Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Fellow Creatures

I saw My Fellow Creatures tonight at the Theatre Passe Muraille.
Biking down I was expecting about 10 people. A small play in the middle of it's run on a Tuesday night in a theatre I had never heard of. Even Sky Gilbert's recent opening night musical wasn't at capacity. But the theatre was full and with good reason.
The cast was amazing, the very handsome, through not 22, Benjamin Clost stood out for me, playing a victim of a pedophile who years later is arrested for the same crime and put in a cell with his abuser. A similar thing happened in my favourite book, Against the Law, where in 1954 in England a victim was put in a cell with his abuser and when he complained was told, "That's part of your punishment."
The play really looked at the human condition, something I have tried to touch on repeatedly here, from going to Auschwitz last week to eating animals to the subject of the play, pedophilia, the question I have is always why. What is making these people tick? But like Nietzsche said, when you look into the void, the void also looks into you.
I believe that's why I went to Auschwitz in the first place, all my life I had heard the Nazis were the ultimate evil. And this is just something I can't accept. I don't believe in the concept of good and evil, I think everyone believes they are good. And what if Hitler was human, what if he laughed, what if he had thoughts and emotions, what if he loved? Perhaps examining this, and discovering that the difference between us is not so great, perhaps examining this will help us understand, get to the root of the real issue, and help it not happen again.
I really question the simplicity that some people have with these topics, and I saw it tonight in the Q & A session after the play with the actors and repeating the mantra pedophiles = evil and talk about having the stomach to handle the role, even thanking Jack Daniels in the program, it seems everyone is looking for an escape, the easy answer, and to put everything in the box marked bad or good.
I heard today the German people participated in the holocaust because they were all brainwashed by Hitler who was insane. Stupid. This didn't happen like that and there is a need to examine the gray area in the middle.
I think there is a fallacy with pedophiles that needs to be changed. I think people have the idea they are evil, constantly walking in the shadows with a long cape. The bad man from the movies with the crooked smile. I believe they are amongst us, our friends, and perhaps by acknowledging these people exist we can talk with them and give them an outlet other than being arrested after the fact.
If a 17 year old in high school has sexual feelings for a child, where does he go? What can he do? Is there an outlet other than the guilt spiral followed by action followed by arrest?
I put off writing this by about a week as I couldn't deal with writing it and I do not believe I did the topic justice. I commend the author for writing this play, as the voice in my head is too strong, saying move on, something else.....

The Ethics of Eating

First off I want to thank the over 13,000 people who have checked this out. I hope I'm a bit entertaining. There's a book coming out soon called Big Trips: More Good Gay Travel Writing coming out and I was thinking about getting in there but it seems to be only for heartfelt emotional pieces. I'll get the book and check it out. If there's not a book with humorous light-hearted gay travel stories and the occasional moment of clarity, which I hope to provide, then there should be. I'll start one in my free time.
I saw an ad today:

And although I don't know Paul McCartney at all, I completely agree and checked out Peta.org. I was still eating dairy products as I thought cows had to be milked and was not aware of any adverse conditions in their captivity, although I suspected the conditions were not good. Well I read up on it and it turns out I was right, and the thing is once you know something, you can't unknow it. How can you live an ethical life and ignore the ethics of eating?

Human beings are the only species (other than house cats) to consume milk past childhood. We are also the only species to consume the milk of another species. Yet, at about the age of four, most people around the world begin to lose the ability to digest lactose, the carbohydrate found in milk. This results in a condition known as lactose intolerance that causes a range of unpleasant abdominal symptoms, including stomach cramps, flatulence and diarrhea.
Lactose intolerance is a reality for 75% of the world's population.
Allergies to dairy products can cause a wide range of symptoms including irritability, restlessness, hyperactivity, depression, abdominal pain, cramps or bloating, gas, diarrhea, bad breath, headaches, lack of energy, constipation, poor appetite, mal-absorption of nutrients, nasal stuffiness, runny nose sinusitis, asthma, shortness of breath, rashes, and eczema.

