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Cuckoo and more August 2, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

I was hoping to give you locals another helpful cinema tip but now, looking at Kino Krokodil’s website, I see that the film I wanted to recommend to you finished yesterday. I’d be a hopeless agony uncle. So you’ll have to make your own efforts to find Kukushka (The Cuckoo) now, or hope, as is Krokodil’s wont, that it reappears at some point in the future. But it’s a fun film, especially for language nerds. Four languages on the go: German, Finnish, Russian and Sami, which, while I got the linguistic equivalent of a stiffy about, also made me think that it might be an idea for subtitles to somehow cleverly indicate what language is being spoken, which I first worried about when watching Kolja, when there were moments at which it was significant whether people were speaking Czech or Russian and which must have passed lots of people by.

But bugger all that. Going to the cinema alone remains the greatest pleasure life has to offer beyond having your ears syringed. But I don’t know if it’s a new thing at Krokodil or I’ve only noticed it thanks to my new, improved ears, but as you sit, almost alone – I can’t believe the cinema makes any money at all – waiting for the gent to start the film for you and looking at the photos of Eastern European cinemas on the wall and getting another language-stiffy at the one of the cinema in Belarus with the permanent notices written in Belarusian while all the actual film stuff is in Russian, there is now a sort of lounge-music to lull you filmwards. And it’s poor enjoyment enhancement. It sounds like a group of posh children, whose parents have told them that whatever they do is brilliant, have swallowed helium, tinkled pencils on milk-bottles and then expressed their glee. Silence please.

So, films may also be watched at home. There, not only can I prevent myself from accidentally switching on music and having that annoying wait while the film starts twenty minutes after it’s meant to (admittedly, a crime against humanity which Krokodil manages not to commit), but I can also have the inner satisfaction of watching with headphones so as not to rile the easy-to-rile neighbours (and I try to limit any gleeful reactions, helium-fuelled or not, and make sure all bottles are stored at a safe distance). And so I watched Coming Out, which my ex thoughtfully sent me from London, thinking, rightly, that it would float my boat. It is East Germany’s most famous (or perhaps only?) gay film. As I live in a bubble of flagrant ignorance, I had no idea it existed and, as I watched it, was already dreading expressing my (quite quiet) enthusiasm to German friends and saying I knew nothing about the bastard film as I worried I’d be met with the looks of kind weariness that met me when I mentioned to a gentleman in France that I was new to Rimbaud. (Honestly, the French are too well educated. I was only 2 and a half.) (But, fucking hell, better late than never. Read some of his correspondence with M. Verlaine if you haven’t already. The heterosexual males amongst you might have to pretend you don’t find it moving, but dash into the loo where no-one can see you and let some tears be jerked.)

Anyway, Coming Out is fun to watch at a squillion levels. If you’re in Berlin, because you can look out for the places you know and marvel at the cars and wonder which station used to be called Marx-Engels-Platz. And because it’s the end of an era. So end-of-an-era, in fact, that it premiered on the night the wall came down. The film portrays the lot of a gay schoolteacher in Berlin and his struggles to admit that he’s an out-and-out screamer and how this affects his career, his loved ones and the men he gets involved with. An old queen gives him a you-were-lucky lecture, explaining how he’d ended up in a concentration camp for being gay (and going on to explain how his Communist comrades helped him later, though the film makes no paeans to Honecker) and how now, gays in the East German paradise are the last discriminated-against group (which was bollocks, of course). Gayness was tolerated in the GDR, and the film used real gay venues for the gay-scene scenes, but, when those scenes stray from raucous hedonism and painted faces – today’s scene is very boring in comparison, let me tell you. Though it would be shit to live in a place again where you have to hide your gayness a bit, such societies do tend to have a much more interesting scene. Give me St. Petersburg with its tacky fun over too-cool-to-exist Berlin queenery any day – there is talk of fear, loneliness and anonymity.

