July 2011

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2011.

The Newton Bar

The Newton Bar with Helmut Newton's nudes as backdrop.

All day it has been threatening rain and now, as if on purpose, the sky has almost cleared for the Berlin Open Air Classic Concert situated dramatically between two churches—the French Cathedral and the German Cathedral—in the Gendarmenmarkt. While a marble statue of the poet Schiller looks sternly down on the audience , dressed in their finest Heidelberg green vests and Munichen skirts, one soprano after the other, all in gorgeous low-cut gowns displaying an abundance of German cleavage, are paraded out on to the steps of the Concert Hall to sing American classics—Gershwin, Bernstein, Ellington—as well as Mozart. (One way or the other they have to get the Mozart in.)

A baritone in red and black bow tie comes out and sings something that seems terribly funny to the boys in the chorus who poke each other in the ribs and laugh to the sky before singing a resounding chorus to many bravos and great applause signaling the intermission.

Detail of Helmut Newton's "The Naked and The Undressed."

I’ve had enough. I skip the second part of the concert and wander across the street to Newton, a classy bar named for the legendary Berlin fashion photographer Helmut Newton. The counter is green marble, the leather armchairs are red, and on the walls are life-sized black-and-white nude amazons from Newton’s famous “Big Nudes” series.

I order a Sekt and sit at the bar. Sitting on my left are a couple of guys making out. On my right are two attractive young women. The one closest to me turns and asks if I have a lighter. I tell her I don’t smoke. “Good for you,” she says. The bartender lights her cigarette and then she turns back towards me and asks if I would like to buy her and her girlfriend a glass of Sekt. “We like it here,” she says, “but the drinks are too expensive.”

I buy them both a glass of Sekt. The one with the cigarette is named Kerstin and her friend’s name is Eva. They ask me what I think of the photos of the amazons. I tell them I like them. “Ya,” says Kerstin, “except they look more like mannequins than real people.”

I tell her that maybe that was Newton’s point. That when we see models wearing clothes, we don’t really see the models. They’re just walking mannequins.

“Maybe that’s so,” says Kerstin. The two women finish their drinks and stand up, putting on their coats. I ask them why they are leaving so early. “We are sharing a babysitter and we told her we’d be home by eleven,” says Kerstin. And then they leave, to go look for a taxi, just as the rain begins. I order another glass of Sekt and wait out the storm.

Tags: ,

Easties and Westies

When I travel, I like to collect unique glass pieces—one of a kind martini glasses, hand-blown etched champagne flutes, that sort of thing. So I asked my buddy at the Hotel Adlon, Herr Lubo, where I should go. He suggested stilwerk, a collaboration of interior design, design products, and lifestyle accessories on Kantstrasse in the Ku’damm district.

It was a good pick. At first it sort of looks like an indoor mall, but once you go into the little shops spread over a six floor atrium, you find that these guys are selling things you won’t find at KaDeWe—or Ikea. One shop had plastic furniture with overtones of Eames but done in luminescent florescent yellow or red or blue. Another shop featured herb-stuffed pillows and duvets, called discheldeckes, in various seasonal weights. A haut kitchen design store had round cocktail shakers that looked a bit like tea pots and an astonishing espresso machine with a glass cupola water reservoir.

Another place had Bakelit napkin holders and art deco light fixtures. And I found my off-beat martini glasses: handblown orange glass on flamingo-like pink stems with breezy accents of blood orange clouds swimming through the glass. They’re almost too beautiful to actually drink from.

After I bought my glasses, I ended up chatting with a ceramic artist, Sabine Weissbrich. Weissbrich is part of an artist’s collective made up of eight women—four Ossis (a nickname for East Germans) and four Wessis or Westies—called Subotnik, which is a Russian slang word used to refer to the monthly Saturdays or Sundays when East Berliners had to work for free for the good of the state.

“We (the women artists) meet on weekends in an atelier to make our art, and I think it is our own subotnik,” Weissbrich said as she showed me around the gallery.

There was a marked difference in the women’s work and it took only a minute or two before I was able to easily recognize Ossis artists from Wessis. It began with color. “We have very different tastes,” Weissbrich admitted. “Sometimes I say, “Oh, this color is beautiful,’ and my friend from the East will go, ‘Oh, I hate it.’”

Weissbrich showed me her ceramic donuts dipped in glazes of yellow and purple and red, hanging above abstract slabs, like ashtrays, from an Eastern artist, that were gray and charcoal and midnight blue. “But now I am becoming interested in the way they make things and the colors they choose, and, I think, they are starting to learn from me as well. In ten years, I don’t think you’ll be able to tell an Ossis artist from a Wessis artist. It is all changing so rapidly.”

Tags: ,

The Missing House

Behind this cafe is "The Missing House."

Did you ever see the movie “Damn Yankees” where Tab Hunter is this aging Washington Senator’s fan who makes a Faustian bargain with the devil to be transformed into a handsome, charismatic young ballplayer who will help his team conquer the world (or, at least, the New York Yankees)?

Berlin, it seems to me, is Tab Hunter. There is no more youthful city in all of Europe, yet strip off the uniform and you’ll find a contemplative old guy who wonders if the trade-off between youth and experience is really worth it.

I have been noticing as I walk around that everywhere you look in Berlin—the music, the art, the architecture—you see youth. But there is an emotional patina cast upon it that comes from the city’s storied past.

Yesterday I was taking in the sights in the eastern part of the city in a neighborhood called Scheunenviertel (Barn Quarter). Once the center of Berlin’s Jewish community back in the 1920s when it attracted the same sort of artists and writers as Paris, today it is one of the most fashionable sections of the city, full of trendy restaurants, grand homes, and cutting-edge art galleries.

Plaques on the wall of "The Missing House." Photo by David Lansing.

