A walk in the park

There’s always something magical in the first warm day of the year. Today, the third of March, Berlin is under the sun’s spell, reaching 17°C at 16:00.

IMG_20170214_115107.jpgI am in the Monbijou Park, trying to rest from an emotional week. But my mind wanders. The world around me does the same. Wandering, moving, playing, shouting and running.

There’s a the really good busker singing in front of the Bode Museum. A human, a guitar and an amplifier. Sometimes that’s all it takes to stop the earth from turning.

People don’t know whether they have to wear their coats are not. Some machos in T-shirts show off their muscles. I laugh about it but like the eye bath. There’s a lot of smiling faces. This is a pure Vitamin D reload. The stalls on the weekly book market look more alive, the owners less grumpy. Babies are taking their first steps. Despite being still shaky and uncertain holding their father’s hand, they’re looking at the world as a Palace of Wonders. Which it is of course. Babies are often right. They lack so many filters, they’re not conditioned. Not yet at least. And take a look into the father’s eyes when he looks at his baby: pure love. He knows now how fragile the world is.

The magic of life lies in the encounters, in the space between the atoms, in the beauty of souls, in the hesitation of a certain touch, in the dancing of the bees and in that one blue note that makes you cry.

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Book hunting at the Büchermarkt. Including a great 1968 edition Frans Masereel “Der Weg der Menschen” (60 woodcuts)

I also look at the world within me.

Memories of long lost lovers. And of recent tender encounters. Thinking of different countries, of all the homes I had and how liberating it is not to be attached to a country or a pile of stones. Thinking of my daughter who is far away. Of my son who is also far away but then metaphorically speaking. And how vulnerable -even more vulnerable than I was- I made myself by having kids. They are growing extremely fast which also means I am growing old. The laws of nature are without mercy. So be it. Wrinkles and wisdom form a perfect couple.There can be a lot of beauty in a single wrinkle.

Beauty can also be found in an old man’s hand, or in a young girl’s eyes. In a Vermeer painting or in a kinky tumblr blog. In the flight of a condor and in death leafs. In the poetry of Pablo Neruda or in some lines written on a wall in a seedy corner of the city. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to be able to find it. And sometimes there’s no beauty, just greed and bitterness to be found. Ignore that. Step forwards. Continue your path. Reach for the sun. And always, always keep on dancing.

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Memento Mori

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For God sake, Nathalie, you didn’t post one single blog post in almost a year (because too busy with living and with writing a Berlin Guide that will be published in September 2016-more info soon-promised) and the first one you write again is about a graveyard! A graveyard, seriously…again.

Haha, well hell yes, this one is indeed about a churchyard…again. (here’s the link to the other blog post- Dutch only, sorry)

I just happen to love graveyards in Berlin. (Does that make me weird? Maybe just a little.) They’re beautiful, green, a little chaotic and incredibly peaceful.  And they are soooooo quiet. Because death people are pretty good at being quiet.  In a way, the death are not dead.  Not as in “oooooohooooohooo we are haunting the graveyard“, no not at all, but more as “we existed, we meant something for someone, our lives did matter and we hope yours matter and take it from us: live your life as hard as you can. Grab these moments.” And so I walk totally zen through this beautiful gardens and listen to their silence.

I visited the Alter St. Matthäus Kirchhof today. My friend Kat lives in front of it and the way she always spoke about all the beautiful (and edible!) plants on “her” Friedhof and about the grave of Mathilda on “her” Friedhof in front of which she loves to sit and meditat,  I wanted to see this with my own eyes. So I did. And oh, I wasn’t disappointed.

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I especially love the graves of the unknown, the poor, the children, but there are also some famous graves here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to think about The Grimm Brothers for example? Günther Grass wrote about them in Grimms Wörter (Grimms Words); making them walk in Tiergarten in the 20th Century.

But this is the 21st C. And this is their grave:

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And what to think of Claus Von Stauffenberg ? He tried to safe the world from Hitler and  disarm the SS.  Operation Valkyrie failed and Von Stauffenberg and the other ringleaders of the conspiracy were executed in 1944. This yard has only a remembrance stone because Von Stauffenbergs corpse was exhumed by the SS and his remains moved to an unknown place.

So yes, I confess. I love the Berlin graveyards. Every single grave has its history, every tree and flower too. Every living and every dead human and animal (squirrels, foxes…) too.

I also really love the one in Port Bou Spain, where I earlier this month I visited the grave of Walter Benjamin.IMG_20160809_111448_resized_20160831_112059126

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Or the fisherman graveyard in Sète, France. And so on…

Because yes, all these places are so fundamentally democratic: it is a fact of life that we all die. Memento Mori! Whether we are rich or poor, whether we are good or bad, happy or sad…we will all die. That is the name of this whole fascinating game. And then it will be our turn to whisper to the wanderers: “it is really beautiful here, but I don’t have eyes to see it anymore. But you do: so be humble and live and love hard.

