Thursday, June 28, 2007

two different parties

first was namratas easy beautiful party at madh. the cottage this time was , i think, the nicest of the many we have gone to. it was raining like hell and the breeze was lovely. we sat in the verandah or danced away in the large room inside that became our dancefloor. we got home late and decided to crash at avon and woke up late last sunday.

the second was the huge celebrity wedding for whose reception mukul, mukuls parents and me drove to the grand maratha sheraton yesterday. when we got there the flower decorations were still being hung and we were twenty minutes late. it seemed more like a film set than a reception as cameramen, lights and other equipment jostled for prime position pushing all the guests into uncomfortable corners and on the too few seats for the number of people. the couple was running late and after watching a few celebrities big and small we decided to leave after two hours of waiting. mukuls parents were getting tired and we had no idea how long the event would take.

a new skyscraper

i was in berlin i think, when this featured in the mumbai mirror. i found it today on bldgblog. incredibly gross!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

film recap - beyond the silence . bridge to terabithia . the missing star . jhoom barabar jhoom

jenseits der stille (beyond the silence)

so much sentiment happens when khamoshi repeats in german. a daughter of deaf and dumb parents wants to become a musician. the emotional strings pulled are the same, the sickening sweetness the same- the music not the same.

bridge to terabithia

in spite of my resistance to its title and the poster, forced to watch it on the flight back home, I loved the film. the life of a shy unassuming closet artist is transformed completely when a feisty girl moves in next door and shows him a way to tap his own imagination. terabithia lies on the other side of a stream and the bridge is a swinging vine of a tree.

stella che non c'è, la – the missing star

a journey through the fantastic landscapes of a transforming china from the glitz of shanghai to the factories in the rural hinterland. an italian engineer discovers a flaw in a blast furnace that has recently been sold to a chinese company. he follows it down to somewhere in the middle of china with more than a little help from a translator who is going through her own journey as the value systems of the country change.

jhoom barabar jhoom

it is no wonder that the film will in all probability not work for most. its campy arch humor took some time for me to get into but once in it, i giggled away at the sly take on a india pakistan love affair in britain. it is completely implausible nonsense very smartly done. stories are told by a couple meeting at a railway station about their love lives involving other people. strangely for a film as plotless as this one it does not seem like it treats the audience as idiots. it expects you to along with the flow and its not very difficult when the music is good, the choreography cool and the actors all very charming. but for me the film was made just that much more watchable by the sizzling feline lara dutta who eats up the screen even when amitabh bachchan is on it. i watched only her.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

the berlin chronicles (and one day in milan)

its always a task at the end of a trip to summarize it as easily as possible. its tough when it is a city that you are familiar with but it’s a hundred times worse when it is a place you have never been. the urge to make generalizations and simplifications is great and so is the impulse to judge based on what one is already familiar with. i cannot be free of both, but by choosing to do this chronologically and completely based on the events that occurred, i hope to be able to at least record for my own sake the things that i came across in the order that i came across them. like a diary. and like most diaries perhaps tedious for most people to sit through. so forgive me people. maybe some diversions into unsolicited opinions and illustrating images might provide some entertainment.
day 1 – 9th june

besides me on the plane was a teacher from pune flying for the first time to her sisters in new jersey. she wore sneakers below her salwar kameez like my mother would have. such a long journey for some is so short for others. while i merely went from a city to another; a generation earlier had the privilege of being able to traverse so much greater distances- in time and space. from a small town in maharashtra to new york city. she struggled with the button to call the stewardess for water. i said goodbye to her at milan after showing her to her gate.

at milan airport the silence of the space struck me as strange. no muzak no din of people- the interior space completely cut off from the outside. the berlin airport was very different. anne had come to pick me up- she recognized me from the blog (scary what i can and cant write here) the inner city airport – anne called it and as i waited for anand- who was on a flight a few minutes later – i sat in the atrium walkway drinking my first european coffee and watching people walk by.

the apartment that anne had managed for us was in prenzlauer berg- a typical berlin apartment i was told that belonged to friend of hers who was out of town- luckily for us. it was a simply meagerly furnished – a few mattresses and a bookshelf- flat, that overlooked a courtyard in the middle of a typically spare berlin block. i slept in the outside room while anand took the inner room.

