Day 150, 151 and 152: Berlin pt. 2

Sunday:

I woke up drunk, stinky and fucking hungry. The first thing I said to Con was ‘I want meat’. Somebody said schnitzel and so it was. There was a place in the fancy end of town that did a traditional job with a cow udder – done.

Nope. Fucking stupid ass fancy town was selling the Schnit for €21. Cow udders are like the most off off-cuts, it should be like the cheapest thing right? Maybe we would have bought it if the restaurant was pumping but it was fucking dead so we fucked off outta there. Our plan B a €6 euro Sunday brunch across town.

Nope. Motherfuckers stopped doing brunch at 3pm.

FUCKKKKKCKCKKC

“What do you have?” I asked, probably looking desperate and dangerous.

“Spatzle.”

I meant to say yes please. Thank you. I’ll have one now. But I didn’t – my brain just farted and instead I stared at her like an asphyxiated crocodile.

“It’s like German noodles fried with butter and cheese.”

“Yes, yes. That’s great thanks.”

Fucking hell. All I wanted was something big and that sounded perfect.

Nope.

Fucking worst meal ever. How fried noodles with cheese and butter can be cooked to have no taste will remain one of life’s biggest mysteries.

Bop and I met Sylvana that night. Rather ridiculously we picked inside a
movie theatre as our meeting point. The film was boyhood and it had a more profound effect on me than any movie has ever. It was so real and relatable all I could do after was think about my mum, my life and families. It was pretty debilitating for the night’s conversation but we did manage to get a good education about Berlin.

Sylvana has lived in the city for 8 years. I asked her if she goes clubbing much. She told me she used to love the club scene but now she hardly ever goes

“People went with their friends to have fun.” She said.

Apparently that’s not happening anymore. Now it’s a dungeon for lonely pick ups and nobs seeking appreciation for their outfits and drug use.

“People only go to be cool.”

Maybe Sylvana doesn’t really like or understand clubbing like me but I found her description of what it used to be pretty appealing. Hanging out with friends and dancing is the best. Learn world.

I asked Sylvana if maybe the change is related to the amount of tourists invading the city. She didn’t think so but that opened a whole new issue. She told me there’s a housing crisis. So many people are coming into the city for a few months and many rental agencies are catering exactly to that kind of tourism. Furnishing apartments, leading them on tourist websites and pushing locals out with higher prices. At the same time there’s been a general rise in housing prices and it’s getting harder for Berliners to find cheap accommodation with every year. We heard a few stories, not just from Sylvana, about some foreigners being greeted with resentment and being told to fuck off or go home. My experience has been pretty good and I’m not sure how much to read into it or whether it’s all related. If it is a big problem it sounds pretty unhealthy. Difficulties of tourism are so hard to resolve because tourists bring so much money and they’ll always have more power than locals just because of that.

Monday:

Con and I were determined to get something good for lunch. We’d been burnt a few times and impressed a few times but we hadn’t had much exciting stuff.

This is what we decided on:

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It’s a century old smoke house. The smoked fish they made was so fucking delicious and popular they slowly started making and selling other things until finally they’ve got this ridiculously big deli. Everything look amazing. I was feeling overwhelmed with it all but Con rescued the situation.

“Let’s split up into teams, get some stuff and come back and share. I’ll get fish.”

“Yeah fucking great idea. Bop you get meat and il get everything else (cheese).”

Brockwurst
Bratwurst
Mixed mustard
Smoked mackerel
Pickled halibut
Smoked and roast beef
Potato, bacon, celery and vinegar salad
Pickled cumber
Bean and onion salad
Rye bread with toasted seeds
Foot cheese
Old goat’s cheese
Blue cheese
Fish soup with salmon, full and onion

Mmmmm yeah.

For only the second time on this trip I had something I didn’t like*. It was one of the cheeses I bought. As soon as we opened the wrapping everyone recoiled – it was the most pungently footy thing ever, it invaded everything. It felt like all our food had suddenly been smothered in week old sock. We all had a dig anyway and everyone pretty much agreed – bearable with effort but otherwise highly unenjoyable. It wasn’t shit, it was just too strong for our ungerman palates. I didn’t want to waste something potentially lovable so I turned to the table next to us and asked if they wanted it.

“What kind of cheese is it?” A stringy woman with braces said.

“I’m not sure but it’s very footy.” I don’t think she understood the word footy. She unwrapped it and took a whiff, instantly recoiling as we had.

A white haired man in a white suit took it. He drilled it right up into his snoz and hoofed it in.

“Wo ho. . . I quite like this.”

He thanked us and asked us where we were staying.

“In Con’s house in Neukölln.”

“Well. I would have invited you to stay with me.”

It was around this time I realised how eccentrically dressed this guy was. Everything but his shoes was white – white shirt, white pants, white socks,
white suspenders.

“If you would like you can come over and we can have a drink.”

He handed over his card.

“That would be great.” I said without thinking. We made a time and said goodbye. Once we were outside we had a better look at the card.

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Apparently that translates to laugher, music and mystery.

Who the fuck is this guy? Con and I couldn’t stop laughing. We had just been invited to have drinks by a mysterious foot-cheese lover with a pregnant belly and white suspenders. Bop was stone faced.

“Don’t you think this is weird Bop?”

“No. Maybe end my trip. I think it’s weird. But now no.”

How fucking addicted to the wave is Bop?! He’s hardly had to make decision since we met. In that time he’s seen a ghostly woman play a theremin, played blood potato with a family of Austrian strangers, tasted blue cheese, hitchhiked, drunk absinthe with German teens, had beer that tastes like bacon, been clubbing in Berlin until 8am and met about 500,000 people. So when an eccentric German man wearing only white offers him a drink at his house he doesn’t bat an eyelid.

