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« In Which We Visit Berlin And Eat In The Dark »

You can find the first entry in our series on Cities here.



All religions are equal and good and as long as those practicing are an honest people and wish to populate our land, may they be Turks or Pagans, we will build them mosques and churches.

Frederick the Great

Greater Berlin is 5 million inhabitants whose 14% of foreigners represent 195 nationalities living with almost 800 years of history. I am only interested, or capable, of discussing a crumb of that experience.

— the author of this article

1. City of Amateurs

An old friend just got back from a gallery show he was given near Paris. He came back hating Berlin and loving Paris. Paris this, Paris that, he trilled. Berlin this, Berlin that, he grumbled.

"Are you moving to Paris?" I asked.

"If it weren't so expensive," he moaned.

That's the point, old friend, you dick, I wanted to say. I wanted to tell him that his mind is no longer right; give it time and you'll be sane again. Easy to let your head be turned by the very best taste that money can buy. The very worst taste that money can't buy is what we were both still in love with as of two weeks ago. Remember?

My favorite place to buy shiny hard objects which blink or beep happens to be located near Checkpoint Charlie, one of the ugliest tourist traps in history. Not only "ugly" in a cosmetic sense. Squeezing through Yankee throngs squinting at block-long timelines on wall-high graphics of the normative narrative, recently, I felt the impulse to shout "Dupes!" But all I wanted was a fire-wire port for the new PC, so I kept my grimace locked and squeezed on through.

But the point is that Checkpoint Charlie is a clever diversion to keep American tourists from discovering the true historical significance of Berlin. For half a century, Berlin has been a revolutionary Utopia of art, black markets, welfare, drug use, sleeping late, adultery and socialized health care that really, really works. The people behind the political Disneyland of Checkpoint Charlie don't want you to know this.

The face of this revolution is sculpted and re-sculpted by the fluid force of immigration. Berlin's reputation as a funky Art capital doesn't rest on the proclivities of the people who actually keep the city running in its sexy limp. It's hard to imagine the hardcore German natives, rooted in the stone of Berlin's soil for a scary number of generations, doing much that isn't natural to the petit bourgeois life. The German trick, in general, is to keep the head down and make a steady, fast-walking run for a comfortably-pensioned retirement and a cozy death on a Sunday in front of the Television. Sometimes they like to rent gardens to putter in, too.

Gallery openings, Dada symposia, multimedia events and urban street art are irrelevant fripperies to the amateur bureaucrat of the German soul. And Turkish markets and their ethnic treats are for Turks and Bohemians. Most of the best of what Berlin has to offer is of little use or interest to the real Germans driving the buses and reading the meters and stamping the documents pertinent to the bus drivers' and meter readers' lives. In a psycho-political sense, much of Berlin was discarded, a few years after Hitler bit the deathcock, in a vast mental dumpster the immigrants are living out of. Thriving, in fact.

The strongest immigrant presence is Turkish, a whole post-war guest-worker history lesson I won't go into. The Turkish, in Berlin for three largely unassimilated generations, are Native Aliens. The Turkish are the unacknowledged Outsider heart of the Berlin revolution. Turkish weddings often end up with a fleet of honking cars zooming down the Ku'damm (Berlin's answer to Oxford Street or State Street or Fifth Avenue) while Germans on the sidewalk scowl at the irritating vitality of the noise and bother. A metaphor.

The second largest Turkish city in the world, by population (second only to Istanbul), is the neighborhood called Kreuzberg, which also hosts a second, disproportionately high-profile, immigrant culture (the immigrant culture that the NYT is most likely to write about) composed of Murkan Hipstas. The Murkan Hipstas are Resident Tourists. In Kreuzberg we therefore find one immigrant culture hosting another immigrant culture with very little intercession from the Germans. Turks, German Yuppies and American Hipsters co-exist peacefully in Kreuzberg despite rarely interfacing any deeper than mutually-exploitative transactions involving falafel.

