Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snail Song

This evening, completely by accident, I ran across The Snail Song by the New York based singer-songwriter, Chelsea Lynn La Bate on YouTube. The song lyrics are about an aquatic snail who lives in the fish tank of a CEO in mid-town Manhattan who is in love with the man who comes to clean the tank every Wednesday. Not only do i totally love the song, the video is also one the quirkiest and coolest I have ever seen. For your viewing pleasure:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nuff Said...

A promise I've decided to make to myself on these cold winter days....

* Image courtesy of StumbleUpon

Fighting Gentrification One Bite At A Time

I have mixed feelings about gentrification. It has been slowly spreading its webbed fingers throughout my neighborhood of Kreuzberg 61 for the past eight years or maybe longer. In some ways this is a good thing. I love that I can live in a totally urban area that is still safe and kid-friendly. I love that Bergmannstrasse has a shop that sells (almost exclusively) Japanese knives and that I can buy Corsican cheese and 47 different varieties of Spanish wine any day of the week except Sunday (besides in certain tourist areas, all shops in Berlin are still closed on Sundays.)

On the other hand, I hate all of the generically h
ip cafes that have opened up on Bergmannstrasse, cafes with mediocre coffee and no ambiance and yet they are always inevitably swarming with tourists and hipsters. I'm all for sustainable farming and fair trade, but do we honestly need three organic food stores within a three block radius of one another? Gentrification can definitely get out of hand, as it has in certain areas of Prenzlauerberg. I just hope it doesn't end up destroying all the charm and diversity in the neighborhood....

Still, I have to admit I was a little bit shocked when Pitbull Artikel Shop opened up last month on my street. A shop specializing in Pitbull accessories would seem normal in Neukölln or Wedding or Spandau, but here it seems pretty out of place. The shop doesn't seem to be fully operational yet. Right now they have the shutters down and thick bars in the front, presumably to protect all of their tough pooch things. Who knows? Maybe it's a drug front, albeit a strange one because I would think they would prefer to choose something wouldn't so obviously stick out. Still, overall you do have to admire their chutzpah for trying hard to fight gentrification one bite at a time....

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mommy, What Is Schlager?

A couple of weeks ago an American woman commented on one of my blog entries and asked me what Schlager was. But how can you actually explain Schlager to someone who is not from Germany or has not at least spent a significant amount of time here? I went over to my good friend, Wikipedia and was surprised to discover they actually had an article about the music in English (click here to read it). They describe Schlager as highly sentimental ballads with themes like love and friendship. (Strangely, they do not mention anything about feathered hair, though you pretty much have to have it if you want to sing Schlager, at least if you are a man.) They also say Schlager can be compared to Easy Listening which is somewhat true. Think Air Supply with a polka beat.

Still, Schlager is a bit more complicated. Here are some "highlights" to help any non-Germans better understand the music and all its kitschy complexity.

Schlager is......

1. Somewhat surreal.

Or at least the Schlager star Heino was. He put on this kind of wacky hep cat persona and sometimes seems to be making fun of it all and yet he was definitely all Schlager (and got very rich doing it.) Weird. Also love how obviously bored the blonde smoker is in the second video.

2. Something many people were apparently not immune to.

I love Hildegard Knef. She was a great performer and has an unusual voice. A lot of her stuff I would classify more as Chanson, but not her biggest hit, Für Mich Solls Rote Rose Regnen. That song is Schlager pure, albeit in the better sense of the word.

3. Cheesy German folk music but not something you have to be German to perform (though you do have to sing in the language.)

Howard Carpendale is South African....

And Karel Gott is Die goldene Stimme aus Prag (The golden voice from Prague.) This first song, Biene Maja (theme song from a children's cartoon series of the same name) is probably his most well-known hit. In this next song he does what Schlager stars also love to do: translate songs from English. Here he is singing the Alphaville song Für Immer Jung (Forever Young). The stroll along the harbor is also tres Schlager.

