Theme by nostrich.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
- Alexander Pope: An Essay On Man, Epistle I.
So, and to that day we expire and turn to vapors
Me and my capers-ll be somewhere stackin plenty papers
Keepin it real, packin steel, gettin high
Cause life’s a bitch and then you die.
By most counts, about two men have ever successfully articulated the human condition in four lines. This is probably the appropriate number, since less than four risks laconism, and any more has missed the point entirely.
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Ich hatte Umzüge dieser Art niemals leiden mögen, als daß sie mich anziehen können, wie ich ja zeitlebens immer ein Feind von allen Arten von Umzügen und Aufmärschen gewesen bin…Mich erinnerte der Aufmarsch dieser Musikkapellen, dieser Hunderte von Männern in ihren als Tracht ausgegebenen Uniformen, die stumpfsinnig und wie wild auf ihre Schlaginstrumente einschlugen und die ebenso stumpfsinnig und wie wild in ihre Blasinstrumente hineinbliesen, sofort an den vergangenen Krieg, ich hatte schon immer alles Militärische gehaßt…Im Volk sind aber diese Umzüge wie nichts anderes beliebt, und es drängst sich in Scharen zu diesen Umzügen, es ist immer und zu allen Zeiten vom Militärischen und von der militärischen Brutalität angezogen gewesen, und die Perversität auf diesem Gebiet ist in den Alpenländern, wo schon immer der Stumpfsinn als Unterhaltung, ja als Kunst ausgegeben worden ist, die größte.
“I had never been able to suffer though processions like this - as if they might draw me along with them. Indeed, I have been my entire life and always an enemy of every type of parades and marches. In the marching of the chapel band, these hundreds of men given uniforms as livery; in the wild and obtuse battering of drums so much as the brass instruments, equally obtuse and wild in their blaring: in all of this I was reminded of the past war. I’ve always hated everything military, but for the people these parades are loved like nothing else - they press themselves in droves to see. Forever and all of time, the People have been drawn towards the military, towards military brutality. And the perversity in this regard is nowhere greater than the Alpenlands, where blunt ignorance is passed off as entertainment - as art.”
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It must have been some vague feeling that brought me to Geniessenau Straße tonight; as with nothing to weigh my thoughts and a moment’s hesitancy, I felt the prodding ennui which at parties nearly always heralds reclusiveness, or at least a beer monologue - the piano-forte to my social discomfort. But less metaphysically I was there for a Polish girl’s birthday. It was the sort of friend-of-a-friend invitation I usually duck, but I had been caught optimistic and incautiously agreed. Trailing the two acquaintances who had brought me, I could already read the evening’s font: Happy-Birthday cascades of cigarettes and laughter, which will erupt throughout the night in anxious spontaneity - nervous displays to the passing of another human year. Tomorrow morning the only evidence of this night will be caked into the treads of my shoes. At the thought I’m suddenly pleased by the decision to wear boots.
Looking up from my wallowing, I notice the girl. She’s far too beautiful. No, not beautiful: a geometric study of beauty, a mathematically and geometrically defined beauty - like some sculpture of Athena. Steel-eyed Athena, I think; but hers just hint at cruelty, or the promise of cruelty.
I realize I’ve forgotten her name. It’s probably Anna - but under the wan-skyline glow I’m hardly sure of what I think, everything divides and becomes divided until it approaches that same inscrutable horizon. I feel suddenly illuminated, projected onto the sort of film-strip silhouettes they played in Pacific Northwest History, The Nisqually, the Snoqualmie, the Skykomish - sepia-tone pictures so distant it was almost detached from time. The rest of the night seems to stagger past in these pastiches. Then she’s turned away. It’s only 12:30, but whatever passive interest the party held for me has been pretty thoroughly upstaged by Existenzangst, and 12:30 in Berlin is precisely late enough to shoulder my thoughts with ambiguity. The uncertainty is palpable, like filling the corners of my sight with sand - or the inexorable finality of the hourglass.
It’s Thursday night in Geniessenau Straße, but the last U-Bahn train left hours ago. The walk home is bracingly cold, and lasts just so long that the discomfort is promoted to the front of my concerns.
All the antiquities and rich cultural history of Asia Minor, conveniently located in Western Europe. God bless the plunders of Imperialism! Although in all honesty you won’t hear me complaining about the Pergamon Museum - the sheer scope and detail of their collection really overwhelms immediate comprehension.
