The Devil Made Me Do It

Part of the reason I spent the month of May in Berlin had to do with my internship at a literary magazine, Spolia, the new sister publication of Bookslut. The internship is based online, but I had a chance for an apartment swap in Berlin, so I went.

The DevilAs a Spolia intern, one of my first duties was to locate the Devil card in a Tarot deck, run it through the scanner, and send the JPG on for the designer to use as the cover for Issue Two. I have had quite a few internships in my illustrious career, and never before have I explicitly been asked to find the Devil.

In doing so, it meant that I had a hand in the production of Issue Two of Spolia, the Black Magic issue, which is available now.

Spolia is also running a special for the Black Magic issue, which invites readers to have their star charts and/or tarot cards read by the editor-in-chief, Jessa Crispin, aka the Bookslut.

I had mine done, opting for the Creative Flow reading to answer some questions about my thesis. It was very insightful, and helped me to focus my ideas and plan a writing schedule for the next three months. We even delved into my relationships in the last five minutes, because one of my cards so clearly represented another part of my life blocking my flow.

I would recommend it, especially if you’re a writer who is stuck on a project and you need someone to shake you loose. It is a reading by the Bookslut, after all.

You may go over to Spolia to check it out, and decide the cost is a bit prohibitive. That’s okay… it makes the $5 for an issue of Spolia look like chump change, doesn’t it? Ah, go on go on go on. Then you can just let these zodiac cats decipher your horoscope for you.

Bookish Berlin


I was very tempted to call this post ‘Goodbye to Berlin,’ but the truth is I have been back in Galway since late Friday night. Also, I have never read that book.

But Berlin was a trip. It really does appear to be the hippest city on the planet. Glad I got to spend a month there.

My travel philosophy as of late seems to involve following the bibliophile trail. And for some reason, I am in the foulest mood and really do not want to write tonight, so let’s see if the pictures can lead us through one more blog post.

First, some German-language books that caught my eye.


1) A bilingual edition of The Great Gatsby, which I found in a bookshop called Jokers or Jesters or something; it looked like a chain. The book was wrapped in plastic, so I’ll never know if it had facing bilingual pages, which would be ideal for learning a new language but difficult from a production stand-point (a friend I met in Berlin is a graphic designer; he said translations are a nightmare because the size of the text box varies so much from English to German). I was intrigued by this book and almost bought it, but am so glad I didn’t. I saw the movie in English while I was in Berlin, and I was so horrified in the first two minutes by the framing device imposed on Fitzgerald’s story that I sat through the rest of the screening simply shell-shocked. (From this day forward, high school English teachers will trip up their students with trick questions about Nick Carraway’s time in the sanitarium. Seriously. A f*cking sanitarium? That’s your improvement on the great American novel? And I won’t even get into the new dialogue – at least Romeo + Juliet stuck to the script.)

2) The Bloggess’s book in German. I actually have this book on my Kindle, and though I don’t read the blog with any degree of regularity, one of the posts I do remember is about seeing her book translated into German. That must be such a cool feeling. Even just browsing the bookstores, I was always thrilled to see a book I knew in its German edition.

3) A book of photographs by Efraim Habermann. I met him at the Literaturhaus one rainy afternoon. He invited me over to chat and see his photos while he had coffee and I uncouthly scarfed down spargel with hollandaise sauce, baby potatoes, and some sort of rhubarb concoction for dessert. A friend of his showed up, and they conversed in English for my benefit, all the while apologizing because their mastery of the language was not up to snuff. It was actually quite good, and I was sitting there with absolutely no German, fairly certain I was mispronouncing Danke. Anyway, the book contains a photo of Bruno Ganz, star of Der Himmel Über Berlin (Wings of Desire). I was thrilled to recognize him, trying to explain how I knew him from “that movie with Columbo and the angels.” So sophisticated.


Above, random book art on the sidewalk. This was outside a curio shop, located somewhere between Ron Telesky’s Canadian Pizza and the U-bahn stop where I screamed because I saw a rat run across the sidewalk in broad daylight. I guess I’m just a country mouse… can’t take me anywhere.

Below, the back room at Shakespeare and Sons, home of Tuesday Night Writing Club.


This is the Bebelplatz, site of the 1933 Nazi book burning. The big pretty building is the old library of Humboldt University, and in the plaza itself lies the underground library, which is a room of empty white bookshelves, lit from above. It’s very moving. I’m sorry the photos don’t do it justice; it was rainy and muddy. But I don’t think any of the photos I’ve seen convey the depth of the monument. It really was powerful, and I’m glad I went to see it.

