June 1

My last day in Berlin!  Two months have really zoomed by fast…  sehr sehr schnell… Es ist ein wenig traurig.  Slept in quiet comfort and watched the grey sky lengthen into late morning.  Getting up and making tea, M woke and we had a big breakfast and talked awhile.  From there I wandered the streets, stopping in new shops and taking things in.  Found a great record store that I saw on my first day but had lost until now.  Enjoyed the cute cobbled streets and dripping trees.

Dropping in on G and K I returned their cellphone and said a goodbye, but then we made plans for drinks in the evening.  Back on the streets, the Maybachufer market was on, so I picked my way through, looking at the goods.  Found my way to a thrift store and found one last treasure.  By then it had been hours so I ghosted back to M´s.  She put wood on to heat the water tank for a shower, and had prepared food for lunch.  The crew had tickets to see Peaches Christ Superstar, so while they were out I had a bath – it was amazing to soak in the water and feel the past months travels seeping out of my skin.

Koff and Mn arrived home late from work, then M and the crew were done the show and rang me down to the street.  We partook of late night kababs and haloumi, then went to a local bar with a nice vibe.  The menus were old photo albums, with the drink lists intermingled with old family snapshots and the like. A tv was an aquarium, and old wallpaper peeled on the walls.  G had to leave early to work on a project, leaving us girls to finish of the night.  We shared one round then it was time for goodbyes… On such a cold evening, feeling like autumn, there was no desire to linger on the streets, so M and I went back to the apartment.  

In just a few hours, I will be waking up to head off on my flight.  An 18 h0ur journey home awaits…. it´s all feeling quite surreal…

May 31

During check-out, I inquired as to how many people were registered in the dooms the previous night.  6-7 was the answer.  I told the woman there had been 9 people sleeping there, to which she looked disturbed and thanked me for letting her know.  I don´t have a problem with people finding a warm place to sleep for the night, but when they clearly have no respect for the others and the space they are sharing, I draw the line!

Since Mondays are free at the Guggenheim, I met up with K and we saw the Wanngechi Mutu exhibit, My Dirty Little Heaven.  Her work was up recently at the VAG, and I was quite taken with seeing it in person and was looking forward to a whole exhibit of her ouvre.  She works on paper, creating collages of magazine cut outs and her own potent watercolours.  Materials such as glitter pile on the surfaces. 

To simplify her practice (it´s hard to sum up an intuitive creator when you are one yourself, words just don´t work..), we´ll say that Mutu creates her own visual language which reassigns the media´s definitions of women, sexuality, and race.  Her palette is vibrant and natural, and the pictures are alluring and dark.

Unfortunately I wasn´t too pleased with the exhibition, which was a bit too full on for my taste.  WM transformed the entire room into a gritty installation of art.. the walls holding her framed pictures were either coated in felt or painted a light earth tone with a dripping edge at the bottom.  A video project was projected on a tall pillar, showing a nude woman standing, then crouching in a space that looked like a well, with a liquid pouring onto her.  The centre of the gallery held a sparce wooden table covered in plates, which were dripped upon by fluid filled bottles suspended by ropes from the ceiling.  The liquid was indecipherable, looking like a fat mixture in some and blood in others – there was definitely a relation to the body – and some of the bloodlike substance was splattered and pooled in an old stain on the floor.  This part smelled extremely foul. (Skip ahead in the video and it shows the exhibition)

I would have preferred if she´d simplified, and I understand the space was probably a strong limitation… but put the video in one room, the table with the bottles in another, and the pictures elsewhere, and it would have made a nice journey where each piece could be appreciated separately.  Either that, or destroy the presence of the gallery to a greater degree because the cube was still reading strong.

Anyway, despite my concerns, she is still brilliant, and I look forward to what else she may do in the future.

….

So from there K and I parted ways and I returned to the hostel to pick up my pack.  The woman there told me she found out the past two nights there had been 2 fellows squatting at the hostel dorm.  They were gone by the time she got there, but she was going to stake it out the next night and call the cops if they returned.  She apologized for the problems and said nothing like that had happened in the past 5 years.

I connected with M and went over to her apartment as she said I could spend the remainder of my stay there.  2 nights in a real bed!  She lives with Koff and Mn, and their apartment is quirky and charming.  It features such happenstances as a spare bed by a big window (looking into the courtyard) and a basil plant in a nook of the kitchen, a window inside the bathroom overlooking this nook and part of the kitchen, ceramic wood furnaces in all the bedrooms, and wooden planking leading out the window of the hall staircase for cats to climb out the building to some unknown destination…

This is the old Berliner apartment where G and K roomed in last summer while Koff was away.

Upon arriving, M settled me in with coffee and we got to work beside each other in her bedroom office.  She is editting the video for a lethargic dance performance and it´s taking longer than expected; she was happy to have some company to help her focus, while I updated my blog.  Later we went for groceries, and when we came back, Mn and Koff were home.  Koff has an apartment upstairs, so Mn said she´d stay there and offered up her room to me for the next two nights.  It´s a beautiful space..

