11 entries from June 2009
Where is he gay today? Fucking, Austria, and Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
Have you experienced Intercourse? What! You haven't? Let me show you. There are many pictures of Intercourse online, but I believe these are the most explicit.
Even in the midst of Intercourse, the Big O can remain elusive. You might end up with a big zero.
How did the town get its name? As you can see from the picture below, Intercourse brings people together in a three-way. Perhaps many travellers crossed paths, like ships in the night, and enjoyed much intercourse on this very spot. In those days, there was little else to do.
Other stories about the name come from the town's equestrian history. Apparently, the village sprang up around the entrance to a race course. Over the years, Enter Course became Intercourse. So remember, Intercourse is not a race! You'd be surprised how many think it is.
Will you find yourself saying "Oh, God!" in the middle of Intercourse? The locals do. It's an Amish town, quite strictly religious. For those of you who don't know about their distinctive beliefs, the Amish eschew any technology not mentioned in the Bible. This means they must negotiate Intercourse with horses.
Intercoursers. Or is that Intercoursians?
Luckily, one of the things they found in the Bible was money. The town does a thriving trade in traditional Amish quilts, and some of them cost a fortune. It's a little bit sad to be in the middle of Intercourse, and your mind is on how you mustn't stain the bedclothing.
To my taste, the town's T-shirts stop short of celebrating Intercourse in the way it deserves. Religious influence keeps the jokes rather coy.
Enough of Intercourse. On to Fucking.
With a population one-tenth the size of Intercourse, the village gets few visitors. People talk a lot about Fucking, but few of them of them go all the way.
Fucking is a littlle more down-and-dirty than Intercourse. The name means, in the local dialect, people of Fuck. Except, like Entercourse and Intercourse, the name Fuck was originally Focko, whose descendants adopted the noble name de Fucingin. So the town is a bastardisation of a legitimate German surname.
Like many of our age, we used a device to to help with Fucking.
Next stop: Fucking Mitte
It confused us to discover we couldn't program a Fucking address into the navigation system. Usually, the screen tells you the street on which you're travelling, and the next street en route. But as we approached Fucking, the poor car could think of nothing else.
Google Earth shared the same obsession, it seemed. Every street was named Fucking. Is it possible for one of de Fucingin's descendants to be, say, Baron von Fuck, of Fuckingstraße 28, 4774 Fucking, Austria? Truly a case of Fucking on the brain.
The sign below explains it all. It seems that many towns in Austria use a Japanese-style address system. In each small neighbourhood, they simply number the houses in the order they were built. Hence, Baron von Fuck's address would be Fucking 28, Austria. It makes Fucking easy to handle, wouldn't you agree?
Before you get to Fucking, you need to go through Petting, and before that, Willing. There is even a town called Kissing, but that's in Baden-Württemburg. If you've reached Kissing, you're still nowhere near Fucking.
Like Intercourse, Fucking is a religious experience. The sign below asks God to bless the harvest. It's quite fertile around there, so a good Fucking plowing often bears fruit. In Fucking, be careful where you drop your seed.
That said, there's not much to recommend Fucking. Unless you're with someone you like, Fucking can be quite dull.
The picture below reveals a highlight of downtown Fucking.
Alas, not a Fucking soul to be seen. These chaps below were the closest things to Fuckingers we could find. (Yes, the townsfolk are called Fuckingers, which is perhaps not what you thought. ) Maybe everyone was in Hiding. I think that's near Linz.
One thing you can say about Fucking—it's over quickly. Fare thee well.
Which is better, Fucking or Intercourse? Tough call.
I think Fucking is a little more personal than Intercourse. Intercourse is more romantic. But if I had my druthers, I'd choose to stay in Austria and visit a town called Poppendorf. As you may know, the word dorf in German means town, and the word Poppen means—please forgive my language—fucking.
EDIT: Look what else we came across!
This picture intrigues me.
No, it's not the bureaucratic lunacy. In order to preserve the streetscape, Munich city council demands all scaffolds carry an image of the building behind. And then they let you slap a giant ad all over it, which does the streetscape no favours.
No, it's not the fact that consumer-protection lawyers expect you to read footnotes on a billboard.
Rather, it's a matter of language. Their calls may be wireless, but Vodafone has hard-wired English into their German. In a highly involved way.
The English verb surf refers to surfacing on a wave. When we use the word surf in an online sense, it often carries a qualifier: like websurfing or surfing the internet. On the other hand, when a German uses the word surfen, he almost always means online. Unless you're an Eisbacher, there's not much call for that crazy Kahuna jive here in Middle Europe. Bremerhaven ain't exactly Waikiki.
But here's the bit that makes it interesting (and makes the ad quite skillful). This billboard entrenches the English word surf even further into the German language, and into local culture.
