Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tears of Gaza - A Review

There are two introductions to this film review.  I wrote each of them at different sittings.  It doesn’t matter which I wrote first.

Intro A:

On December 27, 2008, after enduring years of rocket attacks on Southern Israel by the Hamas government in Gaza, the Israelis launched an all-out attack on Gaza City and two other urban centers in the Gaza strip, Khan Yunis and Rafah.  The attacks were aimed, according to Israeli sources, at military targets, police stations, administrative offices of Hamas, weapons caches and rocket firing teams.  Air, naval, artillery, intelligence and combat units were all coordinated into a single powerful fighting force.  Hamas increased its attacks at the same time, thus giving justification to the claim this “offensive” or “Cast Lead Operation” as the Israelis called it, was in fact a war of three weeks and three days’ duration.  Thirteen Israelis died, four from friendly fire.  Estimations of deaths on the other side number vary between 1200 and 1400 Palestinians.  It is routinely referred to in Arabic as the “Gaza Massacre.” (primary source: Wikipedia "Gaza War")

Intro B:

Tears of Gaza, a 2010 documentary seen until now only at a couple select film festivals, opened two nights ago finally in New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Olympia, Washington, and at my neighborhood theater in Berkeley.   Click here for addresses and playdates.  A two and a half-minute trailer is available on YouTube.

I don’t cry in movies, normally.  Beauty brings tears to my eyes.  Magnificent performances of great talent can do it.  Michelangelo’s Pietà did it when I first saw it.  But the ugly reality of life triggers some kind of macho defence system which tells me to suck it up and watch, if you must, but watch steely-eyed.  I ached at the scenes of destruction from the tsunami in Japan, but I didn’t cry.

Yesterday, I cried in a movie theater from the sheer horror of what I was looking at.   The head and the heart go into instant combat.  The head tells you to leave the theater; the heart tells you you need to stay and watch.

People are not supposed to show things like this.  Not this up-close.  Grainy pictures from a distance are OK.  But not this close.  And the camera is not supposed to linger on a child losing her mind with grief over the loss of her parents, or a man over the loss of all his children at once.

How you tell a story depends on where you sit, and when you write of war, you always have the option of zooming your lens all the way out and telling it with maximum objectivity, from a great distance – how the Second World War has its beginnings in the Versailles Treaty after the First World War, for example.  Or you can get down on the ground, smell the sweat and the blood and the fear and risk never being able to be objective about what you’re seeing ever again.  Tears of Gaza leads you into this latter experience.

Norwegian filmmaker, Vibeke Lokkeberg, and her producer-husband Terje Kristiansen were moved by images of victims of the bombing in Gaza in November and December 2008 to fly to Israel and try to get into Gaza to film what was going on in the aftermath of the war, as the Israelis continued to bomb selected targets.  They were denied permission to enter, both from Israel and from Egypt, but managed to find Palestinian cameramen Yosuf Abu Shreah, Mwafaq al Khateeb and Saed al Sabaa and female interviewers to do the job for them, with funding from the Freedom of Expression Foundation (Fritt Ord) and the Norwegian Film Institute.  The result is a documentary notable for its lack of context, consisting of interviews and of shots of carnage and destruction, with people running from one bomb site to another dousing phosphorus fragments and dragging out dead bodies of children with blackened faces, easily mistaken for rag dolls.  The pictures include several dead children shot point blank in the chest.

As I watched, I became annoyed at the lack of context.  What war?  When?  Was this really a war or just a political retaliation for Hamas rockets lobbed into Israel?  Watching something so horrific drives you to want to make sense of things and the fact nobody was doing that for me made me furious.

The lack of context was deliberate.  It’s a one-sided story.  A story told from a Palestinian, specifically Gazan, perspective, and from the point of view of three Gazan children with real faces and real names - Amira, Razmia and Yahya.  You want another view?  It’s all over the place, the filmmakers will tell you.  As Alice Walker said once when she was being criticized for her slant, “You tell your story and I’ll tell mine.”  They might have said, you tell it from the air, if you insist; I’ll tell if from the ground.

Lokkeberg also made the decision to leave out the voice of a narrator.  When you’re not watching the chaos of people desperately pulling bodies, living and dead, out of rubble, you listen to an interviewer asking people to tell their stories.  There is nothing between you and the children, the mothers and others who narrate their own experiences.  It makes a world of difference and creates a kind of I-Thou relationship you don’t usually get with victims in most documentaries on the dark side of life.  It adds to your sense of agony as you watch.  The only other film I’ve seen that made me ache so much is the 1985 documentary on the holocaust by Claude Lanzmann, Shoah.

Since Israel’s founding in 1948 and the first Palestinian resistance to that event, the world has been bewailing the inability of the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict to come to terms with each other.  Both sides define the problem as existential.  You tell a piece of the story, speak of some accord, some cease-fire, some effort on the part of an Israeli, Palestinian, American, Saudi or UN representative to find a solution, and likely as not it gets swallowed up in the larger existential struggle.   Any effort to elicit sympathy for one side is readily taken as craven support for the other.

This is sure to be true for Vibeke Lokkeberg.  She already had the reputation for being a shitkicker out looking for trouble before she undertook this project.  People will want to fault her for her choices.  Argue no story should ever be told without an effort to be fair and balanced, as if all things can be.

Documentaries are intended to get people to take action.  Tears of Gaza, if you have a conscience, will make you want to join the nearest anti-war rally.  Right-wing Israelis claim what it’s really about is generating anger and resentment against Israel.  That is, after all, the message the kids in the film keep repeating.   But most viewers should be able to see it’s the anti-war message, not the anti-Israel message, that drives the film.

Tears of Gaza makes no mention of occupation.  There is no discussion of the history of the conflict.  No policy changes are suggested.  It simply records the cries of pain.  And unless you insist that it is a political act to allow Palestinians to cry out in pain without moderating that cry with equal time for Israeli pain – a claim some are making – you will focus on the violence itself and the toll it takes, particularly on children, and recognize the message would be the same no matter who the bombs are falling on.

When you go outside the film looking for your own context, you become aware that the after effects of the war didn’t stop with the dead and wounded.  50,000 Gazans lost their homes.  The rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza may have stopped, or slowed down, but the damage to the Gazan infrastructure has been so extensive and the psychological damage to the people of Gaza so lasting that it seems likely this will turn out to be a case of winning a battle and losing a war.

What is Israel to do?  The great dilemma for the Israelis is there seems never to be a good answer to that question.  If you view the war on Gaza or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally from the air and from the head, you find yourself bombarded with reasonable questions.  Here’s a list I came up without half trying after digging this morning into the background of the film I watched yesterday.  Not a carefully selected list with an eye for balance, but one generated on the fly.

  1. What is a proper response to the rockets launched in Gaza at Southern Israel (and potentially at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem)?
  2. How far back does one go in telling this story?
  3. There’s agreement internationally that responses in war should be “proportionate.”  What is a proportionate response?
  4. How does one separate civilians out from military combatants?  Can one speak of “targeting civilian populations” when the military uses them as shields, when it stores munitions in mosques and when civilians themselves go up onto rooftops to try to deter pilots from hitting them?
  5. How long do the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod have to endure Hamas bombing of their towns before they can expect their country to retaliate?
  6. Does it matter that only a dozen or so Israelis died from Hamas rockets while more than a thousand died from the disproportionate retaliation?  Is it wrong to ever mention numbers?
  7. Is a ruthless response “disproportionate” when the bombing has been going on for years and when Hamas routinely breaks truces?
  8. Does Israel also break truces?  
  9. Would the problem go away if Israel withdrew unilaterally from all Palestinian territories?  Is that even conceivable in your wildest dreams?
  10. Does it matter that the war on Gaza finally stopped the years of rocket attacks – or at least reduced them significantly?  That it appears to have been a success, that Sderot, for example, is finally coming out of bankruptcy because people are no longer leaving the town in droves?

Allowing myself to come up with these questions tempered my frustration over the lack of context in the film.  But the more I read, the more I reviewed what I already knew about the conflict and added little bits of new information here and there, the more I felt the despair I think most people feel when attempting to sort out fact and fiction, the despair I’ve always felt myself as I’ve tuned in from time to time over the years to what was going on in the conflict.

Can any good come from watching people experiencing this kind of misery?  Most people will certainly want to turn away, and there is a strong case to be made for avoiding this kind of intimate look at suffering.  There is reason to fear it will only make it harder for us to act reasonably and in everybody’s best long-term interest.

But I have to disagree.  If it’s balance we’re after, that balance will not come by letting in all the facts but keeping out all the emotions.  We leave it to soldiers to handle the blood and guts, expect them to harden themselves to reality.  We don’t ask that of ourselves.  But how, I want to know, are we to speak with authority, how are our opinions to have weight, when we have limited our participation in gathering information to facts from the air?

We want to be smart.  Look at the big picture.  Not miss the woods for the trees.  

But even when we’re smart, we can be insensitive.  Miss things.  It’s easier for us Americans to complain about “them” – those Arabs and those Israelis – who can’t work things out – than it is to talk about “us” and draw parallels with the way their leaders underestimate the pain of the people on the ground and how we toggle between the term “bad guys,” and “collateral damage” when dealing with the folk our drones are doing in.  We talk easily about Israeli indifference to the pain in Gaza and the madness of Hamas and not so easily about the point that our wars are now fought by video-game trained technocrats from air-conditioned rooms on a separate continent from where the bombs are falling.  We all need more visits to the facts on the ground.

That, it seems to me, is the value of Tears of Gaza.  Not just that it provides an often overlooked Palestinian perspective, but because it brings us down out of the comfort zone of rational geopolitical decision-making.

It may be true that zeroing in on misery only complicates our efforts to break through the impass.  But if the reason for this is that we think problems can only be solved by those with cool heads, and not by people who can be brought to tears in a movie theater, maybe we ought to think that over from time to time.   I think Amos Elon, Israeli historian, journalist and author of The Israelis: Founders and Sons, was right when he suggested that perhaps “the situation's enormous demands for justice might exceed the human capacity to administer justice.” 

