Christoph Niemann, Illustrated

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Wednesday, we met with illustrator Christoph Niemann. He’s done editorial illustration, silkscreens, covers for the New Yorker, a column for the New York Times called “Abstract Sunday,” several children’s books, and his own book “Abstract City.”

“What probably makes me not an artist is my confidence in my work relies a lot on how its received,” Niemann said, “Fukishima—the New Yorker cover, in retrospect that’s probably what I’m after, to get that reaction.” He illustrated the cover for the March 28, 2011 issue of the New Yorker, following up the disaster in Japan without any words.

Niemann wanted to do something journalistic, bring deadlines back into his work, “tight deadlines are great, if you stare at something too long you begin to question it.”

He ran the New York Marathon, drew on a drawing pad while running it, took pics and uploaded them from his iphone. The physical part wasn’t bad – it was the mental thing, the thinking for 10 hours that’s tough. Niemann was stopped at the security gate for two hours because of his backpack with batteries and drawing supplies, and this guy walk right in with a flag with a spear at the top of it.

“In the beginning people thought I was writing a book,” Niemann said, “but by the time I got to Central Park they were like ‘Oh there’s the guy who’s doing the live drawing.’”

Nearing the end, he started drawing his shoe, he stopped on the finish line to draw the finish line around it and take a picture, and then he stepped over the finish line.

He’s from Southern Germany and went to school there though he always felt he had to get out. To make up for it, he did internships in New York, and that’s how he ended up there after graduation.

“I still think New York is the best place to work,” Niemann said, but “I couldn’t move left and right, New York was too tight-fast.” He lives here in Berlin now, and there are advantages that come with that.

“The greatest advantage is the time difference,” Niemann said, “for New Yorkers, I get up at 3 a.m.” There’s a six hour time difference between New York and Berlin, with Berlin ahead. So Niemann has his emails in before anyone else. “Worst case scenario, I have a phone call at 10 at night.”

“There’s a lot of talent in Berlin, in New York everything is priced out.” It’s cheaper to live in Berlin, so easier to work with other artists as they aren’t worrying so much about paying their super high rent, and can work on what they want. No, ‘If my apartment wasn’t so small’s – “here if you want to do it, you do it.”

Meeting Timothy Fadek

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We met with Timothy Fadek, conflict photographer, at der Institut fur Fotografische Bildung. (You might want to check out his photos.)

He has taken pictures in Cairo, Haiti, Bangledesh, Iraq to name a few.

9 months ago Fadek moved from New York to Berlin. Much easier, not to mention cheaper, to hop on a plane to Athens from Berlin, which is what he did this morning.

“They don’t give assignments to people who are still at home– you have to be there,” Fadek said.

Berlin is much closer geographically to the places that he works in. He went to Cairo, in November to shoot the “non-revolution, or revolution that failed, but a second mini-revolution started, and I happened to be there.”

We asked about how he protects himself as he deliberately walks right into the conflict. He’s got a flak jacket, but doesn’t use it. He says it gives you a false sense of security, “like you’re ninja turtles.” Its better for you to feel fear. Or more of a hyper awareness of your vulnerability(maybe fear’s too strong a word).

“I got shot twice with rubber bullets– I didn’t know rubber bullets could go through plywood.”

He pulled up a picture on the projector of a man with blood over his face, “This happened every 10 seconds.” There was a nasty Eqyptian cop, they called him the eye-hunter, who deliberately aimed at people’s face to knock their eyes out.”

You have to choose a side– never between, with the cops, you’ll be safe, but– “The protestors will be setting fire to trucks — not cops.” You have to always trust your instincts.

“I’ve had dozens and dozens of close-calls,” Fadek said, but the most important thing is– don’t drink the water.

“Sometimes you’ll be in a situation where no one else can help, and you have to put your camera down. You’re a person first, photographer second.”

Timothy Fadeck finished NYU at 21, where he studied marketing and then went into the advertising business. At 29, he dropped off a portfolio of pictures at the New York Times and got his first job as a photographer.



Ka De We–Ice Cream at the top

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After meeting with Timothy Fadek, we went for lunch at the Chicken Shack, suggested to us by the people at the Institut. Fall-off-the-bone Hähnchen, you could order half or a whole, mit pommes oder salat. Sehr, sehr gute.

After lunch, we took the train down to Ka De We, and ate iceream on the top floor. By the time we got back down to street-level to see the bombed-out church, it was closed for the day. Bummer.

Waiting for the train, I saw my first public cigarette advertisement– they don’t have huge Marlboro ads like that in the U.S.

