The most useful phrase a world traveler can know is, of course, "My hovercraft is full of eels." Here is a website with the phrase translated into dozens of languages, including -- importantly -- Sardinian.
For all other needs, Spy Magazine has you covered:
Berlin, Nollendorfplatz. Everyone who enters this nondescript building to go to the dentist is reminded that the house in which Wilhelm Furtwängler was born once stood here.
I popped over to Berlin for the weekend and this time stayed in Friedrichshain. Friedrichshain is part of the former East Berlin which was pretty rundown 10 years ago, last time I visited, but is now gentrifying, as the phrase goes. I'd say the process is about 65% complete in Friedrichshain. You still have some hard-rock bars and blotchy, disgruntled East German retirees, but they increasingly look bewildered by what is happening to their Kiez ('hood). What you get instead are:
- Boutiques with aggressively unique handmade purses and clothes out of rescued fabrics or ancient leather.
- Self-consciously crudely hand-drawn posters for various kinds of punk that were all the rage when I was in college 25 years ago (Psycho-Trash Punkabilly from France, Runaway Monks Buddhist punk, Ska-Punk from Ipswich).
- Small clever cryptic stickers showing faces in silhouette, Third World children, or bearing mysterious slogans like '435%' or 'BBAN' or 'whyisnow.com'
- Posters demanding solidarity with Blockupy, with migrant workers seeking back wages, with the political prisoner Sürgül Amedölügcülügünülcü, with refugees, with the 'anti-Fascist resistance', with Mumia Abu-Jamal, with Pussy Riot, Gaza, homosexuals, squatters, and so many more!
- Spray-painted anarchist symbols, haunting symbols of the imminent Revolution that will soon sweep us all into the Spree.
- Small, ancient travel vans with faded stickers for bands, political causes, and football teams.
- That most insufferable of all claques, white people with dreadlocks. These people should be forcibly shaved, and their greasy hairworms used to make comfy pillows for refugees. After thorough sanitization, of course -- the refugees deserve no less.
- Community centers surrounded by multicolored murals with vaguely Eastern or ethnic themes.
- Ads featuring ironic clipart of clean-cut, smiling 1950s housewives and businessmen. Again, all the rage in the US in 1988.
Did I miss anything?
Over the weekend I set out for the Neander Valley, where the first Neanderthal skeleton was found. It's also an ultra-pleasant hiking destination, complete with babbling brooks, succulent green meadows, winding forest pathways, mildly dramatic shale rock formations, and quaint villages where people set out bookcases full of old horse magazines by the side of the road. The leaves were, to use Oscar Wilde's phrase, 'ruined gold'.
During the hike I made a wrong turn or two and ended up in Mettman, famed as one of the epicenters of German Spießbürgerlichkeit (g) (petit-bourgeois stodginess). Everything there was quiet, respectable, recently-cleaned, and terrifyingly rectilinear.
Perhaps you readers can help me clear up a few mysteries in the pictures below. First, those metal studs pounded into the (mold-yellowed) wooden electricity pole? Who puts them there and what do they mean? Second, the old stone markers by the side of the road in Bracken, Germany. What was their original purpose. Any clues would be appreciated.
Last Friday a friend and I went hiking in the Siebengebirge, gradually ascending the Löwenburg. Below are a few pictures of the fall splendor, and of Haus Neuglück (g) a funky villa in Königswinter where a young Guillaume Appollinaire fell in love with an English housemaid. Lars von Trier, impressed by the gloomy splendor of this classic German forest, filmed 'Antichrist' near where these pictures were taken.
If anyone knows what built the large insect nest on Schloss Neuglück, please let me know in comments.
A bit of imitation Bill Viola, courtesy of GoPro's 240-fps video mode.
According to Pour 15 Minutes d'Amour, -- and why would a website with that name lie? -- this is an East German lifeguard cabin on the Baltic coast:
Reminded me of something...
Right on schedule (that is, about 5 years after America) hipster-hating is coming to Germany (g, h/t JCW). But before we assail them, let's celebrate the magic they can work when their obsessions meet with a solid work ethic. I recently dropped by a party held in Generation 13 (g), a combination of cafe, 'museum of pop culture', and shop in Berlin-Mitte.
The museum sprawls through the entire basement of a large building. Everywhere you look, pop culture ephemera from the 1970s and 1980s is displayed with a mixture of Teutonic organization and loving care. I wandered, spellbound. Memories from my misspent youth drifted to the surface: idle afternoons watching Battlestar Galactica, Space: 1999, and the Six Million Dollar Man; my Kiss album collection; the first primitive pong video game; and so much more of the crap that we filled our lives with in the 1970s.
I learned much from this museum as well. For instance, that there were once action figures of the Ramones, Johnny Rotten(!), and John Lennon(!!). That the movie Battlestar Galactica was once released on Super-8 film in German. And that the original Donkey Kong video arcade game, of which there's one in the shop, is as difficult as it is addictive. Here are a few cellphone photos to give you an idea of what's on display.
No trip to Kassel would be complete without a visit to the Museum für Sepulkralkultur (g), a museum devoted to death and burial. There are coffins from around the globe (including simple boxes for Orthodox Jews and gaily-decorated Ghanaian models), hell money and hell cigarettes, Totentanz sculptures, hearses, monuments, embalming kits, memorial portraits, 'death crowns' for children and young unmarried people, monuments, death masks, and art inspired by death, funerals, rebirth, and reincarnation. Outside, there are innovative grave markers designed by contemporary artists. Of course, there are also programs for kids.
There are also the obligatory information-drenched placards describing the origin and nature of European funeral practices. From these you learn that the practice of burying people in individual, marked graves only became uniform in Europe in the last 200 years -- before that, most poorer citizens were dumped in mass graves. You also learn that modern German cemeteries are facing a space crisis -- they're not running out of it, they often have too much of it, since almost 50% of Germans now choose to be cremated, and those numbers keep growing.
While there, I stocked up on a few back issues of Friedhof und Denkmal: Zeitschrift für Sepulkralkultur (Cemetery and Monument: Journal of Sepulchral Culture). In the 2-2011 issue of this handsome magazine, there is a discussion of the model rules for grave design in Catholic cemeteries that were recently promulgated by the Archbishopric of Cologne:
Basically, the new regulations contain only required dimensions for the grave, as well as bans on some materials that are inappropriate for cemeteries. Completely covered graves are forbidden: the grave-plate can only cover up to one-third of the grave.... [Individual church cemeteries can still] add regulations that servce to express shared religious beliefs. An example is a ban on polished stone, since this prevents natural change in the stone, which itself is an expression of the transitoriness of human life in this world. A ban on snow-white marble and showy (überschwänglich) golden inscriptions serve to prevent excessive ostentation in the religious sense.
The back of the book contains reviews of recent burial-related books, including a 400-page work by Regina Deckers on 'The Testa Velata in Baroque Sculpture' (g) an entire monograph (written at the University of Düsseldorf!) on the motif of figures with veiled heads or faces in funerary sculpture.
Now for some of the odd and delightful things in the museum, hover for info.