I think we crossed that line between things we can handle and things we can’t some time ago.   The reality of unending war suggests the cool heads are in over their heads.  I’m inclined at the moment to think we’ve lost sight of the cost of war, and that the only way out of this horror is to take it out of the head, smell it in the nostrils, and taste it on the tongue.

picture credit

A number of reviews from a variety of perspectives are available online:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Smart People

I grew up among working class people and have come in my later years to see that as a blessing.  I didn’t always think so.   Much of my young life I spent running as fast as my (then) skinny little legs would carry me, trying to get the hell away from my working class parents.  That’s a metaphor.  I didn’t actually need to run.  My working class father did what most parents do for their kids.  He and my mother sacrificed to pay for a good education, the necessary step up to a place where I could step across – no need to run – into a life in which I could work for the pleasure of work, and not just for the money.

My background gave me a perspective from which to see two distinct groups of people as wrong-headed.  One is the subgroup of the privileged who have no understanding of or sympathy for people who scrabble for a living.  The other is the subgroup of the non-privileged too dense to realize that what most working class people really want is to get the hell out of the working class.  And the whole point of working is not merely to provide food, clothing and shelter for a day, but to make that escape possible – if not for yourself, for your children and their children.

Anybody familiar with how social mobility works is familiar with the crab-pot phenomenon.  When a crab tries to get out, the other crabs, instead of giving the ambitious crab a boost, pull it back down.  I remember vividly watching Vietnamese families in San Jose, California, beaming with pride at the fact that their children could speak English better than they could and were doing well in school and would ultimately lift the whole family out of immigrant poverty.  And the contrast with inner city single black mothers who were keeping their kids home from school allegedly because the schools were making them “too white,” and alienating them from their cultures.

Because this is America, where we really botch things up by framing things in race terms even when we’d do better to see them in class and culture terms,  we often got sidetracked from the goal of getting these kids the best education possible.

The problem is that the obnoxious people among the privileged give the fearful people among the non-privileged cause to hold themselves back.  Why would you want your kid to develop an attachment to a pretty white lady who was going to teach him his black mother was ugly?  Whether she would actually do that is irrelevant.  The fear she might is the thing.

From this it’s easy to see how a defensiveness of who and what you are can turn into a defense of backwardness and ignorance, a definition of progress as destructive, change as the enemy, and an evolution of loyalties from the tribe to the nation to universal brotherhood as something to bring to a halt – and possibly reverse.

Rick Santorum, addressing the Values Voter Summit in Washington yesterday, received loud applause from his audience when he told them the smart people in the colleges and universities of America would never be on their side, but they should not worry about that, because religion was.  No kidding.  He said that.  Actually said the elite of the country should be dismissed, along with the media, because…well, you know… God, etc.

When I said earlier that I wasn’t always proud to be a member of the working class, what I had in mind was the times I would argue with people trying to persuade me that too much book-learning could be bad for my moral health.   As I went back and forth from my working class home town where these people were everywhere, to the dorm room in the upper-middle-class college I had managed to get into where most of my friends had never even encountered the proud-to-be-dumb set, I reeled with culture shock each time.

That’s all coming back to me now, like hot flashes, at hearing this Santorum speech.  Only this time, it’s as if I’ve fallen asleep and the contrast between the limited-education circles I encountered in my home town and the more sophisticated world-beyond has come back to me in a nightmare.  Except that I’m awake, and this is the way we elect a president now in the United States.

When I found inconsistencies in the Bible and used to suggest that maybe a too literal reading might not be warranted, I often got a smug smile and the assurance that “Even Satan quotes Scripture.” 

This kind of religious ideology and proto-fascist authoritarianism once limited to off the beaten track small town America now characterizes American political and social discourse on a national level.  It’s everywhere.  And it’s hard to beat.

In the international news, we’re watching Muslims in more than a dozen countries burn the Stars and Stripes because America didn’t find the maker of that anti-Muslim film and hang him publicly within twenty-four hours.  No amount of protest by the likes of Obama and Hillary Clinton seem to convince them the official American position is not anti-Muslim.  They don’t remember – or maybe never knew - that the slain ambassador helped free the Libyans from Qaddafi, that they’re working on all the wrong information.

And as this is going on we get to watch a would-be candidate for president of the United States represent the same kind of know-nothingism here at home.

There’s nothing wrong with being smart, Mr. Santorum.  All sorts of people are smart.  There are Republicans who are smart.  Christians who are smart.  Smart is a good thing. 

Information is good.  Accuracy is good.  Responsibility.  The ability to distinguish between truth and ideology is good.  Knock, knock.  Anything going on in that head of yours, Mr. Santorum?

When I first heard that Rick Santorum speech I found myself thinking, “Oh, he meant to say, “the so-called smart people,” not “the smart people.”  He was referring to people who think they are smart but really aren’t.   But then I realized he had illustrated what he meant by the smart people.  The people in our colleges and universities.  And the people who are our journalists.  He really did mean the smart people among us are the enemy.

Just in case you had any doubt about the dumbing-down of America.

Mr. Santorum doesn’t represent all of America, thank God.  But he and his followers do illustrate to a T that dumbing-down is not just an idle claim.  You can give a speech at the nation’s capital, sneer at smart people, and be applauded for it.

Picture credit: Chattanooga Times Free Press/Bennett


Friday, September 14, 2012

You Have No Need to Fear

Isn't it interesting how we are brought kicking and screaming, one tiny step at a time, into the modern world.  How slow we are to shed the prejudices of yesteryear and extend full human rights to all the citizens of our so-called modern democracies.

In America, we were entertained recently by blowhard Timothy Dolan at not just the Republican Party Convention but the Democratic Party Convention as well, pretending to be addressing God but leaving no doubt it was actually the President of the United States he was speaking to when he asked God to make him - Obama - understand he should not limit his - Dolan's - right to put limits on a woman's right to control her own body.  Not Dolan's words, of course.  Dolan phrased it in terms of "freedom of religion," by which he meant the freedom of the old boys' network to speak for the entire body of believers, 80% of whom often see things differently.  They're already there, the body of believers.  The old boys in medieval silks and satins are still catching up.

On a very different front, German chancellor Angela Merkel just issued one of those convoluted public statements political leaders make from time to time where you wonder if she isn't being paid by the word.  You know, one of those "It is not necessarily the case that..." statements.  It took me a minute to realize what she was up to.

Turns out she was addressing a closeted gay man.

First, some background:

The Bundesliga - the German federal football league, the association of eighteen football (i.e., soccer) teams which make up the world's largest sports federation - normally makes a bunch of money by carrying advertising on their jerseys when they play.  But this weekend, they have decided to forego the millions of euros they usually earn and wear jerseys with the slogan, "Geh deinen Weg (Go your (own) way!)"  The same slogan will be on the footballs they play with, as well.

The German Foundation for Integration has decided it's time to use these intensely popular macho men to carry a message touting integration and opposing discrimination.

Initially, this was to be a public service message for the usual suspects.  You know, the ones referred to when we speak of equality "without regard to race, creed or ethnicity."  Or, with a German order of priorities, "heritage, religion, or the color of someone's skin."  You've got a Turkish name or a Caribbean accent and you play for Germany?  That hasn't been a problem for some time now.  Welcome.  You are us.

But suddenly there comes this little voice in the crowd asking, "What about me? ... I'm gay."

"Well, you too, of course," comes the answer.  From Uli Hoeness, the Bayern Munich Club president.  "I cannot imagine that a gay player would have any problems with our fans. FC Bayern is ready. Society as a whole is further along on this issue than the media suggests."

Hoeness's remarks were matched and upped one by an even more positive statement from the president of the DFB, the German football association, Wolfgang Niersbach.  According to Niersbach, his organization would be "delighted to support any openly homosexual player, whatever league they might play in." 

And, in case you still had any doubts left, Mr. Too Shy to Come Out Gay Person, Angela Merkel is here to put your fears to rest.

Here's her wordy (but lovely) response.  She addresses not just that one guy who continues to want to remain anonymous.  She uses the plural pronoun, familiar, for “you.”
Ich möchte dazu nur sagen, dass ich der Meinung bin,  jeder, der die Kraft aufbringt, den Mut hat...wir haben auch in der Politik ja einen längeren Prozess hinter uns, sollte wissen, dass er in einem Land lebt, wo er sich eigentlich davor nicht fürchten sollte, und das ist zumindest meine politische Botschaft, dass dann immer noch Ängste bestehen, was das konkrete Lebensumfeld anbelangt, das müssen wir zur Kenntnis nehmen, und wir können einfach immer nur das Signal geben, Ihr müsst keine Angst haben.
Or, in the englisch tongue:
I would just like to add that I am of the opinion that everyone who finds the strength, who has the courage...we have been through a long process on this  politically...should know that he lives in a land where he should have no fear of such things, and that is, at least, my political message, that fears still exist in regard to the concrete living environment, that we should take into consideration, and we can only signal once again, "You have no need to fear."
You can hear her mellifluous tones here.   Give a listen.

OK, with the sound turned down, you might think she is reporting that a gas leak has been discovered and repaired.  Don't miss the real message, a message that has been picked up by the international press, if these reports from Italy,  Turkey, and France are any indication.  The Italian and French reports rush past the integration bit and go directly to the gay bit, while the Turkish report leaves out the gay bit entirely, but Constantinople wasn't built in a day.

This lady represents the right-of-center Christian Democrats of her country.  We should be so lucky.

Two football club managers and a conservative politician.

That ain't bad.

Now come out, come out, Mr. Gay Footballer, whoever you are.

And let's move this show along.

Photo credit: picture-alliance/dpa

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Who are you calling a robin, you crow?

