Showing posts from April, 2007

Greatest City in the World

The votes are in and it's true: Berlin is the greatest city in the world.

I've lived here so long that it's hard for me to judge anymore, but last night I sat down with a newly immigrated English mother of two by the name of Sarah (well, she's been here a couple of years) and was surprised at the sheer unequivocal-ness of her endorsement. "I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else", she said. "If it were up to me, I would live here all my life."

Her points:

- It's a great place to raise children. Germans themselves will never tell you this, they think all Germans and Germany in general is anti-children, but it's not true. The subways have elevators, the buses have steps that tip down. Other cities don’t have all that. Go to New York or London or Paris. Berlin is an extremely modern city. There are still parts that could be cleaned up a little, but most likely that is only a matter of time.

- Cheap. It's true of course: Be…

Underestimating America

Underestimating America has a long tradition in Germany (and in Europe in general). There is a general pooh-poohing, patronizing attitude that inspires Germans to assume that America could never do – nor would be interested in getting involved in – all the wonderful things Europe does. Germany underestimated America in World War I and, despite warnings from WWI veterans, did it again in WWII. We Americans on the other hand come across as uncultivated and disinterested in the world and people easily forget that once we decide to do something, we do it.

Is it happening again, right now?

Just as Europeans have a kind of privileged, entitled attitude toward culture and world politics that harks back to an earlier age that is long gone, Germans especially also have a natural superiority complex when it comes to the environment. Partly, it is justified. By some accounts, Germans are already now world leaders in the alternative energy markets, which arguably will become very important and v…

I'm Wearing My Aloha Shirt Today for Don Ho

Hawaii's last icon is dead.

Don Ho was an interesting phenomenon. In the 50's he was Hawaii's Frank Sinatra, he even had a little Hawaiian Rat Pack. Then in the seventies he was the embodiment of kitsch. He should have disappeared, like a one-hit wonder, but he didn't - he was and remained a Waikiki Hotel Staple. His sheer staying-power convinced everyone to love him. Soon even the scoffers and detractors loved him. When he underwent a major operation a few years ago and returned to the stage afterwards, everyone came out of the woodwork to play with him and praise him. He was a Hawaiian boy, a local, but at the same time he was the Icon That Didn't Go Away. You have to admire a guy like that, and everyone did. (Read stories in the Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser; photo above courtesy of New York Times.)

Now he's gone, and Hawaii has no more icons. There was Duke Kahanamoku the surfer, then Don Ho the Tiny Bubbles man, then Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum, and that …

A Grave Misunderstanding of Elfriede Jelinek and of Germanoculture

Nobel Prize-winning Austrian novelist Elfriede Jelinek's novel "Greed" has been translated into English and was promptly ripped to shreds by the New York Times.

The reviewer, Joel Agee, found no redeeming value in the book, no sense of humanity or story, no humor, certainly no warmth, no artistry, only a dour, depressing hatred of self and of the world in general.

I say: That's all true, but what's wrong with it? To call all that stuff bad is to basically misunderstand Jelinek. That is her art. She's not a novelist or an artist in the Anglo-American sense, she's a very specifically Germanic kind of artist, which is to say, she's a complainer. In the German-speaking world, complaint is an art. She is the natural successor to that all-time great (and, once you wrap your mind around the idea of complaining as art) opinion very funny Austrian complainer-novelist-playwright Thomas Bernhard (who actually deserved the Nobel). Her Nobel Prize was not really …

The Rich Ripping Off the Rich

Big scandal in Hawaii! When I first read about it, I was outraged. It's a scam being put on in plain sight. And what's worse – the most outrageous thing about it – it is politically correct! It looks like charity, but is really the work of the devil!

Here's how it works: The Japanese real estate tycoon and multi-millionaire Genshiro Kawamoto recently bought up a handful of villas in Hawaii' richest neighborhood, Kahala, and promptly let them just sit there and rot or a few years. Now, he' doing something – he's pulling a spectacular media stunt by letting eight poor native Hawaiian families live in those villas rent-free for ten years. (Read about it in the New York Times and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.)

But what looks like a big charity thing is of course just the opposite: This is almost certainly a gamble to push down the high Kahala real estate values so he can by up more plots. The unemployed tenants will most likely drive down the prices. The poor people o…

Real Hula Starting Today

Most people in the world make fun of hula, but in Hawaii and other parts of the world, it is still taken seriously. If you want to see real hula, check out the upcoming Merrie Monarch Festival.

It starts Thursday and ends Sunday, in Hilo on the Big Island. Groups from all over the Pacific - including, usually, Japan - will compete in various categories, from group dances to traditional dances in traditional costumes to single-woman dances "Miss Aloha." "Merrie Monarch" refers to King Kalakaua, who, in the 19th century, tried to re-institute or reserve some Hawaiian customs that had been forgotten or were the the process of dying, from hula to slack key guitar.

You can follow the festival online at: (live online-broadcast from 6 pm pacific time each night - that's 4 in the morning German time!)

and on

(photos courtesy of Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

The Beautiful South Sea Islanders Are Back!

After a brief pause, the Berlin-based Polynesian Cultural Association PolyCult has reformed as is up and running, with a new website ( and various plans to finally teach those stodgy Berliners how to hula.

I joined up just to be able to hang around with beautiful Tongans and Tahitians, as in this photo. There aren't many Polynesians in Berlin, but if you want to meet the few who live here, check out the new website and attend the events that will be posted in the coming weeks and months. Maybe they will teach you to hula.

How I Met Tile Kolup

The movie "Hoax" with Richard Gere is coming out in the States now and reading about it makes me think of Tile Kolup. As a coincidence, last week I had the chance of a lifetime - to read in Wetzlar, Tile's home town, or at least the town of his glory and death. "Hoax" is about one of the most ballsy scams in history – in the early seventies, a down and out writer named Clifford Irving conspired to fake the autobiography of the reclusive eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. Irving claimed he had access to Hughes and his book became a huge sensation. What Irving was thinking I not quite clear – Hughes was still alive and would surely catch wind of his "autobiography." Then of course it cam as it must come – Hughes made a call to the publisher and the gig was up. What fascinates me about it is the sheer ballsiness – of was it stupidity – of making so stupid a claim. When the Germans published the fake diaries of Hitler, Hitler was at least dead and could…