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Dressing the City

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artist performing in "Dressing the City"Bizarre, inspiring, bewildering and poetic. That’s how I’d describe a two-hour art performance that I saw and experienced in Cologne yesterday.

It was called “Dressing the City und mein Kopf ist ein Hemd” and focused on the relationship between people, clothes and urban space.

Sounds strange – and I guess that’s what it was. But in an interesting way. I mean, what do you expect: it’s performance art!

For the audience, the performance has no real starting point and no defined end. All of a sudden, you’re in the middle of it.

There are numerous actors and artists doing things simultaneously at different spots (dressing, undressing, relating with each other or with the clothes they’re wearing or the city architecture).

artist performing in "Dressing the City" http://www.angiehiesl.de/eng/index.php?page=art&artid=128And you as a spectator have to drift from one scene to the next, never knowing where the next one will take place.

Let your intuition be your guide – or just follow the crowd of people that quickly forms around the artists doing their thing.

Since different artists act out their scenes simultaneously, you’ll never be able to see everything. But that’s just like in real life: while you’re concentrating on one aspect of your life, one “story”, dressed-up mailbox in "Dressing the City" http://www.angiehiesl.de/eng/index.php?page=art&artid=128other things are happening right next to you that you’ll never know about. Maybe you’ll just hear about them later or see the remnants of these other life-stories, scenes, dramas…

The artists who thought up “Dressing the City” are Angie Hiesl and Roland Kaiser. On their website, they explain the ideas behind their art performance:

Angie Hiesl

Angie Hiesl

Clothes are our second skin, the membrane between our body and the environment. They are the link between our inner and outer worlds and make a public statement.Clothing is a non-verbal means of communication and delivers signals that relate directly to our social role.The issue of clothes and all their associations – whether social, cultural, aesthetic, historic, religious or moral – leads directly to Hiesl and Kaiser’s original form of expression: the provocation of our senses in public space.

Provocation is something that’s difficult in a city as cosmopolitan, diverse and tolerant as Cologne. The people here are pretty unfazed by what they see on the streets every day. So during yesterday’s performance, some passers-by just walked on without looking when a woman or a man were undressing down to their underwear in public.

artist participating in "Dressing the City" http://www.angiehiesl.de/eng/index.php?page=art&artid=128Yet there were a few funny and interesting reactions from unsuspecting citizens of Cologne.

When an older gentleman crossed the street and saw this lady more or less dangling from a traffic light, he worriedly asked “are you all right, Miss?” – much to the amusement of the bistanding art-lovers, who were well aware that this lady was part of an art performance.

Church procession meets "Dressing the City" http://www.angiehiesl.de/eng/index.php?page=art&artid=128In another wonderful “culture clash”, a catholic church procession entered the street where some of the artists were just stripping down to their underwear or changing clothes in public.

At first, the onlooking art-lovers didn’t know whether this procession was part of the  performance. Or was it a group of evangelical Christians who wanted to preach against this decadent form of art? Neither one. In liberal Cologne, everyone just went their way and let the others be.

http://www.angiehiesl.de/eng/index.php?page=art&artid=128You can see another great interaction between art and real life in the film I posted above. About 4′ 20″ into the film, you’ll see a little kid who’s obviously very curious, what these two people are doing out on a park bench in their underwear. In the next scene, he and another kid are totally fascinated by one of the actors taking off his shorts in public. Hilarious.

Dressing the City und mein Kopf ist ein Hemd will be performed at least three more times in September, 2011. Go see it if you have the chance. And if you’re not in Cologne, Germany, don’t despair: Angie Hiesl and Roland Kaiser have taken some of their art performances to other cities and countries – even as far away as China.

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Written by Thorsten

August 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Don’t demolish the Cologne theater (Schauspielhaus)

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Please support the petition against the destruction of the Cologne Theater or Schauspielhaus. http://mutzukultur.de/

Photo: SurfGuard/flickr

Granted, the Schauspielhaus isn’t spectacular post-war architecture, but it has an aesthetic of its own. And the building is part of a larger architectural ensemble by Wilhelm Riphahn that is thought through.

