When Being a Rude American Paid Off

Okay, so most of my trip to Berlin I felt guilty about not learning Germish and not getting past page twenty-three in my guide book. The thing is that nearly everyone there speaks English and you can totally get away with it. They don’t even make you feel bad for it; the guilt is all self-induced.

Tuesday night we had an amazing meal at an authentic Deutsche küche. They had this really awesome candle holder in the middle of the table.

A chicken made out of various bits of metal, some identifiable, some not. I like his feet.

We decided to walk back to the hotel a different way. We kept passing these graffiti-covered entrances to alleys and staircases.

Not normally a place I would wander into in New York. Or Berlin, for that matter. One of my more adventurous companions walked down an alley and found a quiet, grafitti-covered room. No bar. No music. Faint smell of pot smoke wafting out. And, inexplicably, some guys playing a very quiet and very serious game of ping pong.

We skipped the one pictured above with the staircase. It was really intimidating, and several stories high.

The next one we came to was an open air courtyard, with makeshift rooms built out of the walls of sea crates and cinderblocks and corrugated metal. It turned out to be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. A bunch of artists in makeshift rooms. It was the place they made the candle holder.

Picture if you will a dim, grafitti-covered room, cold, and heated only by a fire going in a giant head that looks eerily similar to those big rocks on Easter Island. It’s worth clicking on this picture for a closer look.

They’re working. Making art. Metal sculptures, from tiny to ginormous, out of various bits of random hardware- drill bits, ammo casings, gears, chains, screws, metal shavings. There is music: the original cast recording of Annie mixed down with a techno beat. If I were at a different time in my life I would have signed up to apprentice right there. Instead, I just took some pictures.

I love this one. He turned around at the last second.

Little ones:

Big ones:

(Somebody please give me props from refraining from the obvious here.)

I am reminded of that Heywood Banks song:

I’ve felt like this before:

Okay, here’s why it paid off to be a rude American. This experience was made so much better by not having any idea what the hell I was walking into. When we met up with the rest of our group and told them what we saw, one of them had been inside the staircase part.

I went back on Thursday by myself.

The highlight for me was Alexander Rodin’s Global Warming exhibition. I was completely blown away.

Most of his works are canvases larger than I have ever seen in my life, three and four wide, all the way to the high ceiling.  The painting that you see from across the room is impressive enough, but when you step close to it, you’re left standing, head craned up, mouth open, marveling at the detail that he puts into every square centimeter (see that? I can be metric when I want). It’s a whole different painting up close.

He had several works in progress. It was fascinating to see how he goes in stages with them, because my brain simply couldn’t wrap around how the finished work ever began.

There were other studios in the space that I visited too.

In every one were petitions to sign saying “I support Tacheles” except the rest was in Germish and I couldn’t read it.

It was only upon returning home that I had a chance to Wiki it. Former Jewish department store turned Nazi prison (hence my original impression of it being intimidating) turned artist collective. Holy crap.

The place was amazing. I don’t think I would have had the same experience knowing what I was walking into. I have decided that just maybe, in the future when I visit other countries, maybe I will continue to not read past page twenty-three in my guide book and trust my instincts on where I go.

Continuing with the theme from previous Berlin posts, here’s a different kind of angel, Tacheles-style:


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