Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Schon wieder nach Berlin

Schon WIEDER in Berlin.

The 2oth century city (die STADT): from cabaret to catastrophe. And back.

The grotesquely ugly healing heart of Germany scabbily punctuated by overgrown vacant lots. INDUSTRIEROMANTIK? A favorite concept of mine.

To old to be free, too new to be confident. Too new to be.

Flatened. Divided. Neaded outwards into unnatural forms. Without a center (kein STADT MITTE).

Side note: my €18:85 tuna sits like a tiny blemish, lost in the white porcelain. Thank god for the free bread.

The naughty child who bit off more than it could chew, now too scared to grow up and take it's place in the world least it have the shit smacked out of it again. Stuck forever a petulant teenager. Not a grumpy one but one you never see because she is OUT working out who she is going to be when she GROWS UP.

New and old. Beauty and confusion. Money and poverty. West but mostly east.

I like Berlin. There is ROOM to MOVE.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Germany and the World Cup

As the number of German flags on the streets increases so does the explanatory, almost apologetic tone running through the German press, always with a weary eye on international opinion. What does this mean? At home, in Frankfurt, Thomas roles his eyes when it is raised in the news: ‘this again’. He like many Germans of his generation are sick of living under the shadow of their grandparents crimes, they do not want to hear about ‘it’. Thomas turns away and strolls onto the balcony.

After the Germans beat Argentina I feel like I am back in Delhi. Everyone who has a car is in it, waving their flags, hanging out of the windows and sitting on their horns. My American friend texts me at 1 am from his apartment: Whoever invented the car horn should be shot.

On a major road the cheering pedestrians force the cars, their horns and flags into a bottle neck. Each car must come to a virtual stop before being let through while the happy partiers hang onto each car in turn rocking it vigorously from side to side. Their excitement rose when a police van must pass through their man made gateway. They crowd the van with so much enthusiasm I get a bit nervous but when the police van stops bouncing up and down and is allowed to drive on I see the police are laughing and smiling. The German flag is prominently displayed in their back windscreen.

This outpouring of support for Germany has surprised everyone here. They do not know what to make of it. ‘It was never like this in the past’ everyone is quick to inform me.

A journalist in the Spiegel claims the display of the flag does not represent a rise in German patriotism but rather the ultimate party accessory. German leaders plead for the good vibes to continue after the world cup, but Bruno’s friend comments that when Germany loses ‘things can get back to normal and good old pessimism will return’.

Walking through Frankfurt on the way to the Australian Bar to watch the Germany vs. Italy game, is like walking along a deserted beach with the tide pulled back so far you know the crash will be huge. Every bar I pass, every café, has a TV outside and people crowded around them, yet the silence of waiting is huge. Police cars line the streets, but the police are not patrolling. In full riot gear, batons, guns, bullet proof vests, they hover around the TVs. The city has emptied and everyone is waiting for what will be the beginning of the end.

Germany has lost now and the Germans are resigned. When Australia lost we whined and winged long and hard in the Australia Bar. The Italian had faked the trip, they were actors, the umpires were crap and biased, they had it in for us. When the siren went on the Germany game the city went silent. There were no tantrums and the tears dried quickly, ‘oh well’ people exhaled in lifts, in tea rooms, in offices. This is Germany after all and they are used to losing things.

‘It’s sad about Germany’ I comment to a colleague at work.
‘Yes’ he say’s. Then (after the normal ramble ‘it was never this patriotic in the past etc. etc.’) ‘it is not so sad for me, but for my 8 year old son’.

Yes, he cried and cried and then this morning he was still upset. We are supposed but be going to Italy for a holiday and he is refusing to go. My daughter is only three but she loved waving her flag and to sing a song she made up: Ich liebe Deutschland ’.

My Doctor’s son was sad as well. He made a German flag out of lego especially for the game. ‘It was the first time I held a German flag in my hands’ he comments.
‘Oh’ I say although am not really sure if a bunch of red, yellow and black lego banged together count as a flag.


Just don't do it

My German mitfahrgelegenheit driver the other week was quite friendly and chatted about his occasional business trips to America.

He said he found Americans to be “everything that Germans are not: they are proud of their country and they just ‘do things’”.

The first statement I have heard so often I could virtually feel it flow over me and I wondered if perhaps Germans are taught to say this in school. I realised, with slight alarm, that I had subconsciously assumed that not only do I know what the answer would be, but that I know how the whole conversation would play out.

My assumption of course was that taking that path would lead to a conversation about the effect of ‘the war’ on current German attitudes. An interesting discussion the first few times but by now my end of the conversation was bound to be a no-brain never ending cliché which lead me to assume that his would be too. I thought I would save us both the agony, while making a mental note to myself about the dangers of assumption.

