Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Tramway or Streetcar poetry

How the moon sets is often overseen in the middle of the day. It is the time when the tram makes its way through the city. They say the new line makes aware that open horizons do matter. For the tracks along the coast make sure that the shoreline remains free of buildings. People can walk freely along the tracks when going to diverse beaches or else lovers hold hands while they enter the twilight zone of their dreams. The tramway gives a new orientation to everyone ready to use this public transportation system. If they do, they shall get off at one of the new stations and return later from a simple walk along the coast. Or else the swimmers will find it simple to let their  bodies recall how refreshing was a swim in the sea. Once they cross that tram line, they discover what the had longed for, namely a fulfilled life within the city as compass and yet so close to the sea as destiny. At least, this was the dream behind the new tramway of Athens. It was constructed to be ready in time for the Olympic Games in 2004. It was a dream of Tritsis but also of many others who used to go to work with the tram prior to being dismantled after the war in Athens to make way for the car.

New trams in Athens


Tram Poetry

Merchants, where are your costumers?

Or are you afraid the trees shall stand in your way?

Merchants, what time is it, if yachts do not sell?

And why do motor bikes keep passengers off sidewalks?

Merchants, your ships have thirsty lips after licking too much salt water.

Amidst the many coastlines they passed by, some appear abandoned

after too much was carried away, not as stowaways, but as bulk cargo.

Humans are still being sold at autumn auctions near the newly planted trees,

as if slave trade has never stopped to be the heritage of America.

Yet there is this one old man lying down on the tracks to hear the tram

coming his way. He will shout out in time the warning: "make way, make way!"

His shout ends in a whispers even though he cares that you are not hurt in the end.

His whispers are heard not near a tomb but close to the tame and wild olive tree.

They remind of someone who landed exhausted after having been gone for 22 years

and who needed shelter to rest before being able to return finally home. O Odyssey!

He slept underneath a marriage of the wild and tamed olive tree with trust in people.

He knew being faithful in love by itself does not bring about the changes needed to look ahead.

He heard the sea murmuring many other advices while Poseidon threw at him treacherous winds.

But back home, underneath those two olive trees, he found sleep for the night.

And he dreamt underneath a sky set in wonder by many stars with olive leaves spending shade

what could be the prudence of these times, if not to return home as a stranger for the first night.


HF 3.8.2004


Six years later - 2010

At the time of publishing 'Poetry Connection', the intention was to start off a collection of poems about the newly built tram or else to collect poems to be put into the tram. Many ideas were afloat prior to the Olympic Games but only a few were realized.

The connection to the tram in Athens begins in Berlin. There these public vehicles of transport have been designed by someone like Lutz Gelbert in Berlin. When still working in East Germany, he risked something by visiting the Greek embassy in East Berlin. He had to know what colours the Greek flag contained since he was about to design the train for Athens, but the authorities were suspicious of anyone taking up contact with a foreign mission. They knew and never knew who wanted to escape.

Prior to Lutz Gelbert, the transport economist Dr. Tillo E. Kuhn had been working with consulting companies who wished to advance the magnetic train. Aside from high speed, it promised a technical evoluation but not realized fast enough as the cooper needed to making the electronic magnet - the train was to be pulled - work, proved to be vastly more expensive than ordinary street cars or trains. Still, whether high or low speed trains, vehicles on tracks within the city point to another solution especially in an age when energy and more so dependency upon oil has proven to be permanently at the brink of a crisis. The tension is one translating natural resources into useful materials but which can only be exploited under certain economic conditions. Not all oil is extracted since some wells are too deep. It shall only be done once the oil prize is high enough to make the more expensive exploitation affordable. That is how the system works.

Naturally street cars in East Berlin reflected as well how the system works, namely inefficiently. There is the anecdote about one street car which made its passengers always fret with anxiety once a certain corner was turned because regularly the street car would spring out of its tracks. That meant everyone had to get out and help hieve the street car back onto the track. For those with weak backs that could prove quite dangerous. Or else the street car would go along the wall. Everytime that passage was taken, those inside would stretch their necks just to have a glimpse over the wall to the other side. That desire to see the other side with own eyes became with time so strong that even the order to shoot anyone attempting to escape through no man's land became so strong until the wall fell in November 1989. Immediately the two halves of Berlin offered a telling contrast for only East Berlin had left the street car system intact.

