Untitled in Deutschland

Sunday, July 3, 2005



Let’s start with something Haley swears some Germans once told her ex-boyfriend in Austin… Is it much less of a big deal for two guy friends to have sex with each other in Germany without being “gay” than it would be in our stuffy United States? Brenna and James heard nothing of the sort except that, according to James, German men are a bit effete (at least compared with the gorillas one might find in British pubs). (Bren’s friend Ruth Elkins commiserates.) So who knows. It’s probably a vicious urban legend, but let’s spread it around a bit…

Anyway. We got back from eight days in Poland on Friday, arriving back in a cold, damp, miserable Germany. Yesterday, though, the weather was awesome and we accidentally stumbled upon this. I asked Haley if she wanted to go look at the sights around the Tiergarten — Broken Tooth, Siegessaüle, Brandenburger Tor, &c — and we stumbled upon what was reportedly about 250,000 Berliners packed onto Strasse des 17. Juni between the Siegessaüle and the Tor. Packed. Had we paid attention we might’ve caught Brian Wilson or Green Day (or, at least, A-Ha or Roxy Music), but… We didn’t. So we caught the full Wir Sind Helden set and a couple terrible Irish pub songs songs by Chris de Burgh that made us decide to leave and go look at the Reichstag. I can pretty much extemporaneously compose moody Irish pub ballads. Watch: “Young Dermott was a fine boy, taken way too soon / but I hear his footsteps everyday, just at half past noon / [chorus] singing high-high-high-high! You can’t buy a duck for two Pounds.” Repeat.

We also caught the kind of cool intro to Live 8 done by Will Smith in Philadelphia. On the video screens they had the crowds in Philly shout out to those in Hyde Park, who then yelled to the Circus Maximus show, who yelled to us at the Brandenburg Gate, who yelled out to the Versailles show, who yelled up to Park Place, Ontario (Park Place, Ontario?) who then yelled back at Philly. A bit cornball, but fun at the time. Then he went into serious mode, explaining what this thing called “Africa” is and how they don’t have enough food, and how by attending a free concert with bands like Audioslave and Die Toten Hosen, I, Josh Knowles, am personally MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

What else? Oh, I forgot Poland. Hm. How to summarize. Warsaw for a few days, then Krakow for five days. Krakow’s lovely and quite lively, but most of the rest of the country seems to still suffer from the repeated beatings at the hands of the Germans and Russians over the years. Warsaw was completely demolished in 1944. They rebuilt the small old city as a very detailed replica of what was lost, but when you go inside palaces and museums everything feels very incomplete, with only bits and pieces of art that had been squirreled away by some forward-thinking Poles before all of the destruction. Krakow survived the war more-or-less unscathed and has a similar feel to Prague, with just a couple extra layers of grime on the buildings. Poland’s apparently doing very well since the fall of the Communist regime, but they’re still nowhere near on par with Germany or western Europe. Anyway, our experiences there were pretty pedestrian, I guess. Saw some sights. Ate dinners out on the town squares. Etc.

Oh. Krakow’s full of really lame buskers, it turns out. It seems like every time we turned around some twelve-year-old kids would be out on the side of the road or in the square with a jambox making goofy attempts at brak-dancing by kind of jumping around and wigging out and doing handstands overandover. Hehe. I photographed a couple of these. They seemed to mostly play that god-awful Axel F / Crazy Frog ringtone single that’s been such a horrible big deal over here.

Okay. Gotta get on with my day.

Seacrest OUT.


Sonar Quickies

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Le Tigre.

Here’s just a quick post before I go to bed. I’m leaving for Poland tomorrow and doubt I’ll have easy internet access until I get back to Berlin.

