Friday, 30 August 2013

Dropping the Big One

The decision tonight of the British government, thankfully, not to intervene in Syria (for now) has been criticised on the basis of appeasement, something that reminds the British of all the things that are cowardly, and on the reverse British and right and true; sort of lion hearted if it wasn't such an unfortunate and inappropriate historical analogy. It is quite amazing how many of our MP's come out as  closet Captain Mainwarings. We might wish to remember that you generally appease rampant states, as Nazi Germany was. Syria is not a rampant state, at least not to my knowledge, but a threatened one.
What's more we have little idea as to who is exactly threatening it and by all accounts neither do the threateners themselves. It could be you defend Syria or any faction in Egypt on simply the notion that you believe people have the right to buy designer sunglasses, or right to ban them, I have no idea. It is not clear, it has not been explained, perhaps it is not explainable. However, because I have no idea, it would seem ridiculous to go wading in as if into a bunch of naughty kids playing with fireworks, because maybe they will go off in my face. It seems strange logic to 'punish' more people by killing them just as they have killed others knowing that the problem will escalate. It's one thing wading in to countries when you think they've got WMD but its another when you know they have them and will use them.
If a dog bares its teeth, it may mean business, and I already know of people leaving Tel Aviv for Geneva. We don't seem to be seeing the dog, we seem to be seeing the naughty children.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Mother Russia

To view this properly listen to the Sisters of Mercy Dominion/Mother Russia. Totally fabulous space. 20 million dead, you need that ground and sky thing going on.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Goodbye Berlin

Hello egg and chips.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Excellent Animal

The capybara, cute huh! World's biggest rodent, sort of big dog sized. Highly insecure, doesn't do much, likes hanging out with other capybaras, swimming and eating grass. We had to wait half an hour for this one to move at all, but as you can see, he cuts fine figure. Day at the zoo, cool! All cities should have a zoo at the centre, just to put us in our place.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Perverts Palace

I side with my friend Ulrika that there are only two types of pervert, those who know they are and those that don't (know they are) but in general the Germans have less of a problem with perversity than the English. The Helmut Newton Museum, also the home of the National Museum of Photography, is for instance grandly situated in an old Wehrmacht officers club (look at the width of the staircase- post below) and celebrates the 'Helm' to the Max, down to his clothes and his car and just about everything else. Walking in to oceans of Helmut Newton pictures is a bit like wading your way through a box of chocolats, it may not make you feel very well after a while, but it is worth the experience once or twice, and certainly should be obligatory for every present day female Guardian columnist, to remind them, at least, that Vogue is as pornographic as Nuts.
Helmut Newton had of course left Germany for Australia. The irony should not be lost, and the man was lucky, things fell in to place, and you can tell he enjoyed himself as any man with the Riviera touch or roosting in the Chateaux Marmont surrounded by beautiful women should; he did remarkably demeaning, pornographic things with them for the public to enjoy. But nobody really thought it was porn, they enjoyed it as art (especially Charlotte Rampling) and here it all is, the greatest porn palace that isn't this side of a anywhere truly smutty, but with the byline that here, at least, everybody featured is obscenely rich. Indeed, the proclivities of the rich are pornographic. Helmut shows us this, especially when they are fabulously rich, after all what else is there to do? It is all very Marquis de Sade, and very instructive as to the mores of the bourgeoisie that this stuff is acceptable, even laudable, and other stuff isn't. David Cameron should also pencil in a visit.
In England the Met used to measure 'porn' vs 'art' by the quality of the paper. It is one of those injustices that permanently blights the life of ordinary working girls, strippers, dancers and so on, simply that they are not rich.
Above, Helmut's jeep, just about the most pornographic thing I can imagine.

German Lobby 2

Monday, 19 August 2013

German Lobby

I have to have a more ordinary gallery to go to than Mies' temple of doom. This is it; the Berlinische Gallerie Fur Moderne Kunst. In Mies, I sit in the cafe/bar, I pour scorn, I pay my respects to the dead, but here, in this lovely little contemporary German thing (with furniture to cafe unfathomable as below) which concentrates on what we might call modern, with a fabulous collection of Prouns and other nonsense, Nuam Gabo by the crateful, and drawings of the Wiemar period to make you cock your head and go 'Ooooo!' plus grumpy fat waiters who hardly give a toss and matronly sexy girls selling you tickets, it qualifies as a real find. It is the only gallery I can stay in for more than an hour without the cramps. 
OK it still shows a lot of crap too, it has to, twenty truck tires piled/suspended whatever by a tosser,  but somehow it doesn't matter when you can mince with a Moholy Nagy, admit you are rather captured by Lissitzky and just love that Hannah Hoch (infact almost buy a facsimile of her  1933 'Album' in my case, until I got some sense in to me in that slightly strange cafe).
It's a good place, surrounded by IBA architecture, which doesn't look too bad either when you think of England's appalling record's garden festivals of the equivalent period.