Ice Cream Adventure nommer zwei-hundert und neunzig

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Not really. But this group really does like ice cream. We went out last night for some, went to this place called “Alex” in Alexanderplatz, right next to where we started our Fat Tire bike tour the other day. It was kinda pricey, so the four of us split drei glasses of cool delight.

That was only the first adventure. We returned to the hotel, and then walked links to find a pub, we found Hausbar, gerade aus.

We stayed there a bit, then walked further on, turned around, and as we’re about to cross back into our block an M2 tram pulled up in front of us.

Of course, we got on it.

Ended up swinging in synch(the Germans probably engineered it that way, they think of everything..) on really tall swings. Taller than any I’d seen before. I jumped off, walked a bit further, and found a secret garden with trails begging company.

In the tours, they speak of the adventures to be had in Europe. When it actually happens, it’s better.

Back at the hotel, I saw the blue light soften through the lobby windows. Sun‘s up at four here.

Sonnabend, around Berlin(on foot this time)

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Six-hour bike trip yesterday, four-hour walking tour today. Think we’ve got a good chunk of Berlin in by now. My feet are beat, but we’re about to go out again. It doesn’t stop here. This is Berlin, get on it.

The “discover Berlin” tour started near a ‘Don’t kill Bambi’(or something like that..) store, at least, that’s where we got off the tram. We walked to Museum Island from there, where I decided I have to see the Purgemon museum and the German history museum before I leave.

We walked through the gates that once had Irene(or peace) on top, but she was replaced by Victoria(Victory!!).(Also the American Emabassy was here, and I think they were filming Spaceballs 3, unless people just usually walk around like that in those costumes hier..)

We went left(links) to the Holocaust memorial, and then walked atop the parking lot under which the huge bunker was where Hitler committed suicide by cyanide and gun with his new-bride/old mistress, the tour guide didn’t tell us this until we were on top of it. Apparently, his jawbone proves against conspiracies, but his ashes were scattered in the river so there’s nothing else to go by conveniently.

We walked to what was once the 3rd Reich Air Ministry, then the East German Government building, and today the ministry of finance. There is still a happy-socialism moral on the wall.

We ended at Checkpoint Charlie, now called Snackpoint Charlie, rightly so — It’s got a McDonald’s.

We went around the corner to a Turkish joint(Wir um die Ecke zu eine Turkish joint gegangen..), where I ate Doner im Brot(wo ich habe Doner in Brot esst..?) . I’m not quite sure what the meat was, but it was very good.

Von da, wir zu der Reichtag building gegangen, und denn nach Hause(..well, the hotel).

Berlin Wall zu Tempelhof Park, on a bike

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Yesterday morning began at 5:20a.m. for me, the sun was already up and I couldn’t stay in bed(though the beds where we’re staying really aren’t that bad).

It was this morning that it actually began to hit me that I was in Berlin. And then, that I would be here(hier) for two(zwei) more weeks. (And then, back again for Jack White June 26th…after traveling Europe for near 4 more weeks!)

By 11, we were in Alexanderplatz, where we began our tour with Fat Tire Bike Tour. Sam, our guide, told us a bit of the history of Alexanderplatz, about how it was the show-off square of East Berlin back in the day. The TV tower is the tallest building in Germany and its design is based off the Sputnik Satellite(which was much, much smaller).

Ironically, the Park Inn has the highest Casino in Europe now, but every single room was bugged by the Strasi at one point. Also in Alexanderplatz was the only place to get a travel visa, that is if you’d never ever said anything against the gov’t. But even if you did get the visa, the only direction you could go was East.

We biked to a different part of what’s left of the Berlin Wall, passing Cafe Moskau and Karl Marx Buchhandlung on the way.

We got a bit more history in us before walking along the Wall towards the O2 World(definitely wasn’t there when the Wall was built), but the wall was not the original artist’s work of 1990, it was repainted in 2009 — not by the same artists though, as they only offered the artists 1000 euros each to come back and repaint.

A lot of people were gathered around one particular painting, that of the famous fraternal kiss. “My God, help me to survive this deadly love.”

We stopped for lunch at this German place(can you believe the option of pizza was suggested?!) and I had Rye Spatzel Bauerschwein, aka rye noodles and pork. Sehr, sehr gut.

We went to Tempelhoff, which has been threatened with Condo-construction, and squatted on three times to save the park. On the eve of the what was to be the hugest protest ever to save it, the government declared “It’s a park!”, figuring once that many squatters got in there, how would they ever get them out?

Perhaps it was a tool to delay decision, but now that Berlin has had a taste of Tempelhoff, it’d be difficult to take away for condo-rising.