I soon looked at my watch and realized that it was already 7h00 and André Galuzzi (and others) were already spinning at Berghain / Panoramabar. So, after a quick run to the bathrooms, I said my goodbyes and hopped on my bike.

One Last Night at Berghain / Panorama Bar

Well, “one last night” is only sort of correct, since it was already broad daylight out at this point. I jumped on my bike and rode all the way back into Berlin and over to Berghain. [+7.5 KM = 21 KM]. After chaining my bike to a lamppost and putting away my sunglasses, I headed over to the club, where there was virtually no lineup. Nonetheless, the bouncers still managed to send away a few would-be partygoers as I approached the door. It was almost 8h00 at this point.

I had another couple of Frenchy frends (the ones visiting from London) who were here, so I set about finding them. When I found them, the girl of the couple was dancing away while the boy was at the bar, presumably getting a drink. I waved at him and made a gesture for him to come over. He made a gesture that he would be there soon. I went back to dancing.

A few seconds later, I notice someone hovering by my shoulder. I turn around to see a guy standing next to me and looking at me, one who had just a moment ago been sitting down at the bar near where my friend was. It took only a split-second for both of us to figure out what had gone on, and before I could say anything to de-dramatize the moment, he had turned on his heel, his face frozen in an impassive non-expression, and he walked back, around the bar, and into the next room.

I felt horrible for him. Not so much because he had misread a situation in a way that left his hope and desire exposed as nothing more, but because all he had to do was laugh and make quip about “crossed wires.” If he had stuck around to leave an opening for this moment of misunderstanding, I would’ve been happy to return a friendly smile and say a few words to minimize the impact of the event. Instead, he was wandering around alone, somewhere in the crowd, wrapped in shame.

I can’t really go into detail about the DJs I heard tonight, partially because I didn’t see as much of André Galluzzi as I would’ve liked (he was in the Berghain room and the sound was consistently too loud), and the DJs in Panorama Bar were sort of disappointing. Nonetheless, I had an opportunity to see the place one more time, run into some of the same “regulars” (including the glitter brigade, which I will one day have to write about), overhear snorting and fucking in the washrooms, and generally just have fun.

By noon, my day wasn’t quite over yet: I still needed to hit Bar25 for what was promising to be an excellent Sunday evening. However, since I was going to take a plane on Monday and I still hadn’t packed my bags, it seemed like a good idea to give myself a break. So, I headed home [+4.5 KM = 25.5 KM TOTAL TONIGHT], took out my contact lenses, got into bed, and set my alarm for a 5-hour siesta.

vendredi, août 29, 2008

The QueerMuseum and Watergate

Today I decided to try something a bit different, as far as my schedule is concerned. While I’ve been here in Berlin, my typical weekday schedule has been to sleep until 10 or noon, then lock myself in my room until I’ve written my blog entry for the previous day, then use the remaining daylight I have to run errands and cook dinner, spend the evening surfing the net or taking a disco-nap, and then going out until 3 or 4am.

The problem, I thought, was that my evening time was spent in unproductive distraction, while my day was made more hectic by the fact that I often didn’t finish blogging until 16h00 or later. So, today I got up, ate breakfast, showered and went straight out to the Schwules Museum (Queer Museum), with the plan to work on my blogging in the evening.

Taking advantage of the slightly less rainy weather, I headed out by bike to Mehringdamm in south-west Kreuzberg and into the Schwules Museum. As I was parking my bike, I had a language-nerd moment where I realized that the word “schwul” (a reclaimed pejorative term, like “queer” in English) was being declined as an adjective the modifies “Museum,” rather than as an apposite noun. That is, instead of the name meaning literally “Museum about Queer People” (i.e., Schwule Museum) or “Museum about Queerness” (i.e., Schwuligkeit(?) Museum), this title was describing the Museum itself as being queer—thus the neuter “-es” ending tacked onto “schwul” to agree with the neuter noun, “Museum.” So the Museum is a bit fruity.

Anyway, the museum itself was very interesting and informative, if a bit dry. The main mandate of the museum seemed to be to archive gay/queer/lesbian life in Berlin since about the late 1700s until now, with occasional wider references to moments of queer history in other places of the world (particularly the US gay-lib movement). There was lots of documentation and even some hard-to-find pornographic drawings and caricatures from the 18th and 19th centuries, although there was also a lot of “here’s a portrait of a guy who might have been gay and was sort of important.” I really liked how they dealt with the ephemeral cruising spots of Berlin and other parts of Germany, using contemporary drawings, paintings and later photographs of these locations when direct evidence of the activities there were non-existent; it sort of invited the viewer to search the images for ghostly traces of previous queer men (and women, sometimes).

