Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Karlsruhe and the German GP

There are no Spätis in Karlsruhe. Maybe that’s all anyone needs to know…
There isn’t even a Kiosk, as Spätis are known in some less fortunate places. There’s an Alkoholverbot in Baden-Württemberg forbidding Spätis, Kiosks, petrol stations and their ilk from selling alcohol anywhere in the state after 10 p.m.
Strange then that I managed to see more pissed people in my short time in Karlsruhe than you’d see in a month in Berlin. There was a gang of wannabe punks that sat in the courtyard between the train station and the flamingos and of course the erratic dude I mentioned in the previous post.
Admittedly, I didn’t see much of Karlsruhe but the little I saw was enough to convince me the place is dull as fuck. The architecture is very nice and the buildings are pretty but dull, as, fuck. I know “ruhe” is in the name but still…
I was in town to cover the German Grand Prix in nearby Hockenheim. It went on for four days between practicing, qualifying and then actually racing the damn things. Thankfully there were a couple of crashes to liven that up.
Porsche treated me to lunch one day. Very nice. Some fancy shit I’d never eaten or even heard of before. Of course I had to eat it quickly. Apparently I could have eaten at Ferrari every day. But I only learned that on the last day.
There were a lot of fat people around. I guess that’s what happens when your idea of sport is watching cars going around in circles. But only the men were fat. The women were all supermodels. Standards only apply halfway across the board in Formula One.
I didn’t bother going back to Karlsruhe when it was all over, got the train instead to Mannheim, which seems to have its own Fernsehturm imposter. Inferior of course. That’s all I can tell you about Mannheim.
The train that took me back to Berlin was quicker than anything I’d seen over the few days. It shot back at frightening speeds. Even then, it wasn’t fast enough.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

An evening in Karlsruhe

This evening in Karlsruhe, I went back to the courtyard with the duck-pond and the flamingos on the way to the Späti that isn’t a Späti.
It turns out the flamingos are in the zoo, but still. It’s all laid out like a park in front of the pond. The zoo’s almost embarrassingly easy to break into.
I sat down beside the pond, cracked open a beer and looked around. Mostly well to do types, though a few delinquents on a bench yonder were getting rowdy.
Some dude came along with a bottle of beer, went straight for the pond, stood in it with his boots and all on and started scooping the water into his mouth with the bottle. He kept doing it, loads of times, and his beady eye caught mine as he kept scooping. I looked away, figured the poor guy must be thirsty. But of course I looked back.
He took his already sodden boots and socks off, and started doing circuits around the perimeter of the pond. He rolled up the bottom of his tracksuit bottoms initially but they got wet and the weight of the water started dragging them down.
By the time his arse was showing he dived flat on his face into the pond, right in front of couple of respectable looking oul wans.
“Na, toll,” one of them said, disdain oozing from her every pore. They looked at him in disgust, then resumed chatting.
The dude went to where he’d been before, sat down on the ledge with his feet in the water and put his head in his hands. He looked thoroughly miserable, worryingly so.
My neighbor on the ledge, a guy with a large rucksack who was presumably waiting for a train to bring him somewhere better, got his stuff ready to go, then started looking at your man, who was still there, head in his hands.
The neighbor talked to him, and it seemed a normal conversation. They both laughed. Then the neighbor got his wallet out and gave the dude a note. Dunno how much it was, it doesn’t matter.
The dude was overcome, thanked the guy profusely, they both shook hands, punched shoulders, and the guy with the rucksack left.
The dude was alone again. He sat down again, contemplated what to do next. Sit-ups. He lay down on his back in the pond, clothes on and started doing sit-ups.
Some fat people came along and laughed at him. They sat down, continued munching.
There was nothing left for your man to do but parade around in his jocks, just in front of the fancy restaurant next door. The diners tried their best to ignore him, but the staff could no longer ignore him when he sat at a table and perused the undoubtedly overpriced menu.
As I was leaving, he’d returned to his place by the pond, put his trousers back on, and sirens could be heard approaching. Normal order had been resumed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The best and worst of the World Cup

