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.


  1. Oh, my! What a horrible experience. I'm getting a lump in my throat just thinking about it...especially the part about his age.

    BTW, did you hear that Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) died? Of course, he was in his 70s, but still.

    It reminds us to enjoy each and every day, in spite of the annoyances that constantly trip us up.

    Take care!!

  2. Yes, this morning I read that Hopper had died the same day I was writing this post. I guess I should call this post "The Death of Two Artists." Dennis Hopper was also an accomplished photographer and painter.


    p.s. I think I'll play "Born to Be Wild" full blast and try to scare up some Pabst Blue Ribbon to honor Hopper ("Easy Rider" and "Blue Velvet" references).


  3. Cool song to commemorate artists!

    Happy Memorial Day, Craigster!