Yes, I ate all that. In retrospect, slightly heavy on the greens.
Our Women on the Ground would likely be my Book of the Year if I was still doing that.
Ramadan’s been frankly brutal this year. I do it because I want to and I enjoy being reminded of part of my family and history I know almost nothing about, but with the pandemic and all the accompanying stress (thanks white supremacists in all your forms) I just wanna sleep through the next two weeks.
Sometimes trans femme queer immigrant multiethnic neurodiverse self-love is a real hard one to do alone.
Last year it was walking Sonnenallee the evening before that made me realise I’d have to, as always, at least show up for the first day. Last year it was Eid getting pounded in a rain storm, later hanging with Vass, and a couple of days after that flying to Marbella for a very expensive not-holiday. This year. The will I won’t I conversation still happened, though it seems less believable this time around. It’s not the middle of summer for a start, though the days are still long. It’s still, “Just do the first day, at least that. Just that for your babaanne, your granny, your karani, your tūpuna wahine. Just do this one thing as best you can.” Every year, trying to make sense of missing history and if nothing else, Ramadan is, in the words of my stanch bro Onyx, a big offering to all that. Here’s the birds in the courtyard park out back of my place going fully pre-dawn hectic at 5am. Ramadan Mubarak fam, and Ramadan Kareem especially to my trans and non-binary and queer and bi sisters and siblings.
Another Sunday and my first Berlin museum for the year. I’ve been remiss. Since before Bologna, I’d planned for my next museum visit to be the Museum für Naturkunde, or to give it its full title, Museum für Naturkunde — Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, otherwise more succinctly known as the Naturkundemuseum. Sunday probably isn’t the most clever choice for a day to go there, packed to the atrium’s glass ceiling with kids going bonkers and their attendant families, causing the building to ring and vibrate in sympathy.
First stop once bag and impedimenta were dumped is the audio guide booth. Free! In English also! And a special version for kids 6 and older. I feel somewhat like a nouveau dilettante with my appreciation for audio guides, partly, “What use can this guide be? To me?” and quite a lot, “Excellent! Audio Guide!” The Naturkundemuseum falls so entirely into the latter it goes on to previously untravelled regions of brilliance, so much so that I had to dispense with it in some rooms if I wanted to leave the museum the same day — and that even before I pushed the ‘more info’ button, available in addition for around a third of the audio items. As an illustration, it took more than a hour to get around the first World of Dinosaurs room even missing a couple of the audio accompaniments.
Dinosaurs! The Giraffatitan brancai (which I have in my head from childhood undifferentiatedly for all such Sauropods as Brontosaurus) or Brachiosaurus brancai, is exactly Giraffe-ish, or Elephant with Giraffe neck stuck on each end, the forward one with the head about 13 meters above. The audio guide said there is some hypothesis based on the skull shape it may have also had an Elephant’s trunk. All that plus feathers sounds indeed preposterous, though it was only a couple of decades ago the entire skeleton was revised, giving it an entirely different appearance, so perhaps not.
Masses of fossils from the 150 million year old Tendaguru Formation in Tanzania surround these giants, acquired from when Tanzania was known as German East Africa, which is something that always taints museums for me, the circumstances under which such exhibits were obtained and the complete lack of acknowledgement of them. Nonetheless, Pterodactyls! Including the incredibly famous Archaeopteryx, which I forgot to photograph and like the Mona Lisa is far smaller than one would imagine.
Making it out of Dinosaur land (after the beautiful Kentrosaurus aethiopicus), I arrive in System Erde, great pieces of Gniess, Granite, and other high-pressure metamorphic rock, volcanoes, black smokers, plate tectonics, and Chicxulub, or more generally, Earth getting the buggery whacked out of it by cataclysmically huge meteorites. There are a couple of large shatter cones also, as well as a map of Germany showing the Nördlinger Ries impact crater.
From there, I wandered into the vast room of Evolution in Aktion, confronted first by the two-storey high and around ten metre wide Biodiversitätswand, around where I heard an innocent young thing ask, ”Daddy, where do they get all the animals?” and the panicked scramble for a reply that wouldn’t cause an Outside Context Problem, “Well … people … probably give them to the museum … when they’ve died …” It was beautiful and horrific. On the glass wall forward of a Black Panther that blended tail-wards into a Leopard spots (possibly a melaninistic Black Leopard) it said, “As an optically oriented species, humans are trained to recognise visual differences as edges. This is sometimes a trick of nature, since not everything that looks different really is something different.”