Given the spectacular beauty of the Turkish ladies and the macho grace of the Turkish dudes, interaction between the Resident Tourists and the Native Aliens of Kreuzberg would seem inevitable, for integration is largely a sexual matter under all the paperwork. As we know. There are proscriptions ranging from firm to severe, however, on the sex lives of these sloe-eyed girls with cinnamon skin and cinematic tresses, even the ones strutting in bold Western fashions, putting white eyes out. The serious sex proscriptions are not all Muslim; some of the rules against illegitimate fucking (or even flirting) are as Christian in contemporary Kreuzberg as they were in mid-1950s Ohio. Or in Texas today.

In any case, people (mostly women) sometimes die when these rules are broken. A sister estranged from a pious family for flaunting her romantic freedoms is lured to a bus stop for a heart-to-heart talk and then shot from a car when she shows up for the meeting. This stuff happens. So the male Murkan Hipsta must slouch at his table at the outdoor café in chaste silence as a to-die-for parade of young Cher/ Salma / Iman lookalikes streams by. We can only ascribe it to pragmatic xenophobia that we rarely see any of those chiseled-n-ripped Turkish dudes holding hands with female Murkan Hipstas at any of the usual spots.

Blond, green-eyed T., an old friend, a rare woman of Turkish descent with a PhD in Germany, lived in sin with her Lebanese boyfriend for years, right around the corner from her parents in the neighborhood of Wedding, via the simple expedient of claiming her boyfriend was Gay. He always camped it up when answering the phone. T. and her forbidden lover were urbane sophisticates who snorked coke from an antique silver tea service and listened to Swordfishtrombones before hitting the disco or pretending not to have hot Muslim sex.

The Turks rarely blend with Germans and the Murkan Hipstas almost never blend with the Turks: Berlin's key immigrant population is hermetically sealed, sexually, in an Aryan nation that's already less than welcoming of the Other. Integration will come on a geologic timescale. This is not an issue for the Murkan Hipsta, who has a fruit fly's life-cycle in Berlin.

The Murkan Hipsta didn't bring gritty creative Bohemia to Berlin, whatever they choose to believe; he/she inherits and debases the legacy on the budget they're afforded in the time they're allowed. The weird, creative, pre-Apocalyptic vibe this town glows with at 3am is down to the kinky ghost of the Weimar Republic (one of the seasonal specialties of a particular brothel of that era was a Christmas goose the client would decapitate while fucking, in order to enjoy the poor creature's convulsive death-contractions) overlaid with the artists, anarchists, effups, eccentrics and outcasts who were lured, last century, to this capital of the Cold War by the fact that everyone living here was paid a modest allowance to do so, plus being exempt from the draft. Deeper still is the faint-but-permanent vibe of Frederick the Great, the fabulously cultured Berliner, the Gay King who was a chum of Voltaire's. A ruthless genius on the battlefield, he most probably never diddled his own wife and had his adulthood forged by the ultimate trauma of being forced, by his father, to watch his handsome lover, Hans Hermann von Katte, decapitated. Not, thank heavens, while Frederick was fucking him.

The rhythm of Hipsta ex-and-re-patriation in Berlin is interesting. In and out like the halting breaths of an ephysematic, there are two types of Hipsta Immigration Surge I've been here long enough to categorize: the Boom Waves and the Bust Waves. The difference between the two being the difference between arrogant nasal fux buying lofts and driving up the local price of undergraduate drugs... and wide-eyed supplicants grateful as fuck to be here. I prefer the latter: the Bust Wavers. They are stepping off the bus as I write this.

2. City of Women

The longing, and mystery, and delight...

— V. Nabokov, "The Encounter", a poem celebrating his meeting of Véra Slonim in Berlin

On a walk last Sunday I ran into an old friend, a woman I dated a year after The Wall came down. She was a 19-year-old model when we first met in a murky nightclub called Orfeuo and now she was a 38-year-old psychologist/model with a six-month-old baby strapped to her chest on a sunny day in the gentrified section of Kreuzberg.

I hadn't seen this old friend in four years and she looked fit and happy and possibly single. Single motherhood is not just a circumstance in Berlin but a movement. It's probably my vestigial American politeness that kept me from asking if the baby's father is living with her or even still around in any form beyond the genetic. A German would have no such scruple.

"And is the child illegitimate?" would have been the third sentence out of 40% of German mouths, I think. A dancer I know (half of an act of blond twins very popular in Dubai and Tokyo) was chatting up a good-looking black-skinned singer and she proposed to him that if she couldn't find the right man to get pregnant by, before she turned 30, she'd do it with him.

