Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bad Things Happen in These Scary Movies

It's Halloween time and here are 13 of my favorite scary movies:

Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott directed this sci-fi and horror classic about a spacecraft crew dealing with an alien invader. The scene with John Hurt is unforgettable!

The Birds (1963)
Although the special effects are dated, this Alfred Hitchcock movie, based on a Daphne Du Maurier short story, is timeless. It's Tippi Hedren versus the Birds. You can still visit the school house (located near Bodega Bay, Ca.) that was used in the movie. It's a private residence, but there are tours.

Carrie (1976)
I literally jumped out of my seat during the final scene! Piper Laurie as Carrie's mother gives a near perfect performance as an Evangelical Christian you don't want to cross paths with. Brian De Palma at his best. 

Dressed to Kill (1980)
Brian De Palma's cautionary tale about the dangers of causal sex in the pre-AIDS era. Surprisingly prescient. Angie Dickinson doesn't have a line of dialogue during the museum scene, but her eyes convey fear, lust, and sexuality! She is the only actress who could have played this part.

The Exorcist (1973)
A controversial film with stomach-turning visual effects: a twisting head, spinning bed, and green vomit. A tormented priest tries to exorcise the devil from 12-year old Linda Blair.

Fatal Attraction (1987)
Glenn Close is SCARY! Extra-marital affairs do have consequences.

The Innocents (1961)
Based on the Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw, this movie is either a psychological study about Victorian repression or a ghost story. It's never clear.

The Omen (1976)
Damien is cute and evil; but for my money, Billie Whitelaw steals the show as the nanny, Mrs. Baylock.

The Orphanage (aka El Orfanato) (Spain, 2007)
A terrific movie from Spain. It stars Belen Reuda and Fernando Cayo. A child disappears. What's a mother do to?

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski's movie about witchcraft in NYC. It stars Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and the chilling Ruth Gordon.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I love Anthony Hopkins's line: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. [Hisses]

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
A bed-ridden women (Barbara Stanwyck) overhears a plot for murder on her party line (remember what that was). A film noir classic with Burt Lancaster. Turn off the lights and enjoy this thriller.

The Vanishing (aka Spoorloos) (The Netherlands, 1988)
A woman vanishes without a trace. Surprisingly, this happens everyday. A cerebral mystery. The American remake was terrible.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Die Stolpersteine in Berlin

At the entrance of some buildings in Berlin are small cobblestone memorials. These markers or “Stolpersteine” (The German word for “stumbling block” or “obstacle”) commemorate victims of the Nazi Holocaust who onced lived in these dwellings. Most of these memorials commemorate Jewish victims, but some Stolpersteine also honor gypsies, homosexuals, members of the Communist party, resistance fighters, and the mentally disabled.

This Stolperstein reads,
"Here lived Arthur Rosenow, Born
1894, Deported 1943, Murdered in Auschwitz."
Some owners of the memorialize buildings have objected to these daily reminders of Germany's dark past because of depreciation concerns. However, the vast majority of people approve of the Stolpersteine. In fact, Berlin has three full-time municipal employees responsible for them.  

In some respects, I find these small markers more poignant than the impressive Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburger Tor. They're more personal, less grandiose. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ein Juwel in Kreuzberg. Die Beste Kaffee Berlin!

Primo Maggio ist ein Juwel in Sachen Kaffeekultur. Im Primo Maggio ist der Feinschmecker dagegen gut aufgehoben. Auch sehr lecker sind die vielen kleinen Köstlichkeiten- Pannini, Kuchen, Croissants, und Kekse. Wer es deftiger mag, hat auf der aktuellen Tageskarte eine solide Auswahl von 5 bis 10 Gerichten. Das Frühstück ist sehr italienisch geprägt. Die Preise sind super. Hier gibt es es den Cappuccino noch für 1,80 Euro.

Die Bohne wird einer kleinen Privatrösterei in Neapel gefertigt und direkt ins Primo Maggio geschickt. Authentische Zubereitung und Fachwissen der beiden Inhaber lassen den Kaffee genau so schmecken, wie man aus Italien gewöhnt ist.