Don’t know if you stopped to take in the news item that a certain Maryland politician named Emmett C. Burns, Jr. wrote a letter last week to Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, and told him to make one of his players shut up.  The player, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, had spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage, and Burns thought he should not be allowed to do that.

This call by a politician to remove someone’s First Amendment right to free speech pissed off  Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who wrote Burns a letter with language that flies off the page like burning coals out of a crackling fire.  Read the letter here

Reaction to the letter, no surprise, is all over the map.  Some people want to punch their fists in the air and shout out “Hit ‘em in the mouf’, hit ‘em in the mouf’.”  Others worry vulgarity always backfires and calling someone an asshole only gives the asshole a leg up.

The issue of civility is not a minor one.  We’ve all noticed an increasing lack of civility in American discourse.  Nobody knows how to deal with it.  We can’t seem to stop the in-your-face vulgarity that is in the zeitgeist these days.  Some of us console ourselves with the thought it’s the cool-headed ones who win in the long run.

I’m not so sure.  Sometimes, when all else fails, you have to let out a primal scream to make your point that you’re at the wall and you’re going down fighting, if need be.  Chris Kluwe, I understand, is not a gay man.  But he certainly is a kindred spirit.

This ridiculous place we’ve come to in America where one group of people can poke their boney fingers at another group of people, label them with the term “sinner” and use that conception to justify withholding or removing civil rights needs to be seen for what it is – the creation by the fearful of a scapegoat, the resort to sticks and stones, public derision and unjustified claims of moral superiority.

I hope we don't give up entirely on civility.  I still prefer to see public debate by politicians, academic debate, interaction across the backyard fence done with language that does not insult or incite anger.  But there are times when there is nothing that will satisfy, when the exchange of views grinds to a halt, when the only recourse is a primal scream.

I've come to think, like most Americans, probably, that politicians are a particularly ugly form of lowlife and don't deserve any better than this douchebag Emmett C. Burns got when he used his power to hurt others.  Douchebag.  That’s name-calling, like calling somebody who doesn’t share your view on victimless crimes a sinner.  He isn’t really a douchebag and they aren’t really sinners.  Those are metaphors.  He’s an asshole. 

And I'm not giving an inch when I insist that anti-gay legislation is hurtful.  It is not a “question of opinion,” not something on which "reasonable people can disagree."  Reasonable people do not quote scripture and expect people outside their religious community to take them seriously.

The discussion that followed in the comments on this story at Deadspin was the now inevitable mix of pro and con arguments on homosexuality.  I especially loved the mental masturbation of the sophomoric twit who tries to get some intellectual cred by starting out with "I will now proceed to present various reasoned arguments against this absurdity of same-sex ‘marriage’" but then immediately jumps into "Where procreation is, in principle, impossible, marriage is meaningless and logically impossible. ("In principle" means "relating to the definition of" as in "not relating to particular circumstances."   God save us from sophomores.

What this one illustrates so beautifully is that we often start with our values first and pretend we are engaged in dialogue when we defend them.  We're not.  We're way more often than not faking it, as this guy is.  And sometimes watching the charade of a discussion, where people pretend to be reasonable just gets too much for you and you have to pop off.

“Sinner” is a man-made concept, like all cultural constructs.  And like all such notions, it can be loaded with ammunition to deride and demean.   The people fond of flinging this term about, the faux Christians, use it as shorthand for “bad guy.”   And when somebody calls me a bad guy I naturally wonder why.  I’m not a bad guy.  Where the hell is he coming from?

"You do realize, don't you,” I want to say to him, “that every time you feel the right to create a fantasy notion like "sinner" and label me with it, I have an equal right to create my own notion – "asshole," for example – and slap a label back at you.   There's a difference, though.  You reach your conclusion on the basis of what you think I am.  I reach mine on the basis of what you actually do.  Who’s got the more appropriate label, I ask you?

That's what Chris Kluwe did - exchange one label for another.

He was addressing not just Emmett C., but all faux Christians.  They’re easy to spot.  Real Christians turn the other cheek.  The faux ones assume the right to cast the first stone.  Call you a sinner and feel justified in limiting your access to equal rights – and in the Emmett C. Burns case, your right to speak out.  And, this time it worked.  The Maryland politician backed down.

Unfortunately you know another one is going to pop up, and we’re going to play whack-a-mole for a while longer, most likely.  And by mole I don’t mean just anybody who thinks differently.  I mean people who assume the right to use their toxic fear-based religion to poison the body politic.

This is an interesting story for a number of reasons.  For one, Kluwe was wrong.  It was not a First Amendment issue, since the First Amendment does not prevent private corporations from muzzling their employees, if they want to.   And for another, it doesn't matter that Kluwe was wrong.  Even people who might be criticial of obscenity or of coming down so hard on a hapless politician recognize the more important issue is homophobia and the need to put things right.
Hopefully we will one day recognize it’s not the name-calling that’s the problem.  It’s getting the names right.  It may be that a rose is a rose is a rose.  But two people who show love or lust or affection for each other are not sinners.  They’re lovers.  And people who call them sinners are not morally superior.  They’re assholes.

Chris, you got a mouth on you.

Chris, you’re my hero of the week.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bodo Wartke and Reinhard Mey

In my posting the other day of some of the songs of Bodo Wartke, I had to leave many songs out.  The posting was way too long as it was.

But each time I review the list, I come up with different priorities I might have had.  I ended up making my choices on the basis of what showed off his talent and wit and ability to have fun with language.  It’s especially the last of these, which I appreciate so much.  Here’s one that shows off his ability to turn virtually anything into a song, and reveals how much he enjoys what he does.  It also reveals his affection for his idol, Reinhold Mey.

There’s something quite touching about watching what amounts to the torch being passed in a way, and two generations of artists showing open affection and respect for each other.   In this case, it’s liedermacher – “songmakers” – people who live in the world of the Kleinkunst, or cabaret.  What they do reveals cabaret’s modern evolution out of smoky cellars and into broader venues.

Here, at the Sommerabend Festival in 2009 at Kloster Banz in Bad Staffelstein, Wartke performs a song he has written about the subject of song-writing, and ends with a nod to Reinhard Mey.

Wartke introduces his song by saying he gets a lot of questions about how he is able to make a living as a liedermacher and what he’s after when writing a song.

Here’s his answer:

Ein Lied kann dich ergreifen, berühren, und erheitern,
A song can grab you, move you, cheer you up

Deine Seele streifen, deinen Horizont erweitern,
touch your soul, broaden your horizons,

Es kann im ideal Fall bei dir auch noch den größten Kummer lindern
It can ideally even lessen your greatest cares

dich aufmuntern und trösten
encourage you, console you

Ein Lied kann dich dein ganzes Leben lang begleiten,
A song can follow you your whole life long,

Erinnerungen wachrufen und längst vergangene Zeiten.
Awaken memories of times long gone

Ein Lied kann dir Heimat und ein Zuhause sein
A song can be a place you call your home

Oder einfach nur in deinem Kopf die Flause sein
Or simply a passing fancy in your head

Oh, ein Lied kann auch ein leidenschaftliches und
Oh, a song can be a passionate and

entschiedenes Plädoyer für Freiheit sein
effective plea for freedom

Gerechtigkeit und Frieden
justice and peace

Für Zivilcourage und Wachsamkeit
for civil courage and watchfulness

Für Freundschaft, Menschlichkeit und
for friendship, humanity and


Vielleicht geht es in dem Lied auch um die schönste, wenn nicht die
And maybe the song can be about the most beautiful, if not the

bedeutendste Sache dieser Welt
most meaningful thing in the world

um die Liebe , die Liebe zu den Menschen oder zu einem Detail
love, love for mankind, love for a small detail

wie man singt, so ein Lied kann allerlei
depending on how you sing it, a song can mean all things

Und ganz besonders könn’ es,
And that’s especially true of the songs

Die von Reinhard Mey.
of Reinhard Mey.

Mey then sings a song which turned me into a fan of his, as well.

He sings it in German and Greek.  I can’t translate the Greek, but here’s a translation of the German, to give you an idea of the imagery of the poetry.

The Greek refrain transliterates, by the way, to:

Mio imera tha chriasto tris karekles ke ego ja oli mu tin eftichia.
mia ta cheria n'akumpo, mia tapodia mu n apiono ke mia, ke kathome.

if anybody wants to help me out here.  I can spot “tris karekles” as “three chairs” and “cheria” as hands, and possibly “eftichia” as happiness, but that’s about it…

Mey, if you don’t want to hear the whole thing, begins at minute 2:35.

Drei Stühle (Three Chairs) 

Ein Eisenofen steht mitten im Raum,
Rot glühend, doch du spürst ihn kaum,
Die Abendkühle kriecht über den Steinboden herein.
Ein dürrer Rauch steigt zur Decke empor,
Ein kühn geschwung’nes Ofenrohr,
Die nackte Glühbirne taucht den Raum in fahlen Schein.

Ein alter Fernseher flackert schwarzweiß.
Die Männer sitzen verstreut im Kreis
Und immer in diesem Gebilde aus drei Stühl’n
Einen, da stehn die Füße drauf,
Einen, da lehnt der Arm sich auf,
Den dritten, zum drauf Sitzen, um sich im Gleichgewicht zu fühl’n.

Mit dem verwitterten Gesicht,
Kiriakis, der nie ein Wort spricht,
Der seinen Arm beim Dynamitfischen verlor,
Der wie ein Gummiball hüpft und springt,
Wenn nur ein Ton Musik erklingt.
Und wirft den leeren Ärmel im Triumph empor.