And excuse me being frivolous, for a change, when it comes to dealing with a serious film, but the fashions are quite marvellous. There are lots of tight jeans. Some exemplary mullets. A brilliant Bananarama haircut or two. Luckily, our hero is staid enough not to do anything too drastic on the hair-front, and he is thankfully called upon to parade around the screen wearing nothing but his one pair of very tight, very high-waisted jeans, for much of the film. Woof!

I won’t hear a contrary word. Be warned, Russian, and anyone who thinks I need to be advised against it, but when Herr Freihof comes up to me on the street one day, as is probably almost bound to happen, and tells me that I am the man he’s been waiting for all his 44 years, I might not put up much resistance at all.



1. Sil - August 2, 2007

Gaystalgia: I guess it’s not a real word, but it’s the feeling I get when I see films like Coming Out. But why do we lucky few in the gay-friendly world yearn for those days? Is it an innate need for adventure that makes some of us pine for the days when going to a gay venue was so risqué? Or maybe it’s just a naïve romanticizing of that incredibly exciting time we will (sadly?) never be able to re-live — unless of course you take to trying your luck in the Middle East; I was reading that it’s quite the gay-underground scene thriving there: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200705/gay-saudi-arabia

2. MountPenguin - August 2, 2007

I was standing in the queue at my local videothek (“Video Collection” in the Schönhauser Allee – pretty decent selection of non-blockbuster films, though I was admittedly borrowing “Letter(s) from Iwojima”, but language-nerdily I was delighted to find it had a Japanese sound track, however it turned out to be not as as action-packed as I’d hoped, but I digress) the other day, and looking through their special display of Berlin films I realised I’ve seen about 2/3rds of them. Including “Coming Out”, though all I can really remember about it is the fantastically nostalgic scenery (it was only a year or two later when Mr. Penguin first started hopping about Berlin). I also recall a long discussion with Mrs. Penguin about the location of the tower block where Mr. Freihof lived, I think we came to the conclusion it was one of the ones near Jannowitzbrücke.

3. pleite - August 3, 2007

Penguin, yes, I’m sure you’re right as, unless the film-makers were involved in some out-and-out chicanery, Herr Freihof – woof! – ‘s block of flats even had the address emblazoned across the entrance and it was on Holzmarktstr., which I’ve just looked up and, praise be, it hasn’t been renamed and is, indeed, right next to Jannowitzbrücke. But Marx-Engels-Platz was Hackescher Markt, was it? Which was perhaps where his Bananarama-haired girlfriend/wife lived, in a very nice flat indeed. Even our bit of town gets a (visual) mention. He cycles right past Vinetastr. at one point, and it looked pretty much the same then and now, actually. But have you made yourself watch Das Leben der Anderen yet? You can now watch it in the sad knowledge that the main actor has recently succumbed to cancer.

Sil, yes, over-romanticising, probably, although I also think it must have been quite a different type of fun. An old friend I had in London told me interesting stories about his youth, including his mother calling the police on him. Too mad. Actually, I went to gay places in Estonia and Latvia and they were just grim, rather than interesting, but Russian gay places were mostly fun, because they were such a release from mostly having to be closeted outside. I am currently unwilling to take on a fact-finding mission to the gay haunts of the Arabian peninsula.

4. A Blogger - August 3, 2007

Heya Broke,

Just answering your question on Blonde’s blog… I ain’t coming back for a while, methinks. I was writing so infrequently on the blog, and when I did it was crap anyway. I’m giving away writing (outside of work) until that glorious day when I no longer write for work.

Which will probably be when I retire.

5. Taiga the Fox - August 3, 2007

Oh, Kukushka… I have to confess I haven’t seen it yet even though I like Ville Haapasalo quite much (not just because he is 3 months older than me and was born in the city next to us). So, you’d recommend it?

6. Geoff - August 3, 2007

Marx-Engels Platz is what is now Schlossplatz (and last time I was there the statue of Marx & Engels was still there; is it still?), although I don’t recall there being a U-Bahn station there.

7. Ed Ward - August 3, 2007

S-Bahn Hackescher Markt was formerly known as S-Bahn Marx-Engels-Platz. Marx-Engels-Forum is that little park there where Spandauer Str. crosses Karl-Liebknecht-Str. Schlossplatz is on the other side of the river. Inbetween the two is the rapidly-disappearing Palast der Republik.

