Friday, October 13, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Achtung baby

I've long been fascinated with that period during which a particular culture is on the cusp of extinction, holding on for dear life as the inevitable tide of history is set to wash over it. A culture's death rattle, I call it. That's at the core of my romanticization of Weimar Berlin, which, along with Paris in the Sixties, NYC during the Jazz Age, and Shanghai before the revolution, rests in my imagination as a place out of time, pausing to party before the horror erupted. And it was quite a party. The myth of Berlin in the 20s is a magical city where you swig whisky at a cabaret while chatting with Walter Benjamin about Proust. Art, sex, and ideas flourished, as did crime, poverty, and discontent. The underlying reality was something much uglier, with the gruesome paintings of George Grosz prefiguring the totalitarian "solution" to come.

I'll be setting foot in Berlin in nine days. From what I've heard and read, Berlin today is a city fueled by intense creative energy and yet paralyzed by inertia. Designers and artists have flocked to East Berlin for the cheap housing and bohemian vibe. Dance clubs rage until dawn and exquisitely designed boutiques line the streets. Yet unemployment remains high in East Berlin. As in the 20s, Berlin is again an artist paradise beset by structural economic problems. (Thankfully, on the whole the German economy is fine shape, so we won't likely see a significant Fascist re-emergence.)

In any case, I'll be in Europe for ten days. If anyone has any recommendations on where to go in Berlin, or surrounding areas, please drop a comment. And if anyone can help me out on my Prague v. Vienna v. Budapest dilemma, I'd appreciated it.