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And finally, the Book Forest Library in Prenzlauer Berg. I had seen this on Pinterest and Galleycat, and was thrilled to find it was in the neighborhood where I was staying.


Also, nevermind why, but the apartment I was staying in came complete with a pile of giveaway books.


That’s my stack on the left. I had to halve it, halve it again, and halve it one more time before I left Berlin, in order to fit everything in my suitcase. See, on my way to Berlin, I got popped with a Ryan Air gate check fee, which is what happens when your carry-on is too heavy (or, in my case, simply too big structurally). The baggage fee ends up costing more than your flight ticket. It’s the budget traveler’s equivalent to the Cone of Shame.


One thing I thought I might do, though, to improve my travel karma, was to drop off some books in the tree library. I wound up leaving both of my Anna Funder books (including a copy of Stasiland with the €4 Charlie Byrne’s sticker still attached) and a current bestseller (and Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction contender) that I pilfered from the giveaway pile.


So, there it is. If you’re in Berlin, drop by the tree library and see if my books are still there. I need all the good karma I can get right now.IMG_1761

Mauer Park


One of the reasons I tend to travel alone is that I prefer to discover places organically. I try not to carry guidebooks, and rarely do much pre-arrival research. Many, many people find this annoying; a few find it delightful, and I hold them dear to my heart. But right now, it’s me against the world, and the book Stasiland was pretty much the only preparation I had for my visit to Berlin.


When I got here, I emailed a friend of a friend as my only contact in Berlin, and mentioned that I was staying near Schönhauser Allee. She responded that my area was called Prenzlauer Berg and that I should check out the flea market in Mauer Park on Sundays. I did so, and it was like finding a little slice of Austin in Germany (imagine if Eeyore’s Birthday had a flea market – that’s Mauer Park on Sundays).


Since it was so close to the apartment I’m staying in, I also started jogging in Mauer Park. Two laps around Mauer Park and the adjacent sports complex equals a 5K. Four laps makes a 10k, which is where I needed to be. There is enough scenery to keep me interested, and a monster hill that has to be tackled on at least one of the laps.


While out jogging in Mauer Park, I also noticed a lot of graffiti. In fact, at the top of the hill, the entire wall on the backside of the soccer stadium was covered with a veritable gallery of spraypaint masterpieces, which were constantly refurbished before my very eyes.


Do you see where I’m going with this?


Graffiti is huge in Berlin, so you can’t assume that every wall covered in graffiti is THE wall. I’ve made that mistake before. But I knew the Berlin Wall once ran near my neighborhood, and I eventually downloaded an app that showed me the exact location overlaid with a current street map of Berlin… which included some of the surviving portions.


At this point, I was also watching a lot of movies about Berlin, and The Lives of Others includes a scene where someone listening to the radio at work hears that the wall has come down. He tells his co-workers. Of course, he doesn’t tell them in English. He tells them in German. And in German, it’s not called The Berlin Wall. It’s Die Berliner Mauer.


Mauer. Yep.


I am never going to admit how long that was rattling around in my brain before it all connected. Let’s just say it happened in time for me to appreciate jogging in the Death Strip of the Berlin Wall, and that’s soon enough. Now, here are some bonus photos of the East Side Gallery, which is not an actual gallery, but another remainder of the Berlin Wall.

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Mandy Rennt

Yesterday started with a tour of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz and ended with a 10K in Berlin. That’s 350 miles by train, plus another 6.2 on foot.

 *Not the actual train I took to Mainz.

The Gutenberg Express. *Not the actual train I took to Mainz.

The Mainz trip was a spontaneous, last-minute, and costly affair, but I felt like I had to go because of the print culture angle on my thesis. When I got back to Berlin, I had to scramble to prepare for the 10k, and not much went as planned. I showed up to the event 30 minutes late, my iPhone near-dead because I got so lost on the way there. Also, I was wearing my pajama bottoms because my regular running clothes were not done drip-drying and the laundromat I found on Google maps closed at 5pm, an hour before I got there.

 The starting line at the We Own the Night 10K Berlin.

The starting line at the We Own the Night 10K Berlin. I was too late for confetti, but the bubble machine was still running!

