Donnerstag, 26. Juli 2012
On Saturday, while London was preparing itself for the oh-so-outdated Olympics, 6,000 young people ventured to Friedrichshain’s Postbahnhof to watch the real Games. On that heady afternoon a dozen teams of self-proclaimed hipsters joined in the Olympic-style events. Men and women battled together in the Skinny Jeans Tug-O-War. Seriously-cool dudes stretched both body and soul in the Horn-Rimmed Glasses Throw. A perfectly good Led Zeppelin LP collection was destroyed in the Vinyl Record Spinning Contest. Inde bands played. People danced. Fashion victims traded sleeveless neon t-shirts. ‘Wow, man,’ cried out the ecstatic audience. ‘Like, wie unlustig.’
Of course throughout the event these hip heroes of the modern age, those champions of an undefined subculture, tried not to appear too keen. Irony, brothers. You got it.
But the Hipster Olympics were ‘not all fun and games’, warned organiser Thomas Blockus in his speech at the opening ceremony. ‘There’s like, you know, politics and stuff,’ he declared before reading out his ‘Hipster Manifesto’. iPhone charging stations to be installed at all U-bahn stations! A Club Mate fountain to be erected at Rosenthaler Platz. Hooks to be provided for partypeople to hang their jute bags while clubbing at Berghain. Let it be!
As every Berliner knows, jute canvas tote bags are one of the essential accessories for trendy urban living. No self-respecting hipster would be caught dead carrying a plastic Lidl carrier bag to his local Öko organic produce store. No surprise then that one of the day’s biggest events – at least in terms of the number of people falling over – was the Jute Bag Sack Race. Watch it here! Please note, no soft or fluffy animals were harmed in the making of this video.
So, brothers and sisters, forget the London Olympics. And for that matter the 2016 Rio games as well. The best thing about the Hipster Olympics – apart from the flowing laughter and a peculiar carbonated mate drink -- is that it happens every year. The fun will be repeated next July in Berlin. Which gives every wannabe participant more than enough time to grow and curl that prize-winning handlebar moustache.
Donnerstag, 19. Juli 2012
But holidays that begin early end early. Children in Berlin and Brandenburg will be back at their desks in early August (in Hamburg the poor blighters return on August 2nd). So the celebration of summer is well underway here, and once again I am discovering this vibrant, green capital peppered with parks, crisscrossed by waterways, surrounded by lakes and rivers.
Berlin is a comfortable size. Over three million people live here – about 82 million in the country as a whole – but because of the enviable transport infrastructure and green spaces the capital always feels open and underpopulated (at least to an erstwhile Londoner). Our nearest U-Bahn station -- a two minute walk from the front door -- is five stops away from baroque Schloss Charlottenburg with its sprawling French gardens and — in the opposite direction — less than a dozen stops from Krumme Lanke, a quiet, curving lake surrounded by sandy beaches and tall pine trees and reminiscent of Scandinavia and Scotland. In fact Krumme Lanke – like adjoining Schlachtensee – is now my family’s favourite urban holiday destination. Around the lakes wind broad, earthen footpaths from which bathers step down to favourite coves. People sun themselves on sloping, sunny crescents of sand. Across the surface bob the heads of dozens of swimmers framed by the brilliant green of the trees. Families row inflatable dinghies. Ducks paddle among the bathers. The surrounding woodland makes it easy to forget that the Brandenburg Gate was a mere twenty-five minute underground ride away.
Come holiday time, most city dwellers head for the hills: the vineyards of the Loire, the beaches of the Med, the villages of Andalusia. Londoners and Parisians vanish from Oxford Street and Montmartre. Travel supplements are packed with seductive snaps of terracotta Tuscan villas and fields of yellow sunflowers. But these days I like to summer in Berlin.
All will feel less halcyon in a couple of weeks, of course. On August 6th Berlin’s children will be back at school. Beyond their classroom windows the sun will still be shining, and their thoughts will drift away to green woodlands, sandy beaches and double scoop ice creams. But even worse than that, every young Berliner will be cursing those jammy Bavarians as they play, splash and enjoy five more weeks of summer bliss.
Donnerstag, 12. Juli 2012
Between 1962 and 1989 the Tränenpalast – or Palace of Tears – was the border crossing station for foot passengers heading west from communist East Berlin. West Berliners, West Germans, East Germans, foreigners, diplomats and transit travellers all had separate queues, which involved as many as three individual passport checks and customs controls. The steel-and-glass wedge building was nicknamed the Palace of Tears because it was here that most East Germans said goodbye to families and friends, never knowing if they would see them again.
Its designers’ intention was to humiliate and inconvenience people, subjecting them to intimidation, fear and long waits. In their melamine booths, officious border guards had the authority to arrest and imprison any East German. Other citizens could be delayed for as long as an hour, especially when – as I once experienced – duplicate forms had to be complete by hand as there was no carbon paper.
