Berlin is not Bayreuth. Vol. 1: Tannhäuser

Das Helmi on tour, all the way out east to Lichtenberg, in the shallow parabola of northern Rummelsberg right by S-Nöldnerplatz, where the rails form a curved triangle around the old railway workshops backing onto the roundhouse and railway turntable to the east, now typically Berlin ateliers and halfway to forest of the B.L.O. Ateliers.

Festival time. Wagner festival time. Berlin is not Bayreuth. Vol. 1. Six hours of Tannhäuser spread across at least four stages, meandering through the dishevelled brick and concrete buildings and fastigiate black poplars charging thirty metres into the dark, cloudless evening sky. Peter Frost wrecking it singing dodgy Schlagermusik, Cora Frost doing the same as a Pope to ruin The Young Pope. glanz&krawell (I think) working their way through the long shouty bits with proper opera singing. Das Helmi with their always always glorious, monstrous, chaotic stagings, scaring off people who though it was going to be, y’know, opera, culture and shit, instead of what the fuck is happening here, how did I find myself on stage slapping a stranger’s arse with twelve other people doing the same I should’a left when the Pope started kissing people’s feet kinda thing.

Mad thanks to Dasniya Sommer for getting me in, reminding me of a Berlin I utterly love, deeply pagan and animist, rough as guts and no intention of ever changing.

Drone Day Berlin 2017

I love me some drone. I love it more when my awesome friends drone. Justine will be. Tomorrow, Saturday, afternoon, in Berlin, drone-ing bits of NASA. It’s going to be most excellent! (& If you’re not in Berlin, and are in Canada, then Drone Day has you sorted.)

Drone Day Berlin 2017

The sky opened and out came dr(((o)))ne

Please join us in an afternoon celebration of Drone Day ( on a cloud of sound. Around the world people will be making drone sounds on this day.

You are absolutely welcome to come.

There will be drone, experimental, and ambient sounds. There will be paper and some art supplies for you to use. There will be free tea for you to drink. Come listen, relax, draw, work on quiet creative projects, explore your meditative mind, or catch some droned out ZZZs. Take some time for your ears.

There is an elevator and there are accessible bathrooms. Please contact us if you would like to arrange a ground-floor pickup.

Justine Lera
Verónica Mota
Mike Verdone
Tiffany Conroy

Saturday, May 27 at 15:00 – 17:30
SoundCloud HQ, Rheinsberger Str 76/77, 10115 Berlin, Germany.


Bike Lights!

I had to buy a new bike light today. Germany has some strange ‘regulations’ about what constitutes a bike light, things like brightness, flashing, whether a bike must have dynamo-powered lights or can have clip-on, all of that is in the Regeln. The Straßenverkehrszulassungsordnung to be precise. (Or StVZO if you wanna get all Abkürzung on it.)

This year, flashing lights are out. Because safety. WTF, Frances? I know! I had an argument with bored Polizei over this—it was a Friday night, they obviously had nothing better to do than pull over cyclists and engage in some haranguing. There’s probably a word for that like Ordnungspredigen. Oh wait! It’s German! You can make new words like that! “Of course flashing lights are safer,” I gegengepredigt in my scheiße Ausländersdeutsch, “People see flashing light as visual movement, which obviously is easier to identiy against a background of light noise–” “Nein! A proper German light must not flash because it is difficult to tell the distance of a flashing light—” “As opposed to just running your Auto up the arse of the StVZO-approved 5 lumens light which no one can see?” “Regeln sind Regeln.”

I had to buy a new light because my old one died, and the StVZO-approved front light frankly scares the shit out of me. 15 lumens vanishes when you’re in traffic and surrounded by cars’ front lights. I could really see drivers not noticing me until I was up their arses, and while I manage to throw myself over handlebars with some regularity (the price of badly excecuted technical riding skills), I prefer my suffering to be self-inflicted. So, off to the bike shop. It was a difficult choice between 300 or 600 lumens—which made me laugh with the insanity of it. Why stop there? It goes up to to 1500 lm!

Then I got home and xkcd had this:

Reading … Book of the Year 2015 (Non-Fiction): David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates, Karen C. C. Dalton — Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume II: From the Early Christian Era to the “Age of Discovery”, Part 1: From the Demonic Threat to the Incarnation of Sainthood

Reading: David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates, Karen C. C. Dalton — Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume II: From the Early Christian Era to the “Age of Discovery”, Part 1: From the Demonic Threat to the Incarnation of Sainthood

I’m in St. George’s as usual, picking up some books. Once in a while I ask if one of the traumatically expensive books on my list might be got for a less harrowing price. I ask Jamie if she might have a good price for—I point at the cover art on my phone. “Image of the Black in Western Art,” she says … a pause … “We have it!” “You have it?” “We have it. Paul can bring it in on Monday.” I curse in astonishment. “And we can give you it cheaper than the listed price.” More cursing.

