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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found the music with Marina Satti

So before this dialogue I wrote a post about the music that defined Greece at the time for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the country but it sounded like there was a lot of troubles. So the songs I chose reflected that.

Now that I’m here, I don’t think this is a good choice at all. Post-hardcore rock is too slow, with not enough movement. It could be described as zombielike. But in no way is Greece zombielike. Being vibrant and enjoying life seems to be national pastime, whatever the struggles of the present. The adjective lifeless does not apply. That’s for certain.

During the introductory language classes that we attend on weekdays, the teacher introduced us to Marina Satti, playing one of her songs on the screen. She recently released this song.

The streets in the video as well as the people dancing remind me of Thessaloniki. There is so much graffiti and the buildings look similar if not the same. This video could have been filmed on some of the same streets that I’ve been walking for the last two weeks. It might as well have been.

I love this song (and already adore the artist though I heard about her two days ago). The dramatic and building nature of this music appeals to me a lot, and it incorporates eastern rhythms (played on what sounds like bagpipes) into an otherwise contemporary song. The production of the song is slick to be sure (just listen to when and how the synth comes in), but the vocals are in Greek. It doesn’t sound like music that I’ve heard before. This is a Greek interpretation of conventional something quintessentially Greek, and I enjoy it as much as my favorite music back home. The fact that this song exists excites me. I’m a huge fan.

Below is the song the teacher (Maria) originally showed us.

 

The above song (Koupes) is a modern version of a more traditional Greek tune. It reminds me of Magda Giannikou’s song Yerakina, another modern performance of an old Greek song.

I’ve asked a lot of people about what Greek music means and to be honest I’m still not totally sure (is it more in the history of music unique to Greece and the Balkans or in the modern reinterpretations and mixings of this tradition?). When I figure that out I’ll let you know. In the meantime, listen to Marina Satti.

Header photo by Bradley Fargo. The pictured sculpture was spotted by some building associated with the Orthodox Church. The picture was included because I feel like this man would have liked Marina Satti’s music based only on his expression. He looks like a hip priest. RIP Leonidas Paraskevopoulos.

 

Kickin’ around the city

I didn’t know what to expect from Thessaloniki but it’s been about a week now, and I think I have a sense of the city.

I like it.

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These cars are parked.

I’m not sure why exactly. It’s not the busiest, or the most exciting, but it’s consistently nice. The people, the weather, the food, the protests, the beaches. Everything is laid back in a way.

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Alongside foot traffic, protesters gather in Kamara square.

It is not jarring. To talk to a Greek is only inconvenient if they don’t want to talk to you or they don’t know English. Many know English. If you are friendly, and you don’t act like a loud crazy tourist then people will be gracious even.

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Young people.

Over the last couple days I covered protests (alongside Sophie and David) and shot pictures all over the city. These protests were not violent, or even particularly hurried (but they were legitimate). And we knew when they would start, so taking some time to eat and drink and look around was only natural.

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The White Tower of Thessaloniki.

I’ve gotten lost once or twice, and those are among my favorite times. To be alone in a city is to truly be in the city. Navigating is part of the experience. And in Thessaloniki, everything is a short bus ride away. If you’re downtown, you can practically see everywhere you might want to go on the boardwalk.

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A view of the boardwalk, facing toward the old city.

Thessaloniki is bright, and it is filled with graffiti. This may be a European thing, or even a Greek thing, but it is striking. There are ruins from antiquity as well as churches from Byzantine times, and between them stand off-white buildings erected in the 1920s. The old city is filled with variety, and the whole is more interesting than any one of the parts.

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The old among the new.

I love (escaping) planes

I didn’t get any rad pictures of the skyline out the windows on either of the airplanes I rode to get to Thessaloniki, which is a darn shame. Based on what I could see from the central seats on both flights, clouds sort of dominated the view.

I’m not too worried about it though. I’ve been on a plane before, and unless you’re in the process of landing or taking off, the view isn’t radically different. I was content with watching the movie “Arrival,” sleeping and listening to podcasts on the trip over (I didn’t end up reading much unfortunately).

I’m not the biggest fan of the whole experience of air travel actually. Being passed out for the whole process is preferable for me. Airports I dislike most of all, simply because they are places that I have to wait in, and they’re never at a comfortable temperature for what I’m wearing.

They do look cool though.

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Some randos
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Waiting (featuring Cody).
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Alexa and Brandon being suspiciously happy.
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Lufthansa airlines has a cool color scheme.
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We found the bus!