In a city like Cologne, which hardly has any architectural coherence, destroying such an ensemble would be a crime.

Rebuilt from the ruins of war

More than 70 percent of Cologne was reduced to rubble by the bombs of the Second World War. In the post-war years, the city was hastily rebuilt.

Interestingly, one of the first big construction projects the citizens of Cologne started after the war was building a new opera house and theater. And architect Wilhelm Riphahn was assigned with the task.

Much of the 1950’s and 1960’s architecture in Cologne is nothing but mediocre. But Wilhelm Riphahn’s buildings have a higher quality. In addition, they are integrated into a grand design, a larger post-war reconstruction plan for the whole city.

Parts of that grand design are still visible on Cologne’s Hahnenstrasse and on Offenbachplatz, where Riphahn built the Oper, Schauspielhaus and Opernterrassen.

Big plans but no money

In recent years, many of Riphahn’s buildings have been torn down or disfigured through so-called modernization. The architectural ensemble made up of the opera, the theater and the Opernterrassen restaurant on Offenbachplatz, however, could still be saved.

But city officials doomed it for destruction. The city council voted to tear down the Schauspielhaus and the Opernterrassen and to preserve only Riphahn’s opera house.

In 2008, an architectural competition for a new theater building was called. The jury awarded architects JSWD and Atelier d’architecture first prize, but very bluntly said that “architecturally, the project does not meet the expectations. … The architectural form … lacks one essential necessary property: an identity that is adequate for the purpose of the building.

Some of the features that made the jury award this design first prize  have meanwhile been scrapped due to lack of funds (e.g. the so-called “Lichtgraben”).  So it’s already obvious that what might be built in the end will be even worse than the architectural plan. And that wasn’t very inspiring to begin with.

If you ask me, I’d say the design for the new theater looks like a giant department store or like a parking garage.

In any case, one thing that’s certain is that it will be much more expensive to build a new theater than it would be to renovate Riphahn’s 1960 Schauspielhaus.

Let’s preserve this integral part of Cologne’s post-war modernist architecture.

Please sign the petition against the destruction of the Cologne Theater at:  http://mutzukultur.de/

Written by Thorsten

January 6, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Too late for the fun

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Weekend edition of the Cambodia DailyWhen I arrived in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Friday, I was exactly one day late for one of the city’s greatest festivities.

The Water Festival 2008 – or Bon Om Tuk, as it’s called in Khmer – concluded on Thursday night with boat races and spectacular fireworks.

According to the Lonely Planet travel guide, “up to two million people flood the capital for fun and frolics” during the festival. Great. And I missed it.

workers take down light displays in Phnom PenhWhen I walked along the banks of the Tonle Sap river on Friday, all I saw was the clean up after the party.

Workers were dismantling huge light displays that had been mounted on boats. Kind of like Las Vegas on water.

These displays had praised the beauties of Cambodia in millions of colored lights.

save those lightbulbsNow, laborers were meticulously unscrewing all those colored light bulbs, putting them away for next year.

Water Festival is like carnival in Cambodia

The weekend edition of The Cambodia Daily this morning was full of stories about the festival.

One thing that struck me is that there seem to be many similarities between how people in Cambodia celebrate the Water Festival and how the people of my hometown Cologne celebrate carnival every year.

For one, there are special songs composed for both festivals. And it seems that people in both towns love to sing those songs.

In Cologne, those songs are usually drinking songs. But in Cambodia, some songs seem to have an anti-drinking message. Others are sung to encourage the rowers in the boat races.Ladies on board

The Cambodia Daily writes that this year’s favorite songs included one called Kromom Om Touk. For all of those (like me) who aren’t fluid in Khmer, that roughly translates to “Unmarried Ladies’ Racing Boat”.

The lyrics go

All the racers in my boat are unmarried ladies. We’re skillful at racing. We don’t lose any power. The fastest boat is the unmarried ladies’ racing boat. Our boat is wonderful, and many men come to ask us to be their girlfriends. Nowadays, unmarried ladies are as good as men, race like flying, and are also pretty. Thank you for asking me to be your girlfriend. After I win, I will go with you for a walk.

