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Witzelstrasse Industrial Park Video

I'm off to Brussels for the weekend, but before I go, here's something for the aesthetes of decay out there.
 
I added some soundtrack music to the slideshow of the abandoned Witzelstrasse trade park and made it into a six-minute movie. Click here to play from the blip.tv site (big file, slow load), or right-click download the raw .wmv file here and play it full-screen (recommended!)
 
More information after the jump.

Continue reading "Witzelstrasse Industrial Park Video" »


Kimmelmann on Tatort

Michael Kimmelmann of the New York Times takes on Tatort:

Consider the show a kind of microcosm of the German Federal Republic. Its producers proudly tout it that way. Each “Tatort” makes something of its regional roots, with actors speaking in local accents, solving crimes based on local imbroglios; and Germans talk about their favorite “Tatort” roughly the way they do about their local soccer teams. The “Tatort” from Münster plays for laughs. In Konstanz, a green swath of the country, the “Tatort” detectives often crack environmental cases. Hamburg stars a hunky, James Bond-like Turkish detective who works alone; Hanover, a beautiful, clever female detective, also a loner.

You could say it’s “CSI,” regionally speaking, but it’s too German to be confused with that American franchise, meaning not slick, far less bloody and with an eye toward spicy headlines.

...

“[Schimanski] was a strong character, active, not apologetic or careful,” [Rosemarie Wintgen, producer of the Berlin Tatort] said. “He was not how German men acted but how, in secret, they wanted to think of themselves.”

When presented with that thought during a break in filming a new episode here recently, [Berlin Tatort stars] Mr. Aljinovic and Mr. Raacke pondered and then somewhat reservedly agreed. “That was a while ago,” Mr. Raacke said, perhaps feeling a little competitive with a predecessor whom even now no one here seems to have forgotten. Over the course of more than 700 episodes “Tatort” has featured 70 detectives. There are common threads: They’re never Sherlock Holmes. They’re almost invariably glum, gloomy characters, mired in bad relationships or alone — in the end, ordinary people, which is how a country, democratic to a fault, tends to like its stars. In that respect too “Tatort” is notably German.

Or as Ms. Wintgen put it: “Its detectives stand for the dreams of the people. The plain-looking guy or the middle-aged blonde who in the end solves all of life’s problems and finds the murderer.

“That’s our kind of hero.”

I quite like Kimmelmann's work. Considering the space constraints he works with, he usually manages to convey a real sense of German life and the German psyche, and I'd say this piece is a good example of that.

There are two additional features of Tatort that I might have mentioned.

First, as I've noted before here and here, Tatort scripts go through the German public-broadcasting political-correctness approval procedure, which means they almost always portray the suspects as victims of broader social forces, not as fully responsible individual evildoers. According to my sources, people who write Tatort scripts perceive themselves as having a responsibility to edify the broad population as to what they consider to be the true causes of crime (discrimination, social dysfunction, mental illness, extortion, etc.), and blunt the Bild-reading masses' instinct for revenge. Nothing could be further from the mentality of CSI or 24.

Second, the basic message of Tatort is, as Feridan Zaimoglu recently put it in a review of a Tatort episode in Die Zeit, 'jeder hat Dreck am stecken' -- everyone has a dirty secret to hide. All of the people who seem 'ordinary' at the beginning of the episode are shown to be secretly snorting something in the backroom, screwing their secretary, stalking co-workers or celebrities, cooking the books, beating their partners, or hiding a shameful past and/or mental illness. And if they're not themselves doing the screwing over or screwing up, they're looking the other way while other people do it.

Now, you might object that you would expect a show about murders to highlight the darker side of human nature, but that's not what's happening here. As Zaimoglu aptly put it, jeder (everyone) hat Dreck am stecken. Even the people who turn out innocent of the murder are usually guilty of some other sordid misdeed. If you watch a few episodes of Tatort, you will come away with the impression that most Germans are cynical, cowardly, dishonest, sniveling neurotics who spend most of their waking hours -- when not engaged in sordid misdeeds -- throwing screaming tantrums, drinking themselves senseless, or meandering alone along waterfronts / in parks, stewing in self-pity.

If you can imagine millions of Germans watching this show every weekend and not seeing anything particularly exceptional about its portrayal of society, you will have gained a deep insight into the German psyche. 


Reclamation of A Trade Park

Witzelstr. 55 is the address of a mixed commercial and industrial trade area in the middle of Duesseldorf that was entirely abandoned in mid-2002.

