Tag Archives: Berlin

David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Expressionism – Berlin Years

26 Nov

When David Bowie and Iggy Pop came to Berlin in the late seventies, they were welcomed by a divided city, a city which flourished in its confinement, breathing and living in hustle of capitalism, at the same time suffocating in an alienation which was its own product.

wir-kinder-von-bahnhof-zoo-david-bowie

With Bowie’s arrival in Berlin, a period of cultural and artistic thriving started both for him and the city itself, which gleefully relived the glamour and decadence of its Weimar days.

Products of this fruitful, avant-garde, quite radical, sleek and modern, Europeanised, bohemian-aristocratic period of Bowie’s career were three albums; Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979), and The Idiot (1977) and Lust for Life (1977) for Iggy Pop respectively. Drawn in deeper and deeper in cocaine hell, fame and shallowness of Los Angeles, Bowie had wanted for some time a clean start, a departure from his old personas because things did took him ‘where the things are hollow’. Iggy Pop wasn’t in a good place as well. West Germany was a place to go. Bowie was drawn to Berlin; a city at the heart of the West-East ideological conflicts, with a rich yet drab cultural history.

1927-brigitte-helm-on-the-set-of-the-metropolis-1927-fritz-langBrigitte Helm on the set of the Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang)

Bowie spoke himself about the reasons behind his moving to Berlin: ‘Life in LA had left me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. I had approached the brink of drug induced calamity one too many times and it was essential to take some kind of positive action. For many years Berlin had appealed to me as a sort of sanctuary-like situation. It was one of the few cities where I could move around in virtual anonymity. I was going broke; it was cheap to live. For some reason, Berliners just didn’t care. Well, not about an English rock singer anyway.‘ (Uncut magazine, 1999)

1976-david-bowie-iggy-pop-copenhagen

In order to understand Berlin as it was in the seventies, it is necessary to understand its history, especially its ‘golden era’ of the 1920s – the decadency and cultural richness of the era equals the ones in Bowie’s time in Berlin. Berlin underwent a lot of transformation and served as the background for many political events since it first became the capital of the German Reich in 1871; from the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II to the roaring twenties, with all the freedom and avant-garde that characterised the decade, then the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, World War II and the events after it, the beginning of the Cold War and the division itself, building of the infamous wall, heroin addicts at the Bahnhof Zoo, arrival of Western rock stars – Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, later Nick Cave, all the way to the fall of the Wall and today’s modern ‘clean’, commercial and capitalist face of Berlin. It’s a city that nurtured its own bleakness, greyness and almost aggressive modernity. It’s also a city that allowed Bowie his freedom and anonymity.

1908-ernst-ludwig-kirchner-street-dresdenKircher’s vibrant colours express the overwhelming bustle and frenzy of life in a big city, and the loneliness of an individual at the same time. A million people and not a single friend.

I especially felt this modernity and sense of alienation in places such as Potsdamer Platz, Bahnhof Zoo (can’t deny its legacy) and Alexanderplatz. I remember it well, last summer I was standing on Alexander Platz with greyness all around me and trams passing in different directions – I felt like I was in one of Kirchner’s paintings. I also enjoyed watching trains arriving to the Bahnhof Zoo, wondering about the boroughs they connect. Oh, I simply adore that urban Romanticism about Berlin!

1914-ernst-ludwig-kirchner-1880-1938-berlin-street-scene-1914-pastel-and-charcoal-on-beige-colored-corrugated-laid-paper-67-7-x-49-3-cm-stadel-museum-frankfurt-am-mainErnst Ludwig Kirchner, Berlin Street Scene, 1914: People crossing each other’s paths, walking directionless, waiting for tramways, chatting, gazing into distance, waiting for clients; careless, nervous, breathing an air of avant-garde.

In 1871, Berlin had only 800,000 inhabitants, in 1929 it had more than four million. Unlike London or Paris, Berlin wasn’t dotted with museums, churches and palaces, but was rather more ‘grey and uniform looking’.

Old Berlin consisted of six different boroughs: Mitte, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreutzberg, Tiergarten and Wedding. In 1920, seven surrounding towns were incorporated:Charlottenburg, Spandau, Schöneberg, Wilmersdorf, Lichtenberg, Neuköln and Kopenick. ‘Greater Berlin’ was thus formed by artificially uniting the existing, established eastern sector with a new area of land. The resulting caesura remained visible and tangible, both in terms of the social structure of the city and the mentality of its inhabitants.’ (Berlin in the 20s, Rainer Metzger)

This is an interesting information because we know that both Marlene Dietrich and Blixa Bargeld were born in Schöneberg – the same part of Berlin that Bowie and Iggy lived in. Bowie also named his song: Neuköln. The point is, Berlin was different, a concrete jungle half-coated in avant-garde, half in junkies, misfits and eccentrics. Paris had a romantic flair, London had a certain quirkiness, but Berlin had the legacy of Expressionists and Anita Berber, and of course – Gropiusstadt.

1923-anita-berber-photographed-by-madame-dora-1923Anita Berber, looking like one of Klimt’s muses and a Biba girl at the same time.

What Berlin also possessed, both in the 1920s and in the 1970s, was a certain fragility, awareness of its own transience. In that decadent frenzy, anxiety and excitement, the city lived, breathed and sensed its own collapse, as the Einsturzende Neubauten would later sing. Carl Zuckmayer, a German writer who lived in 1920s Berlin, writes about this feeling: ‘The arts blossomed like a field awaiting the harvest. Hence the charm of the tragic genius that characterised the epoch and the works of many poets and artists cut off in their prime… I remember well how Max Reinhardt… once said: “What I love is this taste of transience on the tongue – every year might be the last year.” Rainer Metzger further adds: ‘Today it is clear just how accurate, vigilant and prophetic this awareness of its own fragility, prior to the events of 1933, turned out to be.‘ Berlin’s artistic and cultural life at the time was a landslide, its seeming excitement, energy and a need for fun and intoxication was simply a facade that hid the unrest that lay on the inside.

