*OK, “eagle-eared”. Actually, eagles’ hearing might suck. Which animals have good hearing? Bats, I guess. But “bat-eared” doesn’t sound right, does it? Anywaaaaay…
We don’t have access to a studio at the moment, so Radio überlin is on hiatus until we can find another space in which to record, or can build our own. If you can help with either of these options, feel free to get in touch!
But the real reason for this blog post is to share some of the podcasts that inspired us to try the audio medium in the first place. They’ve made us laugh, cry, cry laughing, think, re-think, question our whole outlook on life, and sometimes even our sanity. They’re presented mostly by comedians (who get paid to talk for a living, after all) and explore everything from science and spiritually to hilarious shit stories and beverages (and sometimes hot sauce).
Tasty! Get your headphones on…
Bits of Berlin
Tam from the Mädels with a Microphone podcast (listed below) puts on her geek glasses and peeks into the matrix of Berlin’s tech community.
Hipster and Hack
The guys from startup blog Silicon Allee take an irreverent look at tech news stories from Berlin and beyond.
La La La Boom
As descriptions go, we can’t top this: “A podcast of uncommon refinement and distinction. Recorded in a secret floating fortress in Berlin by two gentlemen of leisure.”
Mädels with a Microphone
On indefinite hiatus but worth catching up on, the Mädels dive into quirky and personal stories about Berlin and its inhabitants.
Recording live at Wedding’s Vagabund Brauerei, American-ish brothers Josh and Noah improvise sketch comedy, music and other nonsense with their guests.
Our favourite destination for English-language Berlin news, opinion and chat. Professionally produced, but charmingly personal.
This Week in Germany
Germany-wide news, presented in a magazine format, every week in English. Always informative.
By The Way
The ever delightful Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) shoots the shit with guests like Larry David, Lena Dunham and Amy Poehler.
Girl on Guy
Aisha Tyler (famous for being Lana in Archer and generally entrepreneurially awesome) chats to her (mostly) guy friends and gets them to share their self-inflicted wounds.
Ronna & Beverly
Everyone’s favourite fake fifty-something Jewish mothers embarrass their guests with intrusive questions.
Mark Maron speaks frankly with entertainers such as Todd Glass, who came out on the podcast, and Robin Williams, who talked openly and honestly about his struggles with depression.
You Made It Weird
Pete Holmes gets deep with guests like Henry Rollins and TJ Miller, about love, sex, spirituality and life in general.
Don’t Ever Change
Funny people reflect on their formative years – their usually-hilarious, sometimes tragic, time at high school.
Thirtysomethings learn about things like “fleek” and weird Twitter from “the kids”.
Tig Notaro and friends ramble a lot and play silly improv games in this show which is ostensibly about science.
This Feels Terrible
Comedians talking about their relationship history with Erin McGathy, who even recorded her marriage to Community creator Dan Harmon for the show.
Elizabeth Laime and her husband “psychic Andy” dole out advice about marriage and relationships.
Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time. Period.
An A-Z rundown of the man’s movies, rating the “Denzelishness” of each, and creating a bunch of memes along the way. *single Glory tear*
Doug Loves Movies
The superhigh Doug Benson plays the Leonard Maltin game, Last Man Stanton and other movie trivia games before a live crowd.
How Did This Get Made?
Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas of The League/assorted hilariousness review bad and bonkers movies. And Devil’s Advocate.
I Was There Too
Interviews with minor players in major film scenes, like the bus passengers from Speed and the mother from the train station shootout in The Untouchables.
Maltin on Movies
Leonard Maltin. On movies. With co-host Baron Vaughn providing a gleeful counterpoint to our Leonard’s thoughtful musings.
We Hate Movies
Entertainingly terrible (but not terribly entertaining) movies torn apart by a bunch of nerds.
The late great Harris Wittels (Parks and Recreation, #humblebrag) tries to convert Comedy Bang Bang chief Scott Aukerman into a fan of 90s jam band Phish.
Awesome music ‘cast from WBEZ Chicago. News, interviews and explorations of themes like jazz, 80s new wave and This is Spinal Tap!