Since then, lots of interesting things have been going on there. I'm working on a more ambitious project, but until then, here is a slideshow of images taken in October 2007, April 2008, and August of 2009. However, I recommend that instead of watching this glorious decay through a little window, you follow the link below to my Picasa photo album, and run a full-screen slideshow.




Witzelstrasse

America for the Americans, Europe for the Europeans

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Bryan Caplan on what American and European tourists get wrong:

Where American tourists go wrong:

1. In European countries, historic downtowns of the premiere cities like Paris or Stockholm are by far the best places to live.  Most people in Europe don't live in these areas, and can't afford to.

2. Most of the Europeans who are lucky enough to live in the premiere cities can't afford to frequently eat in the nice restaurants that delight foreign visitors.

3.  "Efficient public transportation" and bicycles may seem great to a tourist who eats in restaurants.  They're not so great if you're a local who needs to get groceries home to make dinner.  In bad weather, subways and bikes are downright awful.

Where European tourists go wrong:

1. They usually visit the most European places in the U.S. - especially New York City and San Francisco.  Since NYC and SF are basically uglier, scarier versions of the premiere European cities, it's natural for tourists to go home with a negative impression.

2. However, very few Americans live in such cities - even if they can easily afford to.  Why not?  Because the natural habitat of the American - including most affluent Americans - is the suburb.

It's easy to see why tourists don't go to the suburbs, because they're places to live and work, not places to see.  But almost no one in Europe lives in places as comfortable and convenient as American suburbs: The houses are spacious, the cars are huge, cheap Big Box stores and chain restaurants are nearby, and (to quote South Park) there's "ample parking day or night."  Europeans can learn a lot more about the American psyche with a visit to a random CostCo than a visit to the Guggenheim.

...

Europe is a better place for most people to visit.  But America is a better place for most people to live.

Consider this a riposte to Don Alphonso's dyspeptic mutterings (g). You might be expecting me to take issue with Caplan's points, but my response is mixed. (Caplan, by the way, defends himself against accusations of 'USA #1' jingoism in the post, and I believe him).

My preferences are clear: I've lived in the American suburbs and in European cities, and I prefer the latter. By a mile. But what Caplan is missing is the cultural preferences of Americans and Europeans. American suburbs might well be a better place for Americans to live, but transplant Europeans there, and many of them will be miserable, despite all that comfort and convenience. I am sometimes asked to consult with Europeans who are being relocated to places like Houston, Texas. I can usually tell within about 5 minutes whether that person's likely to adjust successfully to life in the American suburbs. Engineers and computer programmers and the like have no problems; in fact, they'll often beg to be allowed to stay. Nothing like having your own gigantic, cheap house, as many power tools as you want, and your own private pool whose chemicals you can adjust to your heart's content. Plus, Americans are task-oriented, unstuffy workers who are easy to deal with. Sure, there is less of a social safety net in the U.S., but these people don't care too much about that, since they have valuable job skills and will always get good benefits from their employers.

For Europeans of a less practical bent, though, the American suburbs are sterile, dull places. There are no cafes, no street life, no festivals just around the corner, no neighborhood bars, no beautifully-landscaped parks, no arthouse cinemas within walking distance -- in fact, no walking at all worthy of the name. In the vast stretches of America which are located in sub-tropical or desert climates, you will live 7 or 8 months of the year going from one sealed cubicle filled with artificial air to the next. The general cultural level of suburban Americans will strike these Europeans as desperately low. They are unlikely to meet very many people who have been well-traveled, know how to prepare a proper salad, or know the difference between a symphony and a concerto. (I remember an anecdote about Philippe de Montebello, once Director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, who said one of the things that irritated him about working there was all the museum visitors who put their cigarettes out in what was clearly a piece of modern sculpture right outside the front entrance.) Needless to say, these Europeans will regard the committee-produced gooey, salty offerings of American 'chain restaurants' as unfit for consumption by goats, much less humans. They will not perceive the suburbs as comfortable and convenient because maximizing comfort and convenience has never been a part of their world-view.

The same thing goes for Americans who live in Europe. No doubt most Americans would find much to object to in living in a Plattenbausiedlung (public-housing project) in Rostock or in a Parisian banlieue. But that's not where most of them are going to end up. As to how they see European cities -- once again, a lot depends on temperament. A highly practical American who values "comfort and convenience" above all is going to find those things in short supply in most European cities. You'll find these people bitching and moaning -- usually in English -- at various Irish bars. But then again, many Americans who relocate to Europe do so voluntarily, precisely because it's Europe. They want the safe, lively parks and neighborhoods, the 120-year-old cafes, the Gothic cathedrals, restaurants which reflect the chef's personality and no-one else's, the fine regional orchestras, art-house cinemas and the gleaming, sophisticated museums. To them, not having to own a car is a kind of liberation.

