Les Contes d’Hoffmann

I went to “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” yesterday in one of Berlin’s three operas thanks to this piece in the Guardian. Yes, I have to rely on a British paper for reliable cultural advice about Berlin.

The Komische Oper is a ten minute bike ride from my house and you can get a discounted ticket with some mild visual obstruction for €18. This makes it a fairly ideal way to spend a Sunday in Berlin which otherwise can be fairly quiet (stores aren’t open, most places close at five or six).

I’m not an expert on opera but I enjoyed the staging and the performances a lot. The Komische Oper’s productions can look a bit kitschy but this was all fairly in line. I can’t share anything from the play thanks to an extremely stringent copyright policy, so below is a recording of one of the major songs by the Met.

After having severed my relation with theater, opera is something that is still fun and interesting to me. What is especially interesting about opera is that despite it fielding some of the biggest budget stage productions we have, it allows a lot of space for weird things. That is not just the case for this opéra fantastique but reading the plot of any opera will leave you amazed at how cheesy it is.

The fact that opera is so open to even the dumbest of stories and at the same times is a spectacular confluence of the multimedia arts would indicate that it has a grand future. Unfortunately the average age of the attendees indicates that that is not the case yet.

The redesign of Moritzplatz roundabout

This is turning into a traffic blog more than anything else. After taking stock of the plans for the new Maaßenstraße which is very slowly nearing completion, now let’s take a look at another place close to my heart: Moritzplatz. The square is right underneath my office and as such I cross it several times daily both on foot and by bike.

Cyclist get hits on MoritzplatzA couple of weeks ago week an accident took place there where a cyclist was touched by a car. No big deal in his case, but it could have been worse considering the way motorists behave here. I have to pay close attention every time I cross this roundabout otherwise this could happen to me as well.

Redesign

Two weeks ago they started marking what is to be the revamped Moritzplatz. I had my hopes up that it would be a serious improvement but judging from the plans it is mostly going to be a new paint job.

New lines on MoritzplatzThe paint job will separate the bicycle lane with stripes from the car lane narrowing the space the cars get and widening the space the bicycles get. The cycle lane itself will be painted bright red. New lines on Moritzplatz

Cycling on the new markings and adhering to the new situation is a bit weird but it does feel like it’s going to be an improvement. It is however not going to fix the most important problem with the square.

Redesign Moritzplatz

The new situation for cyclists

Cyclists get their lane doubled in width and protected by markings. Whether that protection will mean anything in reality remains to be seen. Cars in Berlin will drive anywhere they please. What is a bigger problem on this roundabout and what will remain so in the new situation is that it is unclear who has precedence on the points where cyclists and cars have to cross each other. The angle with which the two cross has also remained the same so you really have to pay attention not to hit a cyclist and not to get hit by a car. A real solution would have been to mark the roundabout with Sharks’ teeth and maybe even to elevate the cycle path. That way cars entering and leaving the roundabout notice that they do so physically. Physical separations on the road make the power dynamic a little less unbalanced like you can see in this example from California. They are of course also expensive. There are roundabouts in the Netherlands that are laid out this defensively even though that usually is not necessary. Schermafbeelding-2012-07-03-om-13.52.56-480x309

The new situation for pedestrians

Pedestrians around Moritzplatz have really been shafted and they are getting a tiny improvement in the new situation. For a pedestrian there is no safe way to cross the square. The underground crossing through the U-Bahn station does not count. Going down and up stairs isn’t an option for disabled people and it’s too much effort for most people in general. Traffic should be safe for its weakest participants so that it benefits everybody. Let’s take a look at the various options to cross Moritzplatz. Keep in mind that you will often have to cross at least one arm of the roundabout to get anywhere. West – There is no way to cross the road here except for the traffic light at Stallschreiberstraße. This traffic light feels broken for pedestrians because during rush hour it gives you about 12 seconds to make the crossing. Almost nobody makes it across during the green phase and everybody knows that the red phase takes forever so people also cross when it’s already red. The traffic light is not an option for crossing Moritzplatz since it is 50m away. That is too far. North – On this side there is an island in the road where pedestrians are relatively safe so at least they don’t have to make the entire crossing in one go. It is still unsafe because there isn’t a zebra crossing but it’s better than nothing. East – There is no way to cross here except for the pedestrian crossing 50m down Oranienstraße. South – A new pedestrian island is planned here. Unfortunately it is 15m off the main arm but that is better than 50m. Just like at the other islands, there won’t be a zebra crossing there which makes any pedestrian trying to cross still a potential victim. Redesign Moritzplatz

It doesn’t matter if there is no way to cross the road, people still do of course. Even if you pay attention and cross the road when there is no traffic, incoming cars expect to be able to push you off the road. At which point you are forced to run across or be killed.

The main flaw here is that people shouldn’t be forced to walk ten or fifty meters more to make things more convenient for motorized traffic. People are more important than cars.

Update: The work is nearing completion and actually the new markings do not seem to make that much of a difference except to cause everybody on the square to be fairly stressed out.

