Thursday, July 31, 2014

Zarah Leander: Nazi-Diva und Kunstobjekt

Zarah Leander war der größte Filmstar der Nazi-Ära, und heutzutage bleibt sie eine rätselhafte Frau. Eine Frau mit einem ewigen Reiz. War sie ein Nazi-Sympathisant? Ein sowjetischer Spion? Oder nur ein 'politischer idiot'?

Der Dokumentarfilm "Der Akte Zarah Leander" taucht ein in das Leben der schwedischen Filmdiva. Ich fand diesen Film faszinierend, und der Film ist in das Erste Mediathek verfügbar. (Achtung: nur für eine kurze Zeit)

Für mich, Leander ist ein Symbol für eine offene Sexualkultur. Leander ist da sehr deutlich, sagt sie sei für jede Art Liebe. Zwischen Frau und Mann, Frau und Frau, und Mann und Mann. Geliebt wird sie von zwei Arten von Menschen. Von Menschen, die schon queer sind die nicht mehr in dieser sexuellen Ordnung leben wollen. Von jedem, der eine Art anarchistische Neigung hat, der sagt, Ordnungen sind nur dazu da, sie zu stören oder sie zu ärgern. Insofern funktioniert sie eben auch wieder wunderbar als Punk-Ikone. Sie ist ein Kunstobjekt, was in der Pop-Art sehr gut funktioniert.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Insightful But Crowded David Bowie Exhibition in Berlin

Sometimes a crowd improves an experience, sometimes it doesn't matter very much, and sometimes it detracts. The David Bowie exhibition now showing at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin is one of those events where too many people diminish the overall experience.

Using music, video, painting, interviews, and personal correspondence, this multimedia extravaganza offers a fascinating look at this legendary artist. Unfortunately, the innovative nature of the exhibition cannot possibly accommodate large numbers of people. Small rooms, specially designated listening areas, and dimly lit explanatory panels are frustrating. Whether the Martin-Gropius-Bau simply wanted to accommodate excess demand or whether it placed profit over artist integrity, the result is unsatisfying. Somehow, I felt I didn't get the intended experience that the curator or David Bowie would have wanted. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Leitungswasser, Bitte (Ordering Tap Water in Germany)

The Berlin summer is making up for a late start. It's hot, and I'm thirsty. In the USA, it's customary to be served a glass of cold water on arrival at a restaurant, usually without asking. It's a form of practical hospitality, especially in summer. (By the way, if you don't want ice with your water, you'd better specify "no ice, please" at the first opportunity.)

In Europe, bringing tap water to the table is not customary. In fact, serving a guest tap water at your home would be considered impolite. Most Berlin restaurants will begrudgingly serve tap water (in a small glass) if you insist. Unfortunately, I've also had the experience where a restaurant simply won't serve tap water, requiring you to buy a marked-up bottle of water at 5-7€ ($7- 10). This can be expensive especially during the hot summer.

I've encountered odd excuses for this "no tap water" phenomena. "Tap water is not healthy." "We don't have that." Perhaps, it would be less galling if they just said, "We make most of our profit on the overpriced water, so we must insist that you buy some."

During the 1980s and 90s, this bottled water fixation began to cross over to the USA when some restaurants started to make people uncomfortable (feel cheap or uncool) if they asked for tap water. Then, at some point, someone pointed out the environmental impact of bottling water and transporting it hundreds or thousands of miles. Suddenly, you could be eco-hip by insisting on tap water. And today, although bottled water is on the menu in most restaurants, they never resist bringing you a glass of water on request.

Berlin summers are hot, and staying hydrated is tough. Just be aware that getting tap water at restaurants can be taxing. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tolerating Intolerance

On Wednesday, US Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that Americans who oppose same-sex marriage often face intolerance from those who support it. Sen. Rubio went on to say "Even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as someone who is a hatter or bigot or someone who is anti-gay." 