M made supper and coached me on making a cake – she´s worked in restaurants for years and has some amazing knowledge!  Koff was sharpening blades with a new whetstone and gave mine a tweak.  He had cut his finger sharpening Mn´s and the blood mixed into the stone, it was a bit grim, but we were laughing that it was some ritual magic.  Then we feasted.  By then it was quite late, so we had some tea and drifted to our own clocks.

May 30

Quietly the morning passed.  I collected my extra things from G and K´s basement storage space (a creepy low-ceilinged area under the apartment building, hosting a dirt floor and a labyrinth of storage cages..   in their old apartment this area was accessed by a trapdoor and a homeless woman lived there.. oh, Berlin!) and consolidated my accoutrements.  Somehow over the past 2 months I´d managed to aquire too much stuff to fit in my bag, so I went about deciding what to keep and what to pass off to others.  It would have been a difficult job, except for my feelings of disattachment to items that travelling and living out of a suitcase has temporarily bestowed upon me.  At this point I received a call from someone interested in my bike, so we met and traded cash for wheels… what a relief!  Selling can sometimes take more time than expected so to have that taken care of was a happy thing.

After a final expunging and organizing of objects, I took myself out of G and K´s hair, hoping to find my way to M.´s place.  Having some trouble getting a hold of her, I netcafed it.  Once again it was raining and I had no desire to drag my bag through the sopping streets for an undefined amount of time.  Finally the eve was maturing so I went to her flat and rang the bell, but still not receiving an answer, headed back to the hostel.  A little late night drama happened there.

After check-in hours a fellow followed me into the hostel dorms saying he was also staying there and had left his keys inside.  I had my doubts as I caught a funny vibe off him, and he came in with a half finished cigarette while there´s no smoking indoors… but what could I do?  Deny him entry on a hunch and ask for him to show me his keys?  Sadly I´m not bold enough for that.. so as he went about his business and never did I see keys appear, my doubts solidified and I grew scared of things like buglary.  A person could do pretty good stealing travellers bags from good-natured, work on trust hostels like the Regenbogen.  

There were 2 other girls in the dorm and they spoke another language so I couldn´t talk to them about it, and there wasn´t much we could do about the situation anyway.  The hostel staff check out at 10pm and it was now around 11… And I still didn´t have any proof that he wasn´t supposed to be there.  So I decided to stay awake and keep an eye out that he didn´t go near our bags.  I ¨thief-proofed¨ mine by topping them with a very noisy plastic bag.  All my valuables I kept under my pillow.

Staying awake wasn´t hard to do as the fellow was playing music loud and shining some light around.  Not a very respectful person at any rate.  At one point he woke me up and took one of my blankets.  Later in the night he woke me again, he was wanting a cigarette to make a joint with because apparently he was having trouble falling asleep.  So he had to wake everyone else up!  What an asshole!  At this point M texted, apologizing that she´d missed my message and been out all day.  She thought I would have stayed at K´s again, but I already feel I´ve accepted their hospitality too much so hostelling it was.  Wouldn´t I rather be at her place at that moment!  I slept in fits and starts and had nightmares all night.

May 29

 

 A relatively sunny day!  Saw the amazing Olafur Elaisson exhibit (see previous post) and had a nice bike ride around the city.  On the way back I picked up some foods from the Asian grocery and dropped them off and G and K´s.  They were hosting a big Japanese dinner that evening.. 

From there I stepped into a netcafe to update the old blog, and was pleasantly surprised by a Skype call from B, and we again found ourselves talking for several hours.  Realizing the time and signing off, it was time to head to dinner so I picked up my bag from the hostel and made way.

Preparing a Sunomono salad, I chatted with my old flatmates as they finished off their dishes.  The dinner guests started trickling in and there was conversation and drinks.  When everyone arrived, the meal began and it was an occasion of multiple courses, elegantly located in the shopfront.  That night I was inordinately tired, the plan had been to crash at M´s place for the night, but I  ended up staying in my old room at Friedelstrasse while everyone talked on until daybreak!

O L A F U R   E L A I S S O N

Rode my bike uptown to the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum for the Olafur Elaisson exhibit, Innen Stadt Aussen (Inner City Out).  This was his first solo show in Berlin, and was on a grand scale.  OE is a big name in contemporary art right now, creating very minimal yet impacting works, often exploring the properties of colour and nature to create sublime installations and environments.

Innen Stadt Aussen dealt with OE´s living in Berlin, and pulled elements and experiences of the city into the Musuem.  As well, there were companion pieces to the installation, set outside in the city… This inside-outside thematic set the grounds for the show.  Some of the pieces included a room with huge sheets of mirrors installed on oblique angles opening wider from the floor towards the ceiling, splitting the room and reaching the skylight in the roof.  To stand inside was to enter an endless corridor of light and reflection, which would wobble and react minutely with those who entered and walked the floor, creating waves and vibrations up the mirrored lengths..

