TQE | That Queer Expatriate

Expatriate, not ex-patriot: I'm a progressive liberal and queer American in Berlin, Germany. My roots in include 18 years in Denver, 6 in Laramie, Wyoming, 6 in Bloomington, Indiana, and 6 in Weimar, Germany. Sense a pattern? Don't want to leave a comment on this blog? Email scintillatingme at gmail.com, username "elmadaeu"

Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände

I’ve heard of Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände — an old rail yard converted into a park, of sorts, nearby to where I live, but I’ve never visited.

Until today.

Steam Engine

It’s a nice park — a 1€ entry fee (exact change required – and pay because there are random inspections) is required. Once inside there’s a small café, a water tower (a landmark), lots of abandoned rail tracks, and graffiti.

Flower and Skull

The graffiti is sanction — a list of rules at the entrance gives lots of leeway, but not painting on Sundays.

Graffiti Artists at Work

Tiergartenstrasse 4: A New Memorial in Berlin

If there’s one thing Berlin has in spades, it’s history. Lots and lots and lots of history. Much of it is depressing – the kind of history you want to forget but don’t because it should never be forgotten.

Tiergartenstrasse 4 Memorial

Like the Nazi’s Aktion T4 program that killed people who were judged to be insane and incurable; “Mercy Death,” if you will.

Tiergartenstrasse 4 Memorial

The program was based at Tiergartenstrasse 4, right in the heart of Berlin. Today the site is, primarily, home to the Berlin Philharmonic.

It is also, as of last Monday, the site of a memorial to the murdered: a 79 foot long blue glass wall.

Tiergartenstrasse 4 Memorial

This morning I had some time and was in the area – so I stopped by. Adjacent to the wall is a long informative panel, helping to contextualize the murders and put bring it all into focus: forced serializations, mercy killings, and falsified death certificates – to name a few. A few select individuals are highlighted.

Tiergartenstrasse 4 Memorial

It’s a complex display: spoken information with video in German, braille, simplified German language text (in bold yellow print), German text (in bold white print), and English (in a thin, difficult to read, white font). Thus it is accessible to many of the very people who were the targets of Aktion T4.

Tiergartenstrasse 4 Memorial

Berlin is home to a plethora of memorials – within a short walking distance there are three other memorials to the Nazi genocide: the gays, the Jews, as well as the Sinti and Roma.

On some level, it’s easy to imagine that there is memorial fatigue: I can only imagine that the dedicated Nazi holocaust memorial visitor would be visit all four in the space of a single day and leave either depressed or numb – these are, I think, memorials that need time and space between visits in order to keep the impact at a respectful and worthwhile level.

My Brief Week Abroad / A Pause That Refreshed Me / North America

As y’all may have noticed, I was in New Orleans and Montreal last month – a weeklong trip to French parts of North America.

Michel de Broin's Revolutions

Michel de Broin’s Revolutions: Climb infinitely.

At the same time, the trip had some nice moments of symmetry – things that reflected back and made the overall trip fantastic.

New Orleans was to catch-up with friends who’d I not seen in a long time; it was also my first return to the city since Katrina. On both fronts, I was happy. My friends lead a great life in a vibrant, interesting city – New Orleans is clearly a city I would consider living in, if I had to return to the States. Its principle downside is, of course, the heat and humidity.

Overflow, 2005

Overflow, 2005

While in the city I went to a sculpture garden, where I saw lots of cool statues, including one of an abstract man formed through letters. It was, to be blunt, a memorable statue. Actually, there were a lot of interesting things to look at in the park, but this one stuck out in my mind – not because of seeing it there, then, but because a few days later, up in Montreal, I looked out of a window at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and saw its twin.

Shadows II

Shadows II

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was also my introduction to Kent Monkman, an amazing artist. I’ve already blogged about him – and how I saw his work in two different museums on my first two days in Montreal. I also mentioned that I bought a catalog of his work – perhaps the most expensive book that I’ve ever purchased. Reading it this past week made me very happy.

What I haven’t mentioned here, yet, is that on my last full day in Montreal I found his work again, this time at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. The museum is a bit bewildering to wander through, but I will forever remember coming into a space, looking at it and thinking, “Wow, Kent Monkman again!”

Kent Monkman: The Night of September 12, 1759

Kent Monkman: The Night of September 12, 1759

It’s really strange – I cannot remember any specific artist ever having had this kind of effect on me before. I’m searching out his work and even considering planning a trip around visiting one of his shows.

One last, odd, moment of symmetry revolved around a book: One Man Guy. I read the book early in the trip. I’m not sure when, exactly – possibly on the plane between Munich and Houston. It’s a YA novel targeted at GLBT youth. Featuring an Armenian-American teenager with excessively overprotective parents, he manages to meet a guy who breaks him out of his shell and takes him to a Rufus Wainwright concert.