The main foyer to the exhibit is case in point - a monumental frieze excavated from the eponymous city of Pergamon, a Hellenistic city which was located in modern day Turkey. The frieze depicts an epic battle between the gods and Titans, spanning the walls for some 400 feet. Stylistically, the sculpture represents aMischlung of Greek, Roman, and oriental influence - many of figures sport angelic wings, while the Titans’ legs transform into the coils of powerful serpents.
Above: Steely-eyed Athena decapitates a Titan, while the mother-goddess Gaea begs to spare her son. Evidently her efforts are in vain, as Nike
(god of Victory) places a laurel wreath upon Athena’s head.
Left: Aphrodite displaying tough-love as she mashes the face of a fallen Titan into the ground, while stooping to pull a lance from his corpse. As in both classical and oriental theology, love / passion were viewed as forces capable of inspiring tremendous violence.
Right: Zeus, King of Olympus. His rope has slipped to reveal what can only be described as god-like abs. In the left arm he is reaching upwards to pull a lightning bolt from the sky (originally cast in gilded bronze)
Below: the Medusa prepares to dispatch a snake-legged Titan. Interestingly, at the time the Gorgon sisters weren’t conceived as monsters but beautiful women, with admittedly wild tangles of hair.
While I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite of the treasures on display at the Pergamon, the most stunning would have to be the visually unrivaled Ishtar Gate.
The stunning aquamarine brick gate was built in the Assyrian city of Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar II, later excavated by German engineers at the turn of the 20th century.
Wandering through exhibit halls at the proper museum-perusing amble plays unbridled cruelty on my arches, and questions emerge as to the podiatric credential of a certain Doctor Martin. While I pause to sit on a welcome bench,
the information relayed earlier from eyes to brainbegins to digest.And the revelation: Is this building is a memorial or a mausoleum? That is, a tomb for the unsummited and the forgotten - twin epochs of man’s creative destiny. These works were victorious tribute to the ambition of armies, gods, and kings; and ultimately, the conquest of memory. But like Lenin entombed in glass, only the shadows are on display - the confident relics of immemoria. As if to underscore the moment, I suddenly realize that I’m sitting opposite a row of epitaphs consecrated to the reign of Assyrian kings, reaching back 3000 years before Christ.
What will our skyscrapers look like to future generations? Like every monument, the bones of our era’s triumphant rationalism will be thrusting incautiously upwards, toward an uncertain horizon.
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It’s horrible here in hell, sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it’s cold, and sometimes naked men struggle with serpents.
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Fifteen percent of Berlin is unemployed. This is probably a gracious estimate by the census bureau, and if you count illegal immigrants the number rises. But then that’s kind of the point of illegal immigration - conveniently unquantified masses, shallow graves out of sight out of mind. The air has edge of desperation often hard to disguise, and seeps through the commercial bombasticism like fog. Groups of young men with no work stand next to me in the U-Bahn; either bored or drunk, but usually both. I have to say that Historically Speaking this has been a pretty bad combination for Deutschland.
Literally every surface is covered in graffiti, and if you turn around too long even your mom will get tagged. I could probably go on about how the battle for public spaces is a mostly symbolic struggle; wherein graffiti offers the affirmation of an individual’s identity against the Combine. But really, this is just what people do - they create. Sometimes this results in astonishing works of self-expression: yesterday near Oranienstraße I was confronted by a 3-story tall photo-realistic tag of an astronaut, reaching out towards the viewer. I’ll try to find it again tomorrow with my camera.
Photos from Alexanderplatz. Outside of the the massive TV broadcast antenna, there’s really nothing to see but malls in every direction.
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Pictures from a reproduced parchment inside the Marienkirche. Light from outside is glaring off the plastic panel protecting it, but I couldn’t figure any way to stop this, so oh well. While my Mittlehochdeutsch is a little rusty, I could surprisingly read a few parts.
The parchment depicts a procession of men and women from the throughout the medieval social strata, each greeting the specter of Death. The Dance of Death is a common theme within medieval illumination, and the judgment is clear: whether high or low, all mortals share a common fate.
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The Marienkirche (or Church of St. Mary, if you are afraid of German). First mention of the church is from 1293. While miraculously surviving ham-fisted restoration attempts in the late 19th century, not to mention WWII, it seems as if the economic crisis has left little money for it’s upkeep.
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