the courtyard of the apartment at prenzlauer berg

prenzlauer berg was an old workers living area in the east. it was decrepit and devastated when the wall came down. over the past few years it has been yuppyfied and coffee shopped into domesticity. all the edges have been erased and a soft easiness rests on the streets. most of the people on the streets were young men and women wearing the clothes of the new well-to-do. we had desert at one of the cafes there before heading for lunch to a vietnamese place close by with gunter.

flea market at prenzlauer berg

there is something about the new nostalgia for the years of the communist regime that has been aestheticised and commodified. at ‘ici! berlin’ the high end special designer shop where anand bought sexy sunglasses, posters of mao-tse tung enlarged like they were on a street in beijing looked on as an american self proclaimed ‘designer’ offered unsolicited advice on face cuts and frame sizes.

anne at ici! berlin

as anand was on a shopping spree, at alexander platz (whose meaning for me is only veer’s thesis) he bought a camera. the spare barren square was overlooked by the monumental tv tower and east german banal commercial buildings. close by, inside the dome a huge organ waited to play music, and across the road from the schinkel museum they ere reconstructing an exact replica of another schinkel building. this was my first encounter with the grave historical consciousness of berlin. on a billboard near the spree river a developers board proclaims “recycling is better than reconstruction”. anne complained about the erasure of east german history by removing its traces in the form of buildings.

tv tower- alexanderplatz

if all you can drink free wine is offered i must remember not to drink too much. i was tipsy the first night after a café near a red church offered the same.

day 2 – 10th june

it was sunday and anand was still sleeping when i went for a walk down the pretty but boring streets of prenzlauer berg. later when anand and anne went for a walk to the flea market i chose to meet indru and suparna at the water tower nearby that has been converted into a housing project. they came to pick me up and took me to their apartment at hermannplatz.

that was to be my first encounter with the house that was to make me completely love berlin. from the very beginning i felt like i was walking into a house full of friends. the overlapping multi accented voices, the leg pulling and the ease by which they enveloped me. first the introductions. indru- my host- was the caretaker of all. a doctor by profession, half bengali and half german. his girlfriend miri was away in israel. mai from israel was studying political science in berlin while giving hebrew classes. her cameroonian boyfriend mbolo was visiting for the weekend. yasmin is also an israeli jew and married to osama- a palestinian whom she met at a animal shelter. they cant live together anywhere in israel or palestine as their marriage is considered invalid in some way. she is a ballet dancer who teaches hebrew and cleans rich german houses to make ends meet; while he is a sculptor who does whatever odd jobs he can. matthaes and tali were from new york- she a lawyer and he is studying german history at columbia. and then there was suparna- architecture student from delhi, here in germany for her internship.

yasmin, andreas, suparna, mbolo, indru

suparna yasmin osama tali indru

as we lounged in the living room and conversation and laughter overlapped indru played some french punk rock and then followed it up with a video of yasmin's last stage performance which she was using to get other work.

the sun goes down very late in berlin in these months and we then decided to go for a picnic to a lake an hour away – schalchtensee – or slaughterlake- where that comes from i don’t want to guess.

swimming in the summer in a lake on the second day in berlin was not something i had foreseen. i borrowed indrus swimming trunks and floated in the freezing water. the lounging golden bodies, fit and active so different from my own puny brown shapeless one lounged in the sun, and cheerleaders practiced their moves in the water.

yasmin osama indru and football on the lawns at schalstensee

the lake and cheerleaders

dinner was at prenzlauer berg again with anand and anne and a few of her friends. it was anne's birthday. the pizza place was and open to sky café whose specialty with horse meat i just had to try.