8. pleite - August 3, 2007

Ed, thank you. Yes, I was wondering if they were just making the most of such a good name. Has Engels gone out of favour, street-wise, then? At least Marx still has his Allee and his Straße.

Geoff, yes, they’re still there in all their glory, and are usually to be seen with people grappling all over them – remember how huge they are – to be photographed.

Taiga, I would, although it’s a little bit of nonsense, in some ways. But it’s fun. Made by Aleksandr Rogozhkin, who has made a string of utterly ludicrous comedies, some of which star Herra Haapasalo – WOOF! – as the Finn.

AB, you undecided blogger, you! Well, or now decided. You can, of course, dip back in and out as the mood takes you.

9. MountPenguin - August 3, 2007

There’s a Friedrich-Engels-Straße up in Pankow (way up past your bit of Pankow), I was suprised to discover earlier this year. Lots of other eastern German towns also have one; he appears to have missed out on a decent street in Berlin.

More useless info for Berlin afficionados: before it was Marx-Engels-Platz, the station was called “Börse” (stock exchange), which stood where the aquarium hotel complex thingy is now opposite the Dom. The actual Hackescher Markt is not the triangular plaza in front of the station, but the junction in front of the Hackesche Höfe.

Geoff, the statues are still there; there are vague rumourings that the area should be redeveloped as a sort of extension to the Nikolaiviertel, but nothing yet concrete (haha).

10. pleite - August 3, 2007

Penguin, poor old Fritz. Always playing second fiddle to Karl.

I must try to get the Nikolaiviertel off my tourist route. The gabled Plattenbauten and all the sausage and beer need to be seen only rarely.

11. liukchik - August 3, 2007

God, I must come to Berlin again. I have come over all nostalgic again. The film is utter pish, but Berlin looks fab in the late 80’s – I will probably re-watch the film next week at some point.

12. pleite - August 3, 2007

I may have been blinded to the film’s pishity by Herr Freihof’s beauty, although there is some very poor acting.

Come to Berlin today. Well, or soon. You’re always welcome. (Though if the Russian ever gets a stinking bloody visa, we should be in London in a few weeks’ time (though only for a few days and not, as my mother suggested today, for ‘at least a couple of weeks’).)

13. liukchik - August 3, 2007

You are in on a Friday evening? Is the Russian not returning to the rodina for an extended period this year?

14. narrowback - August 4, 2007

all this talk of ddr relics, streetnames and the urban landscape is truly making me pine for b-town… or at least the east side.

good god i hope my colleagues in the city planning office don’t think that exapnding the Nikolaiviertel is a good idea. then again planners frequently come up with the most impractical, impossible, unsuccessful concepts

15. Ed Ward - August 4, 2007

Actually, Herr Penguin, the Börse stood where that building on the other side of the tracks from Hackescher Markt is now, and then the building was used by the Nazis for their Jew-deporting bureaucracy and a jail of some sort. There’s a plaque on the wall which I just read the other day that explains it. Right next to the Polish cultural center there.

16. pleite - August 4, 2007

Ed, thank you. Penguin, you and I need to go on one of Ed’s famous tours. Ed, an American gent once approached me on Marx-Engels-Platz, having heard me speaking English (to myself. No, not really, to another human) and asked if I could be loud. I timidly answered that perhaps I could. And he was trying to sign me up to become one of those walking-tourers. Dunno what’s in it for him. Do you pay them a commission? The tourers themselves are paid nothing, but rely on tips.

Narrowback, I suppose Berlin must have its Schnauze voll with rebuilding the Schloss itself, if that project ever happens. I really don’t think the Nikolaiviertel needs to be extended. It has a pretty house or two, but there’s really no need for an extra few hundred square metres of twee.