Another series of rooms had stone pieces from Berlin sidewalks installed in a walkway leading to a mirror which was formed into ripples like the surface of the ocean, and finally to a window which opened onto a view of the city streets.  My thoughts on this segment were that if we were to listen to OE… we would simply walk out of the exhibit at this point and go explore the city for ourselves.

Another room shed light on the inner workings of OE´s practice.  It held a long worktable cluttered with models, videos, and notes exploring different shapes, geometric and mathematic patterns – new takes on geodesic domes and that sort of thing.  These form the base of many of his sculptures and forms. 

There were many experiences packed into one exhibition!  A series of light rooms shone different glowing neon colours towards the wall, so passersby created luminous and multiplying coloured shadows on the walls.  It was like walking the metro or being in a disco.  To look down the corridor through the doorways of all the rooms was to see a soft gradient of welcoming tones rainbowing out.

Soft fog lit by the same light palette of neons filled another series of rooms.  To stand in the center of one of these spaces, you would lose all sense of direction, space, and time as the walls and other people all disappeared into the fog´s nothingness.  (It felt like a very pleasant death, in a way, and contained a warning that those who experience claustrophobia or asthma shouldn´t enter – it was a pretty intense experience!)  

My favourite piece was a darkened room lit by strobe lights.  In the center was a clear hose attached to the blackness of the ceiling with water flowing through it onto the floor of the room.  The hose snaked and whipped around with the force of the water, spraying streams and drops of liquid that looked like crystals as they reflected the light of the strobes and fell to the ground in arcs and loops.  It created a sublime emphasis on the systems of nature and physics… To be sprayed by the water wasn´t a negative experience either, as it wasn´t too cold or too much.  At the same time the hose whipping was so wild you had a fear to venture too close.  It truly looked like a caged animal, struggling for freedom in a magnificent display of power. A video of it can be seen here:

May 28

The day before I´d found some nice ways to package up the art I´d done so far on this trip, so I took it over to the Maybachufer market to try selling. 

 I settled down at the end of the market where the buskers play.  The banjoist from the day before was there, performing with a large group.  It was another rainy day so things were pretty slow.  Setting out an array of my works, I sat and painted some watercolours of the scene.  People were interested, but there were no buyers.  After a couple hours I was bored and packed up!   Talking to one of the buskers, I showed him a quick portrait I had painted of him.  He seemed really pleased and taken with it so I sold it for 3 Euro… A sale!  The effort was not futile after all.  I happily went on my way.

In the evening I was feeling nostalgic and bored and roamed some of my favourite streets and parks by bike.  Finally I decided that was a silly thing to do and decided I wouldn´t do anything out of nostalgia again on the trip.  It wasn´t over yet, and there were still things to see and do!  Sitting on the banks of the canal I watched the sun go down and did some writing.

May 27

A nice sleep called for a good day, though the sky was again clouded over and overbearing.  Did some errand running and picked up bread and fruit for a picnic.  Taking the long transit out West, I was back at the Grunewald to finally meet the Grosser Wannsee – a large inland lake in Berlin, boasting a beach which is a popular summer destination for swimmers and families.

After roaming some backroads and getting caught in a fancy yacht district, I asked directions from a very friendly fellow.  He pointed out the way with vigour and accuracy.  Once at the Wannsee beach, I was dismayed to discover admission to the beach came at a price.  Plucking out my student card for a discount, there was some misinterpretation and they wouldn´t accept it.  Having come all that way and anticipating the swim for a month now, only to be turned away at the gate, meant I sat down on a bench and had a sad cry before realizing I still had my international student id.  ein Polizist kontrolliert Badende im Freien  This time they accepted it and I forked over a couple grudging euros to access the Strandbad Wannsee.

The beach was a strange place, it´s been a swimming spot for 100 years now.  It was very manicured in a forgotten way and scattered with stands which have striped seats and canopies for beachgoers.  It was also completely deserted. 

The air temperature was 10 and the water 16, so I figured once I got in the water it would be a lot nicer than being outside.  Heading over to the section for nudeys as I didn´t bring a suit on the trip, I stepped out of my clothes and into the water.  It was pretty warm!  Definitely better than my last outdoor swim, which was the January polar bear dive in the Pacific.

After a half hour or so of frolicking, my toes were white and numb so out I hopped.  I didn´t have a towel with me as I hadn´t actually planned on swimming, so I went to the washrooms and made use of the paper towel.  Not my most environmentally friendly move! Picking up my things I wandered to a playground and climbed a giant web rope structure.  I felt like an 8 year old again, it was pretty good.  By then the sun decided to peek out of the clouds and my feet finally got their feeling back.  I sat down and painted a watercolour of the scene.

Finally my curiousity of the Strandbad was fading so I took the transit back on to the hostel.  In the evening I was working on some projects when I got a text from K, inviting me over for veggie wraps.  So I picked up some wine and headed over.  Her and G are very good cooks, always putting interesting things together. We had a great evening, joking about things and I silently reminisced on previous evenings when I had lived there.  K and I stayed up late talking… I´m going to miss that pair when I go back home!