Now going for a walk is about as risqué as you can get in a song sung in public here…

The rest of the lyrics sound a little dry, but I guess they lose through translation.

Anyway, the song reminded me of one of the most popular carnival songs in Cologne: “Mir sin Kölsche Mädcher”, which also praises the strengths of the local women.

And if you just read the translated lyrics to that German song, you’d probably also wonder about the IQ of the people of Cologne…

Singing in the face of terror

In Cambodia, the horrors of the Khmer Rouge past are never far away. And this is also true in the realm of the Water Festival songs.

During the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, some of the most prominent composers and singers of Water Festival songs lost their lives.

Singing satirical songs apparently didn’t rank high on the Khmer Rouge’s list. And it didn’t take much in those days to get killed…

“But now, there is a new generation, and they make good songs, too,” the Cambodia Daily quotes 26-year-old Kea Khunny.

Deaf Husband, Crippled Wife

Water Festival 2008 Thinking of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, it seems strange at first sight that another of this year’s hit songs is titled “Deaf Husband, Crippled Wife”.

But it turns out that the song doesn’t have anything to do with the torture and terror of the Pol Pot regime.

Instead, it’s a husband and wife complaining about typical misunderstandings in a marriage. And the lyrics show that Cambodia is still a very rural society:

I ask him to tiel up the cow, but he goes and ties up the buffalo. I ask him to fish, but he goes and catches chickens. – I bring her to my parents’ house, and she sticks her bow-leg out and my father trips on it. – I ask him to take me to the Water Festival, but he thinks I want to go to bed”

But then the chorus strikes a conciliatory note, hits the listeners with a moral message – and shows that the song is firmly rooted in our time:

Even though both of us are like this, we are an honest couple. We have a baby every year, and we don’t have to worry about AIDS. This is our destiny, so we accept it.

Written by Thorsten

November 15, 2008 at 6:18 am

Citizens defeat racists in Cologne

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United against racism, terror and violence

United against racism, terror and violence

You won’t find me at a lot of political rallies.

So when I got my ass up this weekend to go out and demonstrate, you know that it must have been a cause that was very important to me.

This weekend, racists and neo-Nazis from all over Europe had planned to gather in my home town Cologne for an “Anti-Islam-Conference”.

They were hoping to use public sentiment against the construction of a big mosque in Cologne to their advantage.

They’d planned a big rally in one of Cologne’s downtown squares, the Heumarkt, with speakers from right-wing parties like France’s Front National, Italy’ Lega Nord and Austria’s FPÖ.

Cologne debates construction of a big mosque

Many people in Cologne aren’t comfortable with the idea of building the new mosque. Cologne is a very catholic and a very traditional city.

But the fact is that the city also has a large Muslim population. And so far, they’ve been meeting in small neighborhood prayer rooms.

The new mosque will give them a central meeting place in town. And it’ll be an architectural statement that Muslims have become an integral part of this city.

Demonstration against racism in Cologne

Demonstration against racism in Cologne

And while the debate about the construction of the mosque is a regular part of the democratic process in Cologne, racism and xenophobia are not.

That’s what brought the people of Cologne out in droves this weekend to protest against the “Anti-Islam-Conference”.

In the end, their massive protest foiled the efforts of the right-wing extremists.

A broad coalition against racism

Opposition against the “Anti-Islam-Conference” in Germany’s media and among the public had gathered force throughout the last week.

Anti-Nazi demonstrations get front page coverage in Cologne's leading local paper

Anti-Nazi demonstrations get front page coverage

Germany’s radio and television stations, newspapers and many websites reported in-depth on the upcoming meeting of the racists in Cologne.

They also described the growing dissatisfaction among the city’s citizens about the event.

And they reported about planned anti-nazi demonstrations and creative ways to obstruct the racist rally. A broad democratic coalition formed.

Cologne turns anti-racist protest into a carnival

One the funniest anti-racist initiatives was “11 000 Bellydancers”. The organizers called on people to come dressed up in oriental garb and dance to oriental music. The aim was to contrast xenophobia and racism with multi-cultural fun, song and dance.