After that, I biked my way home, did a bit of final grocery shopping (my last orders of eggs and bread and sausage!) and then got ready to do some bloggin’. As it turns out, though, my brain is only good for channel- or web-surfing after dinner, regardless of my intentions. I opened up my Word document where I prepare my blog entries, and then within minutes found myself browsing through MetaFilter, BBC, etc. for hours. I found analysis and debate about Obama’s nomination acceptance speech at the DNC and spend hours reading the debates. I saw the posting about McCain’s bizarre but clever but maybe also short-sighted VP pick and read the commentary for hours. By midnight, I was getting a call from friends to go out.

Argy – Diynamic Label Night @ Watergate

I made my way (by bike, again) over to Watergate, parked my bike outside, and then grabbed a beer at a bar just next to the club. Within a few minutes, a pair of Frenchy friends visiting from London showed up and joined me. The plan had been to wait until maybe 2h00 or 3h00 to get in line, but by 1h30 there was already a pretty substantial line, so we finished our drinks and got in line before things got any longer.

The guy from Chicago that I had been hanging out with last Tuesday was up for going out tonight, and he met me in line with a friend from his German course. I was a bit worried about us getting in, since that made us a group of five, so we split up into two groups of 2 and 3 as we progressed along the line. The line was moving really, really slowly and it took us a good 40 minutes to get to the front of the line, but we eventually got in. I had also been worried that the friend brought along by the guy from Chicago would have trouble getting in, since she was wearing a schlumpy oversized army-surplus coat and her hair in a messy bun, and she was a bit older than most of the crowd here. In the end, though, we got in no problem.

As we were getting in, my friend from Chicago turned to me and asked, “Why did that one lone guy get turned away, and yet that huge group of people get in afterwards?” This was a fair question, considering that I had only a few minutes earlier given them the run-down of all the unspoken rules of getting into Berlin clubs. Certainly, groups are supposed to have a harder time getting in, and lone people usually get in no problem. In this case, however, there were several mitigating circumstances:

  • the lone guy didn’t speak enough German to answer the question, “How many are you?”, which marked him as a certain kind of tourist
  • he looked like he was already a bit lit / drunk, which is a general no-no for clubs here
  • when the bouncer asked him (in English) who he was here to see, he couldn’t name any of the DJs
  • the group, on the other hand, while mostly speaking French and English to each other, had a couple of German-speakers in the group to represent them
  • the group was mostly girls, which helps at Watergate (but not so much at PanoramaBar/Berghain)

Anyway, we got in, checked our coats, I gave my Chicago friend and his pal a quick tour of the place, and then we settled in to dance in the upper floor area, waiting for Argy to take the tables from Solomun.

3h00-4h00 Mainfloor: Argy

So this guy is an up-and-coming DJ / Producer from Greece that is now based in Berlin (like all up-and-coming DJ/Producers), at a very young age of 23 or something like that. His set was technically very well-done (good mixing, good pacing, deft use of the technology), but my Frenchy friends and I were a bit disappointed at the fact that all the tracks he was playing were the sort of “best of” hits of summer 2008. There were no new tracks that I hadn’t heard before, nothing particularly interesting or unique to mark this DJs style as different from the other 10000s of minimal DJs in Berlin. So, good mixing but the set was a bit generic.

Also, considering that this was a vinyl set and he was the headliner, his set was really short. It may have run longer than an hour, but by the time I was back up there at 5am, the next DJs had been on for a while.

Another one of my Frenchy friends (the one accompanying me last Wednesday and Thursday) showed up later and immediately got dancing up at the front of the room with me. That kid’s a trooper. Apparently, he had been at a party somewhere else in town where Alva.Noto was doing a vinyl set. He usually does live sets, and my friend complained that the vinyl set was crushingly disappointing—the French phrase he used was “à gerber” (puke-inducing). Not one to mince words.

