Last week was my birthday, and for some reason my parents both thought I had to go out and do things. Like go to a 'nice restaurant' (I hate formal anything), or something like that. Eh, whatever, I decided I'd go out and do something other than art/creative stuff (which is what I really wanted to do) so that I could tell them that I did birthday things. I decided to go to the Berlin Philharmonic for a free percussion performance. It was honestly pretty epic. I was surprised at how informal it was, though. Instead of going into the stereotypical classical music hall-type arrangement like I expected, the part of the Philharmonic that I saw was one large room, unseperated from the lobby, entrance, etc, with two levels. There were maybe 150-250 chairs, but a lot more people. They were just sitting on the floor, on their jackets, on the stairs, everywhere. Many were in places where they obviously couldn't see, and were reading, texting, or whatever. It was clear the people were there to listen, not to see. It took a while, but I found a place to sit on the second level where I had a fair view, even if I was quite far away. Pictures weren't allowed, so I did a few sketches instead. Afterwards a woman came up to me and talked in fast German to me for like thirty seconds straight before I had a change to ask her if she could speak English. I hadn't understood a word. Anyway, she wanted to see my sketches, and said she liked them.
It wasn't long before conversation lulled to the point of awkwardness. This was probably after I found out that he had assumed that I was also staying at the hostel, hence why he bought me the drink and came to talk to me. I tried asking him what Algeria was like, but I don't think he understood, because he started giving me facts like, "it's the biggest African country," and so on. Then we nearly stopped talking and I had to sorta cast around for something to talk about. And then these four women came into the bar. They were my age or a bit older. The guy I was with was being really obvious about watching them. Then he turned to me and said that he wanted to say something to them. I assumed this was innocent enough, as in he wanted to buy one of them a drink and get flirty or something, so I asked him which woman he was talking about. He indicated to the only woman in the group wearing a hijab. I actually encouraged him to go up and talk to her, not realizing what his intent was. He sheepishly said he wasn't going to say anything to her, and I wondered why. But then he altered his phrasing: he wanted to "bother" her. I didn't understand, but then he starts going off about her "arrogance" of her and other Muslims, for going everywhere as walking billboards for their religion, as if they were elevating themselves above others. So, suddenly the mild conversation had taken an incredibly uncomfortable direction and we were on the subject of "those Muslims." Not exactly encouraging me to go out and strike conversation with people. And the irony was that this guy had just been talking about being judged based on his own skin colour, wanting to find a place more open-minded and less judgmental. Like, what? Does he expect to find a place that is all of those things that happens to be devoid of all Muslims, who make up approximately a sixth of the world's population?
I was firm in telling this guy where to shove it using really polite language, and we sat in silence until he said "I gotta go." I watched him take my unopened beer and get a refund at the bar before leaving. Even though this happened nearly ten days ago, it left quite an impression on me. Here was this guy who had apparently encountered discrimination himself, who was an immigrant from a country with a different language and customs that had a huge Muslim population, who had only relatively recently freed itself of colonial French oppression, drawing a line in the sand between himself and other people even though they might have been in situations like his. Not only that, but just to emphasize his hypocrisy, the Muslim woman with the supposed superiority complex had been with three other women, none of whom were wearing hijabs or anything else to distinguish them as religious. So, I guess this goes right back to what I'm here to do in the first place--draw on the history of division and segregation, whether it be political, ethnic, or military, and relate it to the things going on in Europe today. It's almost impossible for me not to notice that this guy from the bar was using rhetoric so similar to the way the Soviets forcibly segregated East and West German thinking, referring to West Germans/Berliners as decadent capitalists with superiority complexes, always attempting to elevate themselves. The same rhetoric was used as propaganda as Nazis when they attempted to depict Jews as systematically elevated from others, resistant to "Nordic cultural assimilation." I mean, it's a really basic kind of forced binary and it's everywhere, but this out-of-left field situation really emphasized the whole thing.
Walking around later, I kept thinking about it. Even when I went to the ZigZag Jazz Club later that night, I had images of the Berlin Wall in my head. A friend told me recently that Austria is putting up a preliminary border around itself to screen and actively block refugees. I know it's a bit hyperbolic to immediately make a Godwin's law observation and attempt to connect this bar patron to a genocidal regime. I'm not trying to do that, I'm just saying that it's moments like that which make me understand how entire cultures can be okay with active oppression of other groups, can isolate themselves within their own perspective and complain about refugees of other cultures while being perfectly fine with them being barred from coming near them. I was thinking of putting up some photos of the jazz club I went to, but instead here's some of the art I've been working on. Maybe part of its aesthetic is due to that night at the bar with the Islamophobic dude.