onsdag, juni 29, 2011

Biking through Berlin

The other night, when my roommate held a concert in his room, I stayed up until 2 am. And after writing until 5 am yesterday, finishing the part of the book I have been working on during my month here in Berlin, I allowed myself to sleep until 10 am today.

But apart from that I've been the strictest I've ever been with myself, getting up at 8 am, doing yoga and writing a couple of hours before 12, to be able to get lots out of the city, on top of doing what I came here for. With this daily schedule I've had the time and space needed to write, but also lots of energy for the city itself. And Berlin has given me plenty back for my time spent. The best part is it even helps my writing, both to get up early and to get out of the house around noon, see new things and meet new people, and so I can write it off as research time.

Of course I've seen the major sights of the city, but as they are well covered by others who also feel the need to write about, and share, what they've seen, I won't.
Instead, here are a few of my favourite things:

I am going to state that, if you haven't seen Berlin from a bike, you have not seen Berlin. (If you're doubting this to be true, you haven't tried it. Or maybe you did it wrong! There must have been something wrong with your bike. No, let's not blame the bike; if you're doubting my statement, you don't like biking enough!) A week into my stay I got to borrow a bike from some Norwegians that were out of town, and the first full day with my Norwegian beauty (of the brand DBS: The Best Bike, in Norwegian), I thought Why not move here? Which I am not planning to do, at least not right away, but I think it is a great thought to have when visiting a city. I already started feeling nostalgic about leaving about a week ago, already feeling like this city has become a home to me. When I leave here tomorrow morning, I am traveling on only with fond memories of my stay here. And the more I get to know the city, the more I am sure that it has yet more to offer; it's a city I am sure I will, if not live in, definitively visit again.

I've spent a lot of time on my desk, overlooking a traffic junction, watching with glee when the rain has started pouring (again), and people have been running for cover. Or the thousands of people who run for the tram every day, their kids hardly capable of keeping up, arms and legs everywhere. And though I feel slightly nostalgic even about the traffic junction, it's the small streets of Prenzlauer Berg I've fallen in love with. Biking home from whereever, the side streets of PB always seem quieter, cuter, more friendly. Which might mainly be because PB is the area I've spent most of my time, the fact that I've biked all the little streets, and now know them by heart. The streets around Scönhauser Allee U-bahn station and Geshsemanekirche is packed with cafés and little shops, the same goes for the area around Jüdischer Friedhof, which is closer to Senefelderplatz U-bahn station. At Cuffaro in Kollwitzstrasse you find €2 pizza slices. Saint Georges in Wörther Strasse offer books in English, some new, decent prices, some used and very cheap; however good conversations about the books are free of charge.

For the first time traveling to stay alone for a month, finding a café to fill my need for "a safe haven" seemed somewhat urgent. The few times I've ended up having a regular café, the owners or workers somehow become parental figures for me; not the type that sit down and talk about intimate things, but they provide me with a feeling of safety, they make sure I eat and that I have a cappuccino a day. And they do what it takes to make sure I feel welcome, that I feel at home; upon arriving anywhere new I intuitively look for that. Not knowing anyone here when I first arrived, having somewhere to "come home to" every afternoon has been of the utmost importance. The solitude of being alone in a strange city works very well for my writing, but I am indeed a social being, and knowing that at least the parrots in the cage between the café and the bathroom door will try to make conversation, is nice.

Parrots? Yes, Slörm has parrots. I stumbled upon Slörm on my first day, when it became my shelter from a rain storm of biblical proportions, and I've been there most afternoons reading since. The atmosphere is relaxed, the chairs comfy, the coffee good, the sandwiches yummy, the juices magnificent, and the people friendly and welcoming. They have a great selection of both sandwiches and juices; my favourites being Mozzarella sandwich, and Mos Def juice, one of the ingredients being beetroot. You find them on Danzige Strasse 53.

Alte Nationalgaleri is worth a peek, though the audio guide is only so and so (but free). However, if you have time only for one museum during your stay, I would recommend Pergamonmuseum. If you know nothing before you get there, do not fear: start off with the free audio guide's 'high lights tour' to get an overview of the museum (takes about half an hour), and then dash around exploring on your own. The Berlin Wall Monument at Bernauer Strasse is worth seeing, but to me the East Side Gallery was a grander experience. Walking alongside it I was extremely moved. Maybe because it is a reminder of how much what has been still is; the many aspects of Berlins history still a part of Berlins everyday, but also a part of the world; the art on the Wall reflecting difficult political and social situations, not only in Berlin, but its alike all over the world.

"My God, help me to survive this deadly love."

Though outside the city, I will also recommend a trip to Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp is located less than an hour away. (You can get there with the U-bahn, only € 3 one way.) My grandfather was there for three years during the war, and I am glad I took time to spend nearly a day there. I am also glad I had company, because there was a strong need to debrief after. Even with a personal link to the tragedy it feels impossible to actually understand, but it feels important not to forget, and not to become oblivious to what happened during the war. Biking down to the Jewish Memorial, close to Brandenburger Tor and Tiergarten, seemed like the only way to contemplate what I cannot fathom actually was done by human hands. Walking between the large stone structures, the larger they got, I could not help but feel extremely small and alone. The sun, and the sounds of the city further and further away, Berlin being all this; the friendly side streets welcoming you to stay, filled with people, kids running, someone playing the piano on the second floor with the window open; and the history, the sadness, the balance between contemplative thoughtfulness and the guilt that still seems to be a part of a population, even those who wasn't even born when blood was shed.

søndag, juni 26, 2011

Blinking Lights and Other Revelations; like Things the Grandchildren Should Know

During the last weeks of writing, Eels have accompanied me many hours. He is a new acquaintance; one of the many artists I've probably heard of when I was younger, but never bothered listening to because too many others already had. I am the first to admit that being anti-everything when I was young (let's pretend it's something I've grown out of) made me lose out.

