European Diary: Palermo Bar, Swissotel; 5:45 p.m., Tuesday; June 15, 2004; Berlin, Germany

Last night we went to see a production of “Die Kleinburgerhochzeit,” an early work by Brecht. We saw it at Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, the theatre Brecht founded in 1949 in East Berlin. (Chased out of the U.S. by McCarthy’s goonery and disgusted by the reintegration of nazis into the post-war West German government, he accepted the invitation of the East Germans to stage a play there and wound up staying.)

The packett of red velvet seats was surmounted by two balconies, whose boxes were divided by columns or pilasters. The atmosphere was a little claustrophobic, hot and close and the fraying-fiction-of-the-bourgeoisie there was hilariously (and disgustingly) underscored by the regular exhalations of rotten farts and/or abscessed teeth of the unwashed intellectual who was sitting before us. It was among the worst things I’ve ever smelled, making the noise, things breaking and narrow mess of the stage treatment (all action took place in a cramped box with a long table inside, suspended from the ceiling by wires) all the more horrifying. We thought we were going to have to bolt. But Berlin intellectuals are notoriously easy to spook, so we held it together until the end.

Signs we saw on the streets while riding back from the theatre in a taxi:

Big Sexyland

Dolly Busters

“Dolly Busters”? This was a chain of stores. I can only imagine that their products were of a sexual nature, but the implied busting of dollies made me want to scrub for hours with a harsh lye soap while convulsively weeping.

Today we walked over to KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens – Shopping House of the West) which, like Harrod’s, was immense and over-priced. The food floor, with different “bars” for everything from oysters to chocolate to sausages, was its saving grace. The difference in cultural background and sensitivity between S. and myself was underscored by my enthusiastic snuffling down of several Thüringer Würste to S.’s wrinkle-nosed distress.

S. later went off to Forum Steglitz for more shopping while I went to the Museumsinsel to visit the Pergamonmuseum. Extraordinary reconstruction of the Greek altar building / temple at Pergamon. Many stelae with cuneiform in the Near Eastern Museum. Gestural. Reconstructed Ishtar Gate from the north wall of Babylon was the highlight. It was like seeing something from a dream made suddenly and impossibly manifest. It was such a surprise that the thing actually existed in real life and not just in my imagination. Like the Pergamon altar it was enormous. And unlike the Greek and Roman architecture we are used to – what paint there was long ago stripped away by time and the elements – the Ishtar Gate was made of gleaming, colored bricks in deep blue, red, yellow; all shining from the firing and carved, over great surfaces, with lions and other figures.

Berlin is enormous. 40 miles across? Perhaps not, but without the walls, the city has been flung open and all the imperial buildings in the east give it a monumentality that the old West Berlin lacked. I could live here. So much theatre, cinema and hundreds of Buchhandlungen, museums, galleries, etc. The New York of the E.U.

I rather miss the early 80s, occupied-house, anarchist-punk scene. But, like everywhere else, Berlin – and I – have changed. I want to destroy passers by. I don’t want to work for tort reform.

Andre Gide’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” comes to mind.

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