1977-child-in-berlin-david-bowieDavid Bowie, Child in Berlin, 1977

Berlin in the seventies still held many of these characteristics, except it didn’t just sense the catastrophe but lived in the middle of it. Now a wall divided the West and the East, and Bowie arrived just in time to sing of lovers standing by the wall and create a new sound that would soak up the atmosphere of the city like a sponge. A sense of transience still lingered though, as we all know, Bowie’s artistic periods and personas didn’t last long, and from the moment he came it was evident that he may be gone soon. How long would Berlin continue to inspire him? One, two albums? It turned out to be three. If I may say – some of the most beautiful out of all his entire oeuvre. Bowie later ‘called “Heroes”, and his three Berlin albums, his DNA.’ (*)

1978-david-bowie-isolar-ii-tour-festhalle-frankfurt-14-may-1978

Bowie’s divine Berlin era started as early as in the summer of 1976, when he started working on The Idiot with Iggy Pop, although his previous album Station to Station hints at a change that was soon to come, especially the ten minutes long title track, Bowie said himself: As far as the music goes, Low and its siblings were a direct follow-on from the title track Station To Station. It’s often struck me that there will usually be one track on any given album of mine, which will be a fair indicator of the intent of the following album. (Uncut magazine, 1999)

Iggy Pop said in this interview that The Idiot was inspired by the idea of Berlin, not the city itself yet, although they knew it was their next destination. That is so interesting because many times in art there’s a situation that the artist painted his reveries of a certain place, idealised visions of it, and not the realistic place itself. That’s the power of imagination.

Seeking spiritual and physical purification, and turning his interest from America to Europe again, Bowie found a new wellspring of creativity, imagination and happiness. Seems like those years served him good; not only did he produce three magnificent albums, and turned Berlin into a Mecca for the world of rock music, but also – found himself. He no longer needed a mask to hide himself, but rather found a way to express himself and go on stage as David Bowie.

1925-26-farewell-by-ernst-ludwig-kirchnerErnst Ludwig Kirchner, The Farewell, 1925-26

David Bowie loved Expressionism, and often visited Die Brücke Museum in Berlin, which was opened just nine years prior to his arrival. I remember reading somewhere that he loved watching twenty hour long Expressionistic films while travelling by train. He explained his love for the art movement in one interview:

Since my teenage years I had obsessed on the angst ridden, emotional work of the expressionists, both artists and film makers, and Berlin had been their spiritual home. This was the nub of Die Brucke movement, Max Rheinhardt, Brecht and where Metropolis and Caligari had originated. It was an art form that mirrored life not by event but by mood. This was where I felt my work was going. My attention had been swung back to Europe with the release of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn in 1974. The preponderance of electronic instruments convinced me that this was an area that I had to investigate a little further.‘ (Uncut magazine, 1999)

Did Bowie have Kirchner’s painting The Farewell in mind when he wrote lyrics for Sound and Vision? Just look at that beautiful vibrant electric blue outline on Kirchner’s figures of a woman with turquoise skin and a man in a brown-reddish coat. It really pierces your vision, and it’s imbued with almost a spiritual energy, just that single line would make a painting outstanding.

Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the colour of my room
Where I will live
Blue, blue

Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
Blue, blue” (*)

1979-david-bowie-heroes-cover

Covers of Bowie’s album Heroes and Iggy Pop’s Idiot both have a similar theme, which draws direct influence from artists such as Erich Heckel, mentioned by Bowie in an interview as one of his favourites at the time, and also the photographs of Egon Schiele. Bowie and Pop’s interpretations of the older artworks possess the same modernity, chic avant-garde, almost robotic poses. The titles are interesting as well, Hero and Idiot, antonyms of a sort.

Musically, I’ve always been a fan of Bowie’s Berlin era. Even though I like Bowie’s earlier stuff as well, this period endlessly captivates me, not just because the songs are so peculiar, strange and beautiful, but also because of the cult of the city itself, and also because it’s Bowie’s most-honest, most-himself phase up to that point. Songs from Low, Heroes, Lodger, The Idiot and Lust for Life are anomalies in a world of rock music, created in a specific place at a specific time. Berlin was never the same again. Back then, it was strange, unexplored and politically unstable. Then came capitalism, and they’ve created a seemingly clean and safe, but slightly soulless environment, which is just what tourists want. They don’t want to feel the real thing, or see junkies or live art, they want to take a photo standing in front of Brandenburger Tor. I can’t help it wonder, would Bowie chose Berlin as his artistic destination knowing the city as it is today?

1914-photograph-of-egon-schiele

Musically, Bowie and Pop’s albums from their Berlin eras convey that specific atmosphere of Berlin at the time, and that grey, modern and grim appearance of the city. As if their music responded to the scenery around them. Listening to tracks such as V-Schneider or Sense of Doubt you can picture the massive monstrous building of Gropiusstadt, or U-Bahns and Strassenbahns arriving at a station, you can feel the November coldness and bare trees in Mitte, tall soulless buildings, escalators at Europa Centar, never ending traffic jams…

1917-roquairol-erich-heckel-1917-or-the-idiot-iggy-popErich Heckel, Roquairol, 1917

And now some lyrics. Iggy Pop and David Bowie co-wrote Sister Midnight:

Calling Sister Midnight
You’ve got me reaching for the moon
Calling Sister Midnight
You’ve got me playing the fool
Calling Sister Midnight
Calling Sister Midnight
Can you hear me call
Can you hear me well
Can you hear me at all
Calling Sister Midnight
I’m an Idiot for you
Calling Sister Midnight
I’m a breakage inside.

