Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


April 8, 2008

Yesterday, being my birthday, I decided I would give myself a present. I would convert the five rolls of film sitting on my shelf into photographs. As much as I liked them there, holding their secrets, I wondered what they contained. Even though I know that airport x-rays are safe for film these days, I wondered if perhaps they had been zapped, blanked, and in fact they held nothing. How would I feel?

I already feel a sense of loss from the two packages I sent myself that never arrived, full of my carefully collected paper ephemera. I can only imagine that the envelopes fell apart and scattered my cards and notes and papers through the bundles of mail, the better-packaged envelopes. There is something spooky about sending things to yourself, like it is something that is not meant to happen. So perhaps if I had used my pseudonym, my packages would have arrived safely. I still hold hopes that one might appear, like a bedraggled pet, wet and dirty from mystery journeys.

My photos were mostly of Berlin, and when I spread them out and looked over all their greyness, I tried to make the key turn in my memory, to put myself back there. But it is difficult, when I am back in the most familiar place I have, and I am now surrounded by so much colour. I look out my window and count the bright orange hibiscus flowers, being supped at by a red wattlebird. Things smell right again, and I can choose from about a hundred dresses rather than three. But I have not totally been gobbled by my return to everyday life. What I did feel again was a sense of how it felt to walk around and explore, that lovely, open feeling, where you don’t know what will be around the next corner.



April 2, 2008

I am home and I love the weeds growing through cracks in concrete driveways, and the smell of gardens. I am pleased to be home because I feel like I have had quite enough experience for the time being, I need time to drag it away and chew on it.

Because of the many problems I had in Leipzig, I didn’t get to write on this blog as much as I had planned, or wished to, which is a shame. Over the next few weeks I will post some scanned pages from my notebook, and then that will be it. So short, our affair. So, in advance, before the notebook pages start popping up, thank you for reading my letters from Germany. I will perhaps see you in the non-virtual world, which I feel I inhabit more successfully.


March 19, 2008


It was comfortable in the living room. I wanted to lie down on the couch, snuggle into the cushions, and reach for a packet of biscuits. I could have fallen asleep.
But this was an installation, a recreation of a DDR-era living room by the artist Stefan Roloff. It wasn’t anyone’s home. It was a recreation, stuck together from fragments of people’s past lives.
During my past six weeks in Germany, I have seen many recreations of DDR living rooms. I have peered over ropes to look into them, or pawed the glass cases that separate them from the museum visitors. What is it about them that is so fascinating?

In Berlin, the DDR museum is completely dedicated to ostalgie. Naturally, this includes a recreation of a DDR apartment. You can sit on the sofa, open the drawers in the kitchen to discover everyday objects, and take endless photos of yourself posing anachronistically surrounded by brown and orange and mustard furnishings. When I visited this museum last year, I left feeling very uncomfortable. It was so obvious in its fetishisation. Perhaps it made me question my own interest in ostalgie, and made me admit that I too indulged in this fetishisation to some extent.
But (I protest to no one in particular) my feelings about it are complex, a tight bundle of thought, too dense to separate easily. Ostalgie keys into many of my key interests: memory, reconstruction, everyday life, nostalgia, the 1970s, domestic spaces… sometimes I feel that, if I think about it all hard enough, I will be able to unlock something crucial, some kind of key to the balance between memory and everyday life.

What happens to memories once they become fetishised and recreated? People look happy as they sit behind the wheel of the Trabant you can ‘drive’ through video images of streets lined with Plattenbauten. They laugh at the daggy jeans in the wardrobe and the bright 70s dresses. They are fabricating their own memories of a DDR they most probably did not experience. It makes me feel uncomfortable, but is there anything ‘wrong’ with this? People want to sit on the sofas, they want to put themselves inside the time capsule that will for ever be around the DDR. But, surround yourself with as many of the objects as you want, the sense of everyday life that we think we can almost feel is probably nothing like what we imagine.