Gianis weiß längst über dich Bescheid
Und breitet seine Arme weit,
Ohne ein Wort von deiner Sprache zu verstehn.
Durch Brillengläser, die so blind
Wie Glas im Meer geworden sind,
Kann er dir tief bis auf den Grund der Seele sehn.
Da ist kein Mißtrauen, da ist kein Neid.
Und da ist Frieden, da ist Zeit.
Der Wirt, der mit den dicken Kaffeetassen klirrt.
Nichts ist Berechnung, nichts ist bedacht,
Alles aus Freundlichkeit gemacht
Das ist ein Ort, an dem Dein Herz gesunden wird.
Blau weißes Tischtuch, frisches Brot,
Leise tuckerndes Fischerboot,
Ein Teller Apfelscheiben und ein Becher Wein.
Vielleicht bleib’ ich irgendwann hier

Jedenfalls arbeit’ ich schon an mir,
Um auch mit nur drei Stühlen zufrieden zu sein!

In the middle of the room is an iron stove
Glowing red, but you hardly feel it.
The evening chill creeps across the stone floor.
A dry smoke rises up to the ceiling,
A boldly curving stovepipe
A naked bulb bathes the room in pale light.

An old TV flickers black and white.
The men sit scattered in a circle
And always in sight, three chairs.
On one a man puts his feet,
On another, a man stretches out his arm,
On the third, a man sits and tries to feel balanced.

With his weather-beaten face, Kiriakis, who never speaks a word,
who lost his arm fishing with dynamite,
jumps and bounces around like a rubber ball to the music
And lifts his empty sleeve in triumph.

Gianis has long known about you
And opens wide his arms and
Without understanding a word of your language
And through spectacles gone blind as glass in the sea
Can see into the depths of your soul.

There is no suspicion, no envy.
There is peace, there is time.
The host rattles the thick coffee cups.
There is no reckoning, no intent.
All is done out of kindness
This is a place where your heart can heal.

A blue and white tablecloth, fresh bread
A softly chugging fishing boat.
A plate of apple slices and a cup of wine.  
I may one day come here to stay.
At least I will try one day to make do with
Just three chairs.

And, just in passing, given the animosity between the Germans and the Greeks these days over the breakdown of the Greek economy and the need for the Germans, among others, to bail them out, it nice to have a reminder that Greek art and life has done for much the soul of many a German (and of course another) traveler who has found his way to this land at the edge of the continent.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bodo Wartke

I’m totally addicted to YouTube.   Greatest invention since the answering machine enabled me to screen out the world and devote more time to my addictions.

I use YouTube for news and information, of course, but also for lots of music, and once I realized I can now go straight to the top in terms of quality, I can’t get enough, whether it’s opera, Russian folk music sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Portuguese fados, or the requiems of Mozart, Brahms, Verdi, or Fauré.

I also have become addicted to German television, particularly the talk shows where people like Anne Will and Sandra Maischberger or Nachtcafé’s Wieland Backes, or Harald Schmidt are now familiar names, among others.  I think the level of discourse is way above most of what you see on American television, whether they’re talking about the integration of Muslims, the future of the euro, or whether religion has any place in Germany any more.  A surprising number of people say no to that last question, by the way.

My once fierce sense of identity with Berlin gave way some years ago.  It was replaced by a new second home in greater Tokyo.  But ever since the wall came down, and this whole new city and country have emerged, my loyalties are back with Berlin and with Germany and I would dearly love to go live there – at least for a time.  But Taku has his job here, and we have the dogs, and it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.  So I live there vicariously through YouTube.

And I keep coming in contact with new forms of musical delights from Germany.   Several years ago some Australian friends of mine put me onto the Comedian Harmonists,  a men’s group from Berlin inspired by the Revelers who found enormous success, appearing in twenty-one films before they were disbanded by the Nazis because several of them were Jewish.  This led to my discovery of Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester, since Raabe found some of their songs and brought them back to life.  Raabe is also is a fantastic showman in his own right, a skinny Fred Astaire kind of man who enriches German cabaret life by bringing back the music of the twenties and thirties.  Raabe and his colleagues have made it internationally, have appeared at Carnegie Hall several times, and if one of their America tours comes anywhere close to where you live, I urge you to give yourself a wonderful evening out.

My latest discovery is another German singer of cabaret music, a young man (he’s now 35) whose name is Bodo Wartke.  Actually, he’s more of a Liedermacher (“songmaker”), a German-version of a singer-songwriter who writes the words and music which he then performs himself.

Your first reaction to this guy is likely to be, “Man, what a nerd!”  He has described himself that way, and you get the impression he must have been the kind of kid in school the other kids hated because he was always outperforming them and didn’t seem to be embarrassed about it.  He was great in math and physics.  Into computers.  Quirky.  Energetic as hell.  Obsessive.

Unlike most nerds, though, he has as much of a way with words and with the sound of language as he has with technology.  He is especially known for his word plays and pointed rhymes.

Bodo Wartke is also an extremely talented musician.  He is classically trained, but prefers his own kind of jazz, rap, boogie-woogie style.  He even tap dances.

Liedermacher can be story tellers, social and political critics, or humorists, and the line is not always clear between liedermacher and cabarettist.  Like his idol, Reinhard Mey, Bodo Wartke illustrates an artist’s ability to fit more than one of the Liedermacher categories.  He is alternatingly witty, humorous, breezy, ironic, barbed and dark.

He has travelled the three German-speaking countries with his four cabaret programs, “Ich denke, also sing’ ich” (I think, therefore I sing) (1998); “Achillesverse” (2003) (a play on words: German “Ferse – heel” and “Verse – verses” are pronounced the same); “Noah war ein Archetyp”  (2006) (Noah was an archetype), “Klaviersdelikte” (2012) (Piano Crimes), and for his Oedipus Rex (2009), a one-man show in which he acts out the Oedipus story in fourteen different roles all by himself.  He performs something like 120 times a year, has received broad recognition for his talents and since 2006 has moderated the annual open air concert “Songs an einem Sommerabend (Songs on a Summer Evening)” carried nationally on the radio and on television.

Like Max Raabe, Wartke can and does sing in English, but while Raabe’s strength is his style of singing, a Liedermacher’s greatest strength is in his capacity to use language creatively.  And that means one cannot expect his talent to be fully appreciated by non-German speaking audiences. 

On the other hand, Bodo Wartke has made the decision to make his work available to the public for free, and it has paid off.  His popularity now seems to be growing.   Thanks to YouTube, he is at least readily accessible now internationally.  Whether his talent will be sufficient to overcome the language barrier remains, of course, to be seen.  I would dearly love to see that happen.

I realize I cannot possibly expect most people who don’t speak German to become fans, but let me think positively and share with you what I’ve learned about him and his musical creations, and see if any of his cabaret numbers strike your fancy.  I’ve done a simple listing of most of his songs, with a bare minimum of a description, and I’ve marked with a double asterisk (**) the pieces most likely to carry the greatest appeal to non-German-speaking audiences, either because there is a greater focus on the music than on the text, or because the performance displays his talent even if you can’t follow the lyrics.  And in some cases, I’ve provided a translation.  (Translations of poetry are assaults on the originals, as you know, unless they are done by people with great talent.  Matching the rhymes and conveying the social context is beyond me, so I’m settling for a bare-bones content translation, and hope the originals can convey at least the spirit of his ability to entertain.)

The nerd who can’t get the girl

Bodo Wartke embraces his nerd persona and makes the most of it.  Many of his songs are about his failure to connect with girls and a common theme is his own inadequacy. 

  • (1) “Ich trau’ mich nicht” (I don’t have the courage), for example,  has to do with not having the courage to walk up to a girl in the subway. 

Ich trau’ mich nicht (I don’t have the courage)
Seit ich hier wohne, fahr’ ich in der Regel
fast täglich mit der U-Bahn Richtung Tegel.
Seitdem habe ich kaum noch Geld in meinem Sparschwein,
denn zwei Euro zehn kost’ mich hier der Fahrschein.
Ich könnte ja mal schwarz fahr’n,
dann spar’ ich den Betrag.
Doch das kostet, hab’ ich Pech,
statt 2 euro 10.40 Euro
Egal, das eine Mal!
Was soll passier’n?
Die kontrollieren
heute dich ganz sicher nicht!
Also was zögerst du?
Ich trau mich nich’!
Ich trau mich nich’!
Was soll ich sagen? Ich bin Schwarzfahr-Drückeberger,
und mein Ärger wird darüber immer ärger.
Na ja, was soll’s? Werd’ ich halt arm, doch bleib’ ich edel.
Da bemerk’ ich, neben mir steht ein Mädel.
Was für eine Traumfrau!
Eine wie sie sah ich noch nie!
Ich schau sie an, doch kaum schaut
sie zurück, krieg’ ich weiche Knie...
Geh ran, Mann! Sprich sie an!
Was soll passier’n?
Nix zu verlier’n!
So ’ne Schönheit
gibt’s weit und breit
nicht zweimal!

Ich trau mich nich’!
Ich trau mich nich’!
Es ist ein Trauma, ich
trau mich nich’!
Oh nein! Jetzt steigt sie ein
in die U-Bahn gegenüber,
die in die verkehrte Richtung fährt!
Ich seh’ sie wohl nie wieder.
Der U-Bahn-Schacht verschluckt die Bahn,
au revoir, mon amour fou!
Doch was ist das? Sie guckt mich an
und lächelt mir zu...
Wie dem auch sei, die Zeit heilt alle Wunden.
Jahre später hab’ selbst ich ’ne Frau gefunden.
Und auf einmal steh’ ich eh’ ich mich versehe,
mit jener Frau halt da vor’m Traualtar zwecks Ehe.
Der Pfarrer fragt: „Willst du diese hier zum Weibe,
sie ehren und begehren,
bis daß der Tod euch scheide?“

Was? So lange?
Na Mann, das kann ja dauern!
Äh, ich schau dann mir
lieber die Frau
nochmal kurz genau an...

Ich trau’ mich nich’!
Ich trau mich nich’ mich zu trauen.
Ich trau mich nich’,
vor allem bei und mit Frauen.
So kann’s nicht weitergehen!
Ich bin ein völlig feiger Wurm!
Ich komm’ damit nicht mehr klar!
Ich stürz’ mich vom Fernsehturm!
Jetzt steh’ ich hier, tief unter mir
klafft der eklatante
Abgrund. Steil geht’s runter hier!
Ich wanke bis zur Kante...