day 3 – 11th june

potsdamer platz

as we had to get to the technical university late, anand and me went to potsdamer platz in the morning where he showed me around the starchitecture that has invaded it in the past ten years. if you do go there you always begin at the three skyscrapers from the east. the renzo piano, the hans kolhoff tower and the helmut jahn sony center. the skyline tapers away from the main junction with the foster building that looks like a spaceship overlooking a desolate geometric landscape where no one sits. its all rather glitzy and shiny. the piano building is a mall with a internal “street” that could be inorbit with fancy skin. the skin being of course a shimmering glass and steel thing which floats above our heads and disintegrates. the drama is about “effect” on a visual level, never even approaching the sensual. the isozaki building has at its base an undulating landscape for imaginary skateboarders- who have found somewhere more hospitable to be free in. jahn is the least pretentious of the lot. at least he knows that it is spectacle that is needed. and he gives it to us in red slits rising in cascades to a monumental tensile roof. the surfaces around are overrun with advertisement and multi media madness. a fountain that pisses in some computer controlled pattern- indecipherable to humans. but none of this is for people- it is for consumers. i was told that you are constantly under surveillance here. which would be fine if it was a private space- but it is public. or was public until corporatism took it over. freedom to buy is the only real freedom.

the lonely little old building sandwiched in between foster and piano
piano and the glass detail



scharouns musical instrument museum reflected off jahns sony center
sony center

if we just looked over the corner of the square to the older buildings that lie in the shadow of the piano designed neo fascist monumentality (indrus words- not mine) we see mies’ elegant truly modern new national gallery- black steel expressed as such. a gigantic gesture whose very simplicity defies all of the new starchitecture. or even the other masterpiece- the golden curves of the philharmonic by scharoun, where the animal like scales break down to a more humane grittiness as they reach the ground.

anne’s studio at the t u is on the 4th floor of an old building and the kids were downstairs on the third in a large hall. as she prepared the kids for the jury, anand and me took a walk to savignyplatz in charlottenburg- an upmarket housing district with town houses and gardens so well kept, its like they were in a picture book. below the s-bahn- the elevated railway line there is a series of shops and restaurants including one fantastic architectural and art book shop- where everything was either in german or too expensive for me.

the workshop / studio (final destination – longing) that i was in berlin for was organised by anne- and was common programme between german landscape architecture students and a group of 18 from mysore to design a piece of land outside the main railway station in berlin. by making it as conceptual and utopian as possible the attempt was to imagine through concepts rather than through economic realities. the students presented their work and we tore into them one after the other- rather brutally- much to anne’s discomfort. while so many people spoke of freedom of choice in public space, very few knew what that meant. and then there was the urge for the informal in the seemingly ‘strict’ german public sphere. this of course came from the indians. the tussle between the two disciplines and the cultures was beginning. this was a far cry from the final jury.

i met indru and the rest of the gang at an italian restaurant on the banks of a river park with swans in it and walked back to their house to sleep as i was too tired and sleepy to imagine taking a train back home.

day 4 – 12th june

the big starchitecture day. after a detour through the zoo station, i took a bus to the other side of town and is it went through the embassy district , the tiergarten, unter der linden to alexanderplatz to the east where high rise housing estates rose in bleak landscapes, i finally saw the other berlin. here high rise housing blocks seemed like they had fallen in disrepair. people hung around in the small shade that some trees provided and looked poorer.

i had planned this as a checklist day- and it turned out to be quite a long walk. at the reichstag's glittering dome i forgot to look at the proceedings below much to busy taking in the overdone baroque tectonics of the dome.

is there nowhere that you are safe from architects? parag from cept recognized me from my tantrum at the kurula varkey forum a few years back and came up to me. we walked together through the greatest hits of berlin beginning with even more shimmering glass at the nouvel mall on freidrichstrasse.



i find it difficult to fall for the high concept trauma mining of architects in berlin. i found that both the much vaunted jewish museum and its equivalent holocaust memorial by eisenman highly ineffective. both play out postures of trauma and sell it like an experience to be felt- to ‘feel’ like a victim. or to ‘feel’ guilt for a crime i did not commit. they attempt to replace the body of the victim with the body of a visitor/tourist. the tourist can never become the victim- and he knows that. there is no way that architecture can control the fickle nature of the human psyche that will use the paraphernalia of trauma for its own purpose. to click photographs against the grey walls, or to play hide and seek between the concrete blocks. that is not the fault of the receptor of the piece. it is a fallacy in architectural thinking. a far more honest and effective way to address this would be in accepting the gaze of a visitor as a necessary separator between the events of history and its reception/understanding. i guess this explains why the overwrought tower of silence, or the self conscious void of silence all seem like rides in an amusement park. the other problem is architectural as each of these spaces are entered through the most traditional museum spaces. if space has to evoke emotion the transitions in between are the key.



berlin wall as fragments - one as monument/ memorial- the other as advertising

in the 1990s the area around checkpoint charlie was a hot bed of designer housing projects. our long walk back took us through so many of them, the hertzberger romance of white concrete and overgrown gardens being the first and the hejduk oddity being the second. i would have missed eisenmans corner building with the façade of criss crossing grids if it were not for the fact that i was looking for it. down the streets from here were more recent buildings by koolhaas and sauerbruch and hutton tower of pink and red stripes. aldo rossi's stark berlin block and zaha hadid's shard of metal were also on the way to potsdamer platz. nothing really much to talk about here. the walk then took us past the red sandstone indian embassy, the nordic green paneled and the mexican concrete box. the bauhaus museum was closed. tiergarten had naked men lounging in the sun under the wings of the angel of berlin.



eisenmen and koohaas

sauerbruch and hutton



it was the housing projects of the iba 1987 that were the subject of a lecture at the school. an artist was working on saving a building by ungers from demolition and she presented the project in the most romantic way. we took a walk to the beer garden in the tiergarten with a few students to console them and then went to a seedy gold and red bar at prenzlauer berg for a drink.

day 5 – june 13th

work day mostly. started out at t u where anand gave a presentation of his work with hcp- mostly cleaning and reorganizing public space including the sabarmati river front. at the presentation politics reared it truly ugly head with a slide modi standing over the model directing architecture like he directed marauding mobs of hindus. that’s more than a little unfair, i know but architecture and its relationship to power was never more apparent. within the system we try and find the least possible violence- or aid and abet in the crime while putting on a pretty face on it all. later met gunter, jakob, ali and katherina- all of whom seem to interested in one way or the other in india. i showed jakob and kathertina the design cell work and spoke of possible exchanges.

hansaviertel is probably the first big modern architecture exhibition in berlin that has left its mark. it is still visited by designers craving for the good old days of modernism- as a style. unfortunately this is not accompanied by a parallel ideological position. the buildings in the complex are just a few minutes walk away from the t u. slabs and towers set in a landscape. the aalto building was the most beautiful to me- breaking the monotony of the slab with his soft scaling devices.




a distance away from hansaviertel to the north, over the river and past a turkish albanian neighbourhood- who use the street very differently than the germans- is the aeg turbine factory by behrens- easily my favorite building in berlin. the monumental muscular brown façade and the expressive steel joinery details and the delicate green lines sits on the corner of a street. early modernism.

i had carried my bags on hat day to move to indrus house and left them with the watchman at the t u. i picked them up and found my way to hermannplatz for the night. suparna made cauliflower.

day 6 – june 14th

anand, suparna and me were local experts from india for projects in the architecture school that had used google earth and the internet as serious research tools. most of the students had not been to india and claimed to intervene in a landscape that they had figured out only through a computer screen. this is not to claim that physically experiencing a space automatically gives you knowledge, but for me experience is an integral part of an architectural experience and when that does not exist the role of architecture is further and further away from what it claims to be its domain the making of space for inhabitation. spaces that allow one to be and to become – everyday life and desire. with cyber research both seem to be reduced to the most basic parameters of pattern making and monolithic monuments.

one student wanted to intervene in alang- caught up in the romance of the half eaten ships and the stories of horrors on the yards; another wanted to build a skyscraper in mumbai. the students who had been to india did seem to have the most sophisticated projects. not very surprising.

this took almost the entire day after which anand and me too a long ride to weisensee to the place that gunter teaches at. it is an art school in the old east with central courtyard. a wine party was on to bid farewell to an old teacher. the school was surrounded by drab workers housing decorated by patterns applied on the surface. the more banal and drab the housing the more flowery the decoration. on one building fish flew all over the surface and even out of the façade, while on another there were birds.

we had dinner with anupama, luis, ali, anne and christopher at an italian place in prenzlauer berg. the duck in strawberry sauce was divine- though expensive. ali gave me lift back to hermannplatz past the new dutch embassy by koolhaas and its twisted ramp. he drove past the neighbourhood of kreuzberg telling me stories of increasing gentrification and cleansing. i was hear more about that from indru later.