 

 

 

 

Skin deep

Skin deep d284fce82eda540bc68c71a071b81753 Sitting in the bus back home, I’m in a sort of sedative state. I see the world around me but I’m not seeing it really. I’m in my own world. Virtual. Spaced out. I nearly missed my stop. Buzzed. I feel strong but extremely vulnerable at the same time. Happy and sad. Exhausted but with a weird kind of energy. No I’m not drunk. No, I’m not even under the influence of any legal or illegal substances. I’m simply in that particular kind of flow. Probably due to the hormones the body gives you at a certain point when or after you’re in big pain. I was advised by Valentin to have a good meal; he claims my body will need it. That there was a serious attack on that body, and that it will crave a real meal. In his eyes that is a steak or a hamburger. He’s a far better artist than food expert 🙂 (In my eyes a good meal means a quinoa salad or a falafel. But I’m not into food right now.) I’m in the bus 104 after an afternoon of pain and pleasure, being tattooed by Valentin Hirsch in his small tattoo studio in Neukölln, Berlin. I didn’t know what to expect at first. Valentin, rising star in the tattoo world and one of the very few accepted by the contemporary art world, has his own way of working: you say what design (he’s totally into animals) you would like to have on your body, and on which body part you would like it. You need to be patient. He works alone and the waiting list is huge. I gave him some instructions a couple of months ago but it’s only on the day of the actual tattoo session that he shows me his design. And even then you see only the rough lines. He will fill in the drawing on the spot. He made something I didn’t expect. I expected a deer. I got a parrot. Which eventually matched completely with what I wanted. A little scary at first, I admit. The sketch on paper looked good, but not fantastic. I can always withdraw. But I knew his work. He’s a damn good inker. (Can’t wait to see his other art, etchings and other stuff, Valentin, if you read this, keep me posted please!). I was proud to be there. And I knew more or less how it will look like in a couple of hours. I’m was so ready for this. Four hours later I feel like if somebody scratched his testament on my back. Maybe Valentin really did, in a peculiar way. He puts after all, a part of his soul in it. He can’t do otherwise. So I think. I think I would anyway. Drawing a piece of art into a person’s body is not something you do lightly. Their body is your canvas. Your drawing becomes theirs. And after a couple of hours, it walks through that door and you will probably never see it again. Letting needles deep inside your body is not something you do lightly neither. Or at least you shouldn’t. What I underestimated it the intenseness of the whole process. Not only you go naked metaphorically spoken but also sometimes you do have to take some cloths off. For a shy woman like me, that’s already a whole mountain to overcome.

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One of Valentin’s designs.