So. Sonar happened. Photos of Sonar can be found here. Sorry they’re not labelled — just make up some band names and tell yourself that’s whom I photographed. (Eventually I’ll devote a chunk of time to labelling all of these shots…)

Maybe I’ll have time to give more details later, but I got to see Mouse on Mars, Le Tigre, To Rococo Rot, Cut Chemist, De La Soul, Miss Kitten, Goodiepal, LCD Soundsystem, Hood, and a nice 5.1 presentation of Richie Hawtin’s DE9 project amongst various DJs and bands I saw a few minutes of here-and-there. I’ve seen Mouse on Mars live numerous times (and they’re always really fun), but I had not seen most of these other performers before. I missed the Soft Pink Truth due to my heavy cold, which sucked, but I think I got my money’s worth.

Anyway. I’m very sleepy. Probably between 10,000 and 20,000 people attended, based on the number of people who showed up to the nighttime events (for example, check out Miss Kitten’s crowd. And bumper cars! And live musical performance with food and vegetables

More later…

PS: I’ll be in Cairo from July 11th until July 25th — both Mondays. If you have a moment, please explain Arabic to me in a comment below…



Thursday, June 9, 2005

Dortmund’s on the other side of Germany from here, though Berlin has a sex trade more, um, prominent than I recall from past visits. When staying near Oranienburger the past couple of weeks, every time I came back late at night I’d have to politely “Nein, danke” at least a half-dozen hookers, stationed at their regular intervals up Oranienburger Strasse, outfitted with stiletto heels, furry little coats to protect themselves from the cold, and fishnet stockings. And then, over here in Charlottenburg where I’m now staying, the hostel’s tucked on a stretch of street along with about four XXX porn shops. No prostitutes, just stocky, balding guys with questions in German that I can’t really understand. “Nein, danke.”

The new hostel does, though, have a nice 24-hour bar with wireless internet access and everything right next door, so I’ll probably be in here, getting my fix more often the next few days. I’ve only had internet access here-and-there. And no television for about four weeks, now (except for the TV at the hotel I stayed at the first few days in Berlin, and those channels were all auf Deutsch except CNN). Kind of nice. And kind of tweaking. I finally broke down and bought a copy of Der Herr der Ringe: Die Zwei Türme on DVD just to have something to look at. Not that I need television, but I need some English visual-verbal stimulation and I’ve been mostly on my own out here so far. I chose that DVD because it seemed like it would bear repeat viewings. And, anyway, now I’ve got one of the Lord of the Rings movies in German. In case that might come in handy.

Next week, Sonar in Barcelona. Then heading out to Poland with Haley. Warsaw for a few days. Krakow for a few days. Then back to Berlin. Fun fact about Poland: They have a horrible, horrible history. Reading through my Lonely Planet guide, I got a brain full of 500 years of asskickings at the hands of the Germans and Russians, destroyed cities (Hilter attempted to erase Warsaw after an uprising in 1944, I did not know before), displaced peoples, bad government, the Church, etc. Hopefully they’ll remain stable for at least the next few weeks. I don’t want Krakow partitioned out from under me…

Anyway. That’s all for now. And remember: Don’t invite a bunch of Teutonic knights to defend your home — they’ll just end up occupying your kitchen and stabbing your dog.


Alive in Germantown

Sunday, June 5, 2005

Yes, I’m still alive out here in Berlin. Just been busy. But here’s the update:

I saw a strange Einstürzende Neubauten show at the NBI club on Friday. They played their instruments (mostly laptops and other electronic cleverness) in silence upstairs near the bar. All of the speakers — tons of speakers — filled a small basement room with an absolutely deafening sound. They strongly recommended only going down with earplugs, sound-dampening headphones, or fingers-firmly-in-ears. So I stuck my fingers in my ears and got thoroughly vibrated by the dense, cacophany and rumbling noise clashes. Interesting, anyway.

Otherwise, I’ve been doing some of the usual sightseeing stuff — Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Mauergedänksmuseum, Fernsehturm. And reading a pile of books, which is actually kind of nice… Just sitting at a café or restaurant for a while, reading. Some of the word collections I’ve had the most fun with have been the Penguin 70th Anniversary chapbooks. I’ve got about a dozen of them, so far, from Richard Dawkins to Robert Graves to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Melissa Banks to Will Self. They’re great single-sitting reads and a good way to read some new authors, though I think they’re only selling them in Europe right now (or, rather, only Britain, though Berlin stores get a few on import). Whatever happened to the chapbook? It seems like such a good marketing concept… Instead of paying $15, you pay $3 and get a good 60-page read.