However, when I finally did make friends with Eels surprisingly it was first through literature, and not music.

Eels, or Mr. E, is also known as Mark Oliver Everett, and his life has been a turbulent one. To sum it up (you'll have to read the book for the gory details); death, schizophrenia, suicide, cancer, depression and plane crashes.
But it's not all bad! On the cover of his autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, it reads; "ROCK MUSIC! DEATH! CRAZY PEOPLE! LOVE!" And it's true, it's all there. Though the language is not the most eloquent, precise, nor playful I've had the pleasure of reading, the book is nothing less than a pageturner, and I have no problem strongly recommending it. What it lacks in language, the story, and also the structure, makes up for in abundance.

Mr. E's life story, and his take on life, is truly inspiring, and after finishing the book I was left with a strong curiosity about the music behind the man behind the book. As my first listen into Eels musical universe I chose the double album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. His dark but humorous approach is as present in his lyrics as in the book, and listening to the music after reading about the making of it, it is obvious that the playfulness of the process is ubiquitous. Like it is with most things; the more I know about Mr. E 'the person' (open, curious, passionate, but also completely human with all his faults), the more I like Eels 'the music'.

Having both read the book and accompanied myself with his voice for many hours, Eels quickly came to feel like an old friend. When I hear the first notes of Blinking Lights (For Me) I cannot but tap my feet, and soon enough I am humming along to Railroad Man. Checkout Blues is as dark as the title reflects, still it's easy to sing along;

everyone is scared of me and I'm scared of me to
never know just what I'm gonna do

Dust of Ages makes me think of both eternity and the uncomfortable atmosphere in the house where only the son and the father who never talks are home (true story). I'm Going To Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart is packed with self-knowledge discovered "too late", but still seems to bring a cleansing feeling;

you see i never thought enough of myself to realize
that losing me could mean something like the tears in your eyes

Ugly Love is to hoping that this (his) kind of love can be enough. And Hey Man (Now You're Really Living), and the song titled the same as the book; Things The Grandchildren Should Know, wraps it up nicely: By now, not only do I feel hopeful for Mr. E, I feel hopeful for myself and everyone else too.

Knowing Mr. E's life story makes the already so eloquent, precise, and playful lyrics (if not the best author, he sure got the song writing down) even better. Knowing where the darker lyrics come from help to make them more moving, the catharsis more complete. And when Mr. E is hopeful, after all he has lived through, why shouldn't we all be?

So in the end I'd like to say
That I'm a very thankful man
I tried to make the most of my situations
And enjoy what I had
I knew true love and I knew passion
And the difference between the two
And I had some regrets
But if I had to do it all again
Well, it's something I'd like to do

- Things The Grandchildren Should Know

mandag, juni 20, 2011

Andrew Bird

I think passion is very cool. In fact, it is on my top 1 list of things I like (though sharing first place with honesty). And Andrew Bird seems to be an extremely passionate guy who follows his desire to play music, and goes lenghts to be able to play what he wants. A part of passion, I think, is to understand what is needed to be able to do what you are passionate about (hey! That sounds like honesty!). Real passion overcomes most obstacles, like being one man and wanting to be a whole orchestra. And that's where you find Andrew Bird. No, this is where you find Andrew Bird: He's the one-man band that sounds better than most orchestras.

(btw: TED is made by and for people who are passionate about lots of different stuff. Check out their other videos as well!)

The last couple of months mr. Bird has been my go-to music whenever I don't know what to listen to, and when I am writing (which I usually do many hours a day) I need "background music". Andrew Bird is good for that too, but background doesn't do him justice. He is best enjoyed while I'm not working on something that requires my full attention. His lyrics are poetic adventures that make me contemplate abstract things. Goethe says: the highest to which man can attain is wonder; and if the prime phenomenon makes him wonder, let him be content; nothing higher can it give him, and nothing further should he seek for behind it; here is the limit. The songs of Andrew Bird creates a musical approach to a basic curiosity in me.

But they also make me laugh, and it the balance between the two that draws me to Andrew Bird's songs again and again. His melodies make me want to dance, cry and sing (or whistle) along. It's been years since I first started listening to him, but his music has so many layers that I never seem to get tired of it. To think that I didn't see him live when I had the chance in Oslo a couple of years ago (I was broke, but still); I think of that as the one concert that got away. He is said to be amazing live and I will not make the same mistake if I get another chance.

The observant reader will have noticed a sudden(?) change to English. Or maybe it seems natural, the title of the blog considered. The change comes mostly as a result of me spending more time abroad than in my home country Norway and I see myself traveling more in the coming year. So this is to brush up on my written English, as much as to write in a language more people understand. (If you want to correct my English, please email me: hannahvattum@gmail.com. Corrections are most welcome!) Though everyone understands the language of music it wouldn't be much use to write about music if I didn't think that me writing about it would make people more curious and open to listening whatever I'm posting. So I hope you feel open and curious, and now; listen!

Enjoy Andrew Bird!

Remember: There will be snacks!