4. Not just for straight people.

Not only does Schlager have a large gay following, some of its stars are also out of the closet. Patrick Lindner is openly homosexual and even adopted a son with his partner a couple of years ago. I'm sure a lot of the old stars were also gay. Check out this song by Roy Black.

Can you say "Gay Boy"? Rock Hudson, eat your heart out.

5. Sometimes so unbelievably bad you can hardly even find the words to describe it.

Especially the contemporary stuff they play on the Musikantenstadl. There is always a big, Disneyland-esque stage with lots of canned music and dancing (although kudos to Florian Silberreisen for performing here with a broken leg). What those kids are doing is called "schunkeln". When you listen to Schlager, you sway back and forth together in a group, usually also locking elbows. I only recommend it if you've also drunken a lot of beer. Then it's probably actually kind of fun.

Ok, if you were able to get through this list without becoming overly nauseated, then here are a few more gems for your viewing and listening pleasure:

The one hit wonder, Drafi Deutscher performing Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht, a song you can pretty much guarantee every German knows. I love that he actually has to ask the crowd to make space for him to get out onto the stage. YouTube also used to have a great video of him performing the song in the 60s where he looks exactly like Dieter, the Mike Myers Saturday Night Live character. Sony Entertainment had it removed from the site, those jerks!

Costa Cordalis singing Anita because you've gotta love that outfit and the floral Lei. Check out the kids in full schunkeln action!

Christian Anders singing Es Fährt ein Zug nach Nirgendwo (A Train Riding Nowhere). Just for the retro fun of the set.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adorn Thyself For Somewhat Free

Of all the ten years I have lived in Berlin, this January has by far been the coldest. The snow is the only thing that has made it slightly bearable, but even that has a hitch: try pushing an already almost impossible to steer double buggy through sludge and snow and you'll see why I've necessarily been investing in lots and lots of massages....

In these long cold winter months everyone needs a little pick me up which is why I've decided to offer free shipping for the next few weeks on all of my handmade and vintage jewelry. Nothing like adorning thyself with faux jewels to pick up your mood. ;) To see more, click here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Home Is...

It's amazing how much a person's home or, rather, the place they live can tell about who they are. Does the place feel lived in or somehow museum-like untouchable? Does it have the generic sterility of a hotel room/model home/Ikea catalog or a flair all its own? Was it put together with care or with things one has haphazardly collected over the years (hopefully not from one's parent's basement....)?

I took these photographs of my grandmother's house in Nebraska when I went to visit her in September. To me, they say so much about her as a person: A woman who loves dusty rose and egg shell white even though it was frowned upon as being "frivolous" by others in her starkly protestant German-Russian community. A woman who takes pride in keeping house and does so on her own although she is several years past eighty. A woman who was a constant crafter before the term "crafter" even existed. A woman who was raised to be god-fearing but still has pillows on her couch which state "Will Work For Fun."

Tonight I changed a lot of little things in our own apartment, changing a painting from one wall to another, candle holders from a table to a shelf, vases from the living room into the kitchen. Small changes and yet the feeling is so different, like a breath of fresh air in these long, dark winter months.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Clothes I Wish I Wasn't Too Fat For

Having two babies back to back has not exactly been easy on my figure. The good news is, I tend to gain weight proportionately. The bad news is, pretty much everything about me these days is round. There are some women (aka bitches and hos) who loose all the weight and then some from breast feeding, but unfortunately I am not one of them. Still, I have lost twenty pounds since Lilly was born and have started doing yoga regularly. Hopefully this will help do the trick because it is simply not possible for me to diet. Eat more in moderation yes, but I'd rather be pleasantly plump than give up butter and ice cream forever.

But let's look on the bright side: I am now a si
ze 14 which means I am just on the cusp of plus size. It's still possible to shop in normal shops, but there is simply a lot less in the way of great vintage clothes in my size (darn those petite women of the 40s, 50s and 60s!) If I were my normal size 10/12 I would be spending A LOT more money on the following items.

This 1950s wiggle dress is such a beautiful color and still classic enough to be easily worn in modern times. But the 28 inch waist is, for me, most certainly a problem. Available here at The Church of Vintage.

