one day at a time

Archive for October, 2011

stranger 1/100

stranger 1/100 © Verena Fischer 2011

stranger 1/100 © Verena Fischer 2011

A while back I read about the 100 strangers project and thought that it would be great to try to do a project like this myself. Since I’m out taking pictures every day it seems not so far removed from what I do already, although I find it rather daunting to approach strangers. Precisely because of this challenge I find the idea appealing though, because it will hopefully help me to be more outgoing.

I was thinking about this already for a while, but so far my courage failed me every single time until a few days ago. On that day I went into the church that features in my last post, the Heilandskirche. I walk past it almost every day and I thought it would be a shame not to take pictures inside if I have the opportunity. I’m normally not very tempted to go into churches, because in my view it’s one of these tourist things to do that leave you with no significant memory at all. Another thing to tick off from the list and nothing more. This is also the reason why I was never so tempted to climb onto one of the hills in San Sebastian. Nowadays I’d do it just to take some pictures, but back when I lived there I didn’t feel like it was worth getting out of breath just for the sake of having done it. After all, when I lived there I had to climb a hill every day to get back home.

Anyway, immediately when I walked into the church this nice young lady, who was selling fair trade products at the back of the church, started speaking to me. She told me that the stained glass windows were made by an artist many years ago, back when there was still money for such things. She herself comes to help in the church every Thursday, also because it’s much less boring than sitting at home. She seemed active and happy, and certainly she also looks younger than her 85 years. After a quite long conversation about the things she likes to do and after buying some quite delicious maracuja jam I finally asked her whether I could take her picture and publish it here. She was happy with it and I also wrote down the address of my blog for her so that she can see the picture too. Nowadays even the oldest members of our society can browse the internet, now, that I call progress! Sadly I forgot to ask her for her name. In any case, if you read this, thank you again for participating in my project / Falls Sie dies lesen, danke noch einmal, dass Sie an meinem Projekt teilgenommen haben!

day 77: autumn leaves and church window

autumn leaves and church window © Verena Fischer 2011

autumn leaves and church window © Verena Fischer 2011

The other day I read this very interesting post about the dangers of starting to teach tango too early. I have been thinking about these exact issues the last few days after going to a few tango classes this week. I myself have learned the basics from a course run by university students for free and only much later I have taken “proper” classes. I have to say that these proper tango classes have taught me next to nothing, because the classes I happened to take only focused on figures. Maybe it was important to have experienced them all, but the impact on my dancing at the time was not noticeable. I’m a follower and it always seemed as if nobody actually leads all these figures, because social dancing happens to be much more basic than what tango potentially offers in options. You only have to watch a tango performance and you can see that tango has a bigger repertoire than what most people can safely integrate into their social dancing. Therefore I always had the opinion that as a follower I can actually learn much more useful knowledge from just practicing a lot, i.e. dancing in milongas with open-minded people, sharing tips in practicas and from the occasional one off workshop where one of the teachers comes over and corrects some detail.

Of course, after a few years of experience I’m rethinking this opinion in part. My reason is the problem of bad habits. They creep in easily and are much easier to correct if caught early on by a good teacher. However, also for this all you need is regular visits to a practica given by a good teacher. Finding good teachers is difficult though. As the aforementioned article describes many tango teachers start teaching way too early after only 2 or 3 years of dancing. As a result they get stuck with their own bad habits. To keep up the pretence of being an expert they necessarily have to stop going to classes themselves, they get stuck with their prematurely formed opinions and quite likely fail to develop their dancing further since there necessarily is a lack of input from the outside once you yourself are supposed to be the expert. The worst thing about self-proclaimed experts is that as a result their bad habits ripple through the tango scene. Here in Berlin we have many of those “experts”. Some joke that every second dancer claims to be a teacher.

