Daily photographs by HANS VON RITTERN, with humorous, artistic and social commentary on life in the big city.

Archive for November, 2012

Photo of the day: A ‘BITTER’ COLD – Police ignore frozen homeless man

FOZEN 2-11-11
Photo of the day: THE ‘BITTER’ COLD – On today’s front page of many papers is a picture of police officer, Larry DePrimo in the bitter cold,  buying a homeless man a pair of shoes. The photo was taken on cell phone by a passing Arizona tourist and has gone viral world wide. While it is  a beautiful and touching story – I have a contrasting one I posted over a year ago here on Facebook.
On Tuesday February 11, 2011 that night it was 22 degrees freezing with wind chills below zero, this man seemed frozen over his cart. He did not have gloves and his hands had turned brown from frostbite. He did not move. No one helped him. Notice his left hand, his fingers are straight together, it is an unnatural way for your hand to be if you are ‘sleeping’. His hand was frozen. I stepped near the grate, the so called ‘warm air’ was at best minimal. I have been told to freeze to death is somewhat merciful, you numb and fall asleep. Whether he survived the night I don’t know. I am conflicted to hope he survived or if the merciful wish was for him to ‘fall asleep.’ It took me a long time to  flag a police car, they said he is on top of a grate and therefor “warm and fine”. I called 911 & 311 repeatedly, because supposedly the NYC law is that if it goes below freezing it is manadatory for the homeless to be brought to a shelter –  but  no one came. The traffic cop on the corner said there is nothing he could do. I went home with tears in my eyes and could not sleep that night.
It truly is a ‘bitter’ cold.


THE PERSIAN ROOM AT THE PLAZA HOTEL, 1974: Where were you 38 years ago on November 29, Friday night, 1974? I was 18 years old and took my friend Amy Hernandez to see a drag revue at the Plaza Hotel’s Persian Room, one of the most magical places within the Plaza. For more than forty years, from 1934 to 1975, the Persian Room was the place to be in New York City. An unparalleled array of performers graced its stage—everyone from the incomparable Hildegarde Shirley Bassey, Ethel Merman, The Mills Brothers, Kay Thompson (mother to Eloise), Eartha Kitt, Bob Hope, Liberace, Diahann Carroll, Julie Wilson, Andy Williams, Josephine Baker, my dear Celeste Holm and Marlene Dietrich’s last New York appearance.
It was done in high Persian style in deep iridescent tones of blues, greens and purples – nowadays we would view the decor as high camp/kitsch, but it was divine! The entrance looked like a golden gate to a palace. Today it is where the main lobby of the hotel is on the left side as you enter the Plaza Hotel, with sadly not a hint of it’s decadent past.
Amy Hernandez’s mother owned an east side townhouse bar and restaurant called ‘The Beef & Bourbon’ and the bourbon, her mom’s (and Amy’s) favorite drink of choice, flowed freely. Amy had an uppity twin sister named Carol who never liked anything I had to say and would just say “Oh Hans…”.
‘Manhattan Follies’ was the talk of the nightclub world and I just had to go! Impersonated that night were the then staples: Dietrich, Garland, Ross, Channing, Marilyn and Mae and that new sensation Bette Midler. The headliner was up and coming drag star Craig Russell who would go on to make the hit 1977 film called “Outrageous!”
The room still had a ‘cigar & cigarette girl’, a shapely woman with a tray strapped under her bosom selling smokes for high prices (Lena Horne started out as one). A Weegee-like man went from table to table with a huge old fashioned flash camera an offered souvenir photographs.
Some of the photo’s fun details:  I am wearing a black and white polyester Marilyn Monroe print dress shirt with an awfully huge white poly tie. The suit is black velvet bell bottomed and huge platform shoes (that you can’t see here) that had silver stars on them. The program pictured here on the right, is next to me by my seat. Amy’s polyester print blouse was black and white to match me. Note my index finger is extended on my lap because I am trying to show off a silver ring in the shape of a man’s head wearing a turban which I felt was appropriate for the evening’s occasion. Amy and I didn’t know we were partaking in history because sadly the ‘Manhattan Follies’ was the last and final show to play at The Persian Room.
The 1970’s was a glorious era. My era. A decadent era of nightclubbing, dancing, glitz and glamour. Studio 54, Xenon, 12 West, Ice Palace and the Paradise Garage. Huge shoes, hair sprayed hair, big eye glasses, bell bottoms and that wonderful disco music.
Where where you November 29, Friday night 1974?…

