Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Times Discovers Berlin! (Again)

It was going to be a vacation. Take the train to Amsterdam, see an old friend, eat some different food, relax for part of a day, then get on a plane and emerge some hours later in Austin, where there'd be no snow, and fewer gloomy faces.

And it just about worked, too. By the time I got off the train in Amsterdam Centraal, I was beginning to unwind. An evening with Mike Stewart talking about old times and listening to some of the stuff he's currently producing (I think Marynka has some great stuff working) and then going out for a Surinamese dinner (it's a weird collision of Indian, Chinese and Caribbean cuisines, tasty and cheap), and Berlin was sliding away out of my memory.

The next morning, I took a tram to the train to the airport, and, before I headed to the gate, I thought, hey, I should pick up an International Herald Tribune to read, especially since it's Saturday and all, and I can get the New York Times crossword a day early. (Right about now, Andy Zwerling is getting ready to write me an e-mail telling me that if I were cool enough to live in New York I'd have it on Thursday night. You should buy his record anyway).

And, because I wanted to check the weather, which is on the back page, I flipped the paper over as soon as I'd wedged into my airplane seat, and of all things, here was yet another article about how cool Berlin was! And of course I had to read it.

This time, like the last time the Times wrote about arty, Bohemian Berlin -- a whopping three weeks previously -- the guy got a lot of stuff right. No, not the part about Lou Reed living here (when are people going to realize that he may have written a pompous, overblown "rock opera" called Berlin, but he'd never seen the damn place when he did so?), nor the recommendation of the Paris Bar, treating its non-celebrity customers like pariahs since before the Wall came down (why anyone goes there twice is a mystery to me). But he noticed the new galleries on Zimmerstr., although I don't necessarily agree with his exact choices, that was smart. But the rest of the article was a rehash of the obvious: Kreuzberg has cheap apartments! (Hell, it's had them since at least 1968, when it was a Turkish slum squatted by hippies). Berlin is cheap! (Yeah, that's because of the unemployment, only noted by the arch young man in the gallery up towards the start of the article saying "Nobody works in Berlin. Everyone's either an artist or a politician," which'll come as a huge surprise to lots of my neighbors, who don't have either excuse for not working.)

And after that, the writer, one Richard K. Woodward, glancingly mentions the museums on Museum Island, the ones even the worst guidebooks mention, and pays a visit to the Sammlung Hoffmann, open one day a month if you can get on the guided tour. That brought back memories, because the radio station I used to work for was there in the Sophien-Gips-Höfe, and I hadn't realized that our landlord, Rolf Hoffmann, had died. I met him once at an art party (where I also consumed spinach soup made with gin -- aren't artists wacky?) and he spilled a huge glass of red wine on my shirt, commenting "I have baptized you!" Still, any church that has art by Pipilotti Rist, Antichrist of contemporary art, is one I'm not joining any time soon.

In the end it's another blah-blah story about the galleries, many of which will fold soon when they either can't afford their spaces or their hot young artists cool, about the artists who'll eventually get tired of a place with horrible weather and a population that basically hates innovation and loves to say no, and the scenesters who drift around the galleries wondering if they look cool enough. All, of course, supported by dull generalities ("Techno has roots in Berlin" -- and Detroit, of course, but those guys are black and Americans don't notice them, although the Germans do), clichés about tourists like David Bowie (and non-tourists like Lou Reed), and recommendations for the Paris Bar. One would think the Times could do better, but given what their travel section, where this article appeared, pays, maybe not.

Which is not to say that there isn't a blockbuster of good news in the article. I quote: "During the cold war, visiting Berlin required changes of planes, layovers and worries about visas should you want to stray into Communist territory. And even after the Wall fell, getting to Berlin didn't get much easier, with almost no direct flights out of the United States.

"But that will soon change, when Delta starts nonstop service out of Kennedy International Airport on May 2, and Continental does the same out of Newark on July 1."

Now, that is news: cheap flights to/from the States when the service debuts, followed by increasingly empty planes and both airlines' withdrawal from the market, no doubt. That's what happened with American and United. But if you're coming, there are two dates to start looking into: there'll be loss-leaders from both airlines, unless I miss my bet.

Anyway, I carried that damn article around for two weeks thinking I'd have enough peace of mind to sit down and write this entry, but it never happened. I got home last night, and so I'll be talking a bit about just why I didn't have time over the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

No comments: