Separate the Colors, Leave the Lids On

The local news visits the largest glass recycling facility in Europe, in Dormagen. The report clears up a few mysteries about the ubiquitous glass-recycling boxes you see in Germany.

First of all, separating glass by colors actually does matter. You typically hear Germans saying it doesn't, because the trucks which clear the containers seem to dump everything haphazardly into the trailer compartment. Wrong! What bystanders can't see is that the trucks have separate compartments for each color of glass.

Glass of the wrong color, as well as non-glass items such as ceramics or even gun parts (according to the plant manager) are removed from the stream by hand. The rest is automated.

Oh, and although every box has a warning sign tells you to remove the lid before you recycle the bottle, this turns out to be wrong. The machines can easily remove lids, which are recyclable themselves, and intact bottles with lids are "more hygienic" for the human sorters to handle.

This has been your public-service post for the month of October.

Operation Glasshole™ Concluded

Yesterday, I donned protective gloves and wading boots, and finally finished cleaning up one short stretch of the Düssel river. Here's the video: 

As you can see, another 100 or so bottles, to add to the 100 or so I had fished out before. Plus, this round brought us:

  • A steak knife
  • 7 more bicycle locks
  • a pair of sunglasses
  • one (1) women's boot
  • a 1.5- meter length of rusting steel re-bar
  • a disc-shaped battery-operated IKEA light fixture, complete with rotting batteries
  • 5 plastic bags or pieces of plastic sheeting
  • 1 more umbrella
  • 1 section of metal grille
  • several plastic cups
  • three metal rods and/or picture frame elements
  • one laminated official notice on white A4 paper from the City of Düsseldorf which was formerly attached to the bridge, warning people not to lock their bikes to it until 16 October 2016 because of bridge maintenance.
  • what appeared to be one-half of a foam soccer ball
  • a still-stoppered fake mother-of-pearl perfume bottle
  • several parts of an ironing board
  • a few unclassifiable pieces of metal and plastic which looked like auto or machine parts

I displaced at least 10 juvenile and 2 adult spiny-cheeked crayfish from inside various bottles.

At the end of the day after making several tours of inspection, I could see no more junk. There were still hundreds of bottle caps, but I have my limits. One couple passing by asked me whether I was fishing for eels. After I was done, I had a chat with the Slavic woman who runs the convenience store next to the bridge. She called me "poor guy", and apparently assumed my clean-up operation was a form of punishment. I informed her that I had just gotten fed up and decided to clean up the river. She said "Well, that's nice of you, but let me tell you, people are just going to keep throwing stuff into it. I sit here all day and watch them."

I said that almost all the stuff was covered in silt, which made it seem as if it had been there a long time. She said that, on second thought, that she hadn't seen much littering lately: "There was a group of people who were doing most of it who moved away." She made a certain gesture indicating what sort of people they were, but I couldn't really decipher it. It sort of looked like a mixture of air-bottle glug-glug (drunks) mixed with some kind of arm-waving. Possibly a Nazi salute. But I can't be sure.

This gives me some hope that most of the garbage came from short bursts of antisocial behavior years ago; possibly a gaggle of winos colonizing the riverbank for a few days, throwing their empties (mostly 200 ml flasks of Stepanoff vodka) into the stream. And then, of course, the garbage was passively tolerated by thousands of local residents who crossed the bridge over the years, wrinkling their noses in disapproval but doing nothing about it.

One mystery that's provoked plenty of discussion on my Facebook page is the bicycle locks. A few of them had obviously been cut, but most of them seemed to be intact. Which raises the question of why anyone would throw what appears to be an intact bicycle lock into the stream? My only guess is that some people steal bikes by picking the locks. Then they reattach the lock and throw it in the river, presumably to get rid of evidence. It seems like a fairly ludicrous precaution, given that local police don't even try to solve individual bike thefts. But who knows?

Any guesses about this mystery?

Operation Glasshole™ Phase II Preparation Intermediate Status Report

Both here and on Facebook, where I post much more interesting stuff much more frequently, the question has been raised: what happened to the bottles I removed?

The answer is I dumped them all in a nearby recycling box.

Germans, notorious as among the stingiest penny-pinching races on earth (sorry guys, you know I love you but it's true), are now collectively spit-taking in a combination of intense disapproval, anguish, and Angstlust: "Dear God!! You mean you just threw away bottles worth €1.78?!??! Typical wasteful American."

Allow me to explain. The bottles were, as I earlier remarked, all covered in some sort of black slime, inside and out. Probably some combination of tannin from rotting tree leaves and fine particulates from automobile exhaust. It would have taken 2 or 3 minutes of hand-washing to clean each one.

Further, the labels had all long since rotted off the bottles. Nowadays, it is the label on the bottle that contains the all-important bar code which machines use to calculate the deposit. Without a label, you're done for.

Now I hear many Germans saying: "So what? Technically, stores are still required to give you the deposit back if you present them with a bottle, even if it doesn't have a label. After all, it's the glass that's important for recycling, not the label. I once saw a rail thin, boil-covered man with mushrooms growing in his beard actually manage to convince a supermarket manager to give him an 8-cent deposit on an unlabeled beer bottle after a 5-minute argument. See, it can be done!"

I've seen that man, too. But I don't want to be that man. So no, I am not earning anything on the bottles.

On another note, it turns out that wading boots are quite cheap. I thought they might be kind of expensive, but that's only because I live near a Sack & Pack luxury camping-supplies store, which has wading boots hand-crafted by transgendered Tibetan orphans selling for €170 per boot. Online, you can get cheap rubber boots for 7 Euros, so that's what I bought.

Once Phase II is complete, I will furnish a thorough report.

Operation Glasshole™ Phase I Status Report

A little over a month ago, I noted that the small creek which runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel (after which Düsseldorf is named) was full of bottles, since glassholes have been throwing bottles into it over the years.

So today I took a pole and a net and started work. Here is the before and after pictures of the part of the river I worked on:


As you can see, a slight improvement, but much work remains. Once I got down to the level of the river, I could see there were many more bottles than visible from the top. It took me half-an-hour to remove about 25 of them, but at least 100 remained. All the bottles were covered in some sort of black grime, and filled with black liquid the color of motor oil. A few of them were being used as homes by freshwater crayfish, whom I summarily evicted. Sorry dudes, go find a rock or a tree stump.

Only when you cleared off the grime could you see what these litter-lovin' Untermenschen were drinking. Most of the bottles were ordinary brown beer bottles whose labels had long been washed away. Doubtless these bottles contained Oettinger, the local cheap & nasty choice for the undiscriminating booze-bag. Some were Carlsberg, a surprisingly civilized choice. Many, predictably, were Frankenheim Blue, a sugary mix of beer and soda which is also used as a Class 3 industrial solvent and barely deserves the designation fluid.

After a while, though, I realized that fishing these bottles out of the river one-by-one was a waste of effort. I was working retail, when I should have been wholesale. So to get the remaining 100 bottles, I am going to buy or rent a pair of wading boots, and go in there with one of them litter grabber thingies. I'm sure that physically entering the river, even to clean it up, probably violates 2 laws and 4 regulations. But frankly my dear, I just don't give a damn. If they fine me, I'll crowdfund my defense. Judging from the approving looks I got, I think I'll get plenty of contributions.


Behold! I Shall Fish the Bottles Out of the Düssel

Take a look at this:


This is the Düssel river, the local Rhein tributary that gives Düsseldorf its name. Some rivers are so big, cities are built around them, not over them. The Düssel isn't that big. The city fathers of Düsseldorf did actually keep the river, mind you. However, it flows underground most of the way through the city, only popping into view occasionally. But when it does come into view, it's a refreshing change. And as here, near the Karolingerstraße, a bit of riverbank has been preserved, creating a nice park-like atmosphere.

Granted, it's only a little brook, and the riverbank is only about 5 meters on either side before the streets and buildings begin. But even a small bit of nature and green in the city does a surprising amount to make a place more livable. Trust me, I've lived in cities which don't know how to do this.

But here's the thing: you see those shapes in the water? No, they're not fish. There are fish in the Düssel, but they're much smaller. Those things are bottles. 

Fucking bottles.

Over the years, subhuman fucksticks have finished their bottles of cheap beer and casually tossed them into the river. Even though there's a bottle deposit in Germany, which poor people rely on, scouring the city for deposits. You could simply put the bottle on the bridge over the river, and it would be gone in literally 5 minutes, collected by some retiree living on a miserly pension. Also, no more than 2 meters from where I shot this photo, there are not only trash bins but a fucking glass recycling box.

But did Jackass McShitforbrains (or perhaps Güldüz Al-Antisocial) use any of these opportunities? No. He just threw the fucking bottle into the cool, clear, pristine water of the river. So every single time a human crosses this bridge and pauses to enjoy a nice view, he's reminded of the fact that certain humanoid entities exist who would fuck up a nice little view out of sheer laziness or spite.

I have never actually seen anyone throw a bottle in the Düssel. Actually, that's pretty fortunate, because if I did, I would probably fly into a rage and try to beat them to death. I'm not joking. One of the reasons Northwestern Europe is such a nice place to live is that people take care of public spaces. One of the many curses of the developing world is that people in those countries have no understanding of why it's important to keep public spaces clean. They are often scrupulously neat in their private homes, but think nothing of throwing garbage anywhere in the open. This is one of the key conflicts that arise when immigrants from the Third World arrive in Germany: they go picknicking in the park and leave a mound of dirty diapers, trash, bottles, plastic bags, disposable barbecues, and food remains just sitting in a pile in the middle of a pristine meadow of luscious green grass. 

Now, part of this is because the countries they come from don't have functioning garbage-disposal infrastructures, etc. But there's also a cultural component, as anybody who's ever lived in a country like India can tell you. Even in middle-class families, there's a sense that the interior of the home is a focus of pride and should be kept spotless, but if you don't own the land -- especially if nobody owns the land -- then it's fair game to just throw anything away there. As a 2013 book call The Concept of the Public Realm puts it:

Take something as simple as streets and public parks. Since they lie outside the family home, they are seen as a no-man's land, an empty space, almost a wilderness. While the Indian home is clean and tidy, streets and even parks are unacceptably dirty. Streets are used as garbage heaps, and rubbish and leftover food is thrown around in parks. Even the front of the house is sometimes turned into as a garbage heap. Since public spaces are not seen as theirs, Indians generally take no care of them and expect the civic authority to do so. And if it does not, as is generally the case, things are left as they are. It is striking that few Indians protest against dirty streets and lack of pavements and zebra crossings, almost as if they cannot see how things can be otherwise (Kakar and Kakar 2007, p. 21).

Not that India deserves to be singled out. The problem also exists all over the Arab world and even in Italy, although it's much less serious there.

In any case, I've had enough. I already have a really long pole which I use for certain camera shots. I just ordered a pool net strainer. When the weather cools down, I am going to go out there and clean out those bottles. You'd think some German would have done this already, but there's an old German proverb -- as accurate now as it ever was -- which goes: "A German is someone who, when he sees a mess, sneers in disapproval (die Nase rümpfen) instead of cleaning it up." 

Well, fuck that shit. Just as Tyrell Corporation's motto is "more human than human", mine is "more German than German". I am going to clean out those goddamn bottles, and post before-and-after pics to prove it. If that doesn't earn be the German Service Cross, I don't know what will.

That '70s Feeling: Jörg Immendorff's Revolutionary Struggle

MAO -- Materialien zur Analyse von Opposition (Materials for Analysis of the Opposition) is an online archive (g) of documents from the heyday of German Maoism. It collects flyers, magazines, manifestos, artwork, banners and other ephemera from the early- to mid-1970s, when some factions on the German left became enthusiastic adherents of Chairman Mao thought. The website is a bit hard to navigate, but you can tell it's a labor of love and probably dates from the 1990s, so gratitude is in order.

I stumbled on an interesting document, a review of a book by Jörg Immendorff. First, a bit of background. Immendorff was a Düsseldorf-based artist famous enough to have an English Wikipedia entry. He was a fixture of the Düsseldorf culture scene and a teacher at the Kunstakademie until his death from ALS in 2008. More on him later.

The book the Maoists review is entitled (my trans.): 'Here and Now: Do What Must Be Done. Jörg Immendorf. Materials for a Discussion: Art in Political Struggle. Whose Side Are You On, Culture-Creator?' Despite this engaging title, the book doesn't seem to have sold many copies and is now rare. This is the cover (from this antiquarian website (g) where you can buy the book for €120):  


I'm sure this painting is by Immendorff himself. It isn't Hockney/Currin-esque ironically self-aware textureless or 'bad' painting. It's just clumsy. This is what most Immendorffs look like. If you're getting the idea that I don't dig him, you're right-on, man. I've always found his stuff unconvincing: either crowded and ugly, or flat and cliched.

But what about his political views? Like so many German lefty/culture types, Immendorff jumped onto the bandwagon of Maoism in the early 1970s. This book is obviously from that period.

A review of the book and the associated exhibition can be found in this 1973 agitprop flyer (g) from the Revolutionary Artists' Group, found on the archive website. Let me apologize in advance for the layout of this page from a self-proclaimed 'Artists' group'. Clearly, these Revolutionary Artists are mostly untrained, given what's on display in most of the pamphlet. Yet no matter how limited your means are, there's no excuse for pages clogged with unreadable clots of text like the one below. Apparently columns are tools of the bourgeoisie.

But let's forge ahead anyway. The handwritten title reads: "Progress at the anti-imperialist Culture Front!" and begins: "A book has just appeared from Comrade Jörg Immendorff, who is active in the Group of Revolutionary Artists -- Ruhr Struggle." 


The review, misspelling Immendorff's name, reports breathlessly that he has decided 'to consciously place his artistic activity in the service of the people and the revolutionary proletariat'.

The article then reports on the exhibition accompanying the book, which was held in the Westphalian Artist's League in Münster. Both the exhibition and the book, the review states, 'show the attitude of a partisan artist who has developed away from bourgeois philistinism towards cultural creation marked by class struggle. Both (the exhibition and the book) are a declaration of war on the brainless bourgeois avant-garde...which have learned nothing from the anti-imperialist movement of 1968.'

During the entire exhibition, young members of the 'anti-imperialist league' staffed a book-table with 'revolutionary writings' inside the museum.

The exhibition also featured a roundtable discussion with members of the Communist Students' Association, the Anti-Imperialist League, the Group of Revolutionary Artists, and Immendorff. Immendorff admitted his works were not yet fully 'revolutionary', given their incompleteness and flaws, and thus that he sought 'discussion and critique' from the audience.

One critique focused on Immendorff's portraits of 'Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung', which were based on the works of Chinese 'people's artists'. One cannot simply import the stylistic devices of the Chinese revolutionary artists' Social Realism into German conditions, because the international class struggle is always defined by the particular historical, social, etc. etc. -- you get the picture. 

Immendorff's later history is well-known to all Germans. He continued producing masterpieces of socialist-realist artwork in the service of the international proletariat, donating every penny of profit to Third World liberation movements. He lived in a humble apartment in the working-class section of Düsseldorf, volunteering much of his time teaching painting to Turkish immigrant children. Even those who disagreed with his political views couldn't help admiring the depth of his commitment to social justice.

Oh wait, wrong Immendorff. While no doubt continuing to mouth the occasional revolutionary slogan, he went on to amass a fortune of between 15 and 18 million Euros (g) at the time of his death. He described his own philosophy of life as 'selfishness'. Late in life, he married a Romanian ingenue 30 years his junior (former student) and rechristened her Oda (after a Germanic god), last name Jaune. The French word for yellow, Immendorff's favorite color. Not hers.

But that didn't stop Immendorff from regularly renting luxury hotel rooms, to which he would invite groups of up to 15 prostitutes. There, he held hours-long cocaine orgies with them costing sums in the five-figure range. He was caught white-handed during one of these, so to speak, and eventually sentenced to 11 months' probation. At the time of this coke and champagne orgy, his wife Oda was in an advanced state of pregnancy. As a result of the prosecution, Immendorff nearly lost his comfortable civil-servant position as a teacher at the Düsseldorf art academy -- run by the state he no doubt routinely claimed to despise.

Just before he died, he changed his will to try to bestow upon the long-suffering Oda his entire fortune. This came as rather a disappointment to Immendorff's illegitimate son Jean-Louis, born in 1999. Immendorf ignored the letters and pictures his son sent him during his life, and took no interest in him. Fortunately, German law guaranteed the son an 1/8 of Immendorff's inheritance, no matter what Immendorff tried to arrange.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is yet another object lesson in why nobody should pay the slightest attention to the political opinions artists claim to have.

Especially, it must be said, German ones.

Weber The Ironmonger

From the Facebook feed Pearls from Düsseldorf, which is pictures of Düsseldorf from local graphic designer and photographer Markus Luigs (g), this picture of an old-school German storefront:


'Iron-Weber' is the name. The store sells Eisenwaren (iron goods), tools, house and kitchen appliances. So, basically, a hardware store. But the name Eisenwaren is satisfyingly antique; from an era in which tools actually were made mostly of iron. So the capture the old-school flair, I'd translate it as an 'ironmonger'.

This picture gives you a good idea of German street architecture. The sidewalk, as you'll notice, is clean. Then you have the underground-access grates. Some of these are for city utilities, but the ones close to the building are for trash: you take your trash downstairs to the cellar, then put it in a special dumb-waiter like contraption under the street. The trashmen open the grate and haul up the square plastic trash can through the opening, or sometimes go down into it. All the while yelling at each other in a mysterious language that probably takes years to learn. Children love watching the trash and the men disappear up and down the magic sidewalk-holes. It's loud, but it solves several problems: first, no trash bins waiting on the street. Second, the garbagemen don't have to enter the store to collect the trash.

Here's one difference between Germany and developing countries. You will never see these grates lying open in Germany, posing a threat to pedestrians. Never. In my many years living here, traveling all across the country, in neighborhoods both haughty and humble, I've never seen one of these things lying open, unattended, unless it was roped off with warning signs and tape. Nor do they ever break. You can walk over them every single time, without giving them a second thought. The average German probably walks over 30 of them every single day, never giving them a second though. Contrast this to basically any developing country, where sidewalk murder-holes are a fact of life. Here's a picture I took in Alexandria:

Alex - Street near Pompey's Pillar

The contrast may help explain why so many people from places like Egypt want to relocate to places like Germany, no?

Then you have the display cases on either side of the storefront. Often, these are only big enough for posters, but these seem to have room enough for small displays. Then the actual display windows. If you want to run your own shop, you will generally go to a vocational school to learn, in great detail, how to structure an appealing shop-window display. This is called Schaufenstergestaltung in German. Of course, since this is a hardware shop, Weber hasn't really put all that much effort into it. Anything too schicki-micki (fancy) would probably drive away customers for these sorts of things.

Then you have the A-shaped ad placards to put in the way of pedestrians, stored safely beneath the chain protecting the door. Of course, since this is Germany, there are detailed regulations (g) for how large these stand-up signs (Stellschilder) can be, where you can put them, and how long you can leave them out. You may chuckle at those crazy Prussians, but you shouldn't. These signs are already an annoyance, and if the rules weren't there, they'd probably clog the sidewalk even more than they do already. Which would lead people to destroy them. So, a delicate balance is required between the needs of the shopkeeper and those of the public. That's what rules are for.

This store is almost certainly going to close soon, to be replaced by an artisanal vegan fair-trade frozen-yogurt studio. If this were Japan, the entire store would be recreated lovingly inside a museum, staffed by animatronic shopkeepers giving tinny mechanical advice to animatronic customers:


But since this is Germany, 'Eisen-Weber' will probably just disappear forever. At least we'll have the photo.

