Fête Nationale Berlin 2012

As expat time spent outside of my home country increases, I find that the American Independence Day July 4th, increasingly hard to celebrate. 
Not due to loss of my sense of pride to be an American or any such thing… simply because there are so few chances to celebrate here in Berlin.
July 4th in Berlin is often put together by some of the local expat organisations, usually in a park somewhere, and annoyingly enough, during normal business hours. Am I the only American actually working in Berlin?

Fete NationaleWhich brings me to what the English-speaking world calls Bastille Day. July 14th is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison, and is celebrated as the beginning of the French Revolution. Every year on Pariser Platz (the square that begins Unter den Linden street right behind the Brandenberg Gate), the French Embassy throws a little party. Not a huge one, but a nice one. Events run most of the day, and importantly for me, into the evening. Interestingly enough, in France, the parties are traditionally scheduled for the 13th of the month, allowing for the party to go late into the night, and the people to sleep in on the actual holiday.The French Embassy erects a large stage and twenty or so booths sell everything from Orangina to fine, French wines. Of course this is still Germany, so someone is selling Rostbratwurst in a bun as well, but most of the stalls are Franco-centric. In recent years, Galleries Lafayette has had a stall selling a bit of the French culture to hungry French expats and Germans alike.

For me the music is not to be missed, so I always try my best to be there for the concerts as the daylight begins to dim. 

Kinda golden
From our own trip to Paris
to celebrate the
Fête Nationale

I love to play “spot the Frenchie”, which is easier than you might imagine. As the music gets wilder and wilder, the Germans can be seen watching intently, generally with not so much as a foot tapping in time with the music… while the French are wildly dancing and obviously enjoying themselves. It is a cultural divide to say the least. 

Oh, and this American is jumping and dancing in the French throng, trust me. Maybe I don’t get to celebrate the Red, White and Blue complete with crazy fireworks… but the Blue, White, Red party is a lot of fun too.

If you’re in Berlin and looking for a nice Strassenfest, come on down to the Gate on Friday night. You will have your chance to taste a REAL crêpe, and show those Germans how to dance.


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CSD 2012

Christopher Street Day in Berlin.
Welcome to Berlin...
It all started in the late 60’s when a few pissed off people finally said “no more” as the police stormed into the local gay bar, New York City’s Stonewall Inn, for their weekly shake down.

Some said that the patrons were mourning the death of Judy Garland and just started to fight back in anger when the police came in. Of course no one really knows what was so different about this night, but the gay men in that bar weren’t having any of it, not any more. 

They pushed back when the police came in, and eventually they trapped several police officers IN the bar itself as the patrons left, and locked the doors. That will show you what a few pissed off drag queens can do.
More and more people filed into the streets of Greenwich Village that night in an angry and violent mood. The police had lost all control. 

The next evening another, even bigger crowd gathered in the streets and sparred with an even larger police force, but once again, the police lost control of the situation.  A few days later, once again more people filled the streets and generally let it be known that the archaic rules placed on American gays and lesbians was no longer to be countenanced. 
After seeing this general outpouring of anger, gay community leaders began to get together and form groups to do something with their new found power.  

These events are commonly referred to as the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement in America. Just like the other groups of people in America who insisted on their civil rights, gays were ready to stand up and proclaim that the American Constitution guarantees equal rights for ALL men. Ask any gay person living in New York at that time and
they will tell you that they were AT those riots. It is a common joke
that EVERYONE was at Stonewall. 
A year later a memorial parade was planned. As the Stonewall Inn (owned by the mafia and by this time closed down) had been on Christopher street, they decided to start the parade at that location and call it the Christopher Street Liberation Day. This was the first American Gay Pride Parade, and is the namesake for the Berlin Pride Parade, as well as some others throughout Europe. 

Which brings us to today. I’m quite certain that the parade attended by hundreds of thousands of people (gay and straight) yesterday was quite a bit different than that first parade in the Village. For one thing it is all quite commercial, the next is the “let it all hang out” attitude which can be a bit shocking to first timers. 

But in general it is good, safe fun and an enjoyable time with some of the best mobile sound systems to be had. This year’s route took it past a cute little park at the corner of Dorotheenstraße and Neustädtiche Kirchstraße. What a PERFECT place for the trucks to stop and have an impromptu dance session. Wonderful!

Enjoy some pics
Need to rest...
Dance it UP!
WHAT is that round thingie?
There she is... Miss America
Next year I plan to check out the Transgenialer which is the alternative Gay Pride held in Kreuzberg. They say it is less commercial. Perhaps that is where I belong, even though I must admit that I LOVE dancing behind the BIG trucks with their chest thumping beats.