I paused on the audio guide around here, it was simply too full of people, and facing several more unknown rooms, I decided to accelerate. One of the grand stairwells has had its height made use of for the Kosmos und Sonnensystem exhibition, with a video of the formation of the universe playing far above for the lucky ones lying on the very comfortable looking circular sofa below. Planets, yes. Much better is a superb collection of meteorites. Part-way up the first flight of stairs is a display of Meteorite classification, Chondrites, iron meteorites; the next landing has a display of meteorites that have pockmarked Germany.
Here things got disorganised. Parts of the museum are closed for repairs and rebuilding. This breaks the circular progress through the museum, instead it becomes a retracing of one’s steps before continuing, then doubling back again. I doubled back and landed in the Mineraliensaal.
Oh, this is beautiful! It’s huge, vast high ceiling, scores of metres long and a dozen wide, full of vertical cabinets interspersed with display tables all, all of them stuffed to the gullets with mineral samples. It’s like an entire, living ecosystem in itself, representing some 75% of the world’s known minerals. I could have really remained in here for a whole day alone. Unlike the other exhibitions though, this one is decidedly 19th Century in form, simply those endless cases with tiny labels and no context, no audio guide. I do though prefer that in this instance, as the alternative would likely be a drastically reduced selection, rather than several rooms of this size each deliriously full and sumptuously arranged. I’m pretty sure I’ll be going back just to spend a day in this room.
On to the Wet Collections, the Alkohol-Forschungssammlungen, another two-storey high hall, this time full of eerily glowing glass receptacles fixing amphibians, fish, mammals, spiders … it’s the stuff of horrors for me. It’s also only viewable from the outside circuit, so I took off to the Einheimische Tiere exhibition, also dead animals, taxidermied, rather than preserved. I liked the Nebelkrähe — the Hooded Crow — because there is a large gang of them in Uferstr, and it looked a little sad, lost, and underdressed in the museum next to all the ~geiers, hawks and other splendid aviators.
I was getting tired by now, so the bird section was somewhat perfunctory. I stopped by the Museum shop on the way out. They had Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday on the shelves, which caused me to doubt the seriousness of their (the Museum’s) engagement with its public; it’s almost like giving genuine consideration to Intelligent Design. They did have nice breakfast bowls with Archaeopteryx on them, and besides the bizarre inclusion of Diamond, quite a few books I’d throw Euros at.
So, Museum für Naturkunde! Go on a non-weekend day (though week days are probably rife with school groups); use the audio guide, I think it’s the best I’ve heard; take supplies (there is no café at present); go early and leave late; go again, it’s a little uneven with the renovations and it’s not the American Museum of Natural History, but it’s bloody good, especially the minerals.
The cold is waning, though perhaps remain a pair or more days when – at least in the nights – winter will descend over Berlin. Privately, I was disappointed with the warmth, outlook undressed by snow, and the unwintery light. Possibly it is the moisture in the air which causes the distinct opalescent light only to arrive deep below freezing; this for me is winter, and the crisp, empty sound of the world once white decked.
The plummeting of mercury (yes, the thermometer outside our former-BVG office window is certainly that most fleet of metals) was for me then a release from disappointment – riding towards the Spree with cheeks, ears iced and burning, a thin warmth of wan sun when caught at the lights, blackened piles of chewed-up snow, unheimlich sublimating massifs of tyre grit, oil and ice.
Winter. I barely notice, shrouded in thick walls, heating, double-glazed windows and my perch on the floor only seeing boughs of the trees and sky. Yet to look out, sometimes I see, as I did last Thursday, the symbolic representation of the season arrayed; lifeless, cropped dark skeletons of trees, whitened on their upper reaches as they are mossy on their northern, whiteness moreover on any surface of repose, that light again, and always crows.
I thought perhaps these were better separate from a Yoga+Bondage workshop. The last few days have been busy at nameless, and the weekend was a workshop with Dasniya. After lunch, before Japanese tea ceremony, we explored the upper rooms. I found more pigeons making no-hands cartwheels. It seems it causes them to loose their feathers and so on. I wonder how one’s head becomes so removed from one’s neck?