Ever since my favorite cafe, Il Barista, closed, I've been trying to find a good cafe near my apartment. I'm picky, and it takes a lot to satisfy my high coffee standards. The Double Eye in Schöneberg is wonderful, but it's across town and there's no indoor seating. An acquaintance, recommended Primo Maggio, a cafe in Kreuzberg.

Primo Maggio is a jewel. This is coffee brewed the Italian way. It's rich and savory. The beans come directly from a small private roaster in Nepal, and the result is a unique type of coffee that keeps you buzzing all day. Primo Maggio also has a great assortment of cakes, panninis, croissants, and cookies. The owners are warm, and the customers are a blend of young professionals, students and retired hippy types. Sitting inside Primo Maggio is like being in Italy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Big Red Box

For the past month, I've noticed what appears to be a large red cargo container located near the U-Bahn Hallesches Tor with the words "Route der Migration" (Route of Migration) printed on its side. This bright red box is a Gedächtnisbox (Memory Box). There are four of these red boxes located throughout Berlin (Ostbahnhof, am Oranienplatz, Hallesches Tor, und Tempelhofer Damm). 

These boxes are part of a small exhibition concerning immigration to Berlin. Each container tells a specific story. For example, at the Ostbahnhof (Eastern Train Station), early 20th century Jewish immigration is chronicled. There are exhibits and stories of people fleeing Tsarist Russia and coming to Berlin where they faced the hurdles of integration. Likewise, at the Hallesches Tor location, Yugoslav civil war refugees from the 1990s recount the problems they faced in dealing with German bureaucracy and discrimination. 

The "container" was selected as the medium to tell these stories partly because it symbolizes globalization, and partly because it plays an important role in illegal immigration worldwide as people squeeze into boxes and containers seeking a better life. The exhibition is part of a national effort at understanding the complexities of migration and the consequences of legal and illegal immigration.  

Immigration is a hot topic in Germany with opinions coming from those seeing it as a necessity for a robust economy to those seeing it as harmful to cultural identity. However, unlike the USA, where migration is viewed negatively, and where the discussion is punitive in nature, Germany sees migration as a multifaceted subject with no simple answers. When I read how the U.S. State of Alabama is seeking to deny basic education to its migrant children, I wonder if the Statute of Liberty is located in the right country.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Berlin Festival of Lights

Brandenburger Tor
Every October Berlin illuminates its prominent buildings during the Festival of Lights. At night Berlin takes on an entirely different character as the city is transformed into a massive work of art. For 12 nights a year, you forget the dirt and grime of the city. Berlin seems almost beautiful.

"Faces" at Posdamer Platz
Berliner Dom
(Chameleon Facade) 
There's a party atmosphere along the streets as scores of people are taking photos and commenting on the lighting effects. This year the work of Teresa May was impressive. She has transformed the staid 19th century Berliner Dom into a sort of reptilian chameleon. Equally impressive was the "Faces" installation that projects a series of changing faces. Even the illuminated trees along Unter den Linden (one of Berlin's major streets) become magical. No wonder this event attracts 300,000 visitors. It has something for every artist taste: Kitsch to High Art. 

Unter den Linden
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vladimir, "You Look Absolutely Mahvelos"

Another Photo of Bare-Chested Putin
Few people were shocked when President Medvedev of Russia announced he would not seek re-election, effectively ceding the presidency back to Vladimir Putin. It was clear from the start that Medvedev was never more than a placeholder for Putin, and Medvedev's plans to move Russia toward more democratic principles were just sound soundbites intended for a gullible audience.

Putin Earlier this Month
For the last three years while he was sidelined as Prime Minister, Putin has never left the public eye. We've seen Putin hunting a gray whale in the Pacific, riding a motorcycle with a group of bikers, posing bare-chested while fishing, and diving down to the sea floor to recover an ancient amphora. His most recent photos have him standing bare-chested (yet again) in front of a doctor confirming that he's in excellent health. The message is clear: Look at me, I'm the strongest man in the country, if not the world.

Putin Last Year
Yet, Putin seems to have been doing more than just posing for the cameras. His face seems to have changed. Has Putin had a facelift or has he just got plenty of sleep? When you look at recent photos of President, oops, Prime Minister Putin, the wrinkles around his eyes seem to have disappeared, and his face looks smoother and more youthful. Perhaps, Putin has adopted the mantra made famous by Fernando in the 1980s, "It's not how you feel, it's how. You. Look!"