And you spend a couple of hours together, hands on skin, needle in skin. You don’t talk. There is fantastic music playing. You are in pain; your suffering is under his hands, from where it runs through his body before he lets it loose again. He concentrates. Your body speaks. He hears it, even if he’s not listening. I don’t like pain. But pain also reminds me that I’m alive. It’s an exchange of energy that is rather intense. I love intense. After the session, I have a look in the mirror and the result is above all expectations. Wow. Beautiful. Soft. Delicate. This will grow old with me. That feels comforting. I feel blessed and in a strange way protected. You know, like wearing a talisman, or having an Indian God statue in your pocket. You know it doesn’t work and you totally don’t believe in it, but in a strange way, those things comfort you. But I can’t deny the fact that my back sends pain messages to my neck, my brain, and my breasts. Reminding me that my body is one, that it’s not a collection of different parts. I’m not a man machine. Living in Berlin is living with many nationalities, a lot of poverty, weird scenes on the street, bar stories that are so lonely you could die, a lot of hustle, many stories, many ambitions, great imagination. And also a big underground scene. There aren’t many white collars out here. Berlin is a poor city. Most of the people in restaurants and bars or shops have tattoos, piercings or whatever other crazy (or not) body ornament. Most of them are not nicer or less well behaved than the ones without. Philipp; a friend and fashion photographer, says that “yes indeed, it is a real hype; you cannot find models anymore without a tattoo. It’s like everybody’s having it.” He’s not really happy with it. It’s a hype, a trend. Philipp joins Ozzy Osborne in this case. Ozzy once remarked to his daughter Kelly, ‘If you want to be different, don’t get a tattoo.’ Getting NOT tattooed is probably the most hipster thing to do which is totally understandable. Trends come and go. But I don’t give a damn about being hip or not. And I survived already a couple of trends. Even the worst. I was a teenager in the eighties: How bad do you think it gets? Tattoo subculture is a significant part of the Berlin culture. Body art is going completely avant-garde. Compared to 10 years ago is that it has nothing to do anymore with social circles. Musicians, artists, gallery owners, designers, but also the paperboy, or the girl in the supermarket. They all joined the tat-club. 10348362_751455218261784_262458873590717673_n tumblr_lw7urj60Tz1qba4mto1_1280There is still the old school, the classic, the sailors, the rockers, the Celtic and Maori designs etc. But there’s a new generation there. People who have a passion, a knowledge, a talent, a vision. Most of the times went to art school. No mass products for this avant-garde. This new generation of tattoo artist threw away conformity and a new aesthetic is born. People like Chaim Mavlev, Valentin Plessy, Peter Aurisch and Valentin Hirsch just to name a few, are working on a totally new level. And these are all people that are working in Berlin. I’ve always had a passion for tattoos. It is probably one of the more honest art forms. It is visceral. How close can you get to a text, a piece of art? It’s skin deep. It’s there to stay. For as long as you live. And even longer. The fact that you can scratch so deep into your skin that a work stays on your body for that long is amazing. It’s really nothing new. The art of tattooing is 5000 years old. I wrote down a short history underneath this post if you would like to read about it. We all like to think that the tattoo is the permanent expression of a certain feeling on a certain point in our lives. But I think it’s just the image that might be permanent or semi-permanent. The interpretation of the image is fluid. And thus will change through the years. Probably. But as I said, that evolves. That changes. Some women say it helps them to reclaim their body after bad experiences. Some people just do it because it’s trendy. Some people want their dog forever written on their skin. There are plenty of reasons. Not all of them are good, that’s for sure. “The melting pot that is the United States has no rites of passage as a single American culture,” says Ken Brown, a tattoo artist in Fredericksburg, Virginia, who finds inspiration in National Geographic photographs “On some levels, getting a tattoo is like a milestone that marks a certain moment in a person’s life.” Ken still remembers one customer, an 80-year-old former marine who had always wanted a tattoo but had been too afraid to get one. “He came to me for his first tattoo,” Ken says, “and he told me, ‘I figure I got five or six good years left in me, and I’m not going out without one.’ ” I love that last quote so much! What is it about tattoos that make them so popular? Why would somebody for Buddha’s sake would like to have needles in their bodies, at more than 100 times a second? In this video you can see exactly how it looks like in slow motion. Mesmerizing. Don’t ask me why, but I just love a beautiful tattoo. It is always an immense pleasure to look at a beautifully decorated body. I really consider it as an art form. Pity most of the designs are ugly as hell. Same shit as in the other arts. Maybe this nouvelle vague will lead to more talented tattoo artists and too more good taste in general. I so understand the people who always want more. Guess they feel naked without them. And there might be addicted to the ritual of getting tattooed. It’s a whole process of course. The thinking of the theme, the drawing itself, the first meeting with a tattoo artist, the studio, the stencil on your body and then that noise, the specific noise of that machine. The different needles. With their different noises and the different pains they create. The state in which you are after a couple of hours of pain, sometimes hardly bearable. Sometimes soft and almost tender. Everybody is afraid how the tattoos will look when we get old. Well, we hopefully all grow old, aren’t we? My friend Katharina puts it this way.” I’ll grow old and wrinkled with my tattoos, you will grow old and wrinkled without them.” Enough said. And the very last quotation comes from my son: “Wow. That is awesome! Finally I have a cool mum”, he exclaimed when he saw my tattoo for the first time. I don’t agree with him. I was always a cool mum, even before the ink 😉       More on tattoo art in Berlin here and in Belgium here. The blogs are not super up to date and don’t claim to be complete.     A short history of tattoos     Tattoos arise from a rich cultural history dating back 5,000 years. In fact, the earliest record of tattoos was found in 1991 on the frozen remains of Ötzi. Big parts of his body were marked with small line, made by rubbing powdered charcoal into vertical cuts. Scientists discovered that he had bone degeneration at the site of each tattoo. This led leading to believe that Ötzi’s people, ancestors of contemporary central and northern Europeans, may have used tattoos as medical treatment to reduce pain. Poor Ötzi! Later, the meaning of tattoos changed. Take Egyptian funerary figures of female dancers from around 2000 B.C. They display the same abstract dot-and-dash tattoos on their bodies as those found on female mummies from that time period. Bes, god of fertility and revelry is seen in later images. In ancient Romans the found no reason to celebrate tattoos. They believed in the purity of the human form. Except as brands for criminals and the condemned, tattoos were banned. (Criminals and tattoos…hey that rings a bell!). But over time, even the Roman attitudes toward tattoos changed. Fighting an army of Britons who wore their tattoos as badges of honor, some Romans came to admire their enemies’ ferocity as well as the symbols that represented it. Soon Roman soldiers were wearing their own body marks; Roman doctors even perfected the art of application and removal. During the Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries, warriors identified themselves with the mark of the Jerusalem cross so that they could be given a proper Christian burial if they died in battle. After the Crusades, tattooing largely disappeared in the West for a time, but continued to flourish in other places. By the early 18th century, European sailors encountered the inhabitants of the South and Central Pacific islands. There, tattoos were an important part of the culture. When a Tahitian girl reached the age of sexual maturity, her buttocks were tattooed black, a tradition that continues among some today. When in mourning, Hawaiians tattooed their tongues with three dots. In Borneo, natives tattooed an eye on the palm of their hands as a spiritual guide that would lead them to the next life. In 1769, Capt. James Cook landed in Tahiti, where the word “tattoo” originated from tatau, which means to tap the mark into the body. One method island practitioners used for working their designs into the skin was with a razor-edged shell attached to the end of a stick. In New Zealand, Maori leaders signed treaties by drawing precise replicas of their moko, or personal facial tattoo. Such designs are still used to identify the wearer as a member of a certain family and to symbolize a person’s achievements in life. In the 1820s, Europeans began the macabre practice of trading guns for tattooed heads of Maori warriors. To keep up with demand, Maori traders took slaves and commoners captured in battle, tattooed them, killed them, and sold their heads. The practice ended in 1831 when the British government made the importation of human heads illegal. Tattooing has been practiced in Japan since around the 5th century B.C. Repressive laws gave rise to the exquisite Japanese designs known today. Restricted from wearing the ornate kimonos that adorned royalty and the elite, outraged merchants and the lower classes rebelled by wearing tattooed body suits. Covering their torsos with illustrations that began at the neck and extended to the elbow and above the knee, wearers hid the intricate designs beneath their clothing. Viewing the practice as subversive, the government outlawed tattoos in 1870 as it entered a new era of international relationships. As a result, tattooists went underground, where the art flourished as an expression of the wearer’s inner longings and impulses. The yakuza, the Japanese gangster class, embraced the body suits—even more so because they were illegal. Those tattoos required long periods of pain from the artist’s bundles of needles, endured by wearers as a show of allegiance to their beliefs. Today, Japanese tattoo wearers are devoted to the most colorful, complete, and exotic expression of the art. New York inventor Samuel O’Reilly patented the first electric tattoo machine in 1891, making traditional tools a thing of the past in the West. By the end of the 1920s, American circuses employed more than 300 people with full-body tattoos who could earn an unprecedented $200 per week.

