Sofia Street Art

For all of those who missed the geography lesson about South – Eastern Europe in school: Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. Bulgaria has boarders to Serbia and Mazedonia (in the West), to Greece and Turkey (in the South), to Romania (in the North), and it has a nice long coast-line along the Black Sea (in the East).
The Balkan mountains (Stara Planina in Bulgarian) gave the entire peninsula with Romania, Greece, Turkey, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia, Albania and Mazedonia its name. As a proof, here is the one and only railway-station in the world with the simple name “Balkan”. It is on the route from Sofia to Mezdra, but infact it is not a fully functional railway station, but a “Request Stop”, such as the one in Monty Pythons sketch with the old lady at the bus request stop.

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Whereas the Balkan mountains are really a piece of great and unspoiled nature (the few Uranium mines are currently not operating), the Bulgarian capital Sofia is a cool, young, relaxed city. It is very European style, and in the center is remarkable triumphirat of the eldest orthodox church, a mosque with a bathing house and a synagogue. Traditionally, Bulgaria hosted a large sephardic community, which always gain protection from the Bulgarian Tzars.
I like the fresh colours in the city, and graffity street artists have contributed a lot to it.

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Burka girl shows her Basic Instinct

I have to make a confession: I like both the few Sharon Stones of this world and the many burka girls. Therefore I was extremely pleased to see at Munich Airport today this rare example who has them both: a Burka, and a Basic Instinct underneath it.

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Same message, different style

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”

these are the lyrics of Joni Mitchells 1974 song:

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot ….

They took all the trees, and put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them

Listen, late last night, I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi took my girl away.

Great song, indeed, combining fine poetry, great tunes and an intelligent message. It has spirit and it has humor.

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2007 came along Janet Jackson, with her strange smile that will always demonstrate how silly a plastic surgery is. Looking for a new song to place her in the rap music charts someone recommended “Big Yello Taxi” to her (Maybe a really cool NY taxi driver with a good taste told her how much he likes Joni Mitchells song). So JJ ordered some writers to add a few sentences and electronic loops to the original song …..

….. AND MESSED IT UP COMPLETELY. I avoid to put a link to the youtube song here, since it is just white noise. But look to the lyrics,

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Have a feelin’, now believin’
That you were the one
I was meant to be with
Oh, how I’m wishin’
Thinkin’, dreamin’ ’bout you
And the love, how’d I let you get away?
Got ’til it’s gone
Got ’til it’s gone.

Does Mrs Jackson, who was already 41 years old when she recorded it wants to create the image that she suffers from teenage gril feelings? Remember that Joni Mitchell was only 25 when she presented the original song, with its subtle poetry). I think the current times really see an epidemic of infantilisation.

 

 

Weired Conversation

Some years ago I started a loose conversation with Lars Gustafsson, my secret favorite guess for the next Nobel price in literature since I read his first book some 25 years ago. It all began with some essays Mr. Gustafsson wrote on his blog about Berlin, my home town. Gustafsson himself lived there for several years in the 70s, hence he knows many places in the Western part of town much better than me, who went there only after the “wall came down” in 1989. He wrote all 8 parts of the essay in German, and me – in complete ignorance of any writers psychology had the “brilliant idea” to slightly “improve” the grammar and syntax for him. When I send back to him the 8 parts of essay, all with my “improvements” (meaning that the typical Gustafsson style has now been converted to a proper East-German persian-cat style) I received a rather cold reply from him. Anyhow, secretely Mr. Gustafsson revised the essay on his blog, and considered some of my changes as reasonable. Our mail conversation did not went any further, although I submitted several praising comments to other posts on his blog.

Suddenly, 2 years ago I received an emergency message from Lars, calling me “My friend” and explaining that he got stucked in London, lost his wallet and now needs some money to buy a ticket home. Obviously, somebody had hacked Lars’ address book (which obviously must have contained my e-mail contact) to send out Phishing mails to all his friends. From this moment I was careful with everything Mr. Gustafsson send me.

Earlier this year, however, I received a more trustable message from him, where he announced his comming visit to Munich to read from his latest books. I soon confirmed with the local Literature Club and even made some publicity for the event (again completely ignoring the fame of Lars Gustafsson, who has such a huge list of followers and readers that all tickets were sold out in a day).

