... in TRANSPOSING: ... the story between translation and adaptation - Sub-Under-U-метро-Bahn-Ground-Way


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Text by Angelika Friedrich

Photos by Koen Douterloigne and Pэryp@tet!k

Figure 1: München, Deutschland© Koen Douterloigne

“We are wir – мы.” I think, if wir are capable of thinking, that is, мы learned to think in school, then we know the fundamentals and can concentrate on the details.

It’s strange, seltsam, странно when you live with people who have this mind. At first we find it alarming – sleepwalkers in motion. Obviously, if you konzentrate on the Details and have that talent, then things run smoothly. The метro, subway, tram, электричка – heck, even the bus! – runs on time. I think our next impression, when we’re young, is that it’s rather dull-langweilig. We’re teeming with energy and want action, change, difference.

“First I was an idealist, then I became a realist, now I’m a pessimist,” some intelлигентный guy said. But when we get a little older and gain some Perspektive, we ask ourselves if this isn’t the


Figure 2: New York, USA© Pэryp@tet!k Media

At the Livonia станции,

we just walked unter it
on the way to Akupunktur,

a teenager was beaten to death by ten guys a couple of weeks ago.

We don’t get a free transfer between the L and 3 like you do at similar stops in Manhattan. There’s hardly any light in the passageway between them at night. The trains are so loud above the dark desolate wasteland of once-industrial Brooklyn you won’t hear the screams of either a mugged commuter or a desperate dying boy.

Evidently, you’re poor and should stay that way or, even better, drop off…

If you entered the S-Bahn in Munich and exited in брooklyn,

which some travelers
actually indirectly do
by boarding a plane in between,

you would be absolutely certain that
you’ve landed in the third world.

Especially if a resident told you at both ends that

middle income families live hier and here:

Plaster is peeling from the ceiling;
there are holes where tiles once lay;
stains and blemishes,
the smell of urine and
even brooks, yes, streams, Flüsse,
речки, run between the tracks at, e.g., Metropolitan Avenue.
Über ground, the bridges just rumble
like an earthquake.

Figure 3: London, UK© Koen Douterloigne

If you plan to go by local underground to or from Heathrow Airport, don’t drink a lot of water. It takes hours, depending on your destination. Mine was basically Tower Bridge. Two hours. Reminded me of an attempt to travel by semi-public transportation from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The bus broke down on the highway.

We don’t see any rivers running between the tracks in London, however.

Small tunnels,
narrow platforms,
a mix of historical stations and
postmodern ones

The systema mirrors the city above. Alles diverse. Not unlike Munich and Brooklyn.

По-другому – anders – different – is that the straphangers will talk with you:

“Our (30-year-old) son lives at home. It’s hard for him to find a job. He studied film.”

And you can overhear some great conversations:

“It’s really too bad. I feel she is not enjoying life as much as she could. She isn’t happy.”

Have we heard that in Munich or Moscow recently?

Figure 4: Москва, Россия (Moscow, Russia)© Pэryp@tet!k Media

You won’t hear much talk about happiness and you won’t be able to concentrate on the detaли in Moscow, even if the метrо stations are spectacular. The fast escalators, especially in Saint Petersбург, remind us of Russian polarization: on the left we run; on the right we stand. Nobody walks, and nobody talks about happiness. In the subway cars, the passenжиры speak about as much as they do in Munich, New York or London. That is

not much

except on Friday evenings or weekends when groups are headed somewhere – much like its sister cities.

Yet if we meet underground,
are wearing the same cloths,
have the same haircut,
share the same skin color,
it will be possible to distinguish a Slav from a Western European or American by:

the expression on our face –

прежде всего,
vor allem,
above all –

in our eyes.

That’s how we tell a Russian from a foreigner – by their eyes.

You might think it’s clothing, body, demeanor – that helps – but the eyes confirm or refute the suspicion. Conclusively.

Eyes from the Anglo-American sphere are dead.
Eyes from continental Europe are in purgatory (halbtot).
Our eyes in Russia sparkle with life.

Figure 5: New York, USA© Pэryp@tet!k Media

What has made America an empire?

You certainly can’t find evidence of this in the New York City subway system. At least positive evidence. Perhaps you might argue that our willingness to tolerate underground decay has allowed wealth to accumulate among a small elite and finance an imperial agenda, but that assumes a large number of causalities.

A more plausible explanation is a docile public deftly controlled by the media. The newsstand gives us the latest. We are expected to be informed. Society expects it. Good – gut – хорошо, but nowhere does it work as well as with “good” in a country that perceives only one blip in its 400 hundred years of success (the Great Depression).

The news inundates us with fragments of information.

an understanding of the past,
the theoretical framework,
the counterarguments,

a fragment cannot be understood.

New fragments from completely different


make it into the headlines every day.

We can’t process all this information, but are forced to read it.
Now that we’ve read it, we can talk to our friends.

They say “good.”
We say “good.”
It’s all good.

And now we have to go to the fitness center:

No fresh air for our brains,
but a good body.

