sábado, 20 de diciembre de 2008

Fragments of Berlin

IF you cut my face with a sharp and rusty knife, if you dug into the wound -pressing the flesh- trying to make it stay. If you carved into my flesh every day, of every year of my entire life, I am sure I would die with a scar on my face. No matter how hard I wanted it to go away, how hard I ignored it, how hard I cried, there would be a scar on my face. Big, red, fleshy, some sort of paralyzed worm just lying there, holding on. It doesn’t move, it doesn’t budge. It only clings. Scar.

BERLIN, easy morning. Spent the last night in the city east, went to a couple of bars, the city is charming today. Marlene takes me for breakfast at the cafe Morgenrot (all you can eat, pay what you can) for lovely vegan feast. I am enjoying the meat-free feine leverwürst, the soymilk, the expresso. Then, the flea market. Lotsa colors, lotsa chilean accents, lotsa prints and used books and memorabilia. I get a shirt with a Rilke poem on it. Das ist mein fenster...This is my window. TV tower east glooms over everything, some sort of hypodermic needle with a metal clot near the end. On this side of the scar (west) it’s much flatter. The east seems to have had a tendency to reach towards the sky, to impose itself from a distance. I wonder what that’s like: to be able to see a city on the other side of a fence and not be able to touch it.

NEAR Oranienburger strasse there’s this squat. It’s supposed to be occupied by artists, or so I understand. There’s some strange trend in Europe and in Germany: everyone likes Berlin. It’s some way of establishing an identity. If you like Berlin, it means you’re hip, left, poor, starving-artist, you get my point. If you don’t, you’re probably some racist yuppie. But why Berlin? Everyone says it’s poor, dirty, fashionable. Everybody likes the grafitti, the punk rockers, the grime. A scoop of the alternative and careless lifestyle in a first-world city. The prices, of course: Berlin is cheap compared to the rest of Europe. At least when it comes to eating out, renting a flat, and buying beers in bars. Subway tickets? Don’t think so. But hey, everybody rides their bike. Whoever doesn’t, has serious issues. I can’t explain how beautiful it is. To just throw a circular lock around a tree and fasten your bike. I tied my bike to so many trees in Berlin. It’s the most politically free I’ve felt in a long time.

But then, there’s this squat. Disorder and worn out walls: and aesthetically as predictable and picturesque as any pop icon. You see, this is what we call The Irony of Success. Repetition of a tendency, ad nauseum. Put a price tag on your shit. 2 euros for a beer, cigarrette vending machine, Coca-cola umbrellas keeping customers out of the sun...the ominous and disturbing no photographs (Verboten!) allowed sign. Make some scultpures out of metal, make some shirts with the face of Emiliano Zapata. Make some postcards of your sculptures and sell them expensive, sell some shirts for 20 euros to the kids who want to believe but still have to pay to do so.

The point of traveling in Europe is not so obvious. Europe is full of buildings and strange tongues. Europe cannot be deciphered without years of study. The first impression can be kind, but the true sense of it is highly intellectual. It requires a combination of historic, linguistic, artistic and architectural knowledge. To deduce history and European identity from a single piece at an exhibition is like trying to learn a language by listening closely to a word. Traveling to Europe is a tough one: contrary to travels into natural spaces, being sensitive is not enough. Europe is, in many ways, the most human of all continents. But mostly because of its high population density, because of the way the West imposes paradigms of success that require certain destruction of nature. It is the most historical of all continents, because every space is clearly situated in a context which requires dialogue with a present era and a human context to understand, contrary to, say, an untouched forest or a jungle in which you can feel that things have remained the same for thousands of years.

Europe is full of beautiful buildings. History is a memory, fading fast, losing its grip against the blunt force of the present.

SPRENGELSTRASSE. Then Müllerstrasse. Rosa Luxemburg Strasse. Pedal fast. Unter del Linden, Branderburg, Reichstag, Tiergarden. The heart of touristic Berlin, cliché galore. I can’t help find the holocaust memorial spooky. Blocks of cement, apparently undestroyable. Time will pass, and they will not erase. Inscriptions are nonexistent. Just a lonely, gray, massive tombstone in central Berlin. Pillars of memory, with no intention but to remain. Kids are playing hide and seek, and some kids stand on them, take pictures. The cemetery as a playground, death as an act of joy. Only humanity: capable of forgetting so fast. You can run amok the scar left to honor 6 million dead people. You can take a Berlin-Warsaw train as if nothing. This is what happens when each new mind is born Blank. When forget is our defining trait. This trip: has it made sense? Not because of the buildings, so far. It’s been the people I’ve met. In Paris, in Münster, in Bremen, in Riga, in Moscow. In Petersburg, in Tallin, in Berlin. If it weren’t for them, I would have gone nuts. Now, on the contrary, this has been one of the best months ever.

