Wednesday, April 25, 2007

from the bedside table

In addition to the wonderful little monograph on Marcel Duchamp's 3 Standard Stoppages by Herbert Molderings, Kunst als Experiment (Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2006), I am currently reading two books on my train rides.

Friedrich Glauser, Wachtmeister Studer (Zurich: Diogenes, 1989): Originally published in 1936, this is the first detective novel to chronicle a case of Commissioner Studer by the Swiss author. On page 107, it initiates a theme that is a flash of real brilliance, the sort that one imagines led Bertholt Brecht and Ernst Bloch to champion the genre:

Wo hatten die Leute ihre Stimmen gelassen? Waren sie vom Radio vergiftet worden? Hatten die Gerzensteiner Lautsprecher eine neue Epidemie verursacht? Stimmenwechsel?

[Where did the people leave their voices? Were they poisoned by the radio? Did the loudspeakers in the small town of Gerzensteiner create a new epidemic? Change of voice?]

Hugo Ball, Flight out of Time (Berkeley: UC Press, 1996. Trans. Ann Raimes): Although I turned to Ball's diary for my work, it is really more like a fellow traveler through a life often riddled by disorientation, despair at the state of all things cherished and now sullied, and a lack of discipline. Here are my favorite items from the year 1915:

"It does not matter if I stay here or not. There must still be people here who have time, who are not yet 'compulsive'; who are not made of paper and wind and who do not confuse business cycles with life and their interests with fate. The atmosphere is enough for me. I do not need any exchange, any direct contact." (18)

"It is better to forget and forget again; to let things drop and not make a fuss if one can forget. But who really has the strength for that? Who can be so filled with divine things that the assault can do him no harm? Who has closed and guarded his heart and imagination so tightly that no venom can get in and undermine them?" (33)

"I notice that I am falling into a slight madness that comes from my boundless desire to be different." (35)

"I do not expect anything good to happen here. I arrived here with a toothache. The rain was drumming on the roofs, and the room I was shown is as bleak as an operating room in a third-rate hospital. One always thinks it cannot get any worse. But life is inexhaustible in its levels and nuances of discomfort. So I will get myself candles, cotton, and alcohol." (40)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

one-word poem

A particularly musical German word learned today:

[total or utter chaos]


Even though I go to the movies nearly every other night, this does not mean that I have sworn off television. I bought a tiny TV that sometimes has problems turning on completely for about 30 euro about a month into my arrival. I believe I am entitled to more channels than I have figured out how to program, but the six that I do get are more than enough for me. Unlike my television habits in the States, in Germany I exercise no discrimination whatsoever. The talk show is an especially prized genre here, with staples like Sabine Christiansen, Menschen bei Maischberger, and Beckmann ruling the airwaves (and the headlines, apparently: Anne Will, the sweetheart of nighttime news, is taking over for the reigning queen of talk, Christiansen, and it was all anyone could talk about in the newspapers for a while). I absolutely cannot stomach these programs in the U.S., but seeing a hoard of people arguing about things like "is consumerism a disease?" is very helpful for language development and cultural insight.

My favorite programs, however, are:

Rote Rosen
: a soap opera about a sexy divorcee who starts her life over again after her bourgeois world comes crumbling down when her husband impregnates their daughter's viperous best friend - only to construct and even more saccharine bourgeois universe for herself. It takes place in Lueneburg, a hamlet a scant hour from Hamburg, and I enjoy the occasional pans over twee red brick buildings.

Menschen Hautnah
: a fantastic series of documentaries that take a close look at people in particularly vulnerable situations. I've seen one devoted to a hospice that treats children with terminal cancers and palsy, interviewing the families, caretakers, and children. Another focused on middle-aged men who continue to live with their mothers. A third was a portrait of a day in the life of a dominatrix in Cologne. It's difficult to describe, but the program is never exploitative or out to stage a freak show. What I find most original are the subtle and modest ways it confounds our impulse to set up taboos only to congratulate ourselves on transgressing them.

Tatort: a detective series that has been on the air for decades, a real German cult favorite that alternates among the challenges facing the various Kommissare in different cities all over the country. Who am I to resist? (Here is the actor Klaus J. Behrendt who plays Cologne's Hauptkommissar Max Ballauf. I find him particularly dreamy.)