Maud Wagner. 1907.

Maud Wagner. 1907. First known female tattoo artist in the US.  Circus performer.

For the next 50 years, tattoos gained a reputation as a mark of American fringe cultures, sailors, and World War II veterans In the 1970s everything changed and real artists appeared. It was moved out of the danger zone. Katherine Irwin, associate professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii, has studied the cultural significance of the rise of tattooing among mainstream people in the West. “They became a symbol of working class masculinity. Now they are being recrafted into a middle class symbol.But she points out that in 19th Century Europe it was fashionable among some sections of the upper class to have discreet tattoos, of family crests and other aristocratic emblems. Tattoos have gone in and out of the mainstream, she insists. “They like to play with fringe identities without sacrificing their middle class status. They get a tattoo that is thumbing their nose at middle class society in a way that is so mainstream that it would be hard to push them out. “They don’t get anything super-fringe, they weren’t doing bloody skull and crossbones.” The promise of the tattoo is that the ordinary unadorned stretch of arm or leg or stomach will be transformed into a canvas for a statement, either artistic or counter-cultural, of cool. The most popular explanation of the motive for getting a tattoo is about “reasserting control over your own body”. In a Western world where body image, plastic surgery, anorexia and the depiction of women is a topic of daily debate, tattoos represent a different current of thought. I think we’re on the edge of a totally new vision of body art. Tattooing has become adult. Can’t wait to see what the future brings.     Sources:   http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/tattoos-144038580/?no-ist http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7034500.stm http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0412/online_extra.html Pictures: Please contact me if you are the photographer, I couldn’t find the credits for some of them!

One of those typical Berlin weekends

UnknownIt is the last weekend before school starts again. So what does a Belgian forty something does in Berlin when she’s not working on her book? This for instance:

An ideal way to start a long weekend is with a lunch on Friday. As mentioned before on this blog, cheap, healthy lunches aren’t hard to find in Berlin. Even in our tourist crowded neighbourhood which is called Scheunenviertel. I often take my kids out to lunch and today is no exception. Today, Elmo and I try Il Mercante del Sud, an authentic Italian cantina situated in front of the Jewish Friedhof, in de Große Hamburgerstr. 21. This is an aera of Berlin crowded with tourists but this friendly place is a relief compared to all the tourists traps around us.

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Authentic Italian food (today no fresh pasta which is wirklich schade), and authentic Italian (from the Marche region) atmosphere. Large wooden tables where you can just join other foodies. The open kitchen is huge and homey. No professional geer here  but cooking like I would do it at home if I cooked on electricity. A menu is optional but there is one: it is written on the inside of a pizza cardboard box 🙂

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The linguine al ragu comes with lots of veggies and my pasta arrabiata is excellent but unfortunately not arrabiata. Guess the chef isn’t arrabiata (enraged) enough today. A little spicy oil will do the trick. And yes, their home made spicy oil is really spicy. One menu (salad, pasta + drink) and one pasta + drink costs 17,5 Euro. Not super cheap for Berlin. But considering the atmosphere and the quality of the food it’s an excellent price/quality. And chef, don”t forget to spice it up next time, per favore 🙂 !

On Friday evening, I leave my cosy work desk at home to go to Alt Stralau to see an opera. Yep. Indeed. An opera in a hipster club. Why not ?  While I’m sitting there in the garden one of Berlin’s most famous clubs called Salon Zur Wilden Renate I can’t help thinking that Berlin hipsters are ruling Berlin’s art scene. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, I don’t give a damn.

DSC_2831~2Tonight is the premier of the Kiez Oper (see my last year’s post here) called The Fairy Queen. Alex J. Eccleston & Rowan Hellier, two twenty something producers,  try to tame a talented baroque ensemble conducted by Benjamin Bayl (Staatsoper) and Julia Burbach, the director of Royal Opera House (London) fame,  together with an international bunch of singers and actors. Here is a video of their last year ‘s performance. The public is essentially composed by international hipsters and I have to admit it: they are better dressed than I am to face this rather cold August night. Kiez Oper is a great initiative: to bring the opera to young (or relatively young) people in awkward places at a great price (12 Euro!) is indeed a fantastic idea. It’s anti-elitist, it’s fun, it’s beauty, it’s art. But this doesn’t come easy. To act and sing in a place like this, crowded ( I think there must be about 600 people!), with bars, people, big trees and hanging boats everywhere is not easy. And acting and singing and performing in relatively cold circumstances is a challenge.

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Photo: Jack Snow

The Fairy-Queen is a masque or semi-opera by Henry Purcell from the end of the 17th Century. The libretto is an anonymous adaptation of Shakespeare’s wedding comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was performed for the first time three years before Purcell’s dead. Following his death, the score was lost and only rediscovered early in the twentieth century. Filled with fairies, nymphs and transvestites, fire breathers along with the great location it looks like it is everything I like. It is indeed very contemporary even if it’s more than 300 years old.  And yes, there’s even a counter tenor. Buddha knows how much I love baroque music and countertenors. So why did I leave about an hour later not totally satisfied? The piece is really beautiful and the musicians excellent. But although I was on time I was too far from where most of the action was (although they did try to use the whole setting) and the trees and lack of stage were too big a handicap. Too bad I’m not professional enough to say something intelligent of the  quality of the singers. I was particularly surprised by the drag queen countertenor who really moved me when he started to sing his lamento  O let me weep. The setting, and he alone on that huge balcony…just perfect. But the small technical problems (2 times the microphones failed) , the sound of glasses and bottles at the bar, the fact that some singers were not understandable (and no program given so the story was lost on me), the disrespectful laughter of people in the back at the bar…that doesn’t forgive.