German Interior

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Battle Fatigue

There are points in any sojourn in foreign lands when you feel distinctly fatigued by a culture you do not understand; when events cease to be frivolously amusing or charming and become creepy and disturbing, and when you realise it's all wearing you out. In such circumstances, somebody mention to Alain de Bolton that holidays are hard work.
I had such a moment today when I saw the band playing patriotic tunes in the shopping centre were wearing jackboots. 'Look! Jackboots!!' I said, and low and behold, the fatigue soon had me thinking that the Germans were somehow well suited to Nazism. Of course they can't be can they, but the fatigue just sank me into prejudice, like in the Numbskulls. When that happens, the darkness descends, and you start to see everybody as giants, or think the children are playing too aggressively; you wonder at why there are so many women singing from boats on the TV, why there is also a competition involving men pulling nails from planks, and why there are so many model railway enthusiasts. You get suspicious.
So we are three flights up of our four flight rock, and to get away from taking pictures like the one above it's trip to the zoo.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Bauhaus 2

Bauhaus Dessau

It might have been a very good idea to stay in the old factory in Leipzig (see The Shock of the Old below) before we visited the Bauhaus. That buildings bridges for conveyors and people between buildings, it's departments, it's big windows and austere construction all come back when you consider Walter Gropius' jazzed up version of 1926. There is much more to it than meets the eye. Gropius invented the road, he invented the bridge over it, he mannered it to look like civil engineering, he kept an austere language of construction, he put the students in a factory, he even placed his office above that road and the  tiny architectural studio above that- architects as masters of the pin-wheel universe. This building abounds in metaphor but doesn't look it. However, the more you do look at it the more it's subtlety becomes clear. Gropius didn't just skin up this building, the outer foot of construction is consistently mannered, sometimes proud of the surface plane, sometimes recessed, and always displaying real care in how something is made. The plan itself is a formal masterpiece, everything is where it should be pragmatically; there are no jolts or discontinuities, and as a free standing composition it is awesomely well proportioned. Love it, just love it, a really beautiful modern building.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Back to the Sticks

Still in the artists colony. The whisky bar turned out to be somebodies shed, or sheds, with a brazier and broken furniture. The man plugged in a few lights, there was ricketty table football. I thought, Christ, our own Glastonbury! Actually such things are not so foreign to me as you might think, and the whole experience was a kind of regression therapy to farm life as a student in the summers of the seventies. The people, as they were back then, were terribly sweet, angel hipsters and beardy oldsters, and a man who's turned a whole floor of this place into his own fairground from bits and bobs. I wouldn't have expected anything else. Very unusual to find a bar backed by a workshop or three. Old clothes wurled crankily round the ceiling on hooks, apparantly discarded by revellers in the early hours as they got bored with clothes.
Leipzig has quite a lot of regression therapy going on, it looks like what the cool bits of Berlin looked like twenty years ago, and the occupants enjoy much the same things. Unfortunately all our jaundiced eyes can see in the horizon are rapascious developers and shops. Presently there's hardly a shop (just the world's biggest art store) at least in this part of town, but hell, who needs shops, they want artist's materials!
Shall we stay here forever? Absolutely not.

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Shock of the Old

It's an artists colony, a fucking artists colony. It's in a factory, a fucking big old factory. This is the new Eastern Europe, a fucking huge artists colony in a factory with the world's biggest arts supply shop and an outdoor cinema and an open air whisky bar on Tuesdays (thank god I'll need it). This is what is left of the DDR, this is the new centre for Leipzig, and this apartment feels like a Steve Bowkett fantasy, with a POD for a bathroom jacked up on stilts in yellow. It echoes, there's a fucking yoga matt, and a kareoke stage, but no TV, we all have iPads and Macs. Julie can really pick accommodations, she really can, and the place is full (well not really full- lets say drifting) with artists, young artists and their kids, no doubt all doing that horrible work. There is a cafe where you can scrutinise them, with the faint odour of poo. Maybe that's the canal. There you go, it used to be a woollen mill, it's big, it's full of artists, I'm in a loft.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Georg Kolbe Museum