Constantly Changing Geometric Structures

Düsseldorf is just about to open a new subway line. No ads, just art. The Guardian is impressed:

Fifteen years in the making, the Wehrhahn metro line consists of six new stations running east to west beneath the city centre, collaboratively designed by architects, artists and engineers. “Normally the construction part happens first and then the artists are commissioned. Here the architects, artists and engineers worked together from the beginning,” she says.

It started back in 2001 when a joint proposal by Klussmann and Darmstadt-basedarchitecture practice Netzwerkarchitekten won an EU-wide, two-stage competition to design the stations. They commissioned five artists to develop concepts and, €843m (£657m) and two miles of tunnel boring and excavation later, the results are surprising, outstanding and ambitious.

There have been other art on the underground projects but two factors make this one stand out: the total lack of advertising throughout, and the cohesive vision of a common architectural language....

The station designed by Ralf Brög has three atmospheric sound corridors exploring noise sculpturally and visually, while Ursula Damm’s station features aerial views of Düsseldorf in the entrance. There is also a giant LED wall overlooking the concourse displaying real-time footage of passing pedestrians overlaid with constantly changing geometric structures that respond to the movement of passengers.

At Graf-Adolf-Platz, artist Manuel Franke created an immersive journey where sweeping layers of green rock strata accompany passengers down to the concourse and combine hand-painting with laminated security glass. Klussmann’s graphic black-and-white designs for Pempelforter Straße station play with the architecture and boundaries of the space and traditional notions of perspective to a dazzling effect....

It may seem surprising that Germany’s first art on the underground project has taken place in this relatively small and well-heeled city by the Rhine – with its population of 600,000 – instead of the larger and edgier metropolises of Berlin, Hamburg or Cologne. Yet Düsseldorf is no slouch in art scene terms. All of the artists selected have links to the city’s Kunstakademie, the renowned art school founded in 1762 whose alumni include Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer. According to Gregor Jansen, director of the Kunsthalle, the city is more interesting than its expensive car and luxury-loving image would have you believe. “It has always been an art city and it still has the most famous art academy in Europe,” he says, referring to the Kunstakademie....

Perhaps surprisingly, the city agreed to the no advertising dimension immediately. Ulla Lux from the city’s cultural department explains their rationale: “It’s so rare to have the opportunity to create an art project of this scale in public space that in the end it was a conscious decision to allow this to be a pure art and architecture experience.”

What is perhaps most inspiring about the project is how the lack of adverts means people can be people, and not consumers. Klussmann says: “Art is often used to attract people to buy things.” But here it is just about the art and the space, and wherever your imagination takes you. How many public spaces can say the same? 

I haven't seen the finished stations yet, but I did take some photos during a 'day of the open tunnel' a few years ago:

  IMG_2397 IMG_2410


Sunset on the Düssel, 29 October 2015

Düsseldorf is named after the Düssel river, which used to be a mighty torrent flowing into the Rhein. Somewhat improbably, there is an English-language Wikipedia entry for it:

The Düssel is a small right tributary of the River Rhine in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany. Its source is between Wülfrath and Velbert. It flows westward through the Neander Valley where the fossils of the first Neanderthal man were found in 1856. At Düsseldorf it forms ariver delta by splitting into four streams (Nördliche Düssel, Südliche Düssel, Kittelbach, Brückerbach), which all join the Rhine after a few kilometers.

Düsseldorf takes its name from the Düssel: Düsseldorf means "the village of Düssel". The name Düssel itself probably dates back to the Germanic thusila and means "roar" (Old High Germandoson).

Nowadays the Düssel is much-reduced, and is routed underground in many places. Nevertheless, it's allowed to surface pretty often, and when it does, the city planners have done the most with it, using it to create ponds, lakes, mirror pools, and babbling brooks. Here's a GoPro timelapse of the southern tributary which runs through my neighborhood, yesterday, at sunset: