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"

25 Years Later: I have no idea where I was when the Berlin Wall fell.

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling.

It’s interesting – for the first time, that I can recall, I was asked what I was doing when I heard that the wall had opened – and it occurred to me that I really have no memory of the event, when it happened.

Lichtgrenze & Berlin Mauer

Lichtgrenze & Berlin Mauer — together in one of the few places where the original Berlin Wall still stands, next to Niederkirchnerstraße.

The days that are crystal clear to me are Space Shuttle Challenger exploding, the day that news about Matthew Shepard broke, and September 11th.

But not November 9, 1989.

It is, however, clear for my older German friends – not so much for the younger ones. And in retrospect, it’s hard to underestimate how important that day was in history – and how much the East German experience says about the capacity of man to act inhumanly toward his fellow man.

Lichtgrenze

The Lichtgrenze made for challenging photography — I didn’t want to cause any accidents, so I didn’t bring my tripod. I wish other photographers had been more respectful.

To mark the 25th anniversary, a “Lichtgrenze” was put up through Berlin – marking the core path through the city center where the Berlin Wall once stood.

other 004

Lichtgrenze at night.

It was an interesting concept – large balloons were put on top of polls along the path, and then messages were attached, with string, to each balloon. Lit by a lamp, the balloons stood along the path of the Berlin Wall throughout the weekend, culminating in their release Sunday evening starting at about 7pm – roughly when the wall was breached back in 1989.

Lichtgrenze - Liftoff

Lift off of the balloons along the Lichtgrenze — speeding off into the night sky.

I spent a couple hours Sunday evening wandering the Lichtgrenze with Snooker in Berlin – about a kilometer of it – making note of how it looked. For me, it worked – the brightly lit, white balloons slowly bobbing in the wind – the excitement of people wandering along the lights – waiting for the runner to come along and tell the man guarding each poll that it was time to release the balloon.

Balloon -- Caught

Some of the balloons only travel a few meters before becoming captured. There’s a metaphor there, but I’m not going to touch it..

And then it was over – a few balloons made it no further than the tree above and a few had to be tugged loose from their polls – but ultimately the Lichtgrenze “slipped the surly bonds of earth” – vanishing more quickly than the actual Berlin Wall, which can still be found in a Las Vegas men’s room.

Berlin Wall: Repurposed

The Berlin Wall is everywhere, including this Las Vegas casino bathroom!

49 States… plus DC and Guam

Me at the Southern Most Point

Me at the Southern Most Point of the 50 United States.

One of my long-term goals is to visit all 50 United States.

Surfing Weather...

Such a stereotypical photo of Hawaii, eh?

My 49th State was Hawaii – time zone speaking 12 (now 11) hours different from Germany. Honolulu was supposed to be a non-stop flight away from Denver, but due to a malfunctioning APU, there was an unexpected 3-hour stop in LAX.

Surfing!

Riding the wave… in the morning sun.

Thus, missing our scheduled connection meant a late arrival into Kona and no idea what was awaiting us at our vacation condo rental – although we knew it was next to the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing ashore was obvious.

Steam Venting

Steam Venting at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. Looks a lot like battlefield photos, but it’s not, I promise.

I would return to Kona – although the heat and humidity is not for me. My sister and I had a nice time, doing strange things: we visited the southern most point of the 50 United States, stopped by Volcanoes National Park, drove Saddle Road, toured an artists village, toured a coffee plantation, saw a sea turtle, bought Kona Coffee, and visited the astronomy center.

Coffee on the Tree

Coffee on the tree…

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle in the ocean.

We spent two nights in Honolulu – doing three interesting things: Pearl Harbor, the State Capitol, and the Bishop Museum. The rest of what we did in Honolulu was enough to discourage me from ever returning to the city: sit in traffic.

Honestly, I cannot remember having ever sat in so much traffic before. We spent 30 minutes to go less than a half a mile at one point. Remember that scene in LA Stories where some old man using a walker passed the traffic without breaking a sweat? Yeah – Honolulu is that bad. The Dole Plantation was, after one ate the obligatory Dole Whip, dull. The two-mile Pineapple Express Train Ride was forgettable.

USS Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona, poking above the water.

USS Arizona -- Leaking Oil

Oil continues to leak from the USS Arizona.

But, as I said, Honolulu’s salvation (so to speak) came in the form of three good things – although the “goodness” of Pearl Harbor is debatable. The memorial is very well done – I found it impressive, rising to the occasion. The exhibits were relatively well balanced, including explanations of what drove Japan to attack, and highlighting their goals.

Hawaiian State Capitol

Hawaiian State Capitol

The State Capitol was also quite impressive, although we were unable to visit the chambers because they were being used to help coordinate next week’s election. We stopped by the governor’s office, which is most impressive, even seeing a portrait of Governor Quinn, Hawaii’s last territorial governor, and first state governor. This was especially neat as I had watched Governor Quinn stump the panelists of a 1958 episode of What’s My Line.

The last redeeming feature of Honolulu was the Bishop Museum, which has an amazing collection of artifacts representing not just historic Hawaiian life, but also covering the peoples of the Pacific. I learned a great deal at this museum and saw some amazing artifacts.

Hawaiian Hall, Bishop Museum

This is the Hawaiian Hall at the Bishop Museum.

One of the coolest things that I learned was that a man from Micronesia knew how to navigate using just the stars – and that he came to Hawaii in the 1970s and taught Hawaiians how to travel – a skill that they had lost over time. The skill was put to good use when a team sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti without the aid of any modern navigation equipment in 1976. There is now a team of two boats going around the world without any modern navigation equipment – a three-year journey.

