Monday, July 23, 2012

Guns and Normalcy

A model of an AR-15 rifle, which was used to kill innocent moviegoers in Aurora, CO early July 20

A few days before the one-year anniversary of the attack in Norway, a crazed man opened fire on a movie theater in Colorado. Crazy.

It is insane that you cannot go to the movies without worrying about your life. It was also insane that teenagers could not go to Columbine high school without worrying about their lives in 1999. It was also insane that young adults could not go to Virginia Tech without worrying about their lives in 2007. It was also insane that a Congresswoman, a judge and several other people were shot at a supermarket in 2011.

Is this the new normal?

Of course, the reflexive reaction about these shootings is to put the focus on gun-control laws. In America, I lived in states with more restrictive gun laws than Colorado. I had no idea that you can walk into a store that sells fishing poles and buy automatic weapon and buy bullets over the Internet. Here in Germany, people are shocked by how easy it is for a normal person to get military-grade weapons, large magazines and stockpiles of ammunition.

I have had a few people tell me that they would love to visit the United States but they are afraid. They are afraid they are going to get shot because all Americans have guns. I try to assure them that the overwhelming majority of Americans have never seen a gun. The only people who walk around with guns are in a few places in the west and the south. My tourism push is a tough sell on a normal day but for a few weeks after these attacks, it is impossible.

I just hope that family and friends who see their friends and family members who are having a tough time will push them to get help. Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and Jared Lee Loughner displayed obvious signs of distress before they committed mass murders.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Good Times, Bad Times -- I've Seen Them All

It was the worst of times. It was the best of times.

By "times" I mean last Thursday. The undefeated German team played Italy in the semi-finals in the European Championships for soccer and lost. Men everywhere cried. At least, I think they did. I was dancing at a Madonna concert in Berlin. The best of times.

The remnants of the leis boasting the colors of the German flag. Forgotten and stepped on after the loss to Italy.
When I lived in New York, I could not get a ticket to anything. I was fighting with eight million people for the chance to enjoy some music. At the beginning, I fought and lost. After a few losses, I gave up. I even started going to concerts in my hometown of Philadelphia. The lowered odds worked in my favor. I hated that I hated to leave the region to see a band or singer that I liked, so I gave up.

When I learned that Madonna was going on tour, I was determined to get a ticket. Madonna is almost 54 years old. She takes her show on the road about every years. I really doubt that she will be dropping it like it's hot at 58, so I was resolute in my mission to see her while she was still lithe and flexible. I joined her fan club and woke up early. I got seats right above the stage in February and excitedly counted down the months to the MDNA tour pulled into Berlin.

The tickets were not cheap but they were not as expensive as you would think. I got my money's worth. Madonna may not be the world's best singer [I became a fan in the late 1990s. After the singing lessons and the adoption of dance beats and lyrics with a message.] but she is the best performer I have seen.

Madonna was my first stadium concert in Germany. I assumed that fans around the world are all the same. I was wrong. The audience booed Madonna. They didn't actually boo Madonna. They booed the lack of Madonna. The opening act was DJ Martin Solveig

Martin Solveig on the Ones and Twos.

After he played an hour of his hits and the chart toppers and remixes of other groups, about 45 minutes painfully expired. The fans decided they had enough. At first, they started clapping when a recorded ended and there was no sign of the headliner. Eventually, when filler music ended, a crescendo of boos started.

There are many stereotypes about Germans that have no relation to fact. Being terminally punctual is not one of them. Most of the O2 World arena was filled at 7:45 for an event whose tickets said started at 8. I had never been to the stadium, so I wanted to arrive at 7:30 and walk around. See the sights, look over the souvenirs, eat dinner, etc. I planned to take my seat when Martin played a hit that I liked. My German husband needed to be in our seats before the lights went out, so we sat through the opening act. It was pleasant. I liked the music but there was little legroom. We were in the first row of the second level. I was expecting boogie room. I was squeezed in but I was not dead.

Oddly, everyone, except for people surrounding the stage, was seated.

It is normal in Europe for people to stand in front of a stage. I have never been a fan of standing for three hours, so I bought a ticket with a seat. This is a shot of happier times.

When Martin raised his hands above his head and directed the crowd to clap, there was some motion by the crowd. Other than that, people watched the stage or the screen, as if it were the evening news.

Martin gets the crowd clapping.

I assumed this would change when Madonna finally took the stage. I was wrong. On my quadrant, one woman, three men and I were the only people on our feet during the entire concert. When the show started, I was on my feet alone. I waited a song to see if others would join me. When they didn't, I started crafting an argument for someone who asked me sit down.


"I'm sorry but no."

"I bought a ticket to a concert. It is normal to dance at a concert. I have the right to dance at a concert. Therefore, I will not sit down."

I really wasn't sure which way to go. Luckily, no one asked me to sit down.

When one of Madonna's sang one of her hits from the 80s and 90s, there were whistles and screams. The newer music was not as welcome. I loved it all.

Near the end of the well-choreographed and well-timed show, a few people left. When the show ended, there were no screams of Zugabe! [The German equivalent of Encore, which is the French equivalent of "again."] People just departed. After two minutes after Madonna's left the stage, the applause stopped and the stadium started clearing out. I am used to the post-show praise and worship session with my fellow concertgoers. I had to be satisfied to talk to my husband, who was also ready to jet. I was tired and needed a bit of sitting.

Fortunately, Madonna runs a tight ship. There were no encores to be had. MDNA consisted of video art, platforms that lowered and raised, holes in the floor that opened at precise times, slack lines, people hanging from trapezes, and instruments that appeared and disappeared at specific times. There was no room for spontaneity. The show started at 10:15 and ended at 11:45. In Madonna's defense, she gave 90 jam-packed minutes. There were skits, a "trip" to a club in South Africa, drum majors playing while hanging from the ceiling, stand-alone dance performances, and slack lining.

Here is a bad shot of Madonna doing a cheerleader remix of Open Your Heart. With the changing lights, it was hard to get good shots. I was more into watching to photographing. The blip in the middle of the front row is Madonna.

The drummers punctuate Open Your Heart from above.

I had felt a little bad keeping my German husband from watching die Deutsche Mannschaft play Italy in the European Championship but then they lost, so I felt better. Plus, he had a good time (He only recognized one song, a hymn-like Like a Prayer. How are we not divorced yet?).

Between Martin Solveig, I got a hot dog. The concessions workers were forlorn. The team was down 0 -2. I wanted to hug them. When there is nothing else to do, I will support the Team but I had to rest up before it was time to dance.