Brain dump in Berlin

I need to update this. Not really cause the audience (NUDGE NUDGE THAT’S YOU) needs to know about my travels, but more because I need a moment to step away from wandering around this spread-out and varied place and write.

So here are the fruits of that need. Hope they’re tasty?

I’ve visited six museums while I’ve been here. There are way more available than that. I’ve passed by dozens at least, only returning to those that seem convenient at the time. The Pergamon, the National Gallery, countless random official buildings. Germany is a nice place filled with green and fields and gorse and grass. Berlin’s flora are buildings, parks, markets.

I didn’t know what the Riechstag was when I passed it my first day here. I just knew there was a line, and I knew it was impressive. I didn’t go inside. The big rebuilt state building with a glass globe inside is not checked off the to do list. Not this visit.

When I passed the Brandenburg gate I passed in a rush. I had to find a place to place my baggage. My first even in Berlin was marked mostly with heavy breathin’ and being lost.

But I found a place with the help of ticket-counter people. God bless ticket-counter people. Even though there is surely a downside to Germany’s organization and businesslike efficiency they sure know how to help humans get places.

Public transport here is frankly amazing. The honeycomb of trains, above-ground and below, is impressive. It allows there to be a reasonable (read: low) amount of automobile traffic gumming up the city. It’s also damned convenient.

It comes with the businesslike faces of train ticketers hopping on after the last Person has boarded. The system knows how to deal with those who break society’s shallow trust. It’s best to stay out of their way.

Visiting the Typography of Terror I was confused. Where were the cruel images of forced famine? Where were the pictures of bodies and bloodless businesslike bloodletting that I had seen in a Holocaust remembrance museum in America?

I didn’t do any research into the free museum before going. I guess this expectation of seeing upsetting images wasn’t reasonable.

Instead there was a very clean, designed remembrance of those who created the Nazi regime and death machine. Also featured were those adversely affected by it, along with tasteful descriptions of the stories of individuals. Those that created this place did it to document the people of Germany. They probably made it mostly to highlight how normally successful systems and officials and highly productive people could become so maligned. How the path can be turned.

And it does this. And granted I didn’t give this place as much of my attention as I had been lending to photography exhibitions and sculptures and escavated stones in days before. But I walked away feeling strangely dissatisfied with the place. I think my expectations were a bit out of wack with the reality of the exhibit, but the fact that the terror which was shown was only explained via text rather than shown didn’t sit right.

I remember walking through a photo gallery on display in Thessaloniki while I was there. It was on some of the photographic voices in Greece in the period after WWII but before the civil war. There was famine. It was documented with pictures of desicated peoples smuggled out of hospitals. I wasn’t expecting to find it there, amidst villages and industrial images and the works of two photographers from that era.

I was expecting to find those cruel images in Germany. I haven’t yet.

And I’m leaving Germany actually. For a couple days at least, I’m headed to Prague in the morning. We’ll see how that goes.

My experience in Berlin has been a whole lot more solitary than Hamburg. I mostly wandered around, partially lost, partially not. I usually have a destination in mind, but I don’t always have a charged device to reference.

Every once in a while your phone needs to die. It makes you ask people questions. That or become content with eternal frustration.

I talked to this Romanian dude the other day under the huge television tower built by the communists before the wall fell. His name is Marius (or similar, it might have been Mariun), and he came to Berlin because he heard that there were jobs overflowing in Germany. And yes, there are jobs in Germany, but apparently they are quite difficult to obtain if one does not know how to speak German.

He was not so subtly hitting me up for money. He had this routine where if there was a pause in the conversation he would return to a refrain of ‘bad bad, no money, no jobs.’ And I believed him to an extent. I believe that he came to Germany to find something, and that what he found is not what he wanted, nor is it friendly. Back home he cooks apparently, and he was looking to do that in this mythical place called Central Europe, where the money trickles like rain.

I felt bad for him, maybe because I understood a bit of his frustration. I understood the language trouble at least. Many Germans know at least a bit of English, but there are some times where you really can’t use it. And the German I know is only the German that I’ve learned here, plus useful phrases like Hefeweisen and Gesundheit. And German is essentially English when compared to Greek, which has a whole ‘nother script and is phonetically written, let alone Chinese. My point is, not being able to communicate on a super-complex level with other humans is frustrating.

He didn’t even know that much English. I mean, he knew enough to have a simple conversation, and with some effort a more complex one. When he wanted to say something more in-depth he would switch to Spanish, which is at least familiar for me. Needless to say, there was a lot of dumb nodding on either side.

He walked up to me and sat by my bench because I didn’t seem to be doing anything and he sleeps in the patch of green next to where I was. At least, that’s what I assume. That’s what he said. He at first asked me about discotheques, and gradually brought the conversation to his own troubles. I think most of the reason the conversation even got that far is because I stayed to listen. I don’t think that’s very usual for this dude.

