DJ Hunee in dem House

So, weekend before last I was in Berlin and went to Cookies Cream, a restaurant that doesn’t advertise, coyly hides its exact address, and moves from one minimally-renovated industrial space to another every few years.  There’s an enthusiastic English-language review of it here, and a jaded, dismissive German-language review from 2004 here, which finds the whole thing a bit too strenuously hip.  The portions were indeed ludicrously small, but the food sound (I had the parmesan dumplings, a friend had something served with what the English-language menu called ‘deadnettle’).

People-watching was first-rate; aggressively louche writers (artists? ad copywriters?), what looked like a moderately famous band, and a dinner party for theater types that got amusingly out of hand as the Dj_huneenight wore on.  The slim, attractive, clueless waitstaff all seemed to be weathering emotional crises.  One of them kept bumping into the music laptop, causing ear-shattering eruptions of feedback.

And then it was off to have a look-see into Crush, the nightclub next door.  It’s housed in a former movie theater, with many intact (and soiled, dusty) furnishings.  The music, provided by a short Asian guy gyrating back and forth behind a turntable and mixing-deck, was first-rate.  Obscure funk and soul, 80s classics with juicy synthesizer hits, and a little bit of hip-hop, all elegantly mixed.  To use the patois so beloved of today’s youth, the man was slicing off some phatt beatz.  Who was that non-masked man? 

After a bit of searching on the Interwebs, I was able to determine that he is DJ Hunee (l).  Naturally, he’s got a myspace page (his Myspace motto: "I wanna see all my friend at once"), complete mixes you can listen to online.  The one that auto-loads when you visit the page doesn’t push all my buttons, but if you page down, you can switch to other ones — HandMadeMadness is one highlight.  Even features a verions of ‘Autumn Leaves’ done by a human voice cunningly imitating a saxophone (‘wa-pa-do-do-doo, bah-waa’).  It’s like seeing all your friend at once!

The Hagmanian Critique of Marxism

Dallas‘ was hugely popular in all over Europe, including in Germany, where one intellectual called it the first Marxist TV series.  Little did he know that for lots of Europeans who watched the show behind the Iron Curtain, those hideous perversions of capitalism were features, not bugs.  Or so goes the argument from two American libertarians in their Washington Post piece ‘Dallas’ Won the Cold War:

In Romania, "Dallas" was the last Western show allowed during the nightmare 1980s because President Nicolae Ceausescu was persuaded that it was sufficiently anti-capitalistic. By the time he changed his mind, it was already too late — he had paid for the full run in precious hard currency. Meanwhile, the show provided a luxuriant alternative to a communism that was forcing people to wait more than a decade to buy the most rattletrap Romanian car.

After the dictator and his wife were shot on Christmas Eve 1989, the pilot episode of "Dallas" — with a previously censored sex scene edited back in — was one of the first foreign shows broadcast on the liberated Romanian TV. Over the next few years, Hagman became a ubiquitous pitchman in the country for firms such as the Russian petroleum company Lukoil ("The Choice of a True Texan").

To this day, you can visit an ersatz "SouthForkscu" ranch in the nowheresville Romanian town of Slobozia (yes, that’s its real name).

I’d be willing to bet "Plano," the site of Dallas‘ set, sounds as ridiculous to Romanians as Slobozia does to Americans.

Amos Oz on Cosmopolitanism

Die Welt publishes an interview (g) with Amos Oz (title: "Israel is a Collection of Fiery Arguments"), in which the grand old man of Israeli letters talks about Israel’s image in the European media and doles out advice to Young Cosmopolitans (my translation):

To those who want to acquire a sense of cosmopolitanism, I recommend: read fiction – novels and short stories. When I look at the German media or other European media and see the picture of Israel they deliver, Israel seems to be made up of eighty percent religious fanatics, ten percent settlers in the West Bank, nine percent brutal soldiers, and just one percent intellectuals, who criticize the administration and are wonderful writers. Of course, that’s a distortion of reality.

Israel is basically a secular country, a moderate and pragmatic country. Eighty percent of its population doesn’t live in the West Bank or in the Gaza strip, or even in Jerusalem. They live in the coastal regions. Israelis are Mediterranean people, very warm-hearted, who come from the middle class. They’re also materialistic people, who can be loud, and who love to argue. They belong to a Mediterranean society, like Greece, Italy, or the south of France. The country Theodor Herzl dreamed of – a Vienna in the Middle East – never became reality. And now I come to your question: The only way to learn about the real Israel is through its books. This was how I found a way to Germany, through its books. When I was a young man, I wanted nothing to do with Germany. I thought that for the rest of my life I would never have any contact with Germany. The reasons were clear: The Holocaust, other atrocities, the stories I had heard, all the survivors I met in Jerusalem. But then I broke this self-imposed taboo and changed my views — because I read Germany’s post-war writers: The writers of Group 47.

