Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Weighty matters

Tucked away in a tiny room, space N08, or what Michael Robbins would call 'a harbouring space' the Beckmans, Max Beckman painter, and deep inside Mies's National Gallery, you will gaze at them and then hurry to the cafe and the toilet. Mies's National Gallery Berlin is the only building I know that makes you want to shit yourself, both Julie and I felt the same bowel convulsion, and then you sit on the toilet in your stall, and realize you are staring at a 1" tile grid, everything perfect. This building is the architectural equivalent of the inquisition.
And of course it's deeply unpopular. People want more happening things than this these days, they want architainment in the Sony Centre, but they should realise that this building is anti-happening, even the security guards pace around like polar bears in the zoo, it drives them crazy too.
And in the cafe, where I always take my sacrament, you will stare at yourself in the carefully placed mirrors and stare at the other two people in there trying desperately to divert themselves from this abyss by fiddling with their mobile phones, I just notice the double doors close precisely ON THE GRID. It drives me crazy. They look like Beckman's themselves that couple, how uncanny, Beckman was bloody good, and that little room of Beckmans in the National Gallery Berlin is the best chapel I could imagine, just look at that dog. And they're in the 20th century's cathedral, with the only sound the air conditioning.
Fucking hell, no image can do this building justice in it's total subjugation to the art of fact.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Holiday souvenirs

The end of our holiday approaches, three days to go and it's 'We'd better do something I suppose' that and 'I'd like to buy this...or that'. Buying stuff on holiday always hauls us in an interesting array. So far I've got a couple of 'ditch period' Neil Young Lps (Tonights the Night and Time Fades Away) an etching of Goethe's summer house bought for eight euro's at the Tiergarten Market, and then today's little sortie turned up an excellent solid aluminium 21 LED torchlight which only the German's could make and since our lights go out every time the local junkie steels our isolators, will come in very handy, the worlds tiniest and loveliest photobook (3" high) on GDR Dresden in it's own slipcase and a model of a sex shop for a model railway. They are very keen on model railways here and I'm glad you can buy the obvious addition to any metropolitan railway station, even if it was a bit pricey and we don't have a model railway. Next, simply the duty to go and have a brandy of two in the basement cafe of the Mies New National Gallery (the nearest I get to a church), and then the zoo, hoping the capybaras are in.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

How the fuck did I do that?

A day for shopping and barring, Sunday being a day for fuck all. Still, nomatter the trickiness of shopping in German, we assembled the supplies and hunker down. It's raining cats and dogs.
So between contemplating my fabled monkfish stew and chuffed to see Robbie Savage, by far my favourite football commentator, talk of Chelsea's win on Final Score there is much time to contemplate.
I found myself awake at some stupid hour, scared to death of things I'd done long ago, for instance, taking off in February nineteen eighty something to ride to Greece on my Motto Guzzi V50 to meet and bring my girlfriend home ON THE BACK! We did it too. I was 23. I had to explain to Julie what I took with me, and I seem to remember 90% in the panniers was 'bike stuff' and my spare helmet for Clare. I had a change of shirt, socks and pants and not much else.
I just thought, how the fuck did I do that? I was away for three months.
I felt fucking fantastic when I finally got home, and wouldn't wash the bike for ages, just looked at it with it's 4,000 miles of dirt.
Above is a picture of me with my first bike, a Honda 250 G5, at nineteen.

Thursday, 25 August 2011


Christ it's hot, it's pyjama hot, plus as humid as a cheetahs armpit. Then this evening the skies will darken and Thor will take his place again to give us a good show while we try to understand 'The Wire'- an enjoyable exercise but not easy.
The rest of the time we work. This is really quite amazing for us. Working actually feels like a holiday. Clearly working is actually a holiday. I was writing about Marie Antoinette this morning. Julie says;
'You're writing about who?'
'Marie Antoinette! Very important!.....Nobody else writes about her so I will'
Actually I think she deserves a place in my histoire as I'm pretty much up to Montgolfier and his balloons.
I think this is how Ian Fleming did it on his holidays. He worked on the Bond novels for two hours in the morning, had a bit of lunch and slept it off, then my goodness it's cocktail hour, and he sat back at his desk to review his morning's endevours, and probably in his pyjamas.
Any way Julie now loves my progress since I read out 'The Renaissance' to her late last night and she almost glowed.
The book's all done 'live' with no artificial additives (except a little technical assistance from Wikipedia of course). I'd like it done by Christmas but as soon as we get back home I'm sure I'll get nothing done at all.
Chin chin


Tuesday, 23 August 2011


The god Thor tore through our district all day, never heard such a racket, with lightening and pissing rain, driving wind and squealing children in the street. No wonder the goths were superstitious. At one point I'm sure the building shook as the living room pendant light started to swing, so I put on the zoo channel to watch the birth of llamas and buried my nose in Casanovas autobiography. Which by the way is a bit of a riveting read, far more plagued with subtleties than you might think.
Got a rather amusing text suggesting that far from academic pursuit, we might be romping around fetish bars dressed in Nazi outfits in his honour. Nothing could be further from the truth, for of course you have to understand that as soon as the academic term ends, that's when academic life begins, so it's all peace and quiet for us until hostilities resume in September, but we will probably go to the zoo.
Worried about this word 'connectivity' See it coming up on CNN all the time, the new holy ghost I suppose. However it is not a reasonable connection just to witness hell and high water on the TV or get the better of some bastard on the other side of the planet in some business deal fawned over by the awful Richard Quest. And isn't 'Linked-in' just a waste of time? If I were a social networking site I'd have to call it 'Large-One'.