Grey's Anatomy dubbed in German, called Die Junge Ärzte [The young doctors]

I am also devoted to the channel 3Sat, which is a broadcasting consortium for German, Austrian, and Swiss programming. Sometimes I catch the evening news for Switzerland, and whenever anyone in a report speaks in Swiss German, there are always subtitles in Hochdeutsch, which I particularly appreciate.

Monday, April 23, 2007

a one-two film festival

Tonight I am going to see Full Metal Village, a new documentary directed by Sung-Hyung Cho about a small German farming village and the mega-metal music festival that descends upon it every year. If the previews are anything to go by, it will be hilarious and a perfect companion to one of my favorite German films, Schultze Gets the Blues (2003, M. Schorr). Treat yourself to a mini-film festival and see both when you get the chance.


This is a collage by Kurt Schwitters from 1945 in the Kurt und Ernst Schwitters Stiftung at the Sprengel Museum Hannover. While the piece is untitled, it goes by the one bit of text to appear within its borders: TO SEA. Could there be any more perfect phrase in the English language? Such economy, and yet it says it all: about striking out into the unknown, about feeling adrift and lost, about yearning to be elsewhere and the hope contained in the sentiment. I was in Rotterdam this weekend to see the large Schwitters exhibition that traveled from the Sprengel to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, and I can definitively say it ranks among one of my favorite cities. Apparently, I am a junkie for harbor cities, and this one is a whopper. When I think about how exquisite Hamburg is, particularly now as every tree is in full bloom and canals kissed by weeping willows reflect nothing but blue skies, I seriously want to weep at the thought of tearing myself away. While I haven't become quite so attached to Rotterdam that my departure was cause for gloom, it surely wasn't easy to board a train when we were just starting to get to know one another.

I took a boat ride through the port, Europe's largest and probably the busiest in the world, save for Shanghai. The floating cities that, say, bring oranges from Brazil to rainy northern Europe have unhindered access to the sea straight into the loading zones - no locks, no way stations, nothing to obstruct these buoyant messengers of commerce. Miles upon miles of islands populated by nothing but garish-colored container bins, neatly stacked and switched in and out by computers and robots and the occasional human being made for an eerie sight on my left. And on my right, the most brazen and playful architecture I have seen in a long while. Perhaps I have seen buildings as inventive more recently, but if they aren't integrated in a way sensitive to street-level use, city rambles, and the overall skyline, chances are they left me with feelings that ran the gamut from apathy to rage - if they made an impression at all. Not so Rotterdam. Here, a large number of architects, planners, engineers (and, I gather, politicians) have managed to say "to sea!" with all of what we have always thought a building should be without saying "fuck you!" to the people who have to live with it.

What a contrast to Berlin, which is where I was for the two days before my brief Holland sojourn. Berlin couldn't be farther from the sea, it feels. Upon my departure, I realized that the very thing I like most about the city is, paradoxically, why I can't bear to be there for any true length of time. What makes Berlin so special is its Hofkultur - a culture of courtyards. Duck into a doorway and you could find a warren of fantastic shops and cafes and theaters... and shade! You can lose yourself for hours in the Höfe and never step out onto the street. It's like being in someone else's backyard, except it also belongs to you. I always feel a rush of trespassing there, a thrill of discovering a best kept secret, and guaranteed, I will find respite.

For there to be Höfe, however, there have to be fortress-like exteriors - huge row buildings that make a city block interminable and remind me every time I'm there that it takes hours to get around the city without a bike. Outside the Höfe, Berlin is a wretched place to walk around: no trees, an endless litany of fast-food joints, traffic, dust and dog shit, and only the occasional soul to brush by (but the streets are so wide, there's hardly the chance of that happening). The city takes on correct proportions inside and in I run, seeking shelter and amazed at how frazzled I can become for no tangible reason - except that on the outside, I've never felt more like a woman overboard.

I finally went inside the big synagogue on Oranienburgerstrasse, which was surprisingly emotional. The restoration retained the impression of its ruination in an exceedingly poignant and subtle way. Did you know that it was basically a war ruin, with weeds growing inside where the (now reconstructed) cupola once stood, as late as 1988? Every time I think I've got my mind wrapped around Berlin, I find myself searching for the aspirin. I didn't have the stamina to go to the Holocaust memorial this time around (which, I read in the tabloids, is currently the favorite urinal of the drunken Berliner set). And I am kicking myself that I didn't bring my camera, as surely my conflicted attitudes toward the city might be better understood with pictorial accompaniment.

