Wednesday, September 30, 2009


This summer, I found two themes wove their way in and out of and between virtually all my experiences: melancholy and time, and probably the relationship between them as well. I am choosing to use melancholy, because I do not want to use Hüzün for cases unlike those described by Pamuk. Or, I do not want to use it to describe a dull, lingering sadness that is solitary. I’ll start with the slight but jarring shifts in my understanding of myself. It was like that story, of catching a glimpse of an angle of your face you never see in a reflection of a reflection. During my time in Berlin, I thought of the other little Orhan Pamuk imagined, and the other versions of myself I could imagine: an artist, an immigrant, or a communist. The people I met showed me each of her with little manipulations of the mirrors.

I’m susceptible to dichotomies, or even just to the false requirement to take a position.

Someone I met who did touch me, despite my later grumblings about his Ivy League pomposity (which might’ve really just been his niceness all dressed up in my envy), was a guy called Ernie who I ended up seated next to on a ratty couch in the top floor bar of Tacheles. It was my second visit, but my first time. He meant something to me (or to Berlin and me) because he wanted to talk to me, because he seemed to mostly be saying what he wanted to say, because he was interested in what I could make of the city so far, because he talked with Adam about poetry, and when he spoke I could hear his love, really love, and because he liked Tacheles, and he was someone I imagined sifting through some of the same convoluted questions about the place that I had begun to take on.

So Ernie says, “I would describe Berlin as a juxtaposition,” and well, I disagreed, but I’m not sure I could count the number of ‘dead end in reasoning’ signs I slammed into just before realizing I had done it again, I had divided the issue into two, neatly polar options. Of course it’s juxtaposition. It’s compare and contrast. It’s those bubbly diagrams I can never remember the name of, but only when you choose to draw them. I don’t blame myself for being narrow, although that was part of it. Berlin was for me, perhaps ironically as there are no longer two sides, an exceptionally dichotomous city on the surface level, but for that very reason I was prompted to reflect on that part of my culture and myself.

I’ve got issues with time. Management and panic.

Fridey Mickel’s Berlin is incestuous, based on a shared sense of appreciation. Her Berlin is her daughter playing with two languages at a time. It’s lifebomb. It’s the Something that Happened On The Way To. It’s a parking garage, a turntable, some cranberry juice and a room with erasers. It all has to do with time, pace of life maybe, or just the ability to live life at whatever pace you damn well please, and to fill the space with something that momentarily tickles your fancy.

I’m no stranger to the concept of the 40-hour workweek as a social construct and a product of specialization and capitalism, but I felt about as estranged as possible from the alternatives. That’s what makes Berlin so intriguing and exhausting: the alternatives – to anything- are viable. I wonder if that’s part of what Brian Ladd meant when he called Germany the first post-national state and Berlin the first post-modern city, though I now understand the post-nationality, or multi-nationality of Germany as an example of a kind of postcolonial condition, with the West’s parties gobbling up the East’s in a fit of democracy and hegemony and assimilation. Thinking of Berlin as postmodern seems perfectly sound. Enter: the occasional crisis of meaning.

That was my connection to Tacheles though, and to the people in it, or some of them, the straitjacket schedule, and I can follow the idea almost all the way down the rabbit hole. The problem is obvious, if you are having fun all the time, or even if you’re just having whatever you want all the time (whether or not it is fun), having what you want is no longer the same- it’s no longer as good. And what about contributions? And responsibility? There’s something that could be necessary to believe in order for those problems to be null, and it was the answer given to me by Riza, who’s worked in Tacheles for 12 years, “We can’t catch paradise, we are living in tragedy, and it’s beautiful.”

And so, it is the true contradiction of Tacheles- not the state being involved in what was an artist squat, or the artists being involved in turning a profit, but the sacrifice of the lifestyle, the Frei days, for its preservation. It’s like fighting for peace, or fornicating for celibacy. In this way, Tacheles has its own air of melancholy. A guy named Rich in my hostel before Adalbert said, “That place has just had its day, you know? Its day’s behind it.”

Pamuk writes about everything in Istanbul being, “broken, worn out, past its prime.” To me, the difference between Istanbul and Berlin in that regard lies only in the third trait. While not everything in Berlin seemed broken and worn out, a lot did, and the lot that did often seemed like it was smack-dab in the thick of its prime. If not, it is simply much more likely to be torn down by the clumsy claw of a demolition machine than by an earthquake. That minor skew in the parallel is what created the striking intersection of Istanbul and Berlin’s respective expressions of the same melancholy, of Hüzün.

I hate group photos, as does Orhan.

Some of my others who influenced me and the way I see their Berlin(s)

John- his Berlin is a battleground, hypocrisy, and still a point of pride and purpose.

Tobi- his Berlin is funny, Nietzsche, soap operas, full of important nuances.

Manuela- her Berlin was divided and strip searches, is a kid at heart, anti-capitalist globalization, brightly colored walls and a view of the Ubahn near Görlitzer Banhof.

Riza- his Berlin is tragic, doomed, beautiful, and lots of maxi pads. Maxi pads with hair, with sculpted vaginas, with gummy bears, with maggots.