People who say things like this have obviously never faced real discrimination. The kind of disapproval they face would seem like an occasional cloud on a sunny day, compared to what gay people face every day. Of course, I wouldn't want people like Senator Rubio to be truly discriminated against. Yet, even if they were, would that be so unfair? After all, being against gay marriage is a choice.

Overcoming Obstacles: Tennis Athlete Katharina Krüger

Yesterday marked the start of the German Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships. Fifty-four athletes from around the world are competing. The Women's Defending Champion, Katharina Krüger, is rank number 1 in Germany and number 9 in the world. Krüger hopes to repeat her performance from last year and also has her eye on one of the Grand Slams (Australian, British-Nottingham, Japan-Iizuka and US-St. Louis). Being confined to a wheelchair hasn't stopped Krüger's competitive spirit or dampened her enthusiasm for sport. But most importantly, Krüger has never seen her condition as a barrier to having fun! 

Where the German President Actually Lives

Die Berliner Dienstvilla
A lot of people outside of Germany don't realize that Germany has a President; but unlike the Chancellor, the President has little political power. He's primarily a figurehead who represents Germany at formal gatherings. 

Joachim Gauck, the current German President, "officially" resides at Schloss Bellevue in Berlin, but that's not where he really lives. President Gauck and "First Lady" Daniela Schadt live in die Berliner Dienstvilla in Dahlem, a hundred year old house in a posh Berlin neighborhood. 
German President Gauck and
"First Lady" Daniela Schadt
President Gauck's wife, Hansi Gauck, lives in Rostock. The Gauck's have been married for over 50 years but no longer live together. The fact that President Gauck has a "mistress" who also accompanies him at official state functions isn't an issue in Germany. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"They've Got To Have a Package Between Their Legs"

Australian MP Jacqui Lambi
Australian MP Jacqui Lambie isn't shy about speaking her mind. When asked what she was looking for in a potential suitor, the Tasmanian senator frankly said, "They must have heaps of cash and they've got to have a package between their legs, let's be honest. And I don't need them to speak, they don't even need to speak. The perfect man."

Wow, now that's refreshing: a politician not uttering some pre-packaged and canned response. Obviously, she's a little tongue-and-cheek, but I think she means what she says. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Short History of Toilet Paper

Fewer things have had a bigger impact on mankind than the invention of toilet paper. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but can you imagine a world without TP?) Joseph Gayetty is credited with inventing toilet paper in 1857, and his brand remained one of the few commercial varieties available until Northern Tissue Company invented a splinter-free paper in 1935.

What did people use before? The ancient Greeks used stones and pieces of clay. The ancient Romans used a sponge on the end of a long stick that was shared by the entire community. In Colonial America, corncobs were commonly used, and later old newspapers and catalogues. Even today, people in India refrain from toilet paper altogether, preferring the left-hand and bucket-of-water method.

But leave it to the inventive Japanese who are charting the course to the next level of toilet hygiene and comfort. In Japan, toilets are equipped with water jets that get you refreshingly clean. Toilet paper is used merely to dry when air blowers aren't available.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Are Deodorants and Antiperspirants Seasonal in Germany?

Yesterday, I went shopping with a friend visiting Berlin. He needed underarm deodorant, not antiperspirant, which causes a rash on his skin. We went to DM, my neighborhood drugstore, because I remembered seeing scores of deodorants there. When we searched the shelves, I was surprised to see about 30 types of antiperspirants, but only two or three deodorants (one was organic, one was fruit smelling, and the other was Old Spice). The Old Spice would have to do. 

As I checked out, I asked the sales clerk why so few deodorants? She said that during the summer months, there wasn't much demand for deodorants, people wanted antiperspirants. It was a seasonal thing. On reflection, it made perfect sense. People tended to sweat more during the summer, and hence the need for antiperspirants. In the USA, people use antiperspirants year round. Leave it to the Germans to be so logical. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tiffany's or Target, and Nothing in Between

Life Preserver for Karstadt
Department stores have had a tough time during the past few years. Part of the problem has been increased competition from online retailers and a lackluster economy. The problem is especially pronounced for retailers catering to the middle class. High-end and low-end stores seem to be doing fairly well (Nordstrom and Tiffany's, and WalMart and Target).

