Herman: Readers solve the BERNDRENIK mystery


In last Sunday’s “What Is That?” column I asked for help on figuring out the meaning of BERNDRENIK, a word on the water intake portion of the old Seaholm Power Plant on Lady Bird Lake.

You’ll recall that Austinite Waneen Spirduso inquired about the mysterious word prominently, and probably illegally, painted on the lake side of the building.

I heard from lots of people with lots of ideas. Some of you are doing your part to keep Austin weird. Others of you are just weird. You know who you are.

We’ll get to what looks like the real answer in a few inches. First, some other suggested possible “answers,” starting with a sports-related one from former longtime American-Statesman sportswriter Mark Rosner.

“As a native New Yorker, you should know that Berndrenik is the guy who nearly killed Frank Gifford with that brutal tackle,” Rosner told me in a reference to a somewhat famous 1960 NFL incident involving New York Giant Gifford and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik.

Thanks, Ros, for almost being helpful. We miss you around the newsroom. Sometimes.

Reader Sunshine Williams told me she thinks Berndrenik is a “Danish translation of ‘Drink, damn it!’”

Dick Wilson offered three ideas, starting with “it could simply be a Slovenian’s name.” Thanks, but there are no simple Slovenian names. And then Wilson suggested it’s “more than likely a reference to Matt Drenik, the hirsute former front man of Austin band ‘The Lions’ and current front man of Oregon band ‘Battleme’ and/or his appearance, nickname and proclivity for stuffed bears.”

Is that Austin weird enough for you?

Still with time on his hands, Wilson send a third email suggesting it’s somehow a reference to Gary Drenik, CEO of Prosper and “a proponent of Little Data in its competition for world domination with Big Data.”

“That is a stretch though,” Wilson concluded, probably conclusively.

David Diehl submitted what he called “wild speculation.”

“Bern is a city in Switzerland where the primary language is German. The remaining letters, when rearranged as kinder, spells the word for child in German,” Diehl speculated wildly. “Perhaps the artist lived in Bern as a child. Also, like Austin, Bern is built on hills with a river running through it. Just coincidence?”

Yes, that would quality as wild speculation. Ditto for Kevin Manzke’s romantic, though preposterous, input.

“I’ve always thought that is a declaration of love,” Manzke fantasized. “Some guy with the nickname of ‘Renik’ is in love with a girl named Brenda.”

“Furthermore, I think Renik is involved with rowing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. He has gone by the intake structure dozens of times before he finally realized it would be a great location to publicly declare his love for Brenda,” Manzke wrote.

But Brenda grew tired of Renik’s unwelcome advances and got a restraining order against him. (I made up that part.)

Longtime journalism instructor Jack Harkrider came to my aid with this input: “Drenik is a small settlement in the Municipality of Skofijica in central Slovenia. It lies in the hills east of Pijava Gorcia. The entire municipality is part of the traditional region of Lower Carniola and is now included in the Central Slovenia statistical region. Bern possibly was a visiting graffiti artist from Drenik who visited Austin.”

Yeah, possibly. Thanks, Jack, for the attempted help.

The truth came from several readers, including Gregg Paul, Stephen Buntrock, Arlo Gilbert, Michael Moore and Susan Trauterman (my apologies if I left anybody out). Looks like Bernd Renik is a graffiti artist whose work is on buildings, rail cars and other targets around the country. The web displays several examples of it.

That’s kind of what I figured, though the other suggestions are more fun. Because I’m not sure we should be encouraging graffiti on public property, I really don’t want to know or report additional details about the creators of this work.

Thanks to all who helped. Each of you has earned the official “What Is That?” T-shirt.

And if there ever is such a thing each of you’ll get one.


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