Wedding Boxes and Bauhaus

October 1, 2009

Reality

Before I dive into any more long-winded exegesis, here are a few more fun things I’ve observed over the past few days (in digestible bullet point form!):

• Many of the musicians who play in the subway cars for money rely on some sort of pre-recorded musical back-up these days.  Case in point:  a violinist who wore a backpack with a giant hole where the speaker poked out.

• Americans are treated far better by Germans now that Obama is president.  No B.S.

• If an American walks into a German Starbucks, they put on some hits from back home… from about 2-3 years ago.  But most Germans don’t go to Starbucks because it’s too expensive and the coffee’s not that great.

• If you’re in you’re a male teenager, it’s your God-given right, even duty, to horse around dangerously close to the edge of the S-Bahn tracks.  Just observing.

I took several important steps within the past several days that make me feel more like a real citizen of Berlin rather than some weirdo pretender (though I am admittedly a weirdo).  One was to get a library account – took 3 minutes and was totally painless except for the 25 euros I shelled out for the year…  The second was to actually think about the menu for the week, make a list, and go grocery shopping at the Turkish open-air market on Großgörschenstrasse, Lidl and Netto for the things I will need to eat later on.  I will be baking myself a cake on Friday, because it happens to be my birthday, and I can’t get good donuts here.  The third was to have my semester ticket start, which means I can use the buses, S-Bahn and subway as much as I want without having to continuously count up the change in my pocket or put it on my bank card.  What a relief to be able to decide to go somewhere and not have to debate with my sore-ass legs about whether it was really within walking distance from my apartment!  Borrowing books, finding some order in one’s eating habits, and being pre-paid to travel around on a whim – I guess that’s citizenship to me, no thanks to the Ausländerbehörde!

Fulbrighter and filmmaker Luisa Greenfield was to join me at the Berlin screening of Ulrike Ottinger’s The Korean Wedding Chest at the Akademie der Künste am Hanseatenweg last night, so I showed up unreasonably early (as is my wont) and plopped down in front of the theater.  An older couple sat near me and smiled at me, which of course prompted a conversation about who I was, etc.  Then after the man had left to get her a tea, the woman asked me if, as a German film scholar, I knew a director named Hans Jürgen Pohland.  It turns out I did:  he made the jazz drummer semi-documentary/feature film Tobby (1961), which I watched in order to be remotely informed about a paper on a panel I chaired earlier this year.  Anyway, she revealed that her husband, Siegfried Hofbauer, wrote the screenplay that Pohland barely used anyway.  Hofbauer then went on to work as a production designer on Volker Schlöndorff’s Academy-Award winning The Tin Drum (1979) and still worked as a jazz musician and painter in Berlin.  I thought it was amazing that I was one of the few people from the U.S. who’d likely seen the film and was sitting across from its screenwriter!  So he came back with the tea and we talked film for awhile, particularly about how Tobby (the drummer) then got into some major-league drugs and the film was likely the high point of his career.  Then Luisa showed up and we talked more film before, during and after the screening.  Ottinger’s comments about her own film were incredibly insightful, and I’m now determined to see that which I haven’t seen of her oeuvre.  She’s way better than Herzog, and for good reason:  she took courses from the likes of Pierre Bourdieu, Louis “I Accidentally Strangled My Wife” Althusser, and Claude Lévi-Strauss.  Her films are symbolically anthropological, for lack of a better description.  More below.

Anne Hector and I met up the next morning to go to the big Bauhaus exhibit at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, which was jam-packed with tourists of all ages.  Squeezing through loud tourist groups while trying not to knock over valuable pieces of early 20th Century art, Anne and I managed to have a good time looking at some of the original Walter Gropius pieces as well as Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer and the rest of the Bauhaus scene.  I’m convinced I would’ve either gotten along great at the Bauhaus academies, or I would’ve hated it the first day and thrown a fuzzy amorphous shape at their form/color studies!  My trail then led me once again to the HFF, because it was October 1st.  Why October 1st, you ask?  Well, I’ve decided in October – December to devote each month to a particular genre I’m researching for my dissertation:  October’s for westerns, November’s for science fiction, December’s for musicals (since, heck, it’s Christmas Time!).  So I easily picked up several western DVDs to take home and watch, surprised at how little of a hassle it was to do so.  I think I’m going to like it at my host institution; it seems designed around film geeks.

Fantasy

The Korean Wedding Chest (dir. Ulrike Ottinger, Germany 2009)

Ottinger’s previous films, particularly Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia and her China series, explore encounters between our so-called “modern” world and more traditional ways of life.  Her latest film (NOT her upcoming vampire comedy with Elfriede Jelinek Die Blutgräfin (2010)) does exactly that:  nestled in the mega-city of Seoul lies a wedding industry so seemingly “traditional” it boggles the mind.  Seoul quite literally opened itself up to her so she could document one family’s journey through the engagement process to the wedding.  As one would expect, there’s a lot of coaching by women who work in bridal shops, who seem to be the real keepers of this tradition.  A married man myself, I asked myself where Kat and I might’ve gotten the money together to have even a remotely “Korean” wedding (actually, I also cried part way through because of recollections of our own wedding — I’m presently a lonely husband waiting until the end of the month…)  No answers present themselves:  these events offer none of the flexible glamour of the American wedding.  Like any wedding, all of what transpires is carefully scripted to pull off exactly the right photo/video documentation of the event.  That being said, Ottinger’s film succeeds in defying this convention and instead showing all the human bits of imperfection at the seams of these highly traditional, scripted affairs.  You should see it for the colors alone.

