ERIKA EIFFEL – IN LOVE WITH THE WALL

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NAN GOLDIN - Berlin Work 1984 - 2009
CORY ARCANGEL - Here Comes Everybody
STEPHEN SHORE - Uncommon Places

Generations of chain-smoking writers, skinny-jeaned bloggers and people with guitars have howled on about the subject. Love. Why do we love when all heavenly odds seem to be working against us? Why do we love after the other has disappointed us? Heck, why do we even love at all? During 5½ hours worth of tea, Erika Eiffel and I attempted to answer the unanswerable. It took us just that long to realize that, well, it’s beyond us, but we’ll probably never regret that we tried.

Erika’s objectum sexual – the sexual orientation of individuals engaged in romantic relationships with objects. Meaning, like your friend Benny can love boys, and your friend Andrea can love girls, your friend Alex can love his broomstick, or floorboard, or loudspeaker. Erika’s partner, her soul mate and love of her life, is the Berlin Wall. Now, this is not an easy object to love. It’s chipped, it’s graffiti-smeared, it’s crooked and it’s disappearing. It tore the city of Berlin – and the world – in two, ripped apart families, cost countless lives and helped define decades of a very chilly war. Erika’s Wall may be the human equivalent of that boyfriend with a terrible past. The one who ended up in jail, or the one who lied and cheated and hurt everyone you cared about. Yes, the one you loved anyway.

Before the Wall, Erika had a string of successful relationships with truly inspiring objects of affection. The kind that looks great on paper, at least. There was her love for a bow, which earned her two world champion titles on the US national archery team. Then there was the Japanese sword that made her the youngest world champion in the art of Iai-batto-jutsu. And her relationship with the admittedly very sexy F-15 jet got her one rare congressional nomination to the US Air Force academy. Finally, in 2007, she settled down and had a public commitment ceremony with the Grand Madame of Paris -- the Eiffel Tower. Everyone agrees the tower is beautiful. With its straight lines and sturdy steel it’s an architectural marvel. Although she loves the tower to this day, she now knows that the ceremony was her attempt to have an at least somewhat accepted, mainstream objectum sexual relationship. It didn’t feel quite right. So just like I moved on from my eerily beautiful, learned and sophisticated ex-boyfriend to be with someone I had loved for years, Erika packed her bags and moved to Berlin to be with her Mauer.

           

There’s nobody I would rather talk to about true cojones than Erika. Here’s to the inanimate and animate, people’s sometimes not-so-comically low threshold for things they don’t know or understand, and of course, that nagging little bugger called love:

So let’s start with the question that is probably on everyone’s mind right now. How on earth did you get into Japanese sword fighting? You’re a jet-flying, bow-slinging ninja!

My interest in the Japanese sword started when I was a kid when my older brother brought one home from his time in Japan.  Of course he told me not to touch it but he conveniently left the sword on the table and left.  So of course, what did I do?  I pulled the sword from its sheath and admired the slender blade with a slight curve.  Something was implanted at that moment and years later I started studying the art of Iai-do.

In an unfortunate incident in the military, my practice sword ended up protecting me from an assailant who attacked me in the middle of the night while sleeping.  Though traumatized by the assault I felt a burning desire to honor the object that saved my life. This adversity birthed a new life for me in Japan. 

 Do you have connections with all the objects in your life?

Yes, I do have energetic relationships. They serve a purpose and I appreciate that. I had a film crew here and they scratched the hell out of my desk. They said they’d pay for it, but that’s not the point. People don’t appreciate and respect objects. Berlin is full of destructiveness. People go out and destroy stuff just for the sake of destroying it. They protest against Stuttgart 21, or their squat is being cleared out, etc. Then they think it’s okay to come out and destroy things in the name of their cause, which is typically against the destruction of something in the first place. 

Okay, let’s get to it. When did you first realize that you were objectum sexual?

Well, I always knew. I used to hate manufactured toys so I built my own. For example, I found these two small planks of wood that I really connected to. So I nailed them together and took them with me wherever I went. To school, to bed, to play dates…everywhere. Of course, people thought it was cute then. 

Lots of kids have strong relationships to objects. Just watch them play with their stuffed animals. Jean Piaget even said that we are all born animists. We have to unlearn the connection we have with objects.

I agree with that, and it felt very natural as a kid. It just never changed for me. It’s only when I hit puberty that I realized the feelings my friends were developing for other people were the same feelings I had for objects. That’s when I noticed I was different. I was in love with a steel bridge in my hometown at the time.