In order to produce milk, a dairy cow must give birth. To maximize their milk supply they are artificially inseminated every year, meaning they are pregnant for a physically demanding 9 months out of every 12. Their calves are traumatically taken from them shortly after birth. The resulting surplus of calves feeds the veal industry.
With genetic manipulation and intensive production technologies, Canadian cows produce an average of 9,519 kg of milk per year (2003) — seven times more than they would produce naturally. When their milk production wanes after about four years, dairy cows are sent to slaughter where their worn out bodies are ground up into hamburger.
Helpfully Peta has a 2 week meal planner here which looks excellent and I can't wait to try these recipes. Again, once you know something you can't unknow it, and in today's society we have alternatives to products that destroy the life of another living thing. How can we as a society not choose them?

Taking it Easy

Well, I had planned on taking it easy this week so that won't happen. Tonight I am going to see My Fellow Creatures at Buddies at 8 and I also have to pick up a DVD I won in a draw from Priape signed by gay star Matthew Rush. Tomorrow I go to the dentist and then volunteering at the Archives. Thursday the Toronto Cyclists Union is showing Pee Wee's Picture Show:
At the Bloor.
I think the Archives is having a fundraiser this weekend although I have yet to commit to anything I expect I will be dragged in. I have to get back on eBay selling stuff as my appartment is FULL of stuff to sell.
Thursday June 5 is Footloose: The Musical, and Sunday June 8 is Blue Jays Photo Day. Pride Day and the Atlanta Braves and George Michael and then I'm back on vacation for another 15 days. I have to plan that at some point. The car will be $545, I may have to sleep in it. I don't know if I can afford lodging AND gas. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Day 11: BICYCLE! BICYCLE! (in Freddy Mercury voice)

I rented a bicycle from the hostel today as I wanted to take a couple picture of things I'd seen that were only accessible by bus or camel and I don't know how to use either.
I managed to take a much better picture of the German parliament:

And I didn't end up doing any of the organized tours while I was here as I stumbled across most things on my own and had seen it all. But the one thing I hadn't found was Hitler's bunker. So I googled that last night and here's the marked placed last year:

The government received a request to turn it into a monument but said no and filled it with dirt in the early 80's. The foundation of the building is still there. Even in 1945 there was like nothing left by the time the Allies got there. Everything was taken. I had heard it was turned into an apartment and children's playground. Not true. I'm dispelling so many myths on this trip. Germans drive on the right too, and there is no playground there. Just like pieces of wood that form a parking lot. I guess children could play hide and seek under the cars...
This is my favourite statue in Berlin, it's Otto Von Bismark on the top:

And some really cool figures underneath him. Plus it was HUGE! Enlarge the picture by clicking it to see more detail.
So I didn't really have any plans today other than taking the picture of the statue above and I got the idea to try and follow the Berlin Wall to see if there were any more large sections left. Halfway there I was cutting through the park, they made a park out of the former no-man's-land between east and west Berlin, it's like Central Park.
Anyway, I'm cutting through the park and I screech to a halt, nearly flying over the handles of the bike. Was it an old lady being mugged? Did I run over a small child? Have you met me? Like I'd stop for any of those things. It was a naked man:

I had to get closer to make sure and yes, naked, lying in the park. And there were more! About 50! Sunbathing naked next to a family of 12 having a picnic. In the middle of the park. Men and women, but I didn't look at the women as I'm trying to avoid going blind. Of all ages and colours. Apparently, in Communist Berlin, for vacations people would go to the beach and never wear a thing. They showed a video in the Communist Museum, not one stitch on anyone. They're very free these Communists.
So I thought while in Rome and sat down, I believe on a poison oak patch as I'm incredibly itchy.
This guy was kind of looking at me, you could tell the gay section as it was the one with 40 men, and when I took off my clothes he stopped looking and got up and left. Presumably to call Greenpeace and have me hauled back to sea. Time to lower the old standards again. What's below the bottom rung? Ah yes:
"Wanted: Man. Must be breathing (negotiable)"
I'll flyer Toronto when I return.
A short 15 hour journey home tomorrow which begins with me getting up at 5:45 so I gotta go!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 10: Sachsenhausen