anupama luis christopher

day 7- june 15th

on this day i wanted to see the outskirts of the city. the places where the industrial lands and the suburbs are. i took a train to the ikea shop on the ring rail. here across a network of highways large warehouses sold stuff in bulk. the ikea shop was enormous. here internal landmarks are the only indication of where you are. the outside is completely lost to you and you are submerged in piles and piles of lamps, chairs, vases, tables, fake flowers. every edge of town might look the same.

took the train to the center of town and walked through the museum district including the schinkel museum again. the neo classical ponderousness of unter der linden was littered with tourists posing for photographs. the buildings were being renovated for the new image of berlin as tourist capital and many were wrapped in advertising hoardings. it’s a cleansed old looking berlin that seems to be the image that the city wants to project. there are no disturbances on the surface. perhaps the reconstruction of an ideal past is a way to deal with its traumatic history. some claim otherwise. some say it’s a lie. this recreation of an idealized past conceals the real violence being done against minorities and the lower classes.

there is strange thing about berlin and building wrappers. christo had wrapped the reichstag once. a spectacle that is now repeated by the wrapping of buildings by advertising and by printouts of the facades of the future building. i guess this must be a required regulation to make sure that the new does not clash with the old. feathers must not be ruffled- especially in a city with such a strong though twisted historical consciousness. and its even more ironic when that consciousness is made into commodity and spectacle.

the guggenheim museum is also on the same road that leads from the brandenburg gate to the reichstag. inside there was an exhibition called ‘affinities’ that attempted to draw parallels between different artists. some of the similarities were really quite a stretch though i did got to see some interesting famous work from barbara kruger, kandinsky, cezanne, etc. another long walk ahead led me through potsdamer platz again to zoo station and the memorial church the broken spire of a church destroyed in the aerial raids on the city- another one of berlins scars that it displays- this time from the second world war. the erotik museum was close by and i chickened out from going in alone, preferring instead the pristine space of the bauhaus museum.


memorial church

erotik museum

bauhaus chess set

bauhaus museum building

exhibition pavillion for proposals for building expansion

the gropius building is brilliant in the way that it breaks down the scale of the building with ramps and split levels. inside masterpieces of the bauhaus furniture were the ones that most fascinated me. i fell in love with modern design again. the museum shop was ridiculously over priced for a place that is supposed to sell industrial products to serve society.

nearby i chanced upon the tiergarten housing project master planned by rob krier. the gateway building makes an entry into a long shaft of a garden around which different architects have built smaller apartment buildings. again here the postmodern historical revivalism of the 1980s that was so strong in the iba exhibition of 1987.

tiergarten housing

the final jury of the workshop was at 6 in the evening and it went off very well. the students had managed to make some interesting projects and some interesting ideas- with more than a little help from anne and christopher. the one that really took my breath away was a project that integrated the history of the site to create what they called and ‘emotional’ space. it was lovely. and beautifully drawn. i think sometimes we forget the importance of the drawing- as was apparent a few hours before when at the architecture department anand rightfully lost his cool at a student for assuming that the drawing is less important than the idea- as they can be separated.

the head of the landscape department, anne, me, anand, christopher and champa

there was an architecture exhibition on at a nearby gallery. the young turks (i mean that only metaphorically- not a single brown man here) of the berlin architecture scene were showing their work. some of it seemed all right- but seemed very much the kind of stuff that you see in any architecture magazine. nothing truly out of the ordinary.

