Berlin

The easter week: A trip to Berlin, the New New York, seeing some good friends from back home in Finland.

I was late with reserving my trip, so a train voyage turned out to be excessively pricey at 160 €. The Eurolines bus was roughly half the price, but came with some definite disadvantages. The bus, scheduled to leave from Antwerpen was about 40 minutes late, which meant some tedious waiting at the bus stop in the middle of the night, even if the tedium was relieved somewhat from witnessing two police officers chasing and catching some plump offender, perhaps a pickpocket.

Adding to that initial annoyment was the diligent checking of passports conducted on the passengers by both belgian and german border authorities. A group from Congo sitting in front of me was particularly thoroughly sized up, but my chip-equipped finnish passport was also carefully scratched and scrutinized with loupe. As if this wasn’t enough, some german highway police stopped the bus a third time about an hour before Berlin to check for eventual drug smuggling and the driver’s papers. All in all, the bus was about two hours late, and I was left with a strong impression that this is a mode of travel which somewhat lessens your Schengen-granted european citizenship. It is to be said that the clientele of the Eurolines seem to be mainly eastern europeans, africans and backpackers.

After the eleven-hour bus ride I was welcomed by a pleasantly summery Berlin.

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At the hostel I met up with Hanna-Maija, Hanne and Janne. The hostel was located in what turned out to be one of the nicer parts of Berlin, in Kreuzberg near the Slesischer Tor u-bahn stop.

What followed was some relaxing days of strolling about the city, frequenting museums and bookstores in the daytime and bars during the nights. Thanks to Juuso and Sophy, who arrived a bit later, we got to see some of the city’s more memorable clubs and bars, including the former meeting hall of the socialist party, now functioning as an occasional massive club venue of slightly questionable legality.

Berlin is in many ways one of europe’s most pleasant cities, with plenty of parks, cafés and a generally relaxed attitude. As Juuso pointed out, much of this can be attributed to the constantly low living costs, in turn arising from the fact that there is a huge oversupply of real estate since the city lost it’s special status after the wall came down. The street art gracing every second building is a good example of Berlin’s atmosphere. Here you see well-tended flower plantings and colourful graffiti in the same neighbourhood.

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Some cryptic logos for an auto repair shop. The numbered disks undoubtedly have some significance; my guess would be that they represent the times for yearly vehicle check-up.

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Commissioned street art hardly cuts it, but this one has certain qualities.

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A 4.5 € tea in a city where you get a Mojito for 5 € better be something extra, like this white tea in the form of a hand-made unfolding flower.

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Choose the size of your serving.

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The Neue Nationalgalerie is Mies van der Rohe’s last building, and in itself worth a visit. On the upper floor was an installation by german sculptor Ulrich Rückriem, who has a special interest in chess problems. The work, pictured above, consisted of irregularly cut granite slabs the same size as the floor stones, placed in the manner of the solution to a chess problem: no two slabs are on the same line.

The collections are very interesting, but they were stowed away for a special exhibit on expressionism, especially of the post-war kind with works by the COBRA group and Dubuffet, among others. Many canvases covered in thick layers of stringy paint, often featuring some vague humanoid characters with toothy grins.

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The Museum of Things was only found on the second attempt, but proved an interesting experience. The museum is the archive of the Deutscher Werkbunde, which was a Bauhaus-like organization for furthering german industrial design and architecture, promoting a holistic view of the processes of design, production and use of industrial products.

The exhibit is very carefully put together, according to it’s own peculiar logic. In some ways it seems like an excellent example of a very german kind of mysticism through systematicality. There were display cases thematically organized by tastelessness (Geschmacksverirrungen), poverty, color…

On the shelves in “archival mode”, was a more eclectic assortment of small objects, such as insulators or tin boxes.

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There was a guy hanging around the

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According to the exhibition text, Kaffee Hag sought a complete monopoly of decaffinated coffee “in public institutions, on trains, in hospitals, schools and mental asylums” through a unified and recognizable design (there were cups, cans etc. with the logo).

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The NSDAP actually attempted to stem the tide of “party kitsch”, without much success.

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Lamps found in bunker ruins.

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KW seems to be one of Berlin’s more interesting art spaces, focusing on conceptually themed exhibitions. The exhibition there was called Vorspannkino, and consisted of the opening credits of several films displayed in different arrangements as to keep the viewer’s concentration. There was obviously several works by Saul Bass like the well-known Vertigo credits, but also some unexpected asides, such as the credits for two films by the apparently notorious Jörg Buttgereit.

This is a more unknown opening by Saul Bass, for the film Seconds by John Frankenheimer:

Opening credits for The Super Inframan; a film by the Shaw Brothers:

Jörg Buttgereit’s Mein Papi in it’s entirety (7 minutes):

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The Hamburger Bahnhof is another worthwile museum. When we visited it was being renovated, but there was nevertheless an interesting exhibit on Fluxus, with several works by Nam June Paik and a larger theme exhibition on Joseph Beuys.

The film piece Filz TV is rather caracteristic to his approach:

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I really can’t remember by whom these moving TV robots were, but I think it was by a german Fluxus artist.

The primary exhibition, however, was a large sound installation, the Murder of Crows,  by George Bures Miller and Janet Cardiff. As the installation consisted of 98 speakers, through which a sound narrative was played, a very powerful illusionary effect of events happening in the space was created. The production values of the piece itself were also rather high, what with a symphony orchestra and such.

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A playground just outside the former Stasi headquarters.

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The state debt of Germany was growing fast, several hundred thousand euros per minute.

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Last but not least: Two bookstore recommendations.

Berlin has many interesting art and design bookstores. One of the more well-known is Pro QM, with everything from zines to books on social sciences and cybernetics. The thematic bookstore focuses on “Stadt, Politik, Pop, Ökonomiekritik, Architektur, Design, Kunst & Theorie”, and does it quite well in my opinion.

A new find was the excellent Motto book- and magazine shop, with a particularly authorative selection of small printing material, and very decent pricing. Plenty of things familiar from sites such as Manystuff, a back catalogue selection of Dot Dot Dot‘s, publications from Onomatopee… among many other things. An important visit for connoisseurs of printed matter, near Slesischer Tor.

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After Berlin, I was in need of a little vacation, but luckily the bustrip back wasn’t half as harsh as the journey out, with only one border check. It has it’s charm to sit in a darkened bus full of sleeping strangers, watching industrial areas glide by, tired truckers lighted by the straight line on their navigation assistant overtaking the bus now and then. Early on wednesday morning the 15th I was back in Antwerpen, with my new fixie bike in a box under the arm.

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