Some acting performances were not strong enough to be able to move the audience. And when there’s no emotion, there is something wrong. It would have no doubt been different if I was closer to the front. But please please please continue, I know the challenge and the (above all: technical) difficulties encountered are immens, but the idea is fantastic, and it makes me and hundreds of other people with me discover music we otherwise would never have known. And promised: next time, I’ll come earlier and sit in the front.

Here are some fantastic recordings of Purcell with Philippe Jaroussky,  divine as always. And then there’s this: Christina Pluhar and het Arpeggiata ensemble at her best.

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On Saturday I skip the cue (I heard later that some had to wait 3 hours!) at the Martin Gropius Bau because I bought an internet ticket for the David Bowie Exposition.

Always a bit sceptical on those expos that turns artists into gods but the expo beats everything I saw before. The concert room is simply overwhelming and larger than life. And when a guard sees me taking notes, she kindly invites me to sit on the bench. Not just a bench, but THE bench that used to be in the Dschungle, that famous club in West Berlin where Blixa Bargeld, Bowie, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Grace Jones and Depeche Mode spend most of their nights during their Berlin years. And for my freaky music friends: in that same room you’ll see a AKS 1979 Synthi. It was a gift to The Thin White Duke by a certain Brian Eno :-).

More than 2 hours later I’m totally happy and rather excited when I bike home in the sun. I’m the luckiest of bikers, feeling totally free and happy to have know most of Bowie’s repertoire, and to live in this fantastic city. Back home, my kids are starving so I’m making dinner they can’t refuse. Hmm, in fact, they did, my red curry is a little bit too spicy 😦 If i’m really honest: it is a hell of a lot too spicy. Seems like I will have to eat it myself for the next couple of days 🙂 Arrabiata it will be.

In the evening, one kid stays home alone while the big one (home from a trip around Europe that lasted 3 weeks so still pretty exhausted) and I are going to the Museum Insel where there will be a screening of the digitally restored classical expressionist masterpiece Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene) with live music from the Solistenensemble of the Film Orchestra of Babelsberg.

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Although I attended film school a long long time ago (it was the eighties and Belgian film schools sucked) I never saw the movie. It is indeed, a masterpiece, nothing more, nothing less. Thinking it was made in 1919-1920, cinema only a decade or 2 old, and already being able to make such a statement is simply overwhelming. These fantastic decors, the intenseness of the actors ( Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss…), the great music, I’m very grateful to be able to share this with my 19 year old.

 

On Sunday, a trip to the famous flea market known for its excellent buskers is cancelled due to the rain but in the afternoon I try some tango dance moves in the open air milonga at the famous Strandbar Mitte before heading to tango class in the Kreuzberg district where we did practised our improvisation skills along with some new barridas, pasadas, ganchos and whatever the other steps are called.

Tango © Marine Queyras

Tango © Marine Queyras

I ‘m dancing for 6 months now, 2 times a week, almost never miss a course and I’m still an absolute beginner. Although this is so frustrating, I will not give up this time. I can be stubborn sometimes.

 

Home again, there is still time for a heavy discussion (“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow, school is hell”) but also a cuddle and a story with my son who will start school tomorrow and who’s not -you guessed that part didn’t you?-very amused by that fact. And that…is a hell of an understatement. Guess he might be a little… arrabiato.

 

Telling Tales. A writing workshop, tons of stories and beautiful people

Wedding. Red Wedding that is. One of the few parts of Berlin never to vote for the Nazis. Wedding is still a largely working class area, very multicultural too. It is also probably the most authentic district of Berlin. And as other parts of Berlin are raising their prices on every level, Wedding is still affordable although the artists are slowly discovering the area which means the gentrification slowly begins. That also means that you can already have a damn good soy cappuccino for a humble 2 euros. I am not against gentle gentrification as long as it doesn’t kill the identity of the Kiez.

It was the first summer intensive 2014 course organised by The Reader Berlin and it took place at The Alte Kantine. In Wedding that is, but you got that, didn’t you? 🙂 For 5 days, we, that is 9 participants, focused on the art of telling tales, crafting narratives from real life experiences. Trying to shape them into stories. Readable stories that is. Stories with punch.With a heart, with a need to burst out of our system.

Tutors, mentors, life savers and je ne sais quoi were best selling author Rory Maclean (check out his website here!) and American journalist par excellence Kimberly Bradley.

There were also 2 evening events. One was a reading by famous journalist Tim Butcher who gave birth to his acclaimed new book THE TRIGGER. It’s a book about the teenage assassin named Gavrilo Princip who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand which brought the world to war in 1914.

On Wednesday Rory Maclean read from his new book BERLIN: IMAGINE A CITY and took part in a Q&A with Sharmaine Lovegrove . The last one took place in the Soho House Hotel. I missed the first event for personal reasons (and I regret it every hour since) but I went to the second one to see and hear my teacher/tutor in the Red Room of the members-only and super-posh-hotel-which-hosts-Madonna-and George Clooney-just-to-name-a-few. Rory was exactly as I expected him to be: the humble, funny, easy going super professional traveller and extreme Berlin lover. And yes, he did go dancing with David Bowie in the seventies and yes he did met Marlene Dietrich.

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After his reading some of us went straight to the roof of the hotel. Posh bar, swimming pool, view on the Fernsehturm on Alexanderplatz and full moon. I have to admit, I’ve seen worse places in the world. We stayed for a drink or two. When I left the hotel, I was looking for my bike. A little too concentrated maybe (it can also lies in the fact that the bartenders aren’t really stingy when it comes to filling glasses) because I didn’t see the step in front of the hotel doors. I fell right on my knees. It hurted like hell but hey, I got up and went on with my life 🙂 I couldn’t help laughing all the way home because it was such a huge life lesson. After all that poshy, shabby chic stuff at the hotel, the universe put me right back where I belong. With my feet (well on my knees in this case) on the ground that is!

But back to the Alte Kantine. We listened to Kimberly’s and Rory’s stories, sucked in their tips on good writing, learned the soft way that fear of writing is as divers and common as the amount of Imbiss (fast food joints) in this city, and finally accepted that we will never be able to overcome them all. We have to embrace some, just to be able to go on, to go further, to go where no one…well you got my point.

The journalist versus travel author duo works remarkably well. A man and a woman. A Canadian and an American (if you have any doubt of who’s what, just ask them to pronounce ‘process’, hilarious). Totally different personalities. But both passionate, humble and extremely professional. And damn good observers. And so were the participants. Real people with real stories to tell. All of us. No exception.

Although most of us were used to get out of comfort zone regularly we were sometimes forced to go a little further. The hardest part was on Thursday where we had to dive deep into our personal traumas just to be able to write about them from a different perspective. To look at ourselves from another perspective. Rory wrote a book around one of his personal traumas and although I haven’t read it yet, I intent to do it, because the way he talks about it, is insanely beautiful. Only one of us course members had the courage to read his story aloud. But that was so strong it left the rest of us voiceless.

And for those of you readers who think writers are boring and fucked up intellectuals. I confess: we are, totally. But only during working time 🙂  The rest of the time we are very much alive and kicking, Moleskine in one hand, pen in the other, always looking for stories, always living intense and ready to step right out of these boring boxes.

And that’s exactly how some of us ended that week. How many of you did make it to a High Heels lesson at Madonna’s Hard Candy, huh ?!?

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This blogpost was NOT edited and I’m afraid it shows. I’m the only one to blame :-)))

A Day with Frederick the Great aka Old Fritz

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Living in Berlin city centre can be so comfy and so nice-especially with this exceptional sunny winter-that I rarely leave my huge comfort zone.

Last week, I made an exception so I took my daughter on a daytrip to Potsdam, bus tour included.

We dressed up as tourists (camera on the belly, map of the city in one hand and a vegan currywurst in the other) and took the S-Bahn to Potsdam Hauptbahnhof. It takes about 45 minutes from Haeckescher Markt.

Potsdam is now the capital of Brandenburg, it’s a relatively small city (158 000 inhabitants) but the historical importance of this place is enormous.

If you are interested in Cold War history (like I am) you go completely nuts.

I personally find this city particularly interesting because of the fact that it was until 1989 an Eastern German town, with lots of typical DDR buildings still standing. Their ugliness against the glamour of the Prussian baroque is extremely interesting.

Anyway, we take a green bus tour that will lead us to a couple of interesting sites.

First stop is the Glinieckerbridge. Incredibly beautiful. It’s connects Potsdam with Berlin and was until 1989 a point of (often spectacular) exchange for secret agents of the East and the West who had been taken prisoner.

The bus takes us then to the Cecilienhof Palace; build in Tudor style from 1914 to 1917 for Crown Prince William and his wife Cecilie von Mecklenburg-Schwerin. It is the last construction of a castle of the Hohenzollern dynasty.

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This castle is today an historic memorial because of the Potsdam Conference of 1945. Churchill, Truman and Stalin wrote world history here.

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On our way to the Sanssouci palace, we admire the Russian colony called Alexandrowka. It is fantastic: it was a gift from Frederick William III to the Russian Czar Alexander who was a close friend. The entire area of green spaces, orchards and wooden houses is part of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.

But the biggest World Heritage Site in Germany is the complex of parks and palaces of Sanssouci.

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The famous mini Versailles, the actual Sans Souci Palace, was the home of Frederick the Great, the great and ruthless Prussian leader but also a musician and a friend of Voltaire He wanted to be buried like a philosopher but he had to wait until 1991, on the 205th anniversary of his death and in a controversial ceremony, to see his final wish granted.

2014-03-14 13.29.43It’s a beautiful small grave. And 11 other graves just near him: the graves of his beloved Italian greyhounds.

Frederick the Great had a terraced garden designed in 1744 so they could cultivate plums, figs and wine. But as the view was so lovely, he decided to make a large and pompous summer residence above the terrace. He actually never stayed there while he preferred the smaller Sans Souci castle. Our guide emphasised the fact that Fritz used to dump his guests here, so that he could be alone and quiet in Sanssouci.

Our last stop is city centre of Potsdam, which is a little too clean for our taste. So after a stroll through the baroque houses of the Brandenburger Strasse and the Dutch quarter, we decided it was time to go back to fuzzy Berlin. On our way to the station, we enjoyed the mixture of DDR architecture and the perfectly renewed historical buildings.

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All photos (except for the historical ones) taken by Nathalie Dewalhens or Louise Vangilbergen.

Clooney fever

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It’s that time of the year again!

Yesterday was the first day of the Berlinale. One of the world’s finest film feasts.

Temperatures were going up  to 10 degrees outside while it should be snowing and icing instead of being sunny and relatively warm.