At some point during this set, I went for a walk downstairs and out onto the dock floating on the river. As I was wandering around, a hetero couple stopped me and complimented me on my shirt, and then chatted me up. It turns out that they were from Amsterdam, and they were having a great time, and they thought I should really come to Amsterdam for the balloon festival next week. They were sort of adorably friendly and talkative, asking me what I was doing in Berlin—which always turns into a discussion of my dissertation topic—and what the scene was like here. After that encounter, I kept on running into them around the club and we would always exchange hand-clasp high-fives, smile, and then keep on moving.

4h00-5h00 Waterfloor: Stimming live

I had been pretty excited about seeing Stimming do his thing live, since I had downloaded his podcast on Resident Advisor a month ago and LOVED it. As it turned out, that podcast had featured a lot of tracks that he had been working on and preparing to release, so unsurprisingly his live set re-hashed a lot of the material from the podcast. I didn’t mind in this case, since I really liked the material and hadn’t yet heard it through a club-sized sound system, and also since this was still new, unreleased material—I had just gotten earlier access to it through that podcast.

In particular, everybody went crazy when he threw in his upcoming track “Una pena,” which involves a lovely female latina vocalist singing a simple melodic line, surrounded by lush percussion and really thick bass kicks. I don’t have a link to the track, since it’s unreleased, but if you’re into techno you should keep your eye out for this when it comes out.

Once he wrapped up his set around 5h00, I headed upstairs to see what was going on.

4h00-6h00 Mainfloor: Martinez Brothers

As you might guess from the name, this is a DJ duo who are (as far as I could tell by their appearance) brothers. Their set was on the harder, techno-y-er side of minimal, preferring thrashing beats and busy textures to the more aerated, light, clicky sound of much Berlin minimal techno/house. Their set certainly worked as a high-point of the night, but I found their pace a bit tiring and their love of jacked-up treble frequencies a pretty painful, so I spent more and more time downstairs or just wandering around.

6h00-??? Mainfloor: Jerome Sydenham

I haven’t heard of this guy before, but I was pretty happy with what I heard of his set. He was still working in the uptempo, high-intensity end of things, but his overall sound and track-selection had a more refined and lighter feel to it. Whereas I felt that the Martinez Bros were constantly piling up transition after transition of SUPER NOISY RADICAL CLIMAXXX!!!1!, Sydenham’s style seemed to involve bringing in a track, letting it open up and evolve, tweaking it a bit with his own controls, and then pulling of a transition that blended together elements of both tracks without creating a loud mess. The whole thing was still pretty intense and loud for me, so I eventually headed downstairs with one of my French buddies and we hung out on the deck and sat in the sun. Sunrise at Watergate is always lovely.

6h00-??? Waterfloor: H.O.S.H. and Solomun Back-to-Back

After spending a good long time on the deck getting some sun and drinking some beers, we made our way into the Waterfloor area of the bar and got our dance on again. These two DJs are on the same label as Stimming, called Diynamic [LINK]. In fact, I think Solomun is the label-boss. Anyway, their sound was very much in the same vein as what I had heard with Stimming, emphasizing a sort of rolling, bass-heavy minimal house. The tempo was a bit slower than what was going on upstairs, and it was just right for an end-of-the-night shuffle. A couple of my other French friends (the ones I had met for beers) had moved over to Panorama Bar an hour ago to check things out there, but I wanted to save my energy for Saturday night, so I decided to end my night here at Watergate.

While we were dancing, there was this guy with chin-length hair, wearing a ridiculous-but-only-in-Berlin, pastel-patterned, off-the-shoulder batwing shirt and jeans that were constantly falling off him. He was, to put it lightly, totally high. He was mostly bouncing off his crew of friends, who were also pretty high but put-together enough to sort of look after him as a group. Nonetheless, he would occasionally do something hilariously inappropriate like run the fingers on both his hands all the way down someone’s body repeatedly (which he did to me) or bump and grind as if he were a porn star (which he did with this adorable Swedish girl).

Anyway, I was sort of surprised and impressed with how gentle everyone was with him, considering that he was risking the forms of intimacy and contact that could turn into accusations of violation or violence. At one point, he grabbed the little lamp sitting on the DJ table—now useless as daylight streamed through the windows on the Waterfloor—and mimed taking a shower with it. Nobody did much about it for a little while, until he was pulling the lamp far enough that its cord was starting to disturb the other audio cables. Then, another nearby DJ (Stimming, actually) came by and slipped it out of his hands, gesturing to the cluster of cables and making a comical “oh noes!” face. The boy, blitzed out of his mind, smiled and drifted back into the crowd. The DJ who was actually spinning seemed completely unperturbed.

