jump to navigation

Neighbourhood watch March 15, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

No, not the local news. Although our sleepy street has seen a bit of excitement of late. As I trundled home, drink perhaps taken, some night or other not that long ago, the police were present in considerable numbers at our local brothel. And they weren’t there to avail of its services, as surely they’d have come in an unliveried car if they’d wanted a bit of paid slap-&-tickle. No, there’d obviously been an incident.

I let my imagination – a feeble tool – run wild. The shutters had been blown out or smashed in. It looked like there’d been a fire. So I imagined that a dissatisfied customer was so livid at the service he’d got, or at his own performance, that he’d come back with a Molotov cocktail and hurled it through the brothel window. Or perhaps a new range of sex-toys had just arrived and they’d had a lot of clients that day and it had wrought havoc with the wiring… And sure enough the Russian and I even saw a headline about it – Feuer im Bordell – the next day in the local paper, the story going on to reveal, unmythically, that it wasn’t a case of dissatisfied customers or short-circuiting dildos but the dim owner of the ‘brothel-like establishment’ – I didn’t know the Germans went in for that sort of euphemism – had thrown a lit bit of paper in the bin. Honestly, madams nowadays. (Still, only 20-something, apparently. Once she learns about pyrogens, she might win Businesswoman of the Year one day.)

So, anyway, I’m not going to tell you about that. But it is local today. One for the Berliners.

Cinema has reappeared on the horizon, perhaps with the spring. And money worries having subsided for a second so that recreation can be allowed to take its natural course. Whereas, say, a week ago, if I was ever to walk past our video-hire place, I’d have been too consumed with worry about something or other to even consider wandering in, now the Russian and I, making the most of our short-term membership of the petite bourgeoisie, can wander past at a lazy amble, laden down with bags of uninteresting shopping – darlings, I bought some trousers that make me look like Sherlock Holmes. I was aiming to look like a hopelessly cool Berliner I met at a party recently. An English friendess was in town and she invited me to the people she was staying with. And the Berliners were all so cool and all had job titles I didn’t understand, like Media-based Vice-Consultant, and my friendess and I got hammered on vodka and DANCED while the Berliners sat coolly by taking opium and being artistic. And one of the vice-consultants was wearing trousers. And I bought the same ones. And look like Sherlock Holmes – and say, “Oh, shall we go in and argue for forty minutes about what film both of us can bear to watch?” And there are two sickeningly beautiful gents working there too.

So we finally saw Das Leben der Anderen (The Life of Others), Germany’s Oscar-winning film. Have folk seen it? Can they let me know what they think, if so, as I’d like to know what opinion I’m meant to have of it and can’t make my own mind up, obviously, as I have no mind. But, going out on a limb, I’d highly recommend it. Thankfully, I didn’t know till after it was over that the director – a Wessi called the German equivalent of Sebastian Farquhar Urquhart Farquharson Farquhar III, and with the heritage to match – was wellesianly young when he made it, as that would have made me want to slash my wrists doubly much, in addition to the content. In case folk don’t know the film, it’s the story of a Stasi agent and the couple he observes and how that ‘relationship’ evolves. It is a work of fiction, of course, but the word on the street is that it has won praise from yer actual East Germans for being an accurate portrayal of Stasi operations. My cry-count was two, but I can cry at ads, so that’s not much of a recommendation. And it’s full of Trabis and Wartburgs.

So it got film back on the agenda. “Darling, we’re going to the cinema,” I said forcefully yesterday. Then, having moved away from the mirror, I went to find the Russian at his perch in front of his computer and gave a more human version of the same exhortation. Just down the road from where we live is Kino Krokodil, a cinema specialising in Russian/Soviet/that-part-of-the-world films. And the website revealed that, yesterday, Krisana was showing. “Darling, it’s Latvian. It’ll be brilliant.” It was the worst film I’ve ever seen. And makes you realise that Kaurismäki is properly fucking brilliant to make a film with two words of dialogue and nothing at all happening interesting to watch. Anyway, you’ll be happy to hear, Berliners who think of nothing but spending their time at Kino Krokodil, yesterday was its last showing. I review the films that you can’t watch.

