Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interview Project (Germany)

I love this.

In 2009 Jason S. and Austin Lynch (the son of David Lynch) went on a road trip through the United States and interviewed regular people about their lives - creating 121 short videos that make up the Interview Project. In 2010 the David Lynch-produced web series won a Webby Award.

Interview Project (US)

Each video is just a simple, down-to earth "monologue" (you don't hear the questions) by the person being interviewed and a few images of their surroundings. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a regular human being telling you about his or her life. No huge drama, vérité footage or a competition or law suit that a character may or may not win at the end.

These are the kinds of documentaries I love and I make. They're not necessarily festival darlings - nor are they big on TV or in the movie theaters. But they're so real and so human and they remind you of the beauty of life and diversity.

David Lynch in the introduction of the series:
"What I hope people will get out of Interview Project is a chance to meet these people. It's something that's human and you can't stay away from it."

Now the same team, together with German documentary filmmaker Judith Keil, has launched the same kind of project in Germany: Interview Project Germany. New episodes are released every Thursday.

Interview Project Germany

When the German series premiered a few weeks ago, I decided to refrain from writing about it until most episodes would be available. But by now I'm too excited to share it. I also realized it would only get more difficult to choose which episodes to embed. To make that real easy, I'm just going to share the two that are geographically the closest to where I'm from.

Betty Wulf in Holm, Schleswig-Holstein (I grew up in the next village)

Unfortunately the American episodes cannot be embedded. But the two I'd like to recommend (also based on proximity to my US homes) are Batso in Stratford, CT (near NYC) and Deacon Headly in Thomasville, GA (near Northern Florida).

Monday, March 28, 2011

MusicMonday: "Ich Bin Ausländer (leider zum Glück)" - Torpedo Boyz

Just discovered this song today and couldn't wait to share it (even though I already had something else planned for MusicMonday).

"Ich Bin Ausländer (Leider zum Glück)" by Torpedo Boyz makes me so happy - both the song and the video (by Rhine Hard Productions).

The song title loosely translates to "I'm a Foreigner (unfortunately Thank God!). It's an excellent and fun expat hymn for Berlin.

Even though I'm actually German, after all the years in the New York, I feel more like an expat here in Berlin than I do in NYC. Although I suspect that once you've lived away from your home country for so long, you're probably just generally a little lost and tend to identify more with the expat tribe than any specific country.

Torpedo Boyz
As far as I can tell the members of Torpedo Boyz are from Japan and Germany - and were the only German act besides Agnes Obel at this year's SXSW. However Agnes is not actually German either, but Danish (another expat in Berlin) - so I guess there really wasn't any full-on German representation at SXSW. Why is that anyway? Or am I maybe misinformed?

Talking about misinformed: don't confuse this song with the 1994 song "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" by Pop Will Eat Itself - a song which is also very danceable but additionally carries a political Anti-Nazi message.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Soviet War Memorial (Treptower Park) - In A Berlin Minute (Week 47)

Judith at the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow

The Soviet World War Two Memorial in Treptower Park (Советский мемориал войны) in Berlin is quite monumental - large in scale and meaning. The "Sowjetisches Ehrenmal in Treptow" was conceived by a collective of Russian artists and commemorates the 80,000 Red Army soldiers that died during the "Battle of Berlin" in May 1945. But this is not only a memorial - it is also the cemetery of 5,000 of those soldiers.

Soviet War Memorial (Treptower Park) - In A Berlin Minute (Week 47) from Luci Westphal on Vimeo.

Several people had recommended this sight to me. And I had mixed feelings about it from the get-go.  On a beautiful spring-like late afternoon this week I went for the first time with two friends. The entire memorial is vast and impressive and it caused me more mixed feelings then and now as I've put the video and sounds together.

I'm definitely a pacifist. I don't (usually) believe in attacking other countries, I don't believe in war propaganda or glorifying the military or any kind of violence. It breaks my heart to think of all the lives lost, all the trauma experienced and the cities, countries, cultures destroyed in all the stupid wars.

But as we see with Libya right now - there are times when it seems the other countries' duty to step in and stop a regime from hurting its own people or those in surrounding countries. The Soviet troops invaded Germany and Berlin to stop Hitler and World War 2 - just like the Americans did via Normandy and Western Europe - not to mention the French and British with their efforts.