Alfred M.D.- his Berlin is unique, curious, undiscovered, open-ended, filled with neckties.

Question and Synopsis

What is Tacheles? What is happening to Tacheles? Who might care?

The core issue at play in terms of Tacheles is preservation. In order to know what is being preserved, it must be determined what Tacheles is. After several visits, some interviews and chats with other visitors, after watching the drunk ducklings follow their mother out of Zapata and to the next bar, after watching someone set up supplies they can afford to buy in enough space to use them or smoke weed continuously, or begin to chant and nearly puke in the sand, I think I have come to my own understanding.

In terms of function- It is a house where people make things and sell them and do just about anything they want. And it’s famous. Sometimes they have big parties, sometimes someone stays in their room and locks the door. The downstairs tenant profits on his parties and doesn’t want to pay the rent. And eventually they might be evicted.

In terms of the building- it was a shopping center, a Nazi office complex, a prison for French soldiers. It has a history, like many of the other buildings that stood in Mitte before those that stand now. Some of the housemates want to keep the cheap rent arrangement and the parties alive, others want to watch the bulldozers.

My, my, methods.

I chatted with people and often walked home after the Ubahn had stopped running. I talked over my discoveries and opinions with those around me.


Istanbul was a catalyst; a catapult into well-charted territory. The pale white stippled maps and plans and diagrams, studied over sleepless hours under cover.

Istanbul was a test. How many hours of sleep can I sacrifice? How long can I sit in one place before I begin to question my allocation of time? The Blue Mosque- until it closes. What about Starbucks? Until I’ve been holding my empty plastic cup long enough for all the beads of condensation to fall and dry.

I hear: the buzzing engines of cars; eastern, western pop music coming from the overpriced café across the street which I know is accompanied by MTV style videos of dancing Turkish women dipped in Revlon and Maybelline. At night, the call to prayer wakes me gently, for a moment I stir and then let it lull me back to sleep, for a few hours more.

I smell: Dust and the thin wafts of shisha smoke that float around the city like spirits. Spices, Turkish Delight, süt, meat, spices, fish and the sea.

My Berlin lenses- “I’ll pay you back in Lyra” The laptop’s in Berlin. Istanbul is less real than Berlin is less real than Seattle. Is there anything more real than Seattle Istanbul?

I am protecting a wink, a whisper, a clutch, a shiver, and an alley.

The idea of collecting everything- a Pamukian encyclopedia.

The black sea is a black hole in our historical consciousness

Black Sea trade- fish, hazelnut, cattle, wheat,- precious materials: gold/silver and the ‘golden fleece,’ annnddd slaves

“Caucasian” –Caucasia- far North East end of Black Sea (Google)

Land bridge crossed largely by conquerors, crossing from Europe to Asia and vice versa

They needed to pay someone to prevent such intrusions- enter: the Romans (welcomed by Byzantines) –gotta go where the money’s at


320 AD- Constantine’s city is augmented- to 5X the size

Population reached 1 million around 1000 AD

The informal housing district-

What looks like fairness/justice is in some ways actually exploitation

Why are some places comfortable for photos- Manuela

'The situation is upsetting the architects'

Nazi description for modern art/ the bourgeoisie

Entartete Kunst- “degenerate/mutant”

*solution to homelessness and the creation of a new middle class?

Istanbul vs. Mexico City in terms of urban density

The informal housing district in Istanbul next to the Canyon resort and shopping center.


Today is my video log day. On our first day at Humboldt, and our first day as a group, I was determined to be excited about the “vlog” project. I scanned the pages of the schedule for my name. August 7th, Lauren Nuxoll, Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

What I did know then was my weariness about photographing such locations or my weariness, rather, about photographing locations at all. My trouble was that of taking photographs as part of an assignment, or with a particular motive- even if that motive was simply to photograph. It was not that I had never been to this concentration camp before, but that I had never been to a concentration camp before. I’m still not sure if I have ever been to a concentration camp, or what that even would mean. The hazy, glazed parade of distant inhumanity- because I was not walking though it, it was walking through me, or past me really, although at times I did notice my feet underneath me and my effort to move them- it could be called being at a concentration camp, maybe.

What I did not know then was that lifting the camera and pushing the shutter button, or hitting record would offer me some kind of window, a porthole in the side of my submarine. More and more I have been thinking of what a camera does, and the ability to, and experience of, appreciating a camera on a particular day for the very same reasons you detested it the day prior and would again on the following. That being said, I recognize it now.


The question of feeling it or not feeling it.

How to feel something at a concentration camp.


Things I managed to absorb

Learning about the banning of Mein Kampf from a tour guide

Watching the security cameras

Watching the healthy green leaves jump readily off the trees and understanding 

postkarten and zwischenraumnutzung

Our last group dinner was: awful celery soup, a main course of your, and citrusy creme brulee; a couple cigarette breaks with Adam, Tobi, Shanga, and Daniel once. Manuela gave me a postcard of Pariser Platz in 1930... huh. Tobi said, "The thirties... a great time for Germany." I remember
when Tobi said, "Let's hope nothing happens, our Chancelor is on holiday," and "A transparent building doesn't mean a transparent government...maybe." I like that Tobi is so cheeky.

