Reading: Julia Bock, Axel Völcker — Berlin-Wedding: Das Fotobuch — The Photobook

(Full Disclosure: Kerber Verlag wanted me so much to review this, they chased me down and sent one boxed up via registered post. I also pestered them via email, which is the real truth.)

Wedding. Repping the best Ortsteil and Kiez in Berlin. My home for most of the time I’ve lived here, where I first landed, where I got my mobile phone number, where I made art (when I was disposed to do that), where I still call home, even as I live in the beating heart of gentrification, between Graefe Kiez and Südstern. I will fight anyone who says Wedding isn’t echt Berlin, who says, “Oh, but you must go to Charlottenburg for the real Berlin”, like Wedding isn’t — we all know what you really mean. Marzahn-Hellersdorf might be on the up, but Wedding bleibt. If only it could ditch its uncool neighbour Mitte.

I see a book on Twitter (via Weddingweiser) called Berlin-Wedding: Das Fotobuch — The Photobook and I know it will be mine, and I know I can’t be throwing down mad Euros on every book I see when my reading list is … even Paul in my favourite bookshop won’t touch its full extent without bribes. It’s got Helvetica Neue for the title and Communist Red endsheets, ’cos Volksrepublik Roter Wedding also bleibt — or at least that’s what the best pub in Germany tells me. I haven’t read it; I’m reading it. I read it. One of those usual non-review reviews.

A story of Wedding: When I first was living in Berlin, and I’d answer the question, “Where are you living?” the regular reply to that, by locals who’d been in the city for years, would be, “Oh Wedding. Be careful. It’s rough.” or other variations on the Wrong Side of the Tracks line — it’s outside the Ring, so yeah, wrong side. So I believed them, and exited U-Pankestraße with some apprehension, ’cos it was like being up Sydney Rd in Melbourne on a Friday night before that got gentrified. But then I noticed no one stared or got in my face or even gave a shit I was walking up Badstraße, and that ‘rough’ and ‘be careful’ and ‘not really Berlin’ meant Turkish and immigrant and working class, and about as much home in a city as I’ll ever find.

Another Wedding story: There’s a street off Badstr. called Buttmannstraße. Yes, really, Buttmann. I laughed. We all laugh, we of the former Empire’s colonies, ’cos we all have toilets for brains. I have a dear friend who lives for many years in Buttmannstr. The best pub in the world used to be on Buttmannstr. There should be a superhero called Superbuttmann. Obviously it’d be a porno, like Flesh Gordon, or Sex Trek, or Buttman vs. Superbuttmann. Buttmannstr. is the street that ‘brings down the neighbourhood’, where you see the hard fist of gentrification, forced evictions, police doing high-rotation patrols, rents doubling, locals with nowhere to go, who’ve called Wedding their home from the time it was the arse-end of Berlin, getting the boot.

Buttmannstr. officially isn’t in Wedding. The 2001 Bezirksgebietsreform hewed off the eastern half and renamed it Gesundbrunnen. Everyone still calls it Wedding; it’s going to take more than an administrative ‘reform’ to change that. Berlin-Wedding: Das Fotobuch properly takes Wedding in its former fullness, from Bornholmer Brücke (otherwise known as Böse Brücke) — where East and West Berlin first opened on November 9th, 1989 — all the way west to the edge of Flughafen Tegel. Wedding, where Marlene Dietrich performed when Buttmannstr. was the Queen of north Berlin.

I turn through the pages and sections, portraits of retired workers propping up their local bar, of parents and their children, portraits of Wedding-ers at home, and there’s Anna and Wolfgang Dumkow, in their beautiful Wiesenburg apartment, surrounded by art, looking unfathomably stylish. Each of the eighteen chapters or parts is by a different photographer from Ostkreuz-Agentur (skewed about 2:1 men:women ratio, yes, youse all know me, I count), so each chapter is a story, separate from the others, telling a particular theme without being beholden to an overarching narrative or curatorial aesthetic. Yes, it’s about Wedding, but it is not attempting a comprehensive or definitive appraisal; it is a moment shaped by the suburb’s past and its impending future.

