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FEYZA AKINERDEM NÜKHET SIRMAN

A Dialogue on The Atmosphere of Turkey and Its TV Serials

30.05.19
120 min
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Benjamin Netanyahu
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Campaign posters after the general election in Israel 2019
Trailer for the documentary "King Bibi"

Israel’s Bibi, the avant-gardist of the contemporary populist disease

24.04.19
9 min
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Israel’s Bibi, the avant-gardist of the contemporary populist disease

On April 9th, the ugliest and dirtiest election campaign Israel has seen so far, was over. It was basically the same fake-lies&bots-game of shame, Western democracies are struggling with lately. On the morning after, centrist and left-wing supporters woke up with a hangover to an Israeli election groundhog day. Benjamin Netanyahu – or Bibi, as everyone calls him in Israel – was up for his fifth term; this time, with a coalition comprised of his own party and its nationalistic and religious allies – forming an even stronger coalition majority than in the previous term. Why did he win again? To answer that, let’s look back to the beginning of the race.   

On Monday, January 7th, the Israeli public was on alert, waiting for a “dramatic announcement” by the Prime Minister. The televised event, which was more of a speech than a press-conference, as journalists were not allowed to ask questions, was used by Bibi to contest corruption allegations. Later this year, the Attorney General is expected to indict the Prime Minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust – something Netanyahu referred to as a “left-wing conspiracy” to overthrow him in an “undemocratic manner”. Netanyahu railed against anything that stood in his way, from his political opponents and the police, to the public prosecutor and the supreme court. He demanded to meet in front of the camera with the state witness of the case, which of course was rejected. The tone for the campaign of his nationalistic party, the “Likud”, was set: blaming everyone who is not “on their side” for all the faults of Israeli society, and accusing without integrity entire constituencies – from the liberal Tel Aviv central-left to the Arab communities – as traitors and even “terror supporters”.

The political wizard, that he is, Bibi had broken up his governing coalition upon the pretext of a dispute with one of Likud’s allies, went for an early election, in a bid for a bigger majority for his government, and –  this might be the next step in order to rescue himself – try then to install the so-called French law, that protects a sitting prime minister from prosecution. Bibi knew too well, that he is grappling with a disadvantaged opposition, due to one of his biggest propagandistic achievements – the demonization of the Israeli Zionist Left. Over the course of his 12-year premiership, the Hebrew word for Leftie became synonymous with “traitor”.  Consequently, no political party, other than the tiny Zionist socialist party “Meretz”, dares to define itself as “left-wing”. Even not the central-left Labor party, which totally crashed. The movement of the murdered peace-maker and novel-price-bearer Itzchak Rabin and the social democratic founding father icon David Ben-Gurion, who ruled Israel throughout the 50’s and 60’s, shrank to a depressing 5 percent low, as their voters were flocking to the generals.   

The generals? Some analysts were jokingly talking of a military putsch, while referring to the alpha-team behind the newly founded centrist party Blue and White (the colors not only of the usually summerly sea and sky along Israel’s coastline but also those of the Israeli flag), led by former IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, furthermore by a charismatic former TV-journalist and – two other former Chiefs of Staffs. Together, these four middle-aged men were looking sternly from the huge Blue and White election posters into their electorate’s eyes, posing the only serious challenge to Netanyahu’s victory. But the dire warnings of three former military leaders to a nation, which would not exist without its military: that Netanyahu is a liar and eventually corrupted, a danger to Israeli democracy, who divides the country; all that was not enough to undermine the religious and nationalistic majority. Knowing he had the left-wing vote in the bag, Benny Gantz’s campaign took on increasingly aggressive messaging to attract voters away from the right. In one video, for instance, Gantz bragged about his achievements as a commander during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, during which about 1300 Palestinians were killed. Apart from this, Bibi was constantly criticized as not being tough enough towards the rocket attacks of Hamas, the Islamist terror organization, that is subjugating Gaza. But despite these efforts, most right wingers stuck to Mr. Netanyahu, and the Likud party won the largest number of seats they ever held in parliament, though neck to neck with Blue and White. They absorbed most of the majority of votes by the other half of the electorate, which was united by the one and only slogan: Just not Bibi again. 