Liukchik, alas, I went out, and am living to regret the consequences. Though it was fun. Went to a gay French party, which was tackyish and friendly. And relatively full of totty. The Russian should be back in the rodina this second, but British bureaucracy has put paid to that trip. I might need to rant about this yet again, actually. No way of knowing when he’ll get his passport back from Düsseldorf. The UK has turned into Russia for mind-numbingly, depressingly impenetrable bureaucracy. E-mails bounce straight back. Phone calls come up with nothing. The call-centre can tell you nothing. All very fucking annoying.

17. MountPenguin - August 4, 2007

Ed, the building I’m talking about is the one pictured here: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berliner_B%C3%B6rse
My description was off by one block, the location was actually opposite the green park-type area to the north of the Dom, the next block down from the HU building which used to contain the cinema “Börse”. And the new building on the site isn’t the hotel with the aquarium, but a different newish comercial complex. We might be talking about the same place. (I shall have to go and have a poke around to update my mental map of the area – it still places the Poles in the Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse…).

18. Ed Ward - August 5, 2007

Mt. P, you’re right. And…so am I!

The good news about the unreconstructed royalists who are trying to rebuild the Schloss is they’re utterly broke, and so is the city department whose job it is to build it. The bad news, of course, is that they’ve destroyed the Palast der Republik in pursuit of their glorious Prussian goal.

Happy to give the tour to you guys if you’re up to it. I need the exercise and the fresh air.

19. MountPenguin - August 5, 2007

Must check my sources, but I seem to recall vast wodges of money have recently been made available to plonk a Schloss-sized building where the Schloss was, and use it for museum-type purposes (the arguments have moved onto the stage where they’re arguing about who gets how much space). What’s not yet certain is the facade, I think the people from the Schloss-Stiftung are in charge of raising the several dozen million EUR costs.

(On a related subject: it occurred to me earlier that the – not particularly useful – U5 extension between Alexanderplatz and the Brandenburg Gate has finally been given the go-ahead, with construction to start in 2010 or so; no doubt they’ll need to be digging a big hole at the Alexanderplatz end for the machinery etc, and guess what patch of open land is located conveniently at the end of the existing U5 tunnel? Yes, the Marx-Engels-Forum).

Yup, I’d love to experience your tour. Don’t think I’m going anywhere far for the next few weeks. Mr. Pleite?

20. MountPenguin - August 5, 2007

Hmm, bad news: not only will the federal government be doling out EUR 480 million for the building, but they’ve also basically underwritten the facade:

Die Mehrkosten für die Fassadenrekonstruktion in Höhe von etwa achtzig Millionen Euro will eine private Initiative aufbringen. Sollte dies bis 2013 nicht gelingen, werde der Bund diesen Betrag vorfinanzieren, kündigte Tiefensee an. “. (from FAZ).

Berlin is paying EUR 32 million and donating the plot.

My bet: there won’t be much change out of a billion Euro by the time it’s finished.

Meanwhile vast acreages of perfectly decent, if a little Naziesque building space continue to rot away in Tempelhof…

21. pleite - August 5, 2007

Yes, gents, let’s tour. God knows when suits everybody. Of course I should be working this instant, but bugger that. Ed, how would we reward you? An excuse to go to Honigmond?

I don’t know what to think of this rebuilding malarkey, especially when it’s a building that’s been deliberately destroyed. A bit like that cathedral in Moscow. Destroyed under Stalin so that he could build the biggest ever Palace of Soviets, or something like that, but it never came to fruition, and they put a swimming-pool there instead. Now the cathedral’s back in all its glory, though a Russian woman told me it’s a poor example of Orthodox architectural wonder. Anyway, call me a dreary old pragmatist, but a billion (or so) on a castle? Might it not be better spent elsewhere? Or will it be the best museum ever, with interactive things and rides and everything?

22. Ed Ward - August 6, 2007

Listen, whatever they wind up putting in there (and at one point it was going to be that much-needed institution, a shopping mall), the fact is the right wing, those who would revel in old Prussian glory, have won the day here. And shown those pesty Ossis a thing or two while they were at it.

I’m available for the tour (which lasts four hours, give or take) pretty much any time it’s not snowing. And yeah, Honigmond would be brilliant; haven’t been there in, mmm, weeks!