Some would say that in these times when gay people are getting more and more rights, do we really still need gay pride? I say yes. It is a time for us to take to the streets and show the world who we are and that we are proud of it. All of my CSD pics can be found here

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Berlin Fotomarathon 2012

Over the past weekend I took part in my second Berlin Fotomarathon. Basically it works like this: 

a. There’s an overall theme each year. This year it was “Der Augenblick genießen” which got translated two ways according to which theme sheet you consulted. The first translation was “Enjoy the Moment”, whereas the second and third sheet had “Seize the Moment” which was actually a much nicer sentiment in my estimation. Unfortunately you don’t learn the theme until the shot of the Fotomarathon gun and the first shot themes are handed out. 

b. Then all participants have 12 hours to take 24 photos. 

c. Each photo must display a theme. The individual themes are given out in stages of eight, at a series of checkpoints around Berlin. 

d. At the last checkpoint participants hand over their memory card with only 24 photos, taken in order and unmodified

e. An exhibition is organized about three weeks after the marathon, and prizes are handed out on the last day of that exhibition. 

01 Here and now (Hier und Jetzt)
This first image must display your start number in some creative way. My start number being 42 was rather daunting since it seems the number is the “Answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything” as stated in the book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I had put out a general scream for help and several people stepped to the plate. 
In the end I combined the suggestions of The Queer Expatriate (who would also be participating) and the Honorable Husband. Spelling 42 phonetically was the brainchild of HH and TQE reminded me about the white mice who were central to the QUESTION in the book. The watch is there because it actually reads 11:42, and I thought that was a cool addition to the “here and now” theme. I had considered using the white mice throughout the day as sort of a theme, but decided that life was too short for that kind of craziness. 

02 Go for it! (Trau Dich!) 
My photowalk buddy stood in for this one. The idea was gathering the courage to do something a bit dangerous. There were originally two photos, one which had a better hand position, but seemed to be ready to shove the hot pepper up her nose. I personally dislike the yellow tint, and would rather have framed the shot differently, but hey, we’re under time pressure, ya know? 
03 Colourful (Farbenfroh) 
This was taken in the grocery store in the basement at Alexa. I had purchased the hot pepper there and knew I would return after that shot to capture something colorful. (I often wonder what people think when they see someone craning over a display rack holding a camera — but this is of course a big city, and no one said a thing. In fact, one man waited patiently for me to compose and shoot before reaching for his bananas.)
04 Free choice (freie Auswahl)
The guys at Alexanderplatz Dunkin’ Donuts were cute, and sweet, and asked for money to allow me to shoot. But in the end they relented. I actually think they were a bit disappointed that I didn’t want to get them in the picture.

05 Melting away (dahinschmeltzen)
I would have liked to get two lovers melting into each other, as this is actually the closer translation of the German original. But the ice cream idea popped into mind as we were waiting in line at Alexanderplatz Burger King. (a girl can’t live on Ibuprofen and Red Bull alone, mind you) This cone waited through our lunch and really started to get busy melting as I was finishing up. I like how there are two downward streams in each area. 

One funny thing to experience at this location was that we actually ate lunch sitting adjacent to two sets of Fotomarathoners, even though we were on the opposite side of town from the starting point. As I pulled out the camera for this shot, all eyes were on me with what I assume was the “which theme” question rolling through their heads.  

06 Perfection (Perfektion)
Now we are on our way to get the next set of themes. I was two photos behind by this time and was feeling a bit of pressure. But way back at Alex I had decided that perfection to me was a box of Karl’s strawberries. The nearest stand we could think of was at Bahnhof Zoo… so we took the opportunity to hit that location on our way to the Hotel Bogota for the next themes. 

As the shutter clicked for this photo, I heard the unmistakeable voice of That Queer Expatriate behind me asking which theme I was shooting. How funny to run into him in this huge city, a bus ride away from our eventual destination. We three then made our way to the check in. Hotel Bogota had an interesting feel about it, with many photographs surrounding us as we made our way in and out. I will go back soon to get a better understanding for the place. Maybe to also learn more about their tango nights. 

07 Euphoric (euphorisch)
After looking over the next required themes such as “laughing out loud”, and “hot and spicy” it just seemed natural to head back to the Motzstrassenfest. Let’s face it, Berliners aren’t known for their smiling faces, and I would need some soon. 