And Wedding is a strange, unremarkable suburb, there’s scant imposing or singular architecture, the streets are a mix of congested thoroughfares banked by post-war Neubau — like all of Berlin, it’s missing teeth, more so than other districts, having been one of the main industry districts, and on the receiving end of heavy bombardment — of Kiez and Viertel with names like Afrikanisches Viertel (memorialising Germany’s colonial history), Brüsseler Kiez, tree-lined residential side-streets broken by old factories, and on two sides bounded by massive railway lines and the Westhafen canal port. There’s history here that’s uniquely Berlin and Wedding, but little of this remains immediately evident. In its absence, it’s one of the quieter parts of Berlin, where people carry on ordinary lives — even if they are artists.

So I’m reading this book and part of me is delighted to see my home represented like this, and part of me wonders why this book exists at all. Perhaps because Julia Boek and Axel Völcker also delight in this rather mundane cul-de-sac. But who’s it for, then? Wedding doesn’t have the punk and techno history of Kreuzberg, certainly not the cataclysmic history of Potsdamer Platz, Bowie and Iggy Pop didn’t live in Wedding, if there’s a suburb of Berlin which history seemed to have passed by, it’s Wedding.

It’s a suburb worth considering though. Barely 50% are of German origin — I have no idea what that means, I suppose germano-German, white German, though these kind of demographic descriptors slide into insalubrious fantasies of nationhood and ethnicity — almost 1 in 5 are Turkish German, and more than 1 in 20 Afro-German. It’s been a suburb of migration for its entire history, and only in the last few years has it been the site of the gentrification-type migration. One of the photo essays is called Black Wedding, a group of Cameroon-Germans who export cars, church on Sunday, family portraits at home and in the park. Another is of empty mosques. The introduction tells us Wedding has the greatest number of Mosques of any district in Berlin.

I’m going to jump into criticism here, all staccato like. My first criticism comes back to the imbalanced ratio of men to women photographers. I think here of Susan Sontag’s On Photography, where she says, “Taking photographs has set up a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world which levels the meaning of all events.” She also talks about — and I can’t find the quote here — the artlessness and naïvety of the amateur as more natural, more real, and therefore an essentialist resistance to the artificiality of the professional photographer. I was thinking of this looking at some of the essays, street photography shot without looking through the lens, as though this method in itself conferred a higher value to the work. I just thought they looked kinda crap, and had images in my head of tourist bros one-hand running and gunning their multi-thousand euro DSLRs, taking without asking. I contrast this with the family portraits, where the photographer set up an impromptu studio in a paediatric clinic, and asked her subjects, “What is your greatest wish?” And the answer so often was, “A better life for my children.” Asking and receiving. This is the Wedding I recognise, and when Mutti Merkel and other lost white Germans clamour multiculturalism and integration have failed, I say, this is Germany, and these are Germans.

There’s a photo in one of the empty mosques series where you can see a sliver of curtain. These spaces are absent of people, but were they not, then the absence would be women. Behind that curtain, that’s where the women go. An absence doubled. There are portraits of the Imam at the end, all male, by the photographer, also male. How a man can move through these spaces and streets — if they can at all — is very different from a woman. It’s like the reportage on Afghanistan I’ve been reading for years, only half told because of this absence. I feel tired and embarrassed to endlessly, year after year, book after book, movie, TV show, exhibition, cycling, motorsport, always, always hammering and banging on about representation. Fucking women. Where the fuck are we? Is one woman for every two men equality? Does 30% somehow read as half? And what does it mean that in a suburb where half the locals aren’t “of German origin” that almost all the photographers have hella German names? If I ask myself, “Do I spend too much time thinking about and asking these questions,” is it because they don’t?

Is this book harmless?