How did you eventually come out?

Coming out publicly was kind of a disaster. There were certain pieces of media that really misrepresented what OS is about. The coverage was highly sexualized. Now people think that all OS people have no regard for decency, that we’re all severely traumatized or that they have to worry about us humping their garden fence or something. They kept comparing our sexuality to human sexuality. Yes, I may be intimate with my object, but not in the same way you might be. I mean, hello, a wall and a woman? The mechanics are not the same. What’s intimate for me is not necessarily intimate for you. It’s most likely completely innocuous to other people. How the media just pounced on that, well, they have got to be closet-something.

Closet f-ed up maybe. I have no interest in your sex life.


Uh, well, I am relieved. Interviewers are usually really pushy about sex. So I am like ‘Tell me how you have sex with your significant other. Can you give me a rundown? I know you have sex with your wife. But how?’ The reason people ask me this question is because they don’t allot me any worth. Because OS is so outside of mainstream.  To them I am just a freak. I want OS to be known enough so that they realize that it’s not okay to cross that line of questioning.

Objectum sexuality – yes it has the word sexuality in it. It implies the orientation not the act. There are lots of people who call themselves heterosexual. That doesn’t mean they are sexual. It’s an inclination. It’s the word ‘sexuality’ and the stigma that’s attached to it. People have said, ‘Why don’t you change it to objectum sensuality?’ But that’s not true either. We are an orientation, and I will fight for that.

We don’t need to justify who we are because we are not hurting anyone. It’s irritating.

But there must have been some good media coverage, too.

Yes, there have been many good experiences like Tyra Banks Show for example.

Yeah, I saw that online. You looked foxy.

I got an America’s Top Model makeover for a reason. They basically wanted people to see that I wouldn’t have trouble finding a man if I wanted to.

And you wouldn’t, obviously.

Nope.

I also think it’s fascinating how many people couldn’t really tell you what love is, but they feel free to judge you.

Absolutely!  I am often judged against people’s own idea of what happiness is. They have their orientation and say, ‘I’m a man, there’s a woman, there are going to be kids and a home.’ That’s their life and they are genuinely happy. Then they look at me and think there is no way I can be happy because they are trying to define my happiness by what makes them happy. I don’t really think they mean to be nasty, they feel sorry for me because they think I must be miserable. They simply can’t fathom my happiness.

Worse yet, I’ve gotten criticism from people who I would never trade spaces with even with a pill that could make me human-sexual. I’ve got a lot of complexity loving a public object, but I still wouldn’t trade with what some other people are going through. They’re not really happy, they’re struggling, and then they preach to me.           

Tell me about how you and the Berliner Mauer fell in love.

The Wall was always in the back of my mind. I always had feelings for him, but I felt ashamed. I’m a Cold War kid, you know? When I came out with my love for the Wall back in the 80s, I was harshly criticized for it. Called a Commie and all that stuff. So I had to hide it. I collected this stuff on the Wall and had to hide it under my ceiling. It was very hard. So I never let myself fall in love with him. Because of that, and a few other reasons I won’t get into, I really pushed myself into other relationships.

Like the Eiffel Tower?

Yes, I thought it was really important for me to pull away from the Wall, tie the knot and settle down. Especially since I’m out and 100% in acceptance of my identity.  But when I had the ceremony with the Tower, I realized that I was not being entirely faithful to myself. I’ll always love my Bridges – which the Tower represents – but I was pushing it too hard. So I finally broke down and I had to admit that I love the Berlin Wall. And where do I live now? In Berlin, not Paris.

How does that affect your relationship with the Eiffel Tower?

Well, it’s been difficult. Not because I live in Berlin – there was always an understanding of an open relationship. But it’s more because of the media. How they portrayed me, how they portrayed us. They exploited both of us. And we didn’t really recover from that. It eats away at you. Indeed it is easier to love a beautiful object like the Eiffel Tower and take less criticism, but I don’t care what other people think. This is not about what’s beautiful. It’s about what’s beautiful inside of my heart. The Wall is the one I love. I am Frau Berliner Mauer.

Well, that’s quite a love story.

It’s a strange love story…  but the point is…  It is still a love story.

It’s also archetypal in a way. You have to grow to be with the one you’re meant to be with. We have to make sacrifices.