And while there probably weren’t 11 000 bellydancers on Saturday, you did see quite a few people wearing oriental outfits. It was a little like a summer carnival.

Other forms of protest included some of Germany’s most popular bands joining forces for a concert against racism. It took place exactly at the time and within hearing distance of the right-wing rally.

Meanwhile, protesters blocked the streets leading to Heumarkt square, so that the right-wing supporters who wanted to attend the “Anti-Islam-Conference” couldn’t get to the rally.

Whenever someone tried to get through the blockade and onto Heumarkt, the protesters started chanting “Nazis raus!” (Nazis get out).

Racist rally doesn’t take place as planned

In the end, there were only about 90 right-wing supporters on Heumarkt.

The low turnout was a blow in the face to the organizers, who had hoped to attract thousands of supporters.

And it was a victory for civil rights.

I’m proud of the thousands of people of this city who gathered in peaceful protest against racism.

I’m proud of the demonstrators who blocked the tram line that leads from Cologne airport into the city. This prevented hundreds of racists who had arrived by plane from getting into town.

I’m proud of the airport officials, who threw the racists out of the building when they tried to hold an improvised press conference there.

I’m proud of the teenagers who blocked the streets leading to Heumarkt.

I’m proud of the Cologne hotel manager who asked the racists to pack their bags and get out as soon as he found out who had checked in to his hotel.

An important step forward, but still a long way to go

I know that – even though the racists had to retreat this time, they still have a lot of popular support. In Cologne, in Germany, in Europe.

This time, the supporters were silenced by the massive protests.

But they are still among us. Silent now, but waiting.

The organizers of the “Anti-Islam-Conference” have already announced that they want to schedule another rally in the near future.

The public debate about multi-cultural society is far from over. Integration and tolerance remain difficult in Germany.

Bellydance for tolerance

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Cologne and the river Rhine

Cologne and the river Rhine

The people of Cologne have a nice sense of humor. They’ll even turn political protest against Neo-Nazis into a carnival.

Liberal groups in Cologne are calling on the people of the city to stage a mass bellydance on September 20th. They’re hoping that 11 000 dancers will swing their hips to oriental music in protest against a neo-Nazi rally planned for that day.

Right-wing organizations from all over Europe will be meeting in Cologne from September 19 – 21 for an anti-Islam convention.

Its “highlight” will be a rally in downtown Cologne. Notorious right-wing politicians from all over Europe will be there – including Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the French “Front National”, representatives of Italy’s Lega Nord, Belgium’s Vlaams-Belang and Austria’s FPÖ.

Not the kind of people I like to see in my home town.

And not the kind of event that’ll give the city good press.

Many citizens of Cologne are furious about this right-wing rally. But there’s no way to stop it. The authorities say it’s a legal political demonstration. They can only step in when speakers openly advocate racism or hatred.

So to show their opposition against this right-wing convention, the people of Cologne have decided to bellydance against Neo-Nazism.

I think that’s a much more imaginative idea than simply calling a counter-demonstration. Because the idea of a left-wing demonstration clashing violently with the right-wing demonstration doesn’t really turn me on either.

So, people of Cologne: get out your “I Dream of Jeannie” outfits and bellydance for tolerance on September 20th!

Written by Thorsten

September 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Cologne’s KOLUMBA

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My cultural highlight this week was a visit to Kolumba in Cologne. This museum has been around for almost a year now, but you know how it is: when you’re not a tourist, when you live in a city, you never really get around to seeing the sights…

A couple of friends had already been to Kolumba’s new building, designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. They’d all raved about the architecture and the exhibits.

But the fact that Kolumba is the art museum of the archbishopric of Cologne somehow didn’t help to get me excited about it.

Was I ever in for a surprise

Kolumba is very different from your average museum. One of the unusual ideas here is that the exhibits aren’t organized in a time line. You don’t walk through the ages and see how ideas and styles evolve over time.

Instead, pieces of art are juxtaposed: a medieval statue next to an Andy Warhol. A gilded baroque angel next to an abstract yellow painting. An elaborate silver reliquary from the 13th century next to a small meditative painting by Alexej Jawlensky from 1937 that’s almost completely black.