As corruption cases against him mount, the love and trust of Netanyahu’s massive fan only just grows stronger. Out of historical mistrust against the European socialist labor party, dominated by the privileged East European Jews of the first Zionist waves of immigration in the first half of the 20th century, by whom they felt mistreated throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, the majority of Oriental Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants and their descendants traditionally vote for the nationalistic Likud. This constituency is overlapping in great parts of with the working poor, the less educated, those who long for a strong man’s hand, and those identifying themselves with the arrogant and paranoid middle-finger Bibi shows his fantasized foes – the media, the judges, the establishment, which, to their assessment, never did much to raise their life-quality and social status.

Reminds you of the mad man in the White House and his constituency of ‘deplorables’, as Hillary once said in a slip of tongue? Well, Benjamin Netanyahu was there first, long before watershed political events in recent years took place – the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the Brexit craziness, the electoral success of Italy’s Five Star Movement and Brazil’s sudden shift to the far-right. Israel could be seen as forerunner of worldwide populism, and Netanyahu as the avant-gardist of the popular, charismatic, reality-show style leader. Since he took over more than a decade ago, the public discourse in his country became increasingly nationalistic, xenophobic, and militant.

In his new documentary “King Bibi”, which was broadcasted on ARTE at the eve of the elections, Israeli director Dan Shadur follows Netanyahu’s rise to power through four decades of public appearances. Relying solely on archival footage of Netanyahu’s media performances, spanning a career of some 40 years, the film shows how the Israeli Prime Minister understood the political benefits of creating a toxic relationship with the media and communicating directly with the public long before Facebook, Twitter, and the spectacle of the Trump-presidency.

Shadur’s documentary portrays the making of Bibi by himself in his early American years. For instance, after changing his career from furniture sales promoter to politician, Netanyahu autodidactically exercised “7 steps for fearless speaking by Lilian Wilder”, an audio-tutorial on audio cassettes in the 80’s. As well known, Hitler, too, started his career by self-taught acting in front of an audience. In our opinion, it is legitimate to put these two figures under a comparative analysis, given the eagerness seen in both of them to learn how to theatrically address the masses and to gain followers, the paranoia that nourishes their charismatic mission, and their power to convince their listeners. In order to learn from the faults of history, we should not overlook these striking similarities, contributing to the rise of Bibi. It is not helpful to view Hitler as a taboo, an unhuman monster, an incomparable phenomenon. Bibi will, of course, never turn out as a bloodthirsty dictator, who throws his adversaries into prisons and builds death-camps. Only anti-Semitically motivated, antizionist extremists would maintain such nonsense. Netanyahu nevertheless, belongs to the category of populists, who manipulate their nation with lies and stigmatize the free press as lying press, such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao – the big mass-murderers of the 20th century, Chavez and Maduro, the destroyers of Venezuela, and Russia’s Putin – who, instead of continuing to sit in the Kremlin and thwart progress in Russia, should be sued at the international court of Justice in The Hague for complicity in the war-crimes of Syrian’s dictator Assad. 

These are the Zombies standing on the wrong side of history. Likewise Bibi and his sympathizers Trump, Orban, Salvini, and Bolsonaro; they may not be murderous, are by far less vicious and, principally, stick to the democratic rules; yet – as we pointed out in our recent piece, – they bear the same irrationally poisoned mindset of refugee-paranoia as the assailant of the Pittsburgh synagogue or his even more successful colleague, who committed the massacre at the Christchurch mosque and became a youtube-star by filming with his head-cam his shooting people to death. The members of the liberal-leaning, reform-religious Jewish Congregration, who were attacked and murdered for taking a stand for refugees; on the political landscape they are on the side of the of the few percent smaller half of the Israeli population, who loathes to have Bibi as head of government and of the 70 percent of US-American Jewry, who vote for the Democratic party and reject Israel’s right wing policies. 

By coincidence, a day after Bibi’s victory, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, the perpetrator of the Genocide in Darfur between 2003 and 2008 was ousted from his office after weeks of ongoing mass-protests. The Save Darfur Coalition, who invoked the Western world in those years to stop the killings, was carried on mainly by liberal, Jewish American NGOs, who applied the post-Holocaust Never Again principal not only to their own brethren, but to any other people (fairplanet.org joined this movement in 2007 with a German initiative). Nowadays, a few thousands Darfuri refugees are living in Israel, tolerated by most of its citizens, supported by a number of NGOs, but struggling with the difficulties imposed on them by a xenophobic Israeli government, who profits from right-wing incitement against them. One day Bibi will be history, hopefully sooner than later.

