Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Saturday, September 10, 2005

#17 – Berlin, the rituals of memory, and America’s perpetual, pathologically fucked-up refusal to admit its guilt about anything.

There’s something very relaxing about being in a hotel room in a strange city watching the traffic eddy along below your window while trying to guess the approximate time of day---rather than simply turning your head to find the room clock---because in fact it doesn’t matter what time it is. You are on vacation alone, and there is nowhere you need to be, noone you need to meet.

Actually, I will need to be in one place, and meet one person, during my five days here. Later tonight I will attend the Berlin Bedroom Beats festival at the invitation of a local municipal arts group. It’s an event devoted mainly to people who sit in their rooms creating music with their laptops, musicians I feel a special kinship with. We have a number of things in common---probably first and foremost a need to get out of the house. Here we are now; let’s entertain each other!

I also plan to have dinner tomorrow with Michael Mark Wretch (yes, that’s his real name), a longtime zine/music writer and one of the very first music bloggers. He wrote a lot of great stuff back in the day, but lately he pretty much just posts crazy rants on his blog about his beloved electronic music (which has of course lost most of the hipster cache among music cogniscenti that it had back in its late-90s/early ‘00s heydey) and about how much he hates living in Germany. People say he’s an Ecstasy casualty, and that may be true. To repeat the point this blog keeps circling back on: Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.

Today I rented a bicycle---the best way to see Berlin, a friend correctly informed me---and did what you might call the Holocaust hairshirt tour, hitting a series of buildings and memorials that, in their reflections on the past, were amazingly futuristic: The Judisches Museum, the new Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the IM Pei Bau at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, the Reichstag’s clear glass dome (also by the overrated Pei, though I appreciate his metaphor here).

This seems healthy: a way to look backwards and forwards at the same time, to acknowledge the crimes of history and try to transcend them at the same time. Now more than ever---as even the landmark debacles of Vietnam and Watergate get pooh-poohed by conservatives trying to undermine their critics---our country could learn a lot from them.

The new Holocaust Memorial, originally designed by architect Peter Eisenman and sculptor Richard Serra, but ultimately the product of Eisenman and a team of architects after Serra dropped out (supposedly because of a reduction in proposed scale), is weirdly beautiful, disturbing, and huge. It was unveiled this past May---a city block packed with 2711 dark grey, high-density concrete stelae which rise to varying heights like so many abstracted caskets coming up from the ground in a wavelike dreamvision. In the indian-summer heat, it’s an unforgiving landscape, with virtually no shade---today, tour guides supplied parasols---which I suppose adds to the metaphor. The interactive computer stations in the exhibit below-ground is a good escape from the elements, as is the handsome Metzkes Deli across the street on Behrenstrasse, which has an excellent vegetarian antipasti platter for 8 euros that comes with slices of dark brot as big as loofa mitts. (They have burgers and wursts too, if you can bear the thought of eating meat in this context.)

Most impressive, though, had to be the Jewish (Judisches) Museum. And as spectacular as the building itself is, what struck me most was an installation piece by the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman called “Shalechet (Fallen Leaves).” Completed in 1999, it is a collection of thousands of cast iron faces piled up on each other, and they cover the floor of one of the museum’s vault-like chambers. The sight is chilling, but it’s the sound that stayed with me: If you enter the room, which the signage encourages you to do, and walk across the piles of iron faces, they clang and echo through the space like the sound of a million chains reverberating over the years.

This being an audioblog, I wish I’d recorded a sample of it to offer you, but I didn’t. Instead, I offer a picture. This post comes with no sound, so you can imagine it.


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