Anyway. That’s some of what’s been going on. Nothing too dramatic, but it’s nice to spend time over here (of course).

Oh, and in about a week I’m going back to Barcelona. Then I might join Haley in Warsaw for a few days. We’ll see. All up in the air, still.

Josh… OUT.


Berlin / Two Museums / Daniel Libeskind / The World Trade Center

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Well, I’m back in Berlin, sitting in a café on Oranienburger Strasse drinking coffee and seeing what’s happening in internetland.

The weather’s much warmer and brighter than when I left last week, and the town feels livelier up in this area than it did out in Charlottenburg or Schönberg or whatever borough I stayed in before. I’m staying at the apartment of friend-of-a-friend James while he’s out on “hol[iday]s.” It’s the sort of musty, high-ceilinged place that feels like it might have housed some combination of artists and revolutionaries during the 1930’s, though now it’s packed with the books and posters of a more academic set. (And, remarkably, it smells much like the House of Commons used to. Funny how olfactory memroy works. Maybe that’s just the international smell of group living.)

Yesterday I tried to visit the Checkpoint Charlie museum and the Jewish Museum and mostly failed on both accounts. Across the street from Checkpoint Charlie some organization had set up a memrorial to those who lost their lives trying to cross from east to west over the years. Each person had a tall, white cross with their photo and a brief personal description attached. These crosses were set out in a couple of vacant lots in a regular pattern. Along the street stood a long plaquard telling about the crosses. The English translation complained about how the property-owners of these two plots had promised to build a memorial of some sort to the lives lost and refered to the plots as “the most important plots in the free world.” What? Good way to loose your credibility, there. Maybe the people who wrote that should get into a fist-fight with the WTC-Ground-Zero memorializers. Or a thumb-war. Then we’ll see who’s most important…

Anyway. I don’t have any objection to memorializing those who lost their lives trying to overcome a border so senseless, but I’m a huge fan of keeping things in perspective.

An American couple sidled up beside me to read the same plaquard and had this to say:

“I wish Jonathan could be here. It’d really make him understand freedom.”

Okay. So I gave up on the Checkpoint Charlie museum. I’d been last year when I came to visit Brenna, so no major loss.

Next stop: Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum). I’m going to make a tasteless joke that has a point… Eventually the arms race to make those visiting museums about the Holocaust “feel it” as much as possible, designers are just going to gas visitors on upon entrance with Zyklon-B. Bad joke to make a point: I’m not entirely sure that making a building as physically uncomfortable as possible really helps communicate the atrocities of the Holocaust. I know I don’t like ugly, gray, irregularly-shaped, steel buildings. And I’m not sure how this dislike is supposed to translate into an understanding of what it might have felt like to be on the receiving end of genocide. Especially when said building is designed by someone who didn’t personally directly experience the Holocaust. Daniel Libeskind (yes, Mr. WTC Designer Guy) may have been born in Poland soon after the war ended, but that doesn’t make him any more of a primary source than I am. I appreciate the attempt at expressing an emotional state through art, but in this case I would much rather have access to new and interesting information about the event than the same personal stories and statistics that every Holocaust museum features. You really don’t need to argue with me about why the Holocaust was horrible…

That said, the Memory Void installation piece was a good experience. It’s almost worth visiting the museum just for that. The piece is essentially a huge, concrete room, empty except for piles of flat faces, pressed out of plates of steel into kind of six-inch-wide coins. The artist asks that you walk across these, and with each step the sliding and clicking faces make sounds that echo and reverberate around quite loudly. I really enjoyed the piece, especially as a kind of sonic toy. But. I can’t say it helped my appreciation of the Holocaust or Jewish culture. It could’ve existed in any museum and I would’ve enjoyed it.