The ad tells readers that the Surf-Sofort-Packet (Immediate Surfing Package) gives you a dial-up modem that reaches DSL speeds. Plug it in, and you're lossurfen ("go-surfing"). You can hop straight onto Kraigsliste and arrange a little losbumsen.
The Mayor of Munich always taps the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. As the hammer falls, and the foam squirts suggestively out of the barrel, he shouts O'zapft ist! ("It is tapped!")
Literally, the headline here says it is surfed! Or rather, with German grammar, it is surft.
Nothing odd about that, particularly. We crowbar borrowed words into English grammar all the time. I mean, when you go to a restaurant, do you order two filets mignon, or two filet mignons? See?
But hang on. Why does Vodafone use the English word is, instead of the German word ist? The languages have not only slept together, they've exchanged bodily fluids.
Perhaps there's some folkloric reason to use the word is instead of ist. I don't know, since I haven't looked it up yet on the internet.
Or, as we say in German, ich habe es noch nicht gegoogelt. Which they really should spell gegügelt. Right?
Through the window of a shoe store in Müllerstraße, in the Glockenbachviertel. They wouldn't let me take a picture inside the shop, because I might scare away customers. They probably maintain that art must be an outrage, fashion must be transgressive, and all that.
How do you feel about having come out relatively late in life? Do you feel like you missed out on anything as an outed youth, like you had to make up for lost time?
Coming out late is my biggest single regret.
Taking pleasure, and giving it, feels utterly natural to most people. But to do this well, and unselfconsciously, means that you’ve mastered a complex skill. You learn it best when young. Youth and love go together.
Learning to love, as an adult, is harder. For me, love is still a conscious act, not an instinct.
Love teaches us many things; charity, compassion, compromise, wisdom. It took me a long time to appreciate these values. And more than most, I struggle to live up to them.
The heterosexual charade stopped fifteen years ago. I quickly made up for the lost sex, but haven’t made up for the lost love. Perhaps I never shall.
When you came out to family and friends, whose response surprised you the most?
Nobody and everybody. When I came out, all my friends and family were supportive. Everyone noticed a calm settle over me, and delighted at my new-found peace of mind. They spoke with warm and encouraging words.
So it shocked me when I walked into a glass wall.
For example, a very good, very supportive friend—whom I love very much, and who has many gay and lesbian business colleagues and friends—gave Master Right and I strict instructions when we visited the family beach house. “I hate to have to ask this, but I want to make it clear.," he said. "Please, no overt homosexuality in front of the children.”
“OK,” I replied, “But please instruct your son and daughter that there should be no overt childishness in front of the homosexuals.”
“You know what I mean,” he muttered.
Naturally, I reassured him that I knew what he meant. But I wonder what he expected, exactly. Enema bags on the clothesline? Dildoes left among the bath toys? Fellatio while waiting for the toast to pop? Doggie–style on the coffee-table?
Maybe he imagined something more matter-of-fact. A gentle peck on the cheek to say good morning. A touch on the shoulder as one spouse asks the other if he wants a cup of coffee. One man placing his hand on the other’s forearm, as he stops his husband in mid-anecdote, to correct his memory of events. Or maybe it’s as simple as, in conversation, two men talking about each other as “we”.
This is not an isolated case.
Generally, such concerns evaporate quickly. My good friend, and other friends like him, came around. Much as people bandy about the phrase “overt homosexualty”, most sex, straight or gay, is a private affair.
In the course of a normal life, you can’t hide love. I was surprised how many friends expected it of me, at least at first. The idea of homosexual love challenges people far more than the idea of homosexual sex.
The photos in this post show a quiet evening last February, in and around Old Compton Street, London's gay neighbourhood.
Let's assume the good people at Photo Friday are referring to noise in the technical sense. That is, the digital equivalent of film grain. This snap of an artist's studio window soaked up some serious iPhoto attention.
Where is he gay today? Bavarissippi.
Never visit a city in a bad mood. First, you won't enjoy it. Second, you could get the impression that the townsfolk are a bunch of narrow-minded drunken asswipe provincial twats, and that might not be true. On the other hand, it might be true, which would be the reason you're not enjoying it.
Take the crypto-Swabian city of Ulm. It rests on the border between Baden-Württemburg and Bavaria, spanning the upper reaches of the Danube. It fancies itself a city devoted to architecture, mixing utterly breathtaking mediaeval buildings with more orthodox modernism.
I went there by chance.
Two weeks ago, southern Germany celebrated Pfingsten, or Whit Monday, the day after Pentecost. (We celebrate many religious holidays with silly names here in Germany; my fave is the Ascension, or the Kristi Himmelfahrt.)