A shorter version of this text has been published in the opinion section of fairplanet.org.

Ithamar Handelman-Smith
by
60pages
People

Ithamar Handelman- Smith is a British writer, columnist, filmmaker, and playwright based in London. His worked is published in both English and Hebrew. 

Jossi Reich
People

Jossi is the kind of guy who will wear a greenish tweed trouser by Dries van Noten from 2008 and a purple sweater by Acne from 2011 over a yellow, yes, yellow shirt by Prada from 2001 and a jacket by Helmut Lang, this kind of felt that Helmut Lang used to do back in the 1990s, in a sort of olive colour, I guess. Not that fashion is important for Jossi. Indeed, it’s hard to tell what is important for Jossi and what is not. Even for him, I guess. There is just too much going on, in the world, in his head, in his life. I have heard that he is a business man in Tel Aviv, but I have yet to see any proof of that. I have personally seen videos that show him singing as Joe Fleisch doing his very funky version of old Jiddish songs, sometimes rubbing against one chicken or another. I have heard that he writes. I do hope so, indeed, just to take the pressure off that head. And I have seen what Jossi does with his website: activism. Maybe that is what Jossi is, in all his manyfold ways, above all; Jossi is an activist. Always on the move, always some fight to pick, always some plane to catch. He knows people. A filmmaker here with this amazing project about the Holocaust, a musician there with this great tune out – right, almost forgot, Jossi of course also runs a record company. It is all too much! Maybe this also explains his way of dressing: There is more than one Jossi Reich, and the one you see in front of you is made out of sheer energy. Like a very strong wind blowing in the desert.

FEYZA AKINERDEM NÜKHET SIRMAN
The authors Nükhet Sirman & Feyza Akinerdem
TELENOVELA ILLUSTRATION RED

Türkiye’nin Atmosferi ve Yerli Diziler Üzerine Diyalog

16.11.18
120 min
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Prof. Dr. Nükhet Sirman is an anthropologist who teaches in the Department of Sociology at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Her research interests include TV serials, especially their structure and their transformation over time. Previously she has worked on petty commodity production, nationalism, and gender; honor, and violence against women; and the aftermath of forced migration. She has been involved in the feminist movement in Turkey since its inception and has published numerous articles, both academic and popular.

People

Dr. Feyza Akınerdem graduated from Boğaziçi University, department of Sociology in 2002. She received her MA degree in Sociology in 2006. She obtained her PhD in Cultural Policy and Management from the City University London. She is an academician currently working as Adjunct Instructor at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey. 

Feyza participated at 60pages’ Longform Workshop Istanbul 2017. 

MURAT MAHMUTYAZICIOGLU COVER
MURAT MAHMUTYAZICIOGLU SKIZZE
Murat Mahmutyazicioglu Portrait

Bis zum Sonnenaufgang ist es noch eine Weile – Auszug aus dem türkischen Longread 'Güneşin doğuşuna biraz daha var'

29.05.18
60 min
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kastanienallee
Kastanianallee
dessous berlin
Porn on Kurfuerstenstrasse
poem berlin
Vicente Hudibro's 'Storm'
berlin G
Kreuzberg, with one of many 'single-letter' cafe's
rummelsbruger bucht 1
Rummelsburger Bucht; Treptower Park and the Spree

Searching for the city: A walk around Berlin using Google

20.04.18
19 min
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In this article writer and resident of Berlin, Gurmeet Singh, goes on a walk around the city using Google as his guide. Moving across the keyboard one letter at a time, he chooses his destination based on Google’s suggestions. Q, for example, brings up Qua Phe, a restaurant, and W offers up a wine bar. The random destinations are connected by Gurmeet’s search history and Google’s demand that we constantly buy, resulting in an exploration in digital and urban capitalism.

There’s a bullet hole…

…in a building on Max Beer Strasse, hidden behind a sign for ice-cream. Amazingly, a family sit outiside with a round of cones, even though it’s January and the grey air threatens snow. I’ve walked from my flat in Schoeneberg to here, exactly 5.3KM, the fastest pedestrian route according to Google. It’s taken me, briefly, past the old, invisible Hitler Bunker, the theme-park tackiness of Checkpoint Charlie, a protest (which Google displayed as a traffic jam) at Brandenburg Gate, recommended several cafés, bars and photo spots along the way, and through the old fashion quarter to here, Qua-Phe, the first stop on my walk. 