Sachsenhausen. The concentration camp just outside Berlin. I went there today.
It took about an hour to get there on the Metro and once there you have the option of walking 15 minutes or waiting for a bus that runs every two hours which I just missed. Of course, my watch stopped working, so who knows what time it actually was. It has started ticking the seconds backwards. Is that a good sign?
Anyway so I walked. It was 6 miles, and once I got lost that added about another 2 miles to it. I am very tired. You get up at 9 am and go all day to 11 pm for 2 weeks, and I really need some time to sit down. Tomorrow is my last day in Berlin so I plan to rent a bicycle for the day. There's loads of bike trails here. The sidewalks all have two sections, one with cobblestones for walking and then a smooth one for biking. As my feet are killing me I occasionally wander over to the smooth part and then hear a ringing bell as I'm nearly run over so tomorrow I will be the one doing the running over! Ah ha!
Sunday my flights leaves at 9:15 so I have to be at the airport at 7 and luckily the subway runs 24 hours on Saturday. Now I have to get up at 5:45 which is bad but I think my alarm clock is also not keeping proper time so who knows what will happen. I don't think they do wake up calls in a room full of 8 people at 5:45 in the morning. Just a guess.
So I went to the Concentration Camp:

The little sign on the door says "Work makes freedom", same as Auschwitz.
A uniform:

I got a book from the bookstore about this one gay guy who was sent to a concentration camp. It's a very short book as he said his story is one "No one wants to hear". It was published in 1980 and details how he got sent to Sachenhausen and his treatment while there. When he was released by the Red Army he was sent to court where his sentence in the concentration camp was seen as an appropriate punishment and was transferred to his permanent record as a prison sentence meaning he could never get a good job again. After that he was put on a watch list of sexual offenders and many other homosexuals were re-arrested during the next 20 years. He applied for compensation from the German government for being in the concentration camp and was told no. He was not considered a victim of the Nazi's crimes.

It says something like "Hushed the homosexual sacrifice in national socialism". Ironically after the Russians freed the camp they used it for the next 5 years to hold prisoners. Thousands died during this time, including homosexuals, political activists and German people. Their bodies were kept in mass graves next to the ones used for the Jews.
In 1950 it became a training camp for Russian soldiers, and in 1960 the Russians blew up the gas chamber and crematorium on site to turn it into a shooting gallery. People who were in the concentration camp intervened and now the foundation still remains, covered by a plastic tarp.

In 1992 the camp was fire-bombed by an arsonist.
I consider myself lucky to have seen these places, they will not be around forever. A lot of the buildings are wood.
Here is the German officer's quarters:

Just left to rot.
There is a monument:

Unlike Auschwitz, there was nothing here when the German Government intervened in the early 1960's and designated this a monument. It had still been used for the past 15 years, repainted and totally changed around. So they filled most spaces with a museum collection of artifacts and stories.
When you walked into the medical section, you saw this:

The camp was originally used to house prisoners of war and later everyone else. Autopsies were carried out on all of the dead, although later it was only for show and the numbers were covered up. Very little killing went on here, the people were made to work on a cup of coffee in the morning and cabbage soup (watered down) at night. In winter they had only a thin uniform and many died of TB, others lack of food or exhaustion.
The audio guide mentioned a story where 10 children were imported to the medical unit for testing from Auschwitz. These 10 boys, about 10 years old, were all tested to make sure they were fit and then given a dose of hepatitis to see how long the infection would take. One Jew who was working as an aide was there the following week when they tested the boy's liver and he told him to keep a brave face through the pain of the incision and then walked him back to his bed, where the boy lay there, facing the wall, with tears running down his face.
When I heard this story I cried and cried. I sat down outside the medical unit and cried and couldn't stop. I'd catch my breath and be okay for a minute and then start to walk again and start to cry again. I'm crying now, it was a very emotional experience being in the same building as this boy was and hearing his story and seeing the monuments, like this one:

Which says:
"In reminder of my mother.
Because of her love for my father, the French forced laborer Marcel Sebbah, she was kidnapped by the SS and died in the dispensary of the SS Sachenhausen, living weeks after being freed, as a consequence of her detention."

Day 9: Museum

Well, just now posting for yesterday as no internet AGAIN! Also I may be done for today as I'm TIRED!
I thought all the clocks in Berlin were wrong all day, and then realized my watch does not keep time. At least it looks pretty. I plan to get a new battery in Toronto, hopefully that will fix it.
I want to the DDR Museum yesterday, the museum of daily life in Berlin. Here's American jeans on the left and Communist jeans on the right:

Afterwards my feet were already tired as it took me forever to find the place so I sat on a boat for a cruise tour for an hour:

The commentary was all in German, but the sights were great:

I loved this shot. The sign says "Fuck Yuppies" and I was trying to get a picture of the old ladies looking at the map behind it but this guy walked up.