As I began to read Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, and Siegfried Lenz, and all the others (in translation, of course), it became impossible for me to continue hating everything German. I could simply no longer generalize. As I read these novels, I found myself forced to share these peoples’ feelings. So I say it’s always the case, not just for Germany and Israel, that the best bridge between nations and cultures is literature.

If you want to learn about another people, turn your back to the newspapers and read the literature, because only through literature can you acquire a deep appreciation of other peoples and their cultures. When you buy a ticket and fly to another country, you see only the museums, the historical sites, and the attractions, perhaps also a bit of the countryside, and then you fly back. But when you read a novel, then you’re invited into these peoples’ living rooms, in their children’s bedrooms – even into their bedrooms. The best way to forge an intimate bond with another culture is to read its literature.

For a fine profile of Oz in English, click here.

AEISEC iz gud pogrom

Look at the bright, shiny poster!


The poster is for AEISEC, an international student-exchange program that I’d never heard of before I came to Europe.  Perhaps it’s a wonderful program, I have no idea.  And I’m sure Ryan is a nice guy who is quite capable of speaking proper English. 

But if ever a promotional poster for a student-exchange program — a poster that bears the logo of no fewer than seven multinational corporations — deserved to be covered in snark, it’s this one.  Let me start:

  1. Congratulations to Ryan, who got a job with the "government" working on unspecified "cultural" activities.  European students dream of these jobs.  Unless that’s just code for "getting sozzled in Budapest bars."  But wait, European students dream of that, too!
  2. Judging by this poster, Ryan’s time in Hungary had its tragic aspects: it apparently crippled his ability to conjugate English verbs, and even spell his own home country correctly.
  3. Congratulations on your admission to the German language, "experience"!  You have been assigned the gender: feminine.  Your orientation packet can be collected at the registration desk.  I think you’ll find your time in German to be a wonderful Erfahrung.

It’s called "proofreading," AEISEC.  Develop the habit now — after all, places like PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young will expect you to do it to every memo you write for them.

One for the Simpsonsphiles

I submitted this, er, LOLtree to the official LOLcats website, but it hasn’t appeared on the main page.  The problem may be that it’s not a photo of a cute, furry little animal, but rather an odd tree stump I noticed in a marshy area on the banks of the Rhine.  A tree stump that reminded me of…well, you get the picture:


Stuff White Germans Like

In comments to my posting of a few pictures from Berlin, the indefatigable Mr. Moehling (where were you Friday?), who surfs the web for Kulturkritik so we don’t have to, points us to the Internet sensation that’s taking white America by storm: Stuff White People Like

There’s a list of Stuff White People Like, including coffee, Asian girls, dogs, non-profit organizations, having black friends, wine, marathons, Barack Obama, film festivals, organic food, threatening to move to Canada, having two last names, The Daily Show, marijuana, free healthcare, irony, not having a TV, religions your parents don’t belong to, and Asian fusion food. 

This sort of thing is shooting fish in a barrel, and has been done before umpteen times.  Still, the site has its charms.  And let’s face it, because fashions change so quickly, yesterday’s yuppie-mocking dates quickly.  Of course, judging by SWPL’s standards, I am intensely white.  White-hot, you could say.  How could I not be?  After all, I actually moved to the very source, the Pangaea, the ancestral homeland of whiteness — Northern Europe.  I set foot here, and felt a stirring deep in my blood: "This is my Volk."  The free healthcare, the farmers’ markets, the wine — they’re are all around you, everywhere you go.

And, unlike in the New World, they’re pretty much taken for granted.  Europeans were designing "walkable urban spaces" before the New World was even a glimmer in Vespucci’s eye.  Even if you do shoehorn what you thought was a sophisticated reference to wine in at a dinner party, you may be sitting next to someone who knows much, much more about wine than you do, because her family has owned a vineyard for 300 years.  Further, northern Europeans nurture topoi of ultra-whiteness that will always remain out-of-reach for New Worlders: avant-garde (or, increasingly, any) classical music, anomie, hereditary royalty, Roman law, the word topoi.

Aside from these areas of ueber-whiteness, though, white Americans and white Germans have much common ground.  As sociologists never tire of pointing out, elites from countries on opposite sides of the globe have more in common with each other than they do with poor people in their own country.  Yet there are some uniquely German rules of whiteness.  Here’s my list:

1.   Furniture, in this exact order:

  1. "Discovered" at flea market.  Bonus points if discovered abroad.
  2. Purchased at dusty antique shop
  3. MannMobilia
  4. IKEA (cachet almost totally expended, but still dimly flickering)

2.  Friends with the following qualities (in order of desirability): Jewish, born in impoverished third-world nation, gay, born in non-EU country in Europe.

3.   Balkan disco music.

4.   Non-profit organizations.  Bonus points if it operates in third-world countries, rather than at home.  No points if it operates in Germany.

5.   Custom-designed bookshelves.  Bonus points if actually filled with books.  Extra bonus point for every complete edition, deductions for books that have colorful spines or embossed titles.  As in the U.S., Dan Brown is radioactive.  Europe’s answer to Dan Brown is Paulo Coelho.  One Paulo Coelho book can cancel out an entire library of first editions.