1977-iggy-pop-the-idiot-released-on-18th-march-1977

David Bowie’s song ‘What in a World’:

You’re just a little girl with grey eyes

So deep in your room,
You never leave your room
Something deep inside of me
Yearning deep inside of me
Talking through the gloom
What in the world can you do
What in the world can you do
I’m in the mood for your love
For your love
For your love” (*)

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Fashion Icons: Uschi Obermaier

28 Jul

1960s Uschi Obermaier 49

Uschi Obermaier (b. 24 September 1946) is mostly remembered for being a groupie and a sex symbol of the ’68 generation. She really led a ‘wild life’, so it’s very appropriate that they named the film about her Das Wilde Leben or Eight Miles Heigh (2007), and she’s played by Natalia Avelon. I think the film captured the spirit of the times, and her clothes are wonderful. Her life was one big adventure, but it wasn’t always like that. In the early 1960s she was a bored and miserable teenager living in drab suburbs of Munich, just waiting for something fun to occur. She started modelling and for some time she was a member of an art bend/commune called Amon Düül. There she met Rainer Langhans and the rest is history. In 1969 she was already living in a commune in the capitalistic West Berlin with students and ‘rebels’ who praised socialism and sexual freedom.

Uschi and Rainer soon became ‘the star protagonists in a bizarre political experiment involving group cohabitation that was explicitly designed to shock Germany’s corseted conservative establishment to the core. Commune 1, as it was called, was Germany’s answer to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, but it had a seriously Teutonic streak. The gang of long-haired, dope smoking Maoist students who started the experiment by occupying a spacious turn-of-the-century apartment in central West Berlin, were out to explode and revolutionise the moribund values of post-war German society.‘ (source)

1960s Uschi Obermaier and Rainer Langhans 1

Uschi Obermaier and Rainer Langhans, c. 1969

After the Kommune 1, Uschi spent some nights together with Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and even Mick Jagger. She went on The Rolling Stones 1975 tour. From 1973-1983 she was in a relationship with Dieter Bockhorn and the two of them travelled in a bus through Asia, where they married in India, then Mexico and U.S. Uschi’s style is very psychedelic and rock chic. In my collages I used some photos from the film as well as pictures of Uschi herself.

You can read more about her here and here. You can watch a short footage of Jimi Henrix and Uschi in Berlin in 1969 here.

Fashion Icons - Uschi 1 text

Fashion Icons - Uschi 2 text

Fashion Icons - Uschi 3 text

City Scenes – Comparison: Impressionism and Expressionism

9 Sep

Diversities of people and cultures, sense of anonymity and optimistic yet fleeting feeling that everything is possible, along with vibrancy of the landscape are some of the things that attracted artists to European capitals. Specific mood and appearance of cities, in this case Paris and Berlin, affected artists who chose to either capture the city’s spirit on canvas, or express feelings which the city triggered.

The Boulevard Montmartre at NightCamille Pissarro, Montmartre Boulevard at Night, 1897

Although stylistically and atmospherically different, both paintings represent city scenes. Pissarro painted the ‘Montmartre Boulevard at Night’ in a true impressionistic manner with small and thin, yet visible brushstrokes, and created a sense of flickering excitement. On the other hand, painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is a good example of Kirchner’s typical wild, passionate, almost angry brushstrokes which are responsible for the overall feeling of dynamism. Elements on Pissarro’s painting such as carriages, trees and streetlamps make it an appealing one, specially for modern viewers and their visions of romantic Paris. Pissarro painted a lively and bustling Parisian night – lights are shining, carriages are arriving, people are having fun.

Kirchner’s painting radiates a completely different atmosphere. Starting with the unusual composition in a shape of an X, Kirchner creates a distorted and deformed space. Accentuated contour lines and dramatic choice of colours only deepen the unease a viewer can feel while looking at the painting. Elements that Kirchner chose to portray, Strassenbahns and tall, undefined buildings created a certain coldness and alienation. While Pissarro’s passers-by that occupy the pavement are barely visible, painted in soft and blurry shades of grey and purple, Kirchner’s characters resemble shadows, tall, black and deprived of any individuality, they stroll the streets of decadent Berlin, isolated from themselves and their surroundings, suffocated by the modern architecture around them. A suitable background for this painting would be the song ‘Kollaps’ by Einstürzende Neubauten.

Similarities between these two city scenes can be found in colours, but noticing this similarity again brings us to a great difference that is truly due to the art movements these two artworks belong to. Both Pissarro and Kirchner used blue and yellow in abundance. Whereas Pissarro’s blue is deep and soothing, Kirchner’s is cold, occasionally exceeding into shades of grey. Yellow that appears like a soft flickering light on Pissarro’s painting, on Kirchner’s painting it looks solid and exaggerated, its shade is almost sickly, at parts turning to bleak green shades, framed by solid brushstrokes of black. However, both paintings are ‘portraits’ of cities at a specific moment; vivacious Fin de siècle Paris and decadent catastrophic pre-Weimar Berlin. Still, as an Impressionist, Pissarro was interested in outward appearance and he captured the spirit of Paris at that specific moment, while Kirchner, as an Expressionist, presented us his own feelings and state of mind, using reality merely as an encouragement for expressing artistic experience.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - NollendorfplatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner, Nollendorfplatz, 1912

Goodbye to Berlin

31 Aug

1914. Friedrichstrasse - KirchnerKirchner, Friedrichstrasse, 1914

Last three weeks I was in Berlin, visiting my family. I haven’t felt so good, so full of energy and inspiration, so rapturous and alive for a long time! I came to Berlin with thoughts of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Christiane F. and Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, Marlene Dietrich, Christopher Isherwood and his Weimar Berlin, industrial rock sound of the Einstürzende Neubauten, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and other expressionists. Even though I’ve been to Berlin a few times, this time seems to have been magical. I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’ve seen such diversities and vibrancy, a bunch of individualists, drunken people, an eclectic mix of cultures, architectural splendor; from frightening and modern building on Potsdamer Platz to lovely residential buildings on Wedding to the beautiful Schloss Charlottenburg. I think I left a little piece of my soul somewhere out there, on those beautiful cobble streets and wide avenues.