christopher at the architecture exhibition

day 8- june 16th

got to the train station on time to go to wolfsburg but the kids from mysore were late. the next train took us via magdeburg where a walk through the town in between trains took us suddenly past a hundterwasserhaus on the main street. this strange monstrous fantasy with its odd pink color, eccentric tree like structure was a relief in the otherwise sterile town.
the hundterwasserhaus at magdeburg

wolfsburg is famous as the car city. the volkswagen factory is on one side of the city along with a large auto theme park called the autostadt. right near the railway station in what seemed to be attempt by the city to bilbao itself zaha hadid has designed this new science museum called the phaeno. it sits across an empty square like a reptile in concrete. you walk on a barren undulating pavement under the stomach of the building before you enter one of its legs to rise up into a landscape of folded plates making spaces for wild science toys and experiments. it was a saturday when we got there and the whole building was full of kids running up and down the ramps. the noise made the space alive. the heavy industrial ceiling with the exposed services and the grey concrete walls were not in the least bit oppressive. it was a brilliant building and i had to eat all my nasty one liners about hadid and her predilection for form over substance. the undulating planes made spaces for intimate as well as large events automatically separating them but also connecting them to the rest of the activities. a great building.


a pedestrian walk leads from the phaeno to an aalto kulturhaus at the end of the street. the pedestrian street is classic european cliché- cafes, restaurants, street side shopping. the buildings were funky mish mashes of different materials and styles built over time. at the end of the street is a square upon which the aalto building sits. typologically it seems similar to the hadid building with a recessed base and a undulating façade for the auditorium inside. the base continues the arcade of the street. the volume is broken down by playful and gorgeous façade treatment and delicate material play. black and white ceramic tiles cascade over the surface breaking the scale of the building to make it humane. the details are lovely too.

pedestrian street at wolfsburg


if there is an argument to be made regarding scale all one has to do is compare this building to the new museum built directly across from it. a gigantic umbrella over a curtain wall system. the arcade is continued but is grossly oversized. it has none of the intelligence and gentleness of the aalto building. instead it stands like a gigantic eyesore at the end of the street. further down the street is a theater designed by hans scharoun- also very nice, and a sculpture by herzog and de meuron.

the new museum

scharoun theater

herzog and de meuron sculpture

a bridge leads from the railway station to autostadt – the automobile city. 7 euros for a trip through a long advertising alley. pavilions have been built by lamborghini, audi, volkswagen to sell their latest models and we pay to see them. the main building has some form of an exhibition of the process of car design- nothing much, really. the pavilions are all really temples to commerce- each trying to outdo one another. my favorite three for their complete ridiculousness being the lamborghini pavilion, the volkswagen pavilion and the towers that sell cars.

the lamborghini pavilion is a black box that you enter. in the complete darkness on a wall inside a cage a car sits. you along with many others can only see it and cant touch it. its like a pole dancer in a club. a light and sound show begins that throws lasers upon the car and smoke fills the room. a phantasmagoric extravaganza is created combining a potent mixture of sex, machismo and commodity. it was silly and funny. at the end of the light and sound show the car disappears and appears outside the box- like a whore who has seduced but does not allow you to touch.

while the lamborghini plays the part of the seductress tease, in the volkswagen pavilion the automobile is god. in a cube shaped pavilion you wait outside a spherical enclosure to enter and experience the car. the parallels to boulee’s cenotaph to newton were inevitable. inside the sphere a dome theater experience of falling leaves and love affairs because of the latest model of the volkswagen.

but perhaps symbolically the similarity between the three chimneys of the volkswagen factory – a truly fascist building if there ever was one and the two glass towers of the autostadt spoke more about the similarity between the two kinds of fascism than i ever could.

volkswagen factory

chimmneys that make and chimmneys that sell

the volkswagen pavilion

the lamborghini as pole dancer

when at home again, i met andreas for the first time. he is another traveling doctor like indru and works for an ngo providing aid to south asian countries. he had just come back from bangladesh. we decided to go out at night. it was saturday, after all. the first place we went to was mobel:olfe. indru, andreas and me walked to this gay club that has become the rage of the town in kreuzberg, and like all slightly alternative places has become the hot spot in all tourist guides. naturally, i had to see it too. the club is in an old slab of high rise east german housing that had fallen into disrepair. its grittiness has not been erased and has been instead highlighted by disregarding it and placing neon and plush furniture in it. a group of young people nearby were shouting slogans “no communism is also not a solution!” after two drinks, indru decided to take me to kupe- which is by far the best place i went to in berlin.