Photo of the day: THE MEETING OF THE ‘M’ CLUB

MEETING OF THE ‘M’ CLUB: The great painter Edouard Manet said: “There is only one true thing – instantly paint what you see. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again. All the rest is humbug.”
I as a photographer say: “Life is art = Art is life. If you have life in your eyes, you see the art.”

On one of the last warm days last week I came across this endearing scene. It is under the elevated ‘7’ train that heads towards Shea Stadium.

The meeting of ‘The M Club’. Mini Matisse, mini Mondrian, mini Manet and mini Monet.
A local day school teacher brings his little “M’s” to various spots here in Sunnyside Queens to inspire them to paint what they see and feel.
Matisse is in her blue period. Mondrian is being very colorful. Manet is feeling very precise and Monet is just going wild with his expressionism. Who knows what paths lie ahead for these four adorable children, one may be a lawyer, one our next president, one may be a psychiatrist and one may have their paintings hanging in the Museum of Modern Art!
Paint on dear children, paint on . . .

Photo of the day: THE LURE OF CYBER MONDAY

THE LURE OF CYBER MONDAY: I fell asleep watching TV Sunday night and as awoke in the middle of the night, I found an eerie glow coming from my computer in my office as if it was luring me with all the tempting cyber discounts being offered today. “They’re here . . . !”

Best new thing: CAMERA GLOVES !

CAMERA GLOVES !: My dear friend Nana Kuatto’s godmother Elina in Finland has made me ‘camera gloves’!
Mittens always keep your hands the warmest and nothing is warmer than 100% wool. Well,  Elina Kiviniemi has combined the two ideas and created “Camera Gloves”!
It’s freezing cold outside and you’re taking pictures. Having to take off your gloves will leave your finger frozen in minutes. No need to worry. The right hand camera glove leaves the thumb and index finger free for you to securely hold you camera while your free warm index finger snaps the picture. Leave it to the Fin’s to come up with this idea! Elina Kiviniemi has also made wool socks for President Clinton and his family and she has received a personal handwritten thank you note from Bill himself!
My picture taking this winter will be warmer thanks to Nana and Elina’s thoughtfulness and my warm “CAMERA GLOVES from FINLAND”!

If they’re good enough for the Clintons – they’re good enough for me!


“Didn’t the parade used to come through Times Square? I’m confused, I’ve got to find the parade –
before the parade passes by
before it goes on, and I’m the only Smurf left
before the parade passes by.
I’ve gotta get in step while there’s still time left
I’m ready to move out in front
Life without life has no reason or rhyme left
With the rest of them
With the best of them
I wanna hold my head up high
I need to get a goal again I need to get a drive again
I wanna feel my heart coming alive again
Before the parade passes by…
Before the parade passes by
I’ve gotta go and taste Saturday’s high life !

Today’s theme song: CHER’s “Shoppin’ ”

Lyric from CHER’s  1979 album “Prisoner”


I’m shoppin’, gonna buy my blues away

Shoppin’, I’m walking up  to the counter and say

I want this sweater, I sure feel better

Shoppin’, gonna take my troubles to town

Shoppin’, you don’t need money down

Charge it, wrap it, send it shoppin’
Ever since my mother took me to a big department  store

My heartbeat escalated all the  way to the second floor

I couldn’t hide my passion for the latest fashion craze

My  mama told me that’s just another phase I’m going through

Whatcha got that’s new?
Shoppin’,  gonna buy my blues away

Shoppin’, I  got bad news today

Instead of  eating ’cause my man’s cheating

Shoppin’, I’m gonna take my troubles to town

Shoppin’, while everyone else is smokin’, token’,  coken’

Well, I’ll be shoppin’, hit  it, boys
Excuse me Miss, see  that, the dress over there?