I’ve visited the Alte Nationalgalerie and I’ve seen the ‘Im-Ex’ exhibition, along with the museum’s permanant collection of German Romanticism and lots of other things. A few painting caught my attention the most, among them the works of Kirchner, especially the one called ‘Potsdamer Platz’. His dynamic brush strokes and vibrant colours continue to amaze me. Here are some other artworks that I’ve seen. Who knows, maybe I’ll write about one of them soon. Or maybe I won’t.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer PlatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner – Potsdamer Platz, 1914

The Boulevard Montmartre at NightBoulevard Montmartre, effet de nuit by Pissarro, 1898

1879. Chez le père Lathuille - Edouard Manet Chez le père Lathuille – Edouard Manet, 1879

1879. In the Conservatory by ManetIn the Conservatory by Manet, 1879

1868. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian)Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian), 1868

1876. The Cheval-Glass - Berthe Morisot The Cheval-Glass – Berthe Morisot, 1876

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - NollendorfplatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz, 1912

1899. Charing Cross Bridge - Claude MonetCharing Cross Bridge – Claude Monet, 1899

E.L.Kirchner, Rheinbruecke / 1914 - Kirchner / Rhine Bridge / 1914 -Rheinbrücke in Köln, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

1913. Drei Akte, Karl Schmidt-RottluffDrei Akte, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 1913

1903. The Sin (Die Sünde) - Franz StuckThe Sin (Die Sünde) – Franz Stuck, 1903

Stu-04-NatGalTilla Durieux als Circe – Franz Stuck, 1900

1815. Gothic Church on a Rock by the Sea - Karl Friedrich SchinkelGothic Church on a Rock by the Sea – Karl Friedrich Schinkel, 1815

1822. Moonrise over the Sea - Caspar David FriedrichMoonrise over the Sea – Caspar David Friedrich, 1822

berlin im ex 2

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – The Berlin Years

11 Aug

A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things.

1913. Kirchner - Street, Berlin1913 Street, Berlin

In 1911. Kirchner moved to Berlin and started a new phase in his artistic endeavors; vivid street scenes with prostitutes and elegantly dressed men, chic streetwalkers with angular faces; all presented in brilliant pinks, purples, blues and blacks, with heavy brush strokes accentuating the dynamic, hectic and urban mood of the decadent city. Luxury and anxious energy of Berlin, the Hauptstadt of Decadence, were perfectly captured by Kirchner who said of Berlin ”You’ll be totally surprised when you set foot in Berlin. We’ve become a large family and you can get everything you need – women and shelter.” Kirchner himself arrived there with his then new girlfriend Erna Schilling who helped him in re-creating the atmosphere of his studio in Dresden. Walls of his new studio-apartment in Berlin were soon decorated with primitivist hangings, Ajanta- inspired wall paintings and African sculptors he carved himself.

Berlin in those years was just what Kirchner was looking for; with the crowded cafes, different venues, interesting people, lively circuses and cabarets, the city proved to be very alluring for him, and the initial excitement with the life in Berlin was evident in his early works. Later however, his paintings showed an uneasy balance between the excitement with the city and the alienation he felt living in it. Landscape of his paintings was the one of vibrant colours, intensity, with the emphasis on movement, and the capturing of the intensity and urgency of the city. His artistic sensibilities, caught up in the city’s dynamism led to an increased sensitivity of the form, colour and expression. Daring brush strokes and harmonies, along with angular figures and night street scenes characterised Kirchner’s Berlin years.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz1914 Potsdamer Platz

With the angular figures, intense colours and simplified, yet very atmospheric background, Kirchner succeeded in ‘creating new appearances of things‘; in these paintings, especially ‘Street, Berlin‘ and ‘Potsdamer Platz‘ we see Berlin not how it technically looked like in early 1910s, but rather through these twisted perspectives and vibrancy we see, or feel, a whole mood of the city; a decadent spirit captured for eternity. “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.“, Kirchner said, and that’s what he seemed to be doing, taking inspiration from the street scenes he saw through his window, portraying the street scenes in the ‘capital of cabaret’ with raw intensity of colours.

Conflicting interests and fierce rivalries characteristic for Berlin’s art world of the time, along with the competitive ambiance eventually splintered the group in 1913. Although they continued having joint exhibitions in Berlin, the close personal connection among the members loosened as the members struck out in different artistic directions. These artistic differences were aggravated by Kirchner’s chronicle of Die Brücke, in which he imposed himself as a prominent figure. The other artists associated with the group felt that their contributions for the group were understated. Kirchner’s relationship with the Bridge group remained difficult for the rest of his life, and he even rejected any association with them.

1913. Kirchner - Berlin Street Scene1913 Kirchner – Berlin Street Scene

After disassembling with the group, he went on to develop a much more individual style and his Berlin scenes of alienated figures, reflect a sense of creative isolation and city melancholia. Kirchner’s street scenes, painted in sharp brush strokes and vibrant colours, are permeated with sarcasm and the depressive and alienating atmosphere of Berlin. Initial excitement with the city shifted into a metropolitan loneliness and anxiety which resulted in a morbid fascination with the alienation in modern society. His ‘Berlin street scenes‘ portray society as Kirchner saw it; a bleak masses of people walking by each other, lonely and estranged figures with dark holes instead of eyes reflect the darkness that had begun to engulf him. Painted in dark colours, some of the sullen gentleman seem like shadows; a modern life stripped of its false glamour and splendor with nothing but a raw essential left; all the hypocrisy, obduracy,  materialistic obsessions and complete detachment from nature, God and true values of existence are presented without embellishment.

