Archive | October, 2014

Five hipster babies from Kreuzkölln cafés that need to be drowned in the canal

17 Oct


It happened again this Sunday: All I want to do is enjoy a ridiculously overpriced, eclectic brunch in a Kreuzkölln hipster café (it’s level five vegan!) but I just can’t escape them: their vintage bottles, nursery rhymes on vinyl and antique handmade toys from 1950s Japan… Yes, the hipster babies. Once they start bawling – ironically, of course, but still very loudly – I can’t help looking out at the Schifffahrtskanal and daydreaming of a quick solution to my problem.

Here, without further ado, here are the worst of the hipster babies:


Now, if you’ve read this far, you have participated in an experiment. I am trying to find the most popular blog title of all time. For the last year, I’ve been blogging for Exberliner, and have been working on a scientific formula for getting clicks. Sometimes I write down a personal and informative story, and while I think it’s good work, these never go viral. Yet whenever I do a hyperbolic, foaming-at-the-mouth rant against Germany, people hate it – and I get tons of Facebook likes.

For the record, I’m not very passionate about babies one way or the other (although I am enthralled with my cute little nephew!). But I think this title fulfills the five rules for being a successful blogger. Whenever I’m mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, these rules never fail to get my attention:

  1. It needs to be a list, since I’m actually supposed to be working right now and only want something short that I can skim over.
  2. It needs to be something provocative that I’ve never seen before – murdering babies seems about right
  3. At the same time, it needs to reflect a horribly guilty pleasure – something I caught myself thinking once and felt awful about. So while it’s offensive, it creates an embarrassing sense of community. Because who hasn’t heard a screaming baby and had a dark thought on some deep level of the subconscious, right?
  4. It also needs to be cute – since who can resist tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos?
  5. Lastly, it needs lots of buzzwords. Names of trendy neighborhoods, “Nazis”, the phrase “the worst”.

My experimental thesis is that this will be the most successful blog I’ve ever written – at least more successful than my heartfelt stories about the views of sex workers or the stories of refugees.

The Exberliner editors insist on quality writing, ‘Likes’ be damned. And they deserve all the praise in the world for their principled stand. But the swarm doesn’t want good writing – journalism is dying an being replaced by Buzzfeed and Clickhole and more idiotically formulaic lists. I’ve always felt like a writer, but even I’ve noticed myself becoming addicted to social media recognition.

As a proud member of Berlin’s Kreativprekariat, let me end with an appeal: I need clicks. Please, please, please like this article. Please share it on twitter. Please like my Facebook page. Please. I’m desperate.

If you do, I’ll give you those tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos again. Or maybe I’ll drown a hipster baby. Just give me a click!



Phots from the performance

9 Oct



John Riceburg: Support the strike

9 Oct


Imagine: Someday in the future, technology will be so advanced that public transport will run normally during the winter. In Berlin, however, as the days grow shorter and the waits for trains grow longer, that future seems far off…

“Dear passengers. The Trade Union of German Trade Drivers is calling for strikes. Please inform yourselves.” That was the announcement I heard, in German, when I wanted to take the S-Bahn on Tuesday around midday. I was wondering why the platform was full and the next train had been cancelled. The signs even included some information in English.

“Well, fuck this,” I thought to myself as I headed towards the U-Bahn (which is run by the BVG and therefore not affected by the stoppage). Not only is it morally repugnant to travel with scabs – it can also be downright dangerous if they don’t know what they’re doing, just see the two scabs who died during last year’s strike on the San Francisco subway.

But then I realised: the strike was only set to begin on Tuesday at 9pm and continue until 6am the next day. So the massive delays I was experiencing had nothing to do with the strike – it was just Berlin’s normal S-Bahn-Chaos. Winter is coming, and for the last five years that has meant massive delays for Berliners. And this has nothing to do with technology. As Exberliner has reported, this is a result of the S-Bahn skimping on maintenance.

Isn’t the S-Bahn a public company? Yes and no. It’s owned by the Deutsche Bahn, which is a private corporation that is 100 percent property of the German state. And therefore DB is not so much committed to providing transport as to maximising profits. The S-Bahn is heavily subsidised by tax money to help Berliners get around, but these subsidies are siphoned off so the Deutsche Bahn can invest in buying up bus companies in the Czech Republic or whatever their latest get-rich-quick-scheme is.

In the coming weeks, you’ll hear a lot about the “evil train drivers” who are ruining your commute for selfish reasons. But these men and women work terrible hours in a highly stressful job (that includes occasionally running over people on the tracks!). All they want are better wages. The press is simulating an outcry that the train drivers, like the pilots a few weeks ago, are “taking passengers hostage”. But that’s a lie. They’re striking. Stopping work to demand better conditions – it’s why unions are set up.

The Gewerkschaft deutscher Lokomotivführer (GDL) has been aggressive about its demands in recent years. They strike more often than the larger union for train workers, the rival Eisenbahn und Verkehrsgewerkschaft (EVG), which is closely connected to the train company’s management (former EVG president Norbert Hansen went on to be head of human resources at the Bahn!). Now the government is talking about restricting the right to strike: The proposed Tarifeinheit (collective bargaining unity) would only allow the largest union in a company to go on strike, destroying smaller unions like the GDL or the pilots’ union Cockpit.

For me, the train strike will mean a few long waits on S-Bahn platforms. But that was already inevitable. And if the train drivers win, there are better chances that people like me from Berlin’s Kreativprekariat will get their act together and also fight for better wages and conditions. So don’t fall for the media hype against the train drivers. They are fighting the same people who ruined our S-Bahn. They are fighting for the right of all of us to strike.

Surely, that’s worth a few minutes’ wait on the platform, right?


My hipster visa wedding

2 Oct


Eternal love? Whatever. For the non-Germans among us, getting married in Berlin might not be romantic – but it sure is pragmatic. John Riceburg tied the knot and couldn’t be happier about it.

What am I doing here? I’m sitting next to my girlfriend in a Wilhelminist chapel in Berlin. Stained glass, brass chandeliers, angels painted on the wall – the only thing out of place is me. A middle-aged woman is sitting behind a desk with a book and an absurdly large stamp. There’s no question about it: I’m entering the holy bond of matrimony, Prussian-style. But what I’m feeling is more than cold feet – it’s more like existential doubt. Why would anyone in this day and age want to get married?

The story began almost a year earlier when I went to a consultation about getting a work visa in Germany. Within 18 months after getting my university degree, I would need to show a full-time, permanent job contract that was somehow related to my field of study. He warned me that the clock would start ticking the day I got my diploma. So I mentioned I had a German girlfriend. “Then definitely get married,” he said. Hands down the best option.

I broached the subject with my partner, as carefully as I possibly could, and she agreed it just made sense. So we set off on our paperwork adventure.

The main thing we needed was an Ehefähigkeitszeugnis, a certificate stating neither of us were married to anyone else. Any German citizen can get this from the Bürgeramt, but as an American, I couldn’t. Instead, I had to go to the US consulate and swear to a clerk that I wasn’t married. They provided a form, in English and German, explaining that I had made this declaration and that they had no possibility to check whether I was telling the truth. The cost? Fifty dollars.

Next, we went to the Kammergericht and asked for an exemption of the need for an Ehefähigkeitszeugnis. After two weeks, the court gave me an individual exemption that was good for exactly six months. Then all we needed was my birth certificate (translated from English at a cost of €25!) and we were off to the Standesamt, where we had to fill out a form assuring them we were not getting married for immigration reasons. Well, not only those reasons…

Friends had told me their marriages were “checked” by the bureaucrats: They were put in different rooms and had to write down the story of how they met. Others got a home visit to see if they slept in the same bed. I asked, ever so carefully, if we would be checked. “Don’t worry,” the registrar said with a big smile. “We only do that with Turks or Africans.”

“This is all so unromantic!” my partner complained. It was true; all the forms and stamps were making our relationship start to feel like a visit to the tax office. So it was at the 2012 Fusion Festival, that I dragged her to the theatre at 4pm sharp, somehow successfully convincing her we absolutely needed to go see a documentary about light bulbs. The lights went down, and the Latino theatre organisers, happy to help me win the hand of “la mujer de mi visa”, projected a one-minute film (thoughtfully including German subtitles!) in which I asked her to marry me. I got out some gigantic neon-pink rings I had gotten for €5 each from H&M. She said yes – but then again, she didn’t have much of a choice with 500 people watching.

Paperwork? Check. Proposal? Check. In our eyes, we were done, but to our chagrin, our parents insisted on bringing together dozens of relatives for a traditional ceremony. Still, we refused to sacrifice our individuality. After we left the chapel, we celebrated at Tempelhofer Feld, where we all sung the song “Lieselotte XXL” about an old woman, Lieselotte Meyer, marrying a young man from Kurdistan to protect him from deportation. Next, we went to an abandoned building and had a big group of seniors spray graffiti. I almost wished the police would come so they would admit this was the sweetest case of Sachbeschädigung ever.

We had strange colours, boots, masks, and a bolo tie made by my grandfather. It really was an individual ceremony… or so we thought until a few weeks later, when we encountered the next hipster wedding at Tempelhof, complete with hodgepodge outfits and a singalong.

So, the balance sheet after a year of marriage? It still feels anachronistic to talk about having a “wife”, but besides that, It’s fucking awesome to be married! My last trip to the Ausländerbehörde, previously an hours-long affair, took just seven minutes. Plus, my partner is saving a wad of cash thanks to Ehegattensplitting, the rule by which a married person pays the average tax rate of the couple – she’s the breadwinner among us, so her rate has dropped significantly. And there are even more legal advantages that I don’t want to mention in case a right-wing politician thinks to close the loopholes.

At the end of our marriage ceremony, the racist registrar told us: “Now, the two of you have joined up on a common path. But maybe soon it will be three, four or five people.” My partner and I looked at each other in shock. Did a bureaucrat just encourage us to enter a polyamorous marriage? Oh wait, we realised simultaneously, she was referring to kids. Now that would be really anachronistic! Why would we want a baby when we’ve already got legal residency?

Tying the Knot: Oct 8, Laika, Emser Str. 131, S+U-Bhf Neukölln.