U Talkin’ U2 To Me?
Scott Aukerman talks nonsense and occasionally U2 with Parks & Rec‘s Adam Scott. So meta they even recorded an episode that was a commentary track for their previous episodes.
The cream of the LA comedy scene run down the latest in music and movies.
The Attitude Era podcast
A celebration of the nadir of WWF wrestling, from the late 90s to early 00s, one pay-per-view at a time.
Call Chelsea Peretti
CP’s PC! That’s an abbrev(iation) that might only make sense to fans of this call-in show, in which Chel toys with her fans and runs amok on her ever-expanding soundboard. *jackpot noise*
Basecamp (full disclosure: I work for them) take to podcasting, with their audio version of their magazine focused on quirky, independently-owned businesses.
Doodie Calls with Doug Mand
The poopcast in which people share their equal parts mortifying and hilarious stories of shitting themselves.
The Indoor Kids
Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani talks video games and other nerdy shit with his wife, Meltdown Comedy booker Emily Gordon.
Listen in as Brian Posehn and friends play Dungeons & Dragons.
The podcast equivalent of Miley Cyrus twerking – the moment the medium hit the mainstream. Proof that investigative journalism might have a future in audio.
The Smartest Man in the World
Greg Proops holds forth about sports, politics, music, drugs… any subject you can think of, this smart-arse has something to say about it!
Devoted to discussions about and taste tests of beverages (and sometimes hot sauce).
Yo Is This Racist?
Tumblog spin-off with mini-episodes dedicated to answering listener’s questions about whether things are racist. Spoiler: they almost always are.
Berlin: no man’s land, frontier, a city adrift in the sands of Central Europe. Destroyed, divided and held captive during a century of chaos and upheaval, borderless Berlin has yet remained a city where drifters, dreamers and outsiders can find a place — and finally run free.
In City of Exiles, Stuart Braun evokes the restless spirits that have come and gone from Berlin across the last century, the itinerants who are the source of the Berliner Luft, the special free air that infuses this beguiling metropolis.
I needed to get out of
Australia, and Berlin had
long been my Plan B.
It was, I’ll admit, a pretty vague plan. I’d spent some inspired weeks in Berlin in ’96, had often professed love for the city. But I was young then. The years passed. That fabled summer was fading into the mists of my wasted youth.
Yet out of all the cities I had travelled and sometimes lived in, Berlin was the one that gave me hope. It was my promised place — the salve for my savage restlessness.
In Australia, I’d been making documentaries about the Aboriginal people I had met on the streets of inner-city Melbourne. Maybe I was trying to belong, trying to connect with the indigenous history of a land I believed was not really mine.
I was also doing bits of writing but it hadn’t quite clicked since I’d returned from Tokyo—the city I escaped to in the early 2000s, and where I consolidated my career as a journalist and writer. Melbourne was a nice change from my hometown of Sydney. I had many friends in the city. I had found love in Melbourne. But I kept dreaming of escape. I kept dreaming of Berlin.
What was the problem? Hard to say. Australia’s beautiful. It’s supposed to be wild and free. I find it very controlling. Too many rules. And competitive. Stressful. Trying to get ahead. To fulfil the dream of owning a big house — two big houses, preferably.
Melbourne was once a little like Berlin. It was affordable, sort of European, home to many artists. But these days you need a million bucks to live in Melbourne. It started to feel segregated, as my Aboriginal friends who were getting kicked off the streets they call home will confirm. And you had to drive. You sat in traffic a lot with all the people trying to get back to the safety of their big house. I don’t know. I suppose I’d always felt a kind of anxiety in Australia.
It was 2006, and like a good citizen I got a bank loan and bought a house. Mine was off-grid, fitted with a couple of solar panels, the cheapest one bedroom in the state on a dirt road to nowhere. A little cottage in the mountains where I could escape the city, write and build some kind of foundation. It was paradise up there in the rainforest with the kookaburras. A real sanctuary. But I kept thinking that I needed to move to Berlin.
I was making a documentary about the Aboriginal community in the Fitzroy district of Melbourne—the Black Mile that was being recolonised through gentrification — when I decided it was finally time to go. Luckily, my partner Melisa agreed.