After his reading Mr. Gustafsson stayed for an hour, nipping some excellent white wine and eating some delicious dark bread sandwiches and chatting with the audience. When I finally made my way through the flock of people who always surrounded him I had the chance to talk to him in person. During the reading on this evening Gustafsson only focussed on his poetry, so I told him that “… after reading his novel Bernard Foy’s Third Castling I realized that there are also decent crime writers in Skandinavia, considering the dreadful style of Adler-Olson, Harkan Nesser, Stieg Larsson and the like …”.  Gustafsson reacted a bid with surprise, that somebody would consider Bernard Foy’s Third Castling a crime novel. He said that for him all crime literature is immoral, which I could not agree at all if I think about Raymond Chandler, E.A.Poe, Patricia Highsmith or Friedrich Duerrenmatt. In my view, all bad literature is immoral literature, be it a crime story or a naturalistic poem. And all good literature is highly moral literature, as is the case of Raymond Chandlers long list of Philip Marlowe detective stories and equally of Gustafssons “Bernard Foy”.   I don’t know to which degree we found an agreement on this issue, since more people were pushing from behind to have their copies of “Everything one needs. A manual for life” (written jointly with his wife Agneta Blomqvist) decorated with his signature.

Yesterday, suddenly, 6 weeks after our last encounter, I received a funny invitation from Lars again, this time with a request to join him on his LinkedIn site. So maybe he remembered that I was once so helpful in polishing his German essays, that in the future I will really get a job from Lars. Or his ardent interest in mathematics and science made him think of starting a research job in my lab.

Beneath the cities pavement

The 1968s students movement coined the wonderful phrase “Under the pavements lays the beach”, perhaps to further encourage picking out the paving stones for the next street fight.

But at least beneath the pavements in Berlin, there is indeed yellow sand reminiscent of a seaside beach. That is because the Berlin and most Prussian underground are glacial melt-water valleys (the term “Urstrom-Tal” is even common in English). So if the pavement stones are removed in Berlin, or one is digging any deeper into the ground, this is what you find. A real part of the beach, for which one otherwise has to drive abou 120 miles north to the Baltic Sea.

Sandy PavementNot far away from the beach, however, are signs that reminds one of the much younger, yet much more violent period of Berlin history. All over the city one can find tiny brass plates (“Stolpersteine“) fixed on the pavement in front of houses, which indicate the places where jewish people were deported from their homes and later killed by the Nazi regime.

The two plates below are at Münchener Strasse 18 in the borough of Schoeneberg, and they are there to commemorate Gertrud Kolmar (a well-known writer) and her father Ludwig Chodziesner).

20150720_120154Mrs. Kolmar was killed in Auschwitz, her father died in the Theresienstadt ghetto. A few blocks further down the road is the plate and former house of Bernhard Persicaner. He too was killed in the Auschwitz concentration-camp, but perhaps as he was not as famous as Mrs. Kolmar mankind would have soon forgotten about him. Thanks to the Stolpersteine initiative, however, the memory of hundreds of thousands of nazi victims are kept for ever now, whether they were famous persons of history or ordinary people like Bernhard Persicaner.

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It is a shame that only one city in Germany, Munich in Bavaria, opposes to put the brass plates for the killed Jews on their streets. This does not surprises me a lot, since there is also no beach under the Munich pavements. There is only cobble.

Beginning of the end

Dearest Mrs F, my far and precious angel,sometimes when I have a moment of rest, without any of the daily duties and problems of our material life, I fall into a state of deep sadness. Recognizing some of the slow changes that affect the people or the nature around us suddenly makes me aware of the cruel and merciless passing of time. I see it every year in the middle of the summer, when the cereals on the farmlands around our village grow high, the wheat, barley and rye turns golden and produces a rich and delicious smell (I imagine that such must be the odor of the sun), and then suddenly on one afternoon, the farmers start their giant harvesting machines and cut all the golden fields down. And suddenly, the rich grains that were swollen over the last month like a womans belly during pregnant and that beard the promise of a whole year with sufficient bread and cakes and pasta (and beer from the barley and malt), all these magnificent signs of a wealthy future are gone. Instead of the golden, majestic grains that slowly move in the summer wind, only the short cut trunks are left on the fields, but they are the dead remnants of the majestic plants, and they will stay like this for the whole winter. Therefor, already now in the mid of July, I start to fear already the season of snow and frost and chilly wind, because from one day to the other, the golden grains turn from a symbol of rich and powerful life into the first prophecy of the end of all life.

