An organ, found and lost
The sentimental value of a technical artifact often survives even if it long ago ended in deadlock and was disposed at the vast graveyard of industrial equipment. This is true for the Toccata Organ, which is a prominent exhibit at the industrial museum ‘Industriesalon Schöneweide’ and the only existing instrument of that kind today.
The technical signature of this organ is “K 2”. This may sound like a backward predecessor model of Starwar’s “R2D2”, but in fact “K 2” was a superbly performing electronic organ and frequently in operation at the Berlin opera house “Komische Oper” from 1961 to 1989. This bulky Toccata Organ, built as a prototype of highest electronic sound quality, needed more than 250 electronic tubes, complex tone generating circuits and special frequency dividers in order to imitate a pipe organ to hence unknown perfection. But tube electronics proved to be a technical blind alley and transistors took over for good. Just four instruments were built, three were lost completely, only “K 2” could be reanimated after it had been dumped by Samsung Electronics and it now remains to tell the story of the Toccata Organ. That was achieved by the very same man who had held the organ alive at the opera for nearly three decades.
The man behind this technical artifact cannot be resurrected like an electronic organ, just his name survives in an explanatory note at a museum, in a booklet or in research papers – until the name has lost its meaning for the next generation. Considering, that all those years at the “Komische Oper” the Toccata Organ was cared for and held alive by a single man as if the electronic instrument had become a part of his own organism, you wonder, if the fully completed separation of man and machine won’t turn machines into cyborg beings on the one hand and, on the other hand, will gradually wipe out man’s ethical self.
Man Machine, drinking gasoline
“I’m a man machine drinking gasoline” – an appealing song for a male citoyen who maybe lives in a European capital and shares his cool contemporary views via twitter and a weĺl-furnitured literary blog with a fairly non-conformed net community.
While listening to the hammering music for a second time he imagines grimy, athletic bodies, emaciated by some excruciating industrial work slavery – unseen and unheard of in his own ” corridors of knowledge” as he has recently named his academic field of work. He’s a professor of law, a schoengeist, too, but right now he rejoices in conjuring up gasoline-fed, smeared bodies – so hard that he can control them by letting them flex their muscles, bend and stretch their torsos, making them spread their legs like an archaic fighting machine. These creatures are manly through and through, he thinks, but in a defiant way, yes, defying their innate machine ma-scu-li-ni-ty, can you hear me, he shouts. That’s what they do, he rages against the vibrating sub-woofers. They are beyond rules, they don’t obey to written words and healthy nourishment and all that painstakingly documented civilization stuff which he himself carefully pays tribute to, day by day, in his urban life as an educated citoyen.
He watches those machine beings who are the vital, patient slaves of an out-faded enlightenment age. They’ll be guzzling gasoline and toiling like gladiators until their time has come. That will be the day when they spit gasoline into the faces of good-looking, slim urbanites like himself. They will soil him and he will submit gladly. They will reach over for all the pretty glasses full of sparkling champagne, everywhere in those pampered European cities. And they’ll empty them, hurl them, break them and it’ll be the start of their reign, the age of a new manhood and the semi-human man machine.
He sighs, and listens to the next song.”Man machine, semi human being, man machine, super human being”, a somewhat weak promise that the profound abyss between body and humanity may be overcome by a six-pack cyborg homunculus. “Man machine, the evil of a dream”, a dream lost a century ago which is now displayed in museums, on fitness courts and in art-house movies.
He turns the volume down, looks out of his living room window, takes a photo of the orange-blue sunset which still lingers above the Western spheres of the capital, and sits down at his laptop. He opens his twitter account and uploads the sunset photo, the third one this month. “Too early to go to bed, but in case I won’t have time later on: Good night, everyone. Sleep well.”
My post-industrial cyborg self…
… is getting inquisitive sometimes…
Where has my humanity gone? Has it left my body? Have I reduced myself to a feeling android? Or has my mind changed into cyborg software which handles my body and soul? But I know I can always press the escape key and stay safe with my human glass shades of feeling such as lighting scented candles when things appear sad or uttering soft noises of pleasure when people look happy.
Happy, how much I yearn for the blurred happiness of a summer song. It turns the tiniest rest of dried-out happiness into sparkling life. Like sherbet powder tingling on my tongue and vibrating in my veins: Why? I said…
“… because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do
Happy, bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
I said bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down…” (1)
And I repeat that over and over and over again so nothing can bring me down because I’m happy. As long as the coloured lights are blinking and the singing goes on.
Afterwards I’m back to some post-industrial site and to all my yesterdays in the inclosures of humanity.
(1) Happy, Pharell Williams
Vacuum tubes – still going strong at Industriesalon Schöneweide
Visiting the vast display storeroom at Industriesalon Schöneweide is like entering a sculpture park: You are overwhelmed by the magnitude and strangeness of the objects. The display storeroom (‘Schaudepot’) with a mass of impressive exhibits tells the eventful and multilayered story of electrical engineering at Berlin-Treptow, of the first power plant producing alternating current here, of a cable plant and a transformer station – all of this in three various historical periods in German history. After the “Wende”, when Samsung shut down the place in 2009 and the collection of industrial artifacts from the 1980s was doomed for dumping, some courageous people succeeded in saving this incomparable industrial heritage and founded the Industriesalon Schöneweide as an industrial museum. The transfixed visitor from today’s transistor-based digital world may dwell and rummage at large here and, while doing so, discover the once so powerful kingdom of vacuum valves!
