Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"I have become comfortably numb."  - Pink Floyd

No, I am not loaded as I write this (for a change); but I DID have a donut this morning (go figure).  It's coming up on my 2nd anniversary in Berlin (January) and the process of habituation is nearly complete:  I no longer see Berlin as 'Ooh! Wow! Neato! Lookit!' and have become just another expat specimen consuming and excreting with Berlin as a fuzzy backdrop.

This affects my blogging; I was just talking with Lady Snooker about how I used to blog once a week--which slowly faded down to once a month.  Has my creative mojo gone?  Has my donut filling finally dried up?  No, I suspect that Old Rascal Habituation has done its thang on my eyes and ears.  It's happened to me before in other exotic locales:  London, Dublin and Prague.  Right about the time the traveler settled in to the routine; the study program (London), the jobs (Dublin and Prague) and the rent payments, the Buzz decreases, the new becomes familiar, then routine, then Old Hat.

I have noticed my best photographs of a location are generally taken within the first few months of living in a new place.  After that, things that were extraordinary become, well, ordinary.  This is a psychological process which allows us to protect our senses from the onslaught of new experience, disregard the mundane, and keep a lookout for new stimuli.   The wiki article on habituation mentions that soon after a human wears clothing, the sensations wear off.  Can you imagine if you could constantly FEEL the cloth chaffing you as you moved around?  I believe we would be batshit in about 72 hours.  Or city traffic and street sounds would make a New Yorker insane (scratch that; New Yorkers are NUTS) in weeks.

But what is basically psychological protection is damned inconvenient if you are a writer or photographer.  The details we pick out as unique and noteworthy start fading into the background.  So this is when we need to focus more.  Berlin is pegged as an ever-changing city; a city evolving before our eyes. Fortunately, if you look hard enough, you can see the paint drying:  the constantly shifting street art, the ever-changing rotation of festivals, events and goings on.  I now have more time on my hands than usual (my slow season for work), so my lack of money coupled with my excess of time gives me the perfect opportunity to slow down and observe.

I would like to also point out that many of the things I mention on this blog are cheap or free: Karaoke in Mauerpark (see: Return of Melvis) only requires a bit of nerve and/or liquid courage (and in Berlin, liquid courage is 60 cents per bottle).  Taking snaps of local street art is free if you shoot digital.  I have been following certain Berliner street artists and noticing their styles.  So when the background just starts to get a bit fuzzy, sometimes a new stencil, poster, or art piece will appear in the cacophony of color that is Berlin.

So let me throw out some ideas and we can all be comfortably numb in Berlin--with or without the chemicals.

If you have any ideas for free/cheap things to do in Berlin that Google doesn't know about, please comment.

Festival of Lights photo by Craig Robinson Photography


Friday, October 22, 2010

The Return of Melvis

Ich bin eine Karaoke addict and a piss-poor Elvis impersonator.  Nevertheless, I HAD to throw myself into the Berlin Bearpit and dance with the rest of the bears.  AGAIN. You may know me as Dunkin’ Berliner, but in a previous life (Prague) I was known as Melvis O’Presky, the hardest working pelvis in Prague; or His Royal Melvic Region, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

I paid my dues.  I croaked and crooned in some of the smokiest, darkest, least-crowded karaoke bars with the warmest, flattest beer a man can swallow without puking.  At first it was the usual ‘drunk man finds liquid courage, a microphone and primal scream therapy’ at the expense of the other drunks.  The mic hung at the edge of my soused mouth and I mumbled my Elvis in the dark. Three drunken friends clapped.  One of them yelled ‘Go Melvis.’  I think I scrawled ‘Elvis’ on the beer-soaked paper and handed it to the KJ (karaoke jockey).  Many muffled mumbles later, Melvis was born.

Then came The Suit:  All six-feet-five-white-polyester-sequined-hell of it.  I had it made by a local Czech seamstress. Then came The Gig.  Melvis entered, grabbed the mic and hosted many-a-Prague karaoke as MC Melvis, then, sadly (if only for me), Melvis left the building.

They say Berlin is where creative people go to die.  No, I just made that up.  We’re supposed to be reborn here, like some god damned Phoenixes rising from the fucking ashes of Capitalism or something; perhaps this is purgatory.  But considering that I’ve been surrounded by the same wannabe, parent-supported-mediocre-slacker-artist-pretentious-hipsters for nearly 2 years now, I’m beginning to suspect that I may have to work my way back UP to purgatory.  Again.

Re-enter Melvis.  Last summer I got drunk in Mauerpark, as a dude does on a sunny Sunday in Berlin.  I somehow wound up on stage with a bottle of warm Sterni in one hand and a microphone in the other--in front of a LARGE CROWD of people.  I croaked, I crooned and I really SUCKED ASS.  Evidence of my ass-suckitude can be found on the Bearpit Karaoke You Tube channel.  You really don’t wanna Google that.  TRUST me.  When I found The Pit it was just getting popular.  And as with anything that is just getting popular, you wanna be the one who says ‘you were there when it was just starting.’  And so I am. Er, was.  As a veteran karaoke lounge lizard from hell I noticed that the KJ (His Royal Highness, Sir Joe Hatchiban-San, ESQ, hereafter referred to as ‘K to the J’ or just ‘Joe’) had a completely different setup:  no monitor speakers (those tiny square ones facing the stage) to properly hear your own voice; no echo to hide the obvious flaws in every drunk’s voice; no safety net for the obvious karaoke fool who thinks he’s all dat and a bag of chips.  Joe likes to rumble in with his bicycle of doom, dump the heavy load onto the stage, and drop the hapless singers into the pit with the hungry bears.

And the crowd goes wild.

So I had to do it again and again, like coffee or beer or sex.  Yeah, like those things, with a MUCH bigger crowd.  But the crowds are out of control.  Not in the Bear-Eat-Drunken-Singer meaning of the phrase; you just couldn’t get a song in edgewise.  Fight through the horde, submit your song, wait for 2 hours—and if you’re LUCKY—sing your bad-ass song.  Badly.  I tried it a few times in the last months.  Once I was turned down flat: ‘We’re not taking any more songs,’ the nice girl said.  Hell, in Ye Olden Days of Yokee, Joe didn’t have the luxury of a nice girl to take songs.  Times they are a’changin’ I guess.  The next time The Girl put me on the bottom of a list of about 20 people.  Two hours later, no glory.  I left.

This is the part in the story where any sane man would have given up, got a job, paid his taxes and died unfulfilled, or any insane man would have returned with an Uzi and lit up the muthafuckas.  But I am neither sane nor insane.  I walk the line.  I went back.  Early.  I sat in the front of the muthafucka.  After Joe did his intro song he asked who would be the first singer.  I jumped up and flailed my arms.  It worked; third time’s the charm. I climbed up on that stony stage and I huffed, I puffed and I blew the house down.

And the crowd went wild.