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.

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:


Wednesday Music Blogging: Michael Kiwanuka

Stolen from Obscene Desserts.

 I like the video -- it reminds me of switching on the bulky RCA in the living room of my parents' Houston home and watching the 'life in the city' scene-setting montage before some 1970s urban spy thriller or social-justice drama. Male lead: James Caan, Ben Gazzara, or Gene Hackman; female lead: Cicely Tyson, Jill Clayburgh, or Diane Keaton.

Back then, sitting in a large air-conditioned home protected from the asphalt-melting subtropical heat outside, I always wondered at these real cities, where people gathered together outside in spaces designed for large groups and then swapped stories, sat at cafe tables drinking coffee, listened to music, or browsed secondhand shops. Did they really exist? Would I ever actually get to live in one? Would I like it?

The answers to these questions were 'yes', 'yes' and 'yes', although I didn't know it at the time.

Your Liver May Shut Down, But Our Buses Won't

Here's one of the supremely eerie ads for late-night buses that's recently been posted all over my neighborhood. The slogan says it's for Night Owls (Nachteulen):

Jaundice Babes

Apparently by "night owl" they mean cute coeds with acute jaundice caused by liver dysfunction.

If I ever see these girls in real life, I will never touch another drop of alcohol.

Hoisted from Comments: Dieter Wieland

Gaststaette with Lueftlmalerei

I'm going to outsource today's post to occasional GJ commenter Noribori, who favored us with a fascinating cultural reference in a recent comment:

A German equivalent of Kunstler might be Dieter Wieland. Born 1937, he started a series of films in 1972, called "Topographie", broadcasted from BR (Bavarian Broadcast). More than 250 of his films were broadcasted since, some of them often rebroadcasted. Like "Grün kaputt", which bemoaned the demolition of the Bavarian landscape by land consolidation (Flurbereinigung) and the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal. Other themes were the replacement of traditional structures (hedges, fences, doors, windows, roofs, backyards) with ugly and cheap counterparts from home improvement stores, the complete subordination of a livable environment under the requirements of modern car traffic, the wrong tone and escapism of pseudo-bavarian architecture (Der Jodlerstil). He pioneered these themes before the Green Party or official preservation agencies even existed.

The style of his films was extraordinary, these were rare highlights of Bavarian television, and he became widely recognized. Most remarkable was his voice and his language. He created unforgetable expressions, declaimed in an often acrimonious, mournful, bitter tone. Many people don't know his name, but when you mention expressions like "Krüppelkoniferen", "Lederhosenarchitektur" or "Triumph des rechten Winkels" they remember having seen his unforgetable films decades ago.

His themes are widely accepted now, he was even decorated with a medal by his "enemy" Edmund Stoiber. But he still insists we are making the same mistakes again and again. When the wall went down, there would have been an opportunity to try better landscape and town planning. Instead the same suburban belts (Speckgürtel) as in West Germany were built around the eastern cities, areas (dominated by one-family houses) which are neither urban nor rural.

His highly recommendable book "Grün kaputt" is only available second-hand now. His films are neither available on DVD nor on the Internet, you may only find them distributed by friendly people who recorded them from TV. Sometimes some of his films are rebroadcasted.

Let me join anonymous in thanking Noribori for this knowledge, especially the fantastic Wielandisms like Krüppelkoniferen. Anyone know where to find some of Wieland's videos or films?

Population Shifts in the East

Clay Risen continues his series of reports from Germany (which appear in different outlets) with this guardedly optimistic take on East Germany's economy:

The east isn’t lagging so much as diversifying, with some areas nearly even with the west and others dropping far behind. Like the American Midwest, rural regions are hurting, but urban centers are bustling. In eastern Germany’s southern and western states, economic output is nearly at parity with parts of the west, thanks to massive federal spending in the 1990s and a wave of private investment, mainly in high-tech sectors, over the last decade. “You have extreme contrasts,” says Michael Burda, an American-born economist at Berlin’s Humboldt University. “Eastern Germany is in a medium-term position to overtake the West in some sectors”—including solar- and wind-power technology, health care, and nanotechnology.

According to Burda, instead of an east-west divide, Germany is reverting to its centuries-old norm: A north-south split, in which rural Baltic states like Schleswig-Holstein in the west and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the east lag behind southern economic powerhouses like Bayern and Sachsen. “It was easier for states like Sachsen and Thüringen to redevelop because they were traditionally industrial areas,” says Thomas Fabian, an economist with Germany Trade and Invest, a Berlin-based trade group. “Now we have well-developed places in the east and places in the west with problems.” In other words, the fears that eastern Germany would turn into a Teutonic version of Italy’s Mezzogiorno, condemned to weak growth and high unemployment, have been greatly exaggerated. Reunified Germany, long feared to be the “sick man of Europe” and a possible breeding ground for economic and social instability, is actually pretty normal.


[E]astern Germany’s skeptics and boosters alike see a similar future, one in which a few metropolitan areas—Berlin, Dresden, Frankfurt (Oder), Leipzig-Halle—reach parity with the West, while vast rural stretches continue to depopulate. That’s not the ideal envisioned by Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Bonn government in the early 1990s, but maybe that’s not such a problem. “If people wish to move to West Germany, let them,” says Uhlig. “East Germany may become a nature paradise with a few vibrant cities, and I do not see why that would be a bad outcome.”

As these excerpts show, buried in Risen's piece about East Germany's economy is a piece about shifting settlement and population patterns in the East. The young and talented are leaving, but they're generally leaving the drab, one-purpose manufacturing settlements or the smaller towns. The big cities aren't doing all that badly. You get a sense something's brewing there, and property values have started to rise.

The other places are, of course, shrinking. This leads to the question: how do you actually manage a shrinking city? Some East German towns are trying innovative new approaches (g), such as clearing away former housing and declaring it a nature preserve, or re-tooling the city to one particular kind of tourism. One of the pretty remarkable things about Western Germany is its unusually dispersed population: the density of settlement around the entire country is remarkably consistent, and there are no 'mega-cities' in the international sense. This is not necessarily the case in other European countries. The former East Germany may just be transforming into something that looks like those other places. Given that there doesn't seem to be much a way of stopping the process, it seems like the best thing to do is manage it well.

Concentrated Krautness

Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation of the USA, on what he'd like to see happen there (via):

Q: You talk a lot about livable communities. How would you describe one?

A: It’s a community where if people don’t want an automobile, they don’t have to have one. A community where you can walk to work, your doctor’s appointment, pharmacy or grocery store. Or you could take light rail, a bus or ride a bike.

Good on you, LaHood. But achieving that in the U.S. is gonna take zillions of dollars and massive upheaval. My advice: avoid the muss and fuss and just move to Germany! I've got my doctor, 5 pharmacies, 6 grocery stores, 3 video-rental places, 4 bookstores, 2 shopping malls (meh), about 15 restaurants, 3 parks, and 3 bordellos within a kilometer of my house (that's about half a mile, for those using Godly units of measurement). Only drawback is that work is 1.9 kilometers away, which forces me to undertake a grueling 10-minute bicycle ride there and back. Every day.