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Since we moved from the center of Munich to the rural area on the cities periphery, I fear this moment in the middle of summer every year again and again. You see, how cruel the living close to the nature can be.
I am currently on a bus ride back home, after having spend 4 days in Berlin with my parents. I feel more and more obliged to look after them, to give them the feeling that they are not alone, although I live 600 km away from them. The notion, that they had a happy and good life, without major tragedies but rather a slow and continuous prosperity, is at the end a very weak relief. I see them getting older and weaker every year, and it is hard to remember how strong and almighty my dad appears in my childhood memories. He was always in control of the world around him, and now he is not even of full control of all his physiological functions. I see how he suffers deep inside, when his hands can not hold the cup any more and he spills the coffee. I feel how this makes him angry inside, but he never says a word.
And my mom, who worked as a teacher and showed thousands of kids how to read and write, she herself has trouble to write now, and she can not read long books any more since her nerves can not concentrate any more. It makes me so sad to watch them, and to know there is nobody who can stop this natural health decay, since both of them are already more than 80 years old.
I know that at this age, the most precious that people have are their children. When they see that their children are living a happy and good life, this makes them happy despite their own physical and health problems.
I know that I could never tell my parents that my happy life is a skin-deep facade, and that deep inside I feel very unsatisfied with my life. With some more commitment and ambition at work, I might have become a better scientist. With some more rehearsal, I might have become a better guitar player.
From a superficial view, my life might look safe and as compared to all the trouble in the world, I have no reason to complain. But I cannot find much solace from this, my doubts and my feelings of never satisfying what I should gain in life will always torture me. Sometimes, however, I find some solace when I read your words and realize that you are there, with your great heart, your beautiful mind and your mysterious eyes.

An extra second of lime blossom odor

It is now 11:50 pm, last day of June, and for a funny reason this month will have an extra second of life (The administrators of the earth rotation have decided that a leap second has to be inserted to bring the astronomic time and the atomic time in synchronity again).

Therefore I will have an extra second time to write at least one short post this month.

I recognised again that my overboarding enthusiasm during daylight (when it comes to inviting oether scientists to joint projects and applying for financial support) makes space for deep fears, worries and self-doubts when I wake up in the middle of the night.

The blossoming lime trees again emanate their tentalizing odor, like a phantasmagoric gas that fills the air. When I recognized this 5 years ago for the first time, I was crazy IL about her. But she was too Swedish, and Persian was only her outer shell. But now I can have this every day, more than I can bear, with a Persian shell and an Armenian core.

Iranian movies, or movies from Iran ?

After watching this breathtaking movie “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (directed by Ana Lily Armirpour) I am more and more convinced that there is a fundamental difference between movies maade by Iranian cinematographers living and working abroad for reasons of personal and artistic freedom, and movies made by Iranians at home. The latter are usually praised for the political braveness and personal risk that the film crew and the artists take, sometimes working clandestine as for instance Jafah Panahi with “Tehran Taxi”. Movies made in Iran also have high chances to win prices at international festivals, as they did at the Berlinale, at Cannes or at the Academy awards.
But my own preference are the films made by Iranian exiled directors abroad. I always liked “Woman without Men” by Shirin Neshat, “Persepolis” and recently “Chicken with plums” by Marjane Satrapi, and “Green Wave” and “Salami Aleikum” by Ali Samadi Ahadi, and now this phantastic “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”. It avoids any superficial political message, but it is filled with eternal and general questions of morality, tragic clash between a social decay and the private pursue of honesty and love. It lets us follow the nightly walks of a dark covered girl through the empty streets of the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness. The townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.

This is a kind of movie one could watch again and again. It is full of pictures, scenes and impressions that are not easy to grab on the first glance. Somewhere I read a critic saying “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is an iconic feminist movie. I don’t know, either I lack the sensitivity for this, or I have no issue with feminist movie, but it would not come to my mind at all.

 

Thats all Kafka’s fault

Franz Kafkas novels and stories were all too complex, too ambigious and without a clear message to be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster. Even the French nouvelle vague, Italian neorealism nor the German expressionist cinema had any ambitions to use Kafkas literature as a movie plot (With the exception of Orson Welles’ version of “The Trial”).   But now comes a movie from a team of Iranian ex-pats, who produced an unofficial tribute to Kafkas obscure world.

