Saturday, May 29, 2010

Death of an Artist

I went to visit my old neighborhood of Friedrichshain today. It was one of the few sunny days we’ve had in Berlin for a while and I was thinking it was about time we had some summer.
I stuffed the camera in the backpack and headed out.

Friedrichshain is changing—of course. It became ‘hip’ and therefore it is doomed to gentrification, higher rents, overdevelopment, displaced creative types and worse yet: yoga joints and sushi bars. Well, that shit had already begun when we decided to leave, and thankfully, it’s still gonna be a long time before the punks let the yuppies push them out. Whenever the punks want a can of spray paint to tag an SUV they can contact me here. I’ll buy the fucker.

The old squats on Rigaer strasse were still holding out; new posters plastered everywhere suggested that the battle was being lost. It’s as if the squats were a slowly sinking ship with corporate raiders on the stern and fenced-in youth hanging on the bow, swinging bottles and laughing and living in spite of the hull breach.

I was shooting some pics of the street when our Russian artist friend suddenly took us on a detour off the street through a passage to the back of some flats. I was preoccupied with shooting various kiddie rides in a playground overgrown with tall grass. My girlfriend said that our friend was taking us to meet her American artist friend. She said she was very impressed with his paintings. He was also from California, so naturally she thought I should meet him. I said why not. Nadja pushed the buzzer and I continued shooting. I’ve never been a fan of dropping in on people unannounced. And I don’t like it when they do the same to me. I like pre-arranged fun. But I was following the leader, so gate crash we did.

I heard Nadja shout “WHAT?!!? I CAN’T BELIEVE!!!” A middle aged woman stood on her second floor balcony with a red-headed girl of around 7. The woman said the artist had died of a heart attack last week. It was unexpected and the man was only 42. I heard the girl say “mein papa ist tot.” Nadja was emotional. She said that she couldn’t understand it. The girl, upon hearing Nadja speaking English, simply clarified: “my papa is dead.”  I felt like I had swallowed a brick.

These are the kind of moments when perspective smacks you square in the face and all of the little things you bitched about all week—late trains, bad lunches, flat beer—seem like a complete waste of breath.  I suddenly felt self-conscious of the fact that I had a camera around my neck. I put my camera back in the bag. I said I was sorry. I’ve never liked the failure of English language to express any real emotion. All I could say was “I’m sorry.” Why? I didn’t kill the guy. But all you can say when someone has lost somebody close is “I’m sorry.” That’s what you say when a mourning woman and her young child are looking down on you from a 2nd floor balcony of the flat of a dead artist. And then you walk away.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nazi Freedom in Berlin

Stepping Out for Donuts, Running Into a Wall of Cops

MAY 1, 2010, 15:00    It is now the fourth hour of the lockdown. I cannot leave my own street in Prenzlauer Berg because a bunch of fucking bonehead Nazis have the freedom to march in our fine, leafy, breeder-ridden streets. And the cops protect them. And all of this in a country where Nazism is technically illegal. Apparently there’s a bureaucratic form for everything, even illegal activities. Just sign the appropriate forms and you can waste police money and time for any asinine belief system you follow. Sure, they can’t wear the swastika. Nope, they can’t do the ‘zieg heil.’ But what the hell does it all mean when they can just wear black and obtain permission to walk the streets anyway? It’s as if a group of child rapists got to walk down the street freely and proudly. As long as the cops don’t see any child rape t-shirts on them and they don’t rape a child directly in front of them, alles gut. Same logic, different lowlife.

I saw there was nothing to eat in my flat and naturally I thought of going out to grab myself a fistful of lard-and-fake-fruit-sugar ecstasy as any Dunkin’ Berliner would do. So I stepped out to find a fence at the end of my street with a wall of cops in riot gear behind it. They weren’t letting anyone through—unless they were on their way home and they showed the cops their id with their address on it. We waited. I snapped pics of cops in various bored poses. At least I was able to take their pictures without having my skull tenderized by batons. Try taking a picture of a cop in America and see if you don’t wake up in the hospital with your camera up your ass.

We waited some more. We walked up and down the streets and saw that we were blocked in from all exit points. A friend of mine called me to see if I was going to Kreuzberg for the Annual May First Anarchy March and Yuppie Vehicle Roast.  I said I couldn’t go as I was locked down. My friend asked what I was going to do and all I could think of was raiding the police vans in search of stray donuts. There MUST be a box of Berliners in one of those riot vans.

I finally managed to obtain a Snickers Bar and a bottle of Sternburg beer from the only shop open within the police blockade. They had no real food and definitely no donuts, so I grabbed the bottle and the candy and walked down the street trying to blend in with all the other helpless victims of Nazi atrocity. One old drunk was babbling like a village idiot to each and every passerby. At one point he even took his drunken diatribe to the police line. They just laughed at him and rolled their eyes. The cops had special pockets in their riot vests for their juice drinks and apfel schorle. How cute. The drunk? Only a bottle of Sternburg*, no special pockets. No wonder he was ridiculed.

*This Dunkin’ Berliner blog post was brought to you by Sternburg Export Bier aus Leipzig. Discriminating Berliners who know strong, cheap beer choose Sternburg Export. Mmmm, Sternburg….. not just for drunken punks anymore.

Photos copyright Dunkin' Berliner