"I'd love a chocolate baby," she said. It's hard to get mad at that kind of racism.

It's even hard to get mad at the skinheads. Not to say that they shouldn't all be sent to labor camps on the Baltic, but one can understand where they're coming from. So many of them are just poverty-stricken, shovel-faced knuckleheads from broken towns in the East. There they sit with cheap liters of supermarket beer on low tired walls, watching the steady parade of educated, beautiful, moderately ambitious women flow west. It's obvious that The Wall was really there to keep the Babes in.

There are commemorative plaques to Babes all over this town: Rosa Luxembourg, Sophie Scholl, Käthe Kollwitz, Christopher Isherwood, Charlotte Salomon. Very few will have heard of the last name in that litany.

An hour's walk west from the spot where I experienced that pleasant blast from my past in the form of the psychologist/model with the possibly-illegitimate baby strapped to her chest, on a street called Mommsenstrasse, right around the corner from my temporarily illegitimate daughter's favorite playground, is a plaque commemorating the short life of the artist Charlotte Salomon.

I first became aware of Charlotte and her profound work in a secondhand bookstore; the coffee-table book of her collected work was a steal (by the pound) at $9.99. I bought the thing, lugged it home, fell in love. This was in 1988, a year before The Wall fell, two years before I fled the U.S. for London.

From 1941 until the Nazis stopped her, forever, in 1943, Charlotte produced a diary of 769 exquisite paintings illustrating the opera of her life. Just as some of those in the know divide along the archetype-binaries Godard/Truffaut, Cee-Lo/ Jay-Z or Quisp/Quake, I'll take Charlotte Salomon over Anne Frank any day of the week.

When I happened, by sheer chance, upon the plaque indicating that the door to my right was the one into which schoolgirl Charlotte had stuck her key thousands of times before her ill-fated move to Nice, I was moved. Not to sorrow but to hatred. Hatred for politics, men, Philistinism, history. Every mind is a Universe and an Artist's Universe can be more interesting than most; what kind of demon does it take to toss millions of bleeding Universes on a bonfire? It complicates this question that young Adolph, like Charlotte, was a sensitive loner who loved painting.

An Austrian record producer who owes me €300 recently confided that rumor has it that Hitler fell dangerously in love with a dapper, upper class Jew he'd met in a youth hostel and that the subsequent bad breakup explains everything. This may be the most infallibly PC method for blaming the Holocaust on the Queers and the Jews I've ever heard.

Queer Berlin is not very; it's as safe as the image of Marlene Dietrich in tails that, for some, embody it. There are places like Tom's Bar in which men suck and fuck openly, certainly, but incidents of public Gay hand-holding or sidewalk-snogging are surprisingly rare in even the openly Gay quarter of the neighborhood called Schöneberg, where Christopher Isherwood has his own (slightly incorrect) plaque.

"Christopher first met Berthold when he went to Berlin to visit Auden," writes Isherwood, in one of many memoirs, famously referring to himself in the third person, "in March 1929. Berthold was then a hustler in a boy bar called The Cosy Corner which Auden frequented because it was near to where he was living in the Hallesches Tor district. Christopher fell for Berthold instantly — but not because he found Berthold so very attractive sexually. (In bed they were never quite compatible; Christopher felt that Berthold didn't really enjoy it and this inhibited him. I think they only sucked cock and belly rubbed)."

This ironical reticence (aren't Germans famous for being anal?) still seems to hold. Even the Christopher Street Day parade is no more dangerous than the straighter, defunct Love Parade was, and about as flamboyant as a typical weekend in the Uptown district of San Diego.

I've had various charmingly amusing misunderstandings with excellent post-op Berlin transsexuals I wasn't sharp enough to spot, initially. Many of them towered over me in stocking feet (I'm a tad over 6 feet tall), but so do many of the biological women here.

I dated a biological Berlin woman who was 6'3", the daughter of a former S.S. officer who was 65 when his offspring was born. She really did look like the spawn of some kind of master race (think Blade Runner Barbie); not a superior race, but one easily capable of pushing me around. She told me that life in Berlin is hell: the city is crawling with ambitious young female gym rats who look like supermodels, speak five languages, study law and/or medicine and will fuck on the first date for pizza. Totally unfair. Because German men, she said, are either little brothers or grandmothers. She was referring to the only milieu she would have considered marrying into: middle-to-upper, upper middle class professionals.