Then to the subway.

At best no fresh air.
At worst freezing in the cars and boiling on the platform (in summer).

Great conditions for reading news we won’t understand even in the best circumstances.

Figure 6: Bayern, Deutschland© Koen Douterloigne

It’s possible for us to relax on an S-Bahn or U-Bahn platform in Bavaria-Bayern. It’s even likely, more likely than in New York, London, Moscow. Why?

We live in a world where everyone handles a small part of a larger project.

We prepare the translation,

the holding company handles the management,

the manufacturer combines the parts delivered by suppliers

the suppliers assemble components from subcontractors

the subcontractors deliver parts of the components.

This is apparently efficient, i.e., profitable. It is certainly in vogue.

In some places,

maybe many,

we have doubts about the quality.

In Germany, we have these doubts, too. But we

проверять и

The plumb line for tiles is straight:

the signs,
clocks and
are placed at increments

determined by an architect and
probably based on theory.

The design and execution are geplant;
the plans are checked;

nothing haphazard or spontaneous entsteht.

And then we do maintenance. And we don’t wait long. It seems our tolerance for imperfection is low.
As soon as

graffiti is smeared on a wall

– DSK has been popular since the exploits of the former head of the international monetary fund were revealed –

or paint begins to peel
or a clock breaks,

our citizens complain, notify, report – anzeigen –

the responsible party,

probably insured

handles it right away.

Figure 7: Москва, Россия© Pэryp@tet!k Media

When I was moving to Москву, a girl in the youth hostel asked

“Why do you want to live here?
They’re all crazy,”

Many of us from Europe or America might have a similar impression.

Maybe many из нас from Russia would think this too if

we only saw ourselves in public.

And that’s the rub –

если бы мы себя только видели на улице.

It’s the polar opposite in private.

This is what the tourисты miss;
it’s what the politики and businessмены didn’t or can’t see on account of their public position.

The public person is completely different from the private one, yet the public one is almost ubiquitous for outsiders –

it is on the street,
in restaurants,



on tours,
at attractions, etc.

These are public places where we have to be alert, prepared for

anger, and so on.

We have only two safe places:

home and in a group of friends or colleagues.

There we can relax, are at ease and let go of our public persona.

We laugh, joke, offer advice, share tales of our crazy experiences in public – like:

the man who rescued the tourists from a gypsy horde that attacked and stole the woman’s wallet and passport. He saw it, punched the gypsy in the face, snatched the tourist’s belongings and returned them,

without any expectation of thanks,
instantly turning away,

as the terrified Paar bustled down Nevsкий Prosпeкt in broad daylight.

Figure 8: London, UK© Pэryp@tet!k Media

Meiner Meinung nach

this gap between the underground car and the platform
is one of the top attractions in Лонdon.
At some stations it’s easily wide enough to swallow a 250 lb – 120 k person.

Another way to meet your death

by public transportation

is to step in front of our nice red double decker buses.

Forget halting, the drivers don’t even slow for anything other than a light or stop.

No wonder bus stop advertisements have been replaced by pictures of dead children and adults who’ve been hit by cars on the street.

I think in England we are shifting to the gear preferred in America:

people are clueless;
don’t expect anything intelligent from them.

That’s why we’ve now written out instructions at street crossings by attractions:

look left;
look right;
 look up

– just joking, nothing falls from the sky.

Although it’s true that we also tend to look at the ground when we walk – even when we’re touring a city.

Figure 9: Subway station wall at East 68th street in Manhattan, NY, USA© Pэryp@tet!k Media

The subway station at Lexington and 68th street lies below the wealthiest zip code in America. Go visit it. This photo is no anomaly. Much of the station is in this condition. It is klar that the rich do not ride the subway. That was confirmed by The Bonfire of the Vanities, but don’t read all of it. As usual, it starts off well enough,

is a hilarious satire on upper-class America in the eighties

(greatest fear: missing the Manhattan turn-off on the Triboro Bridge;
needing thousands of dollars to attend a dinner party 6 blocks away),

either the part used to impress the publisher
or the publisher’s demand for a certain excessively large number of pages to boost the price

– одно из этих –

results in a wearisomely long narrative.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA),

which is responsible for the subway system,

almost certainly suffers from an analogous problem:

it attempts to bite off more than it can chew and finds itself throwing up

on the walls,Wände,стенах


Figure 10: Underground/Subway wall in London, UK© Koen Douterloigne

We might call the London approach to exposed infrastructure

kreativ artistic,

a word we definitely wouldn’t use for the peeling paint in the previous picture.

Maybe this is where we circle back to


Not on the German level, but at least a bit closer.                                                                                          

On this score,

or at least indirectly related,

is something weird

you can easily experience

on a weekend
in London City

– the expressions on people‘s faces

– tight lips,
narrowed eyes,
almost angry –

suggest they’re headed to

work war.

And they’re not even in the office.

Even if you’re slow and uneducated, the


will carry you close to excellence