Ladies shown on the painting were mostly prostitutes. Kirchner’s girlfriend Erna Schilling and her sister Gerda, a dancer, whom the painter described as having ‘beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies‘, posed as models for his street scenes. Kirchner glorifies the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes’ clothes in these paintings; their bodies are elongated, their posture elegant, their faces angular, with a mask-like appearance, their gaze wanders between pride and doubtfulness. Dressed in their haughty attire, their faces painted with rouge, these ‘ladies of the night‘ mirror the alienating, melancholic, isolating and anxious atmosphere of Berlin at the time, and of the society in general.

1914. Friedrichstrasse - Kirchner1914 Friedrichstrasse – Kirchner

Perhaps the most famous of Kirchner’s street scenes is a painting ‘Friedrichstrasse‘ painted in 1914. In it, the viewer is confronted by three elongated women (most likely prostitutes again) who stand proudly in the foreground like three magnificent peacocks. Behind them stand anonymous suited men with blank expressions, suggesting the dehumanisation of individuals as a result of a modern life. Kirchner’s vivid palette and aggressive brush strokes only intensify the agony and anxiety an individual faces. The street is crowded, noisy and hectic, yet none of the individuals interact with each other. His street scenes portray an individual in isolation. Each of these works has a unique character, but the idea behind it is ‘a sense of living dangerously in a great capital city on the edge of a catastrophe.’

In these years his work became more dramatic; his usual heavy brush strokes now appeared almost violent, energetic composition and elongated figures reflect isolation, while the black brush strokes give a sense of movement and speed. The metropolitan alienation, despair and anxiety Kirchner expressed in his works perhaps show the life as it was in his head; dark and hectic, and serve as a prelude to his final mental and psychical collapse, and the collapse of modern society in general. These street scenes are only a continuation of the ‘Fin de Siecle neurosis.‘ Kirchner later described his subject matter as ‘the nervous faces of people of our time’ reflecting ‘every smallest irritation’.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Nollendorfplatz1912 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz

Kirchner’s work, and that of the other members of ‘The Bridge’, was influential on David Bowie who was fond of the Expressionists in general. He liked the intensity, striking forms and ‘raw power’ of Kirchner’s paintings, but the most appealing to him was the alienation that Kirchner expressed in his Berlin street scenes. In the 1970s Berlin was permeated by the atmosphere of neglect and desolation. Berlin’s world-weary self regard was attractive to foreigners who saw their own alienation mirrored in the city’s outsider status; David Bowie was one of them, fascinated by Berlin’s rich yet lush history of cabaret, expressionist silent movies and urban paintings. Bowie identified himself with the city’s fate; the fate of growing too quickly, both politically and in urban development, and having to suffer eternal growing pains. Architecture critic Heinrich Wefing once talked of Berlin’s partus praecipitatus – ‘always having to be more, always having to wrestle with one’s own role’ — Bowie recognised himself in this fate.

Brian Eno once said ‘Very rough, rough strokes — and they all have a mood of melancholy about them or nostalgia, as if they were painting something that was just disappearing. And all of that — the boldness of attack, the unplanned evolutionary quality of the images, and the over-all mood — remind me of the way David works.’ Works such as ‘Nollendorfplatz’ and ‘Brandenburger Tor‘ reveal Kirchner’s shift in subject matter from female figures to metropolitan scenes. The painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is painted in clashing blue and yellow shades, with monstrous ‘strassenbahnen‘ and a crooked perspective as a clear rejection of the previous architecture studies. It brings Max Weber’s concept of rationalisation on a higher level with people appearing as tall dark shadows, so uniformed and monotonous they merge with the landscape of the city. Quick and heavy brush strokes create a feeling of speed, movement and bustle of modern life in a city. Kirchner’s distorted imagery symbolise the destructiveness and desolation of an urban life; he questions the social progress and the dehumanization of people in cities. He expresses his inner emotions and confusion with life in modern society.

1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Brandenburger Tor1915 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Brandenburger Tor

Kirchner committed suicide on 15th June 1938. after the Nazis branded his work as ‘degenerate’ and sold or destroyed over six hundred of his paintings. Still, Kirchner ought to be remembered as a leading force behind German Expressionism. He was an artist who painted Berlin and captured both its decadent, dynamic and daring atmosphere, along with the isolated urban individuals completely detached from society. Kirchner’s paintings reflect the mood of the German capital in the years of political tensions and mirror both the extravagances and cultural florescence before the final collapse.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – The Berlin Years

11 Nov

A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things.

1913. Kirchner - Street, Berlin1913. Street, Berlin

In 1911. Kirchner moved to Berlin and started a new phase in his artistic endeavors; vivid street scenes with prostitutes and elegantly dressed men, chic streetwalkers with angular faces; all presented in brilliant pinks, purples, blues and blacks, with heavy brush strokes accentuating the dynamic, hectic and urban mood of the decadent city. Luxury and anxious energy of Berlin, the Hauptstadt of Decadence, were perfectly captured by Kirchner who said of Berlin ”You’ll be totally surprised when you set foot in Berlin. We’ve become a large family and you can get everything you need – women and shelter.” Kirchner himself arrived there with his then new girlfriend Erna Schilling who helped him in re-creating the atmosphere of his studio in Dresden. Walls of his new studio-apartment in Berlin were soon decorated with primitivist hangings, Ajanta- inspired wall paintings and African sculptors he carved himself.

Berlin in those years was just what Kirchner was looking for; with the crowded cafes, different venues, interesting people, lively circuses and cabarets, the city proved to be very alluring for him, and the initial excitement with the life in Berlin was evident in his early works. Later however, his paintings showed an uneasy balance between the excitement with the city and the alienation he felt living in it. Landscape of his paintings was the one of vibrant colours, intensity, with the emphasis on movement, and the capturing of the intensity and urgency of the city. His artistic sensibilities, caught up in the city’s dynamism led to an increased sensitivity of the form, colour and expression. Daring brush strokes and harmonies, along with angular figures and night street scenes characterised Kirchner’s Berlin years.