I'm a sucker for polka dots. This mini 1960s wool dress would look so cute over a pair of jeans. It is listed here as a size small/medium by Allen Company Inc.

Of all the decades of vintage fashion, I think the 40s are by far my favorite (and the 80s passionately hated, as anyone who reads this blog knows.) This suit is simple yet elegant but, at size extra small, something I will never ever be able to wear. Available here at Small Earth Vintage.

Words cannot even begin to describe how gorgeous this 1970s skirt is. Not only does it have a simple modern design, it is also made of a blend of virgin wool and silk and feels wonderful to the touch. Ironically, it is my "old" size, 10/12, but it will take at least a year of downward dog if not more before I am that size again. Somewhat reluctantly, I am offering it for sale here at my shop Schaufenster.

Last but not least is this lovely red number from the 1960s, wool which means wearable in winter (as well as alliteration....) With a 32 and a half inch waist, this dress is also about a size 12. Sigh. Available here at Capricious Traveler.

Happy vintage shopping everyone!

Friday, January 8, 2010

You Better Behave, My Child. Or Else.....

My ex-husband was the first person who introduced me to Der Struwwelpeter. "I have this great book from my childhood," he said. "Here. Take a look." Inside I found ten stories with gruesome pictures of what happened to naughty, naughty children who did not behave. Though the illustrations are certainly graphic enough to get the gist of what's going on, I still had my then-boyfriend now ex-husband translate the stories since I didn't speak German at the time.

There is the story of Little Suck A Thumb, who wouldn't stop sucking his thumb even though his mother warned him of the evil ta
ilor who cuts off the thumbs of naughty little children if they don't listen to their mother. She goes away for a while, the kid sucks, the evil tailor comes and, snip, there goes the thumb.

Or of Little Paulinchen, who plays with a book of matches. Of course, she burns to death, her two precious kitty cats later weeping over her ashes.

When my then-boyfriend now ex-husband showed me this book I was pretty shocked. "You read this as a child?" I asked. After all, he was born in 1972, not 1861.

"Sure. It was a great book." When I pointed out that it was pretty morbid not to mentioning frightening he just shrugged.

Der Struwwelpeter was written in 1845 by Heinrich Hoffmann. A German psychiatrist, Hoffmann wanted to buy a picture book for his son for Christmas in 1844, but was disappointed with everything he found (perhaps they were all about gentle little lambs or good children frolicking carefree in a field....) He went home and wrote and illustrated Der Struwwelpeter which has the subtitle: Lustige Geschichte und drollige Bilder, in English Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures. Hmm...I guess the idea of "humor" was different in 1844 than it is now.

To find ou
t more about the history of Der Struwwelpeter as well as read a synopsis of each of the ten tales, you can visit the following link: 10 Gruesome Tales. Pretty interesting really. The book was extremely popular and even had an English version called Slovenly Peter, translated by none other than Mark Twain.

I found a vintage copy a while back on ebay, but I don't think I'll be giving it to my girls. Then again, Mia is a very picky eater. Maybe if I tell her the Boogey Man is just around the corner and he will bite off her head unless she finishes her fish sticks her eating habits will improve. It could work, but she would probably have to spend a small fortune later on therapy...No, I think I'll stick with the stories about gentle little lambs and just still offer the book up for sale in Schaufenster!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Treasuries, Von Furstenberg, St Laurent, Oh My!

I like this new(ish) etsy facebook application which informed me that one of my photograph sets made it onto the first page in a treasury celebrating the decent shade of gray:

As far as further etsy news goes, my sister recently opened a vintage shop called Golden Valencia Vintage (seller name Youkali 7). She has been a vintage hound for years, making the greatest finds in the most unlikely of places. Although she does offer some housewares, she is specializing in vintage designer label clothing at nice prices. Check out the following pieces from Diane von Furstenberg, Yves St Laurent, Oscar de La Renta and Saint John:

I wanted her to call one of her sections Label Whore, but she nixed the idea....Anyway, swing by her shop by clicking here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Fifteen Songs For 2010

