Friday, March 02, 2007

Crumbs From Behind The Wall

First, I would like to make extra sure that readers of this blog realize that it has nothing to do with the dining-out column by the same name in the wretched Ex-Berliner magazine. It's really not even worth wasting electrons on those people and their amazingly myopic view of Berlin's anglophone communities, but it probably is worth highlighting their astonishing lack of originality.

Those who are interested in my dining-out experiences here should a) wait until I can afford doing it again and then b) check over at Dishola, the Austin-based experiment in restaurant blogging or whatever it is. I'm the official Berlin Editor over there, and I've really got to get some stuff up about Toca Rouge and that ramen place on Neue Schönhauser and a couple of other places I'm thinking would appeal to their readership.

* * *

As promised some time ago, a new work by Nike, this one on Brunnenstr. near the park. Is this an hommage to Gaugin, or...?

* * *

I'm headed to Texas and California via Paris for a couple of weeks, starting in a week, and walked over to Hauptbahnhof recently to buy my ticket to Paris and see if I could get beaned by a piece of falling steel so I could sue Deutsche Bahn and get myself free tickets for life. I did manage to accomplish one of those goals, but it was the one that cost me money, not the one that cost them money. Whatever: I'm leaving this place for a while, and that always feels good unless I'm headed to someplace even worse like Frankfurt/Main.

At any rate, I was amused by a rather ambitious currywurst budde over there which calls itself Around the name are listed cities: New York, Dubai, Paris, and so on. Interesting; an entrepreneur actually attempting to franchise Berlin currywurst around the world? That actually could be a winner (although not in Dubai unless the sausages were beef). Naturally, as soon as I got home I hit the URL, and was disappointed, as you no doubt will be. It is emblematically Berlinish, though, to hop on a trend without really understanding it. I remember years ago when a new office supply company opened here in Mitte calling itself Naturally, they hadn't registered the URL, and didn't even have a website. But that dot-com stuff was trendy, right?

* * *

One thing you can always say about Berlin is it's a really safe city. Violent crime here is almost unknown in most places, and I've only been burgled once, which was pretty much my landlord's fault. But that's not to say there isn't an undercurrent of anger here which blossoms forth every now and again in unpleasant ways. Currently, the trend seems to be throwing paving stones (easily dug out of the sandy soil here with a pen knife) through windows. Just in the past couple of days, I've seen smashed windows at the hookah bar on Chausseestr. and Tieckstr. (although this is probably just the tip of a larger story involving the huge number of these places and shops to supply them which have sprung up virtually overnight: do people really enjoy sitting around sipping sweet tea and smoking perfumed tobacco if they're not Arabs?), at the huge SAP software company building on the corner of Rosenthaler Str. and Gipsstr. (where you can see the place they dug the stones right in front of the building), and at the former Beate Uhse porn shop on Rosenthaler Str. This last suddenly sprouted some weird art-like installation in the windows almost within minutes of the Uhse folks pulling out, and it was apparently part of some viral marketing scheme by one of the game box companies -- I've lost track of Playstations and Nintendos and so on, but one of them has put up fake street art, opened a fake art gallery on Torstr., and now this. Not only did the windows go, the bricks were still there when I walked past, and someone was filming it.

I have to admit, I understand how street artists can get irked by this sort of thing, because the paper art with the URL was just bad enough that it stood out as fake. It was as annoying as the ad campaign for the new Toyota auto which has -- and I'm not exaggerating here -- taken up about 95% of all advertising space in this city for most of this week, and which will, if there's any justice, disappear tomorrow when the car is actually introduced. The Toyota campaign is yet another one which presupposes the utter stupidity of the consumer, the "Hey dumbass, buy this" attitude that's at the basis of so much German advertising, as opposed to the "You're clever enough to want this" approach the Brits pioneered and the Americans eventually figured out. Trouble is, there aren't enough paving stones to take this one out.

* * *

Yes, I know Berlin is changing, but... One night not very long ago, I was walking down Invalidenstr. and there was cheesy pink light streaming off a ginormous disco ball inside the staid walls of the old DDR post office. A couple of weeks later, I saw that Volkswagen was staging an event there. Now, when I first moved here, that was my local post office, and I've (naturally, because it's what one does at the post office in Germany) stood in lines there many a day, admiring the strange metal sculpture on the polished marble walls. After Deutsche Post went private and the post office moved into a MacPaper outlet (I am not making this up, for those of you who don't live here), the building was empty for a long, long time. But apparently it's been rescued by a club which will give the lie to all those reports of hip! edgy! Berlin! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bangaluu! (Warning: cheezy handbag house music when you click the link). Opening a branch of this -- or even an imitation of it -- would soon empty Friedrichshain of hipsters, and the flights back to Williamsburg would be packed. I kept clicking links on that site out of sick fascination. And to think it's right next door to where, many many years ago in the Paleolithic Era, the Technics Club was...

* * *

And finally, the pictures to explain the headline. Some months ago, I posted a picture of some graffiti "artists" spray-painting the wall of the building next to me, which I have to walk past on my way to my front door. I thought they were done -- surely it couldn't get any more hideous than that -- but they kept working at it until there were all sorts of horrible details: a little green head of some depressed-looking guy, a woman-robot...who knows what they thought they were doing? But they signed it and left their phone numbers, in case anyone else wanted their house desecrated.