So the city literally warms up to welcome the stars. It’s the biggest feast of the year, bigger than the Fashion Week, Art week or whatever week you can think of. Berlin and movies, they are simply made for each other.

George Clooney ist auch wieder da! The fact that cinema’s biggest G-spot is in the city is no suprise as he’s coming will be presenting his latest movie “The Monuments Man” .

This movie was filmed partly in Babelsberg, near Berlin (just like Inglorious Basterds to name only one). It’s not that long ago that the city was buzzing with rumours: “Clooney is here, Clooney is here”. He was actually. He was looking for extras for his film to come. He was looking mainly for males youngsters who could play Canadian, American, French or German soldiers.

From what I’ve heard he was always friendly, cordial and above all very professional.

Whenever in Berlin, he stays in the fantastic Soho Hotel, in de Torstrasse just a few blocks away from my apartment.

It’s time to make a little confession here. I respect  G-Man since I first saw him in the American series ER. He played an empathic but troubled pediatrist and had a beautiful love affair with a nurse, played by the incredible Julianne Margulies. (now of The Good Wife fame).

His role was minor but when he was on, he occupied the screen. That is so strange because he’s not particularly handsome, or tall, he doesn’t even have a sixpack like all the other dudes 🙂 But the camera just loves him. His role asked for lots of empathy and this rather good looking guy was just breathing calmness and zenitude.

He left the series for the big screen and hits hard with Roberto Rodriguez “From Dusk till Down”, a trashy horror movie. Excellent choice, because it mad him immediately accepted by the hipster movie people.

That calmness of him is probably only on the outside. I suspect him to be a seriously hyperactive case.

He’s been particulaly touched by the civil war Sudan since a long time and his Satellite Sentinel Project just raised more than a million dollars by organising a contest: “win a date with George Clooney”. A 42 year-young woman won it. It was her first date since 4 years and she shared it with her daughter. (I like that). She went with Clooney to the NY festival on the world premiere of “The Monuments Men.”

Afbeelding And she saw what a madhouse it was. I can easily imagine how fucked up you turn out to be when the world is at your feet. But hey, G. Seems to handle it quiet well.

Here you can see it for yourself.

Clooney is an actor (a good one) and a director (a very good one). One of my favourite movies by his hand is Ides of March but that is probably due to the fact that there’s a certain Ryan Gosling playing a major role.

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Ides of March featured also Philip Seymour Hoffman, another favorite actor of me, who died last week, probably of an overdose.

Click here to hear  what Clooney and his co-stars has to say about the death of his friend Hoffman on the same day he presented his movie.

Afbeelding That’s the kind of person he is.

I think the world needs more G-men.

PS: Berlin Film Festival will honour Philip Seymour Hoffmans life with a special screening of his classic film Capote

 PS 2 (February 12, 2014): I just wanted to add this because it’s simply a wonderful gesture: Clooney wears a Vivienne Westwood T-shirt under his tuxedo with the simple message: save the arctic!

You’ll find some more explanation here. You rock Vivienne!

Save the artic

Generous Jamie

Nederlandse versie hier

momentumIt’s been a while since I posted a concert review. And nope, this blog post isn’t one neither. Therefore, it isn’t neutral enough. But wtf, I have no boss, no record company, not even a proofreaders who will give me a hard time. This used to be much different back in the nineties 😀

Back then I worked for a small independent Belgian record company. As every independent they struggled and are still struggling and barely can survive the MP3 era. I worked my ass off en felt terribly responsible for “my” artists. That used to be mainly people from the so-called world music scene. World music was hot in the nineties thanks to people like Ry Cooder who introduced to Western world to the Buena Vista Social Club and broadened our musicalal horizon.

My 2 bosses never did proper promotion. So the job had to be built up from scratch, with just a little money but lots of passion. This means: sending promo copies to the press so that they can write critics, going to radios and try to make them play your artiest, organising promotional days when there’s a new album coming up etc.

As a small independent label we had to work and scream twice as hard to be taken seriously. I remember de arrogance of some music programmers. We were laughed at by the commercial radio for being not commercial enough and not taken seriously by alternative radio (for being too exotic).

A part from “exotic “music we also distributed a few jazz labels. Candid Records was one of them. That was and still is owned by Alan Bates. Alan is an old style music businessman, with a passion for jazz and jazz musicians. He’s 86 now and still active in the business. He won the “Services to Jazz “award at the 2008 BBC Jazz Awards.

One day back in 2002: another day at the office. London calling.

Hi Nathalie, Marc here from Candid Records.”

Marc invites us to come and listen to a fabulous new artist they signed just recently. He’s young, he’s handsome and he’s busted with talent. That’s what Marc said.

A couple of days later, I’m in the train to London, little bit sceptical. It’s not the first time that record companies overstate new artists 🙂

The venue is great, really Londonean (how do you say this in proper English??) and the atmosphere is nervous, filled with tense expectation. I’m expecting too, my second child, but this I didn’t know.

First we listen to Bill Nighy, who is nowadays a really famous actor (remember Love Actually??) but back than he was known for a hit he made in the eighties.  I remember him not being a great singer, but that didn’t matter, the song sucked too, but he had the attitude.

En then it is time for the special guest. The tension is getting even stronger.

Then Jamie enters on stage, completely relaxed (or so it seems): a young man, no a boy, definetaly still a boy. Already wearing his typical “just came out of bed” look. He sits down behind the piano and starts to sing.  And here’s the moment: that magical moment in which you understand why you are doing this job and why you love it that much. The gut feeling, the chicken pocks. The magic.