Monday, 22 August 2011


Mien host is a hurricane. When she arrives she appears as a force of nature, then she disappears again to Hamburg, or Malta, or Cologne, or on to expensive yachts where she will play the Carly Simon to any Warren Beatty. She's the kind of woman who cranks energy. She is the weather, and I'm that bunny rabbit sitting in a field for a day in the rain in West Cork. I like it but I cower rather before it, but I stick it out too. The weather is lovely, but I'm not quite the poet to do it justice, you'd have to be Homer to do that.
This time she brought along a new couch, humped up those terrifying flights of steps by German men who knew how...hump...hump...hump- 2.5m of it, four Berlin floors up. A herculean task if you ask me. I was exhausted at just the thought of it, being on the receiving. But there's enough room for plenty of couches in this place and, as I've noted before, there was still nowhere comfortable to sit on account of the aesthetic rather than functional criteria generally applied before my blogged interventions which of course, my host read, and acted swiftly upon. But this new couch is so splendiferous I fear even sitting on it, it being so comfortable and all. It is a real sofa for afternoon naps which I shall be frightened of taking. We must not spill anything on it. Maybe we'll buy a plastic cover, if they make one that big, for insurance.
They are very big on insurance here, given a certain historical hangover assurance is a constant necessity. Even my hosts dog, a huge hound called 'Sonic' (I have always suspected after Sonic Youth) has liability insurance.
Sonic brought us a copy of Patti Smith's autobiography. We will love it. Poetry and seventies rebellion, I guess that's what we stand for.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Future is Medieval

Just got out of a cab with one of those drivers who want to tell you everything about Berlin, like where all the bullet holes are, yes, literally where all the bullet holes are in our local bar round the corner, then stuff like:
'You know there are 1045 bridges in Berlin?'
'Well no but..'
'So what do you know?'
Well to be honest it's clear we know nothing at all, especially not to pick up a cab from the Tiergarten street market, especially one who's chatting famously with the stall holders who seem to be selling more and dubious nazi memorabilia with each passing year. Photo albums of young guards smiling at the camps, no thank you, whatever camps they were, even if they were probably summer camps.
So this guy starts the trip by pointing out the street lamps were by Albert Speer. I note that the Kaiser Chiefs are touring here with the title 'The Future is Medieval', and it quite possibly might be.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Horses Mouth

I've been looking at this big book on Gillespie Kidd and Coia architects resident on these Berlin shelves, who were actually Izi Metzstein and Andy McMillan under sobrique. I was wondering, as I flicked through it's pages of brick and concrete, of brutal scots sixties buildings long lost in Cardross, just what made their work so brilliant? The book retails on Amazon over £240, and this one is personally and lovingly dedicated to my host here in Berlin. I'd better not spill my scotch on it. Actually neither Izi or Andy would have scared a jot for spilt scotch, but we live in a different age. I'm surprised the tome isn't in a box.
The answer is quite elemental if you've worked in an architectural school. The work of Izi and Andy represents the sublime manipulation of plan and section in the most artful and ingenious ways, also the articulation of detail in, yes, artful and ingenious ways. They won the RIBA gold medal for it. It also represents an ugliness of every conceivable conception. Both at the same time, a passionate love of the former and a passionate distain for the latter, makes for greatness within a certain conception of what makes things great. It is an architecture which loves elbows and feet rather than that obviousness of the face. We can all love the odd elbow, and feet are now a fetish, but that's not the world they were in, they loved those elbows and feet. This of course, is a great modernist ideal, just read the fabulous novel 'The Horses Mouth' by Joyce Cary and you will understand their sensibility utterly and completely.
I worked for a while with Izi just before he retired. I regret at that my youthful age, I didn't really understand the old horses wisdom. I think I was a real pain in his arse. I went for an interview for a job at the Macintosh school in Glasgow with Andy McMillan, and of course blew it with talk of architecture students making pop videos for the Pet Shop Boys.
Now I stare at those plans and sections.

Back in Berlin

I like Germany. Some people can be pretty harsh about it. AA Gill wrote a particularly bitter thing titled 'The Hunforgiven'. But for me, the only thing remotely Gothic about this oasis of calm, of bicycles occasionally gliding by, of sitting in the same bar with the same people in it eating the same sausage pondering only the minor idiosyncracies of the shower, the toilet and the locks, and dreading only the effort of climbing those four flights of stairs up to our apartment, is the gutteral accent. It feels mighty comfortable. Mind you of course, for AA Gill comfortable is probably trecking through Kalahari without so much as a Bitburger. Pathologically calm, yep that's this place, Charlottenburg Berlin, seen far too much fuss ever to be interested again. It positively seethes 'leave me alone'.....burger off!
But I'm supposed to start on The Goth's for my 'Unauthorized History of Architecture' and the distinct lack of wandering violent hoards is not exactly inspiration. They're all back in England. When Gibbon first found himself in the ruins of the Roman forum 'just after vespers' he recalls, he was transported by the image of the ancients, enraptured by what was missing. Guess I'll have to get more in to the spirit of it, and less comfortably numb.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Van Halen II

So we are back in the metropolis for one day. What happens? I'll tell you what happens, Van Halen and strippers happens. It's what you need after a good dose of the countryside. You know what I love about Van Halen; Innocent swagger. Pour yourself another one and join the party, an urban party which involves people you couldn't care less about but you can stare at in lust. Rather more urban than rabbits in a field. To my knowledge no other band in the history of rock and roll manages to combine being sixteen and fifty at the same time. I think it's called charm, an old fashioned and much maligned term. However, I can't get away from it, David Lee Roth is just the best rock vocalist of all time, perhaps because he realizes it's all 'whoops' and 'woooohs', general yelps and other ridiculousness- showmanship, and he can belt it out better, even if the stuff he's singing is pretty awful, than Mrs Tyler and Jagger and so on- who suddenly become somehow too serious - trying too hard at a children's party.
Anyway. I've put Pink Floyd's 'Animals' on now, 'Sheep' actually, pour big drinks, lie back and remember what the glory of the city is while imagining it's opposite.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Rabbits in the Mist

Julie was singing 'Born Free' in the shower. That's how us city folk react to the undoubted challenges of being stuck up a mountain in West Cork for a week. Nature is dangerous to us, one false move and you've had it. So, understanding this, we did as little as possible but bake bread and cakes in the land of green bacon and emerald fields, emerald if you can see them, which most of the time you can't because of the rain. Oh how I loved that rain, not mere raindrops, but sheets of it, more like wet air! Clouds drift through your kitchen, and I sat there in that kitchen watching a rabbit soaking in the middle of the field all day wondering 'Why doesn't he go indoors?' then pondering, perhaps the warren is flooded, or perhaps he's the look out rabbit. Days and nights were played out to the mysteries of rain and our miraculous enclosure from it.
We played 'Escape from Colditz' every evening, which for us is as clever as chess, and I was always the German security. There's fuck all to do if you play the German in 'Escape from Colditz', you actually play your turn most of the time walking around in circles, so it suited me perfectly. Then of course, there is 'a moment of great excitement' and you get to shoot some escaper dead via playing your opportunity card, and that's the only way you can win. Julie escaped 3-1.
Meanwhile, in these fields where we were afraid of charging cows, on the TV (there was a TV) severe lack of imagination struck the urban poor. They made off with crap toasters stuck up their jumpers and burned down furniture warehouses- because they burn. It is appropriate to call this a kind of simulcrum of revolution, for in the end it simply re-enforced the status of the disgusting powers that be. Cameron's 'fight back' echoed through the loving rooms of every household, the rhetoric could not be resisted, and now, because we refuse to understand this kind of behaviour, we will criminalize it. I hear a woman got six months for looting six bottles of water (water!) that is the same as somebody who recently got done for holding a person in slavery. The price of freedom in this country is now round about £3.69.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Schools Out

It's not just that school's out, it's more that I've just heard School's Out on Planet Rock while cooking German fried potatoes (excellent- just slice the potatoes thin, fry with onion and mustard powder, dill and salt and pepper for 45mins) and it is one of the finest singles of all time. I don't know how Alice and Co did it, for they were notoriously crap, but I guess no matter how fucked up you are you can produce genius once or twice- Elected being the second fabulous exhibit, transfixing me when I was twelve or so, and my cool aunt from Texas sending me 'Elected' bumper stickers for the inside of my wardrobe door. Of course, being savvy if drunk, this Alice tune coincided with the Nixon election.
If that wasn't enough, Planet Rock next presented me with Rain by Status Quo, surely one of the most intellectually underrated bands of all time. Status Quo are like the ancient Greek architects, they knew what they had to do and just did it time and time again for ever and ever. Gradually came perfection, probably the opening salvo of 'Whatever you Want'.
Anyway school is out, so it's time away.

Secret life of what exactly?

Watching 'The Secret Life of Buildings' was awful. To see the world of architectural criticism reduced to a load of parlour games was embarrassing. Of course all the dreadful ideas must have been dreamt up by a bunch of equally dreadful media types who thought it was 'fun' to find a nice building 'Oooh..The Criterion' and a nasty one 'Ahhh......nasty basement' and dunk Tom Dykhoff in an ice cold bath in each one and see how long he'd last (not long).
Surely the secret life of buildings should be actually exposing the sheer heartbreaking misery of the architectural enterprise from the beginning of time. A certain trickiness in being the architect to Rameses to that of being stuck like a battery hen in a faceless office block in Fitzrovia. There could be good cameo interludes: Le Corbusier cross dressing at a party for instance, or Jim Stirling pissing against Paul Rudolf's windows, but unfortunately they just wanted party tricks, not stories.