Honestly, I’ve never (knowingly) heard a Rufus Wainwright song, but there’s this conversation about his song “One Man Guy” that moved me – probably the part of the book that moved the book from being a great book to an outstanding book.

Rufus came up again, this time at the Musée McCord d’Histoire Canadienne. I’m not a music person, but when the cashier at the museum asked me if I wanted to see the “Music – Quebec: From Charlebois to Arcade Fire” special exhibit, I thought to myself, “how often am I going to be in Montreal?”

Guests are given a pair of headphones and access to an ample variety of music to listen to. This is, of course, a good thing, given that the exhibit is about music. I lost myself – considering my musicality, this is a stunning achievement on the part of the museum.

For me, the moment of symmetry came when I discovered one of that one of Rufus Wainwright’s costumes and a plaque that discussed his work, much in the same vein as in the novel.

I ended up tearing up.

My grand return to Montréal.

I’m nearing the end of my time in Montreal – it’s been a lovely few days with some nice art discoveries (Kent Monkman — I saw another one of his works today), nice long walks, and some good food.

This is not actually my first time in Montreal – in fact, Montreal was the first place I visited outside of the United States – this was back in the 80s, when I was young. I’d guess that I was 9 or 10 years old.

My paternal grandparents had a summer home north of Albany – nearby the interstate to Canada – and one summer, we headed to Montreal.

I have a lot of scattered memories related to this trip—like crossing the border into Quebec, then stopping at the Welcome Centre to get information about Montreal. The woman working behind the counter – at a welcome center a few miles north of the United States – could not speak English. That was fun for my Dad and Grandma.

Other things that I remember: the Montreal Metro ran on rubber tires and not on metal wheels, as most other subways (e.g. New York City, Berlin, London, Tokyo) do. This is true – I noticed it immediately when taking the metro: it is significantly quieter technology.

We did some shopping at a department store somewhere (I suspect la Baie) and then had lunch in Chinatown, at some restaurant on the second (US counting) floor. This sticks out in my mind because the restaurant was completely empty at lunchtime, when we arrived, and we were the only customers. We were about to leave when they insisted we stay. At the time either my Dad or Grandmother speculated that it was mob-owned, a place to launder money.

But that’s not what stuck out the most to me.

What stuck out the most was a poster that we passed somewhere on the street. It featured a completely naked, muscular, black man. He was holding himself, thus making it not X-rated.

This is the detail that I remember most from the trip – that evening, on my way to take a shower at my grandparent’s summer home, I walked naked from my bedroom to the bathroom, covering myself with my hands. My grandma, sitting in the kitchen between the bedroom and the bathroom, laughed.

That’s probably not why I chose Montreal for the back half of this vacation – at least not seriously. I’d considered a number of other places (Anchorage, Portland, and Winnipeg – to name a few) but landed on Montreal, thus making my trip this week all about French North America.

It’s been a very good, much needed week off.

Artist Love: Kent Monkman

Over the last two days, I’ve seen two amazing paintings by Kent Monkman.  One was at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the other at the Musée McCord d’Histoire Canadienne. The first really caught my eye and I spent some time exploring it’s more subtle details — before wandering on.

Kent Monkman -- at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Details — the artist faints — in “Trappers of Men”.

Then, Friday I was looking at an otherwise uninteresting exhibition about the history of Montreal when I came upon “Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and Transformation, 2014″ — really the only thing worth looking at in that exhibit. Again, the detail enchanted me.

Kent Monkman

Detail of “Welcome to the Studio: An Allegory for Artistic Reflection and Transformation, 2014″

So taken, I decided to search him out, and I picked up a copy of “The Triumph of Mischief” — a 2012 catalog covering a tour of his art that year. Amazingly, I paid $200 Canadian for a new, never opened, still sealed in plastic, copy of the book. Over on eBay, a used copy is up for grabs at US$475.

A Few French Quarter Snaps

Aunt Tiki's

Aunt Tiki’s – I passed this at noon. Looking in the door I noticed two shirtless guys at the bar. This was almost enough to get me to pop in — but I kept wandering.

I spent Monday in the French Quarter – wandering randomly, evading rain, and then meeting up with one of my hosts for a tour of the French Quarter. All-in-all, an excellent day.

Psychic did not foresee rainstorm.

Shortly after arriving at Jackson Square, I sensed it was going to storm, so I settled into a cafe. Apparently the psychic outside could not read the signs.

Fine Art

How much is the kitty in the window?

3 for 1

I like how the sign advertises “3 for 1″ — this is at a bar, with the “Responsibility Matters” in small type at the bottom.

