Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Let's Be Strangers in Berlin

For weeks I've been stuck in a daily grind, and what's strange about being in such a grind is that, even though things are happening --very notable, interesting things -- they're happening within the context (or rather, confines) of routine, daily life. It doesn't seem as if there's ever a moment to take a step back, breathe, and see things as they are.

Tonight, while walking home from a workshop I've been teaching, I had such a moment of quiet and reflection. It didn't last nearly as long as I wanted, but it was just what I needed. I was walking down the street with my boyfriend, and I suddenly demanded that we walk in silence, as if we were participating in one of those weekend Buddhist retreats all of those stressed-out yuppies crow over.

I was walking along the same path I normally take home, but I wasn't listening to one of my many podcasts or attempting to make conversation with my boyfriend even though I was exhausted. Instead, I was swimming in the details of the things around me: all the little ways this seemingly familiar stretch of land remained alien and unfathomable to me.

It had stormed that day and the trees were still wet. The air felt lush and tropical. I noticed bits of street art that hadn't ever caught my eye before: a stick figure carrying the bar in a "Do Not Enter" sign; a poster advertising Barbie's Playhouse torn to shreds with the sticker "Sexistische Kacksheisse" covering Barbie's eyes; a piece of graffiti which read "LTRL WAFFLES."

There was a rounded, Bauhaus corner to a building I'd never noticed. In the driveway, a BMW sat next to a billboard with an image of a woman cowering behind a skeleton: an advertisement for the next album from "Queens from the Stone Age." Nearby was a strange half-street in which cars weren't allowed. It was filled with cobblestones criss-crossed by a bike path and struck me as exactly the kind of street American Republicans probably associate with this continent: poorly-designed, public in an aggressive sort of way, probably funded by high taxes and useful to almost no one.

The vague smell of industrial cleaner one associates with Porta Potties wafted towards me from a nearby construction site. The Caterpillars there were poised to scoop fresh earth, but they hung still and silent like a row of flamingos. The gutted buildings looked sinister and apocalyptic.

I've always craved the sensory overload traveling provides and I've found the feeling hard to recreate in my new hometown. This walk, however, restored my faith in silence, and it made Berlin seem like the same strange, alien world I had encountered when I first landed here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

6 Totally Un-Marxist Thoughts on May Day

Let's marvel at these merry Marxists.

May Day is a very important day -- for drinking.

Maypril fools! May 1st is actually a historic public holiday that means a lot to many people.

In the Rhineland region of Germany, May 1st is a time of Paegan revelry. A small pine tree atop a Maypole is traditionally set up in a town's public square or village green to symbolize Spring. If you want to show someone you dislike them, you can also bring them a tree covered in white streamers. Because nothing says "I hate you" like a costly gift.   

Berlin's May 1st ritual is a bit more complicated than that of Paegan lore. This has traditionally been a day when lefty types throw Becks bottles at cops dressed in riot gear. The protestors' reasons are diverse: some are protesting the German "police state," while others are protesting war and capitalism. According to a man named Bill who leads a May Day tour around Kreuzberg: "It's all about the fact that capitalism is bullshit, and we're against the system." Yeah man, fuck that! (Seriously though, how much should I tip you?)

Naturally, I feel a lot of pressure on May 1st to join in solidarity with the cause. But it's hard. What follows are the incredibly un-Marxist thoughts I had whilst wandering around Kotti with a Club Mate: 

1. I wonder where that dude driving a recumbent bike died his mohawk green and if the drapes match the pubes. Is that how the expression goes? I'm disgusting. 

2. These policemen are hot. Is there some kind of May Day bondage event today? Is it expensive? The gay lifestyle is completely unaffordable. We should be protesting this.  

3. Honestly, I'm thankful there's some extra security here after what happened in Boston. These people are drunk and one of them just walked up to a police officer and adjusted his hat. That's a lot of Chutzpah.  

4. The McDonald's on Skalitzer is totally packed right now. You traitors should be ashamed of yourselves.

5. If I suddenly have a panic attack, it's going to take ages for the ambulance to get through this dense crowd. 

6. Let's be real folks: you're just excited you can litter and pee on the street today. That's what this is really about.