She might also have considered dating a Murkan Hipsta, but that was before the '90s Boom Wave hit the city. All of the eligible Hipstas were busy fucking up Barcelona that year.

3. The City as Nemesis

And I knew the word 'Ausländer', which the intolerant Berliners regularly applied to me; I had never been in a place where I felt so decidedly unwanted. In my fantasy I augmented this disagreement between us into a continuous feud and sought out details of behavior which I had learned would goad them into angry expostulation. I could get a reaction by tapping a fast rhythm with a coin on a cafe table, or by resting one foot on a chair opposite me, or even by ordering two 'Schwedenfrüchte' in succession. Anything they were not used to seeing infuriated them because it was not in their manual; naturally, this was too inviting for me not to be drawn into it.

— Paul Bowles, Without Stopping

We think of nations as the natural generic groupings of people. Mostly because we were born too late to have seen any settlement become a city, and would never, in any case, live long enough to see a city expand into a state and eventually unite with nearby states to form a nation. A nation is the next big step before Empire; all nations are really would-be Empires, or Empire seeds, in a state of stasis until the requisite power can be marshaled for the great push into globe-straddling. Just add water and POOF. Berlin predates the creation of the modern nation of Germany by roughly six hundred years and is the ultimate modern symbol of what happens when a nation makes the push for globe-straddling and fails. There are good and bad consequences. In Berlin, the good and the bad appear to be in equilibrium. The bad is by many magnitudes not nearly as bad as it was before defeat; neither is it entirely overcome by the good.

Get any two or three Ausländers together who have lived here longer than two years and the stories come out. The existential conundrum of life in this city is that the city itself is so fun and the natives themselves are so not. Unless you're fucking them. Recent arrivals think such bitching is nonsense; they think Berlin is their town and the horror stories are the sour-grapes slander of paranoid ingrates who don't appreciate the bracing quirks of pure Teutonia.

I was having an ingot of cheesecake in the original Barcomi's on Bergmannstrasse in 1994. This was when Barcomi's cheesecake was still made with cream cheese and dense and chilled and good as a thimbleful of heroin. My waiter was a voluble young American who had come over with his girlfriend smuggling the deranged dream of forming a post-Grunge band in Berlin with her and soon after conquering the planet. The name of the band was Est (if anyone knew that band or the waiter who formed it and wants to correct this account by all means jump in). I, at that point, had been wrestling with the German pop business for four years and had a few insights (it wasn't until years later, when I had learned not to sigh, or roll my eyes, or otherwise speak my mind, in the recording studio, that I began earning a decent living as a composer here; dissimulation is the key to success in any profession). But my waiter wasn't having it.

I tried to tell him that Berlin was the only place I had ever called in sick to a recording session (and more than once) but he wouldn't listen. He looked upon me with smug pity.

Almost exactly a year later I bumped into the waiter and his girlfriend lugging electric guitars (I'm tempted to throw in: "to the airport"), wearing some seriously bitter fucking scowls. Scowls like Wagnerian death masks. No need to go into further detail.

Funny thing being that there isn't a complaint you can utter about the mysterious ways of the native Berliners that native Berliners don't themselves already complain about. Before I go into a few of my favorite horror stories, in all fairness, I should point out that not only are Teutons responsible for some of the key inventions of modern life (including, but not confined to, rocket-travel, blue jeans, genetics, television and movable type... actually, the Chinese beat them to movable type) but that Berlin, institutionally, is far more tolerant of my preferred Lifemode than any of the other metropolises (including London, L.A., and Stockholm) I've lived and worked in. There's a law here that you can't give your kid a super-goofy name: brilliant. I've also been told that actors are prohibited from driving for an hour after a performance; surely the most lyrical law I've ever heard of, apocryphal or not.

Now the stories.