Qua Phe

Cities have a subterranean or celestial otherness, where the drab details of their random components cohere in unpredictable ways; all you need to do is walk and look. Well, so says Psychogeography. Using a smartphone to find your way around however, only entrenches those details into their dullness. The weather is, the time is, the traffic is. Google like a dumbass only now tells me Qua Phe is closed, (but it gives me a handy hint that later on when it opens it will not have too much foot-traffic between 9-10 am). The street is basically empty, apart from the people breakfasting on ice-cream. Clean lines, hipster, modern; an appearance broken only by bullet holes. Hippopotamus-sized laughing Budais normally announce Asian eats, but Qua Phe is more subtle (thatch, lanterns). A child toddles into the empty street, playing a game, drops her cone, and immediately cries. One of the boys offers her his: hier, hier. Es ist ja noch zu frueh fuer mich.

Weinerei

Google likes W in Berlin. Google adores W in Berlin. I opt for the nearest place from its list of Ws. The church on Fehrbellinerstrasse is strung with bunting, the street’s red bricks and little cafes recall tiny English market towns, dislocated to old East Germany. Weinerei is atop a slight slope which Berliners call a hill, and is opposite the city’s most interesting church, the Zionskirche. Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached here, anti-Soviet groups organized; but this historical mindset is hard to enter into when you’ve been programmed to follow the Google route — all you think about is the promise of the destination.  Something glitters: a lighter. It’s heavy. Silver case, art-deco. It works. No one is around to whom it might belong; it goes in my pocket. The Church is merely Weinerei’s instagrammable background, alone on its roundabout. All roads used to lead to it, and no all roads lead around it, and this is and this isn’t a metaphor for the Church itself. 

St George’s English Bookshop

I deleted my history + cache before I came out, but Google must have lodged an earlier search in its subconscious; trying to find something beginning with ‘E’ offered me the ‘English’, buried deep in the shop’s name. Kastanienallee used to be known for squats, radical-left politics; now it’s like any other high street, and every café announces itself with a quotation from Goethe or Schiller on its awning, as though this elevates shopping and edifies the consumer. You’re not just eating a cake, you’re partaking in a slice of pleasure, says Goethe, for what else is life?, or whatever. Only in St George’s is the poetry on the inside. I look around for a while, pick out a book by Vicente Huidobro –  poem, Storm, which looks like this (left).

Rummelsburger Bucht

Rummelsburger Bucht is miles away, 6 miles away (or 7.3km according to Google). It ETAs me in at an hour, and recommends three different, long-winded routes through Volkspark Friedrichshain. The old DDR is here better reflected than in Prenzlauer Berg, with white flats and the endless Karl Marx Allee, which I’m now on, my shoes covered in sand. This is bleak. The wide road, the building sites, the sand and powder blown by cars, cyclists shivering up the path. While the West built trains, trams, underground, overground, microwaves, fridges, cars, drills, the East built highways in the city. 

I begin to notice how inattentive I am, the blocks of colour moving around me, people or a truck, muddled sounds, machine noise, city noise, an inattention caused by the enervating metaphysical power of the massive street, and trust in the phone, which knows the path better than I do.  Christmas trees rot on the roadside the whole way. When I get to Rummelsburger Burcht, past Friedrichshain’s mess, it’s pure relief. Quiet, with cold, dark, lovely water. 

Treptower Park

Can Google hear me? It knows where I’m walking, and recommends photo spots, places to eat (an hour ago it recommended pizza, now it tells me to eat fried fish —  both? In an hour?) It knows how the traffic is on the bridge beside me (an S-Bahn is broken down in-between). Google controls the flow of the city, which plays around the routes it recommends, the sun breaks through the clouds because Google says it will, the city remains in place because Google needs it to. The bridge over the Spree is quiet, and a girl walks by and smiles and this flirty exchange wants commemorating by Google: Many people like to take photos of Treptower Park: would you also like to? The city towards the East is hidden by trees, with different visions of itself poking out: an abandoned theme park in the distance, Google tells me the streets have Russian names; and the celestial otherness of the city is apparent in the routes which traverse these visions, like the river flowing through old East, old West, now carrying tour boats. 

Yildirim Yildirim, Weserstrasse.