Possibly the statement verged on rhetoric for my driver as well as he ignored this point and went on to expand on his second (with something like a wild glint in his eyes): in America he had seen people come together to race trail bikes. People don’t just “do things like that in Germany! There is a law limiting you doing everything” he lamented.

To be fair, I thought as a quick list flashed through my mind, many things in Germany have been blessed with the big legal tick:

 Driving on roads without speed limits (yea sure there is the odd ‘speed recommendation’)
 Using fireworks whenever and wherever you like (as far as I can tell).
 Pornography in every suburban video store (seems to take up half the stores that I frequent).
 Drinking alcohol on the street.
 Riding a push bike without a helmet (sure not a biggy but legal non the less)

However it is true I am yet to come across a rally bike track.

Despite such a seemingly long list of legal activities there is something in the air that suggests one shouldn’t push the ‘clean legal fun limits’ in Germany …. perhaps this stems from all those people waiting obediently at traffic lights or maybe it is the constant ringing of church bells. There are things you can do (get trashed and partake in a good old fashioned soccer riot) and there are things you shouldn’t do (forget coffee and cake in the afternoon) and there are things not to be done (not be insured against everything that could possibly go wrong).

“Germans just aren’t allowed to be spontaneous like that” my driver continued.

From breakfast to fast driving there is a ‘proper’ way to do things. What need is there to drive paddock bombs over dirt tracks when you can drive your brand new Audi 200km down the autobahn?

If it can be done it is ‘perfected’ or is being perfected.

If it could cause damage there is insurance. If nobody will insure you don’t do it.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Goodbye to Kirchenstadt

The Aasee frozen at sunset

When I first moved to Kirchenstadt I did not think I would be able to stand it. I always viewed myself as a city girl and I was not sure I would be able to adjust to the quieter life. Sure it has its benefits: clean air, beautiful parks, peacefulness and all that stuff. But were they not outweighed by the cons? Conformity enforced by people whose bored gossip breed fear and stifled difference?

At least that had always been my negative view of towns and I should know I grew up in one.

But what I did not know is that ‘towns’ in Germany are nothing like towns in Australia.

To start with Kirchenstadt was never really a town. Small in geography maybe but not in population. Germans seem to have embraced apartment living where Australians are only just beginning. What looks like a (three storey) family house from the outside could actually be housing three different households, and being a university city Kirchenstadt crams students in to every available corner. Weekends would bring out pedestrians in numbers where special traffic lights just to direct the pedestrians would not have been wasted.

Then there is geography. Australian towns, radiating out from the centre into great farms, are not only small in terms of population but huge in terms of geography. It can be hundreds of kilometres from one (half decent sized) town to the next.

The initial apparent total lack of foreigners in Kirchenstadt also made me feel very out of place.

But when I started taking German lessons the city opened up to me and I met more people from more corners of the globe than I could have dreamed of at home.

My German classes were an interesting eclectic mix and as I took them everyday they became a large part of my life. I miss every one on my class mates.

The sporadic ringing of mobile phones and embarrassed (or proud) giggles as the culprit ran out of the room. Kamchana’s (Thailand) habitual prancing out of the class on her high heels, swishing her long hair out of her face to announce she ‘musst pipi machen’. Amaz’s (Ethiopia), German exclamation: ‘ach so!’ which she used regularly to try and hide the fact she had absolutely no idea what was being said to her. Paolo’s (Portugal) geography lessons; in particular how the sea became salty! Sherena’s (Georgia) tourette’s style yelling of random German words every time a question was asked of the class.

And of course Edward (English – old Cambridge lecturer), not only his inability to stop speaking English but his difficulty comprehending that the class was there to learn German. I still laugh when I think of him transcribing the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ definition of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ onto the board. And then going on to explain the difference, entirely in English, to a sea of blank, uncomprehending, faces all staring in confusion (non more so than our teacher!) – except for Amaz who dutifully copied everything down whilst exclaiming ‘ach so … ach so’ at regular intervals.

I miss them all! Somehow Kirchenstadt with all its disgustingly boring middle class respectability has developed that feel of comforting familiarity and security.

Sure towns in Germany are nothing like towns in Australia, but that doesn’t stop me pretending to know everybody when I come running back into Bruno’s arms on weekends. It doesn’t stop me pretending to say ‘hey’ to everyone: ‘hey fellow commuters, hey Doner guy, hey Mr. Bus Driver’. Just want some of that small town feel, ya know what I mean?

Karneval 2006: nothing but class!

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