Full-Assed Friday: Tacheles

You may or may not have noticed that the tag line to this blog is adventures in half-assed step parenting. 

Welcome to Full-Assed Friday. Every Friday I’m going to share something that I consider Full-Assed. It may be funny, awesome, meaningful, or just different. I’m taking suggestions, so if you have an idea or want to be a part of it, email me at accidentalstepmom at gmail dot com.

A lot of things happened over the past week:

  • #5 scored 300 on his NJASK standardized test in Math. Out of 300.
  • #3 made the middle school travel volleyball team
  • #2 kicked a whole lot of butt in a whole lot of high school volleyball
  •  I sold my first essay (squee!).

I had a fascinating interview with a lovely girl that I’m very excited about writing up for this feature. However, CC is working a second gig during the days this week, which means I’m on deck for early morning lunch-making and school runs. I’m not pulling an all-nighter to finish writing up the interview. I am too old for that. Not to mention too sober.

So, today’s Full-Assed installment is about Tacheles, an art center in Berlin. This past March I was lucky enough to spend four days in Berlin for work.

It was beyond amazing. I’ll never forget it- in particular, Tacheles.

Tacheles is a place that we stumbled into on accident. What follows was originally posted on March 13 of this year under the title “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 said he had been inside the intimidating 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. [JM note 9/22/11: pictures weren’t allowed in his exhibition, but please check out the link- he’s fantastic.]

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:







What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever stumbled into unexpectedly?





My last day in Berlin I walked past a record store.

A real record store, with vinyl.

By myself, on my thirty-ninth birthday. I can’t begin to express exactly how much this thrilled me.

I flipped through nearly all the vinyl they had outside. For no good reason, I picked up a couple 45’s: Alice Cooper’s Elected and The Four Seasons’ Beggin’ (or, as we like to call it, Bacon). I also picked this up for CC:

A German/English sound effects record, including background children’s noises for “Children-Scenes”, apparently recorded by a lovely young lady with quite a stereo pair. Because I couldn’t have made any of that up.

They also had CD’s. I went in, and by this time I had given up pretending that I was ever going to speak their language and asked the lady behind the counter in English, “What’s the best German band I’ve never heard of?” She asked me what type of music. She then gave me two CD’s, with a smile that held the universal excitement of turning someone on to music they’ve never heard before, and a very German “You MUST get these!” She let me listen to them but I was already sold.


From the liner notes for Ege Bamyasi: “Guitarist the late Michael Karoli later complained that the sessions were frustrated by keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and vocalist Damo Suzuki’s playing chess obsessively day in, day out.” As my friend Drew says: It’s like Meddle Pink Floyd did the nasty with Parliament Funkadelic.

In Extremo.

Their liner notes are all in Germish. Here’s all you need to know: Metal, with multiple bagpipe players. Described elsewhere as “Folk/Medieval Metal” (that website also listed Carmina Burana as a lyrical theme. Which is also true.). They have been around since 1995 and I can’t believe something this awesome has existed for so long and it took me sixteen years and a trip out of the country to find it.

I’ve been playing that disc nonstop this week. This is our conversation in the van:

#2: Is this your weird Germish band again?

Me: Yes.

(repeat four more times with the other kids).

This link will take you to view the video on You Tube. I am pretty sure he raises someone from the dead in it. Plus they’re on a boat. And the dude playing the cittern or whatever the hell it is Robert Trujillo-style: brilliant. Again, I say to you: Germans are badass.


So I did an actual gig in Berlin. Believe it or not, that’s why I went. I was doing sound for the guys that performed at a dinner for a business convention. I only had to mix the show. Someone else did the actual work of setting up the system.

Gigs like that- conventions, meetings, seminars, trade shows- are called industrials. My part in it, only mixing the show and not dealing with the system, is referred to as briefcasing or white-gloving.

Most industrials suck more than your average other gigs for the crew. It felt odd to be the client and not part of the crew. I saw how industrials are pretty much the same, no matter what country you’re in. Here’s how:

1) The crew starts at an ungodly hour, completely contrary to any other gigs they do.

In this case, midnight, which meant that all the guys were coming off another gig, and working through with no sleep. The video guy (picture a taller, blonder Arie Luyendyk) had been up for forty hours straight. He told me he had been in a car accident on his way to Berlin from Austria the night before. He wrecked in the woods with no one around and waited two hours for help. And still made the gig on time.

I said, “You must be in pain!” and he said, “No, no, because before? I was driving the racing cars? So I know how to be hit? You go like this,” and he crossed his arms over his chest, each hand on the opposite shoulder. “And then you tuck your head like this?” and he tucked his chin down between his arms. “So no pain,” he said. Germans are so badass.

2) The suits are annoying.

The suits are the liäson between the guys doing the actual work and the clients. They were very nice to me, because I was the client. They’re great at overcharging, getting in the way, and moving things around so that the guys doing the actual work can’t find them.

When it came time for me to ring out the mics, Sven, the sound tech, couldn’t find the mics because one of the suits had moved all his gear around.

The suits had originally told me to stop by around 6am to test. Then they changed it to 8am, then 9am. At 9am they weren’t ready for me. I came back after breakfast and figured I’d wait. Then a lot of German swearing and running happened, mostly swearing in German but some in English, for my benefit I believe, because . . .

3) Something always breaks.

Smoke was POURING out of one of the speakers. I made some crack about how that doesn’t happen very often in America because our power is small. Nobody was amused. So I left again.

4) The shop always forgets something important.

We start rehearsal and one of the mics goes dead. I go, “Hey Sven, this one has a very low signal.” I say this with an affected accent, as if that will make up for me not speaking Germish.

He makes a German sound of concern and retrieves the mic and examines it. “Main problem,” he says. “Big problem. Battery run out.” and then cracks a smile. Funny, because we all know changing batteries is a much easier problem to fix than a smoking speaker.

Rather than send someone out to a drug store to buy batteries, a suit had them sent over from the shop. They didn’t come until an hour into rehearsal, so we were down a mic that whole time because, while they were charging 17,000 Euros for an average quality, large-sized LED video screen- a price that should have included scantily-clad virgins feeding the viewers figs- they did not include with their package any back-up mics, wired or otherwise. They didn’t send enough batteries to get through the show that night, which meant a second emergency delivery (not counting any previous emergency deliveries because of the smoking speaker). Then the lack of extra mics necessitated yet another delivery, because of course, the CEO always makes a speech a these things.

5) The systems tech guy is overworked and under-appreciated.

Sven was exhausted but never lost his cool. He kept cracking jokes. He spoke English. He fixed my computer problems by kindly standing to the side and offering helpful comments until I finally understood what he was talking about. That part wasn’t a language barrier, but a conceptual technological understanding barrier (me).

Again, I say Germans are badass, but beyond that, we’re pretty much all the same.