Just Another Work Week in Berlin

It was difficult to find where to return the rental car at the Hauptbahnhof, but we finally did (note to travelers: Google Maps doesn’t work underground). Our friend Philipp was going to pick us up, but a marathon had traffic all jammed up and we ended up taking the train to Potsdam to hang out with him for the weekend. We did some important shopping (replacement noise-cancelling headphones and a power adapter), then had a nice dinner at Zwei Hundert Eins.

Sunday, after Philipp voted in another sad election, we went to Teufelsberg, an abandoned CIA station from the Cold War. Now it is a street art gallery with tons of murals and ever-changing installations on the floors of the tower. One tour guide had worked there as a young spy in the 70s, the other, Deirdre, was an artist setting up a project there, so they each had quite a bit of non-overlapping information. The buildings are mostly trashed and empty. One has the ruins of a massive paper shredder which output finely divided gruel to be formed into bricks, dried, burned, and the ashes dissolved. They took their bureaucracy seriously back then. The rest are concrete rooms that have been drawn on. In the highest tower, the graffiti is so intense that pieces don’t usually last more than a week, Deirdre said.

I had always wondered about the spherical antennas you see from time to time: they are actually enclosures to hide the real antennas. They also have amazing acoustics, and Deirdre can really sing. She also knew the Temescal Brewery, in Oakland. Small first world.

After walking down from the mountain and driving back to Potsdam, we stopped for a döner as a snack, which turned out to be dinner, it was so big. Then we took an evening walk around the lake near Philipp’s house. It has pretty buildings and views and is a part of the World Heritage Site that encompasses Sans Souci.

Monday we all got up early. Philipp drove us to our artist friend Thomas’s house in Berlin, on his way to pick up his girlfriend Betty from the airport after her long trip to South America. We didn’t see Philipp again after that! Thomas’s house still seemed to have most of the wedding setup, though the glasses and wine bottles had been cleared away. I set up my computer in his office, and started working. The week was pretty businesslike, though there were dinners, a visit to the new Urban Museum (art by street artists which wasn’t really street art), a concert at Berghain (Forest Swords). Dinners were mostly Greatest Hits: Schwarzwaldstuben (the Bavarian restaurant in Mitte at which Thomas is a regular), the delicious bistro Parkstern near his house, and another visit to Mädchen Ohne Abitur with Lindsay and Kevin and Bibo.

Berghain is a piece of work. This reworked transformer station is normally a Velvet Rope establishment, where one is admitted or not based on whether the bouncer thinks he wants to see you naked, and how much New Money you have spent not being naked. On nights when it has been rented for a concert, and admission is open to all paying customers, the bouncers feel resentful, the way Orval Faubus felt when he had to integrate Arkansas’s schools. The security man who harassed me was of the Hard Ass With A Pony Tail variety. When I went in, he recited to me what was forbidden and I said, “‘Nall Right,” in what I thought was a very friendly manner, and he didn’t understand that dialect of English and thought I was threatening him. Note to self: no more dialect. I’m realizing now that I don’t even know what dialect that is. My mother said it, I say it. She’s from Minnesota.

“Forest Swords” was advertised as electronic. They meant, electronically amplified. The sound is better than that at the Fillmore West fifty years ago, barely. Concrete power plants have high school gym acoustics. The light show was primitive. They haven’t even enough respect to project it upon a screen. The projector (which Lindsay said was new) is aimed at a big metal stairwell back of the stage. The stairwell ends at a door about three meters up, which is painted to look like a speaker. But you’re looking at a stairwell illuminated by a movie, and basically you can’t see the images that the light show jockeys worked so hard downloading.

The fact that the effect of a discotheque hasn’t changed in fifty years makes one wonder if humans don’t actually like that sort of thing.

Berghain’s real life is as a sex club. There is a big statue in the entry way of a guy with a funnel and a tube in his mouth. Lindsay says the rest rooms have been designed with this in mind. There are odd ice sculptures of orgies under the glass topped bar, except the bartender told Dave they were made of sugar. You could look on the Internet. That’s where you usually find photos of things you aren’t allowed to photograph.

Kevin told a story of his friend in the back room on the evenings when Berghain is a back room bar: They take all your clothes and write a number one you. Kevin’s friend told him: “As a Jew in Germany I felt very uncomfortable having all my clothes taken from me and a number written on my arm.”

Just so. At the Forest Swords concert, there wasn’t anyone in the audience who wouldn’t fit in at an AfD rally. How does that enforce itself? The people here aren’t overtly racist, if you were to ask them. But they are 110% white like me. Seriously: how does the color of your skin influence what kind of music you want to listen to?

Anyway we left before midnight and got back to Thomas’s about 1:15. It had been raining lightly from Alexanderplatz north. Opening a stuck door in the rain = apprehensive. Fortunately the other key on the ring was for Bibo’s house next door.

Another thing Kevin said: “You can learn anything in Berlin except German.” I read in the Guardian that 38% of the people in Europe speak English. Obviously in Berlin, much higher. If you speak to them in anything but English, you are insulting their English. Just don’t say ‘Nall right.”

“Mädchen Ohne Abintur” is still brilliant.

Friday Ray flew to Romania. I went with Bibo to a friend’s art opening on Friday, and on Saturday borrowed her bike and went on a ride through the countryside. Google Maps was inclined to choose excessively challenging trails to ride on, and sometimes I had to disobey it.  At one point I was looking around in a large forest park for a tree to hide behind and pee.  It was a challenge because the forest was full of people looking for mushrooms on the weekend.  The bike seat could have been a bit higher, so my thighs were glad I could take the bike on the train back to Berlin. I joined Lindsay and Kevin and Sebastian for a snack followed by some great craft cocktails.