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.
Last weekend I popped up to see friends, and on Friday we went to pick up my friend’s son at grundschule – elementary school.
I think that it was my first time inside an elementary school in years – to be honest I cannot remember the last time I was inside one – and it was interesting.
The first thing I noticed is that the school lacked the security that I typically expect exists in American elementary schools: a locked front door, a paranoid secretary guarding it, and a strong fence. We waltzed right in the front door and were immediately confronted with a massive chaotic crowd of screaming kids – running all about.
Clearly this is not my environment.
But what immediately popped into my head was my father’s comment about elementary school.
Actually, he said it was misnamed: it should be named Yellamentary school.
I might have been a bit too young to fully appreciate his observation at the time, but today – I totally agree.
I’m ending the year (right now) at 116 books, plus a second book that I’ve not finished because, well… this time because it’s terrible.
Tonight I’m going to start reading what’s either book 117 or book 1: The Eternal Zero (Naoki Hyakuta; translated by Chris Brynne and Paul Rubin). The book was just translated into English, but it’s also a movie that I’ve once seen while flying ANA. It’s a movie that I suspect most Americans would abhor, especially since it features a heroic Japanese pilot during World War II.
In the meantime, here are the books that I’ve already finished:
111) Selling Apartheid: South Africa’s Global Propaganda War (Ron Nixon) – This is an interesting book that examines how the white led South African government did its best to sell apartheid to the world, even going so far as to co-opt African-Americans to lobby the US Government against sanctions. Although fascinating, the book is one of those works that reminds me that humanity is filled with inhuman assholes.
112) Focus on Me (Megan Erickson) – This is a semi-sweet gay romance novel featuring a character with a mental issue. The book worked as mental relief whenever Selling Apartheid got a bit too heavy.
113) Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates) – This is an impressive work that examines what it means to be African-American in America – the binding constraints that come with it.
114) Purity (Johnathan Franzen) – I’d never heard of Johnathan Franzen before he came up in conversation in October – and Purity was proposed to be a book club book. A copy was loaned to me and I tackled it over Christmas. The book is incredibly long, incredibly dense, and incredibly boring – at least for me. I didn’t get some parts of the story and, to be frank, I didn’t care.
115) Pleasured (Philip Hensher) – This is a strange Berlin-centric novel that starts in December 1988 and ends after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Early in the book there’s a rant about how Berlin is being gentrified and that people are being forced out because they can no longer afford to live in the city. Strangely, I’ve heard this rant several times in the last twelve months.
116) Confessions of a D.C. Madam: The Politics of Sex, Lies, and Blackmail (Henry W. Vinson) – This is an interesting memoir of Henry Vinson, who was the man behind one of Washington D.C.’s male escort businesses in the 1980s. There are many amusing aspects to his life, the prostitution aspect, and the blackmail. The book is certainly an engaging page-turner, even if I’m not sure I believe everything he says.
And the second unfinished book of the year: Promised to Two Bears (Bear Mountain Book 4) (Kelex) – This is a terrible gay(ish) romance novel that should never have been written.
Back in October, while visiting my family, I picked up a small stack of random mail that had some how found my Mom’s mailbox instead of my mailbox. And by mail, I mean actual letters, delivered by a friendly person in a uniform.
It looks like your membership renewal has come and gone. We last received a gift from you on 3/26/1998. It is our hope that you will renew your membership today and help keep Public Radio alive and well in Wyoming.
This is the kind of letter that makes me snort: a mere 17.5 years after I last donated money to Wyoming Public Radio (and it was Wyoming Public Radio back then), they tracked me down – at the wrong address – and begged for money.
Make no mistake, Wyoming Public Radio, at least when I was listening to it back in the 1990s, was the finest public radio station in America. I was still listening to Colorado Public Radio whenever I commuted home, but CPR was mediocre, with illusions of grandeur.
It wasn’t actually until after I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, and suffered through WFIU-FM, that I came to understand how incredibly good Wyoming Public Radio was – WFIU was (and presumably still is) the most pretentious, odious, awful public radio station in America. Held hostage by classical music freaks, I once heard the station apologize for omitting a five-minute interlude of classical music due to an excess of important news.
As a Master’s student hard at work on my thesis, KUWR’s morning music program, which I think was hosted by Don Woods, was the most delightful mix of contemporary music – the perfect accompaniment to endless typing and sorting of source materials.
Wyoming Public Radio was a station I wholeheartedly supported – even volunteering to work the phones during their fund raising drives.
Which I guess makes it all the more ironic that I received this letter – 17.5 years later. It’s not that I do not miss Wyoming Public Radio Media, it’s that I haven’t listened to their programming on a regular basis since moving from Wyoming.
The letter was worth a laugh and a blog post, but my wallet remains closed to the station – I’m donating to the University of Wyoming, just not its radio station.
Another Christmas has rolled around – so to those of you of that particular faith tradition, Merry Christmas!
In the run up to this year’s celebration, I decided not to inflate my Christmas tree, instead opting to have a Spartan display consisting of a Christmas Tea Towel.
But at the same time friends sent me pictures of their real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) trees.
Which brought back memories of growing up.
As a kid we had a real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) tree each year, one that we personally cut down in a US Forest north of Denver. The annual adventure to cut down the tree is one of my favorite memories: we would get up early, get in the car, and drive north from Denver to Fort Collins, where we would get off the highway and get breakfast at McDonald’s. As a young kid I slept most of the way from Denver to McDonald’s.
After breakfasting, we would drive north on US 287, hang a left somewhere (I believe toward Red Feather Lakes), then into the forest, where the Forest Service had authorized tree cutting. We would hike through the snow – always deep and powdery (as I recall it) – until we found the perfect tree.
Using an axe to cut down the Christmas tree was an act signaling novice Christmas tree cutters, at least according to my Dad. He would pull out his trusty bow saw in order to quickly and efficiently bring the tree down.
From there, the tree would be carried back to the car and tied on the roof – stump first. Then we were off to the exit, where we would pay the US Forest Service for the trees, and a tag applied to each one, signaling that it was legally acquired.
There’s something to be said for real, authentic, living (at least for a brief while longer) trees – other than the tree sap. As I recall it, trees leak a lot of sap – leaving hands, jackets, and gloves sticky.
As a somewhat confirmed neat freak, the prospect of sticky tree sap on my clothing, or my apartment floor, appalls me, even as the memories make me feel cozy and happy.
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.