It had been 13 years. I could barely remember Berlin. But I had a strong sense of it. As we flew in over the outlying forests and lakes in the autumn of 2009, I felt like I was coming home. People welcomed us into the city, angels on trains and sidewalks showing us the way. After a week in Berlin, I wrote this in my notebook.
In the city where Walter Benjamin and the National Socialist Party were born, a city of great humanity and horror, my companion and I have decided to create history. One is only as good as his and her address, and so our metropolitan moment can now be had, our time on the good strasse where the world has come to meet, merge, emerge. It’s the time of the gypsies and we’ve made it, just, easily, not knowing how, when, where, why, but staying on track, on song, en route to this prehistoric, predestined, preternatural gathering in the land of the goths.
The National Socialist Party was born in Munich (something Berliners are proud of), but what did I know? I was writing crap in a 30-cent exercise book I’d recently purchased in India, about a city I had been in for exactly seven days. But looking at the words again a few years later, I’m struck by the line about the place where the world has come to meet, the words “preternatural gathering”, words that resonated and seemingly inspired me to write this book.
Subconsciously, I knew that I was now living in a city of exiles. I was one of many. I was among people who had nearly all come to Berlin from elsewhere. Some were privileged soul-searchers like me, some came because this long divided and bankrupt city was relatively empty and cheap and gave people the freedom to do their own thing, to make their art. Some were real exiles: refugees from war-torn Sierra Leone; Palestinians who had lost their home forever; Germans who had escaped to a walled, demilitarised city in the 1970s to avoid joining the army; Greeks and Spaniards fleeing austerity and unending deep recession. Oh, and don’t forget the dogs. Many are refugees, like our Spanish street dog who was rescued from certain death. We take him to bars, restaurants, the office, on the train. He’s somehow free here and like many of Berlin’s exiles, he needed to get out of somewhere.
When I wrote those words about the time of the gypsies, I didn’t know what I was saying. But now that I think about it, I wrote those words because I quickly felt that a certain kind of vagabond, of free spirit, was drawn to this city. Maybe I was writing in my notebook about the meeting of another Lost Generation, like the one after the Great War, all those disillusioned souls who wanted to be writers and artists and sometimes ended up in Paris, but also Berlin, as I’ll explain later. Maybe Berlin really was a great open street where the world had come to “meet, merge, emerge”. Maybe Berlin was a place where people try to be poetic.
What will I do in Berlin? I thought. Will I write about the Stasi, or the Wall, or drinking and dancing and going to darkrooms and living on very little and having so much fun and losing my soul like they talked about in all the magazines? Berlin was having another mythological moment; it was the golden 1920s all over. But there was something else about this city, something that hadn’t really been written about.
Berlin reminded me of the places in inner Melbourne where my Aboriginal friends had long gathered. They originally came from different tribes across the state, and many ended up in Melbourne after escaping missions, jails and children’s homes in which they’d been imprisoned—often after being stolen from their parents. They gathered in these once working-class streets of Melbourne and set up a meeting place for a displaced generation. They created this place on their own terms, taking back squares and parks for themselves. They were still marginalised of course, and there were drugs, alcohol, fights and police harassment. But there was a freedom, a kind of self-determination that I could identify with, that I was looking for I suppose.
It’s a hazy comparison; but many people had similarly come to Berlin to live on their own terms. It was also a meeting place. Berlin was open to these exiles; it gave them space to build their world from the ground up. Not always. But the potential was there. Like the indigenous people from diverse regions who came to Melbourne and created a pan-Aboriginal identity, a necessary solidarity, Berlin’s global tribes were also getting together. Here you had no family structures to fall back on. You had to work together. Plus there was no corporate money, no big investors or sponsors around. The good money went south to Munich and Frankfurt during the war and wall years and never came back. That’s why all the enterprise — the bars, galleries, clubs, outdoor markets and bookstores — seemed to be independent collaborations. You still don’t see many chains. Meeting people who’d been here a long time, they all talked about this idea of a Berlin family.
