Just Another Hick at the Wall

"Tell your story" the sign urges

Wednesday was a humbling day.  I departed with the intention of visiting three different art venues, armed with an elaborate set of written instructions as to what trams and buses and trains to take, with careful notes about where the connections were and how to find them.  The confusion began, however, as soon as I attempted to locate my very first bus stop.  I asked for directions at the nearby S-Bahn station and the woman at the information desk and I managed to zero in on an answer, even though neither of us spoke the other's language.  After a short bus ride and walk, I arrived at my first destination: the East Side Gallery.

The East Side Gallery was established in 1990 along a 1.3 kilometer segment of the Berlin Wall that was preserved for just that purpose.  It displays over 100 works of art painted by artists from all over the world as a memorial to freedom.

The very first image I encountered as I arrived at the wall was that of Zippy the Pinhead which felt a bit like running into an old friend thousands of miles from home.   

As I walked along the sidewalk taking in the images, I experienced a flood of thoughts but I'm sorry to report that not many of them were positive.  Maybe it was the cold, dank day.  Maybe it was the throngs of tourists that clotted the walkway.  Maybe it was the awkwardness of a space dedicated to freedom directly across from an enormous Mercedes-Benz office tower, a ginormous arena for high dollar events and a five story tall ultra-pink depiction of a pink I-phone.

But honestly, I think it was because I was so disappointed in the art.  I'd only been in Berlin for a couple of days and I'd seen WAY better art on underpasses and roll up doors and train station walls all over the city.  Sure, there were a couple of stand out pieces like the delightful amanita mushroom DJ with drugged out eyes above.  But by and large it looked like a bunch of goofy hippies got ahold of a huge stash of paint and held a festival one weekend to paint the wall.   I know I sound harsh, and I've argued with myself about it extensively trying to delve into why I had that reaction - but I really can't come up with anything better than most of the art didn't do anything for me.

I think it's tempting to feel put off by the tremendous amount of tagging and graffiti and vandalism that has been layered onto the art, but that's not what bothered me for the most part.  In fact, I think it mitigated my reaction in general by diminishing how overly precious it all seemed.

Some of the graffiti is immensely annoying, though.  One moron had gone along the entire length of the wall and added bloody red commas to any eye he/she was able to reach.  That struck me as probably the most immature and senseless way to leave a mark there is - even worse than just scrawling your initials.

I've experienced a similar feeling at many of the Burning Man events I've attended when some inebriated idiot gets hold of a megaphone and proceeds to try and prove they're the funniest and cleverest spokesperson ever.  They never are and unfortunately there's no escaping them. For example: below is one of the most iconic and well loved images on the entire wall.  It's a painted reproduction of a famous photo of communist leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker exchanging a kiss. 

"Faggot$"??  Really??  That's the best thing you can think of to deface a beautiful piece of art work?  People just wear me out sometimes.

I walked the 1.3 kilometers back to the bus stop from the other side of the street hoping the perspective would improve my mood.  Unfortunately, it was on that walk that I passed close enough to the windows of the ground floor of the Mercedes-Benz building that I could see a real live woman smiling demurely while stroking the back seat armrest of a 300,000 Euro Mercedes G3.  It made feel sort of disgusted, actually.  Humans sure seem to have a long way to go before we're civilized, if you ask me.  Bah!

That dark cloud of social psychology must have obscured my vision because I spent the next half hour walking a grid around the area where the bus stop I needed to find was supposed to be located.  I even saw the exact bus I needed to take, and walking up to it with great relief was aggrieved to find the off-duty driver picnicking in the front seat.  Damn it.

I finally gave up with a grimace of resignation and caught the same bus that had brought me there so I could at least return to my apartment and figure a new and different route to my next destination.  But by the time I was able to sit in front of my computer and figure it out, it was simply too late to start for the next venue since I'd barely have time to look around before it closed.

It was time to stop beating my head against the wall of attachment and make a truce with my schedule.  I made a quick trip down to the nearby grocery store and got some ingredients for a satisfying and delicious dinner (salad, sausages and kartoffelpuffs!) and a nice big bottle of Gluwein.  Tomorrow would bring another opportunity to take on the trains.  And win.

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