Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Burning Questions: The Berlin Edition

What's the point of carbonated water? Yesterday when I posed this question as my Facebook status update, a few of my friends offered some interesting suggestions on how to make fizzy water (which Jane Seymour once called the key to romantic living) more palatable. (I'll have a shot of vodka to go with that!) Still, none of them explained why some people would prefer to drink straight carbonated water over good old agua sin gas. Maybe I've just never paid close enough attention when buying bottled water in other cities, but here in Berlin, the supermarket shelves seem to be as fully stocked with the bubbly stuff (mit Kohlensäure) as the still stuff (ohne Kohlensäure). Perhaps all those heavy meat dishes prepared in restaurants here leave people feeling particularly gassy and in desperate need of both relief and release.

Does my obsession with Greek and Roman sculpture make me not just a geek but a really strange and kind of pervy one, too? This was the running question-as-commentary that kept running through my head yesterday during my two hours at the Altes Museum. I was grinning with glee and feeling slightly overwhelmed as I gradually progressed through the two levels of ancient art on display, and easily could have spent a few more hours there had I not been overtaken by pangs of hunger.

The myriad representations of the unclothed ideal male form made me glad I'd spent an hour running around the Spree River in the morning. While I was staring at one of those ideal male forms, a nude and drunk Dionysus (my favorite male god, as he represents bacchanalia -- a word derived from his Roman name, Bacchus) holding on to a satyr, I slipped into a fantasy in which the god of wine and I were skipping the wine and hitting the hard stuff -- vodka and carbonated water -- in his unholy domain on Mount Olympus.

As an art purist, I'm still not sure how I feel about how some of the sculptures were cobbled together -- body from one century, head from another to suit prevailing tastes at the time. The arms of The Praying Boy (main photo), for instance, were added later, well after the completion of the rest of the statue, to reflect, one must presume, the era's prevailing prayer pose (which, to me, looks more like rejoicing than praying). It's art as pastiche, and studying the collection, I almost felt like I was walking through the sculptural equivalent of a sample-heavy hip-hop record.

Were the Greek, Roman and Etruscan masters exercising religious restraint or extreme modesty when sculpting the ideal nude male form? Maybe size didn't really matter back then, but one would expect Apollo, of all Greek divinities, to be, if nothing else, well-endowed. At least that was the myth going through my head every time I stumbled upon yet another representation of his unclothed form.

Is it me, or does the guy on the left look like Ralph Fiennes circa Schindler's List? It's actually someone named Irwin Piscator, about whom I hope to find out more today when I check out "Diversity Destroyed: Berlin 1933-1938," an exhibition that's part of a 2013 city-wide recognition of the 80th anniversary of the Nazi takeover of Germany at the German Historical Museum. (That's Marlene Dietrich underneath him.) I'm heading there as the second part of my 24-euro three-day museum pass that covers all of Museum Island -- an actual island in the middle of the Spree River -- and much more.

What is it about Icona Pop's "I Love It" that transcends language, country and cultural barriers? It's hopelessly high school, the kind of song I could imagine every girl in my graduating class singing along to every time it came on the radio had it been released circa 1984 to 1987. But unlike Madonna's and Cyndi Lauper's greatest hits from that period, I haven't grown tired of it since the first time I heard it, on a Melbourne TV commercial just a few days before its inclusion in a January episode of Girls led to its U.S. ascent.

The single just became a U.K. No. 1 hit upon its release there, several months after it peaked in the U.S. (at No. 7 on Billboard's Hot 100) and a full year after it made it big in Australia (reaching No. 3 on the ARIA singles chart), the first English-language country to fall for the charms of the Swedish duo. Yesterday I heard "I Love It" in a German commercial, which means that apart from plays on my iPod, I've heard the 14-month-old single in every country I've been in this year, except for the United Arab Emirates, which no doubt would have been blasting it, too, had it not been for Ramadan's restrictions on music and dancing.

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