March 17, 2008

The building collapsed, it simply gave up. It had been one of the rotten ones, with broken windows and graffiti, dark at night, its connections slowly loosening. It was the bad tooth, the failed brother. Here it is now in pieces.
Approaching the rubble, the smell of concrete and plaster reaches for me. It smells like hallways, which is a strange scent to enclose you when you are outside. The building has been turned inside out. It is horrible, it is fascinating. At one corner, a yellow earthmover picks at the pieces of concrete, eats them.
The empty buildings are a shock. The first I see is almost twenty stories high, with a huge banner hanging off it, zu verkaufen. Yes, I think I might be in the market for a huge, empty, run down Plattenbauten in Halle Neustadt. I stare at it from the tram: could it really be empty? All the windows are black, and the balconies are falling apart. All those walls and floors and ceilings, doing nothing but dividing up space.
The empty buildings keep appearing. Out of a row of four with the same design, the same textured panels on the façade, same size, same shape, the dead one is a shock. It has the doors bricked up, the windows spraypainted. It surprises me that seeing this makes me feel so much, sad and happy both at once. I can’t get to the root of it. Seeing these buildings actually makes me gasp.
Perhaps it is just the fulfilment of my expectations. I had read how Halle Neustadt was built in the 1960s to house the workers from the chemical industries, how once almost 100 000 people lived there, but now the buildings are slowly emptying, and there are plans for many of them to be demolished.
I stay on the tram until I can no longer stand to observe anymore. This is at the point where I see the demolished building. I feel like I’m standing in a graveyard as I breathe in the scent of the concrete. From here I walk back along the main road. One of the buildings has only recently been deserted. I walk over the damp grass towards it, trying to sense whether there were people living inside. At first I think there are, but then I see through the windows to the empty rooms inside. Up this close I can hear the sound of the wind creaking the loose panels on the balconies. It had the feeling like a room recently empty of people, where the breath and movement of bodies still remained. From where I was standing I could see no other people. I felt frightened, I felt free.
Some streets away, I spoke to the ladies of the Plattenbauten. They frolic on the empty, concrete fountain, as old men in parkas shuffle by. They tell me how it used to be, when they featured on postcards. They tell me that if I could open up one of the buildings like a cabinet, I would be surprised by the colours. They tell me how the empty cabinets give them nightmares, but it hurts every time one is demolished. They say: It wasn’t meant to turn out this way.


Horse Apple

March 16, 2008


You buy this from a small fruit stall at Halle train station. You eat it while the train slides through the fields, and people sitting around you finish off their day’s work on laptops, or shut their eyes and dream. The apple is from China. One had the Playboy symbol and the words “I Live You” on it. You found the horse more appropriate, but no less strange.

You are on a train from Halle to Leipzig, eating a Chinese apple with a horse design bleached onto it.

You are thinking what you are doing while you are doing it. It runs through your head like a caption. Much much rarer is to just find yourself being, without you thoughts being moulded into descriptions. You cannot remember the last time you caught yourself unawares.


March 16, 2008


You buy this from the machine at the Wildpark.


The Living and the Dead

March 16, 2008

The only people who catch trams in Leipzig are old ladies, people who need to transport their dogs long distances and do not have cars for this purpose, and school children. Tourists don’t seem to catch them either, they are busy in the centre of the city, photographing the statue of Goethe. Goethe looks over their heads and up to the sky, pleased at the heavy thoughts in his brass head.

I catch trams because it is impossible for me to stay in the guesthouse and read Chekhov and write, which is what I would be doing otherwise. The guesthouse is being renovated, and the place resounds with drills. I imagine that I am in a big mouth, full of rotten teeth, that requires much dental work. I think I can bear it, but then a drill starts up so loudly I am sure I will see the end of the bit poking through the wall. “Get out!” it says. “Or I will eat you!”

I stay on the tram until the end of the line. Although I have been here long enough to get used to it, I am still surprised at all the empty buildings. Whole, long apartment buildings are empty. Their striped 70s awning are fading, and there’s graffiti all over them. Each window is host to a spraypainted letter, another clue to an overall cryptic message, spread over the windows of Leipzig. I’m surprised there’s enough people left to tag these empty buildings, but the artists are thorough, no empty building is able to remain a secret. Some of the buildings have for sale signs on them and I wonder how much it must be for one of these crumbling buildings with smashed windows, taken over by pigeons.

Next to them are the living buildings, with lace curtains and plants on the windowsills. I glide past many of these on the tram, every lace curtain different until it’s the terminus. There’s nothing here but a park and people’s garden allotments, with a thick yellow pipe running over the huts and the fruit trees. “Pipe-zig”, I think foolishly, every time I see one of these big pipes. Every time I think it is funny.