23. Arabella - August 6, 2007

I think Ed could rake it in as a tour guide – that lovely radio voice projected a notch or too…perhaps it could augment the Montpellier fund?

24. pleite - August 6, 2007

Arabella, do you mean you’ve heard Ed’s voice? Over the airwaves? Where is it to be heard? (I could have asked the man himself last night, but it’s fun asking an Anglo-Texan to get involved.)

Ed, a new business idea? Penguin and I will consult and get back to you by Christmas at the very latest. And, oh god, a mall in a castle. Why oh why? Is that an identical-to-the-one-that-already-exists-on-Alexanderplatz mall they’re building about ten metres away, also (sort of) on Alexanderplatz? I thought everyone was skint here.

25. Arabella - August 6, 2007

Ed has a link to the National Public Radio show ‘Fresh Air’ on which he’s the resident rock historian, don’t you know.
I’d describe his radio voice as choclatey with the right amount of gravel.

26. Arabella - August 6, 2007

Hey Ed! Yer ears are burning!

27. pleite - August 6, 2007

Arabella, I’m listening right now. Yep, there’s no denying it, that’s him. Have you got an American twang now? (How long have you been there?) I’m sure this might be a childhood thing and American accents being associated with TV and, therefore, the fantasy world, but I still go all a-quiver at an American accent.

28. Arabella - August 7, 2007

Me too. Anything south of the Mason Dixon.
I’m still a mix of black country, RP and Yorkshire (sounds good, huh?) But some American vocabulary is sticking: I call The Husband “honey” – when he’s behaving…..

29. pleite - August 7, 2007

Good mix. I’m trying to imagine it in my head, but can only come up with three consecutive words each pronounced in a different accent.

Hang on a sec, that’s the second time I’ve seen this Mason-Dixon thing mentioned recently. I didn’t know the South started so far north. Ed is, if I’m not misrepresenting him, technically a New Yorker but has lived all over so don’t know how to place his accent. Sounds American RP to me.

30. narrowback - August 8, 2007

Actually BiB, the Mason-Dixon Line is relatively far north…roughly the south latitudinal border of the state of Pennsylvania..ergo even a small chunk of new jersey is “south of the mason dixon line”… however thanks to mass culture you have to get pretty far south AND off the beaten track to hear a genuine or jen-you-ine southern accent

31. pleite - August 8, 2007

Narrowback, the London accent has spread to such an extent that I could even hear the difference when I’d only been away from London for a couple of years. The accent now seems to cover the whole of the south-east of England. Plus, and I can’t think of a way of avoiding words like these, but it’s not the ‘posh’ London accent which has spread and now dominates. I don’t know how to define ‘Estuary English’ – ‘standard’ with a bit of Cockney or the other way round.

I don’t think I’ve heard a good ol’ southern accent since I chatted to a man from New Orleans in Poland. He seemed to be the genuine article.

32. narrowback - August 8, 2007

naw’lins is definately deep south…

while the distinct regional accents have been submerged somewhat by CNN english an astute ear can still pick them out at times. folks often say that i have a new york accent despite the fact that i’ve lived away from there for more than 20 years…clearly i don’t say “thoity toid” for 33rd but there’s something in my cadence and pronunciation of certain vowels that betrays my origin. thankfully despite my long tenure here i have picked up the chicago dialect

33. pleite - August 9, 2007

…and, presumably, linguistically speaking, California is north of that line? So the north-south line is sort of diagonal? The UK, at least as far as TV and radio is concerned, has become more relaxed about accent. You would rarely have heard someone with, say, a Liverpool accent presenting a ‘serious’ TV programme in my youth. And the BBC World Service, which I’m listening to this very sec, and helping me do EVEN less work, has gone very cool and international and now has all sorts of presenters from all over. (Currently an American.) But they just had a report from Pakistan and they had the Pakistani’s English (he could vaguely be heard in the background) dubbed by an Englishman. I think I’d actually like a job at the BBC’s accent department, if there is such a thing.

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