Saturday, June 16, 2007

Just Another Day In Berlin

I was awakened around 8 am yesterday by a call from a friend in Prague, announcing that a friend of his, from Texas originally, would be coming to Berlin later in the day. After the call was over, I went back to sleep. I had a lot of work to do, and wanted to be fresh.

By the time I had had my coffee and was checking e-mails, the friend-of-a-friend had written me, and we went back and forth until we had a meeting set up later in the evening in Friedrichshain, where he was staying. Then it was time to get to work: totally rewriting a sample page of a brochure for a school here so it wouldn't be so stuffy and yet would appeal to the right kind of students.

This, it developed, took a couple of hours, but I figured if the school green-lighted the project I'd have made a significant score. And I'd find out: the woman in charge was leaving for vacation at the end of the day. So after I'd whipped it into shape and e-mailed it to her, I realized I'd be stupid to sit around the house waiting to hear from her, so I strapped on the trusty Nikon and went in search of the Acid Icon artist's other work.

It was just past Rosenthaler Platz, on the south side of Torstr. but proved maddeningly difficult to photograph, as you can see:

This gives a hint of the colors, especially in the face, but it obscures the majority of the piece.

This, on the other hand, gives an idea of the scale of the piece. The only proper way to photograph this would be from inside the industrial courtyard, unfortunately. Still, there are a couple of clues here. First, it's copyright by Super Blast, which explains the SB on the other icon's field. Second, the idiosyncratic spelling of "Maschine" makes it pretty certain the artist is German. And the mysterious inscription "Thanks to Play Station" doesn't, I hope, mean that Super Blast was part of that lame promotion of a few weeks back. If so, there's nothing overt in either image that indicates it.

I grabbed another couple of shots as I headed back home -- the defaced Ronald McDonald, which I added on my post about the McDonald's closing a couple of weeks ago, and a shot for bowleserised's all-things-pony blog, The Ponyhof. She and I then spent an amusing couple of hours trying to figure out how to download the goddam photos from Gmail.

Finally, since it was getting towards 5 and I knew just how fast Germans depart the office on Friday, I called the school, only to discover that I'd been in competition with some other writers and the school had gone for one who had a degree. Because naturally, making your living by writing for over 40 years doesn't mean that you know a thing about language. I wasn't even particularly surprised, since I know how much store Germans -- and, I suspect, Europeans in general -- put in such things. Hell, I'd have graduated from college if I'd understood the weird experimental educational project they'd put me in. Or not, I don't know. (It doesn't matter now: the damn place is closing).

So the next order of business was to eat some dinner and head off to the bar to meet this guy, which I did. The new tram line by my house makes it easy to get to the hip! edgy! district of Friedrichshain, where every second person is from America and nobody's much over 30. Trouble is, the new tram line, like all the tram lines in my neighborhood, are closed for the next couple of weeks for track work. Thus, I was wedged into a bus that was loaded well beyond its legal limit with drunken teenagers and ferried most of the way across town, where we were dumped to meet the part of the tramline that was running. Then I got there and there was a sign on the bar that there was a private party going on.

This turned out to be because apparently the place is officially not open for business, so I won't identify it further, but at any rate the Texan finally made his appearance and we talked for a while until the trust-fund hipster vibe got to me and I realized that I'd be repeating the same arduous journey back home, so I said good-bye and caught the tram.

Boy, did I feel smart: by the time the (mostly empty) bus pulled up at the terminus at Nordbahnhof, I could see lightning flashing in the sky, and by the time I was half-way down my block, tiny raindrops were intermittently hitting my skin. I opened a nightcap beer, sat and read with the windows open as gentle rain started to fall, and then went to bed.

Now, I don't know about you, but thunderstorms, for me, are like the best sleeping-pills ever invented. I think it's the rapid drop in air pressure that does it, and I was asleep in no time.

The beer, however, wasn't, so after lying there listening to a really bad storm pounding down, I got up to recycle it. Although all the lights were out, I could see that the entire bathroom floor was slick with water. Worse, it was copiously studded with dark lumps. Yes, folks, the sewer had backed up, the toilet had overflowed, and my bathroom was covered with the Waste of Others.

German mop technology, I'm sorry to say, isn't very good. All I have is a so-called Wischmop, a primitive thing with semi-absorbent cloth shreds which need to be wrung out every couple of seconds. Over the next 90 minutes, until after 3 am, I was angrily swabbing, pushing the, um, souvenirs, against the wall, and praying not to get cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, or some other dread disease. When things were somewhat under control, I took a long, hot shower and collapsed back in bed, where I remained until 10:30.

Why the city of Berlin's sewers are so bad, I can't say, although you've got to admit that a city so broke that it's begging other police departments for their cast-off uniforms probably can't maintain them. This kind of thing has happened before, but it's never escaped the toilet before, and I was genuinely glad upon rising to note that there wasn't much of a smell. I spent my early afternoon swabbing the bathroom down with Mr. Clean (Mr. Proper over here) and a healthy dose of Clorox (DanKlorix), and, while it dried, went off to buy some coffee.

Some time ago, I lamented the demise of the Malongo Coffee boutique at Galleries Lafayette here, where you could buy superb whole-bean coffee cheaper than at Starbucks or Einstein or Balzac or any of the other similar "quality" coffee joints. Well, in the past few weeks, they've returned as a presence at the bakery counter there. The prices have risen so that it's no longer €4 for 250g, but more like €5, so they're on par with the others (except Starbucks, which is €6), but I can once again make my famous blend and breakfasts here at the house are far more enjoyable.

Walking home, I made sure to avoid Friedrichstr., which has apparently been entered in an international competition for auto and pedestrian inaccessibility, and instead made my way over to Museum Island. At Bebelplatz, there was a book fair going on, and if I'd stayed til 4, I could have met Rolf Hochhuth and punched the old man out for awakening an interest in Germany in the teenaged me, but instead I wanted to get home. Walking up Tucholskystr. I saw yet another horror: a Hollywood Boulevard-style star, with a Vanity Fair logo, for Damien Hirst sunk in the sidewalk outside a gallery. Yet another there-goes-the-neighborhood moment -- and Brangelina have yet to move in, as far as I know.

I was contemplating the messages the past 24 hours had brought when the doorbell rang. A young woman in a Deutsche Post uniform handed me a large, soft package of the sort I never get. It was postmarked Montpellier. In it was a huge towel, with embroidered on one corner. I was puzzled until I realized I'd won it weeks ago in this contest, which I play when I'm bored in hopes of winning. (Yeah, I know the page doesn't work all that well and most of the "clue" links don't work: it's French, for heaven's sake!)

And it occurred to me: the students are leaving Montpellier right now. The apartments will be available all summer. Once again it's time to strike.

Now to raise the €12,500 I need to do it with.


Dr. Sardonic said...

Your newfound skill in removing poo will come in handy in Montpelier: I once spent a summer there, and there's so much dogshit on the sidewalks, you'll be surprised to find yourself pining for the comparatively clean Gehwege of Berlin. Really. And take your industrial-strength soap with you; you'll be needing it after you dip into the hot and stinky seawater that oozes onto the beaches south of Montpelier. Other than that, it's a nice place to spend the summer: the students are gone, and Parisians head elsewhere for vacation, so you'll have the place to yourself. Also: great food, but you knew that.

Bowleserised said...

OK, that's now officially the low point. It's only uphill from here on.

I found another trail, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to be on a M10 bus full of drunk teenagers than on the usual M10 tram, as at least the driver isn't shut off from everyone else in his own protected little booth. And it only rained through the roof here - but an overflowing loo would have been very unlikely as I don't have one...

Otherwise: the place wasn't in the Simon-Dach-Str. 32 was it?

Marie Javins said...

A towel! Perfect for mopping up sewage on the bathroom floor. Congratulations on your winnings.

Anonymous said...

thanks Ed - now i am even more grateful that i live up here on the hill above you! the thunderstorm from this altitude was but a blissful beautiful rage. i gazed into the sheets of rain and hail and thought deep Caspar David Friedrich type thoughts. sorry 'bout the 'souvenirs' though - hope you got yer booster shots!

Ed Ward said...

Dr. Sardo: Funny, but when I've been in MTP I haven't noticed this problem. Maybe they've dealt with it since you were there, and maybe my shoedar is good enough that I don't notice. Also, Berlin is variable on this issue: my own street is absolutely smeared, while others, mostly in the west, aren't.

K-M: no. And why would one live in a place without a toilet? I swear, it's the 21st century, and just to live in groovy Berlin people put up with coal and johns in the hall. Ridiculous.

And William, don't gloat. When I lived in Austin there was an awful flood that killed a bunch of people. I didn't even know about it because I lived on a hill myself. Went into work at the paper the next day to discover the horrors, reporters who'd been up all night, one who barely escaped death when he leapt from his car and saw it swept away by a wall of water. I later ran into a neighbor, a folk singer, who was bemoaning the loss by water of her precious guitar. "But you live on the hill near me!" I said. "Yeah," she said, "but I live in a basement and I left the window open."

Anonymous said...

Ed: No, give me a real shower (better: a bathtub), modern heating, and a toilet in the flat. But for the amount of rent (and the low heating bill) I pay now. Possible? I don't think so. But, if anyone wants to prove me wrong, I'll gladly be their Nachmieter.

Anonymous said...

And - you write And why would one live in a place without a toilet?

You answer this one quite well yourself: until after 3 am, I was angrily swabbing, pushing the, um, souvenirs, against the wall, and praying not to get cholera, typhoid,.

Anonymous said...

i am much liking your new, more erotic posting...keep it up...much thank yous

Anonymous said...

I must be dense but it never occurred to me before that this was one benefit of living on a hill: I landed here (that is, near Zionskirchplatz, supposedly the highest point in Berlin) very much by chance. The luck.

On the topic of trams vs. buses, I strongly disagree with Karl Marx: the buses in Berlin are (for the most part) decrepit (only other big city I can think of with worse buses is Brussels; there the subway stinks, as a bonus) whereas the trams are spiffy and besides they feel more modern and more "big city" (very expensive infrastructure and all that): buses are for provincial towns who can't do better. One reason, if not _the_ reason, I headed East is here we have trams, not buses. So although I use neither I am always very annoyed when a tram in my vicinity gets replaced, however temporarily, by an Ersatz bus line. And why do you want to chat the driver anyway? It isn't his job to entertain you but to drive.

Ed Ward said...

I think the point about the bus is well-taken: the driver can break up fights and so on. Whether they will or not is another point, but I never even get a sense that the damn tram driver's even there.

Anonymous said...

Ed understood (as opposed to Olivier) my point about the advantages of buses over trams - at least as far as the M10 goes. It's not about chatting to the driver, but more about basic safety when particular routes are often full of drunken and/or violent people with or without dogs, late at night.

Anyway, most BVG buses are very modern and have been either built or refurbished over the past few years - that's a fact - unless your on a Ersatzverkehr bus-as-a-replacement-for-tram (or S-Bahn), which will more often than not be one of the oldest, most grotty vehicles the BVG own. I can understand why.