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.

Wilkommen(..bienvenue..) Welcome!

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Well, I made it to Berlin. Most of the group was already at Tegel, waiting for my arrival. I had been planning on making the bus/tram trip to the hotel solo, but conveniently for me, their flight was delayed enough so they got there not too long before I did.

We took the A.B bus, got interrupted by lots of Polizei, along with a black van with a guy with a big gun poking out of the sun-roof outside Hotel Alden(you may recognize the name from the movie Unknown). Natürlich, we had to get off the bus and take pictures. 

In all the commotion, I think I left my jacket on the bus. Bummer, but now I have a solid excuse to get another one. Fresh memories.



We got back on the bus, took it to Alexanderplatz, and from there got the M4 to our hotel.


We dropped off our luggage — I didn’t bring much: a backpack, and a smaller backpack. We returned to Alexanderplatz, walked around the Friendship Fountain(where I bought my first genuine brotwurst from a guy with a propane tank on his back, cooked them in front, with an umbrella over his head– ja.), took some pictures, and got ice cream(Ich mochte gerne einkugel, bitte?) before heading into Saturn for some of us to get phones that actually work in Germany. Saturn was huge — five stories of technology to buy, including 3-D TVs!!

We went to see some of the remains of the Berlin Wall, where there’s a memorial of the people who were shot and killed trying to flee East Berlin into the West. 

The last stop of the day was Prater-Beirgarten, for beer and food(I had a brotwurst again, I’m in Deutschland, had to!). When we returned to the hotel in what used to be East Berlin, it was only about 8p.m.(20:00– 2p.m. back in East America), but I was sehr, sehr müde, also ich schlafen gegangen.

*Bitte, entschuldigung meine terrible German!

Von Frankfurt nach Berlin

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Well, all my dreams I filled my last flight with about the Frankfurt airport came true, except one, the best one: and that’s that I DID make my flight.

Of course(natürlich), this is after I run around the Frankfurt airport like a rat in a race, but a very American(redheaded, stylish) rat in a very German(maze-y) race.

Several tests to pass through successfully before reaching the destination, much like a fairytale.

First, I followed the signs to the Lufthansa Service Center, just like the pilot told anyone who didn’t have a boarding pass for Berlin to do.

My intuition told me to go left and up the stairs, but I didn’t listen. I listened to the pilot, and ended up in the Service Center, yes — but in a completely deserted part of the airport, probably miles away from where I needed to be.

I turned back, found a sign that said Berlin-Tegel A17 8:55.

Alright, so now I knew the gate.

And to never -not- listen to my intuition again.

A magical helper in a red jacket pointed me towards A. A man with Polezei on his vest checked my passport, asked me questions, and passed me through.

What followed stirred some smart-allec remarks in my head, in English though, so this German airport would have to pay real close attention to pick up on it.

They were just background noise though, my focus was hard and dead-set on swift-booting it to Gate A17.

I sisn’t even stop to pee till after I printed my boarding pass(didn’t need a Service Center afterall.. -_-) and went through security.

I made it to my gate at 8:20 — five minutes to pare before boarding started, I didn’t get water or food. I tried to get on the internet and couldn’t.

Didn’t even make it to Berlin without making an ass of myself(so called it). The pilot said “Morgen” to me as I walked on the plane, which anyone can tell means ‘morning’, even if you don’t have any German background. Context clues.

I knew it meant this, but the whole “morning”-concept threw me. I’m like, I’ve been awake for about 23 hours now, what do you mean ‘morning’?!?

Of course, all this was happening in my head, keeping in a proper response of “morgen” but managing a smile and turning right down the aisle of the plane.

The first stewardess I saw I said “Morgen” to and felt a little redeemed.

Then, when row 17 didn’t exist(because I was still caught on the elusive gate number, another stewardess showed me to my seat and I said “Danke”. Yay, German.

Very motivating to learn, but I’m so exhausted I should probably sleep this flight out…

And then they said we were landing soon. I didn’t sleep.

Von Jacksonville nach Charlotte nach Frankfurt

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Notes from mid-second flight, somewhere over the North Atlantic, caught somewhere between no-time and all-time:

—-I saved the blond-brownie with chocolate chips that they handed out with dinner until just now. This was a bad call.

Maybe if my hunger hadn’t subsided, or if I hadn’t let the build up of looking forward to a treat before falling asleep upright with a bunch of strangers in the dark go on for so long, it wouldn’t have been such a fall from grace for the US Air food services. Okay, so they were never at “grace,” but certainly fell pretty far.

