Saturday, September 25, 2004

Impossible Is Nothing

This morning, as I was eating breakfast, I became aware of a sound I've been hearing increasingly around the neighborhood. It wasn't the Turkish builders who are still chipping away on the wall of the building across the way, more the ambient sound of a lot of people. Another demonstration, I thought.

But no, there were no chants, no horns being blown, no tinny harangues through loudspeakers. Still, the sound was undeniably there. I would have gone out if the weather were warmer, but the coffee was too good, and I wasn't that interested. If it were something important, I reasoned, I'd hear about it.

And sure enough, as I walked to the bank on my daily jaunt to see if so-and-so had paid me (nope), I walked by a restaurant and there was a guy in a t-shirt that said "Berliner Marathon." Of course: today was the marathon. Good day for it, because at least the sky wasn't urinating ice water, as it's done a couple of times this week. There were some small clouds and the majority of the sky was blue.

And, as I came back from the bank, I realized that of course: there had been signs up and down Torstr. for at least a week saying that it was the path of the marathon, placed so high in trees I was wondering if they were for the benefit of the birds. And there were the silly billboards noting the rising number of participants, with a third box unchecked that said, in English, "2004: 50,000. Impossible Is Nothing."

I wondered who the hell approved this billboard every time I saw it, which was frequently. (Apparently large companies have given up on trying to sell stuff to Berliners, having finally realized that nobody here has any money). See, it's sort of a given in the German advertising industry that you can sell younger consumers by using English. Everyone -- and, ever since 1990, that means everyone in Germany -- studies English, and it's the default language of the European Union and most major businesses. You see it everywhere, and it's gotten so routine that it's rare indeed to see a youth-oriented product campaign in German. (This, I noticed, is also true in France, although the law there requires a translation into French in a prominent place, and in legible letters. The law, however, didn't prevent's blitz ad campaign when it was introduced -- Do You Yahoo? -- from being translated as "Etes vous Yahoo?" -- hardly the same thing.)

The thing is, when they do do this, they usually get it right. So instead of running the marathon -- something I was never in danger of doing, don't worry -- I spent some time today reflecting on the subtle difference between "Nothing is impossible" and "Impossible is nothing."

Unfortunately for any burgeoning career as a philosopher, I didn't come up with much.


Yes, I'm aware that I promised photos of the new graffiti today, and you may rest assured that I went out in the sunshine and grabbed a whole bunch of shots this afternoon. In so doing, I couldn't help but notice the battery-level indicator, though, and thanks to the discovery of a whole raft of tiny new pieces, little silhouettes cut out of black paper, I was right down to the end of my available power. I won't have my batteries recharged until tomorrow afternoon (or maybe late tonight), but at least the documentation is safe. Once charged, though, I'll go out in search of more stuff to grab before I post anything. Stay tuned.


One further note on billboards. It's not that nobody is trying to sell Berliners stuff. The food giant Dr. Oetker has introduced a new line of yogurt called Jobst, which combines the words for yogurt (Joghurt) and fruit (Obst). The slogan, with typical German sledgehammer ad subtlety, is "Mein Obst heisst Jobst!" or "My fruit's called Jobst." As I was walking down Friedrichstr. the other day, I saw an all-too-obvious, and very artfully done, defacement of the one for blueberry, done with a simple black marker so that the slogan now read "Mein Obst heisst Jobs." To many people here, nothing could taste sweeter.

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