This month, for the first time since January, I had the time to take a vacation – leaving the boundaries of Berlin, hopping into metal tubes, and escaping to Immenstadt and Kiel – opposite ends of Germany, but fulfilling personal wishes to see friends and hit the beach.
I managed to spend three days on the beaches, enjoying the sun and sand. I did take one day off to look at Kiel. Wish I could say something nice about Kiel, but it was completely flattened during World War II and them most attractive piece appears to be the botanic gardens at the university.
This coming Saturday is Christopher Street Day in Berlin (for those lacking context: Pride, with the German word for Pride being “Christopher Street Day”) – and while I’m not hugely into attending CSD events (too misanthropic ; plus I’ve never really liked being in huge crowds), I’ll probably watch some part of the parade and take some photos.
Musically, though, I’ve been listening to a bunch of new gay anthems lately. The songs tend to be driven by tragedy – Orlando, for instance.
My favorite of this group is Pulse by Eli Lieb & Brandon Skeie. It’s in heavy rotation, with me actively choosing to listen to it while working roughly twice a day.
I have also put Hands into heavy rotation – it was released just a week ago.
Melissa Etheridge’s Pulse is pretty popular, but it doesn’t have the same impact on me – but it’s worth a gander:
After the Pulse massacre, The Memory Palace put out an amazing episode about the White Horse, one of America’s oldest gay bars. This is an amazingly powerful text, told in the way that only Nate DiMeo can tell stories.
Digging a bit into the past – and other GLBT adventures, comes For the Lost and Brave, a song by Ray Toro. The song was released after Leelah Alcorn committed suicide because her religiously insane parents refused to accept her for being the woman that she was.
And then there’s the Pet Shop Boys remix of Panti Bliss’s speech regarding what it means to be oppressed. The original speech is brilliant; the remix somehow makes it even better.
Twenty-Sixteen is turning out to be a pretty hideous year on a number of fronts – it would be impossible to list all of the bad events – Orlando. Brussels. Paris. Dallas. The seemingly endless list of black people killed by the police – or just arrested due to their skin color.
The only times I’ve been a visible minority were in South Africa, Swaziland, Armenia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Samoa – for a total of somewhere around 60 to 70 days of my life. And in South Africa, Swaziland, and Samoa, I came with automatic white-privilege, enhanced by the fact that I carry a US passport.
Consequently, I can tell you the number of times that I have been stopped by the police while driving (one time, Laramie, Wyoming, no ticket received) or while walking (zero).
I do not know what it is like to be afraid of the police – at least in the western world.
(I will admit that I thought that the police in Armenia were incompetent, just based on my quick observation of how they closed the streets for their Independence Day Parade in Yerevan. And once I encountered a crowd control situation surrounding a soccer match in Germany where I thought the local police were behaving in an exceptionally non-optimal fashion.)
But the news of the past week has plunged me into memory land, specifically of my University of Wyoming class on Police Deviance taught by the former Natrona County Sheriff, Ron Ketchum. His name is glued into my head because he talked about how annoying it was to have the rank of Captain with his name. He got promoted as quickly as he could.
As an instructor, he was exceptional – he talked a lot about policing and how he had evolved over the years since becoming sheriff.
The point of the course on police deviance was to talk about the consequences of police going bad – something that is, in Wyoming, not often considered to be even remotely possible.
(I would suggest that this is a Republican failing, in many respects. There tends to be excessive respect for policing and the assumption that the police are always right. I remember sitting next to a Republican friend as she watched a video of a police force violently violate the law – and it rocked her world. This was in a completely different context and I don’t want to confuse the issue here.)
Realizing that police can be bad is probably the first and most important step.
Once you realize that police are human beings, with human weaknesses, then things become a heck of a lot easier. Because you can manage and account for behaviors.
When he was sheriff he talked about, as I recall – remember this is going back 20ish years – having paperwork to fill out if a deputy pulled their gun from their holster. Never mind if the gun was shot.
I came away from that class with a great deal of respect for policing, as a profession – when it is carried out by professionals.
