Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More Ranting and Raving

It's right about now that people start to lose it in Berlin. Between the long nights, the cold, and the utter shabbiness of this place, it gets to you. I've always had a safety-valve: I go to SXSW in Austin each year, and get out of a couple of weeks of cold, rain, and depression.

I was just thinking about this as I took a walk to see if I could find a book to read at Dussmann, which has the largest selection of English-language books in town (which isn't saying much), and the tabloids were screaming about a guy who apparently went nuts with a knife on the subway last night. The extreme rarity of such a situation both makes it headline fodder and points out how extremely safe this city is, by and large. There are some places further east where I wouldn't like to be a Vietnamese at 3 am, but in terms of street crime or things like this, it's easy.

One of the tabs had a line across the top saying "How many crazy people do we have in Berlin?" I'd say take the latest population figures, subtract maybe 10-20%, and you've got your number. Although instead of "crazy" I'd say "mentally ill."


Thanks to Karen for pointing me towards a rich vein of sauerkraut, one which is even intellectually and socially redeeming. These guys are critiquing the German media, and doing it well. It's a shame that their politics are so gung-ho American and, thus, right-wing, but if you can read around that, you'll get a good picture of what the German media's saying and how it's saying it. Especially good are the magazine covers, in case you're wondering how America's currently perceived by Germany's media elite, which is not to say the average person in the street, I don't think. Written German is quite different from spoken German, so I don't read the local newspapers or watch TV (well, my TV blew up a couple of years ago anyway) where the news is read in the same indecipherable formal language. This site is a good place to stop each day if you want to widen your perspective.


Yes, it's Berlinale time, which means that the Potsdamer Platz subway stations are either closed or undergoing repair. The festival, of course is held in Potz Platz, so this annual ritual is just another part of Berlin's anti-tourist offensive, along with not signposting anything in any language other than German and, of course, the ritual hostility from service personnel.

I've never figured out, either, why Berlin stages a film festival in February. Faced with the choice of opening your film to the European markets in Berlin in Feburary or the French Riviera in May, honestly, which would you choose to do? I rarely go to Berlinale events (in fact, I've only been to two, and one was for a film I'd helped work on, although my name was left off the credits), but I remember standing in line for one screening back before everything got consolidated in one place and having a huge roof full of slush rain down on the whole lot of us. I got a bunch down my back, thanks to lucky clothing placement.

But I do have to admit, I'm simply not that interested in films. I think the last one I saw in a theater was Ray, and that's got to be over a year ago. Part of my indifference is due to having been exposed to far too many amateur cinéastes over the years. grad students in film and the like, who just can't understand that all I really want from a film is a good story accompanied by good visuals. The icy condescension I've been subjected to when stating frankly that I didn't particularly like a film (for instance McCabe and Mrs. Miller, a film which kept me out of theaters for five years), the assumption that one has to be able to know the technical vocabulary, the camera tricks, the mise-en-scène-whatever-the-hell-that-is, or one isn't able to have the full experience, just annoys me. And since film festivals are largely people making films for other filmmakers as far as I can tell (and, in Berlin, Hollywood premiering the Big Films they're going to impose on us in a few weeks), I'm just not interested.

Still, it does bring an awful lot of Americans here. One is a woman with a film called Pine Flats, posters for which were put up on every flat surface in my neighborhood (including a couple of Nike paintings, dammit), mostly illegally, so I hope the damn thing falls flat. Others were like the ladies I saw on Friedrichstr. today, clearly American because they were clutching bottled water like their lives depended on it. Forty degrees Fahrenheit out there and you gotta have your bottled water. Either American mothers aren't doing such a good job of weaning kids, or the dangers of dehydration are far worse than I've been told.


There goes the neighborhood: someone has opened a gallery on my street. For photography and contemporary art, it says. It's never open, and what's up now -- dull photos -- sure isn't going to change the world. But there's a subsidy a landlord can collect for a while by renting out an empty space to would-be gallerists in this part of town, which is what was responsible for the rise of Auguststr. some years back. Nowadays, though, the cheap rents have disappeared, so the bulk of the interesting galleries there have, too, replaced by blatantly commercial hangers of crap. I was going to give you an example from a gallery I pass frequently, Röhr + Ripken, but the website they ostentatiously display in their window doesn't seem to exist. Too bad: you're missing some really depressingly ugly stuff.

But then, that's what you're missing in general by not being in Berlin in February!


(Added a few hours later)

Almost forgot: although the money hasn't come together yet, although the apartment has yet to be found, I received proof positive yesterday that I will, in fact, be moving from Berlin shortly. It was this article in the New York Times. I've been contributing to Fresh Air for almost 20 years, yet I've never lived anywhere I could hear it. Even though I spent several years using KUT Austin's studios, the station refused to add the program to its lineup -- even as it gained status as one of NPR's most popular -- until about six months after I moved.

Now that it'll be available in Berlin, though, that just means I'll be gone.

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