This is the Georg Kolbe Museum, a sort of rom-prag wet dream of a compound. Mies selected a Kolbe for the Barcelona Pavilion, and he was a very successful artist of the inter-war years. His house and studio sit very close to the Berlin unite (see below) as a lovely, or sinister - depending on how you look at it - example of leafy modern, by which I mean lots of lovely hand-made brick brick wall, with discrete window frames in grey, with fir trees growing unfeasibly close, and in this case, either statues of kids leaping about (nymphs) or adults drowned in sorrow amidst the whole lot. Architects the ilk of Caruso St John and Sergison Bates would all love it, but I found myself worrying about the tree roots.
Nearby is a cemetery, and it would make a good cemetery, cemeteries are pretty profound places here for obvious reasons. As it is they've taken most of the Kolbes out of the interior and installed a fabulous collection of really terrible contemporary German art, all of which is supposed to be 'site specific' no doubt, but looks like arbitrary splashes and daubs and piles of rubbish.

Berlin Unite 2

The Berlin unite is a bit unloved, not by the people who live in it, who seem to like it right enough, but by everybody else, including LC himself, who walked off the job. He might not have liked the site, stuck out by the Nazi Olympic Stadium, a bit too close for comfort, and he might not have enjoyed the commission in the first place; a sort of consolation prize for his unexecuted Berlin city plan, he may not have liked the district, a zone of Hansel and Gretel type villas in the woods, or maybe he didn't like sausage and beer. It is certainly not at all Mediterranean this unite, look at the services, exposed in a glass box on the ground floor, look at the makeshift maintenance shed the Germans have added for their technicians in blue overalls to enjoy. There is not a trace of romantic funnel here, just fact. In fact there is nothing of interest on the roof at all, but think again, and you realise it's bloody cold here in winter, and I would prefer my services to work rather than just look good- look that tank is lagged! And as for rooftop kindergarten, forget it, the Germans like their kids collecting leaves in the woods, behaving like nymphs, not stuck up in the air. Just walk around the area a bit and you'll soon see.
The colour scheme is a bit strange, we sat opposite a lady wearing exactly the same kind of vivid zigzag pattern on a onesie on the 'U' bahn getting there, the sort of pattern German goalkeepers used to wear. Maybe that's sort of 'German' too, and the thing rises out of a car park (see previous post)- well the Germans like their cars. Context see, context...

Friday, 9 August 2013

Olympic Stadium 1936

It's tough to have to share your souvenir shop with National Socialism. It must be even tougher to be Hertha Berlin's goalkeeper, standing between the posts with that collosal clock tower behind him in the temple of doom, with stray thoughts about how only 4000 sundays ago, a bit further back on the equestrian field, 150,000 (thats roughly three times the population of St Albans) ten year olds did cartwheels in unison for no good reason at all. Hitlers pre-occupation with children was after all a particularly nasty case of grooming, because they'd all be dead within ten years. It's enough to make us almost relieved that the most anti-social of twentieth century networks has been replaced by sulking in a cartoon onesie on the sofa.
Hertha no doubt suffer from low self esteme, anybody would if they were forced to play here, so they have taken on some of the belligerence of a German Millwall ('no one likes us and we don't care'). You can't blame them, the only team that is relieved to play away from home. OK, that's the architect talking, the one who thinks about 'place' and 'space' but their performance or lack of it seems to prove a point. Hence the Olympic Stadium Berlin is most informative on whether architecture does anything to you or not. The effect it had on me, as a sensation, was a bit peculiar, for after thinking about it for a while over splendid rindwurst in the rather good cafe you realise that it is clearly not horrific enough. You expected much worse than this. You've expect it to be really gargantuan horrific, but it's not, it is well designed. That's the sucker punch, it's well designed and awful. For instance it is much smaller than it should be, since the track and pitch is dug in to what must be one of the world's largest holes (the Nazi's liked digging) and so the section allows you to enter half way up the seating. That means the collonade around the thing, although it stretches for what seems like miles, isn't so big it overwhelms. Meanwhile they've built a cute (very well designed) canopy over the thing which stands on the slenderest of columns which is unnervingly delicate. The only thing that spoils it in terms of taste are the ghastly torch fittings everywhere.
So in this sense, I'm in line with the authorities who tend to blame all the embarrassing bad taste bits on the bad taste of Hitler himself. But that can't be right, because if a building can have bad khama, this one has it in spades and the football team proves it. This simulation of the imaginary ancients, the pomposity of Nazi theatre, is still gruesome in it's phoniness, no matter the architects attempts to fix it up right.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Will David Chipperfield wreck the New National Gallery?