Some analysts attribute the problem facing retailers such as Sears and JC Penney to the shrinking American middle class. Whatever the cause, the problem isn't confined to the USA. Karstadt, one of Germany's major department store chains, has been having financial problems for a number of years and could close its doors by the end of the year. There are 83 Karstadt department stores throughout Germany, employing approximately 32,000 people and serving around 1.6 million customers daily. Started in 1881, Karstadt is a cultural institution. For many towns, Karstadt is not just a store but a social hub for the community. 

The loss of Karstadt, and department stores in general, makes me sad. Department stores were an integral part of my childhood. Visiting a department store was like visiting the Land of Oz. It was full of wondrous and exciting things. I remember eating at the department store restaurant with my mother. (I would always order the open face turkey sandwich with dressing and all the trimmings.) Although there are more restaurants and eating options in my home town today than there were when I was a child, the department store cafe was a special experience that is disappearing along with many other experiences department stores brought us.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Berlin's Spectacular Sky Event by Otto Piene

To mark the start of Otto Piene's New Sky exhibition (July 17- August 31, 2014), Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie will present what they term 'a spectacular sky event' this Saturday night, July 19th. The event will take place outside the Neue Nationalgalerie and will illuminate the sky with shimming shapes and designs. Best of all, it's free.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kulturforum: 100 Beste Plakata 2013 (The 100 Best Posters of 2013)

Free Pussy Riots
Designer: Lex Drewinski
Each year the Kulturforum in Berlin showcases the best German language posters of the year. This year, Vladimir Putin was the inspiration for many of the winning designs, including Lex Drewinski's Free Pussy Riots, an ingenious design commenting on Russia's treatment of the punk rock group, Pussy Riots, and Amnesty International's Putin We Are Watching You.
Cat Power
Designer: Karin Kindeskov,
Petronius Amund Wink,
Gerald Rockeston
The whimsical Cat Power and Müde-Wach (Tired-Wake Up) won the hearts of the jury by using humor to convey their message. But perhaps my favorite poster was Barbara Galizia's Winterhilfe (Winter Help), a poster promoting Winterhilfe, a Swiss social welfare organization that helps the poor. (Yes, Switzerland has poor people too.) 
Winterhilfe (Winter Help)
Designer: Barbara Galizia

To see all the winning posters click on 100 Beste Plakate.
Fritz-Kola: Müde - Wach (Tired - Wake Up)Designer: Rocket & Wink,
Petronius Amund Wink,
Gerald Rocketson
Putin We Are Watching You
Designer: Fons Hickmann (Art Direction)
Raúl Kokott (Design)
Bjorn Wolf (Art Direction)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Here Come the Spornosexuals!

We've all heard of the Metrosexual (derived from metropolitan and heterosexual) to describe a man who is meticulous about his grooming and appearance. Now, we have a subcategory of Metrosexual: the Spornosexual (derived from sport and pornography). A Spornosexual is a man who's often at the gym working on his body, and who's not shy about showing off the results. Famous Spornosexuals include David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Vladimir Putin. (You may dislike this middle-aged guy, but you have to admire his Spornosexual look.)

The term originated in the USA and has finally reached Germany. For many social commentators, 'spornosexuality' is a product of a body-obsessed and narcissistic culture that values appearance above all else.