1914. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Potsdamer Platz1914. Potsdamer Platz

With the angular figures, intense colours and simplified, yet very atmospheric background, Kirchner succeeded in ‘creating new appearances of things‘; in these paintings, especially ‘Street, Berlin‘ and ‘Potsdamer Platz‘ we see Berlin not how it technically looked like in early 1910s, but rather through these twisted perspectives and vibrancy we see, or feel, a whole mood of the city; a decadent spirit captured for eternity. “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate this into a coherent painterly form.“, Kirchner said, and that’s what he seemed to be doing, taking inspiration from the street scenes he saw through his window, portraying the street scenes in the ‘capital of cabaret’ with raw intensity of colours.

Conflicting interests and fierce rivalries characteristic for Berlin’s art world of the time, along with the competitive ambiance eventually splintered the group in 1913. Although they continued having joint exhibitions in Berlin, the close personal connection among the members loosened as the members struck out in different artistic directions. These artistic differences were aggravated by Kirchner’s chronicle of Die Brücke, in which he imposed himself as a prominent figure. The other artists associated with the group felt that their contributions for the group were understated. Kirchner’s relationship with the Bridge group remained difficult for the rest of his life, and he even rejected any association with them.

1913. Kirchner - Berlin Street Scene1913. Kirchner – Berlin Street Scene

After disassembling with the group, he went on to develop a much more individual style and his Berlin scenes of alienated figures, reflect a sense of creative isolation and city melancholia. Kirchner’s street scenes, painted in sharp brush strokes and vibrant colours, are permeated with sarcasm and the depressive and alienating atmosphere of Berlin. Initial excitement with the city shifted into a metropolitan loneliness and anxiety which resulted in a morbid fascination with the alienation in modern society. His ‘Berlin street scenes‘ portray society as Kirchner saw it; a bleak masses of people walking by each other, lonely and estranged figures with dark holes instead of eyes reflect the darkness that had begun to engulf him. Painted in dark colours, some of the sullen gentleman seem like shadows; a modern life stripped of its false glamour and splendor with nothing but a raw essential left; all the hypocrisy, obduracy,  materialistic obsessions and complete detachment from nature, God and true values of existence are presented without embellishment.

Ladies shown on the painting were mostly prostitutes. Kirchner’s girlfriend Erna Schilling and her sister Gerda, a dancer, whom the painter described as having ‘beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies‘, posed as models for his street scenes. Kirchner glorifies the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes’ clothes in these paintings; their bodies are elongated, their posture elegant, their faces angular, with a mask-like appearance, their gaze wanders between pride and doubtfulness. Dressed in their haughty attire, their faces painted with rouge, these ‘ladies of the night‘ mirror the alienating, melancholic, isolating and anxious atmosphere of Berlin at the time, and of the society in general.

1914. Friedrichstrasse - Kirchner1914. Friedrichstrasse – Kirchner

Perhaps the most famous of Kirchner’s street scenes is a painting ‘Friedrichstrasse‘ painted in 1914. In it, the viewer is confronted by three elongated women (most likely prostitutes again) who stand proudly in the foreground like three magnificent peacocks. Behind them stand anonymous suited men with blank expressions, suggesting the dehumanisation of individuals as a result of a modern life. Kirchner’s vivid palette and aggressive brush strokes only intensify the agony and anxiety an individual faces. The street is crowded, noisy and hectic, yet none of the individuals interact with each other. His street scenes portray an individual in isolation. Each of these works has a unique character, but the idea behind it is ‘a sense of living dangerously in a great capital city on the edge of a catastrophe.’

In these years his work became more dramatic; his usual heavy brush strokes now appeared almost violent, energetic composition and elongated figures reflect isolation, while the black brush strokes give a sense of movement and speed. The metropolitan alienation, despair and anxiety Kirchner expressed in his works perhaps show the life as it was in his head; dark and hectic, and serve as a prelude to his final mental and psychical collapse, and the collapse of modern society in general. These street scenes are only a continuation of the ‘Fin de Siecle neurosis.‘ Kirchner later described his subject matter as ‘the nervous faces of people of our time’ reflecting ‘every smallest irritation’.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Nollendorfplatz1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Nollendorfplatz

Kirchner’s work, and that of the other members of ‘The Bridge’, was influential on David Bowie who was fond of the Expressionists in general. He liked the intensity, striking forms and ‘raw power’ of Kirchner’s paintings, but the most appealing to him was the alienation that Kirchner expressed in his Berlin street scenes. In the 1970s Berlin was permeated by the atmosphere of neglect and desolation. Berlin’s world-weary self regard was attractive to foreigners who saw their own alienation mirrored in the city’s outsider status; David Bowie was one of them, fascinated by Berlin’s rich yet lush history of cabaret, expressionist silent movies and urban paintings. Bowie identified himself with the city’s fate; the fate of growing too quickly, both politically and in urban development, and having to suffer eternal growing pains. Architecture critic Heinrich Wefing once talked of Berlin’s partus praecipitatus – ‘always having to be more, always having to wrestle with one’s own role’ — Bowie recognised himself in this fate.

Brian Eno once said ‘Very rough, rough strokes — and they all have a mood of melancholy about them or nostalgia, as if they were painting something that was just disappearing. And all of that — the boldness of attack, the unplanned evolutionary quality of the images, and the over-all mood — remind me of the way David works.’ Works such as ‘Nollendorfplatz’ and ‘Brandenburger Tor‘ reveal Kirchner’s shift in subject matter from female figures to metropolitan scenes. The painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is painted in clashing blue and yellow shades, with monstrous ‘strassenbahnen‘ and a crooked perspective as a clear rejection of the previous architecture studies. It brings Max Weber’s concept of rationalisation on a higher level with people appearing as tall dark shadows, so uniformed and monotonous they merge with the landscape of the city. Quick and heavy brush strokes create a feeling of speed, movement and bustle of modern life in a city. Kirchner’s distorted imagery symbolise the destructiveness and desolation of an urban life; he questions the social progress and the dehumanization of people in cities. He expresses his inner emotions and confusion with life in modern society.

