Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Which, I guess, is what you'd call things larger than crumbs...


First, of course, there's the story of the Burden of History Santas. Now that these despicable objects have all been destroyed, it's safe to direct you to the Spiegel Online story about them. Make sure you enlarge the photo there so you can see the offending gesture.

This paranoia about the "Hitler salute" is omnipresent. I was on the upper level of a double-decker bus one time when a bunch of high-school boys thundered up the stairs and took some seats. They had just left a group of friends outside, and as the bus pulled away, one of the kids nudged another one and said "Hey, he's waving at you." The second kid raised his arm to wave, and suddenly blushed bright red as his friend slapped his arm down.

From this cautionary Christmas tale, I'd assume that pointing at the Star of Bethlehem on the part of shepherds or Magi isn't depicted in German Christmas ornaments. I'll be on the lookout when I make my customary tour of the Christmas markets some weekend in the near future. Can't be too safe!


While lamenting the disappearance of things I like here, it's, um, fair and balanced to point out the disappearance of things I've always hated, and on a recent walk to Alexanderplatz, I noted that the pedestrian subway, a large, DDR-era tiled collection of underground tunnels connecting various parts of Alex, had been paved over. True, it was the best way to get out of the rain, and a huge gallery for graffiti artists, but it was also the realm of the worst street musician ever, a flutist with one of those mephistophelean beards who played over orchestral tracks on a boom-box. I don't think I have ever heard a musician play with less feeling, not to mention that his cassette seemed to contain only three tunes, which, excepting that Brandenburg Concerto movement, I've utterly forgotten.

Street musicians here have to be licensed, and I've been told that the licenses, which are issued at some preposterous hour of the morning like 6:30, are controlled by the Russian mob, which sends a few guys down to pick them all up and then doles them out to musicians, mostly Russian, who agree to their terms. One of those terms, apparently, is learning scams: some friends of mine once had a restaurant, and a friendly, funny guitarist would show up from time to time to entertain. Then he'd take all his small change and ask for a beer and the favor of converting his handfuls of coins into larger currency. Oddly, the restaurant kept coming up short at the cash register at 3 am, when it closed, and finally my friends made the connection and banned him. The police later confirmed that this was a very common scam with these musicians.

Of course, the other thing about pedestrian subways, common around the world as far as I can tell, is that they serve as late night urinals for the terminally inebriated, and on a warm summer day the one at Alex exuded a strong odor unless the cleaning crews, who also worked on the graffiti, had made their monthly appearance. The only positive aspect of this I can think of is that the flutist had to inhale the miasma in gasps as he thundered through the goddam Brandenburg.

Now, access to Alex is via surface, which means you have to stand in the rain waiting for the light to change. A small price to pay, given everything.


Thanks to Brent for this (translated) article from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, confirming what the local tabloid headlines have been screaming all week: THE HAUPTBAHNHOF MUST BE COMPLETELY REBUILT! Not true, of course, as you'll read, but within the story is confirmation of something I've been saying here (and to anyone who'll listen) about the attitude of Germany's former monopolies (Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom, and, here, Deutsche Bahn) towards the public at large.

What the article doesn't mention specifically is that the platform-length issue isn't just a matter of esthetics. The east-west trains board outdoors, on the top level, and one of the "savings" DB instituted as they revised the architect's original plans was to shorten not the platform, but the roof covering that platform. In thus saving a bit of money, they forgot that the high-speed ICE trains that pull into Berlin are really long, because they often split in two at a later destination. Several cars of these trains (and, thus, the passengers waiting to board) are thus exposed to the elements because the roof isn't long enough, and the biggest irony is that these very cars are usually the first class ones, so you've just paid a premium to stand in the rain waiting to board. It's true that the ticket envelopes and route-guides inside the trains often have ads for cold remedies, but this is a rather cruel way of drumming up business for them, I think.

I also wonder if the vaulted ceilings that may be part of the rebuilding, if it happens, will make the lower levels of the station any lighter. For all its glass and high-tech appurtenances, the Hauptbahnhof is one of the gloomiest places I've ever been in, a shopping mall in a cave.

It's also worth noting the prose style of the article, which I think is accurately translated. This is what readers of Germany's "better" papers (and this one is considered the best) have to slog through in order to get their information. No wonder so many people read the tabloids.


Anonymous said...

oh i always loved the underground walkways behind Alex - but they've been closed for a while now anyway. Perhaps you can hope that your flute playing Mephistopheles is sealed in somewhere below. I wonder what happened to the colourful signs, guiding the hapless Dante's through that rectangular hell - I never could figure out if i was entering through A and exiting through B or vice verse. So pointless and smacking of that seventies urbanism which favored fast moving vehicular arteries in the heart of the city over any sort of pedestrian culture. Transport policy is often the realm of misguided and poorly informed dreamers. Or penny pinching assh*les like Mehdorn. Glad that von Gerkan won. got to say though ed, if the hauptbahnhof is one of the gloomiest places you've ever been, you've led a charmed life...

Anonymous said...

I had missed that. So glad that this toad of Mehdorn was humiliated. And I do not find the Lehrter Bhf gloomy either; a bit on the nondescript side perhaps (Gerkan is no Calatrava) but not gloomy.

Ed Ward said...

I dunno; I'm not the only one I know who finds that downstairs area too dark. But then, I rarely shop there. If I need groceries on Sunday, Friedrichstr. is easier to get to, and the Edeka there is cheaper.

Dr. Sardonic said...

I must say the headline of the SZ article struck me as pretty snappy, though not sufficiently so to power me through the whole article.