Google offers this place with a lot of other non-German sounding names. Does the alphabet gentrify? Y, Q, I, X all denizens, huddled together in fast-changing areas like Neukoelln, where Turks, Asians, Africans live; the W, Z, S, P all rich, established, old money. This invisible cypher of letters draped over the city, inviting queries about places to eat, editing the environment with every search and every rating. 

A delicate patterning of lace, a kitten, a Swiss Flag, ‘HERTHA BSC’, three wooden boards, a stack of old books, football stickers, beer cans, a pile of condoms: all of these are in the windows on the way to Yildirim Yildirim, down the gloom of Weserstrasse. There really aren’t that many Christmas trees on the street here. A dog barks and a drunk smashes his bottle. A woman dries a towel on a window ledge. It’s cold. Yildirim Yildirim doesn’t seem to exist in real life. It’s could be a ghost shop, haunting Google Maps with dead data. It starts to rain. 

Urbanstrasse

It’s just around the corner. Hermannplatz’ street design keeps traffic in a kind of permanent threat of head-on collision, and a woman pushes me into the street with her trolley full of garbage. I let her past as she does the non-German thing of ignoring the standing red man into traffic. A guy I kind of know stops me to say ‘hi, what are you doing man, dreaming?’ I tell him I’m on this pseudo-psychogeographic walk, one where the normal rules are suspended, and rather than take a route I’m making, or spontaneously forming, I’m travelling based on what Google tells me I’ve worked on before —  and I’m going all the way through the keyboard, one letter at a time. The rain is so bad, I plan to duck into Karstadt, even though the inside is like an airport, and the market on Hermannplatz feels like a more interesting, real place. ‘Man’, my buddy says. ‘That sounds like a great way to waste a day.’

Il Kino, Nansenstrasse

It’s raining in the city, says Google. My footprints on Karstadt’s floor said the same thing. But it’s abated, and I can follow Google’s precise instructions comfortably, and not duck in or out anywhere (although it is telling me many people like to take photos of Karstadt), the curtain of commerce folds and blows, until I’m in the residential strip of Kreuzkoelln. On the floor is a letter. It’s half torn, sodden, the ink running. Fancy pen. I can’t tell the bulk of what it says, just how it’s signed: Sabine, with two tiny XXs at the end. I drop it in a bin, observe the other signatures: graffiti blooms along the canal walls, locks hang on the bridge like they do in every other city, with people graffiting their names onto the locks. Swans fill up the canal, and people are playing boules: why does Google simply take you to shops? Why can’t it take you to places like this? On a map, why can’t you search for The Zone of Emotional Intensity, or Berlin’s Contemplative Region,  or the Trust-me This Place is Great Area. I check in to Il Kino, one of the city’s hip, slim cinemas, and Google tells me the movies playing in Il Kino have been rated pretty highly: do I want to take a photo? 

OKAY Café

Snake Cop. Pupsi. Was, mich? Kreuzberg’s graffiti is a bit crap. A few streets down is the OKAY café,  on Pflugerstrasse. It is, very, OKAY. What to say about a Berlin café? It’s got a good atmosphere or it hasn’t, serves good coffee or it doesn’t. Hipster café, unless you have a special emotional attachment to them, all produce the same feeling: that you’re in a hip place, skinny jeans, skinny table legs, take selfie in hip-place? Plus do the people know that OKAY in English is OK, alright, pretty Good. In Germany, OKAY is, meh, nah, no thanks, oh really just OK, quite bad. A guy walks by, pushing two dogs in a pram. He shakes his head, points at the place — ‘die Suppe ist scheisse da.’ 

Pannierstrasse 

The city begins to fragment into the searches I’m making, each letter enclosing an individual parcel of the environment. Pannierstrasse, divorced from its geographical context, feels like a run-down neighbourhood all on its own.  A group of guys are drunk and pissing on the walls of a closed shop, the pipes drip with bronze gunk, tables and chairs left outside zu verschenken. The shops are filled with boxes of —  something. Is that a fish tank in the window? 

I find an Indian restaurant. A guy outside is smoking. He recognises immediately that I’m also Punjabi (it’s a thing…) and we speak for a little time in the language. ‘Hey man’ I say, ‘how come you called this place Indian Dhaba Mira?’, ‘It’s just a name innit?’ he replies. ‘No I mean, shouldn’t you have called in Paneerstrasse? Such a missed opportunity’, he laughs, smokes, says no. ‘Why not? Come on man it’s an OK joke’. ‘Yeah the joke’s OK’, he smokes again ‘but do you know what Germans are like? Every time they’d come here they’d tell us we made a mistake: excuse me, that’s not how you spell Pannierstrasse.’ 