But when in the hands of people with prejudices, who are poorly trained, or come to work with an agenda that isn’t to serve and to protect, then trouble lies ahead.
There’s a point to this rambling somewhere – and I guess it’s to say that policing in America needs a radical rethink. Maybe not in every police department, but certainly in a lot. Policing shouldn’t be about adversarial relationships with the people being protected, it should be about building community. It shouldn’t be about having riot gear and being afraid of the citizens – in fact, maybe having riot gear is symptomatic of the problem at hand: policing needs to be about walking the beat and getting to know people.
What happened in Baton Rouge and Minnesota is terrible. What happened in Dallas is terrible.
Saying that BlackLivesMatter is not incompatible with supporting quality policing.
It was déjà vu: For a second time in my life, I heard the edge of a breaking news story and I instantly knew that the rest of the story was going to be painful.
This time it was that there had been another mass shooting, this time at a nightclub in Orlando. That was it – that was the bit of news I heard – and yet, in the pit of my stomach, I instinctively knew that it was going to have been at a gay bar.
That feeling was the exact same feeling I had when I first heard that a student had been pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and left for dead. The summary was pretty awful – and yet, in the pit of my stomach, I instinctively knew that the student was going to have been a gay student.
And so it is: Matthew Shepard in 1998; Orlando in 2016.
These are, of course, two events in the long, seemingly endless, history of gay bashing – there is an endless supply of horrific events that demonstrate the strange, innate, hatred that many people have of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, questioning, and intersexed individuals. Or even of individuals perceived, rightly or not, to be of these communities.
This past week I’ve attended two events in Berlin marking Orlando – the first was a moment of silence at noon on Monday the 13th, the second being Berlin for Orlando on Saturday the 18th. Both were held in Pariserplatz, the space in front of Brandenburger Tor, in front of the US Embassy. (For those a bit unfamiliar with the space, we’re talking about the east side of Brandenbruger Tor, a space framed by the US Embassy, the French Embassy, Starbucks, and the Hotel Adlon; not the Tiergarten side.)
The display before the US Embassy in Pariserplatz.
The vibe of the two events could not have been more different: Monday was a media circus: 60% media, 20% politicians and other semi-important people, 20% people like me who were wondering if the media could be any more obnoxious and intrusive. I, and the friend I went with, left without feeling the cathartic sense that we felt was desperately needed.
Mourning with Orlando.
Saturday, on the other hand, was amazing: I have no idea how many people were attending, but according to the Facebook count, 6,100 people said that they would attend. Pariserplatz was packed – from where I was standing, there was nothing but a huge mass of people. I have no idea how many people can fit into Pariserplatz, but surely all 6,100 who said that they would come, plus another few thousand, were there.
Well before the crowd arrived, there was a lot of Pride.
The tone of Berlin for Orlando was cathartic, at least for me: some singing, Mr. Gay Florida, the US Ambassador, reading the names of the 49 victims, and candles.
Mr. Gay Flordia – who had worked at Pulse.
US Ambassador John B. Emerson speaking about Hope and Love winning.
Located in the middle of Volkspark Wuhlheide – or something vaguely in the middle – ModellPark is a collection of something like 60 miniature replicas of buildings from Berlin and Brandenburg, ranging from the places I know, to a lot of places I’ve never heard of.
And since everything is miniature sized and I’m not, the scale is completely awesome. I found myself staring in the windows of HOWOGE, pondering what was happening inside. Never has Brandenburg Tor ever felt so small.
The crazy thing was that for a splendid afternoon, the ModellPark was virtually empty. It was also hard to find – following the signs from the nearby street led us to nowhere, and a map of the park was lacking the “You are here” indicator that would have made it useful.
The other crazy thing was that the park appeared to be poorly maintained – but then in the middle of the forest, we found this patch of grass that was freshly mowed.
The last couple of weeks have seen stories on both sides of the Atlantic that have given me pause for thought – a chance to reflect on the history of airport construction in this modern era.