Instead of a sweet –anything–, anything I could have possibly looked forward to, I got a cookie-dough chew-square that my tongue felt must have been set to cool in a sweat-dampened sock, still scrunched and clay encrusted from the playing field at school, discarded and forgotten in the corner of the laundry room behind the washer, that none but the builder’s of the house 19 years ago had ever actually seen before.

Yes. It tasted like that.

I tucked the chew into the pocket of the seat-back in front of me, where all things like this go.

Old gum, goodnight.


Got to admit, I’m getting nervous. Haven’t slept any this flight, ‘xcept a chunk of minutes before the first refreshments(cran-apple juice and pretzels) that came before dinner.

Okay so I had coffee after dinner — oops. But its alright. Getting things done.

Sweating my palms out with what-if wonderings of various ways I can screw up in Berlin. Or before I even make it there. What if I miss my flight from Frankfurt to Berlin? What if I can’t find the gate? Okay, I guess that one goes before the other. What if I can’t find the restroom? What if I attempt to speak German and make a total ass of myself? Why have I not learned German yet? Why was I wasting the battery life on my ipod listening to old music…

Anyway, it’ll be fine. I’ll find a sign with all the flights on it, look for the one to Berlin, see the gate number and the PEN IS SLIPPING & SLIDING BETWEEN MY FINGERS

Kind of annoying, actually…

I flew to London once, but my mother and sisters and her middle school drama classmates were with her.

–Yay one hour and 30 minutes left! They’re coming through with coffee and danishes! Yayyy…

Tomorrow’s gonna kill me..
Hallo, Berlin ich habe nicht schlafe AT ALL…

My watch still says 11:34, guess I’m losing a few hours cause the characterly azure blue of morning stands in the ovals vertical to my left and right.

I’m really getting into this book but I should really learn German. Or study my camera manual.. Oopsy..

And suddenly the planes a-buzz alight and everyone’s up! I’ve got coffee AND OJ!

I look to my left, saw the pale orange line between the lower dark blue and the above lighter blue, and I actually thought, “Does the Sun still Rise in the East?”

Not something I’m ever going to admit to again, but as this is literally the furthest I’ve ever been from everything I know(..America..the East coast) I think just this once I’ll slide it, as long as I’ve got how BRIEF that moment of questioning was(very brief, split-second, yes I know the Earth doesn’t reverse directions just because I’m on a different side of it(side? continent? — ?)

At least, I didn’t get my hopes up for the Danish. Wise, because it turned out to be a muffin top. It was warm though, in its plastic. Points.

Its blueberry, but its got a twinge of cinnamon to it. I guess that’s why the stewardess thought it was okay to call it a danish.

The cinnamon saves it though, from becoming a warm version of the what’s-inside-the-moist-sock? pastry of earlier.

Two sugars per 1/3 of a “tall” that is the entire Styrofoam cup that is the coffee.

Sometimes I drink my coffee black. Sometimes I take one sugar. You’ll want two(min.) for this.

Coffee’s gone. “Danish” gone(didn’t make it to the chewed winterfresh purgatory-slit like its predecessor — hooray!)

Why is the person in the seat behind me(and over one to the right) talking about Ground Zero? Really woman, we’re ON A PLANE.

She’s talking about how George Washington was inaugerated in the little Chapel across the street. Forgivable?

(I went there in ’05. Lots of memorabilia, firefighters’ pictures — sad.) Sad.

Way to bring me down.

I need to know what time to set my watch — the light’s all bright now, but my watch still says 12:04. Just after midnight back home.

Alright, 6:06 at destination. Watch reset. Hour more in the air. Time to crack down on dass Deutsch lernen!

ocean slips: a music blog

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I’ve just launched my music blog —

This is full of music, old(ish) and new, so I decided to create a separate space for it. The music-related articles I’ll be posting here will be more geared towards what bands are coming to town/interviews with said bands/and new album reviews.

When I get my new record player(my first one just recently bit the dust…tears), I’ll be reviewing the latest on vinyl, here. is the place to go if you’re looking for music to add to your listening spectrum, not limited to what’s just come out. The music is shared via youtube, so everyone can play it without needing to download any special player. The video accompanying the music isn’t usually the point, but sometimes they’re pretty cool, and I’ll usually say that.

Being in Berlin, youtube has been showing this to me a lot more than I’d like:

“Unfortunately, this video is not available in Germany because it may contain music for which GEMA has not granted the respective music rights. Sorry about that.”

Solution: oder Probably more, this is just what I’ve found so far to substitute for the youtube vids I can’t watch!