How  many colors does it come in?

Yes,  all right, no, I’d like every one

No, I’m not going to try it, I know it’ll fit
Ooh, you know what?

Let’s go up, oh, they’re having a sale

My God, I love salesNo,  I don’t have a last name
It’s  just Cher, just plain Cher

Ooh, I  like the shoes

Do you think you could wrap this thing

It’s all pink and  wrinkly it’s…

What a darling little  bag
Shoppin’, I’m gonna buy  itShoppin’,

I never try it on for  size

Shoppin, will I like it

Shoppin’, does the color match my  eyes?
Folks say I’m daring for  what I’m wearing

I’m always scaring  the people’s staring

So I’m  declaring, I’m tired of swearing

I’m just shoppin’
Shoppin’,  I’m gonna but my blues away

Shoppin’, I got bad news todayShoppin’, I’m gonna take my troubles to town

Shoppin’, don’t need money down
Shoppin’, gonna buy my blues away

Shoppin’, walking up to the counter and say

I want that sweater, I sure feel betterShoppin’, charge it, wrap it, send  it
Shoppin’, instead of  eating ’cause my man’s cheating

I’ve  been shoppin

‘While other people  may be smokin’, token’, coken’

I’ll  be shoppin’


In New York City – shopping is a sport !

BLOOMINGDALE’S Friday’s hours:

7:00AM – 10:00PM
Saturday, November 24
9:00AM – 10:00PM
Sunday, November 25
10:00AM – 9:00PM
Monday, November 26
9:00AM – 10:00PM
Tuesday, November 27
9:00AM – 10:00PM
Wednesday, November 28
9:00AM – 10:00PM

Friday, November 23: 12:00AM – 10:00PM
Saturday, November 24: 7:00AM – 11:00PM
Sunday, November 25: 10:00AM – 10:00PM
Monday, November 26: 9:00AM – 9:30PM
Tuesday, November 27: 9:00AM – 9:30PM
Wednesday, November 28: 9:00AM – 11:00PM

SAKS FIFTH AVENUEMon-Sat 10 am – 8 pmSun 12 pm – 7 pm

Mon – Sat: 10am – 9pm
Sunday 11am – 8pm
Holiday hours begin November 26: Monday to Friday open 10am until 9pm. Saturday until 8. Sunday 11am until 7pm



Photo of the day: YMCANDY MAN

YMCANDY MAN: Young man, there’s no need to feel down.
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, young man, ’cause you’re in a new town
there’s no need to be unhappy.
But I can take a rainbow,
wrap it in a sigh,
soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie.
I’m the Candy Man, the Candy Man!
I mix it all with dough and make the world taste good.
Young man, there’s a place you can go.
I said, young man, when you’re short on your dough.
You can bake there, and I’m sure you will find,
many ways to have a good time.
It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.


JESUS IS KING AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER: I am born and raised in this city. Walking past construction sites is a part of the fabric of life here. At first you gaze down into the big hole, then as the months pass, you start to gaze up as the construction rises in front of you.  First the beams rise to the sky, then followed by the mortar and brick – nowadays that step is mostly skipped in favor of quickly just putting up sheets of glass.
Wooden walls or chain link fences keep us safely separated from the site. The temporary ‘wall’ surrounding the site becomes a form of city art. Posters advertising the latest show, cable TV shows, spiritualists, party, politician or artist. They get torn, sometimes artfully so or get glued or stapled over, layer by layer, a sort of record of time. That is usually collaged with a colorful array of graffiti, some of it the usual street gang type (kING63) or profound messages or rather naughty ones. But never have I looked up and have seen the graffiti on the building itself – and on top of that – a religious message.
At the World Trade Center construction site, along Church Street, as building #3 rises, look high up at the buildings cement core and you first think the spray paint markings in safety day glow orange would naturally be some sort of construction markings of distance or height. The answer is no. If you look closely, it is a message declaring “Jesus is King.”
I have never, ever seen a construction site graffitied by it’s workers much less religious graffiti. I am equally astounded it is allowed by the site – apparently so . . . Merry (early) Christmas 🙂


Councilman Jimmy Van Brammer speaks to the gatherered community honoring Lou as bereaved family members listen on.