So, meine Damen und Herren, das Lied hat jetzt noch genau eine Strophe. Das ist die Schlimmste von allen. Ich weiß ja nicht, soll ich die wirklich vorsingen heute Abend?

Ich trau mich nich’!
Ich trau mich nich’!
Tut mir leid!
Ich trau mich nich’!
Zumindest nicht zur Zeit...
Aber vielleicht nächstes Mal.

Since I moved here I take the subway every day in the direction of Tegel.

I don’t have any money left in the piggybank and each ticket costs me 2 Euros 10.

I could get on without a ticket, and save the fare.  But if they catch me, instead of two euros it’s ten euros forty.

So what.  This once!  What could happen?
They’re not going to check you.  Not today.  What are you waiting for?

I don’t have the courage.
I don’t have the courage.

What can I say?  I’m a fare-dodger, and I’m getting more and more upset about it all the time.  But what can I do?  I’m poor, but I’ve got my pride.
And then I notice there’s a girl standing next to me.

What a dream!  I’ve never seen anybody so beautiful!  I look at her.  She doesn’t look back, though, and I grow weak in the knees.

Go on, man.  Go up and talk to her!
What can happen?  You’ve got nothing to lose.  Such a beauty!  You could look far and wide and not see another like this one!

I don’t have the courage.
I don’t have the courage.
It’s a trauma.
I don’t trust myself.

Oh no, now she’s getting in the train across the platform, the one going in the other direction.
I’ll never see her again.

The train is going to disappear into the tunnel.
Au revoir, mon amour fou!
But what’s this?  She’s looking at me and smiling at me.

No matter.   Time heals all wounds.
Years later I’ve found a wife for me.  And before I know what’s happening I’m standing with her in front of the altar.  We’re going to get married.

The preacher asks, “Do you take this one here for your wife, to honor and cherish till death you do part?

What?  That long?
Man, that could be a long time!
Maybe I’ll have another close look at this woman.

I don’t have the courage.
I don’t trust myself to have the courage.
I don’t trust myself.
Especially when it comes to women.

It can’t go on like this.
I’m a complete and utter coward!
I’ll never work this out.
I’m going to jump off the TV tower!

Now I’m standing here and below me the abyss.  Slowly I approach the edge…

So, ladies and gentlemen, this song has one last verse.  It’s the worst verse of all.  I don’t know whether I should even sing it for you this evening, should I?

I don’t have the courage.
I don’t have the courage.
I’m sorry.
I don’t trust myself.
At least for the moment.
But maybe next time. 

Schon seit nachmittags um vier
sitz’ ich hier mit dir und wir
trinken alkoholische Getränke.
Da stellst du mir ‚ne Frage,
die ja Frauen heutzutage
gern mal fragen; nämlich, was ich grade denke.
Ich versenk’ ungelenk
meinen Blick in mein Getränk,
denn was ich denke – nun ja, wie soll ich sagen? –
ist grad sehr privat
und auch ein wenig delikat.
Was mußt du mich das auch jetzt grade fragen!
Denn wenn ich ehrlich bin,
bin ich ehrlich hin
und weg von dir, völlig hingerissen!
Ich steh’ auf dich. Und
ganz genau aus diesem Grund
würd’ ich dich jetzt ziemlich gerne küssen...
...und zwar auf den Mund. Viel zu lange
küßte ich dich nur auf die Wange.
Gestatte mir, daß ich mich nicht mehr darauf beschränke.
Mit meinen Lippen
auf die deinen zu tippen -
das ist es, was ich grade denke.
Ach, wenn wir zwei zusammen wär’n,
ich glaub’, ich holte liebend gern für dich vom Himmel jeden noch so fernen Stern.
Ich würde 1000 Sachen,
die dich glücklich machen, machen -
wenn wir zusammen wär’n.
In großer Zahl und Dichte dichtete ich für dich Gedichte.
Und hin und wieder schriebe ich dir Liebeslieder
Du bist es, der ich all meine Liebe schenke.
Das ist es, was ich gerade denke.
Doch weil ich im Lichte
deines dicht auf mich gerichte-
ten neugierig-erwartungsvollen Blicks
das alles weder klar noch vage
dir zu sagen wage, sage
ich auf deine Frage: „Och - nix.“

I’ve been sitting here since four in the afternoon.  Sitting with you and drinking alcoholic drinks.  You ask me the question that women like to ask these days, that is, what I’m thinking about.

I fumble down into my drink, because what I’m thinking – how can I say it? – is very private and also a bit delicate.  Why did you have to go and ask me that question just now?

Because if I’m going to be honest, I’m honestly beside myself, and completely hung up.  I find you very attractive.  And that’s the reason, right now, I’d really like to kiss you.

On the mouth.  I’ve been kissing you far too long on the cheek.  Let me not have to limit myself to that.  Putting my lips on yours – that’s what I’ve been thinking.

If we were together, I think I could pull the distant stars down from heaven.  I’d do a thousand things to make you happy.  If we were together.

I’d write poems for you in great number.  And now and then I’d write lovesongs.  You’re the one I want to give all my love to – that’s what I’ve been thinking.

But since, in light of that look in your eyes, directed at me, full of curiosity and expectation, I dare not to say all this to you, neither clearly nor vaguely, I answer your question with, “Oh, nothing.”

where a woman sings him a love song and he insists, in full dork mode now, on translating it into German, “because the audience might not understand the French.” Wartke sings this duet with Melanie Haupt.   The translation below begins at the point where they start the song over.

She: Moi, j’essaie depuis longtemps
He: Ich versuche schon seit langem,

She: de commencer une relation avec toi.
He: mit dir was anzufangen.

Mais toi,
Aber du

tu ne me vois pas.
siehst mich nicht.

Tu es toujours
Du bist immer


depuis ce moment-là
schon seitdem,

ou je t’ai vu
als ich dich

la première fois.
zum ersten Mal sah.

Wieso, weshalb, warum? Nenn mir mal die Gründe,

Pourquoi ne t’apercois-tu pas de ce que je sens?
daß du nicht merkst, was ich für dich empfinde.

Je vois dans tes yeux...
Ich seh’ dir in die Augen.

Mon dieu!
Mein Gott!

Ils vont m’emprisonner!
Die sperren mich ein!

Mais ils ont perdu la vue, qui peut me libérer.
Aber sie sind blind und können mich deshalb nicht befreien.
(Oh, so ein Kitsch!)

Quand même

je t’aime.
ich liebe dich.

Nous sommes sûrement déterminés l’un pour l’autre.
Wir sind bestimmt füreinander bestimmt.

Pendant la nuit je rêve de t’embrasser...
Das Wetter war auch schon einmal besser.

Non! Tu réagis comme tout le temps! Comment te montrer mes sentiments?
Hör mal, Mann. Wir passen nicht zusamm’!

Quand même je t’aime.
Ich komm’ aus Schwartau und Du aus Paris!

Quand même je t’aime.
Das ist tierisch weit weg! Wie denkst du dir dies?

Quand même je t’aime.
Außerdem sprechen wir nicht dieselbe Sprache .

Crois-moi, je comprends plus que tu pense!
Hab’ ich schon erzählt, daß ich tierisch laut schnarche?

Tu ne me laisse aucune chance.
Jetzt red’ mir doch nicht immer dazwischen, Mann!

Je suis làs de tes phrases ridiculs!
Es ist ja nicht so, daß ich gar nichts fühl’, aber -

Alors, qu’est-ce que tu veux?  C’est oui ou non?
(Refrain from “Ich trau’ mich nicht.” (I don’t have the courage).

She:  I’ve been trying for a long time
He:  I’ve been trying for a long time

She:  to start a relationship with you
He:  to start something up with you

But you
But you

you don’t see me.
don’t see me.

You are always
You are always


from the moment
from the moment

when I saw you
when I

for the first time
saw you for the first time

How so?  For what reason ?  Why?  Give me the reasons.

Why you don’t notice what I feel
that you don’t notice what I feel for you.

I see in your eyes
I see in your eyes

My God!
My God!

They’re going to imprison me!
They’re going to lock me up!

But they’ve lost sight, they who might free me.
But they’re blind and so they can’t help me.
(Oh, what kitsch!)

All the same
All the same

I love you.
I love you.

We are surely destined for each other.
We are surely destined for each other.

During the night I dream of holding you
The weather sure has been better.

No!  You react the way you always do!
How am I to show you how I feel?
Listen, man.  We just don’t fit together!

Nonetheless I love you.
I come from Schwartau and you come from Paris.

All the same I love you.
That’s a hell of a long way away.  How do you come up with something like this?

All the same, I love you.
Besides, we don’t speak the same language.

Speak to me.  I understand more than you think I do!
Have I told you I snore really loud!

You don’t give me a chance.
Now stop interrupting me all the time, man!

I’m tired of the ridiculous things you say!
It’s not that I don’t feel anything, but…

But then what do you want?  Is it yes or no?
(The refrain from the song “I don’t have the courage.”)

  • A song about trying to reason with a girlfriend to stay overnight –  (5) “Logik” (Logic): 

  • And in (6) “Ja, Schatz” (Yes, dear), his routine – which works in the darkness of a cabaret, but might go over too well in the light of day, is about a guy whose wife has him under his thumb and all he can say to her is “Yes, dear.”  He gets an axe and tries to do her in, and in the end, ends up with just another, “Yes, dear.” 
This one is available with subtitles.

And here he is performing it in a pretty decent English version of the song: 

Political cabaret

Besides his nerdy love songs, he reaches over into the cabaret genre and does political songs, particularly anti-Bush and anti-American foreign policy numbers.  

·     (7) As in "Regen" (Rain), for example, where his rhythm and rhyming talent really excels. 

