Friday, July 21, 2006

Sommerloch '06, Part 1

"Boy, this sure is a quiet city," said the visitor from Austin. Yeah, and it's also green and warm. Hardly typical at the moment, in other words. The key word is warm, though: 36 degrees C, 97 degrees F yesterday, although some cooling breezes came in at night and mellowed it down about ten degrees F. Me, I don't mind. This heat is wonderful, as long as I don't have to rush around in it. I'm just kicking myself for not planting basil this year; in the cold, rainy summers we've had these past couple of years, it develops mighty roots, and little plants about an inch and a half high. I could have had a rain-forest, a jungle of the stuff this year! And yet I know if I plant some today by the time it comes up it'll be cold and rainy outside.


One thing about the WM that I'm already missing is the change in opening hours for stores, the convenience of having them open until 10 and open on Sunday. I got used to it all too quickly, I'm afraid. But help may be on the way: the Bundestag, the federal legislature, recently passed a law giving the individual states the power to regulate a lot of things the feds used to, and one of those things is opening hours. So it might be you'd find Berlin open all day Sunday, and Bavaria closed up like a prison. At any rate, my prediction is that as Christmas gets nearer, Berlin's going to experiment with keeping things open longer, and they'll notice a permanent upsurge in business. People found themselves enjoying the convenience despite their ingrained instincts and years of social programming. Once they get used to this, who knows what frontiers await? Itemized phone bills! Friendly sales-clerks! Errr, well, let's not get too carried away.


Berlin is a place deeply suspicious of entrepreneurship, and anyone who attempts to start a business here is faced with amazing obstacles every step of the way. And heaven forbid you try something which hasn't been tried before!

But still, every now and again, it happens. Thanks to Brent for passing along news of the Teddy Tour Berlin, a brand-new business right here in the Weltstadt. Here's the deal: you mail your teddy to these folks and they take it on a tour of Berlin, one of three they offer. Why the vacation? They figure it's stressful being a teddy, on the receiving end of your owner's tears and heartbreak, your job being to comfort a much larger organism who could easily destroy you. So: send the little feller on a vacation with people who'll show him around. You get back a certificate showing he's taken the tour, photos (on a CD if you choose the "Exclusive" or "Deluxe" tour), a postcard, a travel pass (Germans love documents, can you tell?), and "a little surprise" after your pal is mailed back to you, fully insured.

The larger question, though, is why Berlin? Few enough humans come here to relax and de-stress. The Teddy Tour folks mention that Berlin has a bear on its flag, and so it's a place where a bear can feel proud. Okay. I'm not a bear, let alone a teddy bear, so maybe I don't understand the psychology behind this. I would think that, being bears, the teddies would rather go hiking in Alpine valleys and so on, but like I said, maybe these folks know best.

What they do seem good at, though, is publicity: the first Teddy Tour sold out, and look at the prices for the three tours! (I like the fact that all the tours go to the Siegessäule, better known as the large column with the winged Nike on top that was a fixture of Wings of Desire, but only the deluxe tour takes the bears to the top of the thing for the view).

And it must be mentioned that if bears are going to be touring, they have to take care: last month one of the brown bears Italy introduced into its northern provinces as a means of trying to re-establish a wild species crossed the line into Bavaria, where, as bears do, it ate a couple of sheep and the odd rabbit. The Bavarians' reaction was predictable enough: SHOOT IT! Wildlife lovers got up in arms, but the Bavarian hunters grabbed their own arms and soon Bavaria was home to an ex-bear. So maybe if you think someone needs a vacation, Berlin is the safest solution after all.


Mind you, if I'd had a rifle yesterday, I might well have gone bear-shooting, thanks to stumbling on Bebelplatz (site of the Nazis' fabled book-burning) and finding the United Buddy Bears all standing around in a circle there. These goddam things are everywhere: businesses put them up outside, with their logos painted on them by "artists," and it all reeks of commercialism and desperation. The UBBs, of course, put a different face on it, promoting world peace and the friendship of all children, and blah blah blah. But they're just as annoying as the "Germany Land Of Ideas" crap that's all over town (not just the Big Pill behind the Reichstag, but huge musical notes ruining the Gendarmenmarkt, a big pile of books competing with the UBBs in Bebelplatz, which must be the city's epicenter of kitsch at the moment, and a gigantic sneaker by the Hauptbahnhof), in a syrupy irritating way.

Didn't all of this start in Chicago with the Cow Parade and people painting cows? And yet you see them all over the place now, cows and bears and eagles and any other damn symbol a city wants to use to promote itself, smeared with logos and ads, kitsch posing as art in the service of a Good Cause and civic improvement.

Not to mention the fact that between the huge pile of books and the Buddy Bears, the real attraction of Bebelplatz, the moving, understated monument to the book-burning, is all but lost in the hoopla.

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