i fond it difficult to describe it here- but it was an experience i most treasure in the city. i had so far been exposed only to the safe side of berlin- or rather the sanitized. i had wondered where the other lived- and had not seen it anywhere- except for the turkish and albanian shops- or the sound of arabic on the streets. we walked through seedy streets with indru telling us stories of the different parts- “this is where the wall was” :this house was against it; “this building used to be a ….” until we came to a large gate with posters all over proclaiming independence from the ‘system’. as we opened the door i saw a sea of people lounging in a courtyard of an old building. it had once been a large townhouse- half of which had collapsed and was now occupied by squatters. on the exposed brick walls on all sides a scaffolding was holding the building up and graffiti scrawled out radical slogans. we walked over the lounging bodies of many pierced, black clad, punk rockers with mohawks and colored hair. i was afraid for a minute before i allowed my self to dissolve into the crowd. inside the building was an old communist dance hall that had been converted into a performance area. a german hip-hop band was rocking the house. it was sweaty smoky and incredible. after the show we sat lounging under the sky talking about the place and indrus relationship with the culture. andreas brought one of the ‘organizers’ of the place to us who turned out to be very shy for a guy with pink and purple hair and steel running through his tongue.



he told us about the gradual cleaning drive that is approaching the area. a developer has bought the land and want to evict the tenants from it. protests are being organised against it. we waited for the sun to ride before heading home.


day 9 – june 17th

summer months must be put to use in berlin. so we took a bike ride to wannasee- a lake a good 30 kms away from hermannplatz. i must have been crazy to attempt it. the bike i was driving did not have brakes that worked- so indru gallantly gave me his as i struggled to keep up with the stronger people. with us were osama and yasmin, sheila- a friend of yasmins and yusuf and corrina. indru decided to take us through the scenic- but slightly longer route. we went through leafy residential suburbs and parks and took a break at the berlin free university campus.

at wannasee an artificial beach has been made for the recreation of german workers. sailboats floated gently in the sun as sunbathers lounged on the beach. the water was freezing cold. i was told that germans are obsessed with the beach and there are even beach cafes in the center of town where people where swim suits to party. these germans are crazy…tap tap tap.

the ride back was easier as it was mostly downhill and through the center of the city, past the gigantic convention center, the t u , tiergarten, potsdamer platz and the circus of mehringdamm.

60 kilometer in one day sure beat my ride from amritsar to the wagah border. i am fitter than i think- but not as fit as the others who rode with me.

day 10 – june 18th

met the group of students, anand and anne at the tiergarten s-bahn stop for a bus ride to documenta. got to kassel in 5 hours. a long time by any standards. documenta is spread all over the city in old buildings, pavilions built especially for the exhibition and on the streets. i walked through mostly alone through the work. met vidya from delhi and rita from bombay- by chance. the range of work was amazing and difficult to sift through especially on such a quick visit. i recognized some work and was delighted when i did. making some connections helped me but i can imagine the students i was with being completely flabbergasted- ‘is this art?’ indian art was also all over the place. atul dodiya, sheela gowda and an entire area dedicated to nasreen mohammedi. it was wonderful to see her work. truly sublime. while so much of the art being conceptual in nature was not so much about experiencing the piece nasreens truly was. amazing.

some of the archives of site based art or performance art were documented through photographs, and there was an incredible amount of video art / documentary photography and film.

took a tram ride with champa to the shcolss wilhelmshohe - the mansion at the end of the main axis of the town where rubens and rembrandt were juxtaposed with images of racism and colonialism. behind the palace steep steps lead up to a water tower through a romantic garden landscape and a french axial landscape juxtaposed one over the other. pavilions and aqueducts are found along the way along with a complex system of waterwalls and reservoirs. champa and me climbed all the way to the top, because it was there to climb.

day 11 – june 19th

my last day in berlin took me to the olympic stadium built in fascist times. if it was not for the frightening vision of perfection that seems, even today, to permeate the space i would have loved the thrill of the scale of the building. the towers on the axis, the human figures of perfection at the gates- male, white and perfect. nothing much seems to have changed here. indru said that the architecture of the building is very similar to the architecture of a concentration camp. its just that the death chamber has been replaced by the track.

right next to the stadium is another manifestation of an architecture for the perfect man. corbusiers unite d’habitation in berlin- corbusierhaus.