On the western side of the pond, Denver International Airport is finally – a mere 21 years and (roughly) 2 months after it opened – linked to downtown Denver via a commuter rail system, RTD’s A-Line.
Random Aside: That’s not the actual train line name, but the official name is incredibly long, long because a local university system coughed up $5 million to name the train after itself, even though the train doesn’t really serve any of its campuses. I don’t blame RTD for taking the money and running, but I do think the university in question displayed a sever lack of judgment in how it spent its money.
For those of us who lived (and grew up) in Denver in this era, the main thing most of us remember is that the airport opened years late. In fact, it was initially supposed to open on October 31, 1993. It didn’t. Nor did it open December 19, 1993, March 9, 1994, or May 15, 1994. It eventually opened on February 28, 1995.
I might note that the delayed opening of Denver International Airport allowed me to get a summer job working at the Stapleton International Airport’s finest fine dining restaurant, the Signature Room. The company running concessions at the old airport did not get as many concessions at the new airport and was having a terrible time holding on to employees. Thus they took any and all idiots to work for them. Including me. Let me just say that I am an adequate bus boy and a mediocre waiter.
Working at Stapleton, I got an employee discount, which I used to buy the above t-shirt.
The main reason – at least visible reason – that the airport’s opening was delayed was the automated baggage system. I couldn’t locate a news clip from that era, but at one critical test – a test held before the camera lenses of local news media – the system destroyed bags with what felt like automated glee.
There were probably other underlying reasons that the airport’s opening was delayed, but the baggage system was the big one. Per Wikipedia, Denver International Airport officially opened 16 months late, and US$2 Billion over budget.
At the time, that was a scandalous delay and a huge sum of money.
Like Denver, Berlin decided to build a new airport – and like Denver, there have been some delays – the airport was supposed to open on June 3, 2012.
There’s no typo there, I did, in fact, write 2012.
That’s more than four years ago and it has not yet opened.
And when I say, that was the planned opening date, they were serious: the airport was supposed to open then – I even had a ticket that was supposed to originate and return to the new airport – a multi-leg trip with three stops. The trip was memorable for an unfortunate technical reason: given that the airport hadn’t opened, my ticket was never really technically correct, and checking in for each set of flights had to involve human beings who would spend a lot of time typing on their keyboards trying to get me checked in.
As I’ve been watching this disaster unfold in slow motion, I’ve come to appreciate how well executed the Denver International Airport’s construction was – the main difference was that Denver’s airport had professional managers and a solid plan, even if the baggage system turned out to be a disaster.
The problems in Berlin are more numerous – in part because Berlin’s idiotic, incompetent, and deluded mayor (at the time) Klaus Wowereit thought he knew better than the professionals. The rank incompetence is flabbergasting and it feels like whenever news about the new Berlin Airport strikes, it’s never particularly hopeful.
The spokesman for Berlin’s new airport, which is billions of euros over budget and years behind schedule, has been sacked for saying that the project was “shit” and “no one can guarantee” that it will ever open. … However, in his interview with PR industry magazine prmagazin, Abbou said: “No one, unless he is addicted to drugs, will give you any fixed guarantees for this airport.”
The PR guy lasted started his job in January and was fired in April.
Then, in an interview with a Berlin newspaper, Dieter Faulenbach da Costa, who was planning the new airport back in the 1990s, revealed that he thought the new Berlin airport would never open (see thelocal for English).
The man formerly responsible for planning Berlin’s much-delayed international airport has claimed the air hub will never open, after a series of failures have left city authorities red faced.
The numbers here are staggering: in theory the airport will open in late 2017, and it is at least €4.8 billion over budget.
Plus it appears that the new airport will already be too small – on day one.
A couple weekends ago, I met up with one of my colleagues and headed out to Beelitz-Heilstätten, out on the southwestern edge of Berlin.
