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Surreal Green May 10, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 7:06 pm
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As somewhat of a follow-up to this post over here, I just spent an hour or so walking around an area of Pankow. Running north and east of the tip of Prenzlauer Berg, it is a rather surreal combination of suburban old-East buildings, trees and parks, allotments and slightly desolate geography peopled with accidental, old city dwellers.

Suburban Wall-King

Walking alongside the S-Bahn tracks up Norweger Straße, the path turns surprisingly greener and the right hand side becomes a series of small outdoor allotments populated by children, grandparents and the odd parked car (the path next to it even has its own name—Kastaniengasse). Twenty-something degrees Celsius also brought out dog-walkers (mostly Labradors and terriers), barely-dressed women and a large gaggle of middle-aged cyclists on some kind of Here-Is-Where-The-Wall-Used-To-Be tour.

Bornholmer Str. sign through a hole in the wall.After a few minutes, the Mauerweg veered left at a right angle. Later I would walk down here, beneath very low-built S-Bahn bridges and past a playground with what I assumed were poorer families enjoying table tennis and strange trampolines made from around 2 feet square recesses in the pavement filled evidently with some kind of bouncy material.

For now, I headed right onto Dolimitenstraße, where the buildings were a mixture of post-1989 housing project developments and older blocks with knotted, dark wooden doors which were about 6 feet high and had small, diamond-shaped windows. Making a short circle I came back past a small park where young Turkish guys were playing basketball, dogs were being walked, and people’s yet-again-unclothed torsos were being sunned.

What really strikes me about Pankow, an area which is more or less outside of the central sections of Berlin, is how very green and suburban and extremely quiet it was. Hardly any cars and very few bus or Straßenbahn stops appeared until I made the circuit back onto Bornholmer Straße, and most of the people I saw were engaged in Saturday afternoon relaxation. It was certainly enough of a break from people and city-saturation for today (and I took a few decent photographs), but the old-East feel of desolation and the replacement of Prenzlauer Berg yuppies with poorer families and odd buildings made it distinctly more alienating.

Verfremdung & Factions

By comparison to the US, perhaps it is easier to find this slightly odd but pleasant feeling of Verfremdung in places such as Berlin, and in European countries in general, because the delineation between areas (and people’s subsequent notion of what the areas are like) is far less definite. In American cities (I have no real experience of this but it seems possible) the areas—and most especially the demographic of people living in specific areas—is more confining. Taking Boston as an example, you could argue there are predominantly African-America areas, Italian, Irish and probably other inhabitant-defined locations. See here for some ethnic demographics in Boston.

From the harbor, the Boston skylineIn typical US bipolarity, people crowd together to form a community in a particular geographic location, and then split into factions and fractions within that location. Maybe it’s related to insecurity and identity anxiety, but it also means that the more surreal experiences are confined to a certain place, are all the more surreal because of that, and the people there might frown more upon letting ‘outsiders’ from the larger community into their cit-faction. Of course if you can identify with them, perhaps you will stand a chance. Not that that means I will be going into a dive bar in Southie.

But then many things about the United States involve a constant struggle between integration and freedom of identity. Isn’t that what the country is all about?


BerliNoir, March 2008 May 2, 2008

Filed under: pictures — DLR @ 8:51 pm
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Blurring Lines:

Emily at Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn station

Pic 1: This is a nice picture of Emily at Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn station, along with the train coming onto the platform behind her. The long exposure means a nice blurry train, but also a slightly blurry Emily in the foreground. One of my favourites this time, but perhaps would be better on less grainy Ilford film (as in the last roll).

Rosenthaler Pl. at night time, with car headlampsPic 2: Rosenthaler Platz from St Oberholz, again with the issue that it was a long exposure and thus slightly blurry overall. The car headlamps streaming across the centre of the picture, and the lines on the road, are a satisfying pattern nonetheless.

Pic 3: Norweger Straße, the street along which the Wall ran. This is more a German-language convoluted joke. That the Wall used to be on this street and that there is a sign stating Keine Wendemöglichkeit is amusing but requires too much explanation here, I think!Norweger Straße, near home


Uniform Grey April 11, 2008

Filed under: words — DLR @ 4:05 pm
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Sarah Harmer dedicated her song “Uniform Grey” to Birmingham city when I saw her play there a couple of years ago, though of course the song is not actually about Birmingham and she was just being amusingly facetious. In the tiny Brummie venue I’m not sure that people really dug her little Canadian hippy dig (since I suppose one does ‘dig’ a dig), but at least—being from north of the border—her spelling of Grey matched ours.

The thing about Berlin is—despite everything posted on this blog so far—that it is not “uniform” grey at all, but rather a patchwork of greyscale with the odd splash of graffiti colour thrown in and on for good measure. This means that I have a slightly ambivalent attitude to its suitability for extended periods of daily life. On the one hand it is grey, often cloudy and rather dull; but on the other, it is a city sewn together from a strange history which is still constructing its own narrative post-unification.

As such, the greyness is a factor in the Frankenstein, pulp-cut-up of the city and is unavoidable. Some days it’s interesting, document-worthy (hence this blog) but at other times it makes me want to stay at home where at least the internet sparks some colour.

Other notes from the musical landscape: The Divine Comedy’s “Absent Friends”, to whom I also raise a (beer) glass. Men at Work (Colin Hay)’s “Down Under”. And Sarah Harmer’s “Lodestar”, which—if you watch it—you must let play until the drums come in. It is federal law.

I suppose I’m thinking a lot about travelling, distance and accompanying music. Perhaps I should suggest a song to accompany each photo?