SUNNYSIDE MURDER: Lou Rispoli and his partner of 31 years Danyal Lawson were married at Queens Borough Hall on July 24, 2011, the first day that same-sex marriages became legal in New York State. On Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 2:05 A.M. he told his partner he was going out to get some milk. At approximately 2:15 A.M., at the corner of 42nd Street & 43rd Ave. Louis Rispoli was assaulted by 3 male white suspects in their early 20’s who brutally bashed his head in with an unknown blunt object . . . five days later Louis died of his injuries.  The suspects fled in a grey sports car and have not been caught.
On Saturday November 16, at 4:00 P.M., my mother and I along with our councilman Jimmy Van Brammer and several hundred residents of Woodside and Sunnyside, Queens gathered and marched to protest the senseless violence and to pay tribute to this beloved member of our community. Danyal’s and Louis’ family members were all present to see this outpouring of concern and love.
Crimestoppers will pay up to $22,000 for information leading to the arrest & indictment and the NYPD will pay $10,000 for the arrest & conviction of the persons responsible for this crime. Please call Crimestoppers at 1(800)577-TIPS.





THIRTEEN DOWN WAS A BITCH: Part of her morning routine is to secure a warm sunny chair and table early in Bryant Park, to settle in her belongings and to do her crossword puzzles. She is one of the regular homeless faces I recognize in the park. One never knows what brings you to such a point and what story lurks behind that sleepy face next to you. She being an avid cross word puzzler makes me curious what her past was -secretary, business executive, wife, teacher, accountant, clerk – I wonder?
Bryant Park is situated right behind the huge public library here in Manhattan filled daily with avid readers. The advantage is they discard their daily newspapers in the nearby trash bins. So her morning routine begins – find a spot, find the daily papers, find the crossword puzzles, tear them out of the paper and then start with #1 across.  Being homeless, you never are assured to find the next days paper to find out if you’ve solved them all correctly or not, but it whiles away the hours.
#1 across was the easiest, it always is, likewise for #1 down. #2 across follows easily.
#7 across required some thought. #11 down she wasn’t sure of the spelling.
Solving #22 down made the others fall into place. #39 across could be one of two names. But . . . #13 down – was a bitch, so, she decides to take a nap.

Photo of the day: MIDNIGHT CHESS MOVES

MIDNIGHT MOVES: Where else but in New York can you find a place to play a friendly game of chess – at 2 a.m.?
The Village Chess Shop has been at the same location since 1972. In the heart of Greenwich Village, just one block below Washington Square Park. It was the first place created where chess players could come and play, as well as a place to shop. “The Chess Shop” has hundreds of chess sets from all over the world displayed. Many a tourist has come in smiling, saying how wonderful that such a “museum of chess” exists.

“The Chess Shop” is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year! Your move . . .

Village Chess Shop 230 Thompson Street New York City, NY 10012


A CHRISTMAS TREE IS COMING!: Today Rockefeller Center will erect the annual New York City Christmas tree. Not your ordinary tree. This Norway Blue Spruce is from our neighboring state New Jersey and weighs 10 tons. It will stand a 80 feet (24 meters) in height, 50 feet wide (15 meters).
If you have ever complained about putting up the lights on your tree – you have nothing to complain about. This tree will take 40,000 LED lights winding over 6 miles of wire! The world famous Swarovski company will supply the crystal star atop the tree. The official lighting ceremony draws thousands of people including a gaggle of celebrities and will take place Wednesday, November 28th. Tis the season . . .