Monday. Paul says, “We have eight of them. I can bring them in if you like.” “Yes!—Argh! My bank account—shut up! Yes!” And the story:

An artist in Berlin used to buy masses of expensive fine art books like this from Paul. He’d order piles and dutifully shuffle it off to his studio. Where it remained unopened. Recently, he sold it all back to Paul. This one he had opened, but barely turned the pages; the others were—are effectively new, their spines yet to do that first opening creak and pop. New, they sell for 100€ each (or 60€ if you want to buy all ten at once). This one cost a mere 50€. Paul said some of the others are even cheaper. I know he’s trying to sell me the whole lot, an attentive dealer supplying a diligent junkie, and like one on the run with their habit, I grin and nod yes.

Not that I need to justify it, but if you put legs on it, it’d be a chair. It’s massive, heavy, beautifully photographed—and more importantly, the quality of the essays is exceptional. Really, really exceptional, Caroline Walker Bynum levels of awesome. And honestly, if Paul didn’t have them, if they weren’t so cheap, I wouldn’t have done this, so going all mystical signs and portents and omens here, that’s not what happened. And it’s got Saint Mauritius of Magdeburger Dom fame on the cover looking well splendid.

(Shall photoblog it when I am organised.)


Das Helmi: Große Vögel, kleine Vögel (some photos, sort of review-ish)

Caveats first: stupidly forgot to charge camera battery, so I missed the last two or three scenes. Camera also suffers in low or high-contrast theatre light situations, so these are mostly ones with without either, without fast movement, mainly still-ish scenes, occasionally where camera made the unexpected most of it, in a couple of moments catching the stillness in frenzy. And then there were a whole bunch that were just framed shitely. The remaining ones here are not exactly representative of the whole piece is what I’m saying.

Second seeing for me of Das Helmi’s Große Vögel, kleine Vögel, a fucking brilliant staging of Pasolini’s Uccellacci e uccellini. I was thinking of Castorf’s Kaputt after, which I saw at the Volksbühne in December, 5 hours of monolithic, unrelenting, angry Berlin theatre, not a shred of irony or entertainment, I left that piece at midnight, utterly exhilarated and ready to see the whole thing again and after this one I thought, between the ’bühne and the Helmis, Berlin has theatre nailed.

Große Vögel, kleine Vögel is much closer to entertainment, though kinda like Jim Carrey playing Andy Kaufmann in Man on the Moon, where he does the Carnegie Hall gigs, or when he says of entertaining the audience, “short of faking my own death or setting the theater on fire, I don’t know what else to do.”

Also was thinking of Castorf-Brecht Baal legal drama (the latter’s estate trying to shut down the production; the former calling the latter, “passé and absurd.”), and what the Helmis did to Pasolini’s film, and with both of them—I mean, what do you expect? I also thought, God (yeah, I actually asked God), why is Berlin dance so dreary and complete soul-sucking joyless bilge, why can’t it be like Castorf or the Helmis, why can’t it leave you feeling like you’ve totalled your car and you’re all laughing and feeling more alive than ever and invincible ’cos you walked out of certain death? (Even though you’re bleeding a little from your scalp.)

It’s fucking brilliant. Did I say that? Yup, I said that. Not long enough. It’s around 80 minutes and doesn’t feel it at all. There’s singing and dancing and songs and St Francis and talking birds, talking rabbits, talking other animals, gay love, more gay love, Pasolini looking sharp in a suit and Pasolini with a monster beer gut, guns, money, fucking, running, spitting, football (soccer, you know, the other football), a whole scene of Jesus coming down off the cross done as a film shoot, the Red Detachment of Women with fouettés! (I went off and watched some to remind myself of how gloriously Mao Tse-tung Thought Cultural Revolution it was. Glorious.) More songs, more St Francis, more birds, killing and eating the crow (probably had it coming), more Marxism, some whipping and bondage also, and a really unexpectedly calm, contemplative ending. Probably worth seeing a third time, says I who’ve seen now seven of their works. And! And! An ensemble who crush it! They sing (yeah probably worked that out), they dance, they play multiple roles, they play multiple instruments, they play with puppets, they make puppets, they are puppets, they go from dirty, spitting street toughs to Descent from the Cross and you believe it all. And they do it in that delightful Helmi way where it’s on the sharp edge of chaos, like they’re gonna catastrophically derail and take the audience out with them. It’s a fucking masterpiece.

Das Helmi: Große Vögel, Kleine Vögel

My favourite theatre company in Berlin—well, along with Carstof at the Volksbühne, but besides shouting in German they’re not so comparable, but like Carstof at the Volksbühne Das Helmi perform new stuff often. And old often. A lot of performing often.

New! Pasolini’s Uccellacci e uccellini! My first encounter with the Helmis was an earlier search for God in the form of Der Name der Rose. I saw it twice. Yes, that good. I’ve heard from Dasniya small bits, their wanderings into St. Francis’ basilica in Assisi, many weeks of rehearsals. Premieres Friday 13th and probably worth hauling self to Berlin to see.