When Brussels 2000 was one of the nine European Capitals of Culture, they developed a communication platform called Cafe 9 (but only eight of the nine cities participated). About 80 projects became a part of a review and exchange of experience with video cameras allowing those in the other cities to follow the different projects undertaken by the other cities. One of the projects was about what is your favorite route when returning from work back home? Naturally these routes included taking the tram e.g. in Brussels the route to Saint Job in Uccle. When someone can describe to you his or her favorite route and thereby takes you with him on a street car ride since the best way to reach a specific destination, it becomes more than a mere looking over the shoulders to see what lies ahead. It is another form of intimacy. For in this space in-between work place and home something else becomes visible. It shows how people live and love their city. And the ride lets you quickly distinguish between the locals and the visitors. Only the former know immediately at what stop they have to get off. It appears as if they never took a look out the window for orientation. By contrast, the stranger is unsure and even when the name of the next station is lit up in modern street cars, that does not necessarily help to overcome the uncertainty when to get off. It helps if there is someone waiting but then street cars have many stops and not just one train station where hopefully the one you love waits for you.

As said in Brussels there is this line going to St. Job. It passes through Uccle. That route entails an entire list of memories which over the years have resided in the niches underneath window sills like pigeons housing there to take a rest.

There is the famous Line 8 in Munich about which comedian Weisspferdl made many jokes. There is also a vivid impression of a woman who had slept with the horses pulling the beer wagons to the October Fest and whose stench no one could stand. The seat around here emptied in the street car and even after that woman had departed, everyone laughed when there entered a lady with high nose and ended up sitting exactly at that spot still imprinted by that specific stench.

Street cars are different if you look at San Francisco.

A streetcar named desire

That this topic exerts a certain influence is underlined by one theatrical performance taking place during Athens Festival 2010. It is being announced under 'legendary streetcar stops in Athens', but it is not clear what is meant by such a link. However, the performance is an adaptation of the famous play by Tennessee Williams (New York, 1947) called: "A Streetcar Named Desire". The play is being directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski with Isabelle Huppert as Blanche DuBois.

(Note: The play will be presented at Pireos 260, Stage H, from 2 to 5 July as part of the Athens Festival. For further information go to Athens Festival web-site www.greekfestival.gr )

Hatto Fischer 30.6.2010

The dance of the street car through the streets

Nabokov's streetcar in Berlin 2012 by Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov

The artists and twins Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov gave an exhibition at Beton 7 which was really an installation about the street car. Departing from Nabakov's own description of the street car in his diary about Berlin in the 1920's, they followed with their own eyes a refutation by history. The street car has not disappeared as predicted by Nabokov, but has been constantly improved. When Lutz Gelbert came to their atelier, he explained since one of the novelties is that now wheels hang down rather than being stiffled upheld as was the case in the past. The difference explains why suddenly street cars can be very close to the ground while in the past passengers had difficulties mounting it since the street car sat high up on the tracks. Also Lutz was amazed by the soft touch the artists had given to the street car he had designed. Immediately he seized upon this idea as an innovative process and proposed that this installation shall be hung in the Museum of Technology for when this street car goes into retirement one model will be taken immediately to the museum.


Streetcar restaurant in Brussels

Street car restraurant in Brussels June 2012

You have to hand it to the inventors of ever new needs that they thought of a street car able to be a restaurant on wheels just like on trains this wagon is much preferred by kinds of travelers who enjoy eating while watching in this case not landscapes but houses pass by. Sigmund Freud is said to have developed his theory about sexuality while in a train. The moveable space through time in contrast to what stands still, what not can be extended to making a novel experience in a city like Brussels. Home to the European Commission, NATO, various levels of Belgium, French and Flemish governments along with 18 municipalities, it means here is wealth not only accumulated, but being spend many a times after one of those famous meetings with the Commission has ended. Once a project has been awarded, that is always a good reason to celebrate. And even if not then because there is often not much else to do in between next meetings and further stop overs but to go out for dinner. So why not to do so in a street car restaurant? One waiter in a nearby restaurant as this streetcar was passing by added with a wry smile, that a dinner aboard would not be on the cheap side. What this makes anyone feel coming from a crisis riddled member state like Greece may say it all. While some squander money in an apparent luxury, there are others who are most insecure how they will make ends meet especially at an age when pensions supposed to provide for the means to live on. It is a shocking relevation to see such a provocation passing trough the streets on wheels.


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