Sandwiched in-between Black Wedding, Artists, and In the Mecca of Berlin, is Gentrification of Wedding. Rent has more than doubled since I first arrived, pushing tripled. People let out rooms for a week what I would pay for a whole apartment for a month. And it’s on their coffee tables this book is more properly at home, irrespective of how the artists involved might want to hold a middle finger at them. As artists, we serve as the shock troops of gentrification, softening up the area before the front arrives. And when it does — which for Wedding is now — we’re pushed out and on to the next place. When I lived in Uferhallen, I photographed it constantly. I loved that I could be there, a former tram and bus depot in the middle of the city, now half turning to fields every summer, foxes and wildlife moving in. So I understand how Julia Bock and Axel Völcker could also feel the same about their Wedding, and want to share this. Yet once shared, it becomes commodity, serves interests other than, and in the present climate opposed to, the Wedding they call home.

Moving abruptly onto my other criticism, then. The English translations are a little shaky, a little word-for-word literal from German.

Like an anthology of short stories, some photographers I like, others I don’t, others leave me indifferent. This is both an affinity with a visual aesthetic as well as with what this makes explicit about how they see the world. If I flick through the pages, does it give me a feeling for Wedding? There are a number of photographers who remove entirely people from the milieu. Is this an intentional theme, or a habit of the photographers of the agency? A lot of them work for press, and there’s a strong thread of reportage in their work. I recognise people and places, and recognise Wedding, yet simultaneously, I see very little of Wedding here. I see photographers who use Wedding as an abrasive to rub up against, but it could be anywhere, Kreuzberg, Hamburg, Düsseldorf — the architecture often gives it away as German, but it could easily be Footscray or any of the other poor suburbs I’ve seen go through what Wedding presently is. They photograph Wedding but do not see it, they level it out, and some of the work is frankly lazy and pedestrian. Others, like Dorothee Deiss — I keep coming back to her photographs in the paediatric clinic — could go anywhere, her studio portraits against a plain background would always look like the place they came from. I would be far less critical were all the photographers to have her sensitivity and skill.

I show it to my Wedding friends though, “Hey, look at what I got, it’s our Kiez!” strange book for an odd ’burb.

Julia Bock, Axel Völcker — Berlin-Wedding: Das Fotobuch — The Photobook
Julia Bock, Axel Völcker — Berlin-Wedding: Das Fotobuch — The Photobook

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Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België: Peter Paul Rubens en Atelier — De Aanbidding der Wijzen

One more from Brussels’ Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België / Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in my lazy-blogging of single paintings.

I’d already blogged this museum heavily back in 2015 (Musée Oldmasters Museum, Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum, and the very popular Peter Paul Rubens’ Vier Studies van het Hoofd van een Moor, among others), so I wasn’t really committed this visit to much more than staring at a few Bruegels, namely De val der opstandige engelen, along with Pieter Aertsen’s De Keukenmeid, and Gustaf Wappers’ Tafereel van de Septemberdagen 1830. And seeing I just mentioned almost all my posts on this museum, I can’t not mention the sublime Pieter Bruegel de Oude’s De Aanbiddung der Wijze, which is alone worth visiting the museum for.

Another De Aanbidding der Wijzen then. This one from Peter Paul Rubens and Atelier around early-1600s — no date on the caption and it seems to be one of his lesser known Adoration of the Magis. It’s in the Rubens Room, a massive, high-ceilinged chamber with natural light pouring in from above. Really one of the few rooms in the museum capable of the dimensions to display his epic works. I always have trouble remembering how large a piece was, but the figures are larger than life, and I dredged up 384 × 280 cm from the internet. And this room had walls of the stuff.

I blame the light. When it hits the top of a painting 2 metres above me and bounces down, I don’t know what to do. Yes, post-processing, but you can still see the upper half is blown out, and has an awkward blue colour cast. So my editing skills also suck. It’s the main reason I only photographed a couple of works this time. Sure I can take hundreds of photos, but the editing takes multiples of the time I spent actually in the museum, and it’s gotten a little out of hand — one of the main reasons I didn’t go to Ghent. These photos, then, don’t do the painting any favours, but it’s Rubens and it’s the Adoration of the Magi, and it makes me smile.

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Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België: Gustaf Wappers — Tafereel van de Septemberdagen 1830

Continuing my blogging of single paintings from Brussels’ Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België / Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Gustaf Wappers’ massive Tafereel van de Septemberdagen 1830, op de Grote Markt te Brussel takes up one-third of a wall in the main atrium. It’s very Eugène Delacroix in size, composition, and themes, Romantic nationalism meets unnatural, formal arrangement.