Wir wollen. Abbruchlandschaften und poetische Ruinen, die Dialektik der Vorstadt, den dunklen Ausdruck der Gesichter und das verrückte „Weiter! Immer Weiter!” Intensive Puppen, gesungene Landschaften, getanzte Erleuchtungen, tanzende Stricher und Spatzenbanden, Kommunisten und trotzige Perversionen, durch Hingabe und Erleuchtung, zwischen Narr und Heiligem.

Wir wollen: Endlich die leeren Straßen rings um Rom, das geheimnisvolle Niemandsland zwischen Märchen, Fabel, Surrealismus, Slapstick, marxistischer Allegorie und christlichem Lehrstück betreten, in dem Pasolinis Film Große Vögel, kleine Vögel spielt. Diese wunderbaren Bilder werden helmisiert, sie werden zum einen in die Gegenwart geholt, zugleich wird aber die Erhabenheit und Strenge des Vorbildes gewahrt.

Wir wollen als Narren in dem Land umherziehen, in dem Vögel von der Ideologie berichten, die schönen Prostituierten in Kornfeldern sitzen, wo Laien und Schauspieler gleichberechtigt agieren und in dem die magische Ennio-Morricone-Musik eine Atmosphäre zwischen elektrischer Kirchenmusik und italienischer Tarantella beschwört. Inspiriert von unserer kongenialen Partnerin und legendären Papstdarstellerin Cora Frost, die seit langem schon treue Weggefährtin ist.

Auf unserer Suche nach Gott sind wir bereits in Eco´s Der Name der Rose auf Franz von Assisi gestoßen; jetzt folgen wir den vibrierenden Bildern des revolutionären italienischen Kinos der 60er Jahre. Die Figuren von Toto und Ninetto erinnern uns ein wenig an Dostojewskis Idioten in ihrer Mischung aus Wahnsinn und Unschuld. Pasolinis aggressive klassenkämpferische Haltung, die sich in absurder Expressivität ausdrückt, bietet eine weitere interessante Facette für unsere Suche nach Erfahrung, Schmerz und Spiritualität. Dabei wollen wir rausgehen in die Hinterhöfe, ins Niemandsland, nach Marzahn und mit unseren sprechenden Vögeln den Menschen als existentiellen Individuen auf der Reise ihres Lebens begegnen.

Von und mit Cora Frost / Julia Gräfner / Felix Loycke / Florian Loycke / Brian Morrow / Franz Rogowski / Dasniya Sommer / Emir Tebatebai

Eine Produktion von Das Helmi in Kooperation mit dem Ballhaus Ost


Platanaceae, –a, –um! — Days 11 & 12

Yesterday was without Florian. Today day was the four of us. We made some photos in the garden at the far end of the Uferhallen Gelände. The new ropes arrived yesterday: 500 meters of hemp rope from Spain. Solène and I spent the hot part of the day dragging the half of that through rings to soften them up and get rid of some of the rope fibres and dust. Dasniya arrived with bags of stuff: a portable radio; a gas jet burner to scorch the ropes; an impact drill; bags of costume and prop materials, all towed on a trolley. Later we wandered through music and playing around in the middle section. I’m spending evenings watching The Legend of Korra.

Today all of us. Dasniya arrives with more stuff: a new compact camera and assorted accessories. We worked through the first section and into the crossover to the second. I made my costume: a jute sack from Spain with holes cut for head and arms and tied over the tutu with a rope. It’s hot, scratchy, dusty, and perfect for a troll. The puppets are making more of an appearance. I’ve discovered mine is a Kiwa hirsuta, otherwise known as the Yeti Crab. It’s beginning a conversation with the Tardigrade.

Then outside to the garden for photos. Only a trio as someone had to be the photographer, but there was time for a self-portrait.


Platanaceae, –a, –um! — Days 7-10

An audience of one makes a performance. A large box of ropes arrive from Spain. Once again we are looking for a tree (or trees). Most of the second week is gone.

Back in Alte Kantine Wedding all week, starting in the morning semi-early-ish around 930 for me with the toothbrushing routine of ankle, knee, misalignment salvage, then some abdominal bootcamp together, ballet barre, and on to the thing itself. Things have come and gone, been lost, re-found, made sense of, assembled, disassembled, come out the other side today with Cora – our audience of one – watching us hurtle through, and it seemed to work. Something troll-ish in it, trolls out working then making ballet, stopping for English breakfast, singing and hanging about, departing into troll ideas of amusement.

As well as the new rope, we also acquired several new slings and carabiners from Camp4, some things that might be costumes, possibly have enough, though Dasniya wants more of everything, just to be sure, and who am I to disagree when it comes to buying gear? Three more days in Berlin, then off to Heppenheim sometime on Monday.