During the long flight from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, where we caught a connecting flight to Berlin, my physical counterpart and I spent some time contemplating the significance of our long journey. One of the more interesting tidbits we stumbled upon was the fact that his father had entered Berlin as an American infantryman many years before and was at the center of the final decisive battle that crushed Hitler’s army, liberating Berlin and the rest of Europe from the Nazi nightmare. Now, at the dawn of a new century, his son was entering this vibrant cultural capital to participate in an international celebration made possible by that victory: the opening of an art exhibit at the Austrian Embassy. If only Daddy could see him now.
From the first evening we were there, it felt as though we had arrived at a large, cosmopolitan dinner party. The city itself, like all great cities, has an air of excitement about it, but Berlin seems to have a special kind of energy; it is filled with a sense of its own renewal. After all, how many metropolises have been bombed into oblivion, only to arise from the ashes a few decades later as a thriving center of art and commerce? This was indeed a special place with much history and you could smell it in the air; even under those cold, grey, snow-laden skies. Within hours we were enjoying wienerschnitzel and pilsner at Cafe Einstein with fellow Second Lifers KK Jewell and Jaynine Scarborough; and this was just the beginning. The following day we paid our respects at the Bauhaus Archive, just a few blocks from our room at the Hotel Berlin. The likes of Klee, Kandinsky and Mies Van Der Rohe had all walked and talked in these hallowed halls. What a country.
Later that evening we attended a dinner reception at the Twelve Apostles restaurant in East Berlin for the participating artists, generously provided by our host, noted architect Bernd Boetzel, aka Vision Planer. It was a real international cultural exchange, with El Bocho, a grafitti artist from Berlin; Mario Dalpra of Vienna; Iskren Iliev, a painter hailing from Bulgaria but now living in Vienna; Nina Maron, a painter from Vienna, Rob Steenhorst, a digital artist from the Netherlands, and yours truly, Chrome Underwood, frontin’ and maxin’ for the USA and Second Life. The words and the wine flowed in endless streams until the late hours of the night. We then climbed into the back of Rob’s van (haven’t done that in a few years) and headed out to visit Billy Wilder’s bar, where we finished off the evening’s adventure.
The following night found us at the Austrian Embassy, mingling with a pretty good-sized and highly-energized crowd in the upper level gallery. This had been preceded by a series of short performances by two well-known Austrian actors which, as far as I could tell, went over pretty well. I didn’t have a clue what they were saying, but it was a chance to sit back and listen to the German language in the raw; I found myself marveling at its expressiveness and, well, to be honest, its musicality. Without understanding a word, I was moved by it, as I might have been by a jazz performance. Perhaps I had seen too many sneering Nazi officers on the silver screen over the years; this went a long way toward correcting that imbalance.
Since there were many, many wonderful experiences, too numerous to recount here, I will leave you with the impressions of an American artist in Berlin…..
Grey skies and light snow as we walk the streets of recent history; bullet holes in monuments, church towers stand alone and broken, filling the air with sadness, pride, hope and a bright new energy braced with knowledge of an awful truth. Standing near the door of a Spanish bistro in the cold East Berlin night, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes with my new German friends. Everyone looks good in black, it says on my bag of Dutch licorice. The Berlin Wall, the longest running art show in the world, where graffiti trumps the Cold War. Cheap trinkets at Checkpoint Charlie, memories of the death and resurrection of freedom bolted to facades all around us, twisted rebar and triumphant images of German artists. A luminous Brandenberg Gate suddenly appears in the night as we weave our way to the Austrian Embassy. Throngs of passionate visitors surrounding each tiny jewel of a painting at the Paul Klee exhibit; the unbearable heroic sadness of Kathe Kollwitz; the pristine purity of the Bauhaus Archive rusting in the snow, a woman whose makeup is ruined by tears. A golden angel staring pointlessly at the memory of France. The exhilaration of liberty in the soaring, dancing, singing buildings of the New Berlin, where hope is made of glass and steel, and embedded in the hearts of its people. Ich bin ein Berliner.
Images, from the top: anonymous graffiti on what’s left of the Berlin Wall; LoveDot, giclee print on aluminum by Rob Steenhorst; and another anonymous work on The Wall.