The first Iranian Vampire Western ever made, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut basks in the sheer pleasure of pulp. A joyful mash-up of genre, archetype, and iconography, its prolific influences span spaghetti westerns, graphic novels, horror films, and the Iranian New Wave.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is not a blockbuster, but it is a great and intelligent, amazingly complex story with a hidden political message.

The girl of Ana Lily Amirpour’s movie is not like other girls. She is, for one thing, a vampire, but she’s not like other vampires, either. She wears a hijab and prowls the fictional Iranian town called Bad City (actually Bakersfield, Calif.). Her inevitable feeding seems to come as much from personal needs as it does a sense of social justice: she feeds on the bad guys and spares the ones that she seems to regard as good or at least having potential. She is lonely and almost entirely silent. Her best friend is her record collection.

Adventure Land

One of the highest valued novels of contemporary German literature has been written by the late Wolfgang Herrndorf, whos early death in 2013 was perhaps not only the big loss of a great literature talent, but of many yet unwritten books as well. Unlike the recent death of Gunther Grass, whos most creative period ended perhaps in 1988 with his novel “The Rat”, one can imagine which wealth of phantastic and witty and lovely literary works Wolfgang Herrndorf could have given us if a deadly illness would not have taken him away from his desk forever.

Herrndorfs most influential novel, “Tschick” is a coming of age story of two schoolboys, one from a well-established but decadent East-Berlin family, the other one a really underdog of post cold-war immigrants from somewhere in eastern Europe. The novel can be summarized very briefly, which I think is not neccessarily an indication of mising quality: The two boys are bored during their summer holidays and decide to steal an old car to drive to Wallachia (in a review in the Guardian this act is described as “they sort of borrow a car“). The magically sounding land of Wallachia lays somewhere between Ukraine and Romania and is the homeland of Tschicks, the underdogs grand parents. But instead of making their 1000 miles ride to Wallachia, they soon got lost in the post-unification waste-lands south of Berlin. There they get involved in a series of adventures, during which they experience dangerous situations, are threatened by gangsters, but also encounter moments of romantic love and philosophic reflections.

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The novel therefore reminded me very much of one of the greatest comming of age novels that was ever written (long before this category was coined): “The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. Tom and Huck also had planed to go on a journey to a far away place. But instead of sailing hundreds of miles to Saint Louis, their trip ends after a few hours on a tiny island down the river. It is there where they experience the adventures that turn them from obedient school-boys into self-confident young men. The journey, even if it brings them just a few miles away from home, provides the right environment for their own test of courage. For the first time in their life they spend some nights alone under the open sky, learn how to survive outside the protective home and how find clever solutions when faced with unexpected difficulties. With a mixture of excitement and satisfaction they realize that what they really need in these nights of forbidden adventures is nothing the school and teh Sunday prayers could have teach them. The skills that become essential for survival out there are more like instinkts, and they simply have to follow their intuition. And in a similar context as the two school-boys in Herrndorfs novel, Tom and Huck learn to get along with fears. Even better, they experience the greatest moments of discovering their own strength when they don’t escape dangerous moments, but when they find a way of dealing with them. And for these great discoveries, neither Tom and Huck nor Tschick and Maik (the second character in Herrndorfs novel) need a real far journey. As soon as they get out of sight of their home town, the adventures start.

I had to think about these adventure lands which may begin just beyond the last garden fence of your hometown when Cathie, a good friend of us came around recently. She inherited from her parents in the US a rather large sum of money, and uses it all now to spend on travelling around the world. About every second month she is away, seeing places such as Marocc, Bali, Thailand, India, Mexico and a lot more. Usually after each trip she comes to see us and brings a souvenir, as if she wants to show us the evidence that she indeed has been at these far places. But this more or less seems to be the only “deliverables” of her exotic journeys. With all her money and the security of an AmEx credit card and prepayed return flight, she stays outside of an adventure land. She experiences the far places as if she looks into a glossy photo book.

I am not categorically against any traveling to far away places, but one should not go with the tourist streams or flocks of backpackers. And if one is not able to experience the potential adventures in your near neighborhood, you will neither find them on the other side of the world.

PS: It is a pitty that although Herrndorfs novel “Tschick” has been translated in more than 25 languages, there is  no english Wikipedia article on him. I think in th enext few days I am going to write one. The english title of the book is “Why we took the car“. I am surprised that the review in the english Guardian did not revealed the similarity in the narrative pattern of Mark Twains great american youth novel and this modern roadmovie, that was written more than a century later.

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