this time the modular man has replaced the heroic naked men on pedestals. but the fact that many of the residents have taken over the balconies made the building a little more habitable. i fall for the heroism of early modernism- in spite its claims to universality.

met indru for sushi back at hermannplatz and said goodbye to him. he took me for a walk down the streets of kreuzberg. there is nothing like knowing a city from its residents. as we walked down the canal and past the flea market indru told me stories of sqatter buildings and their gradual cleansing by the state. and how old peoples homes and orphanages are used as softer state institutions to justify the removal of unwanted vagrants. as you walk down the streets with him he seems to know everyone including a collective bicycle shop where he got his rather lovely bike. the housing project by the ballas that he showed me had undulating balconies and a garden open to the street- unlike all the other buildings of the berlin block.

sushi with indru

the balla housing prokects in kreuzberg

and then to anne at pfefferberg- a beer garden in prenzlauer berg.

in the evening ahmed came over. now, that is another story. ahmed is a political refugee from palestine and according to german regulations refugees live in camps far away form major cities. they are not allowed to learn german and not allowed to take up any employment. they are kept on a minimum payment of a certain amount of money. ahmed says its another kind of prison. to bring it to the notice of the german public he intentionally broke with these regulations and traveled out of the prescribed boundary. when hauled up by the authorities he filed a counter case against the treatment of refugees in germany. he won the first stage of the fight in a court of law and now is preparing for the second phase where he is taking a bus to the small town where the case is being fought to protest in a rally.





day 12 – june 20th

early morning i took the train to the airport and caught a flight to milan. the airport is sure far away from the city. a train took me straight to the heart of the city where i walked around looking for my hotel only to discover that it was at the other end of town. took a cab there. deepti had booked me in this really nice hotel conveniently located near the underground stops. after a quick bath i took the yellow line down to the duomo.


its an amazing building and an amazing space. the cathedral is majestic; the square in front of it a real public space. inside the dark forest of columns rise into blackness above. its quite an experience. nearby the galleria is a covered arcade where designer shops are found. i walked all over the old city, taking wrong turns finding churches marked on the map- so many of them. the palazzos with their ornate facades and gorgeous courtyards. milan felt so much like bombay- a similar hectic life on the streets and stains on the wall that are the marks of being peopled. unlike berlin where everything has been cleansed milan carries its humanity far more easily. i walked to the south of the old city where graffiti scars university walls, through to the main castle that’s now a museum and then to the art deco fascist axial roads that form monumental promenades for the city. down another street fashion rules as boutiques glitter with mannequins in linen. smartly dressed women parade down in heels and the men wear pinstriped black suits with sunglasses on. a fashion shoot is going on at the garden and lover lounge on the seats and the lawn.

fashion boutique


palazzos castles courtyards churches

the main square at the head of the axis that leads to the railway station is the hangout in the evenings of the outcasts of society. migrants from all over hang around in packs drinking beer and skateboarding as commuters walk by. philipino, turkish, albanian, indian, pakistani; each in their gangs under the monumental white symmetry of the railway station building. i sat and watched as the sun went down.

the railway station plaza

day 13 – june 21st

in an airplane staring at the world going by from the hills around sarajevo to the desert around teheran; a punjabi man sitting beside me from near amritsar. he had just been to chile and colombia. he does not speak a word of english. he owns a factory where they make farm equipment that is imported to south america. the only way he communicated with his clients is through a broken english and sign language. it does not matter anyway what he says. he is there for the work- and that he does efficiently. he was returning after 4 months abroad- not being able to speak to anyone. he was glad to meet me and talk- in hindi. i shut him off with my headphones and listened to bach.

it is odd meeting people from india abroad. you see them and identify with them. strangely they embarrass me with their tucked in shirts and their eager gaze. i turned away when i met them in the streets of germany and turned away even at the airports where they catch your eye for recognition. what was i afraid of? i was afraid i am like them. i was afraid i am them. a desi. a stamp of race- a type that i carry with my skin- a walking talking stereotype. the indian. i want to escape it. i don’t want to be only one thing.


12 pages in word- if you sat through it all you need an award. i am sorry if it all seems rushed and rather long winded. it was written in a day- and that’s my excuse. sorry.