The other day I witnessed a class that encouraged leaders to walk backwards in a tight circle. This is beyond being a bad habit, it’s sheer madness in my view! This finally explained to me why many of the milongas here are chaotic if not even dangerous. Nobody seems to tell people that they should be considerate enough not to invade the space of other dancers. No matter how tightly you spin that circle when you walk backwards in such a fashion, it won’t grow you new eyes on the back of your head. While you move backwards all sorts of things could happen behind you and you won’t even know since you don’t see where you’re going. Sure, a tight circle lessens the danger of collision somewhat, but it’s still inconsiderate dancing behaviour, because you’re likely to invade the dancing space of dancers behind you without even noticing. If you teach your students this bad habit, you might as well encourage them to dart sideways into the way of other dancers if you need space, or you could actively teach them this awful habit some people have here of turning in wide circles with their elbow outstretched on a full dance floor.

Yes, an outstretched elbow will open up some room very quickly. Yes, going backwards can give you space too. Even darting sideways into the way of other dancers will get you space. You’re actually stealing the space of other dancers! I watch these experts dance and many have all of these bad habits. No matter how good their dancing might look at times, there is one basic lesson they have not learned themselves: How to be considerate! Although tango can be hard, this part is not exactly rocket science. Dancing in an inconsiderate fashion just to have enough space to show off might be enough to impress beginners. However, the people who actually know a thing or two about tango and just want to have a nice evening won’t be impressed at all. And that means that they certainly won’t go to your classes either.

The picture shows a church window I see almost every day.

day 76: down below: Deutsche Oper

down below: Deutsche Oper © Verena Fischer 2011

down below: Deutsche Oper © Verena Fischer 2011

Many subway stations in Berlin make interesting subjects for photography, especially when they’re empty. Maybe you’ll see more of these pictures from subway stations now (you can find another here), because I’ll be using the public transport more now that it’s too cold for taking the bike. Actually it’s only really too cold at night, but I don’t like cycling in cold weather. Cycling is for me something to do in summer.

This is the subway station Deutsche Oper. It’s one of the ugliest opera houses I’ve seen so far, certainly not worth a picture. Before I returned to the subway station I took a picture of a garage entrance which had a sufficiently interesting contrast between light and darkness. While I was taking the picture an old woman came out of the apartment building to which this garage probably belonged. She asked me what I was doing. I said “I’m taking pictures” – “Why? This is private property, there is an apartment building and a company here and you certainly have no right” – “I don’t see a fence and I don’t see a sign either.” – “There is nothing to take a picture of, you certainly have a hidden agenda!” – “Look, I take pictures, that’s what photographers do. I see something interesting, I take a picture, it’s as simple as that”. She didn’t understand, because her paranoia was blinding her. In the end the argument was futile and I ignored her and walked away.

I’m not sure about the legal situation in this case, but I bet if she had been the owner she would have had a case. It feels like Germany is filled with “No ball games on the grass” signs when it comes to photography. Street photography is basically illegal and it seems that people are paranoid when it comes to cameras even when you’re just taking a harmless picture of the entrance of a building. Where does this hostility come from? I don’t get it.

day 75: standing tall

standing tall © Verena Fischer 2011

standing tall © Verena Fischer 2011

For a while now I have had problems with my tango shoes. In fact I always had trouble with finding the right shoes, because the arch support is never in the right spot to actually support the arch of my foot. In one shop I tried all the shoes in my size and none of them had the arch support right although they were good in the length. Since my tango shoes are not cushioned in any way this missing arch support causes pains in the ball of the foot after about 1 1/2 hours of dancing which makes classes ever so slightly more painful than they should be. These days I’m going to tango classes every day, so yesterday I decided to solve my problems with some dance sneakers.

On my quest for dance sneakers I yesterday went to a shop called Ballett Shop in Charlottenburg which sells all sorts of dancing shoes for many dances. It was a small and cosy shop with many shoes and dance outfits on display. Two women were working in the shop and one of them, apparently the owner, showed me many different dance sneakers of which I tried on 4 or 5 pairs. I also tried some shoes that were more like ballet shoes, but with soft pads on front and back so that you could turn on them more easily. In the end it was between these and a pair of dance sneakers which were comparatively flat.