That afternoon Bop and I had planned to visit some Korean groceries so we could cook Con dinner but now our plans had changed. Who knows what Wolfgang has in store? Better not eat much.

We had a bit of time to kill so we went to tiergarten for a lovely stroll.

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Oh yeah and we tried currywurst. Con and I had been avoiding it for a while – because it’s tomato sauce, curry powder and skinless sausages, sounds disgusting right? – but we had an acceptance that we’d try it at some point. Along with kebabs, currywurst is the most famous culinary product of Berlin, how could we not?

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Shite. Most average thing ever. It was exactly what we worried about – nothing more than shit tomato sauce, curry powder and an average sausage. Bop loved it but apparently he’s had a lifelong addiction to ketchup – the mystery continues.

I was told by a few people this was one of the best in Berlin. I’m not sure currywurst should ever be discussed in that way because it’s a shit thing. I’m sure you could have some fucking amazing sausage with a beautiful tomatoey curry sauce but that wouldn’t be currywurst would it.
It would be something else. Currywurst by it’s very essence is shit. It’s like how meat pies used to be in Australia – existing in a culture of shitness, the shitness is applauded and it’s notoriety of being a good thing grows. Someday that might change but I’m not going to eat another currywurst until that happens.

Our date with Wolfgang was at 8pm. Con had German class and couldn’t arrive until 9-10, so it was going to be just me, Bop and Wolfy.

Wolfgang turned out to be a bombastic fellow. He was a cabaret performer and a passionately left wing activist. He’s had an interesting life and he’s gathered many good stories. The most interesting was his experience at Tianamen square during the massacre.

“I was the only westerner there.” He told us.

“Of course none of the killing actually happened at Tianamen. That’s Mao’s mausoleum. They wouldn’t dare kill any one there . . . All the shooting happened one street up.”

His show, which he’s performed over 250 times, involves him talking to famous left wing figures in Germany. They talk about issues and he cracks jokes.

“I’m much more eloquent in English.” He said. I saw through his thinly veiled defense for any future terrible jokes.

His house was more of a library than a living space. The three rooms, bedroom, hall and kitchen, were covered in books and dotted with miniature busts of left wing leaders and philosophers. There wasn’t much room for us to sit so soon after we left for a brewery where he performs his cabaret. As soon as we sat down Wolfgang ordered us a round. Once we finished that another came. By the time Con arrived Bop and I were red faced and Wolfgang was swaying like a overboard harpoon. Con got right into with us. The beer was some of the best I’ve ever had and the food was rich and heavy.
We spent most of the remaining evening interrogating Wolfy about his strange life. He told us about his fight with the local police, how he dressed up like Dr Strangelove for war protests, how no one in Germany understood the reference, about his spy friend and about how there’s no left wing youth anymore. I think the last thing we talked about, before Wolfgang abruptly announced he had to go home, was whether in the future Hitler’s memory would fade and become just another historical fucker or whether he will remain in the public consciousness for centuries. We disagreed amicably.

Tuesday:

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This was an art gallery Bop and I went to. It was the first art gallery I’d been to since I had an existential crisis in Venice. This was the second artwork I saw.

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I asked Bop what he thought it meant. He something about nature and the blocks being people. I can’t remember specifically but the sentiment was about how we’re detached from our environment. I asked him if he wanted to know what it was actually about, or intended to be about.

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What bullshit. What does that even mean?

I read it over a few times and translated what I thought it meant to Bop. He gave me an incredulous glance and walked off to the next room.

I’m having a crisis about art. A lot of art I’ve seen in the past month did nothing to me. I mean that literally. They were ugly and they translated no ideas to me other than this crisis of thought. Some people might say but it was probably just shit art but I think that’s a lazy response that’s far too complicated to justify. Part of me thinks contemporary art – what is hung in modern art galleries – is not an effective medium at translating anything. If it’s not enjoyable to look at and it doesn’t provoke any thought or reaction what is the point? Why should I look at it? Why should I pay to see it?

Maybe I just don’t understand it. I’m not very well educated in art and I’m probably not aware of a lot of the cultural context and art theory which underpins it. I usually have to rely on pamphlets, wall plaques and audio tours. But that’s shit, art plaques are usually confusing wankfests. I don’t understand them and I’ve got two degrees, what about someone who hasn’t finished school or Bop who doesn’t understand much English?

I know there’s no definite answer to any of these questions but the more I think about it the more I think a lot of art is produced, whether on purpose or not, for an audience of only artists. Of course there’s exceptions. I’ve found some beautiful artworks and others have challenged me but most have been completely unremarkable. You could say these thoughts are a reaction and I would never have had them if I hadn’t been to the galleries in Venice or Berlin but these thoughts are not a reaction to any artwork but to art itself. They’re only relevant to art.

This is a very complicated and interesting argument and I’m sorry I’ve transformed it into such a crude blab but I’m struggling with it. It’s been very difficult for me.

After we left the art gallery I hardly said anything for four hours. I was trapped in my thoughts and the weekend had caught up with me. I simply directed Bop to where we needed to go, he bought some groceries and we went home.

Bop and I owed Con, not in a debty way just a friendly acceptance of his generosity. We had originally planned to shout him dinner but we only had one night left and Bop had offered to cook – neither of us wanted to miss out on that.

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Bop you fucking genius. This is brilliant.

Beef bulgogi
Tteokkbeoki
Fish cakes with sesame, garlic and onion
Rice
Rice wine
Makkali

It was our last night together and fucking good way to end it.

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