A Photo from Mensch und Sonne,
It Sold Over 100,000 Copies
During the Nazi Era
Spornosexuality is not new. The ancient Greeks and the Nazis also idolized male beauty. For example, Hans Surén's book Mensch und Sonne (Humans and Sun), a collection of nude photographs, was a best seller during the Nazi era. In fact, homo-eroticism is often a subtext of many male organizations, and especially in male-dominated regimes like the Nazis (a regime where homosexuals were actively persecuted). One theory is that homosexual urges when repressed can be expressed as homophobia. Freud called this process 'reaction formation' - the angry battle against the outward symbol of feelings that are inwardly being stifled (think Ted Haggard, Evangelical Minister, and Glenn Murphy Jr., leader of the Young Republicans).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Alejandro Sabella: Don't Cry for Me Argentina

Alejandro Sabella
Head Coach of the
Argentina National Football Team

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wildlife in Berlin

Squirrels in Kreuzberg
A lot of people don't realize how much wildlife there is in Berlin, including squirrels, geese, wild boar, and foxes. The city parks are teeming with wildlife, which is especially evident in the early morning hours before the visitors arrive. For the most part, the animals live harmoniously with the Berliners.

Unfortunately, the wild boar have become a problem. The State of Berlin has initiated a controversial eradication program to control the problem, which has had limited success. The boar are especially problematic in the Grunewald. A word of caution: wild boar can be extremely dangerous during mating and whelping season.

A Vixen and her Young in Charlottenburg

Wild Boar near Wannsee

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Reflecting on Hannah Arendt: A Half Century After the Eichmann Trial

Hannah Arendt is one of those movies that resonates long after you've seen it. It's a thought-provoking and intelligent work that requires its audience to think and reflect. It's the story of Hannah Arendt, one of the twentieth century's most influential political philosophers. Escaping Nazi Germany, Arendt first settled in France and later the United States where she taught at the New School in New York City. 

The focus of the movie is Arendt's coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial for the New Yorker magazine in 1961, and the controversy surrounding the New Yorker article and book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Barbara Sukowa convincing plays Hannah Arendt, a woman that's intelligent, strong willed and passionate. To see the real Hannah Arendt, I recommend Arendt's Interview on YouTube. It's in German with English subtitles.

Arendt coined the term 'the banality of evil' to characterize the actions of Eichmann, a low ranking Nazi official. Arendt concluded that far from exhibiting a malevolent hatred of Jews, which could have accounted for his participation in the Holocaust, Eichmann was merely an unthinking bureaucrat that followed orders without considering their effects upon those he targeted. His activities became indistinguishable from any other bureaucratic activity that he was assigned.

Arendt believed that Eichmann's inability to think, and his blind adherence to obedience and careerism was the 'evil' that he was guilty of; and it was for that reason, he should hang. It's this kind of 'banal evil' that the world should be afraid of, a kind of surreptitious and unthinking evil that everyone is capable of.

But perhaps Arendt's most controversial statements revolved around the testimony of some Rabbi's at the Eichmann trial. The Rabbi's freely admitted they'd provided the Nazis with lists of Jews that were used for deportation. For many in the Jewish Community, Arendt seemed to suggest that the Jews themselves shared a responsibility for the Holocaust. A view Arendt vehemently denied, and which forever plagued her. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Illuminated Balloons Will Trace the Berlin Wall

On November 9th, Berlin will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For many, the Wall symbolized the Cold War and the horrors of Communism. After German reunification, much of the Wall was demolished and only a few sections remain today.

To mark the 25th anniversary, Berlin will install 8,000 gas-filled balloons, which will illuminate the night and trace the entire length of the Berlin Wall, all 15.3 kilometers. Then on November 9th, the balloons will be released into the sky. You can see the installation from from November 7-9th, 2014.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles: Raul Krauthausen

People often pat him on the head or just stare at him. Raul Krauthausen is confined to a wheelchair. He has Osteogenesis Imperfecta, known as brittle bone disease. A disease that causes his bones to fracture easily and left him permanently stunted. Yet, wheeling around Berlin, Krauthausen feels completely normal and full of life. 