We talked a while. I tried to see if I could get him to show me some Romanian music and he pulled up some rapper on my phone. He also likes 50 Cent apparently. I ended up buying him some juice and leaving one of the small bags of change I had accumulated in Greece. There wasn’t much in there. What he needed is around 116 euro in order to book a ticket to return home to Romania. I wasn’t interested in giving him that, or any amount of money close to that really. I told him that. I even felt kind of cold, especially towards the end of our conversation. His face was not happy, and it was not filled with hope. Clearly he was dreading another night in the city he had taken off to so suddenly and ill-advisedly.

That was a really weird conversation. Kind of glad it took place though. I don’t know what’s been happening with him since. I hope he makes it back one of these days. He’s been in town for about a week, and doesn’t seem to be able to find a way to make money. I assume he’ll find something lucrative and illegal to do at some point or else pull some odd-job gig out of nowhere and make it back to Romania. That’s assuming he was telling the truth about his situation. But you know what, I don’t think that’s a bad assumption to make.

It’s rough for him. But at least he can go back to Romania, once he figures out the money needed to return. And he has family there. Many people don’t really have that sweet combination. It’s weird to think of him as well off, but he sort of is. It’s weird to think of a man looking that sad and lost being ‘comparitevely well off’ and even weirder to compare his situation with my own.

The fact is I’m on vacation without aim. I’m one of many in Europe it turns out. It’s sort of common here to be drifting. I just happen to be able to withdraw money when I need it. The money that I spend on tourist cafes I could be burning. The money I spend on fixing cameras and doing laundry in Athens is wasted. I pay more for these things because I’m a tourist, and I don’t have the knowledge or time needed to find the same things for cheap. This is the case at least some of the time. And paying more than locals do doesn’t effect me—not really. I’ll be returning home to a job soon anyway. I’ll spend so much less not traveling that the money lost abroad will seem insubstantial. It never really existed anyway. That’s false, but it’s difficult to think of things like the actual value of something when the trip over costs so much. When there are entire economies strutted with the excesses and vulturism of tourism, it can be difficult to separate meaningful from frivolous when it comes to expenses. It’s all frivolous really, but some receipts come with less meaning.

I should have spent some of this money I have access to on a book of photography. I visited a boatload of photography exhibitions over the last couple days. And I will remember them, but it’s a bit strange taking pictures of pictures, so I didn’t. I sort of wish I had. They were cool as all hell.

I walked into the Museum of Photography and was greeted by five giant portraits of naked women, courtesy of Helmut Newton. Over half the images on display in that building were referencing or using nakedness. It was a smut museum.

Don’t get me wrong, it was really interesting. It featured artistically valid pictures, and a lot of provocative things. But I was not really expecting so much nakedness on display.

Shrugs.

Art I guess. I got used to it while walking around. On a later day I went through an exhibition of Juergen Teller’s work and the comparitively tiny volume of sexual organs on display was striking. There was still a bunch though. German photography likes the human form I guess.

Shrugs.

I saw the work of William Klein as well. Would recommend. It doesn’t cast life in a very light light, but it’s quite visceral and pretty genuine. There’s also an out of focus picture of a woman accidentally blocking the camera that is brilliant. I liked it.

Alright it’s time for sleep. There’s a ton more to put down into the interwebs but I leave for Prague in the morning. Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thessaloniki is BAE guys, seriously BAE (your headlines ain’t got nothin’ on my clickbait); also Greek culture I guess

The culture of Greece is something new to me. Before embarking on this journey, I thought I had an idea of what Greeks were like, and how the country is run. I sort of don’t remember what exactly that idea was, but I have a different idea now.

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Thessaloniki as seen through a fence in the old city (i.e. ancient fortified area up a hill)

Greece is all about trust. About social connections, and a between-friends mentality. The place is run by people who enjoy going out to a taverna with friends and drinking and listening to music and dancing. I’m positive this can be overstated in its importance, but the phenomenon of relaxing through life exists here in a big way. And that’s different. That’s cool.

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Not to toot my own horn or anything but I like this picture.

A lot of my insights into the culture of this place I gained by talking to Theo or Maria or Kristina or Kostis or whomever Greek person was nearby (huge shout-outs to every one of them). And I think this culture is special. Not the most suited towards running an efficient and accountable economy perhaps, but extremely good for the people within the community. There’s always an exception to the rule. There’s usually something you can do. You just have to know someone.

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A Taxi.

And that is corruption in its purist form. Having a rule that can be broken at will by the watchers is undeniably hypocritical. But on the other hand, if corruption is the rule, then how can you be offended at corruption? It so often works that it’s just part of the society. People don’t have to pretend to not care about things which they might not care about.

It’s a different mentality, and I don’t think that this system is all that bad. It means that to have success in business or life or whatever work might be desired, one simply has to ask, in just the right way, to just the right person. And suddenly life is easy.

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Oh Canada!

It sounds like I’m hyping up corruption and nepotism, and to an extent I am. It did work for the Greeks for a long time to operate in this way. It was only after they became a part of the European Union and became only a part of a larger game run by financial wizards in Germany and France that everything went to hell.

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Dusty trains = disorganization?

But everything did go to hell, that’s the thing. After the government books fell apart in 2008, the economy hasn’t recovered. Only around now is there any hope of major economic growth for Greece for the near future. For perspective, most people have lost a little less than half their income from when the crisis started.