Considering that I would have to wear these shoes in tango classes I wanted a bit more protection for my toes. They are always under attack which I especially noticed in the class on barridas that I had Tuesday night. So, after careful deliberation I decided to take the dance sneakers. They also have no real arch support considering that they don’t even have proper heels, but they are padded which makes it feel less like I’m just walking on bare bone. I tried them out last night and it made a huge difference. It felt like I could have danced at least double the time and today my feet don’t hurt! I can also warmly recommend the shop, nice people, great service and they gave me a shoe bag for free although I was willing to pay for it. The shop is in Sesenheimerstraße which is a street across from the subway station Deutsche Oper.

I took the photo the day before yesterday when exploring the river banks after my driving lesson.

day 74: by the river

by the river © Verena Fischer 2011

by the river © Verena Fischer 2011

In a week I will know the results of my MSc dissertation and also the final result of my degree. I’m not sure what to expect, but still I’m trying not to worry about it. That’s exceptionally difficult if you spent years on end worrying about marks and the effect they have on your future. I even see it as a bad habit now. Future, chances, opportunities, goals, are marks really all that important for them? Will my life change significantly if I get a merit instead of a distinction? I actually doubt it, but still, I worry.

I think this obsession with marks comes from an obsession to be in control. For example I can’t control who looks at an application for a job I want, so having high marks is one method of making it less likely that my application is weeded out in the first pass. It’s just an attempt at being more in control in situations where we feel helpless. Trying to be in control in combination with doubt and with circumstances that always stay beyond our reach is nerve wrecking though. Why bother? Why not see it all as chances, even when we fall below our expectations?

As a part of my BA I had to write a dissertation which was marked by a professor who was feared for her harsh standards. It was commonly known that only one guy from our BA ever got the highest mark from that professor for a dissertation. I saw it as a challenge and tried to also get the highest mark. I didn’t manage to get it though, I got the second best mark instead. At the time when I received the mark I could not get feedback for the dissertation, because I was in England on a semester abroad. I felt like I had failed, that maybe I just wasn’t good enough to really pursue doing research in that field. There was no way to know the real reasons at the time. I think this mark even influenced my decision to switch fields.

About half a year later when I needed a piece of paper confirming my mark I managed to get my hands on this dissertation with all the margin comments and feedback. When I read the feedback I started to laugh. There were only positive margin comments and the feedback for the content was thoroughly positive. Apparently I got the second best mark because of a formal error: I wrote the dissertation using old German spelling and punctuation which is against regulations but nobody else ever cared about it. My own interpretation of the mark was completely wrong and in reality it didn’t reflect on my abilities at all. Still, when I still thought it did, I used this interpretation as a failure to look for new opportunities and that’s actually what I like about this story.

The point is, we are never fully in control even if we think we did everything we could. Any attempt at staying in control is futile and I hope at some point this purely rational conclusion will sink in and stop me from worrying so much about things that are not only beyond my reach but maybe not even important.

day 73: dragons won’t eat this

dragons wont eat this © Verena Fischer 2011

dragons won't eat this © Verena Fischer 2011

In almost every tango scene there is a leader with the nickname “Terminator”. Sometimes there are even two or three of the kind. It’s hard to pinpoint whether the nickname specifies a certain quality of that person that is common to every “Terminator” or whether it’s a random coincidence that other people see the person’s dancing as Terminator-like. I personally think there is some common ground:

  • He has been dancing for a long time, but he has not improved beyond being a beginner. He does not go to lessons anymore and nobody really knows whether he actually ever took any lessons at all, although he seems to know many figures. Unfortunately almost none of them work, because he is lacking the basics. It’s as if he knows tango in theory, but not in practice.
  • He uses force. If the follower doesn’t do what he intends he forces the movement on her by pulling and pushing forcefully, usually in the wrong direction for what he intends to do. You can sometimes even spot a follower trapped in a tanda with such a leader by the way of her facial expression while they are dancing and the way she stretches her back and rubs her shoulders between tangos.
  • He walks the perimeter like a soldier. Instead of waiting and watching the followers dance he does not actually choose who to dance with. He just walks the border of the dance floor and dances with any follower who is unfortunate enough not to know what she’s dealing with.
  • He preys on beginners. Normally beginners can have a hard time getting asked to dance at a milonga, because most dancers stick to the people they know unless they’re travelling. Not when it comes to the Terminator though. Beginners don’t turn him down, so he sticks with them. This might actually be part of the reason why he doesn’t improve anymore.