Jamie Cullum, with his only 21 or 22 years of life experience sings jazz standards as he had written them himself. Here’s an artist at work: he can not only play the piano divinely but he’s also an excellent singer and performer, he knows how to choose his musicians (Sebastiaan De Krom on drums!) en gives all he’s got in a concert I will never forget. The public loves him.

It was the first time I saw Jamie and of course I knew a star was born. But then again, you are never certain and you don’t become a star just like that. You have to work for it, dear reader.

I remember one of my first conversations with Jamie in which he asked me:

Nathalie, did you ever play the piano so long and so hard, your fingers starting to bleed?

Euh, no Jamie, no, I did not.”

That’s one of the reasons  he’s a performer and most of us aren’t.

A few weeks later, Jamie and Marc come to Belgium to do some press promotion.  I managed to have a couple of radio’s to play his single “I want to be a pop star” (listen to it: here) and some journalists will make an interview with this artists they never heard of. But it was difficult, I admit. I am assisted by Heidi, the girl who will take over my job, with whom I started to be friends (for life I hope). What was also great is that Jerome, a Radio 21 radio programmer believed in Jamie and ask him to play his version of Radiohead’s High & Dry live on the radio.  Cool.

In the evening I drove Marc & Jamie back to the airport. They were flying Ryanair at the time (yes!) and I had to drive all the way to Charleroi. And (another yes!) even back in 2002 there were already huge traffic jams. So yes again, we missed the last plane to London. I finally managed to find a lousy hotel in the suburbs of Charleroi so they could take a flight back first thing in the morning.

They weren’t even mad at me, something for which I’m still grateful.

A year later, Jamie signed with Universal and the rest is history.

Two years ago, I saw Jamie in concert for the first time since 10 years. It was at the Jazz Festival in Juan les Pins. It is still one of the best concerts I ever saw. The intensity Jamie and his band show on stage and their communication with the public is rare.

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And last week there was this concert in Berlin’s Heimathafen. A fantastic venue, very old school, wooden floors, balconies… A kinda try out concert for Jamie’s new cd. Or so I thought.

The band must be exhausted, because I heard that the day before they had to perform with Jools Holland and you cannot refuse Jools, can you? Even if you have to book a return flight to London when your touring in Europe.

“Momentum”, the new cd is coming out in May and that’s why Jamie likes to perform in smaller clubs. My daughter and I had a chance to be there thanks to Marc (thanks again M!).

It was years ago, what do I say, a LIFE ago that I had the chance to be on a guest list. I was thrown back into my past immediately. My daughter L., is completely amazed when she got to wear a yellow bracelet with gives us access to the balconies.

 

When we are sitting in the nice and cosy bar upstairs, drinking a beer, a girl gives us two tickets for free drinks. If you work in the business you find this completely normal. But seriously it is not. I realise that now, when I look at my daughter and seeing how happy she is. She didn’t consume her drink; I suppose she still got the ticket. I’m afraid I drunk mine 🙂

The supporting act consists of 2 lads whose names I didn’t understand. Very good musically speaking and the German public are excellent and willing but they are not that communicative and I miss the generosity, the contact with the public. Stress maybe? Pity.

And then is time for Jumping Jamie Flash. He jumps on the stage as he always does and the public is ready to follow him on his musical trip wherever that may go.

“The Same Things” is a new song and a great one to start with: very rhythmical, energetic, and generous.

Jamie isn’t the boy I met 10 years ago. He is now father of 2 children and married with the granddaughter of Roald Dahl (how cool is that hu!).

The set is not really very constructed. What I mean by that is that the set is nearly completely improvised. Jamie never ever plays with a set list, he listens and feels the public and he reacts to that. Must be hard for the musicians but apparently they happen to love it. “It is different every time and it keeps us very much alert, we love it even though we obviously miss a lot of times” Says Chris Hill, the bass player. All the musicians also play in other bands.  The fact that there’s no fixed playlist gives Jamie a lot of freedom and enables him to keep in touch with the public.

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My favourite moments are often the improvised solo’s, often very very jazzy even if his repertoire is getting poppyer.  “All over it now” sounds good and the new single (or so I think) “Everything you didn’t do” is a great pop song.

I am a bit surprised that only half of the new record is being played but then again: that is no real suprise really. “The Pursuit”, his last album was already very poppy and “Momentum” continues in the same direction.

 

Although most of the set is up-tempo, there are some ballads too. I am not a ballad person unless there are made of the right stuff and usually, with Jamie, there are.

When I meet him afterwards in the lobby all I can say is:

Hi Jamie, remember be, it’s been a while.? I’m so proud of you!

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I know I know I’m being far from original but this is exactly how I felt and I meant it from the bottom of my heart.

And my daughter? She’s on cloud nine: drinking beer with the musicians, getting a big hug from Jamie, a fantastic concert. Can it get better than this?

What?: Jamie Cullum in Heimathafen, Berlin, 17 april 2013

Setlist: The Same Things
/All Over It Now/
Everything You Didn’t do/
Get Your Way
/Save Your Soul/
Frontin’
/Love For Sale/
Standing Still/
Pure Imagination
/All At Sea/
Don’t Stop The Music
/Sad Sad World
/These Are The Days
/20 Something
/You’re Not The Only One
/Mix Tape
———-
Gran Torino
Upcoming concert in Berlin: Zitadelle Spandau on August 23, tickets here

Upcoming album: “Momentum” out on May 20

http://momentum.jamiecullum.com

©foto’s: Louise Vangilbergen of Nathalie Dewalhens