Holocaust memorial

KOTTBUSSER TOR. I’m waiting for Marlene. We’re gonna get some vegan burgers at a place she knows, east side. Meanwhile, I check out some junkies hawking subway tickets. The subway here works like this: you can ride the train, in a single direction, once, per ticket. There’s no turnstile, just inspectors. So my intravenous friends get used tickets, still within the time limit, and try to sell them for less outside the station. If I didn’t have a bike, I know exactly where I’d buy mine.

DISADVANTAGE OF THINKING POLITICS ON A SUNNY DAY: blue day, open sky. The first open sky in days. Reichstag. I stood in line a couple of hours, looking at the facade. There are no more burn marks on the Riechstag. Hitler erased them faster than he made them. I can’t help but think of La Moneda in Chile, the bombs dropping, the fire, the grayness. What was to come. There is something about the act of burning the Parliament or a Palace that’s full of intention. It goes beyond what’s democratic or undemocratic. There is always an intention to corrupt, to confuse, to turn society against itself.

Dome. I’ve made it to the top, and now I can look down on the city. Forest. East, west. The scar is gone, but there’s still a little something that makes it different. I don’t like these circular mirrors, the way I can look down into the chamber. They give for an optimistic perception of democracy, a naive logic of seduction, the illusion of transparence. Kind of like the Congress Channel simultaneously turned into a panoptic and tourist attraction.

If I had to describe it in twelve words and a contraction: You can look down all you want, but it’s still out of reach.

Dome at the Reichstag, fragments

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. Kreuzeberg: I’d have fallen in love with it five years ago. That’s if it would’ve looked like this five years ago. The grafitti: there’s so much of it, the effect is unaesthetic. Abstract baroque chaos. I think Bremen is more attractive. It’s less grafitti, but what it has is more thought out. Better quality, an overall better proposal for decoration. There’s so much of it here, it’s a bit of a joke. It’s standing on the thin line between vandalism and crap. Art? Not at all. The lack of technique is apparent in so many cases, the overall effect is no effect. An aesthetic of no-aesthetics? I don’t think these guys are avant-garde like that; I think they’re just scribbling sometimes. Pre-teen angst taken to the walls. Not all of it, o course. There are a few wonderful stencils and posters. There are a few wonderful walls with color and beauty.

The shops are superb, though. Bio shops, vegan burger joints, punk record stores. I have to say I love Germany. I am, in a way, a German. I have yet to find another country where a punk-rock record and a Thomas Pynchon book can sit side to side in the same store window. Like part of the same thing. Doubt comes to mind: is punk is an extension of literature? Or is literature an extension of punkness? They’re kind of the same thing. The DIY, the I-will-hold-on-to-my-values-no-matter-what-attitude that has characterized them both. And the fact that no great book and no great punk record have ever been done for the money. Let’s not even mention the early age at which both punk musicians and authors tend to die at, the fact that they both thrive at a small scale and have a capacity of touching that goes far beyond other forms of art or music. Nobody defends his or her identity like a punk rocker. No other genre cares about the lyrics like punk. A complete sacrifice of form so as to further content. A genre that has changed remarkably little in 30 years. What does that mean? That punk is almost not music. An emphasis on lyrics so strong sends it into the realm of written words. What is a story or a novel? An effort to say the unsayable through words. What is music? The effort to musicalyze, to say but in a different language. In a time in which music doesn’t require content, in which lyrics are gibberish, punks contribution to music is not musical, but literary.

Germany: I am in love with the sound of the chains of my bike, rattling and tattling and ringing. I am in love with the cranes that swish and swerve two meters above my head, giving me a feeling of cog and metal body. I am in love with the hot asphalt and its scent, with the brown head and the ass of the girl who pedals 6 meters away from me, with the west Bebelplatz because Hitler burned some books there, with the running, the speaking, the smoking, the pictures, the scars, and especially, with the other side of the street.