I guess this adequately describes all of us.

Encounter Zone Maaßenstraße

Berlin is rebuilding the Maaßenstraße into the first Begegnungszone (‘Encounter Zone’) of its kind in the city. Works are underway now after a public consultation was finished last year or the year before. I looked around a bit but I couldn’t find the plans for what they are actually building there. A quick e-mail to the senate solved that problem and I got a PDF of the plan.

Redesigning Maaßenstraße

The most important bit of that plan is the layout of the new street which is dramatically different from what we have right now. Maaßenstraße is a street in Berlin saturated with cafes and restaurants where people from far West Berlin will go to go out on weekend nights. It also touches on Motzstraße which is a popular gay going out area and there are tons more bars and restaurants littered about. On Saturdays the market on Winterfeldtplatz is brimful of people and blocks most of the traffic on the South side.

The quantity of establishment is deceiving since the gastronomy on Maaßenstraße is of such a low quality that I wouldn’t regularly visit any of the places there except the two Turkish kebab places Hasir and the Keb’up House (for the late night döner box).

Traffic wise there used to be bike paths on the pavement but because of the heavy use by pedestrians and the fact that the bike path was level with the walking area, these caused dangerous situations. The road itself wasn’t a great alternative as it was used mostly for parking, double parking and the ostentatious display of muscle cars at night. All in all the usage of the street was thoroughly out of whack with how space was distributed between the various groups.

The new plan removes parking altogether which may or may not work depending on the enforcement level. Cars can park anywhere they want in Berlin and receive a fine that is so low nobody really cares about it. Cycling and driving are integrated on the remaining piece of road that is a lot more narrow than it was and lots of space is allotted to pedestrians walking and hanging out on the street. I have no idea what that is going to do to the noise levels in the street but I don’t live on a popular party street for a reason.

I’ve annotated what I think is noteworthy about the plan below (in a 13MB image file, click for big). All in all the plan looks solid and is bolder than I could have hoped for. It remains to be seen how it will be received by drivers and whether the police enforces the zones that are on there with vigour.

06-Flyer_Begegnungszone_maassenstr

DOTA night at Meltdown Esports Bar

Dota night at Meltdown

Yesterday I attended the weekly Dota2 night at Meltdown esports bar for the first time. I’m looking for people who I can play with regularly because going out into solo queue is becoming a bit tedious and unpredictable. There is a small crowd of people there who play 5v5’s in a private lobby against the Meltdown London cafe. It’s a lot of shouting and mostly fun.

What strikes me when I go to these get togethers is that however different the people are, there is a shared culture because everybody reads /r/dota2 and watches the same streams and tournaments. It is fairly homogenized everywhere with the exception of China which is insular with its own client, servers and a slew of native language media.

I was also happy to see that the gender balance wasn’t as one-sided as I had feared. There’s still a long way to go but what I saw at the bar makes me optimistic.

The second victorious team

Session of the traffic commission of the Berlin borough of Neukölln

Neukölln committee for traffic meeting

I heard about the session of the traffic commission of Berlin-Neukölln through the great Urbanist Magazine who wrote that cities get the bike paths they deserve and that being present at political sessions is a prerequisite to change things.

So I made my way over to Rathaus Neukölln during rush hour yesterday to listen in on the session. Even though these things are deadly boring, they are at the same time extremely revealing of the workings and attitudes of our governments and just for that fact worthwhile to occasionally visit. At the same time I think it is a civic duty to attend these sessions for the things that you are interested in. If you don’t, others will.

Berlin.de on an iPhone

The website Berlin.de lists the proceedings of the session but it is unfortunately totally unusable on a mobile device (see the screenshot above) so I went by ear and noted what I could understand of the proceedings. The meeting protocol was I may add a bit chaotic and unclear. Part of it may be because I was ten minutes late (thank BVG) but I would expect local political sessions to at least have signs to show who’s who (like they do in Amsterdam).

Points two to five of the agenda were about improvements for cycling in Neukölln and after some debate all of these points were summarily rejected by the SPD/CDU who have a majority in this part of the city and I gather also chair the commission. For some proposals the chairs took offence and for the others they declared that what was proposed would be of no use. During the vote for each of these points they were rejected.

The debate about point 3 was especially illuminating.

Point 3 was a proposal to research how to keep the bike path on Karl-Marx-Straße free of parked cars. The chair of the committee said that this problem simply cannot be solved. The representative of the police said that they don’t have the capacity to enforce the law when it comes to this matter and that doing so would jeopardize their ability to stop violent crime. Somebody present requested that these people be fined to which the chair replied that that wouldn’t help either because people don’t care about the fines.

The chair cited examples to the contrary from around Schloßstraße and Savignyplatz. These don’t really seem relevant to me. Fines for parking on a bike lane are nearly trivial but not so trivial that they wouldn’t be felt in Neukölln at all.

A couple of people attending protested and said that this was a selective application of the law meant to fuck cyclists. These people were not taken seriously at all by the committee.

