Blogging from Germany: Leben im Jungbusch

For the last 2-½ weeks I’ve been living in a flat in Jungbusch. I cycle out on Bockstraße and head, either over Jungbuschbrücke, or else, past Blau, Mama Mia Pizzeria and over Luisenring, towards Neckarstadt.  There I either stop at Schnawwl Theatre or park my bike and take a tram to Neckarau for rehearsals. I shop for packets of corbasi (soup with lentils and mint) at the Turkish market opposite my building and for smoked salmon, bread and Riesling at the supermarket by the bridge.

I’m finally starting to feel less like a rank stranger because yesterday as I struggled, as usual, to drag myself and my yellow bike in through the huge, heavy courtyard doors, a neighbor showed me how to hold my handle bar with my left hand and manipulate door key with my right and make my way in without spilling the contents of my basket and falling down. I bet you don’t buy eggs – says Simone. Nope, just kirschen and braun champignons. If there are two things that have been really tough here in Germany, the one is entering that doorway and the second is then making my way up five flights of stairs after a long rehearsal. Phew…

The other day I was shopping at Parade Platz with Anne Richter. We went to a book store to get her mother a birthday gift and I saw this book, Metten im Jungbusch by Nora Noë, about three generations living in Jungbusch. It popped out at me, clearly because of Jungbusch. Anne promptly got it for her mother, who apparently, has really enjoyed reading it.

The first evening I was here, I was so curious about this colourful neighbourhood which translates to Young Jungle - old brownstone buildings, broken glass, painted murals, swirls of waves and fish and animals, streets so alive with men drinking beer and women in head scarves yelling at children playing football - at 11 pm. I bought a pizza margerita from the local pizzeria and settled into my room that night. Subsequently, people would go – You’re in Jungbusch?! The exclamation was always a mixture of wow-cool-scary.

Slowly I learned its history. Formerly the red light area it was taken over by artists and the sub culture by the ‘70’s and is now also home to a largely low-income immigrant population. Italian, Turkish, some African. When I look out from my balcony, I see the church steeple and into people’s windows and am so reminded of the set in Reza Abdoh’s extraordinary production, Bogeyman. Through one window, I see an old man, shirtless, painting large oils. Through another I see two young girls drink wine and smoke. Through another, a baby’s bassinet placed on a dining table. Downstairs, in the courtyard three young men, one on crutches, rev a big bike for hours, seeming to simply enjoy the sound of its power. Between two windows separated by about a 100 feet, a clothesline runs and every day I notice, the color of the washing changes. Today it is pinks and reds; yesterday was greys and blacks.

Jungbusch is home to the interestingly named Pop Akademi so I see many young people carrying instruments and walking past the canal, clearly intent on studying pop. Wow. I thought pop was the birthright of the young and we don’t need no education, right?! Times have indeed changed. Yesterday I noticed a poster for a festival of “Kunst on Kanal.” Art on the Canal. This morning, I’m sitting in Café Cafga where I have wifi and coffee and there’s nice music playing! Maybe I should just spend the day here instead of cycling to Parade Platz for gelato at Fontinella’s.

On Saturday, I got in touch with the very lovely and intelligent Bernd Mand, who is a drama critic I met at Schön Aussicht in Stuttgart, and suggested we get a beer at Blau. He wrote back – “At the infamous Blau? Great!” We did just that and also caught two performances at Zeitraumexit on Hafenstraße. This was part of a festival of performance art – Frisch Eingetroffen - and reminded so much of LA in the mid ‘80’s. Conceptual and largely in the artist’s head, the audience being more prop than anything. The first performance was Frau Monster. The opening image was strong – a man in a platinum wig, mascara and glitter platforms, a monster in a magenta “monster” suit and a 15 hanging blow-dryers, all on. If they had stayed with this, I might have liked it. But instead, they began “performing” and there was a narrative – the man was out hunting monsters and had caught one, the monster was in fact a woman studying monsters – and there were two videos that did nothing for the piece. The first of hands cutting chives and the second of Chinese New Year “monster” puppets in a parking lot. So, the hot air from the blow dryers was the most hot air I could take.

The second performance on the other hand, a one-on-one choreography called Takt/il, I loved. For it was performed, by appointment, on the skin and person of the 2-member audience. You left bags outside, had sticker plaster gently placed on your eyes and were led into a space. From then on a tactile choreography of breath and touch was performed on you. At first the feeling was of small animals breathing on you, skittering all over you, gently tugging at your hair. Not at all unpleasant. At one point, there was a small punch. Then you were placed on the ground and both performers played a rhythmic pattern on you. To music. This was the only thing I would have avoided – I found the electronica disturbing and anti-organic. I understand they wanted to foreground the rhythm – fingers moving with the speed and intensity of the music. But I wished it could have been achieved differently. Finally you were left with the electronica and sans touch and oh boy, you longed for that impersonal, rodent-like touch.

Earlier, I met Pietr and Emiliano outside Cafga and they asked us to come listen to them playing at a music festival that was taking place there in the courtyard of the school of Oriental Music. They introduce me to a Bharatnatyam dancer from Jungbusch called Shany who says she will jam with the musicians tonight. When we got back, it was soooo packed we couldn’t get past the pink gauze curtains and tables selling Turkish Ayran. But it felt good to be walking in Jungbusch, talking with Bernd about theatre and his curator’s love of things and history, saying hallo to people I knew and knowing that all around, world over, were the same thoughts. Where is the love? How shall I make her stay? Look after the children.

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