AKA

I’ve just realised I’ve done this all wrong. Travelling across Berlin with an English keyboard deletes at least three letters, Ä,Ö and Ü; but it’s something I have to live with, this English bubble of mine. I approach Germany and German with this English mindset, anyway.  I’m directed back down towards Schoenleinstrasse, and to AKA, a tattoo parlour which isn’t very busy. I don’t want to go in and disturb the artists —  they’re doing that thing where they look out the window mournfully, the absence of any unblemished flesh coming their way today — but I smile at the woman in the store, who pokes her head out and asks me if I’d like a tattoo. I tell her I have a few already. Show me, she says, incredulously. I do and I lift up a trouser leg to show her. Ah, she says, ‘Elefanten. OK. Aber nur drei. Warum nicht drei mehr?’ We laugh, and I wave myself away, this overgrown village of a city, where people playfully pretend to know you. 

Sanderstrasse

The buildings fade into the midday, as does the graffiti, the packets of mulch staining the buildings and the cold which clings to everything and trails behind the trucks and buses, then I don’t feel or see any of this, and I’m aware I’m only thinking of my route, my walk, my destination, just relying on Google. Is this girl Sabine? Is this one? Is it this woman banging on the metal store shutters? I’m getting caught up in a Kreuzberg glut here, but I follow Sanderstrasse’s graffiti lines and fat rats up to the end of the street and towards:

Das Edelweiss

All the shops on the way have reduced their names to basic elements, letters, numbers: A, Z, N, words are so passé, but these places are also much easier for Google to recognise. Das Edelweiss is in Goerlitzer Park. I reach the park. The idea of this being a train station, a powerful symbol of Nazi atrocity, and now a big mess of a park filled with immigrant families and drugs and graffiti feels like something of a rebuke to this old history. 

Goerlitzer Bahnhof

Of course, this is all lasts a mere moment as when you walk through the park, the idealistic energy fails. A fight breaks out between a dealer and buyer: the guy’s not happy with the amount, it seems, and the dealer’s just laughing him away. The racialised, political disparities of the city are most evident here. The black, presumably disenfranchised dealers wait for a mainly white, pretty middle-class, often tourist clientele; yeah, obviously the dealers have agency, are nice etc. But it’s not an enviable position. They watch the city, as much as the city watches them, in a mutual gaze of fear or annoyance or intrusion.  

Hallesches Tor

Kreuzberg is getting to me. Google Maps shows me how enclosed I’ve been in the last few rounds. I find a way out, to Hallesches Tor, along the Google recommended route, again, one which doesn’t prioritise beauty or calm, doesn’t reward patience, but encourages expediency, so I’m walking along Skalitzerstrasse, as it becomes Wassertorplatz, and becomes Gitschinerstrasse with the traffic as raging and intense as it is on Karl Marx Allee. Plastic sheets wrapped around the elevated U-bahn tracks clap in the wind, the wind supercharged by the buildings flanking the street. Tourists always complain that Berlin is ugly, and without Parisian charm, as though there wasn’t a massive war here, two massive wars here, but here is the skin of that history, which when viewed from above,  connects the old ministries of Mitte, and the old hotels of the West. The enclosed community of Hallesches Tor has opened its own little market. Not instagrammable, but thriving, a microkiez. 

Jüdisches Museum

The city becomes even more ugly towards Mitte. It begins to get dark, and the Jewish Museum is on an empty street. Jewish history is far more than the Holocaust, of course, but I’ve always felt that the Stolpernsteine (stumbling stones) are the most powerful memorial to Jewish lives in the city and in Germany, more so than a building. Ordinary Jewish names on the street to honour victims of atrocities, completed on a scale that rivals the Nazis for bureaucratic energy, and in doing so, attempts to undo or make visible some of that awful legacy. 