On 2 July 1990, Berliners cheered the first direct S-Bahn as it passed through Friedrichstraße station on its way from east to west. Then in 2011 the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland – the bold and important museum of contemporary German history which is headquartered in Bonn – took over the Tränenpalast and opened within it a new permanent exhibition on everyday life in divided Germany.
Its simple and moving exhibition recalls the life of people walled in by their leaders. Open suitcases tell the real-life stories of individuals who used the border crossing point: the Party cadre allowed abroad, the Stasi spy smuggled into the West, the children separated from their family and home for over a decade. As well as original checkpoint booths, rolls of barbed wire, visa forms and photographs, a sequence of East and West German newsreels enable the modern visitor to contrast reports on the riots of 17 June 1953, on the building of the Wall in 1961 and on the first humanitarian Passierscheinregelung visits over Christmas 1963. The exhibition also provides an overview of the reunification process.
As the years pass it becomes more and more difficult to remember the arrogance, heartlessness and political and military ambitions of the men and women who erected the heinous divide. Hence the Palace of Tears – which charges no entry fee – becomes an ever-more important destination for visitors to Berlin.
Donnerstag, 5. Juli 2012
‘Zonder liefde, warme liefde, tout est fini!’ sang Jacques Brel in his 1962 hit ‘Marieke Marieke’. Without love, tender love, all is finished. Fifty years later the young director Sophie Schoukens reiterates that view in her moving and sensual movie of the same title, which has just opened in Germany.
‘That’s essentially the point I wanted to make in this film,’ Schoukens told me last week. ‘Marieke is searching for human warmth and tenderness. Her family does not give it to her and she tries to break free from that coldness, whatever the cost. It is Brel’s song that inspired me and was at the basis of Marieke’s character. I think Brel is a great artist and if he is still loved by so many people, it is because he is so profoundly human. His poetry lifts us up, and helps us break free from our own little selves.’
‘Marieke Marieke’ – titled ‘Marieke und die Männer’ in Germany – asks how can we love when love is taken away from us? Its central character, twenty-year-old Marieke (played by beautiful Hande Kodja) seeks warmth in the arms of much older men. With them she feels strong, cherished and free. But the arrival of an old family friend throws her into turmoil. Her mother does everything in her power to keep the friend and Marieke apart, but the young woman falls in love with him and learns the secret of her father’s death. Will she find the strength to accept the truth and live anew?
‘Marieke und die Männer’ is a Belgian-German co-production, one of hundreds of films which has been supported by the German Federal Film Fund. Each year the fund spends some €60,000,000 on producing feature films, providing grants of up to 20% on international co-productions. In addition the film received support from the Leipzig-based regional film fund, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung (MDM).
‘My German adventure started with the Media Moonstone project,’ Schoukens told me. ‘I was offered the chance – along with seven other young European directors -- to shoot several scenes of my proposed film in Eisenach. At the end of the shoot, representatives of the MDM Fund screened and liked my work, and invited me to collaborate with them and local technicians. My film may be set in Brussels yet – in the end – more than half of it was shot in Halle near Leipzig. My costume woman, the lighting crew and technicians, the production designer and make-up girl were German. Working with them was a very positive experience.’
Schoukens also finalized her script with the help of the Nipkow Program, a Berlin-based scheme that enabled her to prepare for the shoot.
‘Marieke und die Männer’ – Schoukens’ first feature – has already won both the Bild and Kunst prizes at the Hof Film Festival, the first time ever a non-German language film has been so honoured. It has been selected for the Mannheim Heidelberg, Marrakech, Fiff Namur and San Sebastian festival, plus many others.
Reviewers have called it ‘exceptional’, ‘poetic’ and ‘an example of cinematographic perfection’. In Cahiers du Cinema Thierry Méranger commented on its ‘paradoxal and bewitching charm ... a film with depth and panache.’ L’Express championed Schoukens as an ‘unclassifiable filmmaker’, calling her work ‘raw and singular’. Nouvel Observateur advised, ‘Do not miss this beautiful film about the risk of living and loving.’
According to K.U.T. magazine, ‘Marieke und die Männer’ is ‘a fully mature psychological drama that gives Schoukens a place in the pantheon of admirable Belgian women filmmakers.’
Her directorial debut, the short ‘Alice, or life in black and white’ was selected for the 2008 Berlinale, has been invited to over 120 international festivals and won a dozen international prizes.
‘Ever since I was a child, Jacques Brel has been like a guiding light for me,’ said Schoukens. ‘I lived in New York for several years and I always felt a bit like a chameleon – I came from everywhere and nowhere. But a person’s cultural identity does not come out of the blue. During my travels I opened my eyes, and especially my ears, to the world and that enabled me to survive, really. Whenever I hear a Brel song, I immediately feel at home and realize that I am fond of being Belgian – especially with this song because of this unique mix of languages by which I have always been deeply affected. Brel is a very straightforward artist, a fighter who has the courage to confront us, in every respect.’
Schoukens too is a fighter, and a gifted director whose work – not unlike Brel’s – delights, inspires, thrills and haunts, taking hold of a part of ones heart and mind, enable us to understand something more of what it means to be human.