If this had happened at the RexClub in Paris, this boy probably would’ve been dragged right out of the club by stern-looking African bouncers. And it’s not like Berlin lacks stern-looking bouncers, but there seems to be a high level of tolerance for the sort of impulsive, messy and risky expressivity that this boy was exemplifying at this moment. I guest that part of it was that it was already 7h30, and at that time of the morning the only people left still dancing are those who are either a) also very high; or b) used to being around high people. Anyway, there was something really interesting about the fact that this boy could come a bit undone and be disorganized and the community around him was able to cushion him and absorb his sometimes jagged gestures.

Well, by 8am I called it quits, gingerly climbed onto my bike, and zipped home.

jeudi, août 28, 2008

A quiet day and then Club der Visionäre

Ugh, sorry for the late posting, folks. As I’m getting ready to leave Berlin, tasks are sort of accumulating and all I want to do is lie down and be still for a while. Ironically, I won’t be doing much of that this weekend.

So I slept in after last night’s brief outing and then got out of bed and took care of some email and blogging in the early afternoon. By about 16h00, I looked up the visiting hours of the Schwules Museum [Gay Museum] and discovered that they were to close at 18h00. That’s sort of typical hours for an European museum, but I was somehow under the impression that this museum was open later. Anyway, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to wash up, get changed, and make it over to the museum with a reasonable amount of time to see the exhibits, so instead I just stayed in and did some more work, read some more stuff, and tried to figure out exactly where and with whom I would be staying next week.

By sometime later that evening, a French buddy of mine invited me out for drinks at Club der Visionäre, so I got myself together and headed out around 23h00. Much like last Tuesday, I took my roommates bike to get there, and I think I clocked the whole trip at 10 minutes, which is about 20 minutes shorter than the same trip by U-Bahn and bus on a late Thursday evening. And to boot, Berlin is so flat, you can just zip along at an even clip without breaking a serious sweat.

Anyway, we hung out at Club der Visionäre for a while, exchanging music on our iPods and generally revisiting the parties we had been to during the summer. Ernesto Ferreyra (the other half of Chic Miniature) was spinning, which was a pleasant surprise, but he wrapped up his set within minutes of me arriving there. Throughout the rest of the night I kept on waiting for a good moment to congratulate him on his set back at Mutek in Montréal this year, but he was quite the social butterfly, that boy. I’m sure I’ll see him again sometime.

I ran into an Italian girl that I had met weeks ago at the Primary Colours Festival, which was another pleasant surprise. Since we weren’t in a super-loud environment, we took the opportunity to chat at length and get to know each other more. When I told her what I worked on for my dissertation, her reaction was one that I’ve heard a lot since I’ve started: “I’ve always thought about that! When I’m going home after a night out, I often think about these same things.” So that was a nice moment of validation for me. Also, we finally managed to exchange email addresses and phone numbers, so we’ll actually be able to stay in touch. Yay! It’s interesting how you can hang out and spend the better part of a night with someone a month earlier and never get a phone number or email address, and then you just happen to see them later and realize, “Oh, right, now that we’re friends and all, maybe we should do friend-appropriate things like have each other’s phone numbers…”

There was also a certain DJ that I had mentioned about a month ago for having licked my neck when I complimented him on his set (I'm not saying who, so don't try to scour that blog post for hints). He was here tonight, and I was sort of tempted to approach him, but I wasn’t sure if he would remember me (considering that he was in a rather altered state at the time) and how he would react if he did remember me. “Hi! The scene where you play is also where you work, so I’m just here to remind you of your embarrassing excesses in front of your peers. Hey, where are you going?...” So, yeah, I didn’t really talk to him.

Anyway, we hung out and drank and danced until maybe 3h00 or so, and then I hopped on my bike and headed home.

mercredi, août 27, 2008

Wolfgang Tilmans, Jüdisches Museum, Kantine

After a relatively early night, I slept in a bit and then got up and started getting myself organized. I had a lot of emails to send around as my return to Paris approached, and I still had a bunch of museums to hit before leaving Berlin (oh, and all that partying).

As soon as I had taken care of emails and blogging, I ran out and hopped on the train to Hamburger Bahnhof for the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibit. The exhibit included a few new works and a bunch of his old works, which together helped me realize that all of Tillmans’s works can be reduced to about three categories:


Unemotional Documentation of Perspective

Sex (usually gay male, but not always)

Some of these categories overlap, such as the famous Sportflecken (sport-stains) photograph, which features semen dried on a white t-shirt.