As I started to think about Berlin as a sanctuary, and remembered that, in the 1980s, a band of Berlin exiles, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, recorded an old blues song here called “City of Refuge”, I started to realise that people had been coming to Berlin for similar reasons for a long time.
It was 2010, and the American photographer Nan Goldin was in town to promote an exhibition of images taken during her Berlin years in the 1980s and ’90s. She is a legend among some of my friends, and I’d seen her very candid portrayals of the people she knew intimately in Berlin, some dying of AIDS, others living in squats. I attended the retrospective on the day that Goldin delivered a talk, and was struck by the following words:
The best years of my life were here in Berlin. I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been looking for a home all my life. The only place I feel myself and comfortable and feel real love for my friends is Berlin.
Goldin had been a runaway since she was a teen, finally escaping to New York before moving to Berlin. She now lives in Paris with her girlfriend. But Berlin remains the only true home she’s ever had.
My father, who, aged 16, fled Hungary as the Red Army put down the 1956 revolution, told me he could live in Berlin as he walked the city for the first time. He says it every time he returns. If only he had the means, he’d move here. But why would he leave the sparkling east coast of Australia for this dark, decrepit city? Sure, the linden trees remind him of his village in Hungary. Yet it’s difficult to say. He just feels good here.
So I had something to write about: this idea of a city of exiles, this place where different kinds of people didn’t necessarily just fit in, but felt good — not always, but in a fundamental way, a way that had long eluded many of them. I read about the Czech-Jewish writer Franz Kafka and his obsession with finding sanctuary in Berlin, the city that remained his mythical escape until his death, his ‘antidote’ to his despised hometown of Prague.
Many have come to Berlin and have disliked it, or have just found it okay. They have not had the epiphany that Goldin or Kafka had. Some had little choice in coming to Berlin. Like the French Huguenots, who were escaping religious persecution in the late 1600s. They were offered sanctuary. They couldn’t say no. They helped establish a template for tolerance in Berlin that I will get to later, and which partly explains why Jewish people were so integral to this city until 1933 — the year Hitler came to town from Munich, the year Berlin officially marks as the “destruction of diversity”.
In the 1970s, David Bowie, like the Huguenots, found refuge in Berlin. I shouldn’t mention Bowie. His Berlin story is cooked. I can hear my friends now — no you didn’t, of all the people, in the prologue! But Bowie loved this town because he, like everyone else, could just be a Berliner. He moved around as he pleased. He was taken at face value. “I just can’t express the feeling of freedom I felt there”, he said a little predictably.
But what exactly is this feeling of freedom, and why has it endured? Why this city, built on a sandy swamp, a no man’s land bordering East and West Europe? Why, despite the decades of conflagration, the crushing continental cold?
Hundreds of books have been written about a Berlin that grew up so fast, flowered so brilliantly, that was burnt, divided and held prisoner for half a century. They have inevitably pored over its restive history, its cultural effusions and totalitarian darknesses, its decadence, its ghosts, its secret police.
But as my earlier notebook ranting about preternatural gatherings and the time of the gypsies alluded, I believe that Berlin is Berlin because of its strangers, its wanderers, its many displaced people who have come to build a kind of safe haven. These free-flowing exiles are the source of the freedom so many feel when they come to Berlin — they are the city’s substance in a sense.
I know; I’m making a huge generalisation. But it’s a means for me to explain why, as I walk and bicycle Berlin’s cobbled and increasingly renovated streets, I feel so settled, more than I’ve ever felt before. By trying to understand how this city of exiles came to be, maybe I can also hope to understand the place I left behind, and to one day go back.
HOW TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF CITY OF EXILES: BERLIN FROM THE OUTSIDE IN –
Just leave us a comment below with the answer to this question:
(apart from Bowie, Kafka, Nan Goldin and Nick Cave)
Who do you think is the quintessential Berliner-in-exile?
Our 2 favourite answers will win a signed copy of City of Exiles.
You have until 6pm on Tuesday 19th May to enter. Good luck!
The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):
1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. Our favourite comments win. Simple as.
4. If you win, we’ll let you know by email and get your postal address.