It seems that the governing parties in Berlin reject any proposal submitted by the opposition. An opposition who I may add do not seem to be the sharpest knives. Some of the proposed solutions were not realistic in the slightest. One example: replacing the DHL trucks with cargo bikes is batshit crazy. To add to that: DHL trucks parking on the bike lanes are not the biggest problem at all and something that can be solved fairly easily.

I went to this meeting to see why cycling in Berlin is so bad as it is and most of what I thought was confirmed. Berlin does not take cyclists seriously and the governing bodies are populated by people who say they care but who really don’t give a shit.

Berlin real estate development Victoriapark edition

Last Sunday the Senate’s plan to build on Tempelhof was voted off thankfully. Not just to preserve the field which is a one-of-a-kind but to signal to the city that their way of managing construction and housing is not the right way (a full treatment in German).

Then yesterday I went for a run in the nearby Viktoriapark. Out of necessity because I was trying out a running track which turned out to be closed to the public.

Another closed track

So instead of that I ran my laps through the park up and down the hill of the Kreuzberg and was treated with some spectacular views.

Sunset

Doubling back through the South side of the park I came upon this very odd housing development built around a former brewery.

Flaschenkeller

The entire thing was built from scratch and looked super eery and artificial.

Housing development

And worst of all it is hard to access and hermetically closed off from the park. The entire area is fenced off and unaccessible from the park (and vice versa). When you try to pass through you end up on this dead end square. It is a gated community in the center of Berlin and probably exemplary of the type of developments the city government likes to see.

Dead end square

And from there on you can only get out the same way you got in. I can’t really imagine what it must be like to live there without any city activity or people passing through. The only people there are your neighbours on their balconies and their watchful eyes. These people have been sold the fact that they live in Kreuzberg and they probably pay a premium for it but this is as far from that city experience as you can get.

And finally on the other side of the track I found this local sporting club having their BBQ.

Sport club BBQ

Tempelhofer Park and the union between local government and property developers

There is a shack on Tempelhofer Feld that explains the senate’s plans with the park and the construction they plan to do there:

One sided citizen participation because that is how this city rolls

The people of 100% Tempelhofer Feld with an alternate view are not allowed to express their view on the park itself. Reading through their facebook feed for the past weeks is a collection of absurdism that beggars belief. Truth is stranger than fiction.

And now the city has started a campaign where they found people willing to shill for construction on the field in videos such as these:

They don’t mention how much these people have been paid for their participation. Maybe a human flesh search for these people would be a good idea to track them down and ask them what they really think.

Anyway the entire thing is turning into a travesty where capitalism and the corrupt local government get what they want regardless. There is a term for such an unholy alliance though it has fallen slightly out of use in Germany these past decades.

The Union issue

I have been long flummoxed by how terrible the CDU/CSU complex in Germany is. I could not understand how people could be that stupid and that conservative to the detriment of everybody including themselves. The number of examples is near infinite, but this post was prompted by yesterday’s action by the young Union Berlin.

I now have a new working theory that explains this issue and sheds a new light on Germany.

Working theory: Most of the people from the Nazi party who weren’t shot after WWII went into the Union.

I have not really heard anybody object to this and it really does explain a lot. Those people had to go somewhere and I’m guessing they did not enter the socialist parties which were probably seeded from whatever red element survived the world wars.

This fact has shaped modern German politics from then on.

Unleash the panther

On Saturday evening I was in the Volksbühne for Stargaze among others to see Cantus Domus perform a set with an odd German band called 1000 Robota. After that there was an intermission and the main performance of the evening by Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory.

Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory

The artistic mandate of the evening bordered a bit on the odd. 1000 Robota is more or less a lunatic act part of the melodramatic German singer-songwriter movement. Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory were forced to interpret Terry Riley’s in C as part of the program. Of course they said it was a great inspiration to them and they did quite a good job of it. After the official part of the program they started making some real music and the entire Volksbühne got to its feet. I asked myself: ‘What the fuck were we doing up until this point?’

I realize that the evening wasn’t supposed to be a club night, but if the unofficial part of the program is so much more vibrant that should be a clear signal.

Germany still isn’t really a democracy

I tried to register to vote for the buyback of the Berlin energy grid and then I got this letter back informing me that I cannot vote.

IMG_0001

I already knew that I cannot vote for national German elections and I don’t care much for them anyway. That I can’t vote at the local level where I live and where I am taxed is however somewhat annoying. Especially given the number of new entrants to the city, the fact that none of them receive any representation for their taxation is a outrageous.

There’s a Turkish man who cycles around Berlin with a placard about this very fact. He has a cassette tape to make his point and looks rather funny but the issue that he protests is real for many people. A lot of people who live in Germany for a long time have no say in what happens there. During the most recent elections the statistic was posted that a quarter of people living in Germany are not allowed to vote (because they are foreigners) and another quarter do not vote. This means the government has a shaky mandate based on half the inhabitants.

It could also explain why mainstream politics is so broken and boring. Maybe it’s time for some democracy in Germany?