I wonder if the tram driver noticed me get off the tram and get back on it again. People here don’t seem to comment on such weirdnesses, like they would in Australia. At home I would at least get a, “you right love?” and because I expect it I start to work out how I would explain myself in German. The word “Touristin” would feature heavily. Then how to explain that I am as interested in everyday things as the extraordinary? That I like to see the different areas? I think the right word for area is “Bezirk”, but that word makes me laugh, and I don’t think I’d be able to even say it…

But no one asks. The driver is smoking and staring at the receding storm clouds. I get on the waiting tram and after a few minutes the doors shut and it glides back towards the city.


Black Sea Cossacks

March 5, 2008

I could spend a long time in the record basement. At first I start going through “Alternative Rock”, but it is much less interesting than “World” or “Folk”. Specifically, I would like some sad Russian folk music. Perhaps sad is the wrong adjective for it. I would like some failed crops and only stones to eat type of music.

I look for these kinds of records when I go to Ashwoods in Sydney. This store is very similar to Ashwoods, although the overall quality of music is better. It has the same serious male record collector types in it, and the same feeling of claustrophobia. Both are underground, although this store is over two levels. I leave my Tasche at the desk and descend the steep stairs into the record basement. It is comforting down there, and I am alone. You could stay down there all day and no one would make you leave until closing time. While there are thousands of records down there, I like the fact that each has been individually priced and slipped into a protective plastic sleeve.


I find a seam of Russian records in the folk section. I buy such records going off my instincts, without listening to them beforehand. I like to imagine certain records give me certain feelings for a reason. My initial feeling upon discovering “Songs and Rites of the Black Sea Cossacks”, was fear, as it had some of the creepiest cover art I had ever seen. Here is a recreation:

Price sticker, €5.00

Logo of The International Organisation of Folk Art

Text in Russian, in red, with flowers.

A photograph of a goat. The goat has a
wooden snout, with real fur and horns. It has
a crazy red and white eye painted on. It has a
carnation in its mouth and is wearing a floral,
70s grandma dress, and numerous strings of
pearls around its neck. It has its mouth open
as if it is in the midst of giving some advice.
There is a bell hanging from its beard.

Songs and Rites
of the Black Sea
Stanitsa Anastasievskaya
Krasnodar Region

However, anyway you can imagine this, it will not come close to the creepiness of the original. It is a challenge for my descriptive powers (I am not able to photograph it because if I try, the camera seizes up). I will try one more thing. Imagine your grandmother, a woman who enjoys dressing in bright, floral 70s dresses, with a lot of cheap jewellery, has been turned into a wooden goat with black fur and a thick tuft of beard. She sits up in her chair like she always does, as if nothing has changed.

I expect the man at the counter to make a comment about my record when I buy it, but he doesn’t. Still, I like to think that he imagines me as a connoisseur of the most obscure kinds of world music, and that he is very impressed I didn’t just come for the new Jens Lekman LP or the Young Marble Giants reissue. I like to imagine that the serious record collector men are intrigued by me and my obscure tastes, as I stride out into the night with Songs and Rites of the Black Sea Cossacks.


March 5, 2008


It is ghostly in Tempelhof airport. This is why I have come here. An airport where the only flights go from Berlin to Brussels and back is going to be a peaceful place. Parked out the front is a line of empty taxis: the drivers are inside, standing at tables, drinking cups of coffee. The most action is here, around the little coffee kiosk. Inside the hall, the strongest presence is the air.
There is a lot of air trapped in here. Through it resounds the small sounds of the few people waiting. A man shakes and folds his newspaper. Another zips up a bag. Footsteps echo. It is calm here, a good place to sit and think.
It is strange to see an empty airport. Usually they are such busy places, with queues and different languages, all the chairs taken by people waiting and long waits at the vending machine as people try to use up the last of their coins. At Tempelhof, I sit with two businessmen, staring at the indicator board.
There is a change on the board. A plane has landed. I’m excited about this, it is like when the pigeons fly past in Andy Warhol’s film of the Empire State building. Soon, a small group of businessmen emerge from the gates. The men staffing the security point sit up straighter and close their magazines. I like to think of these men changing things as they walk, activating the Tempelhof staff and the taxi drivers, who swill the last of their cups of coffee, and go back to their BMWs.