The (nearly) lost kingdom of vacuum tubes
Mostly, the vacuum tube has become obsolete in nowadays technology. Even if tubes are still used at microwave radio frequencies and special hi-fi audio systems sometimes, they have been replaced by an ultra-efficient transistor technology, without any evidence of a tube comeback – except for real audioheads who insist that tubes deliver better audio quality than transistors. So, during the last two decades vacuum tubes have become a cherished part of man’s industrial heritage. When looking at the schematic diagram of a vacuum valve, it’ll perhaps remind you of an illustration showing the interior of an Egyptian pyramid, complete with nicely coloured explanatory hieroglyphs, and in that way it reveals something of the complex process of developing and producing electron tubes on this industrial site.
Eavesdropping onto industrial history at Schöneweide
Of course, everyone knows his lessons on batteries, tubes, transistors and the like, hours which proceeded sluggishly from current to voltage, from anode to cathode, from positive to negative and vice versa, out of the black box and back into. You had to accept the given facts and there was no point in mulling things over – that was meant for the chosen few who would get a job in some future electrochemical laboratory.
Halting in front of a bulky eavesdropping machine, you learn that it had been developed and used in the days of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) for spying on the enemy territory of the Federal Republic of Germany – from the top of GDR mountain Brocken (1.141 m). You look at the weathered photocopy showing the espionage station on the highest peak of the Harz mountain ranges and, yes, some sparks of long forgotten lessons come to mind: A vacuum tube is a device used to amplify and rectify electronic signals. Sure, in those days they needed tubes to spy from mountain heights. Current passing through the filament, or cathode (-), heats it up so that it knocks off electrons which have a negative charge.Why, oh, why? These electrons are attracted to the plate, or anode(+). A grid of wires between the filament and the plate is negative, repels the electrons and thus controls the current to the plate. In this process it will be able to amplify the voltage given to it. Control and miraculous precision!
I take two steps back in the narrow corridor, which has led me to this amazing object, to take in the grandeur of the bulky spying machine. It speaks of a bold engineering spirit – ill-fitting to snoop on other people’s affairs but rather suitable to reach out across borders and exchange ideas on new technologies (like transistors, for example). A kind of “light bulb” moment makes me shake off the repelling spy v. spy stories, may they rest in silence. Instead, I can detect some of the former engineer’s mind in the exhibition and curiously turn to the rows of varied vacuum tubes: Here, the industrial, social and political heritage of a past era has become tangible and alive in a very human way!
Local identity and collective memories
Industrial spaces witness the profound impact of technical activities on people’s socio-economic history and presence. The uniqueness of the heritage left over to future generations reveals a lot about the local process of industrial change. Somehow, each site carries the value of a specific local memory. It’s present not only in the industrial space and environmental background, but just the same in contents, mechanical or technical equipment, in the industrial landscape, its architecture and literature. The everyday lives of different groups of people are ‘recorded’ in the industrial heritage and since everyday life is necessarily attached to a certain place, a kind of local identity clings to the site, even if decades have passed. Some exhibits in the ‘working’ museum Industriesalon Schöneweide, the historical centre of a once large-scale, most modern electronics industry on the outskirts of Berlin, very strongly convey such collective memories and a feeling of local identity.
A Microwave Brontosaurus
Developed in the mid-sixties, this GDR (1) microwave oven was produced towards the end of the sixties. It turned out to be the only GDR prototype – just 140 microwaves ever left the production halls. They were used in restaurants and canteen kitchens.
(1) GDR-German Democratic Republic
Using electron tubes in a microwave oven
The microwave oven was manufactured in a state-owned GDR enterprise, VEB Elektrowärme Sörnewitz. The bulky, head-high oven consists of a cooking cabinet and a large chamber for power supply. The electron tubes were produced at VEB Fernsehelektronik, a factory for television electronics.
Those were high-voltage rectifier tubes and magnetrons, initially being “by- products” of a GDR developing program for radar technology. The heat required is generated by the transformation of magnetic field energy into thermal energy within the food product to be heated or cooked.
Besucherzentrum Industriesalon Schöneweide e.V.,Reinbeckstr.9, 12459 Berlin
Industrial heritage – understanding loss and digging into future!
Industrial sites shape landscapes into settlements and communities. Where there used to be nature, agriculture or wasteland you find buildings, plants, architecture, machinery, products, transport, housing – all of which develops like an island sputtered up from the ocean of man’s industrial and commercial instincts. An island that is projected into the future and based on change. If you visit abandoned plants and look at the material remains of former industries, you’ll often sense the massive loss which their decomposition means.
