strangers in our bedroom

There are many drawbacks to living in a world where you understand every third word. About two months ago we received a letter from our Hausverwaltung, a two-sided turgid document that after a brief skim seemed primarily to do with the safety of our bicycles in the courtyard. Sure, lovely, I thought, if someone wants to carry off my super-sleek 100-Euro three-speed they can knock themselves out.

But in keeping with the "bury-the-lede" Germany style of writing, the kicker was at the end of the letter, way too far along for me to still keep up my dictionary-flipping without getting a cramp. Turns out that our five-story altbau "needed" an elevator, and that one would be built shortly, right outside our one bedroom window. And one kitchen window. I didn't learn this from the letter, of course, but by the ear-splitting hammering and clanging outside said windows at 7 a.m. the next morning. It might have been 6:30 a.m., but I can't count that early. I like a party as much as the next gal, but company wielding hammers in the wee hours outside your bedroom window while one is still in the sack is less than SpaƟ. And they're not even hunky, overall-strap off the shoulder types, either (although my myopic morning vision can't tell the difference between a construction worker and a large crow, so whatever.)

And so our alarm clock has been traded for burly types in overalls clambering up metal scaffolding every morning, chipping away at our building's gray facade and leaving a lovely layer of fine dust in the kitchen when we forget to close that one window. I now get out of bed by crawling under the covers to the foot of the bed and then slithering out the bottom, as to remain out of sight while still in my birthday suit. That said, perhaps I could put a coin-operated curtain outside of the window and make a little money on the side with an early-morning peepshow. But I flatter myself. Getting out of bed earlier just gives me more time to bone up on my German, to the tune of raining plaster and the charming ring of hammers against girder steel.


march 21, 2007


view from the top floor

When we first moved to Berlin we promised ourselves an anniversary drink -- that is, for our one month anniversary in the hauptstadt -- at the top of the Fernsehturm. Well, 10 months later we finally got there, and even had a small symphony orchestra (very small, say, a dozen or so people clad in black) to entertain us. John certainly knows how to show a girl a good time.

The Maertz Musik festival is all about modern music, contemporary composition and things audibly alternative (sometimes known as pesky and annoying, see here.) Tuesday night's concert was "turmmusik," which, logically, is meant to be played in a tower. But in a tower that spins! This made my little contemporary-classical young heart go pitter-patter. Live orchestral music is always cool, but if a bit of theater and nausea is thrown in, well, all the better.

The turm's Telecafe hasn't lost any of its 60s chic. It's easy to imagine gray-suited DDR big-wigs and ladies with shellacked beehives slurping soup while admiring both the view and the macrame-mirrored walls. Yet before I could get all goo-goo eyed at the cool view exactly 207.53 meters below, I had to grab onto something. This revolving restaurant hauls ass, lapping itself three times every hour; I can only sympathize with the daily inner-ear torture of the wait staff. I'm one of those annoying types who can read in the car and ride backwards, tricks that when simply mentioned can turn motion-sick people a lovely shade of green. But the spin gave me wobbly sea legs in like seconds, and halfway through my glass of wine I was fixedly staring at a piece of lint on the tablecloth as it seemed to be the only physical object not about to fly into orbit.

And then there were the musicians, set around the room in a perfect circle. The cellist got to park next to the cigarette machine, while the violinist sat in front of the coffee station. They played musical tag for about an hour -- conductor-less, the musicians had to fiddle with their parts all alone, occasionally looking left or right to see what the neighboring trumpet or stand-up bass was up to, occasionally playing "musical wave" and passing a note from one to another until the circle was complete.

I was hoping for more tag-you're-it themes, something like Bartok-does-ring-around-the-rosy, but most of the hour-long piece was pips and squeaks and full-frontal tuba assaults when our revolution met him at just the right moment. There was even a bit of musical chairs, with the clarinet doing a lap and finding her seat before the flute got there, and the percussion-types looking all jealous because they couldn't roll a xylophone anywhere without taking out a few spectators. And then it was all over, and we wandered out, ears popping in the six-meters-per-second elevator, walking across the way to the Alexanderplatz U-bahn with a slight list, like crippled grocery carts.


capturing a reality

Finally got over to the Museum fur Fotografie to see the Newton - LaChapelle - Nachtwey installation "Men, War & Peace." A great exhibit worth seeing for the Nachtwey images alone, which are haunting and raw and honestly hard to examine without feeling ill. (I could not imagine an evening in this man's head. His nightmares must be horrendous, considering his waking material is so vivid and bloody.)

There are two rooms; one with LaChapelle's work exclusively, the other split between Nachtwey and a handful of Newton portraits. I recommend wandering around the Technicolor world that is LaChapelle's before entering the hell that is Nachtwey's. I wanted to lick all of LaChapelle's images. Drew Barrymore lounges on the floor with an exposed lipstick nipple, surrounded by equally pert halves of grapefruit and maraschino cherries. Eminem, nude, strokes a dynamite-stick dick. A gang of toughs with knee-high socks and a gold boombox gang-bang a femme fatale with a dildo on a dipstick. And so on. Provocative in a way that makes you guffaw, point, and grab a friend to share an "oh-my-gawd-i-can't-believe-that" moment.

Funny, that at the time each image seemed so grabbing and demanding, yet in retrospect I'm having a hard time remembering individual images vividly enough to describe. Bigger-than-life color, sordid dreamy cum-shots that just like the stars they portray are both hard to take seriously yet are utterly serious, in the surreality that they capture -- yes, this is ridiculous, but look around you. And then from this world to the next room and Nachtwey's images, and the colorful dream coat falls off with a scream. When I close my eyes I can walk around the room and remember each shot, where it was from and what was in it, even though I hardly paused long to examine each, for fear I'd start doing the overwhelming-choking thing I tend to do when, well, overwhelmed. The profile of a boy from Rwanda, with four deep grooves in his skull from machete wounds. A pile of bodies in Bosnia being dumped from the back of a truck, with a strong, dirty hand in the foreground about to whack the cameraman in the face. Five black shadows, figures of heads under full burka, where the sun catches the only piece of flesh visible, an ancient wrinkled female hand.

It's not fair to compare the two works, and I don't intend to here. One is explicitly documentary, war documentary, and the most moving images from current conflicts that still resonate because they are so near. The other is creative portraiture, reality as staged hyper-reality, yet shares the same voyeuristic fascination in looking that the war images offer, too. Surreal, and too real.