The terminators are a curious species and it’s somewhat surprising that they stick with it. After all it seems impossible to imagine that they actually have fun at a milonga.

On some level it’s psychologically almost understandable though: It’s rather strange to have your flawed basics pointed out to you after years of dancing. At a milonga it hardly happens, because hopefully people are there to dance and not to criticise. I’m quick to just leave a leader in the middle of the dance floor if he thinks he has the right to be impolite. And it’s very impolite to criticise if you’re not asked your opinion. However, developing bad habits is also very easy, mostly easier than they are to get rid of again. Everyone who doesn’t go to lessons or moderated practicas regularly probably isn’t aware that he has a few of those. Yesterday I went to one of those practicas at Nou Mitte here in Berlin and I was glad to have two of those bad habits pointed out to me. It gives me something to work on at a time when I’m hardly able to motivate myself to do anything. Maybe I should make it a habit to work on my dancing whenever I feel without motivation. Then it at least would have some purpose to feel that way.

The picture is of a dragon fruit. I hadn’t tried them before and quite liked it.

day 72: cracks and ripples

cracks and ripples © Verena Fischer 2011

cracks and ripples © Verena Fischer 2011

I have noticed this broken window already months ago, but only now I managed to take an interesting enough picture of it. The window is part of the shop front of what used to be a pharmacy if I’m not mistaken and the broken part actually has a different colour from the rest of the window. This is not quite visible in this night shot, because of the reflection of the bar across from the shop front, but I assume it’s what gives it this special glow too.

I took the picture on the way to the big grocery store that is not too far from here. The store is massive and I never quite find everything I’m looking for just because it’s so big. I easily become impatient in such big grocery markets and give up. The last time I was in this store with Ezequiel I actually got very grumpy. This was clearly my fault since I had the stupid idea to go there before having any breakfast. When I’m hungry I’m quite the opposite of patient. And I’m not a patient person in the first place.

Apart from my visit to the grocery store I didn’t do much of consequence yesterday. I just relaxed watching some Star Trek, eating some nice food and enjoying a quiet Saturday.

day 71: below the surface

below the surface © Verena Fischer 2011

below the surface © Verena Fischer 2011

Even if the Occupy Wall Street movement is not in line with government plans as I suggested in my last post, nobody tells us that a movement like that will actually have any impact. Other global movements like the Pace movement concerning the Iraq war showed that the governments don’t give a hoot about our opinion anyway. After all why should they care as long as they believe that we have to be protected from our own stupidity? It starts with little things like the situation which I described in my last post where my teachers didn’t accept that I was officially an adult fully capably of deciding myself whether it is wise to continue my journey at night on my own. It ends with the government telling us that we as lay people have no clue as to how our financial system should work. And to be honest, partly I even agree with them: If the goal of the Occupy Wall Street movement is just to restrict some bankers’ bonuses, then it’s really a sign that the people involved in the movement have actually not much of a clue as to what’s wrong with our society. They just want to get rid of the symptoms instead of curing the system.

Forcing bankers to accept lower bonuses is not much of a change in any case, because after all it’s just about having a house, a family, enough to eat and the possibility of buying all the crap you don’t even need in the first place. In Western countries we already have all that. It also means that with this underlying assumption people don’t have any reason to want social change bigger than a less unfair, more evenly distributed financial system, i.e. to want more than just that the 99% have a bit more money. As long as you’re not starving in the first place a bit more money won’t make a big difference apart from the amount of junk you can afford. Only if people actually realised that more money wouldn’t make them any happier either there would be a possibility of real social change.

Instead of trying to protect people from the consequences of their own stupidity we should trust that they have the potential to free themselves, encourage them to learn and to overcome the illusion that money or consumerism will make them happy. After all if they, as in the people in power, wouldn’t keep people stupid by means of media propaganda there would be no reason to protect these people from their own stupidity.

