Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Grand Tour, Chapter 957

I really do try to post here daily, but yesterday I had a visitor from Toronto, a young editor who'd worked on a magazine I tried to get into, and he took me up on my standing offer to visitors to go on my Justifiably Famous Walking Tour. I started it seven years ago when I moved into this house and the brother of a friend, a guy who described himself as "a paranoid New York Jew," asked if I could show him around. I've done it dozens of times since then, and it just gets more, well, professional, I guess. It takes about four hours now, starting at my house, going on to the pathetic Berlin Wall memorial and then threading down into the Scheunenviertel with its many Jewish memorials and onwards to Alexanderplatz, the Prussian court, the Gendarmenmarkt, Friedrichstr., Unter den Linden, the Brandenburg Gate, then back across the river to a real live Nazi air-raid bunker, and ending up two blocks from my house at Brecht's grave.

The thing that I found disturbing this time was that more and more, I'm pointing out things that aren't there any more. Oh, I don't mean things like the former Jewish old age home that was used by the SS as a collection point for Jews being shipped off to the camps, or like Christian Boltanski's superb Missing House, but, rather, things that have gone missing in the ten years since I moved here, places where artists lived, worked, and showed their stuff, underground bars and clubs (okay, illegal bars and clubs), funk that's been covered over with a veneer of glitz in hopes the property can change hands before it starts to fall apart again, little businesses that have been driven out by lunatic spiraling real-estate prices. These are things that can't be replaced at all, things that made living in this grim place worthwhile.

The book-burning monument at Bebelplatz is in the middle of a sea of mud (excuse me, construction for a "vitally needed" underground parking garage, ahem), and, along with the Boltanski, it's a truly wonderful meditation on a piece of unpleasant history. But instead, thanks to an odd lack of traffic on Karl-Lieibknecht-Str., which we sprinted across, I spontaneously added Rosenstr., where there are two major things to see, the site of the SS prison where Jewish men married to German women were imprisoned and then freed by the womens' protests (it, along with the Bebelplatz monument, is also here) and the site of the first synagogue in Berlin, something I've walked past dozens of times without seeing. And no wonder: there's a historical marker there, but it's facing away from the street so you can't see it! The lengths this city goes to screw itself up are truly awe-inspiring.

The tour ends at the graveyard a block and a half from my house, where Brecht, Hegel, Paul Dessau, and many other notables are buried, and that brought it conveniently close to the supermarket, so I could lay in some supplies for the weekend. The editor and I still hadn't talked business, and he graciously offered me dinner at the restaurant on the corner just up from my house, which, since this post is notably light on sauerkraut today, I should mention. (Incidentally, before you click on that link, be aware they've added some awful music, and the English text is decidedly in need of work. Hmmm, maybe a trade-out in my future?) Honigmond is, simply, one of the best restaurants I know of. It's inexpensive -- I think the top price for an entree is usually €13 -- and the basic philosophy is normal German dishes with an unusually creative fillip. I had to eat there for the first week I lived in this apartment because the kitchen wasn't ready yet (oh, I didn't have to, but I did), and I've used it since then as a meeting place for when we were doing our English-language magazine project, as a place to celebrate my 50th birthday, and as somewhere to go if I was travelling on an assignment and got back too late to shop for dinner. I've even gotten to where I look for a "Honigmond" in any city I travel to (I've found one, Weinstock, on the market square in Leipzig, and although they don't get creative with tradition, certainly the atmosphere qualifies Chez Paul on the rue de Charonne in Paris). The hotel, both the pension upstairs, and, I assume, the "Garden Hotel" a block and a half away, is affordable and very welcoming. In fact, once I move away from this hellhole, that's where I'll stay when I come back.

After dinner, we decided to have a couple of beers -- my first in some time, owing to the current level of poverty. Unfortunately, I've banned myself from what used to be my "local," Jarman, because of an unfortunate series of events involving me and a brilliant, but apparently self-destructive young woman who works (and drinks) there. It's probably not a complete tragedy: Daniel Jarman, the owner, has apparently done some stuff that's made other people I know shy away from the place, and he's acted odd to me on a couple of recent occasions. Anyway, a rather new place called Altes Europa on Gipsstr. looked attractive, so we went down there. Nice enough, but rather unpopulated on a Saturday night, and so it was hard to judge what kind of crowd it was.

So that's my excuse this time. Let's see what tomorrow's is.

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