Crooked Street

February 27, 2008


Walter Benjamin’s Krumme Straße was “lined on both sides with small establishments full of excitement and danger”: the swimming pool, pawnbrokers shop, writing materials store with rosettes and Chinese lanterns in the window, the municipal reading room, a jostling crowd. What would I find there now?
A Max & Moritz, offering half roasted chickens, to be eaten standing up, and the S-bahn, behind a noise-buffering concrete wall. The first stretch is lined by the long side of a department store, with posters rather than mannequins in the window displays. This is the place the fire exits emerge, the insignificant street you cannot imagine being used for anything but cigarette breaks and parking spots. A man waits in his green station wagon as the trains above go east, go west.
A gardener rakes over a patch of earth where a tree has recently been cut. Only two feet of the trunk still remains, no branches. Behind him, a couple argue. The man is in a hurry, and urges his wife to stop dawdling. It is difficult to take him seriously, as he is wearing a brown velour track suit with brown leather shoes. His belly stretches the velour, and shows it wobbling with his every step. He is the first person I have seen wearing a track suit outside an exercise context since I left Australia. This is not something that I have missed.
This corner, the bend that gives the street its name, was where Benjamin’s swimming pool used to be, and the bric and brac shops with their “decrepit” merchandise. Now there are empty shops with bright signs announcing their closure on the windows. Inside, piles of plaster and sweepings. What once was a musical instrument store still has the staves decorating the windows, and green felt lining the display areathe impressions of the objects once resting on it still faintly visible. I go into a doorway and look at the names of the people who live in the apartments above: Scheer, Rösicke, Beichel. All are on labels stuck over the original name, all in different handwriting. Other labels have been torn off, the apartments must be empty.
At the first intersection, the bonsai shop has a Japanese maple tree outside it, and a man rides past on a kind of modern day penny farthing, and there is a store that sells fine pens and stationery. At least Benjamin and I could visit here together, in search of specific writing implements (which he believed were very important). Yes, Walter Benjamin is my other uncle. Beuys can be the uncle that I don’t see very often, the wacky one that no one really understands, who appears at family gatherings and has weird things in his pockets, and Walter is the uncle who takes me out in the city for adventures. Although it is not nice to play favourites, I love Uncle Walter more.
For him I am here in Charlottenburg, and not the nice, genteel part of it, with handsome men in the coffee houses and marble entranceways, the scrabby part of it, cannibalised by a shopping mall a few streets away. Here people hang their horseshoes sideways on their balconies, and fill their pots with red and grey plants. This is where to find the wig shops and the podiatrists. Side by side, feet and scalps. The rest of the body must be in the wall in between.
The Schicha Lounge leaks its sweet smell from underneath the door and through the red curtains. Beside it, men bend over plates of noodles in the blue and white tiled Vietnamese restaurant. In every shop there is some kind of busy activity, like a man fixing shoes surrounded by equipment and mirrors. The word “Lededartikelreparatur” is comfortable taking up the entire width of the front window.
“Esst Obst!” orders the brown paper bag I step over, on my way towards a display of rakes, shovels and brooms. They lean up against the wall, like pieces from a game of Jack Straws. I could make off with one if I chose, snatch one of the rakes and run, perhaps go back to the beginning of the street and help the man rake the patch of earth around the stump. But I don’t, of course I don’t. I’m taking enough just by looking closely at this unassuming street. It is excites me, all the tiny things that I have noticed, I feel full of electrons.
I turn the corner, into a different street, and pass by a playground. On one of the items of play equipment, a raised pathway made out of sheets of thick rubber, sits a woman holding a small white dog. She has pointy black boots and a gold brooch in the shape of the sun, which glows as if it were providing its own light. She smiles at me as I pass. I climbed over the low stone wall because I had the feeling I must enter the park, although I don’t know why. She smiles and I look up. Covering the wall of the building beside us is a trompe l’oeil painting of a hot air balloon, rising up in between marble columns. Hot air balloons are my symbol of hope, happiness and love, and I gasp to see this one through the black arms of the trees. Thank you Uncle Walter.