FENCES: All those bikes put together give an impression (if you pass low and fast enough) to be barb wire fences. Or that kid, his shirt says modernism. Does he read Ruben Darío? The sleeves on the shirt of the girl hide: tattoos, color. A Bouncing Souls logo.

NOTAS BILINGÜES SOBRE LA POTSDAMER PLATZ. Communism: hunger, horrible buildings, death, censorship. ¿Capitalismo? Can we really say that the good guys won this match? It’s nice to see how humanity and even human life, humans, transcend. Regimes, walls, wars, conflicts. How our eyes get to watch cities crumble. Wheel of fortune.

THURSDAY: You watch the leaves and the sun. You take a bite of a halumi sandwich, and drink an orange Bionade, you fucking hedonist. You bike next to the river, the magnificent river, and spend some time in a bookshop looking at Hokusai, Modigliani, and reading about Russian Censorship. You bike up to the East side, and discover the Checkpoint Charlie and all the tourists. You swerve a bit with your bike, because you can. East, west, east, west, east west, east west. You continue your way up to the Memorial, where you take a look at one of the last remaining stretches of it, of the wall. There is grass, and you feel the scent of something burning. You pass some abandoned playgrounds, and park at an angle. There is a bronze plaque on the ground. BERLIN MAUER 1961-1989. You rub your bike on it, just because you can. You want to touch it. Now you pretend that Berlin is also a face. Two sides of it. Left and right. A scar running through it. A scar cutting through it. Can you feel it? The answer is yes: You can feel it, but only because you try. Although you may be imagining it all, someone said the scar is nearly invisible.


weeping statue at a city once divided, conquered, destroyed. Tears of permanence.

Breakfast at the Morgenrot, all you can eat, pay anything from 4 to 8 euros depending on the money you have.



Any corner.


miércoles, 3 de diciembre de 2008

Lost and found in Berlin

I don't know where I’m going. I followed the arrow that read Ausgang, but it took me nowhere. Follow the arrow that says Ausgang or the M...sure bet. But no, no such thing as a subway station. I ask around: a couple of girls dressed in black tell me it isn’t far, but I don’t believe them. I’m pretty sure I looked thoroughly. See the bag on my shoulders? It’s as heavy as it looks. Carrying gets tired, that’s why I don’t want to walk with it for too long. And this isn’t the main Train Station. Of course, I don’t now where I am. I've never been here. How could I? It’s a block of cement in the middle of something I don’t know. So am I: a spec in the middle of Europe no one gives a shit about in the whole city. Except for one person. I like the German public phones: they’re cheap and don’t steal your change. I call Marlene on the phone. I’m lost in Berlin. Her advice is to ask around. I look up and see: Karl-Marx Strasse. Correction: I’m lost in East Berlin, I can figure that one out.
So I follow it. The street. Karl Marx. Takes me nowhere, but I see a couple of kids and ask. They’re foreigners, but they have maps. I get a pretty clear idea of how to get to the subway. So I walk. Streets are drunk, a busted phone booth, busted glass, kids dressed in hip-hop clothes reeking of cheap beer like it’s some kind of perfume. Once I get there, I look for the fastest way to get to Amrumer Strasse. It’s far. I have to change lines a couple of times. Everyone is drunk here too, and the kids they all look alike walking together, eight or ten of them, pissing on the walls of the station....cops walk around with vicious German-shepherds wearing muzzles. It’s the subway station equivalent of the Foro Alicia in Mexico City, the place I used to go for punk gigs, right before punk sold out. Or that’s what we old posers like to say. We were always the last generation before it sold out, right?
Bicycles, Beer, Tourists. Hear some Mexicans talking. They’re sitting right in front of me. Suddenly the girl next to me asks them if they’re Mexican. I move away. Not in the mood, really.
Roe Welding: street art, a man with undecipherable tattoos is walking his dog. The ghosts of two cities. Everyone talks about that. East and West. Buy a piece of the scar with a postcard, only’ll set you back a couple Euros. Have no money. If I did, wouldn’t spend it on a piece of concrete. When I get to the Armrumen Strasse, I walk out. It’s Weding. Nice immigrant neighborhood. Considered poor, but I have different standards so it looks rich to me. Ok, not rich. Middle class. Walk up to Marlene’s building. Ring the doorbell. She lets me in, I walk up a flight of stairs. It’s a beautiful place. High roofs, ample rooms. Paid with money from the government she and her roommates get as scholarships. I guess I was born in the wrong place.
I drop my bag and go for a piss. DANKE BITTE sticker indicates me to sit, and I obey. Hey, I’m culturally-sensitive, and it’s a good thing, too. Rinse my hands, brush my teeth: Time to leave. Marlene is taking me for a night out. Marlene and I met in Mexico around March this year. She requested a place to stay through the Hospitality Club. I complied. I told her maybe I’d see her in Berlin someday. It took me less than 4 months. What can I say? I’m a lucky guy. Sometimes. Other times, I'm not. Today: definitely yes. Marlene has a bike for me. The night is fresh, not like sticky hot Warsaw. I have my jacket on, and it's a good thing....the wind is cold and the scent is dirty and sweet: German city. We pedal away through the night, fast. We bike through the red lights, the bike lane is but red stone drawing constellations on the sidewalks of Berlin. Marlene is but a silhouette moving her legs fast, so am I, the traveler. Welcome to this new city, I think to myself. Are you happy?, I ask myself. (Dangerous question). Yes I am happy. (Dangerous answer).