·     Here’s one where he satirizes Americans generally, doing some serious America-bashing.  (But don’t miss the sarcastic barb at the end suggesting the Germans are in no position to feel superior) - (8) "Die Amerikaner" (The Americans): 

Die Amerikaner werden immer dicker
und das nicht ohne Grund
Sie hören ständig in der Werbung
Das Essen bei Mc Donalds
wäre preiswert, lecker und gesund
Und sie häng den ganzen Tag lang vor dem Fernseher, ist das Programm auch noch so mies
Und interessiern sich für Paris Hilton
und damit meine ich nicht etwa das Hilton in Paris.

Und dann ihre tollen Wirtschaftskonzepte
Wie man den Umsatz in die Höhe treibt
Und zwar erstmal massenweise Arbeiter entlassen
Auch wenn die Firma schwarze Zahlen schreibt
Und dann die ganzen hässlichen Graffities
Mit denen sie ihre Cities überziehn
Und sie feiern groteske Feste,
wie z.B. Halloween

Und ihre Sprache
Ist voller Anglizismen
Ja, denn auf Englisch hört sich alles besser an
Beispielsweise geheime Staatspolizei
Heißt in Amerika schlicht und einfach NSA oder FBI
Und auch ein Wort wie CIA Agent klingt doch echt
Viel eleganter und charmanter als Folterknecht

Und dann die Amerikanischen Schüler
Laut Pisa-Studie sind die ziemlich doof
Deshalb schreiben da wohl auch alle den Genitiv
Vor dem s mit Apostroph
Dafür sind sie in den vielen Computerspielen
Wo man leute tot schießen muss gar nicht so schlecht
Manchmal spielen sie die auch an ihrer Schule nach,
Aber dann in echt.

So erwerben sie die schon früh die Kompetenzen
Die sie später brauchen als Soldaten
Auf der Suche nach Öl und Raum für ihr Volk
In irgendwelchen Schurkenstaaten
Wenn wir all das, was die Amerikaner machen
Uns einfach mal vor Augen führn
Kann ich nur sagen,
Hey, gut, dass solche Sachen
bei uns in Deutschland nicht passiern
Bei uns in Deutschland nie passiern
Denn sonst könnten wir die Amerikaner
ja nicht so einfach kritisiern.
The Americans are getting fatter and fatter. And there’s a reason for that.  They listen constantly to advertisements telling them the food at McDonalds is cheap, delicious and healthy.  And they hang around in front of the TV no matter how lousy the programs are.  And they’re obsessed with Paris Hilton – and I don’t mean the Hilton in Paris.

And then there’s their crazy economic ideas, how you increase revenue and how you get rid of workers even when the company’s in the black.  And then the ugly graffiti all over their cities.  And they celebrate grotesque holidays, like hallowe’en.

And their language is full of anglicisms.  Yes, well, in English everything sounds better.  For example secret police – in America it’s short and sweet – NSA or FBI.  And even a word like CIA agent sounds much more elegant and charming than torturer.

And then there’s the American student.  According to the Pisa study, he’s pretty stupid.  That must be why they write the genitive with an apostrophe-s, and why they’re pretty good with all those computer games where you have to shoot people dead.  Sometimes they play that game in school for real.
But at least they develop the skill they will need later as soldiers in search of oil and space for their people in all those client states.

If we take a look at all that the Americans are doing, all I can say is hey – good thing we don’t do things like that in Germany.  Never in Germany.  If we did, we wouldn’t be able to criticize the Americans so easily.

The PC World

Another theme of his (still in the nerd persona), is the frustrations of the computer world.  He pokes fun at both Steve Jobs and at the world of the PC.

  • And one addressed to Steve Jobs, a song drummed, not sung – (10) “Mein Brief an Steve” (My Letter to Steve) 
  • And, to show this is a serious issue with him, here he is giving an address in which he criticizes the PC/Apple ideological fight as a religious ideological fight: (11) “Vergleichende Religionswissenschaften (Maclife Kolumne 3)” (Comparative religion) 

He has also taken up satire of the German railroads, German architecture, and (see below) social events like the Loveparade.

Broad appeal

Wartke has a broad appeal.  Here you see him relating to an older audience ­–

  • See (12) “Probleme, die ich früher noch nicht hatte” (Problems I didn’t used to have).  (If you don’t want to listen to the entire thing in German, at least listen to the bit where he goes into a coffee shop and has to deal with all the coffee choices – starting with 2:03) 
  • Or a lecture on 12-tone music – (13) "Dodekaphonie"   
and here to a younger audience – not with music this time, but with a kind of rapping.  On dogshit:

Sometimes his musical talent comes across as totally spontaneous and fun, even though you can see an enormous amount of thought and work in the preparation.  His songs playing on girls’ names, for example:

      He has a version of "Andrea" sung jazz barbershop style at:

  • and (18) **"Konstanze", the dancing teacher. 

You see him putting everything together – the nerd with the girl theme, the musicality, the rhymes in

Many of his compositions show off his extraordinary ability to handle language creatively, often singing in dialect. 

  • He has a clever song about struggling to find a way to rhyme with “durch,” a word, like “orange” in English, which has virtually nothing to rhyme with,  (20) “Da muss er durch” (He’s got to get through it).  
  • (22) A tap dance number, where he turns Mozart's "Turkish March" into boogie-woogie –  ** "Alla Turca Stomp"

And then there’s his signature piece, which almost deserves a category of its own:

Liebeslied (Lovesong) – a project to say I love you in 88 languages, including Klingon,

probably the best illustration of his ability to combine an appealing nerdiness with an extraordinary language talent:

  • (23) **“Liebeslied” (Love Song) – which is nothing more than a couple lines, ending with “I love you” sung in 88 languages.  Here’s an example of the song performed on stage. 
      But here’s another version, before a larger audience at the Summer Festival at Kloster Banz, in Bad Staffelstein.  I’ll skip the transcription since it’s self-evident, as he horses around with Italian, Spanish and other languages.  He ends up toying with Frankish, the local dialect.  You see his talent for crowd pleasing.

  • Or here, from one of his fans: 

And his farewell number:

You can get most of his stuff from his website

(25) König Ödipus (Oedipus Rex)

Wartke has been working for years on a project to perform Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex in a modern setting, complete with hip talk and other modern conventions.  He first put this on as a one-man show, playing all fourteen parts himself, in Hamburg in 2009, and next year is taking the show on the road.  For the schedule, click here.

He started by writing individual scenes of Oedipus Rex into his piano cabaret programs, and has finally, after fifteen years, put together a two hour stage piece in eleven scenes, with six songs and a few props, including a cap with a vizor, a hand puppet, a pair of sunglasses, a sword, a Peruvian drum-box called a cajón, and a piano.

As I write this, I am aware I’m at a handicap.  Thousands have seen him perform in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but I am limited to what is available on YouTube for now.  The DVD is available, but the cost of shipping from Europe is outrageous, so I will wait till my next trip and make do with snippets available online for now.

Even if you don’t know German, watch a minute or two of a scene.  You see him playing all the parts.  Listen to the rhymes, and you get a sense of his mastery of language.

Playing all the parts is, in fact, one of his fortes.  Here he is elsewhere, singing a duet with himself, a lover and his would-be lover with an allergy back in the nerd and his girlfriend category. 

Es ist Mai, ein wunderschöner Frühlingstag!
Ich gehe mit dir spazieren im Park.
Vor einer Bank im Schatten einer Birke bleibst du plötzlich stehen und sagst zu mir: „Bitte setz dich!"
„Können wir uns nicht woanders hinsetzen?"
„Nein. Wir müssen reden. Und zwar jetzt, denn -
es ist sehr wichtig!" Wir setzen uns.
Du sagst: „Wir lieben und schätzen uns.
Wir sind zwar noch nicht sehr lang zusammen, aber mir war's nie zuvor so ernst wie mit dir.
Bei dir hab ich das Gefühl, dass ich ganz Frau bin..."
Mir treten die Tränen in die Augen.
Du sagst: „Komm wir pfeifen auf alle Regeln!
Mit dir würd ich gerne mal die Welt umsegeln
und jedes noch so ferne Land durchkreuzen!"
Ich muss mir dringend mal die Nase schnäuzen.
Du schmiegst dich an mich und sagst: „Mit dir
will ich alt werden. Und dann lassen wir
uns begraben in einer gemeinsamen Gruft!"
Mir stockt der Atem, ich ringe nach Luft.
Du schaust mich sodann voller Zärtlichkeit an:
„Endlich mal ein Mann, der Gefühle zeigen kann!"
Ich sinke vor dir auf die Knie
und sage: „Das ist es nicht. Ich hab 'ne Pollenallergie."
„Wie?! Du hast 'ne Pollenallergie?"
Ich entgegne eloquent: „Hatschi!"
„Ich dachte, du weinst aus purer Emotion."
„Nein, das ist nur ein allergisches Symptom."
„Wie kann man nur so unsensibel sein? Nicht zu fassen!"
„Ich hab mich ja auch desensibilisieren lassen."
„Na, herzlichen Glückwunsch! Wirkt ja toll!"
„Ja, nur leider nicht so richtig gegen Birkenpollen."
„Wieso sagst du mir das eigentlich erst jetzt?"
„Ich hätt mich gern von Anfang an woanders hingesetzt!"
„Und wo sollen wir hin?" „Also, ich fänd's ja schön,
wenn wir erst mal in die Apotheke gehen."
„Du bist ein richtiger Zyniker!"
„Nein, ich brauche Antihistaminika!"
„Anscheinend denkst du an gar nichts anderes mehr?!"
„Doch, eine Sache gibt's, die jetzt noch schöner wär."
„Und das wär?"
Für mich wär jetzt Regen echt ein regelrechter Segen.
Denn Regen wäscht die Pollen aus der Luft.
Kommt nicht bald ein Regenschauer,
wird es nicht mehr lange dauern
und ich muss früher als geplant in unsere gemeinsame Gruft."
Und so gehen wir an diesem Frühlingstag
beide schweigend wieder raus aus dem Park
und schlagen den Weg zur Apotheke ein.
Und dann gehen wir heim - jeder für sich allein.