I had thought MedievalPOC had Twitted/tumbled this recently, but it was rather John Singleton Copley’s The Death of Major Peirson at the Battle of Jersey (here on Twit, and tumblr) with the Black Scottish auctioneer’s assistant to James Christie front-and-centre doing the business with the flintlock. When I last visited the museum, I blogged Wappers’ painting, but — as is my tendency — it’s kinda under-exposed and dim, and the photos I took last week are far more detailed. As for whether under- or over-exposed or -contrasted, I dunno, this museum has some fucking abysmal lighting, both natural and artificial, and I’m only slightly competent at point-and-click.

So, seeing Twit is shite to search, and it doesn’t seem that MPOC tumbled it, I thought I’d throw this one up, for the shoeless Drummer Boy who’s at the centre of history, keeping one foot dainty on a woman’s dress. Very compositional.

One last thing. The dickwad bro with his shirt open, last person on the right in the foreground light, is totally pushing over a woman carrying a baby with a hearty face shove. No idea what this is supposed to represent or signify, but guy’s spreading all over where the women are, and the third woman (the one lending her dress to Drummer Boy) in this triangle around the other shirtless guy, who’s busy dying, is giving Mr. ’Scuse Me, Bitch, Must Spread a nasty stink eye. So obvs means something, perhaps that the women here are around a hundred years off getting the vote, slightly before Blacks in the Belgian Congo could.

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Autoworld Brussels: Porsche 911 SC Targa of the Belgian Police

Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police.
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da beast.

Yes, that’s a 1976 Porsche 911 SC Targa with its blues bolted to the b-pillar (twos are up the front, inboard from the low-slung fog lamps), plus a rough as guts wingnut for fine adjustment. Where its racing number should be, there’s a ‘SOS 901’, and it’s got a huge hazard orange stripe on its bonnet, which (I think) marks it as federal police, along with the white exterior.

Yes, the Belgian — and Dutch, and German — police ran Porsches from the ’60s to the ’90s, because … something something air-cooled, rear engines don’t overheat when reversing at speed in the emergency lane? Fuck I love Europe.

I was pretty blasted after a couple of hours Ferrari-ing, and really didn’t do this glorious work of art justice in my photos, but because I’m in Mode: Hoonage! lately, here are some stats: It’s a rear-wheel drive (duh!) 3-litre flat 6, putting down a not-unimpressive for what it was 231 bhp, to mow down classy international thieves on the Belgian equivalent of the Autobahn at 242 km/h. The back seat (and I’m using that term loosely) was mostly replaced by a crate of emergency gear. As for why a Targa over, say, a normal 911, this was so the passenger cop could stand up, turn around, grab the massive b-pillar, and wave instructions at the following cars. Seriously. That’s why Targa.

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Autoworld Brussels: Porsche 906 Carrera 6

After a couple of hours of Autoworld BrusselsFerrari 70 Years madness — where I spent an unholy amount of lust on the F40 (yes, Frances, yes, ‘Brutal’) — I was looking for a quick digestif in the form of a GT40. Who’d’a known Autoworld … Rotates. Its autos.

Not me.

No GT40 for you, Mme Frances. How about a Porsche 906? In the exact same spot? How about fuck, yeah?

’60s sci-fi dreaming of a future they got and we didn’t. My, this is a pretty set of wheels. And it’s road legal. Yay to FIA’s homologation rules giving us something this bonkers you could drive to the shop in for morning milk. How about some stats to go with the smell of victory?

This is chassis-number 906-128, with the racing number 148, under which it won the Targa Florio on May 8, 1966, driven by Willy Mairesse (Belgium) and Herbert Müller (Switzerland). It’s a rear-wheel drive, 2 litre, flat-6, putting down 210 bhp at 8000 rpm for a top speed of 280 km/h, and weighs a mere 580kg. It looks like something from the Jetsons, if the Jetsons were brawlers and Jane ditched George. I like very much how the two times I’ve been to Autoworld, they’ve populated this one spot with automotive mayhem. Porsche 906, for when my other car is a GT40.