But I'll be back on Wednesday to see the Art & Propaganda exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum with E. (This visit, she and I shared a couple of hours of enthusiastic mutual appreciation for both the Staatsbibliothek and the Palast der Republik - one might be tempted to call it an architectural love-fest.) And in the meantime, I've booked hostel rooms for two weekends on Sylt and Rügen respectively. I leave Hamburg at the end of May, and I have to see the Nordsee and the Baltic Coast before I head down south. TO SEA!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

things people do

For the three years I've known P., he's been working on this secretary that he saw in an American woodworking magazine. It is a style that originates in Pennsylvania. He finished it a little over a week ago and I went down to pay homage.

Now a thing exists that did not exist before. It took about 800 hours to make, so he tells me.

I try to recall those moments that started me on projects that have consumed years of my life. Typically, they have resulted from some clerical error, misunderstanding, or accident.

It helps to remember this especially as I try to make something myself, which inevitably prompts no small concern about doing it right or well. This is a false feeing of responsibility that is a by-product on working on something for a long time. And it is always accompanied by a necessary amnesia regarding the arbitrary beginnings of such a project. If I always kept in mind how subject I am to things that I do not intend, my projects may never get done. But if I completely forget this fact, they most certainly will never reach their conclusion.

116 films seen in the theaters the last 8 months

A Dream or Two Ago, 1916 (J. Kirkwood)

A Letter to Heaven, 1992 (Junzheng Wang)

A Lively Affair, 1912? (unknown suffragette farce)

A Movie Trip through Filmland, 1921 (P. Felton)

A Pair of Tights, 1928 (H. Yates)

A Prairie Home Companion, 2006 (R. Altman)

Afgrunden, 1910 (with Asta Nielsen)

After the Wedding, 2006 (S. Bier)

An Inconvenient Truth, 2006 (D. Guggenheim)

Any Way the Wind Blows, 2003 (T. Barman)

Archangel, 1990 (G. Maddin)

Ask Father, 1919 (with Harold Lloyd)

Atlantis, 1913 (A. Blom)

Babel, 2006 (A. Gonzalez Inarritu)

Beatles, Beat und Grosse Freiheit – Der Sound von St. Pauli

Bitter Coffee [Silnỳ kafe], 2004 (B. Gunnarsson)

Blade af Satans Bog [Leaves from Satan’s Book], 1920 (C. Th. Dreyer)

Branding Broadway, 1918 (T. Ince)

Casino Royale, 2006 (M. Campbell)

Dam Street, 2004 (Li Yu)

Das Leben der Anderen [The Lives of Others], 2005 (F. Henckel von Donnersmarck)

Das Schiff ohne Hafen, 1932 (H. Piel)

Das Totenschiff, 1959 (G. Tressler)

Dave Chapelle's Block Party, 2006 (M. Gondry)

Die Biene Maja und ihre Abenteuer, 1926 (W. Junghans)

Die Filmprimadonna, 1913 (with Asta Nielsen)

Die Herbstzeitlosen, 2006 (B. Oeberli)

Die Pamir, 1959 (H. Klemme)

Dr. Crippen an Bord, 1942 (E. Engels)

Einer zuviel an Bord, 1935 (G. Lamprecht)

Eins in die Presse – Der Mann mit der Unterwasserkamera

El Húsar de la Muerte, 1925 (P. Sienna)

Emma’s Glück, 2006 (S. Taddicken)

Ernst Lubitsch in Berlin, 2006 (R. Fischer)

Fleur de Paris, 1916 (A. Hugon)

From Subway with Love, 2005 (F. Renc)

Gesten der Versöhnung (series of recent shorts on the themes of reconciliation)

Grandma's Boy, 1922 (F. Newmeyer)

Grosse Freiheit Nr. 7, 1943/44 (H. Kaeutner)

Hail the Woman, 1921 (T. Ince)

Hamlet, 1920/21 (with Asta Nielsen)

Hans Warns – Mein 20. Jahrhundert, 1999 (G. Maugg)