On the vast site of former AEG Schöneweide in Berlin-Treptow, where on rural grounds the industrial empire of AEG rose and collapsed in the course of little more than a century, you may find a sleeping giant. He was left behind in the industrial detritus. In his sleep he looks decrepit and promising at the same time, being sheltered under a neatly painted inscription from our days. The lines “Gib der Kunst Raum, dann wird sich die Schönheit ihrer Seele frei entfalten” (1) sounds like the beginning of an elegy addressed to ancient Greek ruins. The words deny the reality of industrial collapse and instead speak of art, beauty and unfolding of souls. As if the strong sense of abandonment, which is still omnipresent here, has miraculously given way to a new space for people to get started again, differently.
(1) “Lend space to art so that it may unfold the beauty of its soul in freedom”
or to leave alone so that future generations can make choices for themselves based on our prudence and their values and judgments. We have a choice over whether it is treasure or trash.” (3)
St. Mary’s backyard is hibernating in faded colours, with some red flower heads left on a small Fuchsia and violet cabbage leaves in an oval metal tub. An empty terracotta amphora is, of course, no such thing as a Grecian urn but simply a fancy flower pot waiting for the next planting season. Still, the weathered tin can bears the looks of a “foster-child of silence and slow time”. While looking at the gardening remnants, the old church-stones, the climbing creeper, the black cast iron fence and the doorknob of the open gate I am transfixed in a kind of profane eternity: Here I am in St. Mary’s backyard!
Nobody enters, the world is kept outside. Once in while, a mini story is passing by like that…
… blue cart, drawn or pushed by an unseen hand and…
…a hotfoot cyclist pushing the pedals …
… or a reading lady nearly bumping into a bluish shadow behind the creepers…
… but not coming across the tall man lost in thought who isn’t noticing…
… those two hurried fellows whooshing past!
From gloss and glamour to loss and clamour …
The problem with handbags is the following: you overload! Overloading usually results in excessive digging, meaning that at crucial moments you are absolutely unable to come up with the object needed, as for example, your favourite lipstick. Rumour says that even feminists have been caught in the act of emptying the contents of their bags on a car roof or a tiny French bistro table. Needless to say that from both locations their handbag intimacies invariably slide or drop down to some grimy ground which will give any woman a serious fit. A jam-packed handbag is always prone to accidents as, e.g., by rupture of wafer-thin, fancy bag straps, by the breaking away of shiny snap hooks or the splitting open of glitzy metal rings. The effect is always the same, your handbag will drop down from your shoulder like a stone. Big drama! You need impro!
When taking out my classic blue Life Handbag on a rainy Oxford day, a snap hook drama struck right on Broad Street. Bang! Solutions had to be found quickly! As clutching a well-packed handbag for longer than twenty minutes is unacceptable, I first tried sticky tape, which proved to be unsuitable and led to another clamorous downfall. After searching a number of shops in vain for something to fix the snap hook, a helpful shop assistent in a charming craft store finally found me some hellish Super Glu which I administered on the disfunctional hook very carefully while riding the Oxford Tube to London. In the process, I had to unpack the contents of my handbag on the empty neighbouring seat and – gosh- what freaky objects did I find in my handbag! And – gosh – where were all those unsuspiciuous objects I actully had supposed to dig up from the depth of my bag? I suddenly understood: My life chance of a ‘What-is-in-my-bag’ – photo event had come! And here we go.
A visual presentation of “Whatsinmybag” is a big challenge because those rather profane private belongings which are brought to daylight mostly lack gloss and glamour. So the way of arranging the profanities in the shooting is imperial. On my comfortable Oxford Tube the location was dominated by the wildly patterned orange seat covers, a circumstance I had to submit to and therefore embraced as a neo-realistic, anti-lifestyle message to the world. YES, no lying about the contents in my bag! YES, I crossed my fingers after writing the last sentence! YES, the objects lack gloss and glamour! YES, my bag tells you stories of loss and clamour! YES, the myth of my handbag is flamboyant! NO, I won’t share my secrets!
Understanding what handbags mean to women is a complicated matter. You might compare handbags to the mystery of cats and adapt T.S. Eliot’s “The naming of cats”:
“The buying of handbags is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just a profane afterwork deed.
You may think it’s as simple as a rattle’s clatter,
But believe me, at least SEVEN bags does a woman need!”
In any case, handbags need to have the appeal of a hidden universe. If you want to understand handbags imagine a museum, preferably a private collector’s museum like Pitt Rivers in Oxford, and there you are with the elementary philosophy of a handbag.
Impossible to foresee which unique objects will show up from the depths of your bag and unfathomable the variety of indispensable valuables you need to store!
A good handbag will not only hold together your everyday universe but it will also go with you anywhere. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Day by day, you’ll sling your breathtaking, portable, private collection over your shoulder – or you’ll just clutch it with one hand – and off you go! You’re the director, the collector, the curator, the visitor, the doorman, the adorer and restorer – a fancy-free, footloose one-woman show.
Post Scriptum: Handbags are irreconcilably at odds with umbrellas. So you should better look for umbrella-carrying company on rainy days.