1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Brandenburger Tor1915. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – Brandenburger Tor

Kirchner committed suicide on 15th June 1938. after the Nazis branded his work as ‘degenerate’ and sold or destroyed over six hundred of his paintings. Still, Kirchner ought to be remembered as a leading force behind German Expressionism. He was an artist who painted Berlin and captured both its decadent, dynamic and daring atmosphere, along with the isolated urban individuals completely detached from society. Kirchner’s paintings reflect the mood of the German capital in the years of political tensions and mirror both the extravagances and cultural florescence before the final collapse.

Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo – ‘It’s Too Late’

5 Nov

CHRISTIANE F

Berlin; a city divided by the wall, alienated by the Cold war, an ‘outsider status‘ city clashed between west and east, had turned on itself for four decades. In the meantime, an alternative lifestyle was created in the West Berlin with lots of discotheques, such as the infamous ‘Sound‘, cinemas, theatres, clubs, and as a byproduct, a developed drug scene.

Despite the economic prosperity of West Berlin in the 1970s, living conditions, especially for young people, have not changed at all, in fact they have worsened; increasing demands at school, crowded classes, shortage of teachers, idleness and family conflicts are all specific expressions of deterioration West Berlin faced. In localities such as the infamous Gropiusstadt, settled by 45,000 people, all these problems become massive because of the vast amount of people living there, thus we have young people facing idleness, domestic violence and failures at school. Even schools, which are supposed to be motivating and joyous places, have became almost contaminated by disincentive and competitive atmosphere where pupils are just trying to be better than one another and finish off one another instead of helping each other. No sense of communion at all. There was no personal contact with teachers who were as uninterested in school curriculum as their pupils were. The classes were very crowded and the teachers didn’t even notice if someone wasn’t present at school.

Alienation, which was felt by many young people who later ended up as drug-users and prostitutes at the infamous Bahnhof Zoo, began by growing up in the dehumanizing environment of Gropiusstadt. There, in that ‘concrete wasteland‘ their childhood dreams and ideals were crushed by harsh reality; there was no nature, no playgrounds, not a single meadow that children could play on. Logic of localities such as Gropiusstadt relies on cost-effectiveness and not on human needs and desires. Consequences of that artificial way of life came evident in a whole generation whose youth and childhood innocence were destroyed by the dehumanising and alienating environment. Financial adversities were the biggest problem. High rents and living expenses entailed bigger and bigger work load, on both man and women and people were in constant pressure to put more and more effort and strength into their work, without getting any true joy or welfare. Alcohol was always the first choice of substances people used to numb the consciousness of their position as victims of social progress. For Berlin’s youth in the 1970s, heroin seemed like the only solution; they hoped it would eliminate their problems and numb their senses so that they don’t feel anything at all.

berlin sound 1974

Children from Bahnhof Zoo were tricked for their childhoods; they found no pleasure in their present, no valuable perspective for their future, nor were they capable of drawing strength from their past. Possessing rudiments of childlike imagination, independence and self-confidence, these children just ran from one stimulation to another. Their childhood faze, with its free and stabilising possibilities of development, was reduced only to a pre-school age; and all for the account of the earliest possible orientation abilities and passive consumerism. Children from Bahnhof Zoo had nor the time nor the environment to actually be children and enjoy the carefree and playful atmosphere of that phase. While appearing emotionless and cold on the first sight, these children and drug-users were emotionally developed as a ten year old child, and, very sensitive, with a need to be loved and accepted, they went through the thick and thin of a typical drug-using career.

One of Christiane F.’s best friends was Babsi who later hit the cover side of Berliner Zeit in 1977. when she died aged only fourteen. Shocking title ‘Sie war erst 14!‘ lifted the veil from what was previously a tabu topic; drug scene in Berlin. Babsi was the youngest drug victim in Berlin, and her death, along with the publication of the book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo helped in raising the awareness of the increased number of teenage drug users. Teenage drug users aren’t very emotionally strong, as I’ve said, and they wave between their romantic fantasies and dreams about ideal world and the manner of behavior of adults who struggle for survival. Despite the hard living conditions these drug users, aged between 12 and 16, face in confirming themselves on the ‘scene‘, they are on the emotional level of a small child.

babsi 3 babsi tot

These young people have seen through the system and society for what it was; a cruel place with hopeless, neglectful and competitive atmosphere, where the individuals are led by greed and hatred, and the society in general, that has lost its moral values, is in a state of anomie. In the clash between the dehumanizing living environment and consumerist false values, these young people felt trapped in the petty-bourgeois monotony. Young people came to the conclusion that, by their future financial capabilities, they’ll never have access to the wonderful, glittery world of commercials and shop windows that has fascinated and attracted them so much. It is a cognition which they formally accept, and soon start looking for the alternative ways of life, but deep down, a lot of teenagers feel bitter and disappointed that all the privileges of the consumerist society will remain unavailable to them.

Also, money had became more and more important determinant of human relationships, and young people, unable to satisfy their desires, more and more controlled by money, try to find other ways to satisfy their desires. Their parents weren’t able to show them the right way for they were burdened by the demands of the Capitalistic society as well. They were burdened with insolvable contradictions themselves; with what they’ve accomplished in life and what they are yet to accomplish will never be enough to fulfill what they wished for in life, or, what they were taught to wish. At the same time, unlike their children, they didn’t give up the race so fast, they instead made their best efforts in their Sisyphus task. In doing that, they neglected life values such as friendship, family, neighbors ties, trust, confidence, willingness to help others and understand their needs. All this problems led to destruction of a family life.

christiane f this is a real-life photo and they probably are christiane, stella and babsi.