Like I said, the musuem had been designed by Daneil Libeskind, whom most of us know as the guy responsible for the winning design for the new World Trade Center complex in New York City. And they had a large model of the proposed design on display at this museum. And, while it’s not as jarring as the Jewish Museum, it did sport some of the same sort of jagged uncomfortableness that’s probably intended to help us “feel” the tragedies of 9/11. For the same reasons I’ve whined about above, I really don’t think that a bunch of aggressively off-kilter lines will demonstrate anything other that how people find aggressively off-kilter lines somewhat uncomfortable. And I would hesitate to replace an elegant set of buildings with something with architectural features intentionally off-putting. At least, do that kind of thing in someone else’s country to remind them what assholes they’ve been — don’t put that in the United States.

I hate to agree with Donald Trump, but his suggestion has come closest to what I’ve been a proponent of all along. He suggests replacing the Twin Towers with two nearly identical towers, just one story taller apiece (and otherwise modernized). Anything built on that property will immediately become a memorial — let’s not overdo it and make something that will be dated and unwanted in fifteen years. I agree.


Ten Minutes in Barcelona

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Oops. I’m about to run out of computer time, here, but I thought I’d update the world:

I’ve been in Barcelona since Friday, now, and I’ve spent much of the past couple of days travelling about with Jared Tarbell and his girlfriend and a couple of Spaniards they befriended at the Flash conference they’re here to attend.

So. We saw Star Wars on Friday after a dinner of Lebanese food and spent most of yesterday out at Montserrat (“Sliced Mountain”) hiking about and checking out the monastery and other various mountaintop constructions. Today I wandered up to the Segrada Familia and took the standard tour around the construction site. (123 years into the building of the place, they’re still only about halfway finished…)

Time’s almost up. Gotta go!

Update: I’ve posted the Barcelona shots starting here. It’s true.


Morning in Berlin

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Welcome, Herr Knowles.

Good morning. Jetlagged Josh’s internal clock is all out of whack, so I’ve been up since about 6AM. Now I’m sitting at my computer playing with the internet, but earlier I took a ran out from the hotel out across the Tiergarten to the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag. It’s been raining (and it’s terribly cold, actually), so I had to wear my jacket and dodge muddy puddles dotting the dirt paths through the park. On the walk back I nabbed a bag full of croissants and a cup of coffee which I brought back to the room and quickly squared away.

Fun fact about my hotel (Hotel Sylter Hof), learned by reading the two large signs just outside the entrance on the sidewalk: This hotel has been built on the site of the offices of Adolf Eichmann, the gentleman responsible for orchestrating the Holocaust. Holy shit. The past month I’ve seen Downfall and read Inside Hitler’s Bunker (upon which the movie was based). Seeing the sign about Eichmann and then running and walking around the former Berlin bordergrounds (Brandenburger Tor, Potsdamer Platz, et al) were a powerful combination. This is the first time in nearly a century than Berlin has been able to grow as a part of the European and world community and, well, it’s growing quite nicely. It’s a beautiful town.

Anyway. I arrived just yesterday morning from New York City. Nothing remarkable to report about the flights, except that I don’t like flying around in airplanes one bit, especially when they shake around roughly seven miles over the middle of the north Atlantic Ocean (or Océan Atlantique, as the good people of Air France refer to it) in the middle of the night. The 7AM flight out of Charles de Gaulle in Paris was notable only because our small plane was filled almost entirely by older men in nice suits and ties, off to their mid-morning meetings at the branch offices in Berlin. Almost no women aboard. Plenty of copies of Le Monde, though, opened across seat-back trays, under close examination to make sure Jacques Chirac isn’t pulling any stunts and that no major business trends are being missed.