Himmelskibet [A Trip to Mars], 1918 (H. Madsen)

Ich bin die Andere, 2006 (M. von Trotta)

In Nacht und Eis, 1912 (M. Misu)

Junebug, 2005 (P. Morrison)

Klovnen [The Golden Clown], 1926 (A. Sandberg)

Krigsbilleder [War Pictures], 1914 (Nordisk Films)

Laitakaupungin valot [Lichter der Vorstadt], 2006 (A. Kaurismäki)

L'Arpéte, 1928/29 (E.B. Donatien)

Little Miss Sunshine, 2006 (J. Dayton, V. Faris)

Live!, 1994 (Zhang Yimou)

Mare Nostrumm 1925/26 (R. Ingram)

Me and You and Everyone We Know, 2005 (M. July)

Mockery, 1927 (B. Christensen; with Lon Chaney)

Monte Carlo, 1930 (E. Lubitsch)

Music & Lyrics, 2007 (M. Lawrence)

My Dad is 100 Years Old, 2005 (G. Maddin)

Napule... e niente chiù, 1927/28 (E. Perego)

Nasanu naka [No Blood Relations], 1932 (M. Naruse)

Notes on a Scandal, 2006 (R. Eyre)

Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Towards Infinity, 1995 (G. Maddin)

Okasan [Mother], 1952 (M. Naruse)

Platform, 2000 (Jia Zhang-Ke)

Praesten i Vejlby [The Hand of Fate], 1922 (A. Blom)

Prix de Beauté [Miss Europe], 1930 (A. Genina; with Louise Brooks)

Saftey Last!, 1923 (F. Newmeyer)

Scoop, 2006 (W. Allen)

Sehnsucht [Longing], 2006 (V. Grisebach)

Series of Disney “Silly Symphonies,” 1931-39

Series of Houdini on film, 1909-23

Series of various short Danish white slavery adventure films, 1907-17 (A. Blom, etc.)

Series of various short magic tricks, 1899-1907

Series of Vitaphone Varieties, 1927-30

Shanghai Dreams, 2004 (Wang Xiaoshuai)

Shanghai Serenade, 1995 (Zhang Yimou)

Sommer vorm Balkon [Summer in Berlin], 2005 (A. Dresen)

Spring Festival, 1991 (Jianzhong Huang)

Stand Up, Don't Be Afraid, 1992 (Jianxin Huang)

Stranger than Fiction, 2006 (M. Forster)

Tales from the Gimli-Hospital, 1988 (G. Maddin)

Thank You for Smoking, 2005 (J. Reitman)

That Uncertain Feeling, 1941 (E. Lubitsch)

The Affairs of Anatol, 1921 (C.B. DeMille)

The Big Parade, 1925 (K. Vidor)

The Break-Up, 2006 (P. Reed)

The Cemetery Club [Moadon beit hakvarot], 2006 (T. Shemesh)

The Dead Father, 1985 (G. Maddin)

The Departed, 2006 (M. Scorsese)

The Devil Wears Prada, 2006 (D. Frankel)

The Dream, 1911 (T. Ince)

The First on the Moon, 2005 (A. Fedorchenko)

The Girl Who Stayed at Home, 1919 (G.W. Griffith)

The Good Shepherd, 2006 (R. De Niro)

The Holiday, 2006 (N. Meyers)

The Innocence of Lizette, 1916 (J. Kirkwood)

The Lieutenant’s Last Fight, 1912 (T. Ince)

The Lighthouse Keeper, 1911 (T. Ince)

The Nickel-Hopper, 1926 (R. Jones)

The Perfume, 2006 (T. Twyker)

The Queen, 2006 (S. Frears)

The Saddest Music in the World, 2003 (G. Maddin)

The Science of Sleep, 2005 (M. Gondry)

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, 2006 (K. Loach)

True Heart Susie, 1919 (G.W. Griffith)

Turnpike, 1996 (T. Barman)

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, 1997 (G. Maddin)

Unexpected Passion, 1991 (Gang Xia)

Unknown Pleasures, 2002 (Jia Zhang-Ke)

Verdens Undergang [The End of the World], 1916 (A. Blom)

Vitus, 2006 (F. Murer)

Warum lügt Fräulein Käthe?, 1934/35 (G. Jacoby)

Windjammer und Janmaate (Die Letzten Segelschiffe), 1930 (H. Hauser)

Workbook, 2006 (G. Maddin)

You Never Know Women, 1926 (W. Wellman)

Zapatas Bande, 1913 (with Asta Nielsen)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

musical interlude

A few weeks ago C. invited me to übel & gefährlich [wicked & dangerous], a club in St. Pauli. The club is located in the Hochbunker, a late Nazi construction that nevertheless reminds me of the Goetheanum in Dornach, just outside Basel and seat of Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical Society.

