Victim of the 20th Century
by Rebecca Wiener
BERLIN – Obviously, Germany is a fascinating place. The 20th century battered old Deutschland pretty hard (and vice versa), but the nation’s been recovering nicely and can now claim to at least be better than the French. (Modern-day Germans may be uptight, but the French are just dicks, okay?)
I also have a soft spot for Angela Merkel, but probably just because she’s a totally awesome lady scientist and she cockblocked George W. Like most of America, my affections for politicians are usually based on instinctual feelings, rather than issues. For instance, when I was 7, my school had all the students vote for the next President of the United States and I voted for George Sr. because he looked so friendly I wanted him to be my grandfather.
Which brings me to my real paternal grandfather, Leipzig-born Harold (Hans, pre-Ellis Island) Wiener, who emigrated at the age of 16 and grew up to become the owner of a men’s underwear wholesale business. (Wiener! Underwear! Funny! Shut it.) I’m in my dad’s second batch of kids, so by the time I was sentient my grandfather almost wasn’t anymore.
I knew him as a gentle man with floppy ears and a thick German accent, who smiled at me through cloudy blue eyes. So in high school, I decided to take German. My dad grunted, “Could you pick a more useless language?” but I was just so pleased to hear that familiar accent in my teacher’s voice. (If you know anything about me, you know that I’m Jewish , so don’t go calling me a Nazi, please. If you recall, once upon a time there was a thriving population of Jews who were also proud to be German.)
A few weeks ago, armed with three years of high school German (although, sadly, I can’t recite “Die Lorelei” anymore) and a desperate desire for a vacation, I took my first trip to the Mutterland, specifically, Berlin. The city’s been getting a lot of good coverage lately, and I’ve heard more than one world traveler drolly refer to the city as “so hot right now.” It’s like the new Buenos Aires. Unfocused and wildly eclectic, Berlin looks like a post-modern archeological site.
Here are the communist Palaces of the Workers, towering slabs of apartment buildings lining Karl-Marx Allee (many grizzled ex-East Berliners still live there, rarely leaving the neighborhood), and here is the former church of the Prussian Hohenzollern royal family.
Here is the obscenely futuristic TV Tower…
Bauhaus at Last.fm
“In the Flat Field” — Bauhaus (mp3)
and here is the meandering wooded Tiergarten, which used to be the royal hunting grounds and was mostly deforested during WWII.
The strangest artifacts are those you can’t see: The Palace of the Republic, once the seat of the East German government has been torn down in order to rebuild an 18th century building damaged by war and destroyed by the GDR. A peaceful apartment complex stands on top of Adolf Hitler’s bunker, whose entrances have been caved in and blocked, but whose interior remains nearly untouched.
Needless to say, there are some weird vibes.
We also hit up Kreuzberg, which has been described by many as Berlin’s Williamsburg. It was cool, but it’s more like Berlin’s Bushwick or at least pre-Will Hubbard Williamsburg. It’s nice that my office just moved across the street from a power plant. The view reminds me a little of my trip every day.
A good trip and an intriguing city. Highly recommended. Oh yeah, and Turkish food is awesome.
“The Spy in the Cab” — Bauhaus (mp3)
Buy Swing the Heartache here.
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Something short of an orgasm.
Our dangerously handsome guest contributor.
Steve Coogan, what did you do?