The best thing about the World Cup for me was watching it with the young fella sitting on my knee. We watched a couple of games and they were always the exciting ones. I think Brazil v. Chile was one of the highlights of his life – first the Chilean guy hitting the crossbar in the last minute, then the drama of penalties. Jaysus, he loved it!
Every time there’s a goal he’ll celebrate, regardless of which side scores, South American style. “Gooooooooooooooooolllll!! Gol! Gol! Gol!” So he gets pretty excited for penalties.He was very impressed with Messi too. At first he didn’t believe that was his name. “Messy? Messy?!” But after he’d watched a bit of him and heard the commentator call him that too he figured, what the hell, that must be the guy’s name.
Jenny visited one evening and he was telling her how nobody can get the ball off Messi and how he’d scored two goals. “Two goals!” He was incredulous. I guess he’d never heard of anyone scoring two goals before.
Despite his allegiance to Messi he was still sorry for Switzerland when they went out: ”The red ones didn’t get a goal. The poor red ones.”
Yeah, it was great watching the World Cup with him. He said he’ll play in it when he’s bigger.
The worst thing was seeing nationalism raising its ugly head with Germany’s win. The ‘Schland crowds at Brandenburger Tor for the final and again for the trophy presentation (I had to be there for both for work*) were bad enough, though relatively harmless.
But I heard tales of Nazis celebrating with “Sieg Heil!” and giving salutes (on Eberswalder Straße in Prenzlauer Berg). One friend, a Germany fan and football nut, was hassled by Nazis upon leaving his house after the final, presumably because he wasn’t draped in a German flag or tattooed with swastikas.
You could also buy “Endsieg” t-shirts featuring Nazi imagery on Amazon for a short while until they got enough complaints.
Germany mightn’t like to admit it, and I think visitors are blissfully unaware of it, but the country has a far-right problem, one whose advocates are finding football to be a fertile breeding ground.
Most people don’t believe it or simply don’t want to know. They bury their heads in the sand and hope it will go away. Many are already closet Nazis with far-right sympathies. Some write for newspapers – big-selling newspapers too.
I asked the young fella what color he’d be playing in at the World Cup. Imagine my horror when he replied, “White.”
“White?! But what about Ireland? Ireland play in green!”
He corrected himself straight away.**

*I wrote this on my way home but it didn’t make it into my report. Still, I think it provides an accurate description of the celebrations in Berlin.
“Hundreds of fans gathered around the Eberswalder Strasse metro station, blocking the Schoenhauser Allee avenue, drinking, singing raucously, shouting and setting off fireworks at 2 a.m. local time. The ground was littered with broken glass and the strong waft of marijuana could be smelled in the air. Riot police watched closely from nearby but didn’t intervene.
“Other revelers were staggering away in search of the next party.”

**This conversation did happen, but I should point out that of course it’s up to him to do whatever he wants to do. As long as he doesn’t actually become a Nazi I’ll be fine with it.

I’ve no pictures to add to this post yet because I’m away, but I’ll update with pictures of the first football match he went to a couple of weeks before the World Cup – the Berliner Pokalfinale. Another momentous occasion.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Oslo II (or III)

This time I was prepared. I didn’t hand over any more than 88 NOK for a beer. (Still €10.57!!!) It was a “large” beer though it was gone in a couple of gulps. I tried to make it last but to no avail. Admittedly it was delicious but I didn’t get another. I went back to the hotel. Sleep is free in Oslo.
There was free champagne at the “Strawberry Party” I had to go to at Oslo City Hall. That was good. There was free grub too. I stuffed as much of it into me as I could. Typical journalist. But it was good shit! These hobnobs know how to treat themselves. I had to desist from the champagne until I was finished work and by then the novelty had worn off. I had a glass and left. I reckon the only way survival is possible in Oslo is by getting invited to parties or events where drink and food are provided. Otherwise you need to lick the pavements for sustenance.
I hired a bike and cycled around as much as I could. Tove, a native, very kindly gave me loads of tips and brought me to the cemetery to meet all the interesting locals. The most interesting people in any city are invariably dead, occupying graveyards. They’re interesting for the stuff they did before they died of course. Now they just rest on their laurels.
And in this way I met Henrik Ibsen, Johan Sverdrup, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Henrik Wergeland, Christian Krohg and of course Edvard Munch, among many others…
They weren’t very chatty but Tove told me their stories and why their deeds warranted their honor of burial among the rest of Norway’s finest.
I worked the rest of the time, looking at fit people trying to run faster, jump higher, leap further, and fling a spear longer for a greater distance than anyone else ever before. These athletes are mad. They could be sitting in a pub. There was food at the athletics meet so I can’t complain. It kept me alive a little longer.
Oslo would be quite a cool little city if its prices weren’t exorbitant and despite its lack of abandoned or derelict buildings. It’s got plenty of candlelit and cozy little café bars – like Berlin only ten times the price. I don’t know how any of them had any customers. I gazed in at them in wonder with my face pressed against the glass. Then I left. Sleep is free in Oslo.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bielefeld doesn’t exist