When I stepped out of the restaurant, it was hotter than before. I spotted Anna playing patty-cake... because she is overwhelmingly adorable. I got in on some Miss Mary Mack and Miss Suzie had a Tugboat. Molly, Kelsi and I sing every word. Miss Suzie doesn't care where you grew up or went to grade school.

After leaving the Kunsthalle and wandering around the former Palast der Republik- "Are these the plans or the old layout?"- We saw Manuela riding her bike East on Unter den Linden. She hopped down and stuck her helmet under her arm to have a chat on the side of the road, naturally. After telling us about her plans to have a toast to Shawn's b-day and gift him a Kreuzberg 36 t-shirt, we told her of ours to see Public Enemies. It was kind of dreadful.

Tobi greeted us and asked Adam if he had started to develope some "habits." Fridey and Natz sit the front of the room infront of a screen flashing random party scenes and snow angel home videos. I feel more inclined to speak up today, and Fridey is so approachable. Maybe an hour later we are standing outside and being invited to an art opening that is meant to be quite "rock and roll." We end up almost not going, but rally with beer and burgers at a hostel that we think is close and has internet, so we can be sure. Fridey greets us and sees us off with a double-kiss.

It was Sunday, and I had time, so I wanted to buy some more groceries. I remembered Manuela's tip about the Lid'l at Ostbahnof. I gathered up loads of glass bottles in a big plastic shopping bag and my Quay COOP bag and headed toward Kopinicker. I had dinner (pasta) plans for the evening. When I got back it was later than I'd expected. My dinner plans fell through for Skype.

*These are done with tracing paper, by the way- no harm to the originals

Kiki Blofeld last night, after waiting for John and Muhammed, calling every option of final digit for someone's number and hanging up on several "Hallo?"s, and finally collecting Muhammed, who was weary of our dark, used car lot turned wooded trail route. Then sitting on the water, eating some Ritter Sport and watching Bar 25 across the river. The raft from the party boat garage floats by and... someone definitely falls off.

I found some old postmaked postcards today during a little wait to go into the Pergamon. One is of the Neptune fountain by Alexanderplats and the cutting-off-your-fingers-for-forgiveness-riddle church, another of the Berliner Dom, and another of a GDR tower. At the desk, it becomes apparent I signed my museum pass when I wasn't supposed to. After spending ages in the museum, half-wishing I had gone to the football match, and laying on a big white block in the sun talking to a friend on the phone, I realized I had spent almost 11 euro of credit on the conversation.

I stood in line and ordered a cappuccino and chocolate croissant. It was sort of rainy finally, and we were waiting to go into a bunker that I didn't know was inside the Ubahn station. I rolled something like a cigarette. A woman nearly ran into John on her bicycle- that had already happened to me, minus the nearly part. "She had crazy-eyes." I thought the subway here seemed exceptionally deep.

I got lost on my way to move into the apartment. I had just taken almost the entire U2, from Kaiserdamm to Markisches Museum after getting off my bus from Giessen. A man asked me, "Kann ich sie helfen...something something?" I said, "I think I'm good," and then cringed. I had just walked past Kaisers and was standing next to Saint Michael's and above Engelbecken. All I wanted to do was sleep. I got a call to go grocery shopping.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Notebook Story

How did I come to own a mid-size, softback, black Moleskine notebook? Well, the short answer is: as a response to the realization that my small-size, hardback, black Moleskine notebook (made specifically for Berlin, UBahn and detailed neighbourhood maps included) was simply too tiny for my erratic scribbles and sketches, not to mention those that go on for page after 3x5 page. Don’t get me wrong; though it sounds like our relationship is on the rocks, there are many traits my little BerlinSkine possesses that I find irresistible. So, I keep coming back. 

1. The first sketch on the first of the blank pages is of my dear friend and pet hamster, Eleanor, in a moment just after she’d packed her cheeks particularly full of seeds and little kibbles. And my first entry- of a dream to do with feeling completely alive I drifted in and out of just before, and in anticipation of, my travel date.

2. The size, of course, can also be quite advantageous in that it fits into my bag along with the empty pens and/or schoko milch carton(s), lose, partially unwrapped pieces of Trident Tropical, a sweater or two, my brick of a wallet, a small tube of roll-on nuit de mai parfum, loose tobacco, some brown bobby pins, sand, and whatever else had collected in my giant bag.

3. The reason I have it at all. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Moscow (Idaho). I met my friend Ashley Bell outside of the One World Café and she was wearing a new, blue dress. She had, next to her glass of white wine with a bit of condensation on the side of the bottom, a new little Berlin notebook. She handed it over with one of those ‘hear’s all my teeth’ grins and brown eyes glowing. Then, into our Deutsch lesson we dove. She wanted me to be able to at least, “sound like a jackass in German.” Afterward, we rode our bikes to the park and continued to drink wine in the shade of a tree until strollers, and toddlers, and Smokey the Bear all joined us for an unexpected demonstration on fire safety.

I bought my mid-size, softback, black Moleskine notebook in the Ostbanhof shopping center on a Sunday, because it was open.