I’m in New Orleans

If I had to pick a spot to live in the USA, New Orleans would be near the top of my list, along with Portland, Oregon. New Orleans’ advantages include a dynamic interesting city (equal to Portland) with a diverse culture (different from Portland). The real strength of NOLA comes in its Cajun and Creole food – which makes it the center of interesting American cuisine.

Blue Dot

Bacon Maple Bar up top, Red Velvet down right.

My first 24 hours I hit a number of awesome places – including Neyow’s Creole Café (excellent BBQ Shrimp), Tulane Avenue Bar (weee—I got a little drunk), Blue Dot Donuts (Bacon Maple Bar and a Red Velvet Donut), St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery, Lakefront Airport, Biscuits and Buns on Banks (an interpretation of biscuits and gravy that didn’t completely work) plus the NOMA Sculpture Garden. If you extend it to include the first 26 hours, the Parkway Bakery and Tavern gets on the list – a very nice po’boy sandwich.

St. Louis No. 1

Overflow, 2005

On the negative side, the heat and humidity in August is almost unbearable. Perhaps choosing to visit New Orleans in August was not the wisest of ideas, but I don’t regret it.

Riace Warriors

Karma

I had to have my hole cleaned :(

The first time I saw an iPhone in person, I fell in love. It was PapaScott’s iPhone 3, it was a meet-up, and I… well, I ended up getting the iPhone 3G. Eventually it was replaced with an iPhone 4, and now an iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5 actually rocks – and I have no immediate desire to replace it. I fully intend on using it for at least another 12 months. It would take an absolutely amazing update to make me think the 6 is worth while.

That said, the iPhone 5 is not without it’s flaws – I’m actually on my second. The first one (replaced instantly upon showing the problems to an Apple Store Genius) had a power button that did not work and dirt inside the camera lens.

The replacement had no such problem – and today it is my trusty friend – save for a dirt problem. It seems that the Lightening Port gets dirt in it – whatever micro-particles are in my pocket go right into the hole. Ultimately the cable stops fitting into the hole correctly and… it stops connecting and charging.

This is, I think, the only significantly annoying design flaw introduced with the iPhone 5.

It turns out that using canned air and/or a plastic tooth pick is not enough – that one must actually go to the store where the genius will take your phone to some magic service room and clean out your hole.

Which is what I did yesterday afternoon.

And now that my hole is clean, I’m one happy camper.

Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America (Scott Kaufman)

Project Plowshare by Scott Kaufman

Read this book!

Back in 1998, when I was working feverishly on my Master’s Thesis, I often wondered how many people would ever actually read my thesis.

There is that oft told story about the master’s student who stuck a $20 bill in the library copy of his thesis and then leaves town. Ten or twenty years later, he returns, goes to the library, opens up the thesis, and takes out the $20 bill.

In my case, the thesis has been cracked – at least a copy somewhere has been read because it’s cited in Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America, by Scott Kaufman.

The book came to my attention in early June when one of my friends posted a picture of it on her FB stream – and I asked her if I was cited in it. She said yes, and I hit Amazon.

As a refresher (or for those of you new to me), Project Plowshare was an attempt by the US Government to find peaceful uses for nuclear bombs (or as Scott puts it in the title, “nuclear explosives”).

My work is cited toward the back of the book – as Project Plowshare started to wind down as it lost political support. But I read the whole thing because I was curious to know more about the overall topic.

Some of the ideas included blasting out harbors in remote Alaska (and Australia), digging a new (sea-level) canal across Central America – maybe in Mexico, Costa Rica, or even Panama), or, and what I studied, to stimulate the production of natural gas in tight sandstone formations by using nuclear bombs to fracture the rocks. To name a few – there were other ideas that Scott goes over, including creating a cave under Pennsylvania to store natural gas.

While the harbor and canal ideas never really got off the ground, the idea to stimulate natural gas production through nuclear explosions, did. (“Off the ground” is entirely the wrong expression – more like “under the ground”.) Experiments were carried out in New Mexico and Colorado – with mixed results.

What I wrote my Thesis about was Wagon Wheel – specifically how the citizens of Sublette County, Wyoming, reacted to the proposal to explode five nuclear bombs under their county.

Honestly, the contribution to the realm of academic knowledge in political science is underwhelming, at best.

What I was proud of was my bibliography: of the 80 pages, the bibliography took up 9 pages – a result of having spent at least 100 hours reading old newspapers on microfilm (and if you don’t know what microfilm is, be grateful). I was also quite proud of the fact that in doing my research I was able to convince the members of the Wagon Wheel Information Committee to donate their old papers to the University of Wyoming’s archives, the American Heritage Center.

Reading Scott’s book made the hours that I spent in the basement of Coe Library worthwhile – seeing my name listed in his endnotes, plus in his bibliography is thrilling.