Friday morning, before the holiday, I had a meeting in Stuttgart. Friday afternoon, trains in southern Germany seized. The TGV was booked out. The InterCity express to Munich ran two hours late. (Don't act so surprised. It was Mussolini who made the trains run on time, remember, and not You-Know-Who.)
I decided to leapfrog my way east on a series of local trains, instead. This gave me a couple of hours to kill in Ulm.
Some trains hinted at the character of the disembarking locals.
Fate landed me in a Bavarian Arkansas. Packs of good ol' boys roamed the streets, drunk to the eyeballs, shouting at women, each other, and often at you.
Germany has a pretty high tolerance for public drunken-ness—as do I, to be honest. But this was hyperdrunk. Many Ulmers had abandoned work for the long weekend, and hit the sauce from breakfast on, by the looks of things. Harmless, boisterous drunkards, you say? These guys hovered on the edge of turning nasty-drunk, wanting to pick a fight. If you grew up in an alcoholic family, you know of these things.
Dodging a few smashed beer bottles, I headed into town from the railway station, and happened upon a work of art. It was an ultra-minimalist piece: twenty-four slabs of granite stacked like a puzzle, which gave the impression of an unfinished car park. Nonetheless, it served its purpose, which was to recall that Ulm is the birthplace of Albert Einstein.
As you know, I'm a big fan of Einstein. Master Right and I even visited his home in Princeton, where he fled in the early thirties to escape the Nazis. Einstein praised Princeton warmly, and found it a congenial place in which to spend his last three decades.
Einstein felt much less warmth toward the town of his birth. Admittedly, he knew little of it, since the family moved to Munich 15 months afterward. He was polite, though, calling Ulm a city of "refined artistic tradition and simple, healthy character."
The local burghers quote this sentence often*, since it seems to be the only unequivocally nice thing the great genius ever said about the place. Though he kept his manners, an undercurrent of bitchiness flowed through Einstein's remarks on Ulm.
He claimed that the house in which he was born was a damn good place for birthing, since an infant has few "aesthetic needs".
After his Nobel Prize in 1922, the city council named a street "Einsteinstraße". He wrote to thank them, and said that while he was grateful, he would console himself that he is "not responsible for what was happening [in the street], nor what would happen in it." Outraged that a public street should be named after a Jew, the Nazis renamed Einsteinstraße the following year. Ulm city council changed it back after the war, and when Einstein later heard of it, he said:
"This quaint business with the street- name has come to my attention back then and it has quite amused me. It is not known to me if anything has changed in the meantime and I am even less aware when the next change will be happening but I do know how to curb my curiosity. (...) I believe that a neutral name, for example 'Turnabout Street' would be more appropriate to the German character and would not necessitate a renaming with the course of time."
He repeatedly refused honorary citizenship in Ulm.
The city doesn't quite know what to make of Einstein's attitude. Though she happily remembers her scientists and mathematicians—both Keppler and Descartes lived here for a spell—Ulm has a strained relationship with her most famous son.
Originally, the city council felt the need to consult the University of Tübingen to see if all this fuss about relativity were really that big a deal, before they wrote a letter to congratulate Einstein. One mustn't be reckless with letters, right?
Immediately after the war, relatives and friends of the resistance fighters Hans and Sophie Scholl named the adult education centre Einstein Haus (on Einsteinstraße, of course). These same individuals were responsible for the 1984 birthplace memorial above. It dismayed them, no doubt, that the only official commemoration on the site, almost four decades after the war ended, was a plaque donated by the Calcutta Arts Society.
I managed to track down the official Einstein Memorial, tucked in an odd corner outside some municipal offices. Erected in 1982, the Denkmal mimics that famous 1951 photo of the great man sticking out his tongue. Sculptor Jürgen Goertz chose to show his subject emerging from a snail's shell, to represent "nature, wisdom and skepticism over man's control of technology".
Since when did a goddamn snail represent that? And since when did Einstein champion "skepticism over man's control of technology"? Quite the opposite, I would have thought.
The snail is perched atop a stylised rocket, with water falling underneath to suggest a vapour trail. Hence, it becomes a fountain, the Einstein-Brunnen. Problem is, you don't immediately read the fountain part as a rocket. And you don't immediately get the snail shell on top. How does one interpret this sculpture?
As you walk around the piece, you see a breach in the shell, where a glob of goop pours out of the Nobel Laureate's skull. Perhaps Goertz had read of Einstein's unusually large head as an infant. Pauline Einstein, when she first saw her son, felt she may have given birth to a monster.
With all of this ooze, cast in dark-coloured bronze, I found it hard not to read the Einstein Brunnen as a pile of shit. (I mean that literally, not figuratively.)
Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Einstein deplored the cult of personality which grew around him, and his face emerging from a dogpile might pay tribute to his unpretentiousness and impish sense of humour. It could be an ironic joke. Then again, it might be a giant fuck you to the subject himself.
On closer inspection, we see that a local has offered his opinion. And in English, too.
I showed these photos of the Einstein Brunnen to Master Right—who, you may recall, is Japanese, and a step or two removed from our European cultural prejudices. His first reaction? They're mocking him for being Jewish. I must confess, the dark skin, exaggerated nose and googly eyes made me think the same thing, at first.
Ulm had a bit tof an Einstein year in 2004, the 125th anniversary of his birth. The centre of town filled with more statues, and an exhibition was held at the new city museum. As part of the fetivities, Austrian Dirk D'Ase composed an opera, Einstein in Amerika.
Most of the information on the work is in German, so my interpretation may be way off. It seems that the music was sublime. The libretto, however, indicated the following:
- Einstein's last years were a lonely misery.
- He was wracked with guilt for having created the science which caused hundreds of thousands of souls to perish in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One scene was set on the Enola Gay.
- He was harassed and bribed by McCarthyist thugs who wished to destroy the notes of his life's work.
The librettist chose this fanciful version of events over the documented truth. That is:
- Einstein spent his final years in Princeton in the company of beloved family members
- He regarded it as a place of comparative peace and freedom, and said so.
- He sponsored so many Jewish friends and relatives for immigration into the USA, that they had to ask him to stop.
- He demonstrated that the work on which he collaborated with Nils Bohr did not, directly, lead to the development of the bomb. Though he freely admitted that he wrote to Roosevelt to tell him of the Nazi nuclear programme, and urged him to begin one in response.
Perhaps being run out of your homeland by the Nazis isn't suitable material for musical theatre?
EDIT: I have just seen Nicolas Roeg's film of Terry Johnson's play Insignificance. Though Johnson labels his play as fiction, D'Ase seems to have taken the play as an historical document.
In spite of her taste for opera, Ulm remains tone-deaf. The city simply cannot strike the right note in appreciation of Einstein. One would hope this is not the result of lingering anti-semitism.
Ulm's Jewish community got along well with its Evangelical Lutherans. Hermann Einstein, Albert's father, even contributed to statuary in the Ulm Minster.
(Ulm Minster, by the way, is a fascinating building. The world's first megachurch, it was built to seat twenty thousand worshippers when the city's population had barely reached ten. Until 1901, it was the world's tallest man-made structure.)
A slab inside Ulm Minster. I'm tempted to think it's inscribed in Hebrew, but I'm not sure.
The Lutherans were a cool bunch. But their Catholic counterparts, numerous in Bavaria and Baden-Württemburg...well, I can't say.
It would be a shame if this lack of civic emotional intelligence keeps Einstein from being remembered, in his birthplace, for his most important work. Not the work of a physicist, but of a humanitarian. In Ulm, one hears no echoes of the moral authority in his voice.
What gave rise to this odd perception of Einstein amongst his fellow Ulmers—indeed, among his fellow southern Germans? Let us hope that these mis-steps are no more than the gaucheness of the rube, and not remnants of a bigotry which the world fought to bury long ago.
And that the drunks stay rowdy, not angry.
* * * * *
*Much of this information comes from a brochure given to me by the Ulm city tourist office. Fellow Einstein Fan Y.S. Kim has reproduced it in part on his excellent Einstein tribute page.
This post is part of the Young Germany Expat Blog Hop, curated by the able Nicolette Stewart.
OK, I gave in. Everyone asks are you on Facebook? So I got on Facebook.
Damn, it's frightening. Several people had my email address plugged in, just waiting for me to appear. It's astonishing how many people Facebook hooked me up with, and how quickly. I hadn't heard the scary story about Facebook's connections with the CIA until too late. Oh, well.
One of the most interesting people I ran into was myself. As I have blogged before, I sport an unusual combination of given-name and surname, and finding another me piqued my curiosity. So, I befriended myself.
It turns out I am a college student in Slovakia who loves ice hockey (When I ran into myself online before, I got the impression I played football). I have a hot girlfriend, whom I probably neglect, given how many pictures I post of me hanging out with the boys. Quite a few show me clutching an almost-empty vodka bottle.
I am a Default Don in the Facebook Mafia Wars application.
I am inordinately fond of online quizzes. The Facebook Mediaeval Humours Quiz labelled Me Jr. as sanguine; that is, easy-going, life-of-the-party, few hangups. When Me Sr. took the quiz, I turned out to be melancholy. The Facebook What Car Are You Quiz picked Me Jr. as a BMW, but Me Sr. as a Lamborghini Diablo.
I wonder if I have much in common with myself. If I'm reading this, feel free to drop me a line.