Krauthausen is an Internet Developer, radio talk-show host, and activist for people with disabilities. Krauthausen has been involved in the development of the Internet platform, the first online map of public places rated on accessibility and accessibility design. 
Krauthausen understands that "normal" people have difficulty feeling relaxed around people with disabilities; yet, every tenth German has some form of disability (seen or unseen). Krauthausen frankly discusses the difficulties of his disability and hopes his openness will help people understand that the disabled are like everyone else, just a little different. They experience frustration, love, success, and disappointment. 

In his new book, Dachdecker Wollte Ich Eh Nicht Werden (I Didn't Want to Be A Roofer Anyway), Krauthausen describes what it's like dealing with his condition. It's an honest and funny account of his life. Listening to Krauthausen, you quickly forget his disability, and see a very impressive man that has risen above the limits of his wheelchair.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Brazil Collapses Against Germany

Was für eine Peinlichkeit! Deutschland Gegen Brasilien 7:1 

How Reliable is TripAdvisor?

TripAdvisor promotes itself as the world's largest travel site, a place where you get "trusted advice from real travelers." I often use TripAdvisor for hotel and restaurant recommendations, and for the most part, it's very reliable. I also contribute reviews. But when I read some of the reviews of places that I had stayed at or had a meal, I wonder if those reviews are really on the level.

For example, a few months ago, I stayed at the Sheraton JFK Airport Hotel. I needed a place to stay near the airport to catch an early flight the next day. The Sheraton had a good reputation and seemed like a reliable place. On TripAdvisor, the Hotel got a 3.5 out of five stars. Not bad. There were negative reviews, of course, but 70 of the 106 reviews, said it was very good or excellent. Some reviews called it a "great experience," a "great spot," "a great example of a first rate airport hotel," and a "home away from home." But after reading these reviews, I asked myself whether I had stayed at the same hotel. As I said in my review, the hotel was mediocre at best (and I was being kind). The hotel was a disappointment and clearly not good in any sense of the word.

I'm not suggesting you shouldn't use TripAdvisor, but take the reviews with a pinch of salt. There will always be people who try to cheat the system. A good rule of thumb is to disregard all of the "over the top" comments (possibly written by the hotel or restaurant itself) and all of the very negative comments, which could have been planted by competitors. In addition, you should use other sources such as Travelocity or blogs for travel recommendations. (A word of caution Expedia owns TripAdvisor and all hotel reviews on Expedia are taken from TripAdvisor.) Finally, be aware that TripAdvisor does not check the accuracy of its reviews.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Drehorgelfest Berlin! Street Organ Festival

Each year Berlin hosts the International Street Organ Festival (Internationales Drehorgelfest). The festival attracts Street Grinders from around the world, including grinders from as far away as the USA, and Chile. The highpoint of the festival is the "Parade der Drehorgelspieler" (Parade of the Street Grinders) along Kurfürstendamm in Charlottenburg. The festival isn't hip, edgy, or avant-garde. It's so un-Berlin. Nevertheless, it's fun and enjoyable! Unfortunately, I missed this year's parade, but there's always next year.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Update: Hillary Clinton in Berlin

Absent was the intense security and fanfare that greeted Hillary Clinton on her previous visits to Berlin as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. She was simply citizen Clinton promoting her new book at the Schiller Theater on Saturday, and last night on TV as she was interviewed by Günther Jauch.

The interview shed no new light on her life or on her future political intentions. As she put it, "I'm focussed on the birth of my first grandchild, and other than that, I haven't made a decision about the Presidency." All and all, her answer's seemed memorized and rehearsed. Even her gestures appeared to be carefully choreographed. Watching the interview, she certainly looked like a Presidential candidate. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kiss Me, You Fool!

