Tag Archives: Berlin

The Landlady by Brendan Nash (Nollendorf Press, 2019)

A page-turner of a novel, reminiscent of Armisted Maupin’s TALES OF THE CITY. This city, however, is Berlin in the twenties instead of San Francisco in the 70s. Prices are out of control and rising every day. Everything is changing, and survival means being open to whatever comes next, to be modern. Meta has always been well off but soon won’t be able to pay the rent on the large apartment she’s taken for granted the last two decades. Her landlady, Esther, manages the apartment building and is the widow of Meta’s long-term lover. Esther’s son Pieps, works delivering coal by day but by night explores Berlin’s gay hot spots, where he’s sometimes mistaken for a rent-boy. He falls in love with Frank, who claims to be an actor from America but is actually a drug-addicted  ship’s steward trying to pack in as much of Berlin as he can in his week’s leave. Eva, Meta’s maid, becomes lovers with Lotte, the woman who pulls the strings in Berlin’s most fashionable queer clubs. Claire Waldorff is known by all and Claire knows a certain Marlene. A great read, with the city itself as a main character, and Berlin’s legendary queer nightclubs of the era as  historical settings  which the appealing fictional characters move through in search of their desires. I’m now eager to read Bredan Nash’s follow-up, THE DIRECTOR.


First chapter of THE DIRECTOR begins with the arrival of Paul Whiteman in Berlin, from Vienna, with a certain journalist in tow, not yet named but clearly the young Billy Wilder. So, exciting from the first!

The book may be purchased directly at http://www.baxterjardine.com

José Arroyo

In Conversation with Finn Jackson Ballard

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I´m a teacher. Few things make me happier than to see students doing well after graduation. And it positively gladdened my heart to see the life that Finn Jackson Ballard has made for himself in Berlin: a PhD in Film Studies, a historian of Berlin queer cultures of the last century with a focus on the Weimar period, a tour guide non-pareil, now himself a teacher and Lecturer. I first met Finn when he was Eimear: brilliant, soft-spoken, brave; mindful of the ways she spoke and conscious of the various effects speech might have on others.  I remember meeting Eimear for coffee when she first told me she was transitioning and feeling somewhat like my mother when I first came out to her: I foresaw trouble, danger, possibly a gory death in some ditch. Unlike my mother, I did not say this, and tried to find a way to be supportive but careful. Had she thought everything through? She had.

There´s a wonderful moment in Almodóvar´s All About My Mother where Agrado, a trans person played by Antonia San Juan, gets on stage and tells the audience how much her various body parts had cost. Most of what makes her ‘her’ is artificial. But she ends by saying that one is most authentic, most true to oneself, the closer one gets to the person they imagined themselves to be. It´s telling that a gentle man, a man who is gentle, is Finn´s choice.

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The podcast below took place in Finn´s apartment in Berlin, late-night, with his dogs sprawled around us, occasionally biting on some squeaky toy. I´ve wanted to keep the atmosphere, the flow, the ways conversation reveals as it meanders so I´ve not cut anything.

Like many people my age, I feel a bit at sea on trans issues. I want to be helpful but know I also need to change entrenched ways of thinking: to be better informed. We all need to be really, and few people are as knowledgeable and articulate on the issue as Finn.

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In the podcast (below, at the bottom) we talk about adolescence and being disassociated from one´s body; hormones, chest surgery, the processes involved in getting closer to the idea of who one wants to be; screenings, psychological evaluations; how it´s a bit like going through puberty again, looking in the mirror constantly to spot gradual changes; how life became easier once people saw him as a man rather than as a trans person; how privileged he feels at having an experience and insight into how it is to live as a woman; how more comfortable he feels with the effeminate rather than feminine. We talk of Northern Ireland and Berlin; we reflect on gender, how theory enable ways of being; how history helps to develop those ideas; the importance of ‘ancestors’; and much more.

Listening back, I´m even more appreciative of his kindness, his knowledge, his openness, his sense of adventure, the lilting accent, the way his answers to my questions are both free-flowing and thought through, precise. We can all learn a lot from Finn. I certainly did.

José Arroyo