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This sad vibe in street art is pretty common in Greece. But so is every vibe in street art. There’s so much of it.

But it’s not so visible as I expected. Carlene, our teacher and editor, she sent me and a couple others out on a story to capture the protest culture in Thessaloniki. She said something about writing about the drumbeat, and the constant schedule of protest and how its alive and well in this city, and to be honest that description didn’t ring true. Sure, there is a constant schedule of protests, but nobody in the streets every day is seriously expecting change because they’re out there stopping traffic for two minutes and yelling things. No, they’re hoping to make their cause or organization or party a little more visible and attract attention. This is not a bad thing, but it doesn’t call to mind any one drumbeat.

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This is a pretty cool vibe too.

Rather a more festive type of drumming came when the whole of Thessaloniki went on strike on a Wednesday. The only people working were a couple cops, the street musicians and the food service people, but this too didn’t seem quite right to me. I mean I’ve seen protest before. People would gather and march in the streets of Ferguson in north county within the St. Louis area when I was in high school. Highways would be stopped by protestors and I’d turn on the television to see people throwing tear gas capsules back at the police. With Ferguson there was some chaos to be sure, but there was also focus. An expectation, a need for some sort of change, some response.

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Dope.

I just don’t see that here. Mostly the strike on Wednesday seemed like a citywide celebration or a parade. People chanted in Greek, which I don’t understand, and obviously, the vibe of the marches depended on who you were walking alongside, but they were marching in solidarity mostly. To be fair, I was by the communists, and a big thing with them is solidarity within social classes. But the teacher’s union felt the same way, and even the dogs running in the street looked excited.

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Graffiti is really all over the place.

The story that we ended up turning in is one that I’m happy with, and I think it accurately represents the protests as they are. But honestly, I’ve come to appreciate the street art much more than the protests in this place. That’s what’s truly interesting to me—what people write on walls, and how common and quality it is.

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Stylish as downright heck.

I’m getting off track. Here’s a new train of thought.

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Not a train, though I have plenty of pictures of them (the old train station was a good photo shoot).

A visit to Greece is usually made nicer by friendly people who happen to make a lot of their money off tourism. It’s no accident that they specifically are friendly to strangers, perhaps more than the average citizen, but Greeks are also just friendly. It reminds me of the Midwest more than I expected. When I buy souvlaki from the Kantina truck, I get smiles. When I go to the Municipal Library I see people studying, so maybe not that expressive, but the receptionist is nice, even without knowing too much English. My experience here is not like Boston, where people are cold and there’s a huge difference between strangers and friends. Greece, or at least Thessaloniki, is warm and personal.

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Some dude.

While gathering background info from people in Thessaloniki I’ve heard from a random assortment of voices. A North African man from Ghana named Ferris who makes a living half-selling (giving and then asking for money) colored wristbands to tourists (he had a lot to say about the experience of the refugees or migrants who don’t have papers from back home, yet still live in Greece). I talked to two motorcyclists from Turkey who were stopping by in Thessaloniki and happened to grab some tea at the same place I was at (they commented on the Greek view of the Turkish and the similarities of the cultures). I met and made friends with this journalism student named Kostis who has his own radio show on a volunteer internet radio station (Radio Nowhere). I saw a cool old dude smirking at a passing protest and interviewed him, and it turned out he is an anarchist himself, but from an Italian school of thought more based in peacefulness and words. I even met two Greek Jehovah’s Witnesses who helped me with my Turkey story by mentioning the sporting and television rivalries between Greece and Turkey.

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Throwin shade on some dude.

Those people are the people I want to talk about when I talk about Greek culture. They weren’t busy, or maybe they were, but they didn’t seem worried about it. They took the time to tell stories and fill me in, and that is very Greek.

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Awesome.

In talking with Kristina, until recently my RA and now a friend, I’ve gotten a bit of a feel for what young people are interested in here. They aren’t concerned necessarily with politics. They go about their business and worry about their lives and their studies and leave it at that. Obviously everyone has knowledge and keeps in the loop with current events somewhat, but the political activism of the Greek people can be overstated.

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The close up of a proud statue in a park.
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The vertical photo, adding some inappropriate context.

Mostly, Greeks seem to want to chat, relax and drink (coffee or ouzo, either way). They find pride in being Greek, sometimes more so than is historically accurate, but not so much that they can’t admit to a little nationalistic silliness.

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Cats are cool as all heck.

And that historical tick comes as no surprise, what with all the random ancient buildings everywhere, sticking out from under roads and in the middle of squares. There’s clearly so much to call back to; it’s no surprise that referring to history to affirm oneself is popular here. You don’t need to look that hard for evidence of past glory.

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Sort of speaks for itself don’t it?

And that’s as close to an ending as I can come up with. The past is on display here, but it’s also visibly sticking out from under roads. There’s too much of it to comprehend, let alone put in one piece. But having too much material to write about it is what I refer to as a good problem.DSC_3817.jpg

Yamas.

To good problems

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and a wonderful city.