The biggest disappointment was my music selection. I really really really wanted to run a 10k in Berlin whilst listening to the Run Lola Run soundtrack. For the uninitiated, the 1998 German film Lola Rennt (Lola Runs) features a protagonist who, you guessed it, runs all over Berlin. The soundtrack is 73 minutes of heart-thumping techno (with a 3-minute bonus track on the English-language market version), which perfectly syncs with my average 10k time.

 Translates as: Slowpokes to the back, y'all.

Translates as: “Slowpokes to the back, y’all.”

I’ve never been very good with the music downloading, but this soundtrack was freaking impossible to get. I am technologically capable of buying songs from iTunes, but they only had an incomplete version in the British store, which wouldn’t even allow me to make a purchase. All the FreeMusikDownloadz! sites with their foreign language instructions and €30 membership fees scare the hell out of me. I even went to an actual CD store in a moment of desperation, but they didn’t have it.


Public domain image courtesy Wikipedia.

I guess it really didn’t matter in the end, because my iPhone was practically dead before the race even started. I wound up listening to nothing but the music of the German language chatter of my fellow runners, plus one American study abroad girl telling her friend: “He said certain songs make him think of me, and he gets really emotional, but in a good way.” Oh, honey… Needless to say, overhearing that conversation inspired me to drop it in gear and sprint a good ways down the course. Ain’t no motivation like running from your own past, even if you don’t have the accompanying soundtrack.

 I'm terrified to post images of Run Lola Run because the soundtrack is so locked down, but this screen grab of the title sequence is just too cool to pass up.

I’m terrified to post images of Run Lola Run because the soundtrack is so locked down, but this screen grab of the title sequence is just too cool to pass up. I really hope I don’t get sued.

I went and saw Lola Rennt last weekend at the Institut für Film und Videokunst arthaus cinema, and it was even better than I remembered. I had written an essay about Run Lola Run for my German film class 11 years ago, really obsessed with how Lola is the strong one in the romantic relationship, but this viewing was all “Mein Gott, I recognize the background in this scene!” A friend had just taken me to visit the Oberbaumbrücke a few days earlier, and when Lola turns a corner to confront the two columns of nuns, the sign post behind her indicates she had been running down the street where the Komische opera house is located.

The Oberbaumbrücke as seen from the East Side Gallery. The exterior is not featured in the film, but the walkway's distinctive ceiling can clearly be seen early in Lola's run. I walked through it on my tour of Berlin, but did not take a picture, because I am a dumbass.

The Oberbaumbrücke as seen from the East Side Gallery. The exterior is not featured in the film, but the walkway’s distinctive ceiling can clearly be seen early in Lola’s run. I walked through it on my tour of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, but did not take a picture of the interior, because I am a dumbass.

It would be really easy to get sucked into “Lola’s tour of Berlin,” and in fact that has happened to me three times already today (online, that is; it’s too rainy and cold to go walking around outside). From what I have been reading, there are certain geographical incongruities in the film, something that had occurred to me as I watched, even with my limited knowledge of Berlin. I get the same sense watching Richard Linklater’s Slacker, occasionally wondering if continuity from one Austin location to the next was actually possible. I suppose it really doesn’t matter; you can get the feel for a city without having to literally retrace the characters’ footsteps.

 The view of Berlin from the Oberbaumbrücke.

The view of Berlin from the Oberbaumbrücke.

One filming location I do think I am going to visit is The Bebelplatz, which serves as the exterior of the bank where Lola’s father works, but in reality was the site of the 1933 Nazi book burning ceremony. There is now an underground monument of empty bookcases commemorating the destroyed literature, as well as a plaque with a line from Heinrich Heine, which translates: “Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.” Apparently, there is also a book sale held there every May 10 to commemorate the event, which is a little sad because I was here in Berlin but didn’t know about it at the time.

 After that screening Lola Rennt last weekend, I finally remembered why I am obsessed with watching airplanes fly through Der Himmel über Berlin.

After that screening of Lola Rennt last weekend, I finally remembered why I am obsessed with watching airplanes fly through Der Himmel über Berlin.

Finally, as a side note: while browsing the bookshop at the Literaturhaus the other day, I  learned that Lola herself, Franka Potente, has a book of short stories, Zehn, which does not seem to be available in English. I really need to learn to read German.

Männertag or: Who’s Your Daddy?

There are a few little things in Germany that have been confusing me. I don’t understand why I can’t have waffles at Napoljonksa before 2pm, or why I can’t have asparagus at Café Anna Blume before 5pm. I also couldn’t figure out why the grocery store and all the print shops were closed today, and it was 3:30pm before I realized it was Father’s Day in Germany… and that’s only because I finally sat down and asked the Google machine.