Anyway, this is not necessarily a critique of the quality of his work, most of which I find really lovely, but rather a complaint that I quickly got the feeling that I could’ve just visited one room and gone home with as much knowledge of Tillmanns style as if I had seen all 6 or 7 rooms.

Anyway, that was the only exhibit open today, so after that I headed out to for my next stop, the Jüdisches Museum. However, I realized on the way out that I had left my cellphone at home, and I was expecting some messages and phone calls from at least a few people tonight, so I ran home and got my phone and also did a quick grocery run on the way. Since I was already home, I picked up my bike (or, rather, my roommates bike that she loaned to me) and decided to head over to the museum by bike.

The Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum) is the sort of museum that people write dissertations about, so I’m not going to go into great detail, especially because a quick google-search will give you lots of great descriptions of what goes on here. Essentially, the museum documents 2000 years of Jewish history in Berlin, German-speaking lands, and the Ashkenaz more generally. Aside from a wonderfully-detailed and interactive historical section, the interesting aspects of the museum are:

  • the main building has a zigzag shape, approximating a warped Star of David
  • the zig-zag is intersected by a straight line of negative space, which creates “voids” in the building like dark, empty courtyards or silos. One of these voids has an art installation where you are invited to walk over a pile of screaming metal faces
  • you don’t enter the main building directly, but rather through an underground tunnel that you access from the Baroque building next to it
  • the underground level has three crisscrossing tunnels, called “axes.”
    1. The Axis of Continuity leads up along long stairs into the main building and the historical exhibit
    2. The Axis of Exile has installations about the Diaspora along the walls and leads to the Garden of Exiles, which is this 7x7 set of pillars with olive trees growing out of the top with everything on a disorienting, nauseating angle that is supposed to reflect the difficulties of Jews settling in other countries
    3. The Axis of the Holocaust has installations about those killed in the Holocaust (notably, all displays always use the term “murder” in English) and leads to a super-tall irregularly-shaped concrete silo, unheated or cooled, with only a small slit at the top for natural light to enter.
  • check out the museum’s website for a whole series of images on these elements

All in all, the museum was great and rather intense, although I appreciated that the tone of the place shifted quite a bit, so it wasn’t consistently depressing or too rah-rah, either. Throughout my visit, I remembered a blog post by an old “liberal” blogger (I think his blog was called Americablog, but he doesn’t really merit the google-search), where he visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and complained that the museum failed to entertain him. He got a drubbing in the comments thread, which elicited hysterical, ALL-CAPS defenses from him, but he never came around to the possibility that a museum can teach you important things without it being always pleasurable.

Anyway, I made it home and took care of some more business, ate dinner, etc, before heading out to meet a Frenchy buddy of mine for drinks at Kantine Berghain (i.e., Bierhof Rüdersdorf). I thought the plan was just to hang out for a bit and exchange music, but it soon turned into a club night, as we went into the Kantine building to hear the first sets of the night. By about 3h00 I was dead-tired, and I had my laptop in my backpack, which made me a bit nervous, so I headed home and crashed.


OK, so this isn't my usual daily post, but I wanted to bookmark this for those who might enjoy this. A blogger by the name of Joe Posnanski recently posted an article on his blog about what he terms "Pixifoods," which are foods that tasted like awesome when you were a kid and now taste like FAIL.

Here's an excerpt from his blogpost:

Baseball Card Gum
As a child it tastes like: Bubble blowing magic.
As an adult it tastes like: Sugared sandpaper.
Tidbits: A few years ago, Topps released a retro set of baseball cards — I believe it was based on the 1952 set. Anyway, it included the gum. I was SO excited. I immediately went to eBay and spent WAY too much on a box of those cards. I got it, and I chewed the gum and … I expect to get the feeling in my jaw back no later than September 2013. More to the point, the inside of my mouth got so raw, you could strike a match against it. What do they put in that stuff? Roofing shingles? I think part of the problem is that they started putting the gum in little plastic packets, presumably so they would not get stale and ruin the back of baseball cards like the old days. But maybe that’s how they lost the magic. As a kid it was great because, really, as far as taste went, you never know where the gum ended and the baseball cards began.