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Berlin is "IN" for Young Israelis

Top of Die Siegessäule in Tiergarten

Blog Spot has a nice feature that allows me to see statistical information about my Blog readership. For example, I can find out which countries read the Blog. As expected, most of my audience comes from the United States and Germany. What's interesting is that I get more site visits from Israel, a country of about 7.7 million people, than I get from Canada (35 million) and Great Britain (62 million) combined. 

Yesterday, an article in the Berliner Zeitung shed some light on this perplexing phenomena. According to Eshko Nevo, a prominent Israeli writer, Berlin is the "in" tourist destination for young Israelis. Young Israelis see Berlin as Europe's future. Berlin is a cosmopolitan city with a thriving arts and music scene, cheap rents, and an inviting atmosphere for foreigners. Moreover, obtaining a resident visa or German passport is relatively easy for Israelis who can show some ancestral connection to Germany. Finally, there's an established Israeli expat community in Berlin of about 10,000-15,000 residents making social connections easier to establish. For young Israelis who see Israel hopelessly mired in a cycle of fear and uncertainty, Berlin seems like a place to make a fresh start.

This influx of foreigners to Berlin isn't limited to Israelis. There's an increasing number of Spaniards, Russians, various Eastern Europeans, and even Americans making Berlin there home. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not So Long Ago: The Walkman!

It's been raining the last few days so I've had to rely on the Berlin subway to get around town. Compared to other transit systems, the Berlin U/S-Bahn is relatively reliable and easy to navigate; however, the 2,30 ($3.00 USD) one-way ticket is steep by Americans standards.

My preferred mode of transportation is the bicycle. It's cheap, quick, and invigorating; yet, for all of its advantages, it does have a downside: it isolates you from the community. So my occasional subway excursions allow me the opportunity to observe German culture “up close and personal.”

These days, the first thing I noticed on the subway is people interacting with their Smart Phones. People are surfing the Net, listening to music, watching videos, texting messages, or just chatting on these small-tech wonders. Technology has come along way in my lifetime!

It seems like yesterday that the first Sony Walkman was introduced (1979). The Walkman was the dawn of portable music. For the first time, you could carry around your own music library. You were no longer dependent on the radio or confined to the house if you wanted to listen to music. Granted, you still had to carry around cassette tapes, but these were manageable, not like vinyl records. I can even remember Hi-Fi stereos, 8-Track tapes, and the introduction of color TV. In their day, all these devices were tech miracles. 

As technology advances even faster, I find harder to keep pace. As soon as I've achieved tech competence on one gismo, another gadget comes on the market. That's one reason I've been reluctant to get a Smart Phone. Do I really want to invest time and money on a device that will be out-of-date in a few years? Will the Smart Phone become the BetaMax of the 2010s? But now it seems inevitable that Smart Phones are here to stay. In all likelihood, they will become a necessity like the personal computer. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Popcorn Finds a New Home

A couple of weeks ago, I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't find popcorn at the grocery stores in Germany. I was watching TV and suddenly had a craving for America's number one "movie watching food." It's a sad fact that most Europeans have yet to discover the culinary delights of POPCORN. Well today, I noticed that Kaisers, the local supermarket, was “introducing” popcorn. There was an elaborate display at the front of the store with three kinds of microwaveable popcorn: regular, caramel and sweet. I eagerly purchased the regular with the hope it will taste like the popcorn back home (cross my fingers). Now, the stores need to stock oatmeal, another essential food item that's missing from the German diet.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Das ist Berlin (This is Berlin)

Germans aren't modest when it comes to public nudity. It's not uncommon for public parks, beaches, campgrounds, and swimming pools to have areas or times of the day reserved for nudity.

There's a long history of nudism or naturism in Germany. In the early 1900s, German naturism was viewed as health giving and seen as a way to achieve classlessness: everybody is equal once clothes are removed. For the most part, Germans don't equate public nudity with sex. In locker rooms at gyms, public swimming pools and restrooms, you often find female attendants cleaning the sinks, floors, or shower areas while men are in various stages of undress. No one seems to mind.

