Tag Archives: usa

Savage behind the Wall

7 Aug

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International sex advice columnist Dan Savage on German men, “sex and supermarket” German and straight boys getting gay-bashed by East Berliners in the time of die Wende.

Dan Savage has been savaging the ignorance in the sex and relationship world with his “Savage Love” column since 1991, rising to national stardom with his gay take on a straight world (with plenty of gays asking for advice as well), through its syndication – including a short a stint in Exberliner some 10 years ago. But before Dan Savage was a sex-columnist and author, he lived in West Berlin for a year. The year? It was 1989. He’s back here now, presenting his new book “American Savage” at the Shakespeare & Sons bookstore, and sharing his experiences of Berlin with us.

You were in Berlin from late 1988 to 1990. What do you think of German men?

As an observer… and a participant… I love German men. I lived here for that year and change and I wanted to stay. When my boyfriend and I moved back to the States, he was going to finish his degree and then we were going to move back to Berlin. We already had an apartment and residency permits set up… but then we accidentally broke up.

I love German men. I like cold people – I know that sounds horrible – but I like a little more distance. The instant intimacy of Americans – the ability to bump into someone at an airport and two hours later at the airport bar before your flight being best of friends, exchanging phone numbers and making plans to see each other again – is something I’ve never been able to do.

I really liked meeting Germans who held you at arms’ length until you were a friend and were suspicious of Americans who would glom onto you in an instant. The expat community, in desperation, would cement bonds immediately to create a web of mutual support. But the Germans I made friends with – that felt like an earned and true friendship as opposed to the casually offered friendship of Americans.

What do I think about German men in particular? They’re really good in bed – at least the ones I went to bed with [laughs]. Maybe that’s selection bias at work because I didn’t have a representative sample. West Berlin is also where I got used to uncircumcised men.

Did you learn German when you were here?

We called it “Sex and Supermarket German” because we could get groceries and we could get laid, but that’s all. We couldn’t get jobs, we couldn’t get into deep philosophical conversations, we couldn’t get into school.

So what can you say in Sex German?

Oh my God [laughs], I don’t remember it. It was almost 25 years ago! I’ve lost my Sex and Supermarket German.

Then say it in English. What’s a good late-1980s West Berlin gay pick-up line?

My “Sex German” was very different than other people’s because I had to determine that people didn’t smoke. I can’t sleep with smokers.

So your pickup line was: “Are you a smoker?”

Yeah, that was one of the questions, but usually you would see that in a bar.

But I had a boyfriend then. I wasn’t out hunting that much. The expats I ran with, for example a theater company I did a show with, we all talked about “Sex and Supermarket German”.

I had a German boyfriend too though. I was a very bad person.

Can’t remember any pick-up lines?

None that I would care to share because it would be too revealing about my sex life. Those are [my husband] Terry’s rules.

But this was before you even met him. Does that rule still apply?

It applies if it could possibly reveal things about Terry. And what I was looking for then, I was looking for when I met Terry. So no comment.

Did you have any experiences with a gay movement in East Germany?

We went to a few gay bars in East Berlin and that was a very bizarre experience. If West Berlin was 10 years behind the US in terms of what it was like to be a gay person, then East Berlin was 25 years behind.

East Berlin felt like 1955 and the bars were very strange. There were fussy queens sitting in a bar with a few hooker types bouncing around (i.e. guys who were 20 years younger than everyone else). Everyone was smoking and being arch.

We were coming from West Berlin where the gay scene was more leathery, grungy and rough. But queer people in East Berlin were beautifully turned out, just making an appearance in the bar. And there we were in our dirty jeans, combat boots and leather jackets – we felt like we had been blasted in from Mars!

What did West Berlin feel like?

Well it was the tail end of the 1980s, so there were fussy gay bars with guys with blond frosted hair and teal and pink tank tops looking a bit like George Michael.

But West Berlin was rough. The city was full of straight boys who were avoiding military service and were counterculture-identified, and also gay boys in the same situation.

This is going to sound weird but West Berlin reminded me of nothing so much as Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cleveland or Detroit – a big city that had collapsed in on itself. There was so much space to create things. You could find an apartment, an empty warehouse, a storefront to do anything. There was so much opportunity – not to make a million dollars but to make art, meet people and create things.