Bielefeld was so crap this time that I didn’t take any photos of it. I don’t need to insult anyone’s eyes.
I seem to remember my last time was alright, perhaps even enjoyable, so maybe my hopes were too high this time around – I thought it might be passable. I was sorely disappointed. It’s bloody expensive for a start – €3.90 for döner, €4.40 for a durum döner. I forked out for the latter and it was disgusting. A rabid dog on the verge of starvation wouldn’t have eaten it. I did, so I don’t know what that says about me…
Saturday night in the center and the streets were either empty or taken up by boy racers tearing around, their intelligence inversely proportional to the noise they could make.
Thankfully there are Spätis in Bielefeld. I got beer and went back to the hotel room. Sleep brought relief.
Some people say Bielefeld doesn’t exist. It might be wishful thinking. But if you say it enough times it might be true. Bielefeld doesn’t exist. Bielefeld doesn’t exist…

I did take a pic after all, of the station as I was leaving. The other is from nearby Halle, where I had to go for work.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Wieder Wohnungssuch

Here we go again. I’m back on the Wohnungssuch and I need to find a place by the end of July, or August at the latest.
The girl I’m renting this place from needs it back. She’s coming back from Madrid a year earlier than planned. She’s been very nice about it all and of course I can’t blame her – we both knew what we were getting into when I took the place in the first instance. I was only a guest.
The best option for me would be to get a place with a proper contract, not sublet again, but the prices have been going through the roof. They were already through the roof when I was looking last year. They’re well above the roof now. Berlin’s property speculators have a lot to answer for. It’s a feeding frenzy out there now…So I’ll probably end up subletting again and going through the same rigmarole all over again in a year’s time. It’s a pain in the arse. Of course, I’m presuming I’ll get a place this time around and that I won’t spend the Berlin winter squatting in one of its abandoned buildings. At least there are enough of them.
She told me nearly a month ago but I’ve been so discouraged/busy that I haven’t been able or willing to face up to it. I’ve cast enough glances at the internet to ascertain I won’t find an apartment there.
But fuck it, I’d better start looking. I still dream of that Fernsehturmblick. If you hear of anything let me know.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tempelhofer Freiheit

I cycled to Tempelhof earlier. I was so pissed off I wasn’t allowed vote on its future and I decided I’d better go and make the most of it before I no longer could.
Jaysus, it was glorious. I had an abandoned airplane to my back as I sat against the fence and let the sun’s warm rays caress my face. Birds were chattering, chirping, twittering as I sipped my beer and surveyed the expanse around me. There was just grass, grass and trees, and far way – almost too far to see – I could see the edge, the horizon, where people were cycling, rollerblading, flying kites and generally just mucking about.
That’s where the fuckers want to build their luxury apartments and “affordable” housing that nobody can afford. Anyway, I’ll come back to that…
I cracked open another beer and kept looking around. Every so often a passer-by would amble past, or a cyclist would rummage by softly. Bees buzzed and the birds kept chirping. It was perfect.
I thought to myself, “Tempelhof, don’t ever change.”
Tonight it was confirmed that 64.3% of my fellow Berliners – the ones allowed to vote – thought the same, and that 59.2% of them rejected the greedy politicians’ plans to build around the edges of Tempelhof for their developer friends.
Tempelhof is saved! Tempelhofer Freiheit ensured. Berlin, you’ve done me proud.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Toilet training a human

I’m at the fucking end of my patience. Three shites yesterday, four the day before, three already today, and it’s not even six o’clock.
When I picked him up from the Kita I was presented with the customary bag of shit-encrusted clothes, the customary embarrassed apology, the customary shrug and shaking of the head.
Nobody knows what to do. I’m at a loss, they’re at a loss, Jenny’s at a loss.
The only one who doesn’t give a shit is the young fella, who proves it all the time by producing them.
I told him today when I picked him up to tell me if he needed to do another, that I had a nappy in the bag and could whip it on if necessary. He assured me he would. Fifteen minutes later he’d done another.
It’s not like he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. He’s happy enough, even proud, to pee in the toilet or on a tree. But he has a block when it comes to shite. He refuses point blank to shit in a toilet or in a potty.
Instead we’d reached the compromise agreement where he’d say he needed a nappy. That was fine until he’d have the nappy on for an hour while we’re waiting for the anticipated shite to come. In the meantime he’s playing, fucking around – not giving a shite.
Lately he only shits in his jocks. He seems to making a point of it, going out of his way to shit as often as possible to ram his point home.
The whole thing has been going on since December, if not earlier, when it was decided the time for nappies was vorbei. Apparently it’s not good to pressure the kid in situations like this. Some kids are quicker than others and you keep being told, “He’ll do it when he’s good and ready.”
Well, fuck it, I’ve waited long enough. I’ve enough of scraping shite off jocks into toilets, enough of scrubbing the things clean. It’s around six months now with no end – bar his own red one – in sight.
Lately I’ve been getting him to clean his own jocks and clothes as much as he can, get him to do as much of the dirty work as possible. As I type he’s scrubbing his jocks from today. It’s a beautiful day. We were supposed to be out looking at the goats in Schönholzer Heide.
I don’t know what else to do. He seems oblivious to it all. At least the washing machine is working again.