We went to see two of her friends open for Thomas Belhom. Unfortunately, I cannot remember their names. Nor can I recall the name of the bassist for Calexico, who played with Belhom, which is a shame, as it was once one my favorite bands.

I did not know a thing about Belhom before going to the show. He is French and is a one-man-band in the finest sense: the only thing he plays besides a drum set and a bevy of percussion do-hickeys is a small keyboard. And he sings too. In English, but as if he learned the words phonetically and doesn't know what they mean. He looks like a cross between Mr. Bean and Dick van Dyke from Mary Poppins (minus the straw hat).

They were selling a CD of his that I was very tempted to purchase - and still might - featuring performances by the said Calexico bassist as well as the frontman for Lambchop. The last time I saw Lambchop was in Hoboken almost 6 years ago when he opened for Yo La Tengo's Hannukah concert series a few months after September 11, 2001 (seven nights, proceeds to seven charities).

double meaning

The German word Schimmel can mean two things:

1. mold, mildew
2. a white charger (the kind of horse a fairy tale prince would ride)

Both are masculine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

next year in jerusalem

Upon my arrival in Cologne, I was able to locate:

My hostel (a grimy fleabag and I think the man at the desk was on X when I arrived)

A cash machine (not my bank)

My lunch (camembert, tomato, lettuce on ciabatta facing the entrance to the Dom)

The only expressionist building in the city (looked a bit lonely)

The Walter König remainders bookstore (someone’s written a biography about Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch’s relationship on sale for 8 euro, oy!)

The cable car (turns out I’m much more terrified of heights than I remembered)

Ear plugs (which, incidentally, in German are Ohrestöpsel or, colloquially, Ohropax, after an apparently popular brand. As I didn’t know the word, I simply said to one of the assistants at the Drogerie: Mein Mann ist ein Schnarcher [My husband is a snorer] and pointed vigorously to my ears.)

An ice cream cone

Three movie theaters that were not multiplexes (Metropolis, Filmpalette, FilmHaus Kino)

The night before I left for Cologne, I contemplated seeing The Cemetery Club at the 3001 Kino in Hamburg's Sternschanze. The film is an Israeli documentary featuring two women in a
discussion group that consists of aging Holocaust survivors who meet every Shabbat on Mount Herzl (not to be confused with the 1993 Ellen Burstyn comedy of the same name). But seeing as I had to get up early the next morning to catch the train, I decided against going. As I was wandering about Cologne the evening of my arrival, I stumbled upon a theater that was screening it for two nights (Filmpalette) but the show had just started five minutes before I made my discovery. I do not like to miss the openings of films, so I made a mental note to go back to see it the next day and saw Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant yuk it up in Music & Lyrics at the Metropolis instead.

On my second day, I found:

The medieval Jewish mikvah, or ritual bath, or Mikwe, as the Germans say (which I can’t help reading as Witwe, or widow. You actually procure a key at the Rathaus [city hall] and let yourself into a gated archaeological excavation.)

The storage depot for Galerie Michael Werner where I had an appointment to see some art

Galerie Michael Werner itself (to see their Per Kirkeby show)

Dinner (a concoction called "Koelschen Pizza" at a great cafe called Filmdose: melted cheese over Reibekuchenteig [grated potato dough] with tomatoes, ham, or mushrooms. It is like a potato latke, but even greasier because of the cheese. "Filmdose" doubles as a theater space but not as a screening room, oddly).

Filmpalette for the 6:15pm screening of The Cemetery Club (this theater was fantastic: generous velvet seats, fabric-lined walls, and so small that the projectionist enters the booth by going out onto the street and entering the neighboring door)

The Cemetery Club is hilarious if you have a Jewish grandmother.