Then, as I guess artistic collaborations do on occasion, this one went south, and one of the "artists" came back and obliterated his former partner's work and re-did it to his own liking. Not only that, he also went to work on the wall next door to it, so now we have a diptych with the theme of the Berlin Wall. Now, just why someone would want to spray-paint a new Wall, I cannot tell you. In fact, besides the eyesore factor, the depression this horrible set of murals sets off in me every time I have to see it (which is, of course, every day) is hard to even verbalize. What is the point of this? Who on earth would pay someone to do it? And just in case you think I'm making this up, here's the wall closest to the street:

And here's the wall on the rear building:

There's only one solution I can think of. The original Berlin Wall attracted graffiti artists from around the world. Not just the collection who did the stretch known as the East Side Gallery (which was all post-Wall anyway), but Keith Haring over by the Gropius-Bau, and the French guy who did all those heads that wound up in Wings of Desire on that stretch in Kreuzberg. So maybe Nike can come and stick a nude or two up on this "Wall" and make it that much less depressing to look at.

I still liked our wall better when it had a big billboard on it featuring the Puhdys shilling for Berliner Pilsner.


The Haarbüschel said...

I also passed by the Bangaluu-club recently and could only stare in disbelieve. I thought these kind of things would only exist in rural Germany yet, but what do I know...

daggi said...

I also walked past Bangaluu recently (about 12 hours ago in fact) and was also somewhat bemused. Oh, yes, die neue Mitte, sponsored by the radio station left on in old people's homes as they can't summon the energy to turn it off i.e. RTL 104,6. And next door, the PO box department of the ex-post office.

I was also surprised to notice that the ex-"McPaper"-branch has been renamed "Deutsche Post", as they're all the same company. Ok, were. Now Deutsche Post branches are to disappear and all become "Postbanks". It's probably got something to do with yet another new corporate identity, and making it easier to sack lots of people and push down wages.

I find it somewhat amusing that around 15 years after the old post office was split up to prepare for privatisation, the place to get things like simple banking, stamps (though not always, but that's another story) and a land-line telephone, is basically the bog-standard post office ("Postbank"). If you can find one, obviously, most of them having been shut.

Back to the Invalidenstraße, how the place has changed in recent years. Not for the better, obviously, as a former pretty good second-hand bookshop is now a branch of Starbucks (or was it Balzac Coffee), the bookshop in Brecht's house is now a cafe, and whole area seemed to be full of the kind of kids drunk on Bacardi Breezer that usually roam British town centres after darkness falls (though, thankfully, the riot police were absent, the main difference between Berlin and Britain). There was one nice-ish Döner place, with seats and a whole range of people from different age groupssitting down eating as if they were enjoying proper food in a real restuarant. And now I know (thanks to yesterday's BZ) that Wagner went in for pink petticoats and (women's) lace underwear.

Bowleserised said...

"And now I know (thanks to yesterday's BZ) that Wagner went in for pink petticoats and (women's) lace underwear."

Do you, er, know who wrote that article, by any chance? Or where they were getting their information?

Ed Ward said...

I think Herr Haarbüschel has it: Bangaluu, like Soda in the Kulturbrauerei, is what New Yorkers call a B&T club. B&Ts are "bridge and tunnel" people who come to Manhattan from places like Long Island and New Jersey via the bridges and tunnels into the city.

This, of course, makes me wonder if a 20-something from, say, Schmargendorf or Alt-Tegel would qualify as a B&T. Certainly the majority of kids you see pour into town for the Love Parade are.

Going to a B&T joint allows you to say "Oh, I went to a club in Mitte/Prenzlberg" without actually having the experience of going to a club in Mitte/Prenzlberg.

And Daggi, that sounds like Chausseestr. you're talking about, and, although I mostly agree with you, I gotta say that cafe in the Brecht Haus has a good range of international magazines you don't find elsewhere in "Weltstadt Berlin."

Anonymous said...

ed, you seem to have a irrational hatred of Exberliner. Compared to all the other attempts at English magazines in the city - Metropolis, Checkpoint, B-mag(?), it's by far the most original and interesting. I guess these others where attempts by Zitty to do something in English. They were absolutely DISMAL - I'm probably the only person who still remembers these publications during the 1990s. Ok, Exb is not always the most cutting edge journalism. but it's been around for five years and has given something new and fresh to this city.

Ed Ward said...

Gee, Gravy, I guess you don't recall that I edited the last couple of issues of Metropolis, worked on Checkpoint, and founded and edited three issues of b magazine before we were forced to stop operation by lack of investors. Dismal? I guess, in that we tried with all these projects to serve the entire English-speaking community, not just the temporarily-here-for-kicks hipster community. Of course, we didn't have Daddy's Money paying for us, either, and had to try to pry money from investment-averse Germans.

Irrational hatred? No, contempt for people who don't know what they're doing but have the resources to learn on the job while shorting the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Give a 'journalist' a blog and he turns into an editor-less ranter. Your last comment contained not a grain of truth. I happen to know the owners of the Exberliner took a huge financial risk i.e. took on massive debts to start their venture, and are by no means trust-fund babies, as you would like to portray them. So, perhaps you should stop spreading nonsense and do something productive with your life.

Ed Ward said...

Gee, Gravy, you sure know how to hurt a guy.

For your information, this "journalist" has been in the magazine business for 40 years, and has been published in countless magazines and newspapers.

If I was wrong about the Ex Berliner idiots being trust fund kids, okay; it's not like they ever talked to me to gain any of my experience in doing magazines in Berlin, after all, so I just assumed from their clueless behavior they were.

It's also worth noting that you never addressed my main complaint with the magazine: that they don't make any attempt to reach the vast majority of English-speaking people in the city and are content to preach to their own self-satisfied choir of hipsters.

But I'm sure that doesn't matter to you.