As for my goal regarding all 50 US States? My goal line shifted last April when I accomplished my goal of having visited all hubs for United Airlines – by flying to both Tokyo/Narita and Guam. Guam is a US Territory and it made me realize that I should include all five inhabited (and easy to visit) US territories. I’ll be off to Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. And Alaska.

Care to join me?

I am the king of bad timing – No falling back for me.

This year I have managed to spring forward twice, but I am never falling back.

Back in March I was in Chicago (well, Evansville, Indiana) for the spring forward that marks Daylight savings – lost an hour of sleep there. Then I returned to Berlin and experienced the spring forward there as well.

In other words, twice I lost an hour of sleep.

Now that fall is here, it’s time to fall back – Berlin fell back last weekend. I was in Hawaii – no extra hour of sleep for me. The United States falls back Saturday night – I’ll be landing in Berlin as time shifts on the American east coast – thus meaning that I will not get that extra hour of sleep.

How’s that for travel planning: twice losing an hour of sleep, twice missing an extra hour of sleep.

I’ve cheated myself.

Hawaiian Sunset

Hawaii Sunset

I’m a Mile High… and feeling it.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Visiting Denver is a challenge – it’s 5,280 feet above elevation – 1600 meters for those in metric.

I spent much of my first day in downtown Denver, which rests just below this elevation, visiting with a friend. It took only 4 hours before I was winded – breathing heavily, feeling miserable.

The elevation was getting me.

Since then my I’ve acclimated to the elevation – I’m not energetic, but I can do things like walk without feeling exhausted just because I’m moving.

Until today: I popped up to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in order to admire its beauty. It’s a natural amphitheater in a stunningly beautiful setting. Driving up there I didn’t expect to be alone, but I expected, at most, a handful of people admiring its inherent awesomeness.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

I was not alone.

It turns out Red Rocks is an exercise mecca for people in the area – and it’s set at 6,400 feet above sea level—so nearly 2000 meters.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

As I sat, catching my breath, I watched people run back and forth along the seating area, I watched people run up and down, and I watched people do all kinds of uncomfortable looking maneuvers.

It was enough to exhaust me just watching.

This altitude sickness has affected me before – and I fully understand my Mom’s complaint about what it is like to come up to Denver – and how long it takes to adjust. I imagine that if I were hanging out in Denver full time, the extra 1200 feet it takes to go from downtown to Red Rocks wouldn’t kill me. That said, less than a week is not long enough for me to do it comfortably.

Fall = Pumpkin Spice MADNESS in the USA!

Snaps, Pasta Sauce, Popcorn

I love the Pumpkin Snaps, I can leave the Pumpkin Spice Popcorn. I’ll try the pasta sauce tonight

Pumpkin Ice Cream

If I weren’t lactose intolerant.

Yesterday I popped into a Spouts Market – an American Organic Supermarket chain that is challenging Whole Foods by being affordable.

What immediately caught my eye is the appearance of Pumpkin Spice – and other “pumpkin” – flavored goods.

Now I’m aware of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte – something I partake of about three times each fall (omg! What a sugar rush!) before deciding I don’t need it again for a long time.

In Germany I also partake of Pumpkin Ravioli – fresh made and sold at one of my nearby street markets. The end of Pumpkin Ravioli season is always a tremendous disappointment in my book.

Pumpkin Spice Sweets

I did not buy these.

America, though, has taken it to a whole new level – with a seriousness that caught me completely off guard: pumpkin snaps, pumpkin spice popcorn, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin spice chips, pumpkin – well, if you can imagine it, Sprouts probably has it in pumpkin flavor.

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

Nor did I buy this.

Pumpkin Tortilla Chips

I bet these are disappointing.

Sparkling Pumpkin Spiced Apple Cider

With this, your entire dinner could be pumpkin.

Matthew Wayne Shepard, † October 12, 1998

Cowboy Pride FlagWow, another year has rolled around.

This doesn’t feel as raw as it did the first time, but I still go back through the memories of everything I felt that week, when I was in Bloomington, Indiana, and all the attention was on Laramie, Wyoming.

With distance – both in terms of time (16 years now!) and distance (5,019 miles/ 8077 km) – come inherent dampening. Younger people – gay or not – don’t viscerally know who Matthew Shepard is and the (unfortunate) role that he plays in Queer History. Germans my age might not know as much about him – although his impact was global, certainly the majority of the impact was within the boundaries of the United States.

But remembering him and his pointless, untimely, death is something that I do.

Even as same sex marriage is (finally) being made available to Americans (albeit slowly), I still get the privilege of seeing facebook “friends” of friends tell us that the federal government shouldn’t be telling local governments that have banned same sex marriage that the ban is unconstitutional – and that the right to same sex marriage is just like gun control laws. (There’s a certain lack of intelligence, logic, and empathy….)

I shouldn’t let this get under my skin – I should be magnanimous toward the less well educated. (How on earth did they never take a class on US Government? Or if they did, how could such a class omit the concept of “Judicial Review,” as well as the checks and balances built into the three-branch set-up of American government? It boggles the imagination.)

Sorry, I digress.

Today I’ll be wallowing a bit in things Wyoming and things about Matthew Shepard. Re-reading October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (a set of poetry), re-watching the HBO production of The Laramie Project, and – early in the morning – listening to a little bit of Cowboy football (the team is playing at Hawaii, and although the game is Saturday for them, for me, it is first thing Sunday morning.) There will be some brown and gold in my life, as well as some Jason Collins (Number 98!).

For historical reference, see 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, or any of the many times he’s been mentioned on my blog via a search for Matthew Shepard.

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.