Photo of the day: “WANNA SMOKE SOME WEED?”

“YOU WANNA SMOKE SOME WEED?”: It was yet another afternoon in Bryant park with her daycare giver. The same bench, the same people walking by with their same lunch, the birds are hungry as usual. It’s just another ordinary day. Then Thelma read the election results reporting marijuana had been legalized – that finally broke the monotony of the day! “You wanna smoke some weed?” she asked. Her nurse, (let’s call her Louise) explained it was only legal in certain states like Washington and Colorado. That was Thelma’s buzz kill to what might have been a really fine afternoon, “damn!”.

Theater review: “THE ANARCHIST” by David Mamet starring Patti Lupone, Debra Winger

REVIEW: “THE ANARCHIST” the new David Mamet play with Patti Lupone and Debra Winger, is a one note work set in a female penitentiary. The two-woman drama involves Cathy/Patti Lupone, a longtime inmate with ties to a violent political organization, who pleads/argues and more precisely ‘debates’ for parole from the warden, Ann/Debra Winger.

The dress rehearsal performance was a privilege to attend with Mamet introducing the play. We settled in for the short 75 minute play. Half way through I stopped trying to figure out “what else there is to it” and realized there is nothing else to look for. It is an over intellectualized argument/debate on Cathy/Patti’s behalf as to why she should be paroled, espousing social theories, semantics, theology, grammar and finding religion.

One argument to be made is Cathy/Patti is so frightening because she is so superior in intellect that she really is going to win her parole on sheer intellect, knowledge of religion and human history, quoting philosophers and twisting Ann’s/Debra’s words. The answer is no. It is just a one note opinion on Mamet’s part ‘do the crime, do the time.’ No character layers are peeled back, nothing is revealed in either character, it is simply a flat plot you know will end one way or the other and half way through, it seems obvious Cathy/Patti’s place is assured in prison. (Spoiler alert: Cathy/Patti slips up in the end and seals her fate.) Yes it is revealed Cathy/Patti is a lesbian but when Ann/Debra  ‘reveals’ the fact, it is just simply another mundane listing of the facts. There should have been sexual tension played up between the two women, this big pink elephant in the room and it wasn’t delved into at all and leaving you not caring. I couldn’t figure out whether it is miscast or that it is just badly directed since it just comes off as a listing of beliefs and a reciting of lines (Patti was the only one to ask for a “line”). It leaves you yearning for those great black/white prison films like ‘Caged’ or ‘Prison Heat’.

When Cathy/Patti declares she has found religion and tries to win/debate her freedom with religion – there is no zealot’s passion you would expect from let’s say an Aimee Semple McPherson. Maybe that’s why she’s supposed to be so scary – no the lines and dialog are flat and drone on. Patti just looks and seems ‘too comfortable’ – as if it was a sunny afternoon’s discussion in their sunny parlor. Her body language is nonchalant, almost bored. No desperacy, no passion, no gleefulness, no evil eye. Perhaps that was the point – I sadly think not, so again miscast or misdirected?

Debra Winger’s voice is the stronger voice and carries over the theater better than Patti’s voice (“the Patti mumble” was present). Winger looks absolutely terrific sporting a fit and trim figure.

The nitpicky details: Patti’s “prison” outfit looks like it came from Loehmans. What is it?? It’s certainly not a prison outfit, we were wondering if they were her street clothes, but this was a dress rehearsal, so guess not. That leads me to the next problem – no one could figure out the time period they are trying to evoke. The details don’t match up. Winger’s vs. Lupone’s clothes. The (lack of) hairstyles. The furniture and set are not consistent.

What annoyed me the most was something Winger did. She has a manuscript that Cathy/Patti has written. Winger also has a note pad of notes and various files. She refers to them constantly throughout the play to quote Cathy/Patti and put her in her place or to argue a point. Now…if you have 35 years of notes – Winger ‘magically’ found the quote every time she looked at any of the papers. She never had to thumb through them, turn the pages or search for a file – it was ridiculous. She simply just looked at these items without any sign of searching – bingo = there was the quote! It drove me nuts.