White Wolves (dir. Konrad Petzold, GDR 1969)

A proper Gojko Mitic Indianerfilm, White Wolves is a fantastic mess of celluloid best watched by either a crowd of very cynical people or 5 year-olds.  Here’s the plot:  the Dakotas have been driven from their lands by General Mining Industries run by the evil capitalist Mr. Harrington.  Harrington’s so evil that he hires bandits to steal his own money from himself so he doesn’t have to pay his miners, and then continuously blames the attacks on the renegade Dakotas.  Mitic’s happy Dakota wife is, of course, melodramatically killed by the bandits, and so he takes merciless revenge on the bandits.  Now on to the important aspects like…

The Cool Gojko Mitic Shtick: At one point, he gets a hold of a box full of dynamite sticks, which he uses in combat by throwing them at people and shooting them in the air with his rifle.

The Strong Woman Scene: Most of these Indianerfilme have at least one scene to show they’re not totally misogynistic, and White Wolves is no exception.  The sheriff’s wife manages to trick a guard holding her captive into going into the saloon, at which point she steals his wagon.

The Heavy-Handed Communist Scene: The workers flat-out don’t believe the Dakotas stealing their money nonsense – in fact, no one but the villains believe it throughout the film – and demand their fair wages.  When the villain tries to ply them with cheap liquor, they turn it down outright.

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The Battle to Reside

September 29, 2009

In the darkness before the darkness before dawn

In the isle of desolation amidst a city of color

A few figures, shadows and backpacks, congregate

A few form a haphazard line extending back from the gate

This gate of the LABO is the absolute border of the country

This gate demarcates our courteous selves

From their mechanism of human reduction and

From our stampeding hive selves, desperate

But all is now quiet as the sky re-casts itself from black to gray

But all is silent, though we all know a little broken English

More vehicles drop off more shadows, the line grows

More vehicles drive by their early shifts, perplexed drivers

Wonder about the line, its curvature along the industrial river bank

Wonder about the Ausländer, Fremden, Farbigen, Amis

No reasonable person save s/he who needs a living

No reasonable anonymous group should be up at this hour

Lights flicker on behind the gate; the dawn is drowned

Lights flicker on to slip silhouettes on forgotten shadows

All are of one mind – the page with the stamp is needed

All are well-informed – only here, only now, only when first

And the gates open

And the flood patters forth

At least 30 meters down the cement walkway to the door

At least 100 desperate shadows suddenly illuminated

Trampling desperately, cattle running to feed

Trampling desperately, the line’s composition changes

Now it’s a smashed amoeba up against a tower of cement and glass

Now it’s time for the shadows to hurry up and wait

The sun’s time has come, its beauty covered by a train

The sun’s arrival is heralded by few anymore, let alone by the shadows

More conversation – civilization resumes its “civil” root

More conversation – mutual vipers flick tongues in ignorance

Rumors fly:  some have been standing there since 3 a.m., you need to get your visa before you can register for classes, only 50 people were given numbers last time, this is the 4th time I’ve been here, when they open the doors you have to squeeze in, they’re denying Egyptians for some reason, Americans have it easy, Americans have it hard, our late friend’s Irene’s going to join the line, this is ridiculous, this is stupid, I thought the Germans were supposed to be efficient, what kind of visa do you need to stay?  we ran out of days three days ago, I have a child – coming through, you should see the bathrooms in there, are we even in front of the right door?

Cantankerous, an official warns us to back away – they need to get in

Cantankerous, a surly Polish woman scoffs at this absurdity

“The ones who’ve been working are us!” she barks

“The ones who are making it worse – that’s all of you!”

Pronouncing his German very slowly and loudly makes him understood

Pronouncing his syllables for the 25% who know the language

The rest look around for broken English translations

The rest mock and jeer and call and mob; the only right they have now

We are to be let in a few at a time, so we don’t crush our way in

We are to let those lucky few with appointments through, the ones with papers

So many stones have been laid in the basket of our visas, yet

So many blasted hopes have been laid at the LABO’s threshold

7:00! Yet another surge, the waves like in concerts crashing against security

7:00! Yet more shouting from the German official, letting a few in

A guard with his back to us puts his arms across the door

A guard lets those few who ran first to get their prize

Hatred swells in the mass:  against them, the guards, the officials inside

Hatred swells in the guards: against the unruly students, some of them scientists

Half-an-hour later, the crush subsides, hope shoved to another dark morning

Half-an-hour later, guards mop the sweat from their brow, cursing the hordes and their
Inconsiderate outright forthright savage uncouth unprecedented impolite forceful
Impudent adolescent murderous screaming bloodthirsty thrashing crushing breaking

Dark skin American clothing headscarves shifty eyes hairy ears bushy eyebrows

Greasy hair unwashed faces grabbing hands strange accents broken English

It isn’t their fault – talk to the boss, get him to hire everyone back, make extra hours

It isn’t their fault – people need visas to eat and the visas eat the people

This is what Ordnung looks like.