Yes, I gave up a really good life I had in California when I came out here. I really felt that I had to be here for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. I gave everything up to be here. It was extremely emotional to be in this crowd of people celebrating his fall. I wanted to be there and let him know that there is one person in the crowd who understands him. I don’t see him as a political object, I see him as an object that was severely misplaced in the world.

What is it like loving a public object that is so hated?

I think when it comes to your partner, they will always have a history. It may not be the history we would have written for that person, but you have to accept it.

Sounds like something many of us struggle with in our relationships.

They always say that relationships are about ‘give and take’, and I think ‘take’ sounds so selfish. It’s sort of more like ‘give and accept’. You have to give and accept what there is. The thing is, the Berlin Wall is not a great looking object. But I look at the Wall and his scars and they are beautiful to me. I think people need to go a little deeper than just aesthetics. They put too much weight on it – not just on physical aesthetics, but mental aesthetics, too.

The Berlin Wall is definitely an easy target for criticism.

Yes, I listen to people tell their horror stories of the Wall and respect it, but it’s hard to hear these things about the one you love. But that ties into the aesthetic. I realize that other people don’t love the Wall and I have to respect their hatred toward him. It’s hard to do and sometimes I can’t do it. Recently I was at seminar about the Wall. There was a gentlemen sitting in front of me crying because of what people were saying about their very painful experiences in relationship to the Wall. It’s not easy to hear. I don’t want to run out and brag, but I will never deny him…

Can you define the love you have for the Wall?

I don’t really know if our words can capture it. I’m in love with an object that doesn’t speak. To communicate with something that doesn’t speak verbally – well, people adapt. Say you’re born deaf. You learn how to communicate. Your abilities are restricted, but you find a way and method of communicating. I don’t really know. I guess part of the reason why it’s so hard to explain how I feel is because I never articulate it.

Also, I could see how the relationship with my bow helped me become world champion. I can see how we had a future together. Same with my sword and the F-15. But then I thought, where’s the future with the Wall? The Wall and I have a quiet love. We don’t go for gold medals together. I’m struggling to explain how I’m feeling.

There is no way to explain such a thing.

No, there isn’t. All I know is that I don’t want it to end. And people say, ‘You’re the one who decides if it ends.’ And I’m like, ‘No!’ I mean, let me put it this way, I can’t prove quantum physics. I can’t say, ‘Look at the Wall, see how it’s moving.’ But there is movement. There is energy in the whole. I feel it, I know it. And people just have to trust me that I’m getting feedback. The only proof I have of any of this is how these relationships have changed me, what kind of person they made me become. I do a lot of things with temperature and energy transfer. You can’t see that. Well, you pray to a God and you don’t see him, but you know that he’s answering your prayers. If you have that much conviction that God exists, you have to trust me that it I have that conviction as well. I know that it’s real. I feel that something so beautiful has to be real.

You said that it isn’t entirely up to you if this relationship ends. How could the Wall leave you?

He’s disappearing – physically and psychologically. People are forgetting about him. I don’t love him for his political purpose, but I don’t think he should be forgotten for it. People need to respect objects and not build objects and subject them to things that are hurtful to everyone around. The Wall was brought into this world and hated for it. I know personally what that is like, that kinship is very strong between us. I think people are going to forget and build another one. Walls have a purpose but they can be exploited, too. I don’t want to see another wall be born into this world just to be hated…like Israel’s Apartheid Wall. Objects have rights.

Can you tell me more about how you experience reciprocity in your relationship?

A few years ago I was running around Rudow, training for a marathon, when I suddenly stopped. That’s really not good, you know, when you’re into your 17th kilometer or so, but I stopped because I had this strange feeling. So I looked behind this fence and I actually found a piece of the Wall. I took it home, of course. Four years later I’m running through the same area and I get this strange feeling again. I knew what it meant, so I went looking for the piece. It was strange that there’d be anything left of the Wall because they’d built an Autobahn there and a couple of high rises, and basically cleared out the area. But I found a piece. A couple of months later, I’m just sitting around thinking, when out of nowhere, I get this idea. I walk over to the two pieces I had found – four years apart mind you – and move them together. They are a perfect match.

That does give me the chills. Makes me think that this is the sort of connection many people strive towards in their relationships. Sounds very pure in a way.

Well, this is me. This is who I have been my entire life. And this is the first time in my life that I have the chance to live and love out loud. People have no idea how important that really is. Loving the Wall is freedom to me.


Text: Jennifer Hofmann | Photography: Anastasia Loginova

 

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