April Crumbers

One of the true joys of living in Berlin is the upbeat, positive attitude that is constantly being forced on us lucky inhabitants. A few years ago, there was the memorable academic get-together called The Power of Negation, which was such a groovy time that it had its own program of death-metal bands. Last year, the big art show — sold out, lines, extended because of popular demand, the whole bit — was called Melancholie. This year’s just opened at the Hamburger Bahnhof and the Medical History Museum at Charité, and it’s called Schmerz, thoughtfully subtitled by its curators in English: Pain.

I guess the art part is at the Bahnhof (whose central collection, particularly the Beuys, is painful enough), and the actual infliction-of-pain-and-relief-therefrom part (I hope that last part’s included) is at the Medical History Museum, a place I’ve yet to see. They’re walking distance from each other, across a bridge that was an important German-German checkpoint while the Wall was still up (the Hamburger Bahnhof, being smack up against the border, was maintained, but rarely used: I saw the awful Garland Jeffreys there once, surrounded by a display of vintage airplanes someone had rented the space for), and the path is lined with little poster-kiosks donated by one of the sponsors, Wall Advertising, each of which shows a picture of someone in pain or a means of inflicting pain.

Yup, I guess springtime’s in the air in Berlin, all right!

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In line with the theme of pain, commercial forces are making themselves felt, too. All over town, billboards showing athletes in pain have gone up: woman collapsing into the arms of friends, guys writhing on the ground — all courtesy of Reebok. They’re not claiming their sneakers will keep you from hurting, just urging a little moderation on the exercise front, with their Go Run Easy campaign.

Living, as I do, in a neighborhood in which you can sometimes actually see people exercising — a far more uncommon sight than it is in the States — I have yet to see anyone pushing it much past an amble, let alone collapsing from torn ligaments or whatever. That said, there’s one thing every German jogger considers essential: the proper costume. Back when I lived on the edge of the Tiergarten, I used to exercise walk (just cardio-vascular stuff, nothing fancy) there, and would get the blackest looks of contempt from Germans who’d trot by, clad in hundreds of dollars worth of lycra, spandex, Gore-Tex, Nike, and so on. I had the temerity to wear normal sweat pants and a t-shirt or sweatshirt, depending on the weather. These days, an inspection of the contents of my iPod would, I guess, be another mandatory test — although I don’t own one and hope never to, but that’s another discussion entirely.

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Just about a year ago I wondered about the building on the corner of Torstr. and Prenzlauer Allee, and, thanks to my great network of readers, had the answer almost immediately. Given the ghosts and other Burden of History appurtenances inherent to it, this article (also sent in by an observant reader) ought to make your skin crawl. The thing is, what evidence is there that there’s any demand whatever for something like what these Brits have planned for the building? The last real-estate bubble I lived through, in late-’70s/early ’80s Austin, featured a couple of joints like this, but they went bust practically before they opened (although not before robbing Austin’s great painter/poster artist Guy Juke of about six years’ worth of paintings, in one case). My prediction: despite the noises they’re making right now, the new owners will quietly change their plans and it’ll become mixed-use office and residential space. Meanwhile, just cleaning up the pigeon poop is going to be a major project.

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And on the neighborhood restaurant beat, two additions. Bandol on Torstr. has opened, looking very, very authentically French. However, it’s going to be a long, long time before I set foot in there. For one thing, the menu is only available in chalk, written on the walls. This means that you have to actually be inside the place to figure out what’s on the menu at any given time. Not that they actually want you in there; there’s a huge, thick reservation book prominently placed at the entrance, something I’ve never seen in a Berlin restaurant — or one in my neighborhood, at any rate, and the minute you approach, you start to get the fish-eye from the guys working there. From what I’ve gleaned walking past the place, which I do nearly every day, the prices will run around €40-50 a person, with wine (no wine list in evidence, although presumably once you’re seated you get one). It seems to be doing well late at night with a bunch of West Berlin-looking folks, the sort one used to see around Grolmannstr. in the old days. And, given that the first main dish I saw written on the wall there was a cassoulet made of fish, I’m not in a particular rush to go there even if I do stumble upon the money. Fish??

But I hope they never get a website, because I get about 35 hits a week from people looking for them.

The neighborhood’s other addition is as light and airy as Bandol is dark and crowded. Alpenstueck (no prissy umlauts for them!) opened in a hurry on the corner of Gartenstr. and Schröderstr., hardly a high-traffic area, in a space that was first a jolly DDR chess-club bar which was rudely turfed out to make room for a succession of eye-blindingly awful art galleries, the last of which lasted something like three years, and caused me to dub it the Gallery of Mildly Talented High School Students. I’m not sure what’s going on at Alpenstueck, which is austerely undecorated and offers chairs that look like they were lifted from a high-school cafeteria. They’re not taking any chances by offering southern German food, although I do like the fact that the kitchen seems to be open to the dining room, which is very unusual in this country (although maybe there’s a law against it, knowing the German food-phobias). Dunno if I’ll ever be in the mood for it, with Honigmond so close at hand, and the sourish middle-aged crowd it draws not looking like the most congenial company.

Berlin’s best pizza, too, has, whether temporarily or not I can’t figure out — new quarters for the summertime, at least. Pizzeria la Rustica, the low-priced member of the stunning Muntagnola restaurants, has moved into an S-Bahn bogen on the edge of Monbijoupark. They have more than pizza there at all times, too, so this partnership with the Ampelmann folks looks like a win-win situation. I haven’t checked it out — hell, I haven’t been to La Rustica in a long time, sad to say — but allegedly there’s info here.

Oh, and one last tantalizing sight: the place next door to Kuchi, the “extreme sushi” joint on Gipsstr., which is called — get ready… — “Next Door To…”, has stuck up four articles from a Japanese magazine showing four regional styles of ramen. It’s a tiny space — it’s where M. Vuong started, in fact, all those years ago — but it’d be nice to have another ramen joint in the ‘hood.

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