What struck me most about this memorial was actually that the 40 ft tall main statue (a man holding a little girl in one hand and sword in the other) stands on a broken swastika. In all the US imagery, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. Very powerful.

Soviet War Memorial Statue Yevgeny Vuchetich

But there's still something weird about a memorial for "the other country" in your defeated country, isn't there? Then there are the negative stories you hear about how Russian soldiers supposedly treated Germans in Berlin, particularly women. Next come the thoughts that the dispute between the USSR and the USA was at the heart of why Germany was divided by a deadly border and that this memorial was in East Berlin.

The fact that there are 5000 soldiers burried under this memorial is haunting. The images on the large stones are disturbing.

So in the end I tried to reflect my mixed feelings via the audio: the National Hymn of the USSR performed by the 1968 USSR Defense Ministry and the sounds of "Military Battle WW2" from Soundtrack Pro. Now I have confused feelings about that step as well. I'm afraid it may come across as tasteless. But then again there is nothing as tasteless as war and violence itself - yet you have to admire those who are willing to give their lives to protect or free others.

It's complicated.

Judith and Larissa at Sowjetisches Ehrenmal in Treptower Park

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What's with all the ads?

So I finally broke down and set up Google AdSense for my blog.

While I was looking into doing that I also discovered the Amazon Associates program.

It seemed sensible (and rather necessary) that I generate some income with my writing - so I activated both programs.

The google ads are supposed to automatically match content on my page. After I turned off the Asian girl ads and image ads in general, the ads seem to be mostly about Berlin and blogs. Revenue is made mostly made by the reader (that's you) clicking on ads.

The Amazon Associates program let's me do various things. First of all, it basically means that I have a store on Amazon and if you buy anything through that store I get a little percentage. Since I recommend a lot of things (books, music, movies) that can be purchase on Amazon, it was kind of a no brainer to try this. I can feature items directly in my blog post, like this: 

Check out my favorite record: 

Also I have several stores based on what I've recommended on my blog. You can see a constantly changing selection in the side columns or you can go directly to the full store: 

Every time you buy something through those links or one of the stores (I'll be adding more soon), Amazon pays me a fraction of the price. 

Unfortunately, I think both those programs kind of clutter my page (and may seem a little too desperate?) - and so far I can't say that the money is rolling in. So let's just call this an experiment, which may disappear again fast. 

And now I actually have to do some real work to get really paid. 

Happy shopping ;-)

Monday, March 21, 2011

MusicMonday: The Kills "Satellite" (+ "Something Wild")

"Satellite" is the first single from Blood Pressures, the new album by the British-American duo The Kills - coming out the first week of April.

I'm very excited Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince are back together for a new album and tour. I finally did warm up to The Dead Weather (for which Alison Moshart teamed up with Jack White, Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence), but seeing The Kills live is one of my favorite show memories. Not to mention how great their albums are for dancing, running and any forms of rockin' out.

The Sophie Muller-directed video for "Satellite" makes me want to go on a road trip and take along a few wigs. It also reminds me (intentionally?) of the fantastic 1986 Jonathan Demme movie Something Wild (starring Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels), which inspired me to buy my first wig. Probably by coincidence the film is about to get a Criterion Collection release in May.

On a very random side note: In the late 90s Alison Mosshart played in the band Discount in Gainesville, FL, where I filmed my latest documentary All's Well and Fair - portraying three single punk moms over the course of 10 years.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Computerspiele Museum (Computer Games Museum) - In A Berlin Minute (Week 46)

'Computerspiele Musem - In A Berlin Minute (Week 46)' from Luci Westphal on Vimeo.

The Berlin Computerspiele (computer games) Museum originally opened in 1997 - but the new permanent exhibition tracking the evolution of computer games just opened in January and gives the museum a brand-new feel, really emphasizing all the old-school games.

A special thing about this video is that the museum was actually suggested to me by several viewers. Then my friend Judith, who is the one featured in the video, recommended it and then Zoe posted stunning macro photos from the museum on the überlin Blog. I couldn't wait any longer - and another dreary drizzly day presented itself with perfect timing. Thanks to everyone for the inspiration.

The music was especially composed for this video by none other than Scott Solary.

Computer Games Museum

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ian McEwan - "Black Dogs"

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm still split on how much I enjoyed Black Dogs by Ian McEwan. 