But, Berliners, and people elsewhere with access to an awfully posh video-store, there are some other films that you should drag yourself along to. And Kino Krokodil is so tiny and cosy and old-fashioned – Berlin Diary should pop along and take some of his nice photos of the old machinery on view as you walk in – that it really only is as much effort to go there and watch a film as it is to go and put the kettle on. So go and see…

From Saturday 18th-Thursday 22nd – but don’t go every day, as that would be bonkers – Москва слезам не верит (Moskva slezam ne verit) (Moscow doesn’t believe in tears) which, I think, was the only Soviet film ever to win best foreign-film Oscar, which Russians are chuffed to bollocks about. To be honest, I’ve never been able to see what the fuss was about. (With the film. Not it winning the Oscar. I’ve already got my acceptance speech ready for when I win an Oscar. I plan to cry three whole times.) But it’s a film that Russians can practically quote from start to finish and is on TV at least eight times a day. A single-mother who makes it big in the big city and her travails, and the travails of her life-long girlfriends, as she does so. Thursday 22nd, Sunday 25th, Monday 26th, Wednesday 28th, Маленькая Вера (Malen’kaya Vera) (Little Vera), which I haven’t seen, but about a teenage girl, Vera (which means Faith), who rebels in the late Soviet era. It’s got miniskirts. It’s got hair-dye. It’s got fishnets. And on Tuesday 27th, В той стране (V toj strane) (In that country) about grim family life in a desolate village in the north of Russia.

And, darlings, so many more. We’ve missed Eisenstein’s Strike. But if you’ve got nothing against subtitles, get ye to Kino Krokodil or your posh video-store immediately.



1. redneckarts - March 16, 2007

Basil Rathbone as Holmes?

2. Paul - March 16, 2007

I don’t know if I have ever watched a Russian film, which suggests a certain laziness on my part…especially when I would need to grapple with German subtitles to understand them…

In general I have no problem with subtitles, and I’ll be in the UK for the next ten days, so perhaps the friendly arthouse video store in Leeds (if there is one) might have some of your recommendations available. Either that or it will be a week of Sky Plus…

3. Daggi - March 16, 2007

the friendly arthouse video store in Leeds (if there is one)

There is one, or was about 5 years ago. In the part of town where all those students live (beginning with H?). On the high street. Next to a Morrison’s. That’s a clear set of directions for you. In 2002 they had Das Boot with subtitles, and Lola rennt

I do keep meaning to go to Krokodil again. I get the lovely very big PDF film programme every three weeks in my inbox, but that’s the problem. It’s on a computer screen, not lying around in my kitchen, where I might look at it.

4. William Thirteen - March 16, 2007

good to know, good to know. will have to take a walk up there and check out this kino of yours. i myself have often been seen loitering about the Lichtblick trying to satisfy my perverse desires for the moving pictures….


the number of small (and i mean small) cinemas in berlin is delightful

5. leon - March 16, 2007

[Daggi] Beginning with H? Headingley, I expect.

6. daggi - March 16, 2007

Headingley – that’s the one. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was even a branch of Blockbuster. A quick google search (there’s even a photo of the shop) confirms this – next to a Somerfield, Otley Road, on, this being Oop North, “Arndale Parade” .

7. aimee m. - March 16, 2007

ooh, i’ve wandered by that mini-theater a few times meself. hoping they’ll show “Ирония судьбы” (С лёгким паром!) at some point, never did see it on the russhian TV.

8. pleite - March 16, 2007

Aimee, that’s bound to be on eventually. Do you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it from start to finish? But it’s a nice little cinema there. The films on at the moment look an interesting bunch. And the cinema sells Baltika no. 3 – the beer – which provides many a Proustian moment for me.