Of course this makes me a biased observer – but I hope you trust me when I say that the book is excellent – a worthwhile read if you’re interested in nuclear explosions, public policy, or environmental politics – to name a few areas. It’s also a primer on the efforts put forth by the American government to beat the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

His work goes far beyond the narrow focus of my research – broadening the field out and examining the larger picture of how Project Plowshare fit into the larger world and how it might be used to benefit peoples not just in the USA, but also Australia. And how it was used as a tool to keep Panama, with its canal, in line. These are aspects of which I was only vaguely, if at all, aware.

More: My Wagon Wheel Pages / Visiting Pinedale on Vacation

News Flash: Germany won the World Cup! And I don’t care.

So… I might be the last to inform you, but Germany won the World Cup just over a week ago.

To nobody’s surprise, I was part of distinct minority in Germany: the 14% that did not watch the final match. But hey: the game started at 9pm and I wanted to go to work at my normal time Monday morning. I’ve actually met one other person who did not watch the game. The name will not be revealed in order to protect the innocent.

Sunday evening I wanted to read my (then) current (now past) book, Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America. (How’s that for light reading – more on it later.)

There were a number of rain showers Sunday evening, so I’d actually shut my windows and was reading in bed when the game started at 9. I judged that some weird stuff must have happened in the first half (based on neighborhood sounds) before falling asleep around 10 or so. I woke up a fair bit later to loud cheering; well after 11pm – so I assumed that Germany had won in extra time or something. And then I slept like a blissfully ignorant baby until my alarm went off at 6:00.

Berlin, Monday morning, after the World Cup, was a bit surreal: the streets were dead. The bus at 07:30 was relatively empty. Mitte was devoid of people. In many ways it reminded me of what Berlin is like during Christmas – a total lack of people on the street – but different in that public transit was running its normal weekday schedule.

Basically I had my own private bus to the office and it was clear that the vast majority of the few people on my bus were like me: football-not-give-a-damners. One guy got on the bus in a cheap suit wearing a hat in German colors and wearing glasses with the German colors. Other people – including me – eyed him like the freak weirdo that he is until he got off the bus.

The office was also rather quiet until closer to noon – it seems that a lot of people had stayed up watching the game and then partying until the sun came up.

Tuesday, on the other hand, was the polar opposite: There was energy that one could feel – even as I desperately needed coffee – on the streets.

Now I was aware that Berlin was hosting the champions at a rally that day, but I assumed that it would start sometime after the plane landed from Rio – it was scheduled to land at 9, so I guessed noon?

Ha – I guessed way wrong. My bus had football fans – sitting behind me were two wearing championship kit and (for some reason) speaking English. I was amused when one assure the other that, “I am not drunk.” Making that kind of declarative statement at 07:30 on a Tuesday morning is not, in my experience, confidence inspiring.

The guys got off the bus at Potsdamer Platz and as I looked out the windows, I realized that the two guys were two out of at least a thousand people that were visible from my bus, all making their way to the celebration at Brandenburg Tor.

The doors to the celebration had, apparently, opened around 06:30.

I, for one, was happy to be headed to the office – last week I was drowning in work and was behind on several deadlines. The streets were certainly alive. The office was certainly not. I got a lot of work done, even with the occasional helicopter passing overhead – thankfully overhead my office did not have the best angle for capturing the crowds as the heroes received their welcome back to Germany.

There is one thing I want to clarify: I do not hate football. I just don’t care about it. The games are on my calendar only so that I know when my football loving friends are going to be busy and when the streets are going to be filled with drunken fans. I don’t watch the games because the game is, at least to me, painfully boring. It’s like watching paint dry. It’s as boring as watching American football, golf, tennis, or the Indy 500 – at least for me. I am not particular in my not watching of the American Super Bowl – I don’t watch football any other time of the year, I don’t see why I should make an exception for the “biggest” match of the year.

It is somewhat nice seeing the bounce in the steps of victorious Germans – but, to be honest, I haven’t seen anybody who was directly and personally involved in the World Cup yet – in person. I did make a point of glancing through photos of the German players and I can safely say that I would walk right past any of them on the street without a second glance – I wouldn’t recognize them for who they are and I wouldn’t turn my head because not one of them is physically attractive. Save for the head coach – who I would recognize and I bet would be interesting to talk to, assuming you could get him to stop talking about football because football as an inherent subject would keep my interest for about, errr… 30 seconds.

As for what I’m thinking about the World Cup right now – I actually have been giving the 2018 tournament a lot of thought. Currently it is scheduled to be in Russia. This scares me: putting the World Cup in Russia is a chance for Putin to showcase his country – a country that is increasingly homophobic and likely responsible for providing the equipment that was used to shoot down MH17.

The 2018 World Cup needs to move.