First of all, I definitely liked it. The idea behind it seemed very clever: the contrast between the communist intellect and the spiritual belief symbolized by a separated, irreconcilable but still married couple AND then two major German historic events (the atrocities of world war 2, then the horror and overcoming of the Berlin wall) seen from the perspective of the same English family. All this in turn re-told by the son-in-law who sorts and analyzes the events, including the incident of the big black dogs and their symbolic meaning of evil in the world. 

Really very clever, but then maybe too clever, too theoretical, too forced? Might depend on the mood if it's 3 or 4 stars for me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

FilmKritikTV - Franc Tausch

Hopefully the absurdity of me writing in English about something that is currently only available in German will not be too distracting. I've just decided to stick with the more inclusive language I always use here.

But maybe that conundrum is even fitting, because the person I want to write about lives in California, yet creates an online show that is available only in German.

Over the last few months I've become a huge fan of the YouTube channel FilmKritikTV, where German Franc Tausch brings us reviews and trailers from the latest Hollywood films and a few art house releases - as they become available in Germany.

His reviews are usually just around 3 minutes long, including clips from the dubbed German-language trailer of the film. He is very knowledgeable, not only about the content and quality of films, but also about some of the going-ons behind the scenes.

He's got a very likable personal approach on camera and fortunately doesn't hold back with his own subjective and personal opinions.

In true interactive (YouTube) fashion, he closes most reviews with a question to the viewer, who is supposed to answer in the video comments. Because Franc, who for many years worked as a journalist, host, speaker and actor in Germany, now lives in Hollywood, he signs off every show with a charming "Tschüss aus Hollywood".

Something else I've come to appreciate is that he actively engages with his audience in the comment section and also watches other people's videos, including a few of my minutes.

As far as I can tell he's a one-man operation; watching the film, writing the review, filming, editing and publishing and promoting online. While I also love shows with a slicker look, a fancy animated opening and a nice background, I really do admire that Franc seems to be doing all of this on his own without any snazzy distractions - but instead gets right to the point: excellent film reviews.

Needless to say, I'm really sorry that you non-German speakers miss out on his reviews. For a while Franc was also doing English-language reviews on the MyMovieReviewTV channel... maybe one day he'll be able to get back to it. I would definitely watch those too.

Review for The Fighter

Review for Biutiful

Monday, March 14, 2011

MusicMonday: Skream & Example "Shot Yourself In The Foot Again"

There are mixed opinions about mixed tapes (or playlists), which offer a collection of mp3s as free downloads. A big advantage of such mix tapes is the discovery of new artists and songs that you can now support and otherwise might never have heard.

My favorite new discovery: a collaboration by dubstep'pers Skream and Example called "Shot Yourself In The Foot Again" which according to the video you can download HERE.

The video was directed by Example himself and is currently heavily discussed on YouTube... "bros before hoes" as to be expected ;-)


Friday, March 11, 2011

100 Bus - In A Berlin Minute (Week 45)

100 Bus - In A Berlin Minute (Week 45) from Luci Westphal on Vimeo.

Fasten your seat belts... you're about to embark on a super fast (time lapse) ride through the heart of Berlin!

It was only a matter of time that I would bring you one minute from the popular public bus route 100, which takes you from the heart of former West Berlin (Bahnhof Zoo + Gedächtniskirche) to the heart of former East Berlin (Alexanderplatz + TV Tower) - passing several of the major sights along the way.

This week was perfect for this video because I've been trying to fight off a cold and an easy ride on the warm bus and then a quick edit seemed ideal.

Unfortunately, yesterday was the only cloudy day and then the Gedächtniskirche is under construction, so you can't really see it. But I've decided to turn it into a positive: now I'll have an idea for a summer-time follow-up video.

If you want to watch the more complete ride, including the view from the other direction (Alexanderplatz to Bahnhof Zoo), you can watch the Bonus Video for Week 45.

The wonderfully peppy music is the song "Rain Hogs" by Jason Matherne aka YouTube channel lljamelle11.

Reichstag as seen from the top of the 100 bus

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Create A YouTube Partner Click-able Image Map Banner

This post refers to the 2011 YouTube channel layout. It is now outdated.

"Create YouTube Partner Click able Image Map Banner"... that's quite a complicated title. But it also was quite a challenge to figure out how to create that cool top banner with buttons that YouTube Partners can have displayed on their channels.