Daggi, I remember you saying you’ve been to concerts there. I’ve never seen the place in its non-cinema guise, though yesterday(I think)’s showing was going to be accompanied by live-music and sometimes they have the director in for a bit of a chat. When I saw Titanic in Petrozavodsk, there was live music too to usher us in and a big speech by some local politician to say how blinding it was that Titanic was being shown in Petrzavodsk at all and not 30 years later than everywhere else.

Leon, you studied in that part of the world, didn’t you? I don’t know Leeds well, though I did see the most vivid example of white, tree-trunk, unbetighted legs protruding from a denim mini-skirt on an arctic winter’s day I’ve ever seen anywhere in Kirkstall.

William, I’m sure you’ll find something you like at Krokodil. And the nice thing about it being tiny and pretty much a one-man-show is that he nicely herds you into the viewing bit at the right time and starts the film on the dot. None of this arriving at 8 only for the film to start after three quarters of an hour of women-going-down-on-ice-cream adverts at 8.45.

Paul, I’m already fantasising about the day I see a nice black-and-white snap of the cinema’s inner workings on your blog. Sometimes, they show films dubbed into German, which I boycott, as a great enemy of dubbing. There are some nice snaps in the cinema itself of cinema buildings around Eastern Europe too.

To be honest, Redneck, it’s just the check of the trousers which reminds me of Sherlock Holmes. The check of his cap and cape. When we had our first Spanish exchange student when I was about 15, I had to traipse around Oxford St. with her looking for Sherlock-Holmes-style clothes. All the rage in Madrid at the time, apparently. Didn’t find a sausage.

9. Appy Linguist - March 18, 2007

Does ‘Eadingley start with an h? ;-)

10. Appy Linguist - March 18, 2007

(Just being silly.)

11. annie - March 18, 2007

Do you want a deerstalker from sunny London?

12. pleite - March 18, 2007

Appy, this is a Leeds take on ‘there’s no r in bath’, isn’t it? And, by the way, silliness is greatly encouraged round here. More silliness please.

Annie, I couldn’t remember what deerstalkers were called, which is why I said cap, which was nonsense. I’ve got a feeling in Sophie’s Choice, Meryl Streep accidentally calls a Deerstalker a Cocksucker… But, anyway, no, save yourself valuable packing space and don’t bring me any headgear at all. (Must go and text you my number this instant before I forget…)

13. Blonde at Heart - March 20, 2007

I watched Das Leben den Anderen two weeks ago with the Canadian and thought it was brilliant. The best thing was that a tall guy sat in front of me and obscured the subtitles. Apparently my German is still intact, sort of.

14. pleite - March 20, 2007

BaH, it’s nice watching it living here. The other Stasi guy, whom our main man alternates with when doing his spying, has a really strong Berlin (or somewhere else close by) accent, and speaks with so-called ‘Berliner wit’. You can almost forget, when living here, that this was once the GDR, so complete has the eradication of the past been. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded, even if only by a work of fiction.

15. Blonde at Heart - March 20, 2007

I would not recognise a Berlin accent even if it stood in front of me and waved madly with its hands. Pity the film does not show much of Berlin.

16. pleite - March 20, 2007

No, indeed. They were limited, of course, by finding bits of the city which still look decrepit enough to convince as old East Berlin. I wondered, actually, if the residential building was very close to where I live, but I’ve since heard the film was filmed further east… I must organise a Trabi-tour for myself one day. I’ve still never been in one.

17. Daggi - March 20, 2007

My main gripe with the film was the wrong typographical usage in various scenes, but Goodbye Lenin scored nul points on that front as well. But that’s my autisticness for you.

And did you catch the debate/legal wranglings over Ulrich Mühe’s Stasi files, and more particularly, his ex-wife (who is now dead). According to the files, she spied on him for the Stasi for years. But the “meetings” often took place when she was on stage. Another case of Stasi officers fiddling their statistics to get brownie points, restaurant bills paid (“she’s an actor, therefore it’ll have to be the Neubrandenburg Ritz again, I’m afraid”), and access to swanky electronic equipment.