Nice picture of the New National Gallery looking more German than ever. And as ever we hung out in the cafe/crypt where they still don't serve whisky and they hardly even serve anything. It is like a gift when the charming lady behind the counter admits she has a little shrimp soup. SHRIMP SOUP! We'll have all you got, and weisswine bitte, 'Out of Order' BUT there she has a little over here and WOW there's even a bit of cake! I love that cafe, and I shall be disappointed no doubt when David Chipperfield re-models/ruins the place next year. Then it will just be a million salads a la Tate Modern I suppose. Do people go to art museums to see any art at all these days, or are they just somewhere to walk the buggy?
The show, downstairs of course, was a terrible thing; Art 1945 On or something which just about reminded you how awful art has been for quite some time, especially in Germany. However, the bits to see, which lift the heart are the big sixties things in the room facing the courtyard. Hardly anything there quite rightly, just big things; a big Donald Judd and a big and terrific Morris Louis (I really could not imagine how he did them in his kitchen) which unfortunately a bunch of yummy mummies with their 4x4 push chairs had decided to camp in front of. I mean, breast feeding in front of a Morris Louis? Not right, but also very German. Would have made a great picture but you can't, of course, take one.
I hope a similar list of 'can'ts' find there way in to Chipperfield's contract, I know he's good and everything but I really hope they just restrict him to re-wiring. Please no salad bars, just do the switches in bronze. This is not a building for salad.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Shade, Stein & Shack

How to enjoy central Berlin in August.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

No Sex Please We're British (Slight Return)

Rather good frame of nation's favourite Ronnie Corbett with Valerie Leon and Margaret Nolan in the film of the long running farce, showing up the idiocies of the British with regard to Nuts, Front, Zoo, Bizarre and so on at least forty years ago before they'd even shown up. David Cameron should really watch this movie and laugh at himself, and the self righteous idiots who protest at girls or boys taking their clothes off for money when it is perfectly legal might also wonder what exactly they are complaining about; a woman's right to earn an independent crust? That is such an old, nasty story. Personally I think there is more pornography in Vogue.

Scratch the Surface

So we picked up a very beautiful photograph (not actually the one above) of Joseph Goebbels girlfriend, hanging in a nice antiquarian bookshop. Yeah, well it was a really nice photo of a very beautiful movie star, and then we decided not to have the frame, and then we decided not to have the mount, and then the cost was only 5Euro, and then we get it home and we discover it's a picture of Lida Baarova, somewhat unapologetic lover of Joseph Goebbels. The name was hidden. Scratch the surface and you never know what you find over here, never know what you might pick up. It now has a nasty, but somewhat tastily provocative feel to it, so I wonder what we can do with it.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

A Cat Called Zappa

There's a bar called Zwiebelfisch on Savigniplatz which is a favourite. What makes a bar a favourite is an interesting question, at least to me, and you can come up with some surprising answers. Just looking Zwiebelfisch up on the web brought up one; the enormous size of this bar's tabby cat, 'Zappa', who yesterday (at least) was thankfully still to be found lying in the window on his rug, and who I drew myself without a second thought (above). On Trip Advisor this cat, it's name, it's size, it's endurance, seems to resonate in the minds of travellers desperate to find a bar that is not full wankers, but full of authentic old locals. We too, love that darn cat, as much as we love the old guy owner, as much as we might love (god help us) the layout, the furnishings, beer, food, music that is consistently played and so on. That cat has been lying on that rug snoozing it's way through the day in that window for years, he is a symbol of calm in a world which isn't rushing anywhere in the first place, and he is inconceivably old by my reckoning. Judging by yesterday, he's now somewhat the star and knows it- older Germans were cooing over him and taking photos like he was the prize exhibit.
So what's the lesson here? Old people and young people wanting to be old people still want a place to go. They want the obvious sustinance but if you really want them to come to your bar then make sure it's run by an amiable old guy who plays Robert Johnson (quietly) for background music and that it has a cat. Pub cats are clearly a good idea, especially if they are named after rock legends of their generation who loved the place too. In this case, Zappa is part of the architecture.