This was a huge 30 metre high aquarium and a glass elevator inside that takes you up so you can see the fish:

It was all part of the Aqua something place I went to, which helps conserve wildlife and has a bunch of tanks and animals and stuff. Like this devil ray:

Next up came a trip to the Berlin Cathedral which I happened to be walking past. It was a bit glamorous:

On the inside too:

It was the nicest church I've ever been in my whole life. It was stunning. Huge. Beautiful. To top it all off they let you walk to the top where there is a view of the whole city from the outside balcony that goes all the way around the dome:

This park, I sat in this park for a little while and read a book. There is nothing to eat on the whole of Museum Island and I found a curry place that sells fries. I get the fries, get to the park, and what I thought was curry powder was chili powder which I had covered my fries in. My lips were burning for about an hour and a half.
The church couldn't have been better. Well, the 269 steps weren't that great. But it was worth it. The dome roof was destroyed, along with most of the rest of Berlin, in the 2nd World War and the souvenir book shows the roof caved in.
The basement of the church was full of caskets from the 1500-1600's. Kings of Germany were buried there. I like this one, with the statue of the wife crying as the kid flies a kite. This was at the base of one of the coffins.

Next was the Egyptian Museum:

This was not the full collection as the original museum was bombed as well and they're only now fixing it. It ended up in Russian hands, and then there was arguments about which building was the ORIGINAL museum from like hundreds of years ago. Anyway, it won't be completed until the end of 2009. But they did have the bust of Nefertiti:

And this piece of an Egyptian palace, which was also bombed in the war, this is after the restoration:

Damn those Allies!
I thought this statue was cute:

It turns out Thursday night in Berlin is free museum night so I got to go to three more museums for free. This was cool too:


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Day 8: Priceless Work of Art

How has it been 8 days already? Yikes. The time has FLOWN by. I haven't even gotten to watch American Idol.
I went to the Janssen Gallery today. They have a shop in Berlin and are one of the world leaders in books for the gay community collecting art. The shop surprisingly had almost none of their books. But they did have some oil paintings. It turns out they were originals painted in the early 90's by a German man who died and his nephew found them and was going to throw them out and then found a note to give them to the gallery. So I knew a few of the men in the paintings and one of them I remember from when I was a teenager, Dirk Shafer, and I hummed and hawed. Is this one of those times you buy the picture or is this a time you don't and then regret it for the rest of our life and occasionally think of that picture you loved from Berlin? And how to get it back to Toronto?
Well I bought the picture. It was 250 Euros, about $400. Yikes. I spent about $800 in my first week and about $1,500 in 3 days in Berlin. So now the shopping is over. My bags are full and now I have 4 posters and an oil painting to carry on the plane (let's hope they let me carry it on the plane...). I really hope they don't open my bags.
So I've got some time while my pictures load, Berlin is great, I really love it. I took German for a year and I can understand enough to get by but I only speak about 5 words. Most of the time that is enough. Someone asks me if I want whipped cream on my coffee, I can say "Nein, danke" and we more on. Or if I have to pass someone I can say "Wie bitte", and Germans say "hi" when greeting so it all works to a point. That is when they say something back.
I woke up early this morning and went to the Schwules (gay) Museum first thing and it turns out they're open 2-6 p.m. Why doesn't someone put this on their website? Dunno.
So then I went to the Tobias exhibit I mentioned yesterday.

He had some amazing photos and I'm glad I went. I bought the catalogue book of the exhibition as I used to try to get it online afterwards and you usually end up with a cheaper price, but not the exact edition you wanted. That was about $60.
I had to buy a pass to take pictures and then I couldn't use the flash and no one here spoke English.
Then there was some weird stuff:

That I mostly skipped past as it was BIZARRE German stuff. All these figures had a button and when you held it down they talked. This secretary lady spoke English and I still had no idea what she was saying. The second floor appeared to have been pulled out of the rubbish tip.
Afterwards I went to an open air cafe and ordered an iced coffee and she brought out this:

And I got scared, as this:

in Prague (hot chocolate from a package) was $6. I thought about calling home and asking my mother to mortgage the house but it was only about $5.
A side note, I have purchased all the lemon iced tea from the store across the street and when I ask if they have any in the back, the girl gives me a helpful shrug and says "Sprechen Deutche". Even when I point to the bottle or diet peach and say "ZITRON" slowly she still has no idea what I mean. What's up with these people?
So then over to Checkpoint Charlie.