However, cultures being what they are, most Americans are going to be happier in America, since they've absorbed American priorities and attitudes, and the same goes for Europeans. In fact, the very idea of measuring quality of life primarily by 'comfort and convenience' will seem -- to many non-Americans -- hopelessly American. Once you take into account these limitations, it's difficult to make any sort of meaningful cross-cultural comparisons.


Things Are Tough All Over

Shifting market patterns and the recession devastate yet another industry:

Less than two years ago, Stern earned close to $150,000 annually, sometimes turned down work and drove a Mercedes-Benz CLK 350. Now she's aggressively reaching out for jobs and making closer to $50,000 a year.

As for that Mercedes? She's replacing it with a used Chevy Trailblazer -- from her parents.

"The opportunities in this industry really are disappearing," Stern said. "It's extremely stressful."

And she should know about stress.


Take All, Winner

American liberals are getting impatient with Obama. Amid strident Republican criticism and waffling from the White House, support for reform of the American health care system -- Obama's signature domestic-policy issue -- is plummeting. Paul Krugman puts it well:

It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Obama has wasted months trying to appease people who can’t be appeased, and who take every concession as a sign that he can be rolled.

As a comparative-law guy, I'd like to remind Mr. Obama that America has a conflict-based, winner-take-all political system. This is not European parliamentary democracy, where you need to patch together coalitions to run the country, and everything has to be hammered into some sort of compromise that will please the diverse members of your coalition.

No, this is America, a country in which if you win the Presidential election and large majorities in both houses of Congress, you can do pretty much whatever you want for the next couple of years. I think I speak for a lot of Obama voters when I say: Obama, my man, I didn't vote for you so you could be nice to Republicans. I don't give a fuck about the Republicans! As a former Reagan White House official recently said of the Republican party: '[U]ntil they do penance they don't deserve any credibility and should be ignored until they do.' That's what happens in a winner-take-all system. The winner takes it all, and the loser gets ignored. That's called accountability, and it's a healthy part of democracy. Nobody cares how many Republicans' toes you step on. In fact, democratic accountability  requires that you crush Republican toes into purplish goo. They screwed up! They got shellacked! Nobody trusts them!

You're allowed to coo and gurgle about bipartisan co-operation exactly until the point that doing so begins to waste precious time and embolden your political enemies (and yes, that's the right word for them!). Then you stop the feel-good rhetoric and ram through your proposals. If some members of your party balk, you first promise them plenty of juicy trade-offs and fundraising visits. You tell them: 'This is the centerpiece of my agenda, and you're going to support me on it. Once we get this through, everything else is on the table.' If that doesn't work, you screw them so hard they'll be walking bow-legged for months. This is not a college debating society, it's politics. If members of your own party decline to support a fundamental part of the agenda you promised the American people, then they have betrayed you. You then respond appropriately: you freeze 'em out and fuck 'em over. Yes, it may sound rude and unpleasant, but it works. The ends, as they so often do, justify the means.

After the dust settles, people will respect you. Americans respect winners. Obama, my man, if you'd like to practice being a real, red-blooded American politician, give a listen to the following speech, which includes the deathless line: "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred."


A Gem-Like City

A couple of relatives came to visit me about a month ago and I took them on a little tour of Duesseldorf, during which I again came face-to-face with the fact that Duesseldorf is a green and pleasant town. Here's a recent photo of Schloss Eller, a small baroque 'castle-ette' surrounded by a park designed by the great German landscape architect Maximilian Weyhe (g):

Pond behind Schloss Eller

For my money, Eller Park has the most beautiful fall foliage in all of Duesseldorf. Here's a sycamore in the park that reminds me of Baucis and Philemon*:

Baucis & Philemon Tree Schloss Eller

And finally, a view of the Rhein promenade from the Oberkasseler Bridge, about midnight. A waterfall of light:

Rheinpromenade von Oberkasseler Bruecke Bei Nacht


* Who knew you could embed Google Books?


Fellowships in German-American relations

The German Historical Institute is awarding fellowships:

The GHI awards short-term fellowships to German and American doctoral students as well as postdoctoral scholars in the fields of German history, the history of German-American relations, and the history of the role of Germany and the USA in international relations. These fellowships are also available to German doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars in the field of American history. The fellowships are usually granted for periods of one to six months but, depending on the funds available, can be extended by one or more months. The research projects must draw upon primary sources located in the United States.

More info here (g).