1. I'm at a sound-engineer's apartment before a recording session. He offers me a drink. I tell him I'll take a Coke. He says a bottle of Coke is in the fridge; help yourself. I go in the kitchen, grab the first clean drinking vessel I see (a coffee cup, as it happens), fill it with Coke, chuck some ice cubes in it and swagger back to the living room, humming the song we'll be working on. The sound engineer regards me with a weird mixture of amazement/disgust/mercy. Without a word, he takes the mug from my hand, marches back into the kitchen and pours my cola out of that mug and into a proper, official, regulation Coke glass (with the word "Coke" written on it). Bomb defused.

2. It's 4 a.m., a chilly winter morning. I'm staggering home from a demonically good nightclub. Where Kantstrasse meets a bent little side-street called Krumme Strasse... not a car, or pedestrian, for miles in any direction... I cross against the red light. I am not making this up. A second-story window flies open and a man in a billowing nightgown berates me loudly for breaking the law. Even better, a few weeks later, I'm walking along in broad daylight when someone going in the opposite direction deliberately slams into me. I am accused of walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk.

3. My artist friend B. is a single mother. Her five-year-old's teacher arranges an emergency meeting. In art class, warns the teacher, your son persists in drawing houses without doors in them. Even worse, she adds (gravely), he insists on drawing trees that are not brown and green but... blue. Blue trees! We suspect a disturbance of the psyche.

4. A friend is seated in a stuffy, crowded U-Bahn. The day is not a particularly hot one, but the wagon he's in is not comfortable; standing room only; all of the windows are closed. Lucky enough to have a seat, he reaches to open the window directly above, just as the train is pulling into the Zoo station. A woman standing in the aisle immediately asks him if she can close it again. Slightly irritated, my friend shrugs and the lady pushes the window shut. She then gets off the train a few seconds later when it comes to a halt at the station.

These are not tales of mere bad luck or the weirdly idiosyncratic; these are my favorite versions of archetypal tales of quasi-autistic Berlin. There are worse stories, of course (the dark-skinned Ausländer friend who walked into a doctor's waiting room about a rash on her face, only to have the doc, who hadn't examined her yet, hadn't glanced at her records and didn't even know her age, nationality or whether she was a drug abuser or a virgin, squint at the rash on the way to the examination room and wonder out loud if the problem wasn't H.I.V.; it wasn't). Having provided the templates, I'll leave the worse stories to the reader's imagination.

Berlin is my rattletrap vintage hooptie I love all the more for having to jerry-rig the fucker to make it work every day.

4. The City as Melted Mix Tape

Norwegian Wood at Alexanderplatz

Barracuda at Hackescher Markt

Mongolian Black Metal at the Altes Museum

Mozart on the River

No Woman, No Cry on Paul-Lincke-Ufer

Haitian Jams in Kreuzberg

Chicago-style Blues Jam on the S-Bahn

Lambada on the River

Billie Jean on Wilmersdorfer Strasse

5. The City as Exquisite Corpse

Sometimes when I went around to see Christopher Isherwood, he would not be in, and I would ask for Fräulein Ross. Invariably I would find her stretched out in bed, smoking Murattis and eating chocolates; almost as invariably a German friend or two would appear, and she would involve herself in long conversations with them, only a part of which I understood, punctuating her remarks here and there with her inevitable 'Du Schwein!'

— Paul Bowles, Without Stopping (on Jean Ross, who became his namesake, "Sally Bowles", in Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories)

He walked back along Dorset Street, reading gravely. Agendath Netaim: planters' company. To purchase waste sandy tracts from Turkish government and plant with eucalyptus trees. Excellent for shade, fuel and construction. Orangegroves and immense melonfields north of Jaffa. You pay eighty marks and they plant a dunam of land for you with olives, oranges, almonds or citrons. Olives cheaper: oranges need artificial irrigation. Every year you get a sending of the crop. Your name entered for life as owner in the book of the union. Can pay ten down and the balance in yearly installments. Bleibtreustrasse 34, Berlin, W.15.

— James Joyce, Ulysses

Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.

— Vladimir Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark

An official had appeared in the doorway of our compartment. His voice made Mr. Norris give a slight but visible jump. Anxious to allow him time to pull himself together, I hastily offered my own passport. As I had expected, it was barely glanced at.

"I'm traveling to Berlin," said Mr. Norris, handing over his passport with a charming smile; so charming, indeed, that it seemed a little overdone."