It’s May, a wonderful spring day. 
We go for a walk in the park.
Suddenly you stop in front of a bench in the shadow of a birch tree and you say to me, “Please sit down!”
“Can’t we sit someplace else?”
“No.  We have to talk.  Right now.  It’s very important.”  We sit down.
You say, “We love and care for each other.  We haven’t been together all that long, but I’ve never felt with anybody else the way I do with you.  With you I have the feeling I’m all woman.”
My eyes fill with tears.
You say, “Come, to hell with all the rules!  With you I’d like to sail around the world to every land no matter how far!”
I really have to blow my nose.
You snuggle up to me and you say, “I want to grow old with you.  And then we’ll be buried in a common grave!”
I catch my breath, I gasp for air.
You look at me so tenderly: “Finally – a man I can show my feelings to!”
I sink to my knees before you and I say, “It’s not that.  I have a pollen allergy.”
“What!?  You have a pollen allergy?”
I respond, eloquently, “Achoo!”
“I thought you were crying out of pure emotion.”
“No, that’s just a symptom of the allergy.”
“How can anybody be so insensitive.  Unbelievable!”
“I have had to desensitize myself.”
“Well, congratulations!  It has worked like a charm!”
“Yes, but unfortunately not all that well with birch pollen.”
“Why do you say that to me only now?”
“I would have preferred to sit somewhere else right from the start!”
“Where should we go?
“Well, I think it would be a good idea to go to a pharmacy.”
“You’re a real cynic!”
“No, I just need an antihistamine!”
“Apparently you can’t think of anything else anymore.”
“Yes, I can think of one thing that would be good right now.”
“What’s that?”
“Rain.  For me, rain would be a real blessing right now.  Because rain washes the pollen out of the air.  If we don’t get a rain shower pretty soon, it won’t be long before I end up in our common grave earlier than  I planned for.”
And so, on this spring day, we both silently leave the park and find out way to the pharmacy.  Then we go home.   She to hers, and me to mine.

And here in the same vein, but without the same light touch of irony, is

  • (27) “Loveparade”, back in the Cabaret (this time social, rather than political) category:
Here it is, with a translation.  The English is crude and ugly, while the German rhymes and alliterations keeps the crude content in check and the sarcasm is more clever than crude.  Not to say it’s any more subtle.  As one commenter put it, “My sarcasm meter has just exploded in my hand.”

Another observed this is very reminiscent of Tom Lehrer’s “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and maybe Bodo should be called a Liedermacher and not a piano cabarettist.  For me that remark is an attempt to make him less than he is.  His talent puts him easily into both of these categories.

Loveparade is the electronic street festival that was once held annually but got cancelled after one got out of control, leaving twenty-one people dead and 500 injured in Duisburg in 2010.  This version was clearly written before that event.

Welch ein behaglich herrlicher Tag,
Die Sonne, sie scheint,  ach wie schön.
Liebste sag, wollen wir nicht im Park
ein wenig spazieren geh'n?
Liebling, lass uns durch den Tiergarten ziehen,
denn das ist der prächtigste Park von Berlin.
Dort ist der Ort, wohin jeder gern geht, besonders zur Loveparade.

Schon aus der Distanz,
lauschen wir ganz
verzückt der Technomusik,
die sich zärtlich und weich
und abwech'slungsreich
in unsre Ohren schmiegt.
Sieh nur, wie hier jeder Technofreak,
sich lieblich im Takte des Technos wiegt.
Welch ein ästhetisch, poetischer Tanz,
voll Anmut und Eleganz.

Die Grünflächen füllen
Millionen von chillenden
Ravern in schrillen
Gewändern und Brillen,
die da wo im Stillen,
sonst nur Türken grillen,
sich nun mit Pastillen
und Pillen befüllen,
die so aussehen wie Smarties, so bunt
die kriegt man hier überall gratis und
die Polizei steht schweigend dabei,
denn heute ist ja nicht 1. Mai.

Ein lieblicher Duft
durchzieht hier die Luft:
der Duft nach Kot und Urin,
ich atme sie ein,
das scheint sie zu sein,
die berühmte Luft von Berlin.
Wir schlendern durch dies' familiäre Idyll
durchqueren nicht endende Meere von Müll,
und von frisch Erbrochenen
an diesem schönen Wochende,
im Sonnenschein.
Ach könnte doch das ganze Jahr über Loveparade sein.

What a gorgeous day.  The sun is shining so beautifully.  Honey, what do you say, shall we take a little walk in the park?
Darling, let’s make our way through the Tiergarten.  That’s the most splendid park in Berlin.  That’s where everybody likes to go, especially to the Love Parade.

From a distance already we can hear the sounds of techno music alternatingly, lovingly and tenderly working its way into our ears.  Look how every techno freak is moving in rhythm with the beat of the technos.  What an esthetic poetic dance, filled with charm and elegance.

The grassy areas fill up with millions of ravers chillin’ in shrill clothes and glasses, over there in the quiet areas where usually only the Turks are grilling, fillin themselves with pills and poppers that look like smarties, so colorful – you can get them for nothing around here and the police just stand by – after all it’s not the First of May.

A loving aroma fills the air.  The smell of puke and urine.  I breathe it in.  It’s that familiar famous Berlin air. 

We stroll through this familiar idyllic place, across a never ending sea of garbage and fresh puke on this weekend in the sunshine.

Oh if only we could have the love parade go on all year long.

Another song, showing how his talent has matured, is another social commentary:

Meine neue Freundin (My new girlfriend):
Ich hab’ eine neue Freundin!
Du solltest sie echt mal sehn!
Du würdst dich sicher für mich freun,
denn sie ist wirklich wunderschön.

Sie hat eine süße Nase und’n wundervollen Mund,
‘ne adrette Silhouette, kurvenreich und rund, und
auch ihr Bauch und ihr Rücken sind entzückend.
Sie ist in jeder Hinsicht visuell beglückend.

Das schönste an ihr ist sogar doppelt vertreten:
ihre Augen, Ohren, Hände und Extremitäten.
Alleine ihre Beine, feinere gibt’s keine!
und dann erst ihre beiden - na, du weißt schon was ich meine...

So eine göttliche Figur!
Alter Schwede!
Du fragst dich sicherlich: Oh Mann,
wie macht sie das nur?
Ganz einfach:

Sie ist die Tochter eines Schönheitschirurgen.
Von dem wird sie immer schön glatt gezogen.
Deswegen ist sie auch so schön, ungelogen,
sie ist die Tochter eines Schönheitschirurgen.

Sie ist wie alle Töchter der Liebling ihres Vatis.
Und so operiert er sie natürlich immer gratis.
Kaum kommt er abends von der Arbeit nach Haus,
probiert er erstmal gleich den neusten Trend an ihr aus.

Ob drall und sexy oder eher züchtig,
ob leicht untergewichtig oder richtig magersüchtig,
stets als erste läßt sie sich von ihrem Vater ihren
Körper passend zu der neusten Mode modellieren.

Und sollten ihr die Kleider mal nicht mehr passen,
kann sie sich ja einfach von ihm ändern lassen.

Denn sie ist die Tochter eines Schönheitschirurgen.
Von dem wird sie immer schön glatt gezogen.
Deswegen ist sie auch so schön, ungelogen,
sie ist die Tochter eines Schönheitschirurgen.

Sie übertrifft mir ihrer Schönheit mittlerweile gar bei weitem
selbst die Mädels auf den Fernsehzeitungs-Titelseiten.
So famos makellos von Fuß bis Kopp. Und ob!
Und das völlig ohne Photoshop.

Sie hat im Job viel Erfolg: Sie ist Popsängerin.
Klar: Bei so ’ner Sängerin schaut man gern mal länger hin.
Zwar trifft sie, wenn sie singt, die Töne nicht so richtig,
doch das ist heutzutage ja auch gar nicht mehr so wichtig.

Es kommt bei Frauen im Grunde einzig
auf drei Eigenschaften an: 90 – 60 – 90.

Apropos die Topographie von ihrem Popo’s is’
noch fotogener als die von Jennifer Lopez.
Ich kenne keine, deren Popo so poetisch ist.
Ich glaub ich bin ein Popo-Fetischist.

That’s causing in my belly such a burning desire
and a little underneath great balls of fire.

She shakes my nerves and she rattles my brain.
Es fällt mir schwer ihr zu widersteh’n.
Sie ist so schön!
Ein Phänomen!
Goodness, gracious, great..., au weia!

Sie ist die Tochter eines Schönheitschirurgen.
Von dem wird sie immer schön glatt gezogen.
Deswegen sieht sie so gut aus,
der Mann verdient Applaus,
denn er hat den Bogen raus!

Das Problem ist nur: Ich kann sie immer, wenn
sie bei ihrem Vater war, kaum wiedererkenn’.
Schon oft hab’ ich sie mit einer fremden Frau verwechselt,
zum Beispiel, als ich sie mal gefragte habe, was sie von spontanem Sex hält.

Peinlich, peinlich! Oh Mann, war mir das peinlich!
Das brachte mir ein blaues Auge ein - augenscheinlich.
Drum, wenn ich sie küssen will, frag’ ich sie zumeist
jetzt erst einmal zur Sicherheit, wie sie heißt.

Ach ja, sie heißt übrigens Klaus.
Komm, egal, Hauptsache: sie sieht gut aus!

I’ve got a new girlfriend!
You’ve really got to meet her
You’d really be happy for me
Because she’s really beautiful.

She’s got a real sweet nose and a wonderful mouth, a neat silhouette, curves in all the right places, and even her belly and her back are delightful.  She is visually beyond compare.

The nicest things about her are doubled: her eyes, ears, hands and extremities.  Even her legs – there’s nothing finer!  And then her two – you know what I mean.