By contrast, the United States has always been puritanical when it comes to public nudity. (I wish Americans were as puritanical about violence, overeating, and war as they are with public nudity, but that's another story.)

A few days ago, a German friend told me of an experience he had at an American beach. When he asked the lifeguard where the nude section (FKK) was located, he was astonished to discover that most American beaches don't permit nudity, and that nude sunbathing is a criminal offense in most parts of the USA. It just confirmed his stereotype that Americans were conservative religious extremists.

BTW: Here are the English lyrics to "Das ist Berlin." (My best guess)

That is Berlin, Berlin, the eternally young city
That is Berlin, Berlin, it has my love
Right in the center of the world
She has the Lord God
You're my Berlin, Berlin, pearl on the Spree
Who knows you just as, Berlin, 
You can never say goodbye
Because your magic can never escape
You're my Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, pearl on the Spree
Who saw you as Berlin,
You can never say goodbye
Because your magic can never escape
You're my Berlin, Berlin, Berlin.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Der Tag der deutschen Einheit (German Unification Day) und Karl-Marx-Allee

Karl-Marx Allee: A View of the Fernsehturm
It's amazing how quickly things change. I can easily remember the Iron Curtain, the threat of Communism, and a world with two super powers. A few blocks from my apartment is Karl-Marx-Allee (Karl-Marx Blvd.). Karl-Marx-Alle is my link to the Cold War past. Whenever, I ride my bike along its wide boulevard or walk under its soviet-style apartment blocks, I'm reminded of another time, another world.
Along Karl-Marx-Allee

Entrance Ornamentation 
Today, I'm especially conscious of how rapidly the geo-political landscape has changed. October 3rd is German Unification Day, a national holiday. On October 3, 1990, East and West Germany became one nation. Even though November 9, 1989, was the day the Berlin Wall fell, November 9th was considered inappropriate since it happened to be the day the first large-scale Nazi-led pogroms began against the Jews in 1938 (Kristallnacht). So October 3rd, the day of formal reunification, was chosen.

Karl-Marx- Allee is a wide boulevard built by the East German government as its flagship building project during the 1950s. The street was used for East Germany's annual May Day parade, featuring thousands of soldiers along with tanks and other military vehicles that showcased the power of the communist state. It was originally named Stalin-Alle, but de-Stalinization led to its renaming. The massive buildings that line the street are designed in the unique “wedding cake” style (they resemble a wedding cake with frosting-like decoration). At the time of their construction, these buildings were controversial since they deviated from socialist classicism, a style developed in the Soviet Union, which emphasized function rather than the decadent capitalistic ornamentation of the west.

Kosmos Movie Theater on Karl-Marx-Allee. It was the
biggest movie theater in East Germany.
In the 1990s, shortly after German re-unification, I took a stroll along Karl-Marx-Allee. The street had a cold gray feel. The shops were deserted, the apartments vacant, and the infrastructure decaying. What struck me most was the total absence of color. Everything I saw seemed to be a shade of gray: the buildings, the signage, and even the people. It had a ghost-town quality. It felt like a movie set from the 1965 classic film, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: a film about espionage during the Cold War. German unification had arrived, but the street was stuck in its communist past. Even the people seemed to lament the end of East Germany and the arrival capitalism.

These days, gentrification has transformed the street into a model of western consumerism. There are shops, the street is bustling with people, and the apartments are now eagerly sought after by young people. It's seems Karl-Marx-Allee has become cool.

Designed in the Socialist Style
Nevertheless, you can still see signs of Karl-Marx-Alles's former self. If you look closely, you can find an aging bronze bust of Karl Marx tucked away in a small corner, classically designed water fountains, and the now closed Karl-Marx-Buchhandlung (the official East German bookstore). For history buffs, the City of Berlin has installed informational placards along the street that tell you about the street and its significance in the history of East Germany and the Soviet Union.
Someone Posted Over the Karl-Marx-Allee Signage
There are a number of bear sculptures
throughout Berlin. The bear is Berlin's symbol. This one is found on
Notice the small vase of
flowers. It's especially poignant on
German Unification Day.

East German Bookstore. A
Film Company is now located there.