I've been fascinated by age-related taste since I first noticed a lot of comments about it on the Japanese (and best) version of Iron Chef, many years ago. Sometimes the guest judges would say things like, "This would be a pleasing dish for a young child, but to my taste it is too sweet," or "This is too bitter and astringent for me to enjoy, but I can see how I might like this when I am older."

Ask any parent about early-childhood tastes and they'll tell you that, with very few exceptions, kids like things with strong, vibrant tastes. The only kind of taste that they have absolutely no tolerance for is bitterness. You might remember your first taste of coffee or beer as a kid (if your parents let you try that stuff) or grapefruit juice for that matter. In a way, it makes sense, since most toxic / inedible things that occur in nature taste bitter on the human tongue, but that doesn't explain why older people are supposed to have an increased taste for bitterness. Hmmm...

mardi, août 26, 2008

Luis and the Ishtar Gate

Sounds like the name of a video game, eh?

Well, after getting up sometime late and taking care of my blogging needs (so to speak), I got ready to head out for some museum-ing. You see, last weekend as I hung out with Fantômette, she complained about not seeing enough museums and other touristic destinations while spending nearly 2 months in Berlin and I realized that I had done about the same. So the theme for this week is: “Hit as many museums as possible while also going to nightclubs and preparing to move to Paris and perhaps also finally signing on an apartment.” It seems doable, no?

Anyway, I headed off to the Pergamon Museum first, which holds Germany’s Near-Eastern and Middle-Eastern collections (mostly the spoils of their complicated colonial-era relationship with the Ottoman Empire). The main highlights of the museum are the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate, the Market Gate of Miletus, the Fortress Wall of Mshatta, and the Aleppo Room. In addition, Pergamon was hosting an exhibit on Babylon called “Babylon: Mythos und Wahrheit” (Babylon: Myth and Truth), which seemed to be getting good reviews.

Once I got to the museum, I remembered one of the reasons why I don’t do touristy things very often: tourists fucking annoy me. I was in line, waiting to get my ticket, while a loud South-German family of 6 yelled at each other about something while the kids ran about screaming and bumping into people. In front of me was a group of embarrassingly American tourists, dressed in the typical “ugly tourist” uniforms (although with creepy and preachy Christian Evangelical t-shirts instead of Bermuda shirts), complaining about how things are better in the USofA. And by the time I got to the front of the line, I was rummaging through my bag, trying to find something sharp enough to inflict pain and put an end to this.

Once inside, though, it was lovely. The price of the ticket included one of those audio guide thingys, the English version of which had a rather supercilious British narrator, but it was still rather informative. Upon entering the museum, the first thing you hit is the Pergamon Altar which is this massive structure that used to be a temple of sorts in Pergamon, Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). The impressive part of the whole thing is that the building was wrapped in a series of sculpted friezes that portray the gods fighting with giants, as well as the origin story of Pergamon’s founder, Telephos.

From there, I headed to the southern wing of the building and through the Miletus Market Gate, which was being restored but could still be seen through the scaffolding. It was a pretty impressive piece of Roman architecture.

As you passed through the gate, you came into another room which had the Ishtar Gate. This was perhaps one of the most impressive items in the collection, towering at least three stories and wrapping around the entryway and down the hall. These were the blue cobalt-glazed tiles the covered the entryway and corridor to the king’s throne hall in Babylon, under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. The tiles also include a series of animals in relief: dragons to represent Marduk, the city’s patron God; lions to represent the goddess Ishtar, and bulls to represent another protector god that is less certain.

The “Reality” portion of the Babylon special exhibit was here, bringing together Babylonian collections from the Louvre and the British Museum as well as the Pergamon’s own items. The whole thing took a good two hours to tour in detail, and included lots of the standard descriptive / archival information on the life and times of Bablyon.

On the other side of the building, above the Greek collections, was the “Myth” portion of the special exhibit. There, they had put together a series of rooms addressing various myths associated with Bablyon and their persistence in more recent history. For example, there was a room that held several Renaissance paintings of the Tower of Babel, several medieval books retelling the myth, and sketches from Fritz Lang’s futurist film Metropolis, the subject of which was sometimes called a futurist tower of Babel. There were similar rooms on the Madness of Nebuchadnezzar, the Whore of Babylon, Babylon as Sin-City, Semiramis, the fall of Babylon and the Confusion of Tongues.