With the help of lots of online research, trial + error, tips from another YouTuber Alessandro aka ShooterHatesYou and web designer Brent Lagerman of MimoYMima - and probably most importantly the website, I managed to put it all together and I now have a functioning click-able banner on my In A Berlin Minute Channel with links to this blog and other sites.

To save other html-unsavvy YouTube partners some time, I figured I'd put together a quick tutorial of all the steps (including the important ones at the very end that deal with YouTube specifically, which other tutorials left out).

If you're not a YouTube Partner, you cannot have such a banner on your channel. But you might be able to use this tutorial to create active images for something else.

(A little side note: if the sample images below are too small for you, click on them and they will enlarge in another window.)

To create a click-able banner for your YouTube Partner channel you need two things: an image you want to use as the banner and the map that will make the banner "click-able".

1. Create a picture file of what you want your banner to look like - including any buttons you want. You will need software like Photoshop or Gimp to create this image. Remember that for the YouTube banner the image cannot be bigger than 150 x 960 pixels. The file format I used is .png.

3. In the window for "Use an image on your computer" point to the picture file you created in step 1. Click "upload".

4. Click on "accept" next to the name of the uploaded file. The image I uploaded is called: MIN_YT_Banner. Your image should now appear in the browser.

5. In the box "Image map areas" click on the + sign. It will add the interface for your first hot spot / click-able area / button.

6. Click on your image where you want the top left corner of your first hot spot to be activated - then drag the bottom right corner to where you want it to end. The coordinates will be noted automatically. The first hot spot I created was over the "Twitter button".

7. Now enter the url that this hot spot / button is supposed to point to in the box labeled "Href:" next to the coordinates box. In my case the url is for

8. You can now choose if you want a text to show up when people hover and if you want the link to open up a new window or a new tab or stay in the same window.

9. Repeat steps 6 - 8 for all your hot spots. Each time you have to click on the circle next to a new number. If they don't show up automatically, click the + sign again.

10. After you've added all the hot spots and links, near the bottom of the page, below the word "Status" it should say "Ready". If it doesn't - you made some sort of error (possibly left something out). Now click on the word "Code" and your image map code should appear.

11. Before you copy and paste this code, you need add the information of what the picture is called so that the code can associate the map you just created with the image you will be uploading to YouTube. You will have to replace the name this program used for your image with the name YOU gave the image. This is the case for the "map id" and "the name" - both at the top of the code.

In my case the changes looked like this:
Before: map id="imgmap20113920228" name="imgmap20113920228"
After: map id="MIN_YT_Banner" name="MIN_YT_Banner"

12. Select all text of the code and copy.

13. Go to your YouTube channel. Click on "Branding Options" in the top menu above your channel. If you do not have that option, you are probably not a partner and can't do this.

14. Click on the "Banners and Image Maps" button. 

15. In the box for "Channel Banner" browse again to the image you created in step 1.

16. In the box "Image Map Code" paste the code you just copied from the Image Map Editor. Again: make sure the name of your image is the same in the top box as well as the two times in the first line of code. 

17. Hit "save" and "close" and possibly "refresh your page" and your new click-able banner should be there.

18. A little extra tip, in case it doesn't show up: clear your cache (usually under history).

Monday, March 7, 2011

MusicMonday: R.E.M. - "Überlin"

It all fit so perfectly: this past week was Scott's birthday, he returned to Berlin and Collapse Into Now, the new album of his old-time favorites R.E.M., came out in Germany so I could surprise him with it... and then it even included a Berlin song!

As a little bit of Schlagsahne on top, the video for "Überlin" was released just in time for my Music Monday post. The video was directed by Sam Taylor-Wood and because it features just one dancer (Aaron Johnson) does remind a bit of the "Lotus Flower" video by Radiohead. Btw, those don't really look like the streets of Berlin to me - but somewhere in England maybe.

Or then there's this clever (slightly older, also official) video for "Überlin" featuring the lyrics on a subway map:

Some of the lyrics fit all too perfectly:

hey now, take the U-Bahn
5 stops, change the station,
hey now, don't forget that change will save you
hey now, count a thousand, million people
that's astounding
chasing through the city with their stars on bright

I know I know I know what I am chasing
I know I know I know that this is changing me,


I know I know I know that this is changing;
we'll walk the streets, to feel the ground
I'm chasing Überlin


Friday, March 4, 2011

Komische Oper - In A Berlin Minute (Week 44)

This week I saw the opera Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák at the Komische Oper with new friend, book critic and Book Slut editor-in-chief Jessa Crispin.