Before that, New York. Christian travelled up with me and we stayed at the sexy Chelsea Star hotel during the week and then at Sean’s place in the East Village over the weekend. We walked up around Times Square and Central Park a few times and came down into the Village to attend the ITP Spring Show on Tuesday and to get food and drinks with Sean and Johanna. The city feels so dense and choatic — especially in comparison to squeaky-clean Berlin — with gunk and goo and grime on nearly everything outside, with buildings looming heavy overhead and throngs of people flowing around every which way. The packed nature of Manhattan Island is something I worry about my ability to adapt to, I’m so used to spacious, lazy Austin with it’s relatively large coffeehouses and bars and green everywhere. We did walk through Central Park a couple of times (stopping at the National Design Museum on 90th to see a strange exhibit about “Extreme Textiles”) and we did spend several hours both on Saturday and Sunday watching the dogs in the dog playground at Tompkin’s Square Park (in the East Village). The dog park over there is great… It’s two pens, one for all dogs and one for dogs under 23 pounds. And both were littered with dogs or all shapes going bonkers, running around like crazies, making futile attempts to hump one another, picking fights, barking at people on bikes, or peeing on various standing objects. And walking back from the dog park on Saturday we even came upon an African Grey parrot looking out the sidewalk-level windows of an apartment building. Christian freaked and we hung out playing with it through the window (and then came back the next day to say “hello”). It seemed to have too much dog-exposure because it yapped like a little mutt of some flavor as it parrot-waddled back and forth along its stand, lifting its feathers in a gesture Christian interpreted as wanting something, probably wanting to play. We called it “the Admiral” and it happened to live in a building with a small plaquard out front noting that Charlie Parker lived there between 1951 and 1955 (or so). Four years. Hopefully some time an apartment I lived in for a few years will merit landmark status… It’ll make the market value of my little grassing-odored efficiency at 1701 Enfield Road skyrocket!

Anyway, there’s really too much to go into all at once here. I should mention, though, that Christian got to kiss the Samshing Pumpkin’s James Iha on the cheek at a rock club and we ate sushi at the excellent Cube 63 with the two craziest sushi chefs one’s likely to come across, Ben and Ken Lau. And Ken’s animated girlfriend who’s spooked by pigeons.

Well, I should wrap up. I’m sitting at the desk facing out my second floor window down to Kurfürstenstrasse and the sunlight and fluffy cumulus clouds beckon me out. I need ot shower the sweat from my jog off of me and I’ll probably walk the few blocks down to the Zoo to hang out for a while. Check out some birds and monkeys. And maybe a rhino. Maybe even a lion.

More soon…

P.S. If you’ve read this far, here’s your reward: I’ve started putting my photos online already. The subsite’s kind of a mess right now, but you can at least see some of what I’ve been up to. Let me know if something’s obviously amiss (since I’m on the road I can’t double-check things very well). Yip!


NYU ITP Projects

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Thesis presentations are happening this week for those students exiting the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU — the program I’ll be entering in a few months.

It’s a rather webby crowd, so some of the projects have begun attracting attention online (through the blog community at large as well as on sites like Metafilter). As I come upon them, I’ll add them to the list below. Y’know. If you’re interested.

The list so far:

  • Cellphedia - “I have created Cellphedia for the curious mobile phone community (which is almost all of us). It is an application that enables its users to send and receive up-to-date encyclopedia-type information amongst each other, on the go, through SMS. I call it: ‘The first ubiquitous social encyclopedia’.”
  • Grafedia - “Grafedia is hyperlinked text, written by hand onto physical surfaces and linking to rich media content - images, video, sound files, and so forth. It can be written anywhere - on walls, in the streets, or on sidewalks. Grafedia can also be written in letters or postcards, on the body as tattoos, or anywhere you feel like putting it. Viewers “click” on these grafedia hyperlinks with their cell phones by sending a message addressed to the word + “@grafedia.net” to get the content behind the link.”
  • MenuVista (Added May 9th) - “MenuVista provides restaurant customers a realistic preview of their orders by using photographic projection on real plates and also allows them to modify their orders by using a projected menu with a touch sensor interface which includes menu text and food images.”

More soon, I hope.

If you want to know more about the thesis projects, visit the ITP Thesis Presentations 2005 site.