The residential building – if you mean the mid-80s tower block were the Stasi-man character lives – is at least identical to a couple of buildings around the Jannowitzbrücke, or a few near to my local Arbeitsamt, on the edges of Prenzlauer Berg/next to Weißensee. The flat where the playwright lives, indeed, most of the outside bits in that part of the film, is in Friedrichshain near to the Weberwiese/Marchlewskistr./Gubener Str. area, as far as I could make out. In any case, the point about finding parts of Berlin still looking decrepit enough is one that always annoys me a bit. Sure, the place was collapsing – but the bits generally used for films now – 18 years since the wall came down! – often show places that were in reasonably good nick at the time. 18 years of having nothing done to a building sure makes it look pretty bad – and those 18 years were under capitalism. Perhaps the landlords do it to make their buildings attractive for film scenes. Anyway, where I lived in Friedrichshain was used for a Stalingrad film – which suggests that neither the GDR nor the “West” Germans did much when it came to upkeep in that street. On a similar theme, it looks like the buildings belonging to the Sophiengemeinde in Mitte (Sophienstr.) are about to be renovated. The last gun-shot holes remaining from the end of the war in the area will son be gone for ever.

18. mountpenguin - March 20, 2007

Ooh, must pop along and take some photos.

Haven’t managed Das Leben der Anderen yet, but we saw “The Good German” the other day. It started off promisingly with cleverly spliced shots of the ruined Berlin as a background to Mr. Clooney and co., but soon deteriorated into what can only be described as a generic central European city in ruins, which however was most definitely not Berlin in any shape or form. High point of the film was George Clooney speaking German, which elicted a few laughs.

19. pleite - March 21, 2007

Daggi, yes, I knew there’d been a Stasi-story related to the film and got confused that it was related to the director, though as he is 12 and from the West, I couldn’t work out how. Now I know.

…and Yuhang mentioned to me that the Altbau flat in the film was in Friedrichshain. It looked quite like a lot of Trelleborgerstr. near here which is Altbau, but, and this is a guess, I’ve got a feeling is quite late, social housing.

Penguin, I shall keep an eye out for that one. And I’ve got a feeling my computer is about to die – it is wheezing VERY loudly – so I can’t react in more detail yet…

…OK, changed comp now, so can carry on.

Daggi, as regards the East-West dilapidation thing… I never saw the East in all its glory, of course, nor did I ever see the Soviet Union. As the Russian and I wandered round bits of central St. Petersburg, which still look lovely, although they are very run down and, yes, in some cases, that is part of the charm, I asked him for a then and now comparison. He said the external dilapidation (though he’s not a native Petersburger) was much the same then and now. Most Russians told me internal dilapidation was now worse. The only time I’ve ever been truly feeling-like-a-posh-Westerner shocked was in a St. Petersburg kommunalka, though, admittedly, that would shock most Russians, I think. I know it sounds wank, but you can still feel the Dostoevsky in many a St. Petersburg apartment. Often the buildings themselves would be indescribably grand and then the flats would be depressingly basic, including, still, though not for much longer, I suspect, right in the centre, including on Nevsky Prospekt. And I know, of course, that dilapidation is not merely the redoubt of the East. Western grimness takes some rivalling. And there’s plenty of that right in central London too. Mind you, I once had rather swanky Danish neighbours and I was a tad amused at his description of paroxysms of fear when he came within a 40-mile radius of certain housing estates. Russian estates weren’t necessarily grim by design. A bit featureless, perhaps, but rarely an unfathomable maze of walkways and gangways and all sorts of other depressing ways. And it was fun negotiating the roads at the height of winter. Pure ice. Got to stop before I rashly suggest a nostalgia-busting trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg to the Russian.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: