Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pt. 7 Who Kills Mitte?

In far away Germany I managed to find something that was as familiar as home. My host took me through some of the areas that had some nice old buildings. Since reunification Berlin has been rapidly filling in the empty spaces and renewing as much as they can. (Which is what prompted this, which we initially thought was a bit of snarky graffiti-

-which reads, "What, no house here yet?" or something like that. Turns out, it was guerilla advertising for a chat website...ah well...

In fact it's hard to find a place in Berlin where there isn't some sort of building going on.

(that photo really happened because moments prior I had concluded erroneously that Berlin didn't have pigeons. I swear it posed.)

The construction in some of these formerly East Berlin districts has created some familiar juxtapositions.

This building had been filled with squatter artists in the years following reunification. In a time when the rest of Berlin was draining out of the area and no one was investing, the artists started to stage their own renewal. The glass on the building was apparently new. Now, after they've invested into making the place interesting, the money is coming back.

So now this-

is next to this-

Much like those of us here on Treasure Island, or like the hippies and artists who founded Sausalito's floating home community, or of my former home Santa Cruz, the poor and artistic who made unwanted districts desirable essentially waiting to be shoved out by the rich.

There is a courtyard that embodies both the artistic spirit of Mitte and the encroaching commercialism. It's covered in graffiti-


was behind one of these sculptures-

-which for a Euro would do a dance-

And a very Banksy stencil, though I don't know enough to tell if it was Banksy himself or not-

UPDATE: As it turns out, the artist's name is right there for me to see, it's Alias, and he contributed much of the art in the courtyard.

But all of this is making way for tourist stores and boutique shops like the Ampelmann Store (which I have to say I made a specific visit to) and this amusingly named restaurant-

Artists will ask themselves forever-

But the artists of Mitte know the answer to this one-

"People's Luxury"

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pt 6: The Wolfsburg Museum, or the only German museum not full of tears...

That's not true, but certainly it can be said that Berlin has had a rough history in the last 80 years or so...

But Wolfsburg housed the museum for VWs. We were rushing through the Autostadt not realizing that the VW museum was very small and also preparing for a special event and had reduced its display accordingly. Which is why this is all I got to see of the Beetle RSI-

Being so close to the factory, there where a lot of the 'signed' editions cars, mostly Beetles, like this one signed by all the people involved in the design-

My obvious favorite, of course, is El Gato. I imagine him as some sort of design super hero who shows in a cape and a Zorro hat at just the right time, saying, "No no, the solution is to put the plate molding on top of the bumper thus granting proper clearances for the exhaust!" and then vanishes while a swooning intern asks, "Who was that masked engineer?"

And this Rabbit that had everyone who worked at Volkswagen at the time on it-

Also on hand was a collection of Beetles made out of different things, including wood. This was my favorite-had a sort of Fantasy Island vibe to it-

as did this one-

Among the cars that were also boats was Bug that was also a gondola-

And of course the friendliest emergency vehicles ever-

That yellow one is Germany's AAA.

The best part, however, was the unbelievably inexpensive swag store. The most expensive thing I bought was a two Euro Bubblehead pin, and that included the 'Memory' card game for .55 Euros and the canvas Wolfsburg bag for .30 Euros. And we had time to return to the Autostadt where I picked up a split window bus t-shirt as well as a perfect replica of my old 914 right down to the aftermarket Fucha wheels. Also for about half the price I'd pay for the same model at a race. Plus, I got to feed my obsession with the power factory that powers both the plant and the city of Wolfsburg-

That's the Zeithaus to the left there.

It was a pretty good little VWgasm. And the Scirocco looks pretty damn cool, even if just a bulgy Rabbit.

More depressing museums with relatively random photography policies to follow.

Pt 5: Customs can go fuck itself.

Seriously. Five separate interviews-most occurring while I'm standing waiting for my luggage. One actually happened as I turned away from another. Not to mention the personal and invasive questions that happened while standing amongst the other passengers. Thanks assholes.

And no, I didn't bring any business cards with me, I was in a foreign fucking country and not aware I'd have to prove I was a production assistant.

My revenge came courtesy of the gas inducing food they served on the flight. After the third invasive interview I carpet bombed the place.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pt.. 4:Ampelmann

This is the last post from Germany itself, but I'll do more when I get home. (not that anyone notices, but I gotta get it out anyway...) This one is short-just a quick note about the coolest walk/don't walk signs, like, ever.

Turns out, whatever else the GDR had going on in terms of socialist effeciency and drab fuctionality...when it came to their pedestrian crossing lights, they had a touch of whimsy. Rather than a simple stick figure walking or not walking as the case may be, they had this stylish fellow:

Alright, it's hard to take a picture at night, but it's essentially a little man with a hat holding his arms out for don't walk, and steppin' out for walk. And he's just damn likable.

The rest of Berlin has taken to him as well, whenever a walk sign breaks, Ampelmann (traffic light man) takes the place. And a little cottage industry has sprung up around the bugger as well-

I don't know if I can look at the red hand and stick figure the same again...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pt 3 Wolfsburg

The last three vehicles I've owned have been VWs of one kind or another, so it seemed only right that I make part of this trip to Wolfsburg, the home of VW.

The Autostadt (Auto City) in Wolfsburg is cool in a way that if it was in the USA I probably would think is cheesy, in that it is a giant corporate "Ain't we swell" grounds.

There is a factory tour of course, but I couldn't take photos. The highlight of that was the robot that closes the hood of the car, "That's all he does, all day long," intoned the accented tour guide.

And of course, the funky little car train that we rode in-
This is a little blurry because we had to sneak the photo in before we got to the factory itself. It has to be the coolest thing VW is making right now though, or I guess made-I don't know that there is a lot of call for them. That it was number 09 was just that extra dash of awesome. .

The grounds are littered with pavilions to the various brands under the VW umbrella, Audi, SEAT, Skoda, Bentley, and Lamborghini. We only went to the Lamborghini one and it was so lame that we didn't try any other ones. The Lamborghini Pavilion consisted of a Murcilago on a wall and an enthusiastic German explaining how powerful and expensive it was, then a six minute "laser light show" that involved lots of stage smoke, no lasers to speak of, and the sound of the engine coming through speakers. We couldn't help but think that the whole thing would have been cooler from the outside because half way through, in what we guess was supposed to be 'magic,' the wall spun around placing the Lamborghini on the outside.

My UC Santa Cruz shirt got us a special tour of the Zeithaus (Time House) where a very knowledgible and excitable Bentley man showed us some of the collection's rarer Bentley's, Audi (before they were Audi), and a Cadillac. Turns out one of the VW employees spent some time in the Bay Area and was excited to connect to the beach bum/hippie element once again. Though he did for a moment try to sell me on the new Sirroco...

The grounds themselves were very nice. Including this aroma tunnel, which suffered a bit of a malfunction-
The Skoda Pavilion had the most interesting outside, including the side view mirror wall, where I took this 'self portrait'.

Later, if I get the urge, I'll go on about the Wolfsburg Museum and its unbelievably inexpensive swag...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pt 2 - Berlin to Wolfsburg

That's the speedometer in the rented BMW 318d on the way back from Wolfsburg on the Autobahn. That's 137ish MPH in 'Merican. Good times.

An American Slacker in Europe, pt 1

I'm in Germany right now. Surprised? So am I.

This is from the Wolfsburg Museum, and the first Schwimmwagen I've ever seen in person. It's every bit as awesome as it seems.

The second attempt at an amphibious VW, not nearly as cool-

More to come.