Sadly this is a type of social change that is harder to achieve than forcing some bankers to accept lower bonuses though. As things stand I believe we’re just all too full and content to start that kind of a revolution. It would be like starting a revolution on a gut feeling or on the hunch that something is not quite right. Well, I find it highly unlikely. What do you think?

day 70: lines

lines © Verena Fischer 2011

lines © Verena Fischer 2011

Lately Ezequiel and me are having quite a few discussions about changing society.  The Occupy Wall Street movement might be a reason for the topic coming up more frequently, but it has been on my mind for quite a few years. I remember what prompted the topic to me for the first time. I was 18 and still going to school. Before going on a school trip to Vienna a friend and me hitchhiked to Würzburg to go to an Africa festival. The bus to take us to Vienna picked us up in Würzburg on the way there and on the way back I was planning to get off in Würzburg again to go to a festival in Leipzig. I wasn’t quite sure yet, how I’d get there and it was already evening, but I had a half plan of walking into town and taking a train. These were times when I was used to just doing whatever I felt like.

What happened was that my teachers would not let me get off the bus, because they thought it was too dangerous to let me go alone. Although I was 18 and they had no right to do so they basically held me against my will. For my own safety as they said. I was quick to say “Freiheitsberaubung”, restricting someone’s freedom, which is a criminal offence in Germany, but since that didn’t get me anywhere I had to come along back to Düsseldorf. It lies in the opposite direction and it was really annoying since I had to go there against my will. In the morning I then had to take a train via Hannover to Leipzig which cost me a fortune and instead of 330 km I travelled about 1000 km that day. I arrived hours too late to find a space for my tent and as a consequence I almost got into a fight with some people who were trying to hold some space for their friends. All in all a really annoying experience.

What has this to do with Occupy Wall Street? Well, we’re all held in line by our governments, because they assume that we’re not only stupid enough to need their protection, but also that we can’t be trusted since we’re savages deep down, just like Freud said. They try to keep us stupid through indoctrination suggesting that we will be happy if we buy new cars and new flatscreen TVs. With the TV they hold our minds hostage so that they are in control of what we see and know about what’s going on in the world. Even movements like Occupy Wall Street could possibly be part of this global attempt to keep us in line. After all the movement is built on the assumption that we’re going to be happier as soon as we have the money that the bankers have now. It’s therefore maintaining the propaganda that striving for property is to be the highest goal in our society. This means that on a more general level Occupy Wall Street can therefore well be part of maintaining the status quo. I bet that’s not exactly what people have in mind when they think about the movement.

[Read more about this in the next post.]

day 69: crocodile at night

crocodile at night © Verena Fischer 2011

crocodile at night © Verena Fischer 2011

It gets dark earlier and earlier these days and it’s already quite cold too. There will be snow and temperatures up to -20°C in winter here in Berlin which I’m not particularly looking forward to. I like it warm and for me it is too cold to go by bike too. I used to like winter more, especially when the snow disrupted even the public transport, so that you had the perfect excuse to just stay in the warmth. In Germany snow isn’t as disruptive as in England. We know how to deal with these things around here and after the first day it’s usually sorted. In England snow meant that you also couldn’t go anywhere on foot, because there were no efforts to clear the sidewalks. I used to live up a bit of a hill in Brighton and with a sheet of ice it was impossible to get down! At least that’s not what we will be facing here in Berlin. Here it’s just the icy temperatures. And even these are not as big a problem either since in most houses we don’t have boilers that break when it’s too cold.

Winter is not here yet, although we already have temperatures as low as 0°C at night. It encourages me to take my pictures during day-time and certainly it doesn’t encourage me to go to tango at night. The picture on Wednesday was taken just after it got dark on a quest to buy Kettle crisps in the Karstadt at Kurfürstendamm. England might not be winter-proof, but they know how to make crisps! I wasn’t successful though, the shop had closed a few minutes before I arrived there. Maybe I’ll succeed another day.

The crocodile sits next to a fountain at the Europa Center which is a little mall.