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.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the way your friends described Berlin. One thing is for sure then, i will enjoy my stay in Berlin knowing that i am educated by a prestigious Berlin university.