Architecture and art

It’s not just the juxtaposition that brings these works of art to life. It’s also the space that they’re given in this amazing architecture. The building is minimalist, yet spectacular. The architecture doesn’t take center stage, but works extremely well with the artworks.

Hardly any rooms in the museum are square – instead, Zumthor surprises you with new room shapes and heights at every turn you make.

A courtyard for contemplation

One of the most magical spots of the museum is a little courtyard, which used to be the graveyard of Kolumba church. Today, it’s a place for contemplation – fine white pebbles, some trees and some chairs.

When you sit down here and look around yourself, you see the ruins of the gothic Kolumba church that used to stand here until it was destroyed in World War II.

Behind these walls is a site that shows the excavated ruins of the medieval church, but also of the Roman houses that were there even before the church was built. Then you have some 1950’s architecture by Gottfried Böhm, who rebuilt parts of Kolumby church after the War. And finally, above all and holding it all together, is Zumthor’s 21st century architecture.

Giving art the space it needs

Another thing that adds to the Kolumba museum’s effect is that the rooms are not stuffed with all the artworks that the church surely owns – the curators limited themselves to a few exciting pieces. Some of them aren’t even by well-known artists, but seen in this context, they suddenly gain new impact.

You really start thinking about the art in a different way when you see it presented in this museum. It’s awe-inspiring, sublime, stunning.

I came out of that museum feeling inspired. Small. Grateful.

And I almost feel ashamed for having entered this shrine wearing camouflage shorts and flip flops.

More pictures here.

Written by Thorsten

July 10, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Join the parade

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Smile for the family album

Smile for the family album

Cologne witnessed Europe’s biggest gay pride parade this weekend.

20 000 marchers and more than 70 floats snaked their way throught the tightly packed city streets on Sunday.

An estimated half a million people watched the parade. One million people joined the gigantic street party downtown, which lasted the whole weekend.

With sunshine and temperatures in the upper 20’s Celsius (that’s somewhere in the 80’s Fahrenheit), Cologne’s downtown streets were absolutely packed with people.

Groups you never knew existed…

Onlookers watched the members of gay sports clubs march by, saw floats sponsored by Germany’s major political parties and witnessed how gay-friendly companies like IKEA and Ford made their stance on diversity a selling argument.

The German soccer federation DFB sponsored a float embracing gay soccer fans, there were gays and lesbians from rural areas advertising the country life and the parade also included self-help groups of gay and lesbian handicapped people in wheelchairs.

But what made the parade fun were the many individuals in elaborate costumes and the many fringe groups standing up for their rights. You saw some things there in that parade that usually remain hidden from public view on the other 364 days of the year…

Come along for the ride

This year, I was invited to ride along on a parade float. A friend of mine had organized the float to advertise his online pharmacy “Fliegende Pillen” (or Flying Pills).

Our float came complete with a Brazilian dj and a group of beefy dancers who walked in front of it. My friend had even decked them out in very revealing red and yellow outfits with giant plastic pills.

The crowds watching the parade just couldn’t get enough of the hunks who were walking in front of our float. I think there must be thousands of souvenir pictures of them tonight.

Up on our float, it was just amazing to see all those people standing on the sides of the streets having a good time. From up there, the crowds looked much bigger than the 500 000 spectators that official sources estimated.

It’s a big party for everyone in Cologne

People in Cologne love to party and they love parades. So the annual gay pride parade has really turned into an event that draws the crowds – be they gay or straight, old or young.

That’s one reason why I love this city. It’s extremely tolerant. In Cologne, there’s a saying that sums up the live-and-let-live atmosphere here: “Jeder Jeck is anders” – everyone’s crazy in a different way.

So with that kind of an attitude, it’s no surprise that the city has turned into the “San Franciso of Western Germany”. It’s estimated that at least 10 percent of the city’s one million inhabitants are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Turning the tables

With all the gay, lesbian and transgender visitors who came to town this weekend for the gay pride celebrations, it’s almost as thought the tables had been turned: you saw more guys holding hands and more women kissing today than straight couples.

And no one seemed to mind. Or if they did, they knew that they were the minority this weekend.

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