Such a divine figure!
You ask me, no doubt, oh man,
how does she do it?

The answer’s easy:

She’s the daughter of a plastic surgeon.  He makes sure she’s always slick and smooth.  That’s why she’s always so beautiful – no lie.  She’s the daughter of a plastic surgeon.

Like all daughters, she’s her father’s darling daughter.  So he always operates for no fee.  No sooner does he come home in the evening, he tries out the latest trends.

Whether buxom and sexy or rather demure, whether slightly underweight or downright anorexic, she always has her father make her body correspond to the latest style.

And if her clothes suddenly don’t fit anymore, she can have her father alter them.

She’s the daughter of a plastic surgeon.  He makes sure she’s always slick and smooth.  That’s why she’s always so beautiful – no lie.  She’s the daughter of a plastic surgeon.

She outdoes in beauty by far even the girls on the cover of the TV magazines.  Marvelously flawless from head to toe.  And how!  And all that without photoshop.

He’s very successful at her job.  She’s a pop singer.  Of course if you look a little closer you see she doesn’t always hit the right notes.  But that doesn’t matter so much nowadays.

When it comes to women, it comes down to just three features: 32-24-34

By the way, the typography of her backside is more photogenic than Jennifer Lopez.  I know nobody with such a photogenic bum.  I think I’m a bum-fetishist.

That’s causing in my belly such a burning desire
and a little underneath great balls of fire.

She shakes my nerves and she rattles my brain.
It’s hard for me to resist.
She is so beautiful!
A phenomenon!
Goodness, gracious, great..., oh my!

She’s the daughter of a plastic surgeon.  He makes sure she’s always slick and smooth.  That’s why she’s always so beautiful.  The man deserves a round of applause.

The problem is only that each time she comes from being with her father, I hardly recognize her anymore.  I’ve often mixed her up with another woman.  For example, when I asked her what she thinks of spontaneous sex.

Terrible, terrible.  Oh man, was that hard on me.  I got a black eye out of it because when I want to kiss her, I always ask her, just to be sure, what her name is.

Which is Klaus, by the way.
No matter.  All that’s important is the way she looks.

I want to end with two songs that show Bodo Wartke has developed the ability to enrich an evening of comedy by infusing it with a change of pace.  He does this in

(29) “Christine” a song about his sister who died as an infant leaving an indelible mark on the entire family.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the music in its entirety online, but here are the words:

Ich erinner mich nicht mehr ich war noch zu klein.  
Ich war grade einmal drei und der Ältre von uns zwein
drei Jahre schein wie ein beträchtlicher Betrag
zu Dir im Vergleich denn Du wurdest nur einen Monat und einen Tag
das es passieren würde war im Grunde klar
und von Anfang an absehbar
trotzdem brach es über uns herein wie eine Lavine
ich hab Dich nie gesehn, 

Als Mama an dem Tag nach Hause kam
nahm sie mich wortlos in den Arm
und ich saß stundenlang auf ihrem Schoß
sie hielt mich fest und sie ließ mich seitdem nicht mehr los
man macht trotz aller Melankolie
so gut es geht im Leben eben irgendiwe
zum bösen Spiel gute Mine
funktioniert wie eine Maschine
sucht Halt in Gestalt von alltäglicher Routine
wahrt die äußre Fassade doch ist innerlich Ruine
Du fehlst uns

Ab und zu frag ich mich, was wäre wenn
wie es wohl wär' Dich hier zu haben wie es wohl währ Dich zu kenn'
was glaubst du wie sehr wären wir einander gleich
wo wärst Du jetzt wie wärst Du heute viellicht
hättest Du die Dickköpfigkeit von unserem Vater
oder machtest ab und zu genau wie ich Theater
höchstwahrscheinlich wärst Du eine ziemlich flotte Bine
wie unsere Mutter früher

"Haben Sie Geschwister" werd ich manchmal gefragt
"Nein ich sei Einzelkind" hab ich früher immer gesagt,
dabei war das "Ja" aber eigentlich gar nicht wahr.
Ich hab eine Schwester
die ist zwar nicht mehr hier,
aber Sie ist da...
I don’t remember any more.  I was too small.  I was just three years old, the elder of the two of us.  Three years old must have seemed like a considerable amount compared to you, since you were only a month and a day.  We knew that it was coming, right from the start.  Still, it rolled over us like an avalanche.  I never got to see you, Christine.

When Mama came home that day, she took me up in her arms without a word and I sat for hours in her lap.  She held me tight and since then has never let me go.  You do what you have to do, despite the melancholy, somehow.  You put up a good front and get through it all mechanically by finding things in the daily routine.  But the outer façade masks the inner ruins.  We miss you, Christine.

Now and then I ask myself, what would it be like if you were still here, and how it would be to know you.  What would you think?  How much would we be alike?  Where would you be now?  Would you have father’s thickheadedness?  Or would you, like me, do theater.  Most likely you’d be a great looker, like Mom was, Christine.

“Do you have any brothers and sisters” they ask me sometimes.  “No, I’m an only child,” I always used to say, because strictly speaking “yes” was not the right answer.  I have a sister, but she isn’t here anymore.  But she exists.

The other serious piece is a song about the world from the perspective of a monument:

Ein Denkmal denkt  (A monument thinks)
performed with Sonja Firker on violin
Auf einer kleinen baumgesäumten Lichtung
stehe ich nun schon seit Jahr und Tag,
seit meiner längst verstrichenen Errichtung
in einem aufgeräumten Bürgerpark.
Meinesgleichen gibt es fast in allen Ländern.
Wir sind die Zeugen der Gezeiten des Geschicks.
Doch die Leute, die an mir vorüber schlendern,
würdigen mich keines Blicks.
Aber das macht nichts. Ich sie ja auch nicht.
Es scheint mein Los, in stummer Stille zu verstauben.
Denn könnt’ ich sprechen - es hätte keinen Zweck.
Ich bin ja ohnehin umringt von lauter Tauben
und die geben auf mich einen Dreck.
Soweit ich mich erinnere, erinner’ ich
an einen Krieg, doch der ist wohl schon länger her,
denn die Leute hier erinnern sich nur kümmerlich,
und sie kennen mich nicht mehr.
Aber das macht nichts. Ich sie ja auch nicht.
Von Wind und Wetter und vom Zahn der Zeit zerbissen,
verliere ich allmählich mein Gesicht.
Vor mir verwelken Nelken und Narzissen
und Vergißmeinnicht.
Wenn die Leute ihren Hund spazieren führen,
erfülle ich hier steinern meine Pflicht.
Auf einem Schild vor mir steht: „Bitte nicht berühren“.
Und in der Tat, sie berühren mich nicht.
Aber das macht nichts. Ich sie ja auch nicht.

In a small clearing, lined with trees
I’ve been standing here for years and a day
since my unveiling so long ago
in a freshly swept town park.

The likes of me are found in nearly every land.  We are witnesses to the ebb and flow of fate.
But the people who wander leisurely past barely give me any notice.

It doesn’t matter.  I can’t see anything.

It seems to be my lot to gather dust in the stillness.  If I could talk, there would be no purpose.

I am surrounded by nothing but doves
who cover me with their dirt.

As far as I can remember, I remember a war.  But that was a long time ago.  And the people here, they remember it only dimly, and they don’t know me any more.

But that doesn’t matter.  I can’t see anything.

Bitten by the wind and the weather and the teeth of time, I am gradually losing my face.
Before me the carnations wither and the narcissus and the forget-me-nots.
When the people walk their dogs, I fulfill my stony duty.
On a sign it says, “Please do not disturb.”
And, in fact, they do not disturb me.

But that doesn’t matter.  I can’t see anything.

I’ve linked you, if my count is right, to 30 songs:

  1. Ich trau’ mich nicht
  2. Was ich gerade denke
  3. Warum nich’?
  4. Quand même, je t’aime
  5. Logik
  6. Ja, Schatz
  7. Regen
  8. Die Amerikaner
  9. Lebensqualität
  10. Mein Brief an Steve
  11. Vergleichende Religionswissenschaften
  12. Probleme, die ich früher noch nicht hatte
  13. Dodekaphonie
  14. Hunde
  15. Bettina
  16. Andrea
  17. Claudia
  18. Konstanze
  19. Was ich gerade denke
  20. Da muss er durch
  21. Cain und Abel
  22. Alla Turca Stomp
  23. Liebeslied
  24. Das letze Stück
  25. König Ödipus
  26. Frühlingsgefühle
  27. Loveparade
  28. Meine neue Freundin
  29. Christine
  30. Ein Denkmal denkt

There are many more, but I think I’ll stop with these. 

If you’re still interested in more of his wit, visit his webpage and click on Liebesliedgenerator.   Then on “high” (hohe)  or “low” (niedrige) quality, depending on your internet connection.  Then on one of the 88 languages or German/Swiss dialects, and hear the “Lovesong” sung in everything from English to Klingon (from Star Trek) and Quenya (the language of the Elves of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings)  and the German of some of the Turkish immigrants of Kreuzberg, where he lives in Berlin.

I have tons more material, on his background, his appearances on television in a rhyming competition, on the state of cabaret in Germany today, on a whole host of imitators, and on other piano cabarettists.

But this is already way more than I expect any of my readers to go very far into, so I’ll stop.

On last remark...I have not shared any of this obsession with this new found otaku friend before.  (Otaku is Japanese for nerd – especially techno-nerd, which Japan has in great abundance.  Some of my favorite students were otaku.  Maybe that’s part of the attraction.)  Because I've had no feedback, I may not have all my facts right and may have a peculiar slant on this guy not shared by others.  If you find things that need to be corrected, please do me that favor.  The translations, too, I feel I need to apologize for again.  They are of necessity like a tough steak with most of the flavor – as well as the sizzle – removed. 

Forgive me this obsession.  I just had to share...

picture credit:  Sven Schütze