“The Anarchist”  can be summarized in the misleading advertising in the red and black harsh graphics. Patti looks pissed and angry as all hell in the photo outside the Golden Theater and it is just simply a great contrast as to what you will find inside.

“THE ANARCHIST” at the Golden Theater, 252 West 45th Street/Broadway. New York City.

Hans Von Rittern (A Patti Lupone fan since “Evita.”)

Nov. 21, 2012: I am told Patti Lupone is now wearing a grey (aged) wig in the show.

December 2, 2012 POSTSCRIPT: I have been redeemed by Ben Brantley in The New York Times in his review! “And so the debate begins. Wearing horn rims and a navy pantsuit, Ann has the severe air of a bureaucratic don who has done her research. She is armed with annotated manuscripts and files. (Amazing, isn’t it, how people in plays can always instantly find the exact passage they’re looking to quote?) She is fully prepared to spar with Cathy — the product of a rich family and illustrious schools — on semantic distinctions between “conscience” and “consciousness,” in English versus French.”   Hmmmm where have I read that before <grin>.

A summary of all the reviews, unanimously negative: http://www.didhelikeit.com/shows/the-anarchist.html



PRESIDENTIAL PAPERS: It is estimated that between the two major candidates, over $6 billion, 700 million dollars ($6,700,000,000.) was spent on the 2012 presidential campaign. Endless TV ads, mail flyers, robo calls, hats, stickers, t-shirts, posters, pins and pickets. Republicans broke all financial spending records and democrats broke all donation records.

Then there is this guy, Jeff Boss. He spent just a few thousand dollars printing a lot of posters with eye-catching phrases, but the middle-aged man wasn’t creating street art, nor putting up outdoor ads. He also ran for president. You may have seen his “campaign” here in Manhattan.  The stark white posters with bold black lettering featured slogans such as:




Boss scattered them around Manhattan, focusing his efforts on highly trafficked areas on 42nd Street near Times Square where these ads were posted on a construction site wall. He didn’t win. But what he does have is the right to free speech and because of that – we are though still left wondering . . . ‘who the heck is Jeff Boss?!’

God bless America.

(NSA = National Security Administration)


Veterans Day Photo: OVER 4,000 LIVES LOST . . .


PFC  Joseph R.  Berlin- 21

Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal – 24

SSGT John C. Bene – 38

Specialist Jeremy Brown – 20

LCPL Brandon T. Lara – 20

SSGT. Eric James Lindstrom – 27

PFC Thomas F. Lyons – 20

PFC Jason F. Lemke – 30

CPL Brett L. Lundstrom

SGT Adrian J. Lewis – 30

Marble Collegiate Church at 272 Fifth Avenue, corner of 29th street in Manhattan founded in 1628, is one of the oldest continous Protestant congregations in North America. Built in 1851-1854, originally called the Fifth Avenue Church, has the facade covered in Tuckahoe marble for which now the church is named.  Marble Collegiate’s senior minister between 1932 and 1984 was the famous Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, and in case you forgot precisely why he was famous, it’s because he was the man who, among other things, wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

In honor of the old song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree”, they have lined it’s old cast iron gates that surround the church, with yellow ribbons honoring the soldiers lives lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There are over 4,000 of them . . .


LILLIPUTIAN LIBERTY: “Huh?!” She looked bigger on TV.” “Mum….did the green lady shrink in the rain?” “Isn’t she supposed to hold the big candle?”

I captured this priceless moment in Times Square as these little visitors from England just knew something was wrong with this pint sized Statue of Liberty, but were too polite to say to say something. Their faces pretty much say it all creating one of my favorite pictures of the year!

Historic photo: THE BERLIN WALL FALLS NOV. 9, 1989

“Life is a Cabaret Old Chum?”