— Christopher Isherwood, The Last of Mr. Norris

'Turn the radio on, dear boy. Or the television, even better. They're streaming through. You won't believe it—'

'Bernard, who is streaming through what?'

'I just told you. They're taking down the Wall! It's hard to believe, but I'm watching it now, East Berliners coming through...'"

— Ian McEwan, Black Dogs

The other thing nobody knew was where the title came from. Eisenstein knew German and may have had a reason for choosing a title in that language. But it's more likely the film acquired the title during its long repose in an underground vault in East Berlin.

— Don DeLillo, Underworld

...then the heir apparent, beads of sweat on his forehead, with the first signs of difficulty in speaking, expatiates on his family's anti-Semitism, tells about a grandmother in the Lützelburg line who could not be moved to set foot in a Jewish house--- a refusal that might involve occasional problems in Berlin during the 1870s; once, however, it could not be avoided, and she went, eating her way through a pompous dinner without uttering a syllable to the host, next to whom she had been seated, she did not even perceive the hostess; on the way home, she was asked by her husband, 'Well, it wasn't all that bad, all in all?' She cheerfully shook her head: 'No, because I had a clever idea. I paid for the food. I pushed the money under the plate before leaving the table.'

— Gregor von Rezzori, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite

5. Video Babies

I found no guilt in Berlin.

— Anthony Burgess, You've Had Your Time

Prenzlauer Berg, along with Friedrichshain the mostly-German district most itchy with Murkan Hipstas, is reputed to have the highest birth-rate in Europe. Most of the mothers are young and quite a few of them are single. They tend to be slender and fit and still in the race; a youngish mother with three kids by three different long-gone fathers is not an unusual premise. As my Prenzl'berg artist friend recently quipped:

"Now that I've got the baby, I don't need the man."

The Government is doing its best to promote this faddish fecundity, with or without quasi-Christian morals as a guideline, making it almost easy to be a single mum here. There is practically a playground for every bar in Prenzlauer Berg and a recent bit of legislation pays decent money for every child produced, not to mention subsidized daycare starting almost as soon as the mother wants it. The fear is that the German rate of replacement (births vs deaths) has fallen to a dangerously low level; the subtext is that Muslim families, specifically, and immigrants, in general, are suffering no such problem.

Thing is, nature designs us with a sex urge, but is there a proportional child-rearing urge bundled in with the package?

"In Berlin wurde die erste Babyklappe... im Krankenhaus Waldfriede eingerichtet. Seitdem sind in der Hauptstadt etwa 18 Kinder in Babyklappen gelegt worden. Inzwischen gibt es fünf Babyklappen in Berlin: im Krankenhaus Waldfriede in Zehlendorf, in den Kliniken St. Josef in Tempelhof und St. Hedwig in Mitte, im Spandauer Waldkrankenhaus sowie am städtischen Krankenhaus Neukölln."

A "Babyklappe" is something to see. I first had one pointed out to me on a date, in the trendy Mitte area, on the grounds of the hospital of Saint Hedwig, about five years ago. We were strolling along in the gloaming and my stunning date (now my stunning wife) pointed out what looked like the overnight returns chute in a Video store's wall, only bigger. A little aluminum door with a handle, about ten feet from the curb.

S. told me that you could swing the door open, put an unwanted baby in, and lights inside the hospital would flash so nuns could dash over to pick up the unwanted deposit. After which you'd be free to go dancing. Or whatever.

6. The First Cult is the Deepest

After that first visit, East Berlin became for me one of the metaphysical cities.

— Anthony Burgess, You've Had Your Time

I dated a bisexual woman with her own casting agency in the months before 9/11. Born fairly deep in the East, she had been in training, under the Soviet method, to compete in the Olympics... when the Soviet Union evaporated. During her latter days as a larval Olympian she was locked in a bipolar doomsday affair with a beautiful half-Nigerian girl who eventually committed suicide by crawling down a concrete cylinder on a construction site, dousing herself with petrol and scorching the inner surface of the concrete totally black.

B. told me this while leafing through a photo album that was roughly the size of Charlotte Salomon's coffee table book; she showed me a headshot of her sad-eyed Moorish beauty, then paged to a sepiatone photo of men who looked like a rakish, black-clad klatsch of tailors fresh from the Shtetl. Her uncles.