After all of that, I headed over to the Islamic Art section to admire the arabesque detail of the works on display, and especially to gawk at the huge chunk of a decorated fortress façade from Mshatta. Also, there was a beautiful and intricate room paneled in wood inlay from a wealthy merchant in Aleppo.

By the time I made it out of there, it was already almost 18h00, and there was no way I was going to make it to my next destination (Hamburger Bahnhof for the Wolfgang Tillmans retrospective), so I took a walk along Unter den Linden. I had been planning to go out with my roommate and his girlfriend for dinner, but I wasn’t getting any phone calls, until I looked at my phone and realized that it was still on silent mode from when I was in the museum. Actually, he had called twice. When I tried to call back, my battery died. Dammit.

I managed to fire up the phone long enough to get his number, and then I called him from a phone booth. They were already sitting down to eat at a Moroccan place near Rosenthaler Platz, so I ran over and joined them for dinner. Delicious!

After getting home from dinner, I was getting ready to turn in for the night when a friend told me he was getting out of an art show near Club der Visionäre and was up for a drink. So I got myself together again, hopped on my loaned bike, and zipped over there. I tell ya, if it wasn’t for the shitty, shitty weather this past month, I’d be biking everywhere. It’s so much quicker than public transit, at least for shorter distances.

Anyway, drinks at CdV were fun and relaxing and I managed to make it home and into bed before 1am, which is something of an accomplishment.

lundi, août 25, 2008

The Apartment-Hunt !@#$ing Continues

So I woke up this morning to an email from the property agency in Paris that the owner of that studio apartment that I had been looking at had decided to go with another renter. Fuck.

This leaves me with the choice of taking the 13m2 (190 sq ft) studio for 600€, or crashing on friends’ couches until I find something reasonable. I emailed and texted a few friends for advice, thought about it for a bit, and then realized that there was just no way that I could put up with being in a 13m2 closet on the ground floor with no sunlight for 12 months. Especially not for 600€ ($876.45 or pretty much what I pay for my huge 1BR in Chicago).

My intuition was pretty good, actually, as I soon after got an email from a friend with a connection to a friend-of-a-friend that was renting two apartments. One is a 34m2 studio in Suresnes (a suburb near La Défense, just outside of Paris) and another is a 35m2 1-BR in Romainville, which is a fair bit further out of Paris, about a 10-minute ride on a bus after getting off at the last stop of the métro line. Both are going for 700€. The latter would be ideal if it wasn’t so far out of town—which will be a big problem when I’m coming back from clubs—and the former is completely unfurnished, which will suck for me. Ah well, we’ll see what comes of that.

Anyway, this evening I went out with Fantômette for a goodbye dinner. We headed out to check out this restaurant called Seerose that was all-vegetarian. The set-up was sort of like a traiteur or something, where all the dishes were already prepared and under glass, and you would come to the counter and ask for a combination of things, and then they would stick it in an oven to warm up and then pile on some salad and hand it to you. For 5,50€, you got about 3 or 4 hot dishes and about the same number of salads heaped onto a large plate. It was kinda insane.

From there, we wandered around that area of Kreuzberg (near Mehringdamm) looking for a bar, but it was all a bit trendy and annoying, so we ended up back in my neighborhood, in this bar on Hobrechtstraße that serves Chechen beers. While there, we ran into the girls that I had taken out to Berghain the Saturday before, and we got to chat a bit and review the weekend. Once our beers were done, Fantô and I said our goodbyes and headed back to our respective homes.

dimanche, août 24, 2008

Sunday drinks, post-mortem

Well, considering how short my Sundays usually are, this one was pretty good. I got home around 13h00 and got to sleep, asking my buddy that was going to Bar25 to beep me when he was thinking of heading out. By about 19h00, that plan turned into an invitation to have a drink at his place, so me and Fantômette met him at his place for some drinks and some chit-chat. Since all three of us had been living in Berlin since about the beginning of July, it was fun for us to compare notes and talk about which clubs we liked best, which nights were the most memorable, and so on.

By about midnight, Fantômette and I were fading fast and our host was ready for a night out at Bar25. If we had headed out earlier, I would’ve been game, but at this time of night I was just too beat. The fact that I’ve been here for a limited time (i.e., 2 months) has kept a sword of Damocles above me head, which has driven me to go out way more often and way longer than I usually do. It’s been fun, but my body is beginning to lose patience with me.