On top of not being able to print my theatre ticket or find an empty seat at any of the sidewalk cafes on Kollwitzstrasse (which is a very hip street, I’ll have you know), St. George’s English-language bookshop was also closed, and I had made a special trip to find it. Ironically enough, Shakespeare and Sons (no relation to Shakespeare and Co.) was open, and happily took my money (pocket paperbacks of The Tiger’s Wife and Anna Funder’s novel All That I Am). While having coffee afterward, I made up a clever little mnemonic device about Shakespeare’s son’s name (damn it + Hamlet = Hamnet, sung to the tune of Dammit Janet) and him not letting Shakespeare have the day off on Männertag, but then I remembered that, sadly, Hamnet died very young.

Before I even understood what holiday it was, I had noticed a lot of fathers out with their children: an American father hustling his family across the tram tracks on Prenzlauer Allee while the green man was still glowing; a family playing ping pong in the park, when little brother with a broken left arm used his right to slam a cross-court shot directly into his sister’s forehead, she shouted something that sounded vaguely like “Don’t touch with me!” (which is nonsensical and also not German), and Dad’s instinct was to go after the rebound before he realized that he had to mediate; a young father who shared a laugh with me when his three- or four-year-old son found out the hard way what happens when you run through a puddle that is bigger than you are.

Then, after a long day, I got back to the flat and checked my email. Rob Thomas sent out update number 4,792 about the Veronica Mars Movie Kickstarter Project, and it’s just to confirm that, yes, Enrico Colantoni is back to reprise his role as possibly the best father in television history (seriously, I don’t think the movie could be made with out him). Keith Mars for Sheriff! (I’m still wondering about Wallace. We need Wallace. Veronica needs Wallace.)

So that sums up today’s adventures in Berlin. Happy Männertag to all the dads out there, especially mine. By the way… Daddy, if you open a private investigator’s office anytime soon, I will totally come answer the phones for you. And make coffee.


Ihr Standort

I went on something of a Texas-themed Twitter spree yesterday, retweeting news I had missed and catching up on a few articles. It’s some kind of homesickness, twice removed; this is day six in Berlin, after eight months in Ireland.

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and my personal favorite (there has to be a hipster-dissing joke in there somewhere):

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This probably isn’t making much sense; it certainly isn’t to me. I just have these weird disconnected thoughts that I’m having trouble expressing, partly because I’m in a place where I don’t speak the language (the funny thing is, there is probably a German bric-a-brac word that expresses exactly what I am feeling, like schadenfreude or weltschmerz).

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That’s one of my favorite quotes from any book ever; this one happens to be Stasiland by Anna Funder, which I read last time I lived in Galway, but am re-reading now that I am in (former East) Berlin. I’ve also been re-watching movies from the German Film class I took as an undergrad, all set in Berlin: Wings of Desire, M, Cabaret (not on the syllabus, but I had never seen it!), and I just remembered The Lives of Others. I tried to go out for a screening of Lola Rennt the other night, but got delayed and I would have missed the fantastic opening sequence, so that will have to wait until a later date.

Okay, got a little sidetracked by the Unaufmerksamkeit or the Zerstreuung (and, to be clear, I am getting out and seeing the city and not just reading books and watching movies about it), but what I wanted to say is that lately I have been thinking about this book a lot:


I’m not entirely sure why; I think it has to do with the Laurent Binet/Sheila Heti panel at Cúirt: Characterisation in the novel; how does an author fit into the story? I couldn’t go the sold-out event, but I did read HHhH in the weeks leading up to the festival… with an embarrassing lapse in reading comprehension toward the end that shows I might have been too swept up in the action to effectively register the author’s presence in the story:

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[I sure am getting the hang of these screen shots.]

Laurent Binet is still on my radar right now, so I’ve been reading some of his interviews and I keep thinking about Nothing Happened and Then It Did and a sense of place and when it’s okay for an author to lie to the reader. I read Nothing Happened a couple years ago during a vacation in Mexico with my mom and sister, and though I could probably do with a re-read to make sure, I think I’ll stand by my original assessment that it’s an important contribution to Texas literature. (Also, Billy Lee Brammer’s The Gay Place. That tour of LBJ’s Austin brought it up again, but that book should probably be required reading for all Texans.)

Okay, those are the disjointed thoughts of a Texan in Berlin who is avoiding work on her master’s thesis about Irish print culture.

Hey, at least I’m writing again.