"I think my family may have been a little Jewish before the war," said B, cautiously. Was she feeling me out? She told me that under the old regime you had to apply for a television and would have to wait for years and years to get one. Sex became a major pastime. So did other naughty time-killers; anti-Semitism survived fairly intact in the great Red East despite Karl Marx's notable lack of a foreskin. She was raised strictly irreligious and Aryan-identified but has a vivid memory of her grandmother in a rocking chair in her picturesque cottage in the quaint center of the Eastie village sneering at B.'s little towheaded classmates.

"What are all these Shiksas doing in my living room?"

7. The City as Viral Aphorism

Berlin is an object lesson in how freaks, spies, refugees, rednecks and sluts can all somehow get along together without needing to acknowledge their common humanity. Nicht immer, aber immer öfter. I always say that a real city makes the ineffable effable. I always say: If you let a city change you, you've earned your place in it. I always say a lot of shit I don't really mean, which is, to the Germans, the least-attractive American trait.

Facade with dumpster


Peeping Firedudes

Palast der Republik (now gone)

Hotel Quickie

In her face


Eating in the dark

Members Only

Poor but Sexy


Steven Augustine is a professional composer who has lived in L.A., London, San Diego, Saint Paul, Chicago, Las Vegas, Stockholm, Philadelphia and Hamburg and currently lives and works in Berlin. He has been annoying readers with his online literary/political opinions since 1998. He is currently working on a feature-length, acting-free film/radio play for the 2010 grant-writing cycle. This is his first appearance in these pages. He writes here. You can find the first entry in our series on Cities here.

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"Mary is Mary" — Wye Oak (mp3)

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Reader Comments (9)


but seriously, steven, you can't write a piece like this and not expect at least two TR editors to show up at your doorstep before year's end, pouty-faced, dirty, needing shelter

but don't worry, we ain't the staying kind

August 6, 2009 | Registered CommenterWill

Erm... I moved?

August 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Augustine

Great Durchblick, but you missed one important aspect: one thing German people hate to hear (from me) that the Turks are the new Jews, the new unassimilatable minority slowly
taking over all the popular forms, film, pop music, tv... they are the new dentists, doctors lawyers as well as shoemakers, tailors and vegetable merchants. Turn on the tv, the more disenfranchised are electrifying the German language with the freshest hip hop stylings (just like the Africans with French in France) Hey! how about Palestinians rapping in Hebrew? http://yementimes.com/article.shtml?i=1248&p=report&a=3

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbaruch

Great point; things may actually be getting even more interesting than ever. But are the Persians ahead of the Turks on that one? Quite a few of the Persians here are professionals or their children (ie, future professionals)... I wonder if it'll play out as a two-tier integration, with Turks on the "bottom" (rapping and sandwich-making) and the Persians doing most of the dentistry and architecture?

August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Augustine

Berlin is the unknown city of all my fears and desires.

August 7, 2009 | Registered CommenterAlex
August 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Augustine

After reading this last night and the sleepless night that followed as a result, I feel like Steven Augustine, after a single week in NYC, could reveal my own city to me in ways I could not possibly formulate and express after 26 years of devoted exploration. Reading him is so humbling. This morning I printed the article and started to circle the bits I especially appreciated and soon realized I'd be better off spreading all 33 pages on the floor in a circle and taking a photograph. Honestly, when I count my blessings, which these days seem to be multiplying almost faster than my ability to compute them, near the top is my gratitude, there's no other word, that I share a common language with Steven and can read him, unmediated, in all his glory. One of the dreams I had last night when I did doze off a little was of Steven. He and I were in a Hope Expo store in the door department, the model doors hanging off a big rack. Steven was gently turning the knobs, showing me how they noiselessly opened on their hinges. He wasn't selling me a thing.

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFrances Madeson

Random. Somehow got here googling Jenn and Andy Wye Oak - do you know them?
I don't know Berlin, I should. I DO know that American tourists (even at home in Chicago) appear frightened of scary looking German bikers and punks. That "knowledge" somehow made me feel slightly superior trogging round Utah or Tahoe with my assumed European cool. Your writing wiped that smile off my face. Impressed am I. Greetings from the UK - and respect.

October 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercatshoe
October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Augustine

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