So I’m wandering up one little street and down another, just completely digging the scene and thinking how vibrant and young the whole place feels—you know, admiring Tab Hunter—when I come across this vacant lot between a couple of gentrified apartment buildings just a block or so off the main drag, Oranienburger Strasse. What catches my attention are the simple black-and-white plaques stuck on the wall facing the vacant lot. There are names on them as well as dates and professions—masseuse, actress, sales lady, piano teacher, wood trader, hairdresser.

I ask a young woman sitting outside at the café in front of the vacant lot what the deal is with the plaques. She tells me that this is a sort of art installation by the French artist Christian Boltanski called “The Missing House.”

There was an apartment building here, she says, and it was destroyed by bombing towards the end of World War II. “The artist, he researched who had lived in this apartment. The plaques record the family names and occupations of the residents, all of whom were either maimed or killed.”

And so, you see, no matter how you dress up der Neue Berlin, underneath the youthful façade you will always find the old Berlin waiting to haunt you.

Tags: ,

An actress on a bicycle-scooter awaits direction before filming a Mercedes commercial. Photo by David Lansing.

As Hardy and I were sipping our beers and waiting for our hearing to return, a small film crew set up in front of the café to shoot a car commercial. An elegantly dressed older actress in white linen and a large straw hat, tipped up in front—the sort of hat Audrey Hepburn might have worn in the 60s—was being coached to pedal a bicycle-scooter past a gleaming 500 CL Mercedes.

Meanwhile, four young women, in black leather pants and matching leather bikini tops, kick-started their Harleys which were parked in front of the café. The director impatiently waited for the biker babes, who had yellow daisies painted on their cheeks and chests, to depart so he could start filming.

But the cinematographer couldn’t stand it. His camera reflexively swung away from the aging film star and the Mercedes to the youthful free-spirited bikers and their hogs.

The director began screaming at the cinematographer, demanding that he return his attention to the business at hand, but he would have none of it. Like us, he was inextricably drawn to the exotic scene of wild youth. While the actress in white pedaled past the Escada shop and the Drescher Bank, the camera lens—and everyone in the café—followed the four Love Parade babes as they zoomed towards the techno beat that reverberated in the air like a quickening storm.

Tags: ,

Welcome to the Love Parade

The Love Parade stomps through Berlin in July, 2000. Photos by David Lansing.

There are some events that you feel like you have to experience at least once in your life. Like Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Or Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland. And then there’s Berlin’s Love Parade, the electronic dance music and three day rave that, for almost 15 years, brought every Ecstasy-dropping Euro-techno freak to Berlin for a non-stop dance party.

I hate techno music and I hate big crowds. But I had to go. Just once. So in July of 2000, I wrangled an assignment with National Geographic Traveler to report on der Neue Berlin as a way to get me to the Love Parade, a sort of Woodstock for the Echo Boomers of Gen Y, founded by a Berlin radical known as Dr Motte (real name Matthias Roeingh) and his girlfriend, Danielle de Picciotto, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Originally conceived as a sort of political demonstration for peace through music (the original motto Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen—Peace, Joy, Pancakes—stood for disarmament (peace), music (joy), and a fair food production/distribution (pancakes)—it ended up being an alcohol and drug fueled rave that got so commercialized that Dr Motte disassociated himself from the parade in 2006.

But back in July of 2000, when I attended, it was still pretty innocent and benign, if not a little crazy. As hundreds of thousands of ravers entered the city (it was later estimated that over a million people attended), you’d find Love Parade babies everywhere—sleeping in the parks, huddled in vacant lots drinking beer and dancing around camp fires made of broken crates and poster boards, peeing in the bushes of the Tiergarten.

A devil and an angel with the author at Berlin's Love Parade.

Hardy came over from London to join me. We walked from our digs at the Adlon through the Brandenburg Gate, where the parade would make a U-turn after slowly bumping along for two miles down Strasse des 17. Clustered around the Gate were women wearing giant red foam valentine hearts, like sandwich signboards, and vendors hawking squirt guns, violet wigs, and extra-long green fake eyelashes (for about $15) or distributing free passes to dance clubs all around the city. There was also an army of volunteers passing out free condoms.

By the time we snaked our way into the surging crowd following the flatbed trucks that acted as portable discos, it was a full on zoo. A bit of nudity, lots of drinking, and everyone jumping up and down, waving their arms, stomping their Buffalo boots, and blasting on whistles as the black loudspeakers on the back of the flatbeds, tall and thick as bears, pumped out a universal dance beat with no lyrics, no rhythm, only an omnipresent thump. Like a thundering heart beat.

After a couple of hours, Hardy and I retreated. We were the old men of the festival and we knew it (a number of ravers wanted to have their picture taken with us because they thought it was so cute that the old guys were partying). Cutting through the Tiergarten to escape the crowd, we searched for a pharmacy to buy Ibuprofen (we both had pounding headaches), and then for a café to sit and enjoy a pilsner. But even here, a mile or more from the parade, the beat rumbled over the city like a violent summer thunder storm. And the incessant pounding continued non-stop for the next 24 hours. We got no sleep that night. But at least we could say we’d done the Love Parade.

After that year, attendance at the Love Parade dropped and funding became such a problem that the event was cancelled in 2004. It came back in 2006 and then was moved to the Ruhr Area for the next few years. Last year the Parade was re-organized in Duisburg where 21 people were killed during a crushing stampede into the festival area. After that, the event organizer, Rainer Schaller, declared an end to the festival. “The Love Parade has always been a peaceful party, but it will forever be overshadowed by the accident, so out of respect for the victims, the Love Parade will never take place again,” Schaller said.

Peace, Joy, and Pancakes.

Tags: ,

« Older entries § Newer entries »