Warsawa - Berlin

De puto milagro estoy en Berlin. He dicho, de puto milagro. Estuve a 30 segundos de perder el tren. Toda una cadena de sucesos nimios que empezaron con una persona que se coló frente a mí en la fila de una miscelánea en Varsovia, media hora antes de la hora de salida. Así es. Se paró frente a mí. No le reclamé. Recuerden que no sé polaco....además, el tipo sólo llevaba un par de artículos, no me pareció tan grave. La señora se tardó un minuto en darle el cambio al señor, quien pagó con un billete. Pero fue el minuto crucial. Consecuencias: gracias a ese minuto, me salió la luz roja peatonal en la esquina cuando salí a la calle. Gracias a esa luz roja, cuando llegué al metro, éste se acababa de arrancar. Lo vi cerrar sus puertas. El siguiente llegó varios minutos después, y yo que me cagaba.

Lo bueno es que sólo faltaban dos estaciones. Lo malo fue al salir del metro. No había forma de distinguir las distintas caras del estalinista Palacio de Ciencias...eran todas idénticas. Hormigon, estacionamientos, todo igual. Consecuente desorientación. Revisé mi reloj. Faltaban siete minutos para la partida del tren a Berlin, y yo no tenía mi maleta aún. Me acerqué a un señor y pregunté un conciso y monosilábico “Train?” Se me quedó viendo sin entender nada. Iba con un niño. Respondía algo incomprensible. El niño tampoco sabía inglés. Train, train, comboio, trén, trem. Intenté de varias formas, todas inútiles. Hasta “chu chú” hice. Nada. ¿Qué resta? Correr. Es lo bueno, que antes del viaje corría ocho kilómetros tres veces por semana, a veces hasta hacía sprints. Nuevamente ubico el letrero del Hard Rock Café y así logro ubicar la estación de tren, que de lado es como un ladrillo con entradas. Corro hacia la parte subterránea. Tres minutos. Llego a los lockers. Reviso: mi llave no tiene el número. Santa mierda. De pronto, recuerdo el número. Pero ninguno de estos casilleros es. Hay más en el otro extremo. Minuto y medio. ¡Corre! ¡corro! como la mierda. Encuentro el locker, abro, saco mi mochila, extraigo el boleto, miro el número de plataforma y bajo como loco las escaleras hacia mi tren.

Lo abordo, las puertas se cierran treinta segundos más tarde. Y pues ya. ¿Apoco querían que pasara algo más?


Ruinosos suburbios. Adolescentes que esperan junto a paredes llenas de grafitti: Lena , Karol, entrelazados por un corazón que palpita junto a lo que parece ser una hoja de marijuana. Es verano, no hay escuela. Es verano, y a la sombra de un puente se toman de los manos.

Por la ventana del tren, s e a l e j a n .

Pasan las horas y leo. Pasan los campos, los pastos reemplazados por trigales. Campos devastados. Escasos árboles adornan el paisaje. Pasan las horas y se enrojece. Es el atardecer más temprano del último mes. Paso yo también. Paso pasando.

Aquí acaba un país. Aquí empieza otro.