This photo was taken by me at the Berlin Wall on the free side of occupied Berlin in 1983. It eerily evokes the 1972 Liza/Fosse film ‘Cabaret’  asking “Life is a Cabaret Old Chum?”. It was scrawled by Y.A.T. – Young Actor’s Theatre. There many Y.A.T’s in the USA, so I don’t know which branch wrote this, but it struck me so. I  wanted to photograph as much of the graffiti on the free side as I could. Sadly the photos are all on film and I have no idea where they are. This one I had framed and remains on my wall in my office.

The memory of this photo I will not forget – at this section of the wall there was a low railing in front of the wall (on the free side), only about 2 feet tall. So I stepped over it, as many had obviously done to graffiti the wall. Directly on the ‘other side’ in East Berlin was a gun tower. As soon as I stepped over the railing to get a close-up photograph of this graffiti, the windows of the gun tower flew open, a machine gun was pointed at me and the East German solder yelled at me “Zurück!”  to get back – on my free side!
When you have a machine gun pointed at you, no matter whether you are on the free or occupied side, you do as they say and I retreated.
I was terribly curious to see what was on the other side, like a child too short to see what’s on the other side of the neighbor’s fence. My family was visiting our relatives in Hamburg, and refused to come with me to West Berlin, since they did not want to see a city divided and warned me not to go to East Berlin since we had had relatives detained at the border – so I defiantly went on my own and crossed the border.
I was the only English speaking tourist on an all German  speaking bus. When we got to Check Point Charlie, I seemed to  fascinate the East German guards and they detained me. They took the film out of my camera, my extra rolls of film, my pen, my newspaper and anything to eat. After being asked a barrage of nonsensical questions I was allowed to rejoin (the now) disgruntled group. Our West German tour guide was told to get off the bus and an East German guide took over.  As we crossed over the border it was literally like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz going from color to black and white. It automatically was bleak and gray. None of the buildings had been sufficiently repaired, many columns were still riddled with bullet holes. Buildings had rust on them everywhere, cement was crumbling, hardly any cars on the road, just rickety bicycles. Why there were even tours, and why the communists would want you to see this bleak existence is beyond me. But, as in a car accident on the road, we stop and look. I stopped, looked and stared.
Then I saw what was said to only be a rumor – people standing in long lines for a single orange. One orange. Photos were forbidden. It was a scene out of every war movie you have ever seen. Heads hung low, shivering, they waited for what was so abundant just a mile away. When we crossed back over to  West Berlin, I saw East German soldiers carrying huge sacks of oranges back to the East side for the privileged few.
I am glad to this day I went, guns and all. It is a part of my German heritage. My great aunt was an opera singer, her sister a pianist in the Berlin State Opera, then located ‘in the east’.  Did I dare tell them it was still riddled with bullet holes in 1983? I said nothing. The day the news broke of the fall of the wall, the euphoria and endless tears were an emotional outburst from my parents who had been through two world wars in that beautiful city.
I have two Berlins in my head. One is of a glorious flourishing opulent city of the roaring 1920’s and 1930’s recounted to me by my parents, the other is of a demolished smoldering heap, remnants of which I had now seen for myself. I am a proud American citizen, equally proud of his German ancestry. Let us always cherish our freedom. . . after all ladies und gentlemen, life IS just a cabaret! . . . isn’t it?
One of the gun towers
(Translation) “Russian – Go piss on yourself!”


DRAPED IN LIBERTY: The Statue of Liberty is closed. Her harbor has been damaged by hurricane Sandy and will not reopen till at least spring 2013. So Times Square always has a steadfast alternative you can count on. It is overcrowded with competing ‘Liberties’.
A mute (because they don’t speak English) person draped in a mint green cloth, standing on a milk crate, wearing a Halloween Liberty mask with sunglasses and carrying a souvenir shop torch (some have flags too) – all beckoning you to come take a picture with them…for a price. ‘Ms.’ Liberty has been known to get ugly if ‘she’ is not paid a fair price. Yes, it is substantially less than a Circle Line Ferry to Liberty Island, but if you wanna play – ya gotta pay.