Kurfürstenstrasse

My next destination is Kurfürstenstrasse. Google tells me to walk along the empty Gitschenerstrasse again, where the road, U-bahn and canal are huddled together. It’s like a central nerve of the city, carrying information from one end to the other, the partygoers on the U-bahn heading east, the boring workers heading out this way, cars, wind, trash. Museums and warehouses mean the street is feels abandoned, and the damp clings to the pavement, streetlights come on, the melancholy of post-Christmas. On Kurfürstenstrasse, a prostitute stops me taking a photograph of a sex shop, and asks me if I want to sleep with her. ‘Hast du lust?’ she says, pointing at her body. ‘Ah, nein danke’, I reply, embarrassed by this whole thing, (is she Sabine?). She points at me, laughs, ‘haaa! Du hast kein lust!’ Thanks Google, is there a way I can rate even this business you’ve sent me to? ‘Never come here guys, the staff are not very friendly’. 

Lidl

At the other end of the keyboard, Google picks out a Lidl on Potsdamerstrasse that I simply must visit. It’s laid out exactly like another Lidl I know, so this again is like walking through a recurring dream, where the city has shifted around Google. I don’t buy anything, and head out to:

Zoologischer Garten

There is a palpable energy change, the kind of borderline violent tremor in the air — loud, drunken jokes, shirts tucked into jeans — that emanates uniquely from lads on tour. People are giving me wary looks, suspicious (after last year’s attack) of any skin colour that isn’t flushed and ruddy from beer. I avoid. The church behind the crowds says that there have been other atrocities here, also, and the amount of damage done to the city is immense and almost endless in variety. There is a kind of museum of pain and history etched across the city’s buildings, that you could read if only you knew how not to look at it with the tourist’s relish for consumption. But I’ve forgotten how to do this, and Google tells me my next stop is only a few metres away.  

Xantenerstrasse

The graffiti has all but disappeared from West Berlin. This is chic town now. I even cross Bleibtreustrasse, a street which features in Ulysses —   itself a monument to a decaying city —  but the real Bleibtreustrasse has posh bars and hotels, reversing the fictional mythology of Joyce’s construction. His city was alive with shabby beauty. This is just plain bourgeois dross. 

Along the street, fancy shops, fancy customers, and the windows are huge —   for the first time I realise so people on the outside don’t just feel envious, but also project themselves inside (how different from the little dioramas Germans normally like to set up in their shop windows). The guy in the furniture store on the couch could be you! 

Cicerostrasse

Even the streets have gotten pompous names. The street becomes even tackier, and actually quite melancholic. The buildings lack any character, but the people of Cicero look like they have warm, inviting flats which induces in me a nostalgia for a childhood that wasn’t ever mine. 

Vesper Bar 

I’m led back on to the main street, towards Kurfürstendamm. I haven’t eaten all day so rather than go into Vesper which looks a little pricey, I instead opt for a café. I grab a coffee and a sandwich, pay on my card, and a young woman is sitting by the window. An old man approaches her, asks her to sit. They chat for a bit, and she rebuffs him, and he leaves sullen and then another comes up and does the same. The third approaches, she’s interested but finally, he also goes. A fourth, unbelievably, sits with her, and she loves it. They talk and giggle and an obvious flirt starts. What the fuck is going? Google reinforces capitalism this much I know, but I’d rather risk being sent to a shopping mall than watch any more of this weird porno unfolding. 

Bismarckstrasse

Tacky with an air of grand, another shopping and culture district, devoid of those exciting marks of a city. A woman with a dog as small as mouse walks by. Sabine? 

Netto, in the mall

A homeless guy comes up to me, asks me for some change. I tell him, honestly, I don’t have any. Hey man, he says, do you at least have a light. No. Wait, no, yes I do. It was at Weinerei. I reach into my pocket, and give him the lighter. He’s impressed by this, and returns it. ‘No’, I say, ‘man, keep it. It’s cool. It’s not mine anyway. I was going to put it on Facebook on a lost and found group.’ ‘You for real?’ ‘Yeah, have it.’ I go into Netto, just to complete my journey, and log the walk I’ve done in Google. I make a celebratory round of the aisles, in the airless ending to a cold day. I stick a bag of oranges and some milk on the counter, pay on the card and get out of there, ready for my u-bahn journey home. On the way out I run into the homeless guy again. ‘Hey guess what?’, he asks. ‘I gave the lighter to that pawn shop there.’ ‘Ah cool’, I say, happy I could be a part of this small act of redistribution. ‘Yeah man – guy gave me eight Euros for it. Mega!’

 

Photography by Gurmeet Singh

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