Ever since I've been writing this blog I've gotten scores of e-mails from people thanking me for my funny and insightful posts. But they always wanted to know more about who I am as a person, for example, what kind of music I like. Ok, so that is a big fat lie. Unless you count a couple of spammers, I've never gotten an e-mail from anyone. In fact, besides my mother (hi mom!), I'm not sure that anyone actually regularly reads this blog. It's also probably quite likely no one really gives two hoots what my music taste is, but what the hay? Afterall, this is my blog. I recently put together a playlist on YouTube of my top fifteen songs for 2010 which I thought I'd share with you tonight as well as the reason I chose each song. Play them in order if you want to get a feel for what I listen to while I'm doing the dishes.

Song Number One: Little Green Apples, Roger Miller

*Because Roger Miller is most famous for wacky hits like King of the Road, but he also wrote a lot of touching ballads like this one*

Song Number Two: Waltz for Debby, Bill Evans

*Because I love Bill Evans. Love, love, love.*

Song Number Three: Attraction, Paris Combo

*Because Paris Combo is oh-so-much fun and I wish I was at the seaside where they shot the video right now...*

Song Number Four: Im 80. Stockwerk, Hildegard Knef

*Because, although this German actress mainly sang Schlager, she had a bad-ass, killer voice.*

Song Number Five: Jimmy, Moriarty

*Because how can you not like French/American folk?*

Song Number Six: Se tu m'ami, Pergolesi (Cecelia Bartoli)

*Because the Italian Art Songs are the fare of all beginning classical singers meaning you forget how beautiful they really are. Thank you, Cecelia Bartoli for reminding us with this recording you made towards the beginning of your career.*

Song Number Seven: There Stand The Glass, sung by Jake Generalli

*Because I had to move to another continent before I realized how cool classic country can be. This country song is sung by the unsigned singer Jake Generalli who lives in Portland (hence the rain in the background...)*

Song Number Eight: Casta Diva from the opera Norma, Bellini (Maria Callas)

*Because, even though I'm not a soprano, I have to admit this is one of the best arias ever written (and very difficult to sing) performed by one of the greatest divas ever.*

Song Number Nine: La Noyee, Serge Gainsbourg

*Because Serge Gainsbourg had that amazing French way of being totally sexy even though he wasn't actually all that attractive. This song is also apparently un track rare.*

Song Number Ten: Wayfaring Stranger, (Roy Hynes)

*Because although the video is amazingly cheesy and I've never heard of Roy Hynes (though apparently he's quite big in Newfoundland), this spirtual folk song is amazingly moving.*

Song Number Eleven: Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, (Zarah Leander)

*Because Zarah Leander, a German film star sings this yiddish song in her native tongue, Swedish.*

Song Number Twelve: Oo-De-Lally, Roger Miller

*Because I seem to be having a Roger Miller thing these days.*

Song Number Thirteen: Sixteen Tons, Tenessee Ernie Ford

*Because my dad used to sing this song to us when we were kids. Even though he passed away almost two years ago, I still think of him every day.*

Song Number Fourteen: Gnossienne N0. 3, Erik Satie

*Because Satie will always be one of my favorite composers.*

Song Number Fifteen: Ein Hotdog Unter Am Hafen, Element of Crime

*Because, in general, I don't really like any German bands but Element of Crime is an exception.*

If you have your own list, please do send it my way (you could even send me an e-mail. ;) ) It's always great to discover new music.

Snow (1963 & 2009)

After all my grypping in the last post, New Year's Eve last night was actually rather mellow, at least by Berlin standards. People only started tossing cherry bombs off their balconies at around 11:30 and then stopped about an hour later. Anyone outside at that time should and would have known what was coming. Why such a lack of Silvester aggression? Perhaps because of the snow. Inches and inches of it which is not very common in Berlin. Pretty....

Apropos snow, I found this really cool short film from 1963 of trains and snow in the British countryside. The soundtrack is also tres groovy. Happy New Year everybody!


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