Social problems in West Berlin in 1970s only show the true nature of society; its hypocrisy, obduracy,  materialistic obsessions and complete detachment from nature, God and true values of existence. Christiane F. soon became fascinated by the coolness and seeming indifference of her peers. She did not yet knew that that coldness, inner death, with a short phase of ‘living death’ duration, the length of the lifeline of addicts, is marked by a transition from soft to hard drugs, along with the gradual deterioration of body and the collapse of consciousness. Christiane F, and many, many other young people in West Berlin, started smoking marijuana in Haus der Mitte, gradually passing on to stronger stimulants, to LSD which she first tried in the discotheque Sound and later, just a month prior to her 14th birthday, after a David Bowie’s concert, Christiane sniffed H for the first time. From that moment began her sliding into the spaces of horror; discotheques and the infamous Bahnhof Zoo; where the collapsed existences suffocate in the stench, stupor, confusion and vomit. Fatal Bahnhof Zoo with its irresistible smell of piss and disinfectants would become her natural habitat.

At that time, barely turning fourteen, Christiane F. was already drawn into the heroin hell, and is acquainted with the infernal underground, composed of the sellers of death and new, fresh customers. Stretched between being a Child and a heroin shooter, Christiane already faced the world of perversions, a world of misery where the rich ones are suffocating in luxury and boredom, and the others are struggling to survive, sinking deeply into the darkness, knowing that the only way to survive is to kill all the emotions. Christiane F. found herself on Bahnhof Zoo in the early morning one day, after a night spent in the Sound with her friends, and saw how unkempt and drab the station was; full of tramps and drunk man lying in their own vomit. She did not yet knew that she would be spending her afternoons on this notorious Bahnhof in months to come.

wir kinder vom bahnhof zoo 14

Christiane’s eyes reflected nothing but fear and despair; her eyes saw the depth of their own grave, because the body of a heroin user is a bigger burden than a fourteen year old girl can take; for a body laden with pain, shooting up, cramps, vomiting and itching, becomes an unbearable burden. However, Christiane’s most painful experiences came with death of her friends. Axel and Bernd both died, Lufo, who first impressed her because he was shooting up only at the weekends, also died, her first love Atze; lying in a coffin. But the biggest shock was the death of her dearest friend Babsi D. who died aged only fourteen, as I’ve said, with a needle still stuck in her left hand. What a horrible life, death, destiny! When Christiane read the news of Babsi death, she felt like the newspapers were writing of her own death. She wasn’t clear whether she was crying over Babsi’s death or her own; her sinking deeper and deeper in the hell of drugs, into a wasteland world of apocalyptic darkness.

These children took the burden of an economic development on their backs. At such a young age, deprived from their childhoods, they waved between their ideals and the struggles of life. Trying to overcome a complex of a total outsider, they were always trying to be more original, more daring and brake the conventions. Still, they realised from the early on that they’ll never be Heroes, as in a David Bowie’s song; they’ll never be something more. Seeing the life that awaits them, they protested, trying to escape to brutal world, but all in vain. Escaping the harsh and boring triviality into the world of music and drugs, they found a place to belong in places they shouldn’t have; discotheques, clubs, wandering the streets of Kudamm at night, vainly searching for that something, that essence of life that was nowhere to be found. Christiane F. said in the book that the ideals of their parents were ‘live to acquire something‘, and the thing that gives meaning to life would later come too. That something which gives meaning to life was nowhere to be found for the children from Bahnhof Zoo. Christiane F, and her friends, were still vainly searching for the meaning.

bahnhof zoo 3

Children from Bahnhof Zoo have, on the threshold of life, seen through the emptiness, shortcomings and monstrosity of the modern society whose main characteristics are mimicry and adaptation as prerequisites for success. The society is not based on freedom and individuality, quite the opposite, the ‘damned‘ ones who tasted the bitter taste of ‘knowing‘ have realised, and succumbed to their realisations, that the world; the society is a place of alienation, emptiness, hypocrisy, the monstrous morality and great injustices.

wir kinder vom bahnhof zoo jugendliche

Christiane F. naturally wasn’t the only child on the Bahnhof Zoo, there were plenty of them, the number of deaths caused by heroin in West Berlin rising from around fifty in 1970. to a drastic 560 only seven years later. The first photo shows Christiane’s love, a young lad Detlev who was in prison in Moabit at the time photo was taken. He still dreamed of a civil life with Christiane; his dreams and ideals being the only things he had. Second photo shows Babette ‘Babsi‘ D; look at those eyes, how sad, disappointed they are, full of fear, resignation and despair; eyes darkened by the depth of its grave. Fourth picture shows Christiane’s first love Atze who deliberately overdosed in 1977. aged only seventeen. He killed himself because he considered his life to be immaterial, with drug users only bringing troubles and worries to their loved ones. The tragedy of his death did not stop there for his girlfriend Simone, only sixteen years old at the time, soon quit high school and hit the streets; shooting up and earning the money on Bahnhof Zoo. She slit her wrists soon after. Fifth picture shows Christiane’s other friend, Stella, for ended up in prison aged only fourteen. And the last one shows some other girl from Zoo, Karin.

Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo z rudi und dirk

The picture above shows Rudi, 17, and Dirk, 18. at the Bahnhof Zoo. They started shooting up aged fifteen, and feel hopeless about their future, even though they want to overcome their heroin addiction and find the meaning of life.

SAMSUNG

The photo above show Livia S. She started shooting up aged fifteen, and died aged eighteen in a public toilet on Hansaplatz. A letter written to a social welfare office was found in her pocket, begging for a rehab therapy. ‘Every day may cost me my life.‘ And it did, sadly. Life is such a fragile thing, if you think about it. Livia was so young, still blossoming into the adulthood, with dreams, desires, memories, wishes, hopes; all crushed in a moment, in a dirty toilet. Sad end to an even sadder life.

wir kinder vom bahnhof zoo 4

This is a tribute to all of them…