Today is International Kissing Day. Did you know that kissing reduces stress, boosts your immune system, and promotes relaxation? It's also fun. So celebrate the splendor of kissing by giving your loved one a big kiss!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Unbelievably, Berlin's Hotel Rates are Higher During World Cup 2014

Public Viewing in the Tiergarten
World Cup mania is in full force in Berlin, and hotel rates are correspondingly higher. I was talking to a tourist yesterday, and she was complaining that Berlin's hotels have raised prices during the World Cup. That seemed odd. Why would hotels raise prices for a World Cup that's being played in Brazil?

'Public viewing venues,' she said. Berlin is full of public viewing locales where hundreds, if not thousands, of people congregate to watch the football matches on huge screens. For example, the Fan Mile in Berlin's Tiergarten Park (the biggest public viewing spot in Germany) has a 646 sq. foot (60 sq. meters) screen where a 100,000 enthusiastic spectators watch the games live. People come to Berlin from all over Germany just to be part of the public viewing experience. It's the simple law of supply and demand: more tourists than hotel beds.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The French Ban Wine, Cider, and Beer at the Workplace!

Mon Dieu! No more wine, cider, or beer at work! Yesterday, the French government issued a decree giving employers the ability to prohibit the consumption of wine, cider, and beer at work. For many in France this new law represents an assault on their cultural history. 

In France, a drink at work to celebrate birthday's, farewells, or any other event is commonplace. The French consume an average of 2.7 alcoholic beverages per day. Wine in France is like Coca-Cola in the USA. What's next? Ban smoking in bars?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The American Way?

In anticipation of American Independence Day, protesters in California surrounded three buses carrying immigrant detainees. The protesters waving American flags and banners were upset at the recent increase in immigrants illegally crossing the US/Mexican border. Most of the immigrants are under age.  What does the quote on the Statue of Liberty say:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, ..."
The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Murder at the Vicarage: "But my hobby is - and always has been - Human Nature"

Agatha Christie Challenge:
Book 12
Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple.
You Don't Want to Tangle
with this Dame!
One of the things I like about Agatha Christie's novels is that I can enjoy them, even when they're not her best. That's certainly the case with The Murder at the Vicarage, the first appearance of Miss Marple in a novel.

On the whole, The Murder at the Vicarage is an engaging two-dimensional bit of fluff that's worth a read for the sheer pleasure of seeing the genesis of Jane Marple. Nevertheless, the story felt trite and formulaic, and to my mind, the many subplots distracted from the narrative's pace. And unlike many of her other works, where the characters are developed and emotionally charged, the characters in this book seem lifeless and detached from the real world.

What's interesting about this first Miss Marple mystery is how little is devoted to the crime solving spinster that would become world famous. That's the book's major shortcoming. Of course, Miss Marple solves the murder, but she's not the focus or even a major character. It's only when Miss Marple appears that the book comes alive.

In the many Marple movie and television adaptations, the Miss Marple character is so dominant that the actresses playing her have become closely associated with the role. Margaret Rutherford, Helen Hayes, Angela Lansbury, Geraldine McEwan, Julia McKenzie, and Joan Hickson have all played Miss Marple with varying degrees of success.

Rutherford's Miss Marple was boisterous, over-the-top, and comical. On its own terms, Rutherford gives stellar performance, but it's not Miss Marple. Likewise, the great American stage actress Helen Hayes had a try at the part but was woefully miscast, as was Angela Lansbury. Simply put, Hayes was too American and Lansbury too robust. Julia McKenzie, the current Miss Marple, does a fine job, but frankly, she's too full of life to be playing an aging senior.

For my money, Geraldine McEwan was the most interesting of the Marple's. She shows Jane's darker side. A woman that's shrewd, calculating, and even sinister. But again, she's not the Miss Marple of the novels. That distinction goes to Joan Hickson who fits the role to a tee. Hickson conveys wisdom, frailty, and wistfulness. She's a woman who's seen the best and the worst of human nature. It's Hickson's version that's depicted in The Murder at the Vicarage, and I think it's why Agatha Christie told Hickson, "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple."

Rating: C+