I admit defeat on this one. I kept trying to get these girls as they looked not only euphoric, but also catching them as the ADAC advertisement was not showing. Ugh. OK, on to the next shot, please.

08 Absorbed (versunken)
This shot was exactly what I was looking for. My first thought was to enlist the help of my photo walk buddy and shoot over her shoulder as she was checking images on her camera. But then the phone thing occurred to me, with the added benefit of getting the faces of friends around who looked bored because of this guy’s absorption.

09 City life (Stadtleben)
This is a classic, and you might guess is taken very close to the festival. Displaying so beautifully the rough side of the city is the man below. Beer bottle in hand, I thought to capture him, then watched incredulously as he picks his nose and eats it. Lovely. Soon I notice him readjusting his “package” as though uncomfortable. As I start to walk away after the shot, he whips it out right there and proceeds to piss. The guy on the top is of course oblivious to what is happening below, and is busy taking photos of the party on the street. Yeah, city life.

10 Laughing out loud (lauthals lachen)
These two were sooo cute. I saw them and thought that I had finally caught the only smiling faces in the place. When I turned them and asked them if I could take a photo it became obvious why they were walking with their faces in a default smile setting… they were from out of town. Thanks guys. 

11 Longing (sehnsüchtig)
The guy in the vest was working on shirtless dude something incredible. Asking him questions about his life, and where he was from. In general, shirtless dude was looking past vest man towards the guy behind him wearing a hat. What an interaction, and it went on for about 10 minutes. 

12 Pause for thought (Denkpause)
Ahem. Berliner Fotomarathon images are displayed end to end on a 3 meter long strip of photos… so um, well, it is better to have them all oriented landscape, and NOT portrait. Well, sometimes that is easy to forget, especially when MOST of the photos you normally take seem to be portrait. Thus we have this lovely example of a pause for thought which actually displayed my lack of thought. Hell, I’m cool with it. I did have a lovely pause there, and I’m going to continue to display it sideways as though I had intended it all along. 

About this time we met (by accident – seriously, how BIG IS this city?) the Honorable Husband and decided to walk together for a while to discover more of this cool event. He lives in Munich and something tells me the stuffy Münchners don’t let it all hang out quite the way the Berliners do… so as he was enjoying the scenery, we were enjoying showing him what it is like in Europe’s gay pride capital. 

13 Flight of fancy (Höhenflüge)
Balloons, flying, colorful, the flag in the background… I’m going with it. 

14 Hot and spicy (richtig scharf)
Oh my these “ladies” were incredible. I did get a full body shot of the one wearing the black shoes, but she really was a bit too skinny for my taste. Perhaps I expect my transvestites to have more UMPH up top or something. When we saw the shoes with red… oh honey… THAT is hot and spicy. 

15 Sweet tooth (Naschkatze)
Yeah well, duh. I wish I had pulled out the 50mm for this shot for more bokeh and better focus. But it is at least a decent shot. 

16 Carefree (sorglos) 
Dude was standing just outside the area from the women’s stage. He was chugging a beer and just looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. OK, snap. 

HH invited us back to his nearby hotel for a coffee break and since we were running ahead of schedule, we thought it sounded like a good proposition. Once again, the theme for the day was “Enjoy the Moment”, and we intended to do just that. Thanks HH!

17 Call it a day (Feierabend)
After warm coffee, sparkling conversation and a rain shower pause we made our way over to the next check in location which was the Berlinische Gallerie. Another cool place that warrants further investigation. 

This shot is the entrance to a company which was closed up for the day. Yeah, Feierabend. 

18 Together (zusammen)
Benches, together… I’m going with it. 

19 Chilling (chillen)
Not long after I took this shot these folks got up and left. My photowalk buddy suggested that perhaps they were dealers and didn’t like the idea of a camera being pointed at them, no matter HOW far away. 

20 Refreshing (erfrischend)
Um, yeah. I was thinking water (ok, so that is canal water and CERTAINLY not fresh) and that cute little umbrella over there. Work with me people.

21 Natural beauty (Naturschönheit)
This was taken looking down from the overhead train bridge at Hallesches Tor. I like the lines of the tree branches and how they work with the sidewalk line. 

22 Passionate (leidenschaftlich)
This was a no brainer. What was so hard about it was getting them while embracing without seeing either face. I also wanted to get the train station sign in there to give it a sense of place. 

23 Cherry red (kirschrot)
We headed back to the Motz festival again because… well, why not? We met up with some friends, drank some adult beverages and generally “enjoyed the moment”. I spent two hours in search of an ass for this shot. I wanted two buns tightly packed into a pair of red leather… or red denim… or hell, knowing this festival, it was possible to find those buns with red paint on them. Everyone around was helping me… “Oh look, she’s got red pants”. In the end I didn’t find what I was looking for. 

As the time drew near to get out of there and turn in our pictures, I started to get a bit nervous. Then I saw this beautiful older woman amongst the dancers shaking her thing. When I approached she wanted me to take a photo of her man. He was sweet, and about a head shorter than her, but he wasn’t what I was looking for. 

She and I chatted for some time. Crappy German was our only language in common, as she was from Ecuador and spoke Spanish and I think she said Quichua. We talked about the dance she was doing, which looked like an extended merengue to me, but she said it was something she learned in her village, and she had no name for it. 

24 The last dance (Der letzte Tanz)
These are actually the feet of one of the friends we met up with at the Motz Festival. I had taken about 8 shots, but either other feet got in the way, or they were more blurred than I would have liked, or actually not blurred enough. In the end I settled for this shot because you can more easily see her shoes… which I liked. 

After going through all of these images I now understand why so many others (No Apathy Allowed / The Queer Expatriate) are blogging about their experience in stages. My gosh, that is a lot to consider all at one time.

My second experience with a photo marathon was even better than the last, and that is saying a lot since I enjoyed the other one sooo much. The photos aren’t anything special, and actually there are only one or two which I would even consider loading onto Flickr. But the theme of the day was “Seize the Moment”, and I think we really did just that. 

I had decided to shoot the whole day in manual and to use my new 24-70 lens exclusively. Well, I had to change out the lens twice for an 18-200 my buddy was working with… otherwise I just wouldn’t have gotten the shot. Also I used the 50mm for the melting away shot… and later the strawberry shot, there was no other way to capture the subject and blur the other items the way I wanted. But I carried that HUGE piece of 24-70 glass with me everywhere and didn’t even get tennis elbow for my trouble.

Several things I promise myself for next year. I will work harder to have artful photos. Because I know that doing it alone would be hard I will have a buddy along again. Also next year I want to take non-marathon photos alongside those requested ones. It seems to make sense to download them all to the iPad or something before deleting the ones which don’t fit. I DID delete some awesome pics this year which weren’t right the theme. 

A big thanks to the Berliner Fotomarathon folks who I believe are all volunteers. It must be hard to put something like this together, and they’ve done a great job and deserve a round of applause. The locations were better this year, the prizes are better, and it seemed to flow much easier as well. 

Now… where is my calendar for NEXT year’s marathon?

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Motzstraßenfest is this weekend!

This upcoming weekend (June 16 & 17), Berlin will again host Europe’s largest gay and lesbian street festival, known in my circles as Motzstraßenfest (Motzstraße is one of the “gayest” streets in Berlin). 

The 20th anniversary of this event is held under the English title “Equal Rights for the Unequal“. 

The party begins at 11:00, but doesn’t really heat up until after 16:00 when the streets around Nollendorfplatz in Schöneburg fill up with every variety of GLBTQ individual available. Campy drag queens seem to be in a competition to see who can be the most FABULOUS!, while bears, leather queens, and some of the toughest dykes I’ve ever seen catch the eye. 

What isn’t so obvious are the simply normal gays and lesbians who are just out to have a nice time without all of the show. I always feel like a piss poor lesbian as I pull up on my powder blue scooter looking rather average as a more traditional dyke rumbles up on a hot Harley. 

When I begin to look past the more flowery, showy participants I realize these folks are just like me, living normal lives and enjoying being out amongst “their people”. Eating, drinking and lots of merriment is the order of the day, With lots of informational booths along the way.

The biggest surprise to this American dyke was to see the political parties strongly represented, as well as gay police and teachers with booths. There are booths for sport clubs, travel information, even a gay couchsurfing group. Ah yes, THIS is the European Gay Central I’ve dreamed about!!

Five stages placed throughout the 20,000 square meters of party keep the energy high in the festival attendees.

There is a stage to suit every taste: disco/retro, techno, local talent, a main stage that hosts a little bit of everything including political talks, and a stage dedicated to the womyn (haven’t used THAT spelling since the 80’s – I’m happy to trot it out there for ya!).

If you’re in the area, come to what I find to be Berlin’s best street festival. 

Everyone is welcome. A fun time to be had by all. 

Just don’t miss out on the pretzels shaped like penises… BIG penises of course!

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