6.   Playing an acoustic musical instrument normally found in an orchestra (piano, violin, recorder, clarinet).  Bonus points for playing it together with other white people.  Extra bonus points if playing music by obscure 18th-century court composer from the region you live in.  This is called musizieren, and people did it all the time in the 19th century.  Generally, anything people did all the time in the 19th century is something white Germans will like. 

7.   Writers who were born in non-EU countries.  Bonus points if they now write in German, and enjoy gently teasing Germans for being so stuffy/car-obsessed/socially awkward.

8.   Contemporary art/theater/dance.  Bonus points if your apartment features works of art.  Extra bonus points if the art features nudity or contains "social commentary."

9.   East German design.  Not the hairstyles, clothes, music, or politics.

10.  Socialist writers who died long ago enough to no longer be controversial: Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Marx, Lassalle.  Generally, if a leftist has had a public square named after him, it’s OK — and may be de rigueur — to say you admire his principles.

11.   Paul Auster.

12.   The European Union.

13.   Arts subsidies.

14.   Berlin.

15.   (Being disappointed by) the Green party.

16.   Speaking good English, but maintaining a "critical distance" from "Anglo-Saxon culture" and loudly denouncing English business jargon.

17.   American roots music.

18.   Reading Latin.

19.   Max Goldt.

20.   Bildblog.

OK, that’s all I’ve got for now.  If I’ve missed something, let me know in comments.

Berlin Pix Redux

Graffito on a building in Sophienstrasse:


Waiting room of osteopath’s office, Linienstr.:


Balcony in a Plattenbau building in Linienstr.:


Rosa Luxemburg Square (altered):


Exhibition in Galerie Rosetta Junck, Mitte:


A pane of glass from the Palast der Republik that fell into somebody’s apartment:


Back in a Berlin Minute

I’m in Berlin now, wandering about aimlessly, enjoying the post-consciousness-raising high.  Posting will resume sometime tomorrowish, and will include ‘romantic’ pictures of Berlin and a review of the Volksbuehne’s new production, "Fuck off, America".  Thanks for your patience.

Mid-April Banner — New Posts Below

Logo_poster_1_2This is a post-dated entry that will serve as a crude banner, all this week, reminding you to drop by the Gaststaette in Mitte on this Friday, April 18th, to discuss and donate to Obama ’08!  There will be plenty to see and do there.  Including me!

The poster on the left contains all the details.  Download it, print it out, and paste it all over the electricity switchboxes, traffic signals, perfume-store ad displays, local government officials, and stray dogs in your neighborhood.  Especially if you live near rich U.S. expats.  Sign up online here.

For Calculus-Haters

So, like all red-blooded cat owners, I’m checking for an update, and see this:


It’s an OK Lolcat, but I’ve seen better (here and here, for instance).  Haven’t we all known cats who love to — wait a minute, what’s that on the sink?  Laufen?  That’s German.  Teh odd Inturnets subkulcher of Lolcats have reeched Jurmminy?!!1! 

Hmm.  The English Wikipedia entry has yet to be translated into German (Hungarian and Spanish are covered, though).  To verify that this was in fact a German Lolcat picture, I looked up the brand "tofix" on the bottle in the background.  It’s an Austrian firm that specializes in toilet cleaners.  Their German-language website is here

Whenever I see a website like Tofix’s — nice, but not too sophisticated, pretty 2002-looking — I always look for a little Union Jack picture, for the English-language version.  A big company will hire professional translators for their fancy, Java-encrusted websites, leading to disappointingly competent translations.  But a smaller firm like Tofix will usually hire Ute, the quality control supervisor’s wife, who spent 3 years studying education in New Zealand.  And indeed, that’s what we have at the English-language website of Tofix/Rorax enterprises.  Here’s their mission statement:

Tofix has been the specialist for cleaning and hygiene in bathrooms and toilets. It offers powerful products appropriate for all cleaning requirements. It combats limescale and urinary calculus and is safe to use. The Tofix product range represents powerful cleaning and perfect cleanliness within no time.

In fact, they have a product called WC Urinary Calculus Remover that does nothing but remove urinary calculus.*

And, I say, not a moment too soon!

* I have some sympathy for the translator.  The word Ute was trying to translate, Urinstein, doesn’t even exist in English.  There’s no official entry for it on, you are instead sent to a discussion forum containing the suggestions "urine scale" and "urinal cake" (which is clearly wrong).   Now "urine scale" is pretty close, but really, how often do you hear that?  I doubt a company in squeamish Anglo-Saxonia would put the word "urine" on the front of a toilet-cleaning product.  Not so in Germany.  We see here the renowned Central European earthiness at work.  In fact, you can buy a special stain remover (g) that promises to remove "blood," "sperm"and "pus" from your clothes.  Something for the serial killer on your gift list!