And this was even before the Wall came down. People talk about how it became the center of the youth culture after the Wall came down. But even before there was an artistic scene that was exciting and existentially tormented.

You walked in any direction in the city and eventually you reached this Wall. There was something about feeling penned in and knowing we would be the first to die if it came to blows in the Cold War (even though I wasn’t really here long enough to own that). There was a sense of existential opportunism that infused every moment of every day with a desire to exploit every moment.

Then when the Wall came down in a single day, and it was like the city exploded. It couldn’t have been two months later that you started seeing people in Kreuzberg with t-shirts saying “I want my Wall back.”

Suddenly, straight boys who had waltzed around West Berlin with a million earrings and pink hair and shredded shirts and jeans that showed off a lot were getting gay-bashed by East Berlin boys who had never seen a straight boy look like that.

Can you remember a typical space in West Berlin?

There was this weird basement bar called “Café Anal” in Kreuzberg that my German boyfriend’s friend owned. The floor, the ceiling and the walls were all covered with this weird print of two ovals and a little dot between them – it was the owner’s ass and balls. He would sit in paint and push his ass against the wall. I wouldn’t even know where to look for it now. It was only open late at night and it was this wonderful louche scene. I remember going to parties with someone – I couldn’t tell you where they were because I don’t remember – in big warehouses in East Berlin.

What seems different in Berlin 23 years later?

When I left in 1990, Potsdamer Platz was a mud field with a tiny little dirt road running through it. You could still sneak into sections of the death strip and sneak into East German guard towers to have sex – as I did with my boyfriend. It’s amazing that all of this is gone. Now you cross back and forth and it’s imperceptible what’s East and what’s West.

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/features/people/dan-savage-interview/

Photo: Christophe Gruny

Berlin’s heat wave: A Texan perspective

2 Aug

Cafe am Neuen See heatwave

As Berlin’s temperatures reach the high 90’s (or for you Celsius folks: the high 30’s), I’d like to say a few words from the perspective of the city’s Texan community. But first:

A Texan dies and goes to Hell. The Devil, eager to torment the new arrivals, asks him with a sneer: “Is it hot enough for you?” But the Texan, a broad smile beneath his cowboy hat, replies: “This is just like Dallas in June!”

The Devil fumes and turns up the thermometer until the local demons start sweating. “Is it hot enough for you now?” he asks. “Why, this is just like July in San Antone!” the Texan answers and wipes his forehead with a bandana.

The Devil rages and raises the thermostat to its limit. Hell’s already fiery landscape gets brighter as the infrastructure bursts into flame. But the Texan, still happy, explains: “This is just like Laredo in August!”

Then the devil has an idea: He turns the thermostat as low as it will go. And sure enough, the Texan is soon shivering and looking miserable. “How do you like it now?” the Devil asks. The Texan stutters: “But, but, but… Has Peer Steinbrück been elected German chancellor?”

It is hot. The air outside might soon be hotter than the inside of our bodies, and Berliners are scrambling for shade and water. It’s so hot that the German federal elections – coming up in less than two months – have virtually disappeared from public consciousness.

We from Berlin’s Texan community enjoy this time of year. During the roughly eleven months of winter, we are subject to ridicule for putting on two dozen layers, bunkering up inside and generally shivering. But at the height of summer, we feel tough: we might wear a jacket when it’s 25 degrees, and short pants or sandals aren’t really necessary for any day under 40. We can enjoy a laugh at the cost of Berliners who don’t want to spend an afternoon in the sun at Tempelhofer Feld.

But I think we need to be honest. Sure, the temperatures at home might have broken the 40 degree mark a while ago, but are we really that tough? Every house, car, office and store in the Lone Star State is equipped with a gigantic air conditioning unit. On Berlin’s hottest days, in contrast, people will be working in Döner Kebap shops that might be 10 degrees warmer than outside. So while we might have a lot to be proud of, we need to admit that we don’t really have to deal with Texas heat either.

While all the locals are complaining, I’m going to finish this blog post while sitting on a sunny park bench and say: on September 22, when Germany votes, the good money is against Peer Streinbrück, chancellor candidate of the SPD. His loss is just about as certain as the return of Berlin’s eleven-month winter. Until then, I’m going to be sitting out in the sun in a jacket and feeling tough.

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/berlin%27s-heat-wave%3A-a-texan-perspective/

Foto: Sigrid Malmgren

Obama and Berlin: The end of an affair

20 Jun

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Summer is beginning, but an affair is coming to a close. It all started almost five years ago: he came in the sweltering days of August 2008, and back then he knew how to make us scream with passion. Nearly 200,000 people came to get a glimpse of him at the Siegessäule, and he could push all our buttons. When he mentioned ending the war in Iraq, the crowd erupted in ecstasy. If anyone had been paying attention, he actually said he was going to send more troops to Afghanistan, but it’s hard to listen closely when you’re in love.

But that was long ago. Two elections later, the passion has withered. Today, Barack Obama spoke in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Why there? It’s a supposedly official backdrop for someone who is no longer just a candidate, but rather leader of the free world. But the real reason is more simple: any pro-Obama rally these days would look tiny compared to the Love Parade-style event of 2008. So play it safe: cart in the students of the German-American John F. Kennedy School and send invitations to the political elite. You can fill 4000 seats on the small side of the Gate without admitting that Obama couldn’t fill the Tiergarten even if he offered free MDMA.

Then again, no one can muster more than a shrug against Obama either. Hundreds of thousands of Berliners went out onto the streets against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – but that was back when George Bush the Lesser was in the White House. Now silver-tongued Obama is carrying on the legacy of bumbling W.: holding prisoners in Guantanamo without trial, killing foreigners and even US citizens with flying killer robots, persecuting whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning, and just about everything else people hated about his predecessor. But people are going to keep their frustration to themselves as long as he appears to be the “lesser evil”.

On Monday, up to 500 people demonstrated at the Brandenburg Gate, chanting “Give Obama a red card.” (In this country, it’s hard to express political opposition without soccer metaphors.) This was mostly the grey-haired legions of the old-school “peace movement”, protesting against drones being steered from a command centre on German territory, but they were also joined by younger people from Occupy. The crowd had plenty to criticise about Obama’s policies: from the blockade against Cuba to the continued imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier to a possible US intervention in Syria. But this wasn’t a “mass incident”, as the Chinese call it.

On Wednesday, the Pirate Party took a different angle, focussing on the US government’s worldwide surveillance of phone calls and e-mails. This was just revealed by a whistle-blower – but what did people think the NSA was up to, anyway? Hadn’t they seen Enemy of the State with Will Smith or The Simpsons Movie? Both films give a pretty accurate description of what many people assumed the “No Such Agency” had been doing since its foundation. Pirate Anke Domscheit-Berg told Spiegel Online: “Barack Obama seems to be afraid of the people. That fear is probably why he wants to spy on the people.” But why, really, would he be afraid of anyone if he can kill people with unmanned drones?

As Exberliner reported before the last elections, Berlin’s expat community has already cooled on Obama and the same goes for the native population. A rock star politician was going to change everything with the power of his rhetoric. But not much has changed, and the spark of love has gone out. Berlin has sunken into the ennui after break-up. That massive disappointment can almost make the unexciting but eminently reliable Merkel seem likable.

Quelle: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/obama-and-berlin-the-end-of-an-affair/

Foto: Matthias Winkelmann

“Hope is irrational”

10 Oct

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Feeling apathetic about the vote? Four years ago, Berliners were high on Obama-mania. With the US presidential elections on November 6, support amongst expats is lukewarm at best. John Riceburg samples the mood.

Voting in Berlin

In September 2008, 200,000 Berliners thronged to the Tiergarten to see him, some waiting the whole day in the sun. Excitement filled the air. It felt like one of the old Love Parades – except instead of the boom-boom-boom of techno beats, there were chants of O-BA-MA.

Back then, Obama-mania swept through Berlin as if it was an American college town. Polls showed that Germans favoured Obama over McCain by about 90 percent. The American expats, if anything, were even more enthralled. This year, with high unemployment, ongoing wars and crushing deficits in the US, ‘HOPE’ (Shepard Fairey poster-style) has dissolved into resignation. Most Berliners still lean to the left, with few if any declaring support for Mitt Romney. But the party atmosphere of 2008 is long gone.

Disillusion in Berlin

As in the US, where Democratic enthusiasm is down from over 60 percent to just under 40 percent, disillusionment is rampant among American Berliners. Ryan Plocher (27) studies politics at the Free University. During the last election, he says, “I carved a pumpkin with Obama’s face and ‘YES WE CAN’ in my tiny attic apartment.” He had very concrete expectations of the country’s first black president: “I thought Guantanamo would be closed, universal healthcare would be introduced and the War on Terror ended. Hope is irrational.” Over the following years, he realised that Democrats remained “remarkably capable of total betrayal of their values”.

“We thought that after eight years of Bush, everything would be possible,” concurs Ben Cooper (24), a North Carolinian studying in Berlin. But soon enough, he was “utterly disappointed”. He admits there were some high points to the Obama presidency, his favourite being the 2009 ‘beer summit’: When a black professor was arrested in front of his own house under suspicion of being a thief, the president invited him and the racist police officer to the White House to share a beer. Of course racism still exists, but at least it can get washed down with alcohol.

Micah Brashear (26), is a jazz musician and a native Brooklynite who could top most Berliners in cynicism. But even he says he “felt a bit warm and fuzzy the night Obama got elected.” Then the seemingly anti-war candidate supported militarism and turned out to be, in Brashear’s words, a “chauvinistic sock puppet”.

Between a rock and a hard place?

Most young expats concede that at least Obama is not Romney, a Mormon multi-millionaire who got rich through mergers and acquisitions. His vision for getting the US out of its crisis involves cutting taxes for the extremely wealthy and restricting the right to abortion – and if that doesn’t work, perhaps also attacking Iran.

Cooper’s been following the campaign circus with amused interest, comparing it to the thriller 127 Hours: “It takes a while, but he finally just has to grit his teeth and cut his arm off. Whether or not it was worth it, at least it made for a summer blockbuster.” Cooper himself will grit his teeth and vote for Obama. At the end of the day: “I do appreciate any president who pisses old white people off that much.”

No matter what, Brashear isn’t voting for Obama this time. “If I get the energy to do the paperwork, I would vote for Roseanne.” The ageing comedian is running on the ticket of the Peace and Freedom Party, and is the closest thing to a working-class candidate on offer.

Plocher won’t renew his vows either. From Georgia, a state that reliably votes Republican, he doesn’t see much point in casting a ballot. “I’m not so enthused that I’d waste my time by voting – even symbolically.”

“Most people I know will be voting for Obama as the lesser evil or because they always vote Democrat,” says Constanze Frank, a 60-something Berliner who spent 30 years in the States as a teacher and social worker. She campaigned for Obama in 2008 but eventually lost all hope of seeing her adopted country move towards that “platform of promises Obama was selected on, most of which he abandoned as soon as he was elected.” This played a huge role in her decision to move back to her Heimat.

“There is a lot of denial with the Democrats I am talking to, but they cannot face someone like Romney. And who can blame them?” Frank says. But as far as she’s concerned, “I would not vote for either one.”

We are the .03 percent

Alan Benson (53), an active member of Democrats Abroad, puts expat apathy down to unrealistically high expectations in 2008. He remains convinced that Obama could implement more of his agenda in a second term, “by making use of executive orders when he doesn’t need to take re-election into consideration.” So he’s still signing people up to vote. At the German-American John F. Kennedy School in Zehlendorf, for example, he recently registered 18 voters in one parent evening.

For Benson, getting expats to the polls is more than a “basic civic duty”. It’s also a tactical question. “The longer Americans are overseas, the more they tend to acquire a more progres- sive way of viewing their home country.” And of course, supporters of the non-progressive party – the one that claims America was created by God himself – are less likely to move abroad. Benson estimates “at least nine in ten” of the Amis who vote here are for Obama.

In 2011, there were 101,643 Americans living in Germany, not counting military personnel and all those folks who overstayed their tourist visas. This 0.03 percent of eligible voters is not likely to sway the election – but as Florida showed in 2000, individual ballots can make a big difference.

Exberliner is not going to give its prized endorsement to anyone. All we would vote for is a bit less smugness from Germans when it comes to watching the circus across the pond. Americans in Berlin already know the political system in the US is more or less insane, but that’s probably why they came here. They don’t need to be reminded.

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/articles/hope-is-irrational/

Illustration: Mirjami Qin