Business in the Front, Party in the Rear

Yesterday I rode down the Rhein to Urdenbach. The bike route takes you through an industrial area in which there's basically one house left: No. 73, Reisholzer Werftstrasse. The 4-story building stands there completely alone next to a large, empty field. The building has become a favorite for artists and countercultural types (including the sculptor and painter Ute Wöhle, who has a studio there), profiled in this photo essay (g) in the local newspaper.

The facade is being renovated, but the owner lets graffiti artists decorating the back part of the building. Yesterday they were hard at work:

DSCF9240
DSCF9240

Here's what it looked like a few weeks ago. Is that supposed to be Freddie Mercury?

Wall Painting Himmelgeist

 

 


Urban Archeology

The Corneliusstraße train overpass, one of Düsseldorf' many hideous underpasses, was recently stripped of its advertising hoardings, exposing squares of long-hidden posters and graffiti, including this advertisement, which appears to be for a long-ago performance of Swan Lake (Schwanensee) by the 'Ballet Classique de Paris' (extra points for anyone who can date this poster):

Corneliusstr. 18 May 2014 (Schwanensee)

Just above that I spotted the words 'raus aus Vietnam' (get out of Vietnam), barely legible in light-green ink:

Corneliusstr. 18 May 2014 (China raus aus Vietnam)

The first word was hard to read, but it's got to be the USA, right? The Vietnam War was, to put it mildly, not very popular in Germany (g) at least among the sort of people who paint underpasses with graffiti.

But on closer inspection, the first word turned out to be China (!):

Corneliusstr. 18 May 2014 (China)

That narrows things down. I'm sure I don't need to remind you that the last time China invaded Vietnam was in the 1788 Battle of Ngọc Hồi-Đống Đa, so this graffito is 226 years old!

On closer inspection of Wikipedia, it turns out that China invaded Vietnam (again) in 1979, during the Sino-Vietnamese War. No wonder the Vietnamese still distrust their giant neighbor

Now the question is who wrote this? Perhaps a Vietnamese. But I like to think it was a member of a tiny Marxist splinter group, perhaps the Autonome Autarke Syndakilistische-Solidaristische Volksfront.


ZDF's Pathetic Lowbrow Cultural Vandalism

A while ago, I posted this ad for Mad Men that I saw at a local train station:

Mad Men Ad
The tag line translates: "Behind Every Successful Woman Stands a Man Who's Staring at her Ass." It's the ad campaign for the American television series Mad Men, which has been bought by ZDF Neo (g), a branch of one of Germany's two main public-broadcasting channels.

Now, back when I saw this poster, I hadn't watched Mad Men, although it had been recommended to me by people whose taste I trusted. Cohu, in comments, pointed out that the entire premise of the ad campaign was wrong. Boy, was she right.

The two characters shown in the poster are Don Draper, the series' main figure and creative director of a Madison Avenue advertising firm, and Rachel Menken, the owner of a New York department store. They have a brief romance during the show's first season, while Don's firm is wooing her as a client.

Let me count the ways in which this ad is cultural vandalism:

  1. It completely distorts the relation between the two characters. First of all, Don Draper although a womanizer of the highest order, doesn't "stare" at women's "asses". His manners are too refined for that. This is not to say that he's an enlightened, sensitive 90s man (Thank God) -- the series is set in the early 60s. But he generally treats women with respect. In fact, Draper punishes underlings for stupid sexist comments, perhaps more for the stupidity than the sexism, and recognizes talent in female subordinates. Menken, for that matter, is Don's equal in all things, and he treats her as such.
  2. The pointless vulgarity. One of the intriguing things about Mad Men is the fact that its past is a different country. There are no cute, winking anachronisms. Although the characters' attitudes toward women and minorities are more cliched than they would be today, their manners are more polished. People dress formally, use the subjunctive, help the ladies with their coats, speak in complete sentences, and use appropriate greetings and goodbyes. This is what makes the alcohol-fueled lapses in decorum so pleasantly shocking: when one character says "fuck" (which happens a grand total of once in the series), the other characters react as if they'd just been slapped. So the whole snarky talk of staring at asses -- doubtless conceived by some insufferable young German ad-man who sprinkles his business-jargon with the English word "edgy" -- is completely out of place.
  3. It sells the series as lowbrow for no reason. God knows, the German television landscape is full of lowbrow (g) shtick complete with ass-staring jokes. But Mad Men isn't lowbrow, it's high-middlebrow. (This is, by the way, the level of brow that Germany seems to be incapable of producing itself). People who tune in looking for crude humor are going to be quickly disappointed, and will tune out after 20 minutes. Why is attracting a blip of attention from fans of fart jokes worth vulgarizing and caricaturing the very artistic product you're promoting?
  4. It's worse than a crime, it's a mistake. The ad shows the condescending amateurism that you so often see in the German media. As Cohu pointed out, nobody who had watched even one episode of the series would have approved this marketing approach. Unless, of course, they just didn't care. Which, obviously, they didn't. I mean, why bother actually coming up with a stylish, witty ad campaign for the series? It'll just go over the heads of the stupid couch potatoes we "serve"...

Now, don't get me wrong. Sponsoring this stupid ad for Mad Men is not taking a hammer to the Pieta. Mad Men is not a timeless masterpiece, it's more like a Trollope novel. But it is damn good television, and this ad completely disrespects that fact. Perhaps if Germans began actually taking well-made high-middlebrow television seriously, they'd finally be able to create some of their own...


Reclamation of A Trade Park

Witzelstr. 55 is the address of a mixed commercial and industrial trade area in the middle of Duesseldorf that was entirely abandoned in mid-2002.

Since then, lots of interesting things have been going on there. I'm working on a more ambitious project, but until then, here is a slideshow of images taken in October 2007, April 2008, and August of 2009. However, I recommend that instead of watching this glorious decay through a little window, you follow the link below to my Picasa photo album, and run a full-screen slideshow.




Witzelstrasse

Ever Drifting, Drifting, Drifting

Pure loveliness, found at a train station in Duesseldorf. You can almost hear the waves caressing the tendrils of seaweed this way and that:

Seaweed-Shaped Graffito

Note the balding egghead to the right of the graffito with the question mark over his head. You see him everywhere -- does anyone know his story? 

There seems to be a lot of outstanding graffiti street art in Germany. Has anyone written a book about it that one of my good-looking, cultivated readers can recommend?