I had to stop along the way as I had forgotten, once again, to pack nail clippers and had to buy some and my deodorant I brought was from Walmart and lasts about 10 minutes. Deodorant is weird in this country, it comes in tiny glass bottles and is only available in liquid.
I'm an VERY glad my mom bought me my suitcase as it has lasted well. There's no locker here and the suitcase comes with locks for the zippers which have proved a lifesaver so THANKS MOM!
My picture for the day is me with the German soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie:

Then I went to the Schwules Museum finally and it was a tad bit of a huge letdown. First of all no one spoke English, like at all. Second of all everything was only in German. Every other museum I've been to in Berlin everything is translated in 4 languages, here nothing. Nient. Finally they don't allow pictures. The guy said I could stand at the entrance and aim the camera inward:

They had one book in English which I bought and like nothing else. A T-Shirt? A book of pictures for people in all languages? Actually they did have one book of pictures and when I tried to buy it the guy said, using no English, that the book I chose is not for sale, but every other book on the shelf was. Helpful.
There's a big tower here:

So I went to the top:

I don't know what the tower is called. A note about Berlin, for some reason it stays light until about 10:15 p.m. here and in winter it gets dark at 3 p.m. If they aren't north of Toronto how is that possible? Dunno.
Anyway, from the top of the tower I saw another bombed out church:

And a statue nearby of a mother holding her dead son:

Every where I've been, everyone is the victim. Poland welcomed the Nazis but according to them they were under German oppression and then Russian oppression. In Prague the number one selling book was a photo book about a revolt against Communism in 1968 in the town square where a student set himself on fire and burned to death to protest the occupation. And here, the town was torn apart, they were bombed and they were made to follow Hitler. Is there a collective guilt over the holocaust? Dunno, try and find it mentioned.
Finally the world clock:

At Alexanderplatz. It's famous for some reason. I just keep stumbling upon these things.
Tomorrow is the Daily Life in Communism museum and the Egypt museum. And I have to change rooms. No teenage girls, please!
Oh yes, and I must also mention everyone here is drunk. Beer in every restaurant, even fast food. Drinking beer on the subway, in the street, everywhere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 7: Ich bin Berliner.

Woke up at like 9:45 and realized I was going to miss my tour at 10 so I moved it to another day and went to the zoo.
I love the zoo. Especially in Europe when you can get so close to the animals.

My picture for the day is me feeding a goat:

I love animals and this goat was so young it was still feeding from it's mother which I've never seen before. She didn't seem to happy.
You could buy these feed pellets which I had to force myself to stop doing, and the last thing I fed was a goose:

And this sheep was nearby and got so mad I wasn't feeding it he rammed us both, knocking me over and making the goose hiss.

Two boys holding hands:

I'm still doing some of my pictures of people taking pictures and when you take pictures of kids out of the blue some parents don't like that. I'll probably be in the clink before the week is out.
I thought the dear were going to eat me they were so close:

And my favourite is the meer cats:

This is a great shot of the tiger:

When I went to eat lunch I made a few thousand friends with birds and my spaghetti:

There was an aquarium on site:

And they had some cool reptiles like this iguana:

Whoops I think I just broke the internet again. So I won't be able to post this until tomorrow.
This is a church that got bombed in the war:

So they took all the broken pieces of glass from the windows and made this:

Which I think is pretty ingenious.
Finally I found the gay section:

With the largest gay store I've ever seen. I think it's the largest in the world, it's certainly the biggest in New York, London, Chicago and Toronto. Maybe San Francisco? Anyway, it's big and I spent 2 hours there and a ton of money.
Then I found the gay and lesbian centre and took 150 or so pamphlets for the Archives in Toronto and they must have thought I was crazy. I found out about a gallery I went to see but it was closed.
Going to the Herbert Tobias exhibition tomorrow.
I love that I keep finding new stuff to do here. It's pretty cool here, it's really developed and lots of history and shopping and the people are nice. Best city yet! Ich bin ein Berliner!