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Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België: Pieter Aertsen — De Keukenmeid

One other from Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België / Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Pieter Aertsen’s De Keukenmeid / Le Cuisinière from 1559. I think there’s a similar one in Gemäldegalerie or some other museum I’ve been to more than once — he painted the same work more than once — but I really love this one, her expression and posture; I reckon she’d be good value for post-work hanging out. I would say yes to a beer at Le Fontainas any night of the week.

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Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België: Pieter Bruegel 1 — De val der opstandige engelen

I didn’t make it to Ghent. All that missed opportunity for mediæval art. I did make a trip to Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België / Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique to gawp at the Bruegel stuff, which I thought was a special exhibition, but is in fact a kind of online / digital project, which nonetheless meant I made a round of The Art — quite a bit of it missing due to water damage (or that was my lazy translation).

I’d photographed the museum pretty heavily two years ago (Musée Oldmasters Museum, Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum, also the sublime pair of Pieter Bruegel de Oude’s De Aanbiddung der Wijze, and Peter Paul Rubens’ Vier Studies van het Hoofd van een Moor) and didn’t really feel inspired to do the same again to paintings I’d already spent so much time on — the light in the museum is kinda horrific. But I do love Bruegel, and hadn’t basked in the Hieronymous Bosch freakery of his De val der opstandige engelen / La Chute des anges rebelles, which coincidentally is one of the works you can get way too close to on Google Cultural Institute’s Bruegel, Unseen Masterpieces, so I’m replicating some of that purely for my own pleasure. So here we go then, Bruegel’s The Fall of the Rebel Angels in all its dog-licking-its-arse (I dunno, that’s what I remember seeing) glory.

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Autoworld Brussels: Ferrari 70 Years

I only went to Autoworld BrusselsFerrari 70 Years to see the F40, so I could make a post quoting Kathryn from Iain Banks’ novel, The Business. I worked it all out in my head in the middle of the night. I would photograph the mad rear wing with ‘F40’ on it and have that right below, “‘I never drove the F40.’ He sounded like a disappointed schoolboy. ‘What’s it like?’ ‘Brutal.’” Brutal. I thought I was so fucking clever. It was worth it.

But if you’re coming here looking to perv on an F40, you’re in the wrong place: the F40 got its own, brutal gallery post, plus an extra special post ’cos it’s just so bonkers. You can find it here though, in the background of at least seven photos, if you’re desperate for some rear wing action; playing Spot the F40 is going to keep youse happy if all the rest of Ferrari hoonage does not.

I like the smell of Autoworld. I like the smell of cars and engines, fuel, brake fluid, oil and other lubricants and hydrocarbons, and the smell of all that being roasted and cooked when it gets raced. The biggest disappointment was no open engine bays. I could tolerate the lack of access to gated shifters — at least there’s glass to look through, but all those glorious engines and transmissions hidden away under metal and composite? Nope. I also wanted more supercars of the Enzo, LaFerrari or FXX K type — and they really should have just called it FUC K and be done with it. Ferrari FUC K. Probably more of a Lamborghini name. Also more track hoonage. Yes, it’s only 45 or so cars, but I’m petty and love seeing GTs slammed and grimed. I got some of my jollies with the burning yellow 430 GT 3 Scuderia and more with the intimidating red-and-white striped 308 GTB4. Also the silver Ecurie Francochamps 250 GT SWB with fat yellow number circles, which had pride of place in the hall.

I always — obviously — associate Ferrari with the colour red, Italian Rosso Corsa. It’s as beautiful and recognisable as British Racing Green or Bleu de France (of course Germany’s colour is silver, which is why I only remember it as an absence of colour amidst these other three). But Ferrari also does an unholy yellow, a black like the existential void itself, and occasionally, infrequently, sublime metallic browns, blues, and silvers, more often in the ’50s and ’60s, but occasionally returning later, like on the Testarossa with its ’80s dark, metallic steel-grey idea of a science-fiction future. And all this colour is so dense and deep. Light doesn’t bounce off the surface, it goes through the layers and comes back changed. It’s one of the signifiers of high-end cars, this paintwork, like the difference between laminate wood flooring and butchering an endangered, 1000 year-old Kauri for planks.

