Stay Sexy, Berlin

East Side Gallery, Berlin

10 years ago, Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit said “Berlin ist arm, aber sexy” (Berlin is poor, but sexy). Seven years later, after an influx of party-hungry tourists and hipsters (seemingly to be mainly hailing from Brooklyn), he went on to say “Wir wollen, dass Berlin reicher wird und sexy bleibt” (We want Berlin to become richer and stay sexy). That being said, in the past few months there seem to have been quite a few stories running rampant around the internet that contest Berlin’s hip and “sexy” status.

Back in February, Rolling Stone ran a story about the notorious and (notoriously) exclusive Berlin club Berghain, a venue previously known for its doors that never seem to close (particularly on weekends) and its long history of radical and innovative DJs (Rolling Stone put together ‘The Essential Berghain Playlist‘ if you’d like to sample the infamous EDM Berghain sound). The club has also been voted as “the best club in the world” by the likes of the New York Times, with entire articles existing elsewhere that are devoted to telling readers how to get past the doors and into the MDMA fueled interiors. A friend here in Prague recently succeeded in doing just that and spent about 20 minutes showing me pictures of her arms and back, bruises of questionable origin blooming in deep shades of purple after a blurry night at the club (she is much, much cooler than I am, I’m afraid).

According to this Rolling Stone article, though, the club is indicative of a far more systemic problem in “Europe’s Party Capital.” Mainly that “the venue stands at the intersection of the bigger trends facing the city, namely gentrification, a rise in low-fare tourism and a flood of international hype, [which poses] an awkward question: What does it mean for a club to be underground when the entire world wants to dance there?”

Gawker followed this article with a predictably blunt claim of their own: “Berlin Is Over. What’s Next?” which was then followed by The Atlantic’s rebuttal that: “No One Is Happier About Berlin Being ‘Over’ Than Berlin.” So, where do I come into all of this? Well, I’ve been lucky enough to make the (only 5 hour!) trek to Berlin a couple times in the past few months and I’m happy to say that if Berlin is over, no one has gotten around to informing Berlin of that quite yet.

Either that, or (and this is far more likely) Berlin really doesn’t give a damn.

IMG_1068The city may be crawling with hipsters (seriously. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin for years and I’ve still never seen anything like it), but it really is a fantastic city–and definitely still very sexy.

Both visits were solo travels to Berlin, made by bus (Prague inhabitants, that is definitely the way to go; DB Bahn is overpriced and not nearly as comfortable as a cheap bus, such as http://www.studentagency.eu/ You do miss out on the fantastic views of the river by not taking the train, but you’ll save something like 50 euro).

I stayed in Kreuzberg the first time, at a great hostel called Grand Hostel Berlin. The second time around, I stayed near Rosenthaler Platz, which is perfect if you’re interested in taking a walk through the weekly Sunday flea market at Mauer Park or doing some vintage shopping, as I was. The flea market there is great, with people lounging over the hillside drinking beer and laughing, buskers providing a welcome soundtrack to your thrifting. I highly recommend it.

IMG_1023I didn’t make it to Berghain (which, honestly, is not exactly my style anyway), but I did manage to see a lot of this vibrant and irresistibly cool city–and trust me, it is very, very cool. My advice? Walk. Walk along the Spree Canal, walk along the East Side Gallery, walk through Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (wondering all along if your boots are scuffed enough, if your expression is just the right shade of blasé), walk through the Holocaust Memorial and be surprisingly moved as the pillars of stone get higher and higher around you, the ground more uneven, walk through the sprawling grounds of Tiergarten as you pass by Brandenburg Gate…

So, walk. And walk a lot. And then try to tell me if you still think “Berlin is over.”

 

As always: readers, keep on reading. Writers, keep on writing.

 

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Video games, literature, and how the hell do we define what a ‘true art form’ is, anyway?

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Back in December, a friend and I were sitting on a deck of a café in Sidi Kaouki, Morocco. We had been traveling for about two weeks—starting off in Hamburg (where he lives) before making our way through the Costa del Sol, over the Strait of Gibraltar to the tangle of Tangier’s Medina, by train to Casablanca, another train to Marrakech, a bus to and from the desert, back to Marrakech, before we made our way to the coastal city of Essaouira, and down to the quiet cluster of buildings that constitute the windy village of Sidi Kaouki (and that wasn’t even the end of our travels through Morocco or Spain, but that’s a story for another blog post or 10). So, in a word, we were exhausted.

We spent about 5 days lounging around the Sidi Kaouki beach–days running in the sand, reading, and politely declining camel rides from the Moroccan men with their soft French intermixed with Arabic that wander the beaches, camels in tow. That, and we spent quite a bit of time at the few cafes that huddled around the road that ran parallel to the beach.

We had our feet up on the railing of this café deck and the sun was setting in a spectacular display of colors (see photo above)—spectacular to an outsider, merely a daily flash of colors over the ocean to the locals—and we somehow got onto the topic of video games and their place in our world. I have never been a gamer and argued vehemently with him that I thought—as the late, great Roger Ebert stated—that video games “can never be art.” I am a purist in terms of the importance of narrative and I said so, arguing that video games seem to have no concern for narrative complexity or coherency, making them a waste of time in my book.

My friend respectfully and thoughtfully responded that I was, well, wrong. He presented examples such as the decidedly thought provoking game Braid (which I have since learned is very much a narrative driven game concerned with redefining common video game tropes and the nature of time. Find out more here). He argued that video games are an art form still in their infancy and that right now is the time where we can refine that art form by introducing more involved plot lines and narrative.

About a month after that conversation, I was offered a job working as a creative writer for a company here in Prague that actually designs video games. And I’m glad to say that I have completely reevaluated my original position in terms of video games and the gaming industry. I think that there is a real opportunity here to sculpt video games into a true art form—and to redefine the boundaries of literature as well. We live in a digital age and I think we in the literary community should not only acknowledge that fact, but also embrace it.

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I bring this up because of an article that appeared on The Millions website yesterday—an article that deals with exactly this topic. The article is titled “Appetite for Risk: At the Intersection of Video Games and Literature,” written by Maxwell Neely-Cohen, a NYC based author. The article treats this topic with real eloquence (as do all of the articles on The Millions, in my opinion), so I’ll leave you with a quote from the article:

“The few works of fiction that do confront gaming’s prominence tend to be on the borderlines of genres not always considered ‘literary,’ or works of experimental literature more interested in turning the form of the novel into a game than using the novel to explore what the rise of gaming means to the human experience. What is particularly sad about this state of affairs is that the literary world and the video games world could greatly benefit each other. Even a conversation, let alone the beginning of real collaborations and dialogues, would help each contend with their respective shortcomings.”

 

Readers, keep on reading. Writers, keep on writing. (And I suppose–reluctantly–gamers, keep on gaming).

 

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