Beelitz-Heilstätten is a very well known site for explorers of abandoned buildings – it’s a site with a plethora of buildings that have, to be blunt, seen better days. Back in the 1880s, the facility was built as a place to cure tuberculosis, isolating patients from the large city, giving them a place to rest and recover, without infecting others. This is probably an overly short history of the place, but that’s the main point: it was a tuberculosis hospital.
And then it was a military hospital for the Russians.
What’s happened in the most recent chapter of “and then” is Baum & Zeit – some people spent 7,000,000€ to open up what I can only describe is an attempt to turn the abandoned building into a tourist trap.
It comes complete with a 320 meter long sky-walk that is about 21 meters up in the air, thus allowing you the opportunity to view *one* abandoned building from the air, all for the low-low price of 9.50€. (Plus 2€ to park your car, plus 1€ for a surprisingly small sized serving of Sprite, and food prices high enough to deter all but the starving and rich.)
And while I’m sure that some of the 7 million Euro was spent on the sky bridge, it appears that much of it was spent on fencing. There’s fencing around each individual building, there’s fencing around the part of the area with the sky-walk, there’s fencing around the base of the sky-walk, there’s fencing around the fencing… Naturally you can pay for tours to go inside some of fencing to get tours of some of the abandoned buildings.
My impression of Baum & Zeit is that it is, at best, a one-and-done tourist attraction for me. It’s interesting to see fenced off abandoned buildings, and I imagine the relative ease and cleanliness of the place (hey- after paying 9.50€ to get inside the fence, the toilets are fee and clean!) will be an attraction for risk-adverse urban explorers, but it’s hard for me to imagine that a lot of people will comes out.
Back in 2004 when I moved to Germany, I constantly had to explain George W. Bush and explain why it was he was (re-)elected president. Much of the time my new friends and colleagues sought to understand how such a great country (like America) could vote for such an idiot – Republican behaving badly.
In 2008, the questions slowed, if not stopped.
Obama was understandable, intelligent, and awesome.
Maybe not perfect, but awesome nevertheless.
And, save for the Republican caused deficit crisis of 2011, when I ended up having to explain exactly how that aspect of America worked and why Republicans were behaving badly.
So, it’s been good.
Until the last few months, when the questions started flying: Donald J. Trump? Seriously?
Last week I finished reading A Boy Like Me, which is a young adult novel focusing on the story of Peyton, a boy who was born a girl.
It’s a story focusing on the trials and tribulations of being a masculine acting girl, who hates her birth name, and wants to be a guy – but isn’t. And he has a girl who he wants to be his girlfriend. Although the story is interesting, I didn’t actually find the internal motivation of Peyton to be all that strong – there was angst, but some how it seemed less internally turbulent than I expected. Peyton has a therapist who teases out the FTM aspects of Peyton’s inner-compass, but some how the inner-angst is never really communicated to the reader – at least not this reader.
I guess I’m saying that I have very mixed feelings about the book. Maybe it speaks better to the struggling FTM teenager. Since I’m not that guy, I will withhold any more serious criticism.
But it – along with an old college friend finding me on Facebook – brought me back to thinking about my attitudes toward transgender issues.
The fact is that when I was at UWyo, I thought the T in GLBT went a step too far.
But that’s because I wasn’t comfortable with myself – I wasn’t comfortable with the G in GLBT, never mind the L, the B, or the T. Coming to terms with the G took me a couple of years – it wasn’t until I was in Indiana that I came out (even if others knew before I came out – we are talking about my internal experiences here) and became comfortable with this.
Once comfortable, I was fine: I’ve been close with at least three people who are best described as transgender. If I’d met them as a freshman at UW, I would have turned and run away as fast as I could. But now it doesn’t turn my head – unless he’s exceptionally cute.
There’s a growth pattern here – an inner evolution for me as I’ve come to realize that I want everybody to be themselves – even if that means changing.
I'm an American living in Berlin, Germany -- which makes me an expatriate, not an ex-patriot. Before landing in Germany, I've lived in Denver, Colorado; Laramie, Wyoming; Bloomington, Indiana; and Weimar, Germany. If you want to write to me, feel free! The username is elmadaeu on the gmail.com service.