On light, Autoworld is a vast, arched, skeletal hanger full of natural light. Most of this is diffuse, and with the exception of some pockets on the wings, ridiculously easy to photograph in. The Ferrari exhibition though, at the far end where all the windows are curtained off, relies on artificial light, and being Ferrari, that meant bombing all that paintwork and metal with red LEDs, which rotated through a faintly sick yellow and lugubrious blue. Lucky, enough natural light flooded in, but it occurred to me that unlike art museums, where — in the best examples — light is so sensitively considered as to allow the work itself to be seen as it is, car museums seem to take the post-techno rave / chill-out room approach to lighting, as if all this monstrous and awesome machine art is in need of a boost. Which human eyes amazingly can adapt for, but cameras tend to freak out. So the reds sometimes look like a bloodbath dipped in a bloodbath, and the yellows lost all hope.

Unlike my usual museum-ing — which I admit has gotten way out of hand, and I’ve been trying to find ways to reel in while still giving large collections their due — I decided to do little to no editing of the photos. For a long time I’ve been committed to the camera doing the work, but accepting the necessity of post-processing to deal with lens distortion and off-kilter stuff, along with sometimes painstaking cleanup of glare and colour balance. Here, I’ve done some minor, rapid colour adjustments (yellows, I’m looking at you), on some photos, and left it at that. I’m not claiming the results are faithful to Ferrari or the museum, but it’s more-or-less what my camera and I grabbed on the day.

Speaking of yellow, the Dino 246 GT rotating on a turntable is beyond glorious, and I might even have designs on coveting it more than the F40. But the car that impressed on me the truly hellish nature of Ferrari and these kind of cars in general is the deep metallic night-blue 275 GTS from 1965, first owned by Raquel Welch. It’s a front-engined convertible, with a V-12 throwing out 260 bhp at 7000 rpm to the rear wheels for a top speed of 250 km/h. The photos don’t really convey how diminutive and delicate it is, a rag-top roof with seats that barely come up to shoulder-height, slung low on wide tires, how easy would it be for those rear wheels to cut loose and utterly destroy driver and car. “250km/h in that!” I laughed nervously. I’m still looking at it, 250 km/h an hour in that. It strikes me that the kind of driver capable of doing that to a car would never attempt it (outside one of those ‘… controlled conditions …’ type warning prefaces), and the kind of driver who would, has no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Glorious hoonage.

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Autoworld Brussels: Ferrari 70 Years: F40

I admit, if it had been Lamborghini 54 Years, I’d have been way more excited than Autoworld BrusselsFerrari 70 Years. But I’m in Brussels, and Brussels has a car museum, and it’s been a while since I visited the church/temple/synagogue/mosque of hoonage. Plus there was a pretty high likelihood I’d get to see what all the fuss was about with those F40s.

Fark. F40.

As Kathryn says in The Business: ‘Brutal.’

There were plenty of pretty cars, from the curves of the ’60s to the wedges of the ’70s, the hyperbole of the ’80s, and the mad angles since then. All that’s for another post (as are the pair of oddities I saw in the revolving motorsport collection — no GT40 this time!). This one’s for the red, 1987 F40.

Ferrari doesn’t stir much enthusiasm in me. They strike me as the province of rich show-offs who aspire to being classy, but don’t get that in that price range, there is no classy, it’s all about fucking arrogance. Hence my love of Lamborghini. But hoons seem to have a requirement to love the F40. Like the GT40, it wasn’t until I saw it there that I really got it. They’re kinda similar, both hammers in search of a nail: for the GT40 that was Le Mans; for the F40, it’s not so succinct. Maybe to say that as Enzo Ferrari’s last car it had to represent Ferrari the man and auto designer and Ferrari his company.

It’s a beautiful, rough, violent, messy masterpiece. It’s fucking terrifying. It’s the kind of car that would kill you way before the limit, if it hadn’t already rattled you apart with its spartan expression of engineering. I would do quite a few questionable things for a passenger seat.