I hadn't planned to make a video about this - due to copyright concerns and because I just wanted to have a relaxed evening consuming art and not trying to be productive. Well, I couldn't keep the camera in my pocket.

Although a theater was originally built in 1891/92, it has seen many changes over the decades and was completely rebuilt in 1965/66. So no, those are not original details - and the facade is a not very attractive gray block of cement. By the way, I'm actually not a fan of the gold and glitz combined with cherubs and heroic man statues. It's a little too Donald Trump for me. But it's still impressive.

Komische Oper - Berlin

The opera itself was fantastic and, as I overheard someone else say, "kurzweilig" (meaning something that is entertaining and appears to be rather short). Music and performance were wonderful - although I have to admit that due to the German translation and the emphasis on certain words it almost felt comical at times, although not as bad as a sketch by Hape Kerkeling.

I really liked the simple, but effective costumes and lack of set dressing and most of all the projection mapping, which projected the shadows of the stage back onto it and then warped it to give the whole stage an spooky underwater feel. Unfortunately I was so in awe, I missed getting video of it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Asterix Recommends: Erik Hassle "Are You Leaving"

My brother Asterix recommends a new song by Swedish singer Erik Hassle called "Are You Leaving". It was co-written by Jocke Berg of Kent.

This song is another great example of how well sadness and melancholy can work with a dance beat.

His new album Mariefred will be released in late March. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Berlin Musical "Hinterm Horizont"

My family is just not a musical family.

And I don't mean that we don't like or play music; there's a cellist and singer, a guitar player, a drummer and uh... after several attempts with recorder, violin and saxophone, I now make mix tapes. And we all love music: my mom's into classical, my dad is a Delta Blues Man with an inspiring knowledge of everything cool, my brother still believes in Brit Pop and I'm a Pitchfork Media Poster Child (including the goth-punk history).

Okay, so what I'm trying to say is that nobody in my family likes musicals. For years, while I was living in NYC, whenever my mom would visit, we'd make halfhearted attempts at getting tickets for Broadway shows - always opting to do something else instead.

So when we talked on the phone about the musical Hinterm Horizont (beyond the horizon) by quintessential Hamburg rocker Udo Lindenberg, we decided quickly to just order tickets online right away and just go for it. 

Hinterm Horizont tells the "only in Berlin" love story of the West German big mouth musician and an East Berlin girl who cannot be together because of the wall.

So we probably would have done the same thing if we could have gotten tickets to 42nd Street when it opened on 42nd Street / Broadway back in the day.

This Sunday my mom came to Berlin and we made an evening of it. And you know what? Seeing the musical was awesome!

At first the dialogue and acting seemed a little low-brow and on the nose - but once the music and dancing kicked in, it was a really fun ride. The music by Udo Lindenberg is mostly straight-up rock music, which they didn't "musicalize" too much I thought. After hearing what they did to the Green Day music for the musical American Idiot - I expected similar changes. 

There were also a lot of ballads and the usual dance sequences. Oh, and if you go, bring ear plugs. Seriously, I didn't expect it to be as loud as a rock concert - but it almost was.

The story is of course a little emotional, in part because it's a tragic love story told in flashback from the perspective of the East German girl who in the present time doesn't seem to be dating the musician she had loved - but mostly because it's a story about the divided city and country and how cruel, wrong and sad that was.

Udo Lindenberg was known in the 1980s for writing snarky songs about Germany's division with lyrics directly addressing GDR Head of State  Erich Honecker. So it only seems right that his music would lead to a musical about Berlin during that time. And to me Berlin would be the only place to watch this musical, which otherwise might not be so meaningful.

What gave that evening the special touch is that after the show Udo Lindenberg himself came out on stage and sang two encores with the cast. I wonder if he does that every night or if we just got lucky. 

In a way, what I liked best about the whole piece was the use of original historic TV footage (projected on what looked like The Wall, which could be moved) of the Berlin Wall being put up and later conquered by the peaceful protesters - and all the faces of soldiers, families, children... It made me want to watch a documentary about The Wall. Can anyone recommend a good one?