Category Archives: Berlin

Move over electro, Berlin’s got a new beat

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Berlin features big on the global set list of electronica, but a bunch of musicians are strumming their stuff in an effort to add another, handmade, string to the city’s bow.

One chilly Friday night earlier this year, I was sitting in Schlesisch Blau mopping up the remains of the soup I’d ladled into my own bowl from the vast pots on the old-fashioned stove, when the chatter and chuckles that are the restaurant’s ambient sound were suddenly interrupted by the deep pluck and jangly twang of an unexpected musical interlude.

Conversations hushed, and within moments the trio of musicians had the stage – or the square foot of standing room in front of the giant soup pots – and the attention of the assembled company. No preamble. Just music that sounded as if it had been tailor-made for that very situation. They played for 20 minutes or so, took their bows, sold a few CDs and went on their way. Read on.

Category: Berlin, music | Tags: , ,

Don’t judge your blind date by its cover

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It reads like something from the opening scene of a cheesy film. A girl makes a mad dash out of the house, races down an inconvenient number of stairs, grabs her bike at the bottom and pedals off into the traffic. As she jumps red lights and dodges oncoming cyclists, she keeps one eye out for the time, which is – yet again – of the essence. It is 9:20 a.m. and she is already five minutes late. She is a lousy time-keeper.

Cursing her flaw, she reaches the intersection at Eberswalderstrasse. It’s 9:22. How long can she keep a blind date waiting? Might someone else come and snatch it up? She keeps going, weaving her way through pedestrians, prams and road workers, until at precisely 9:26, she turns into Kollwitzstrasse. Eleven minutes late. Her heart is beating in time with her efforts, and she’s not quite there yet.

She parks outside one of the numerous entrances to the Wasserturmplatz. She knows this square and had welcomed the suggestion to make it the scene of her mysterious rendezvous. But it’s been a while and her urban geography, it seems, is as poor as her punctuality. In her recollection, the statue of the lion where she is to meet her date was somewhere else. She hurries among the trees and along the sandy paths – watched by mother who is not watching her kids – in search of the one she hopes will still be waiting. Read on.

Category: Berlin, protagonist, Writing | Tags: , ,

Arabic literature goes west

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For many in the West, the term ‘Middle East’ connotes military action and political reaction. But behind the sobering news reports is a rich literary world waiting to be discovered.

Born millennia apart, King Ashurbanipal of Assyria and the contemporary literary journal, Banipal, have more in common than their names. Just like the 7th century monarch, who collected texts from across the neo-Assyrian empire to create the first library in the ancient Middle East, the UK-based publication compiles contemporary writing from all over the Arab world – albeit in English translation.

I came across Banipal at the International Literary Festival Berlin (ilb), where its founders, Samuel Shimon and Margaret Obank, were talking about their efforts to make Arab literature accessible to the wider world. Their new magazine, Kikah,translates the other direction, aiming to introduce readers in the Middle East to uncensored, high-quality Arabic translations of international literature.

In its blurb about the Banipal and Kikah event, the ilb program referred to the West’s “rudimentary knowledge of the Arab world,” claiming that only three percent of books published in the US are translations from other languages. Three percent? That seemed too meager to be true. But further research supports the claim, and what’s more, the scenario is repeated in the UK. Read on

Corset wearing Berlin

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Here’s a little column I wrote for DW recently. About Berlin, natürlich!

Berlin has a reputation as a city where anything goes, day or night. But does it really? Tamsin Walker is willing to risk the wrath of the Szene set, and beg to differ. Just a little.

It was a decade ago that the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, famously declared his city to be poor yet nonetheless sexy. His words were immortalized on the very breath which gave them life, and have since served to attract a flow of sexily impoverished stragglers and strugglers looking for a cheap new home and preventing the slogan – and by extension perhaps themselves – from going out of fashion.

Wowereit’s statement was prompted by a question about the relationship between sexiness and money. He held Berlin up as an example of how the two things need not necessarily be mutually inclusive. But what exactly constitutes a sexy city?

I’m told it’s all about “cheap rents” and an “anything goes” way of life. The latter includes the freedom to sunbathe naked in public places, croon karaoke on the former East German death strip, tango on rooftops, trip out to techno everywhere, or watch impenetrable performance art in the cellars of un-gentrified buildings where the only thing stopping anyone smoking is moisture dripping atmospherically from low-hung ceilings. Read more…

From the arctic to the vernal

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So the snow is back. And with it, a very grouchy public. Too easily were we seduced by the prettily coloured primroses and pansies suddenly on sale on every other street corner. Too willing were we to believe that global warming was drawing winter to an early close. What fools we are, because people – this is Berlin!

This is the city where the winters are long and longer by far than the longest of its speciality long nights (next one is museums this weekend). The city where spring often doesn’t turn up in earnest until days and even weeks after the vernal equinox that officially heralds the start of everyone’s favourite season. But it is also a city that can, when it so chooses, wear winter well. A little like spring with icing.

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Category: Berlin, In the park, Seasons | Tags: , ,
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