No pictures will accompany this post.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Xabi the Trabi

I was startin’ to think splashing out on a 1973 banger wasn’t such a good idea. I couldn’t get the damn thing started for over a week and I was already getting parking fines because I couldn’t move it.
I’d only barely managed to get it home from Mitte. I drove the whole way without ever finding first gear. The gearstick is up by the steering wheel. I’d no idea what I was doing. I spent the whole journey terrified it would conk out, as it threatened to do on numerous occasions, particularly when going over tramlines. But I got it home. And then couldn’t move it.
In the end I had to join the ADAC and get them to sort it out. “I’d like to join. By the way, my car’s fucked. Can you come and fix it?”
They were incredibly friendly and sent someone around within an hour. He changed the spark plugs und viola! It roared to life, sending great clouds of black smoke on top of the unfortunate cyclists cycling by.
I was terrified it would conk out again but I drove it around the block. Then I turned it off, tried to start it with your man still there. It worked! It even worked the next day when he wasn’t there!
It started again this evening after it had been left for two days so I’m hopeful that I have the hang of it now. We’ll see how it reacts in winter but that’s a long way away now…
And I know where first gear is now. That’s always a good start.
I’ve named it Xabi. Xabi the Trabi. The young fella loves it. Jaysus, he loves it...
“More spins! I want loads of spins!”
He wanted to spin over to Lidl across the road. The car is parked beside Lidl across the road.
I think he likes the noise, the smell of petrol, the feeling you’re in a car, or at least something trying to be a car. It roars along, at a snail’s pace, but it roars along nonetheless.
There’s no fuel gauge. You have to have a rough idea of how far you’ve travelled and how much fuel you’ve used. Then, when you’re filling her up, you can’t be using any of this unleaded shite – it has to be the proper traditional petrol – and you need to manually mix in two-stroke oil yourself. Apparently the ratio is 1:50, whatever that means. I guess I’ll learn.
Peter, the fella I bought it off, seems a cool dude. He knocked a good bit off the price and gave me an original old DDR flag as a present. “Frisch gewaschen,” he told me. I’d told him I was interested in the history and all that.
He pointed at the fire extinguisher to the left beside by feet when I was giving it a testdrive. “Kaputt,” he said. The handbrake is also kaputt.
There are cables running across the floor from the boot, where a 12V battery should be, for the CD player on the dash. Peter seemed more keen to show me the CD player and the speakers at the back than the actual car itself. There may be a Rammstein CD stuck in the CD player. Peter is a bit of a metalhead. He’s also selling five pythons in case anyone is interested…
So now I’ll be driving around in a revered East German icon. Possibly the revered East German icon. The DDR didn’t have that many.
Peter gave me all the old paperwork, going back to when Herbert Krause of Uthmöden first bought the car in June 1973. Herr Krause was 50 at the time and he drove it until he was 89. He only died in the past year. He has a diary going back to 1973 in which he wrote and detailed everything he did to the car, in great detail. The entire mechanical history is there, in a notebook.
So I have an obligation to Herr Krause to look after his baby. I will. I hope it looks after me.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Ireland: Latest visit home

Ireland was a multitude of ladybirds, big bumble bees and something else I can no longer recall. So much has happened in the couple of weeks in between…
The young fella remembers better, no doubt. He had several cows (a whale) of a time. They were inquisitive cows, as always. They all gathered at the gates and gawked at us like they’d never seen people before. Maybe they’d never seen people like us. I need a haircut again.
But I’d never seen so many ladybirds and bumble bees. The ladybirds were ladybirding and the bees were beeing, as we all are.
They buzzed by like lawnmowers, buzzin’ around, looking for pollen to gather to put in their little pockets so they could bring it home to make into honey and put it into jars there. That was the young fella’s explanation and I saw no need to correct him.
We found the ball down by the river that we lost the last time, last Christmas. The tide and intervening storms brought it right back. I got a hurl and a new sliotar so we were able to whack that around too. Jaysus, he loves hurling.
I nearly lost him though. We went to the zoo and while I was queuing for tickets he decided to wander in by himself. I spent a half-hour, if not an hour, getting increasingly worried as I looked for him outside. I must have walked up and down the road outside the zoo a hundred times, then down through the grass, looking behind every tree in Phoenix Park. It’s a big fucking park. He was nowhere to be found.
You imagine the worst in situations like that. The ticket checker at the zoo entrance said he didn’t see any kids wander in by themselves. Your wan at the other entrance hadn’t noticed him either. Your man eventually stopped me as I was walking by for the umpteenth time, said there was a kid reported lost inside. He’d been in looking at the snow leopards.
He was grand – the young lad, not the ticket fella. He ran up to me when he saw me, gave me a hug. Then when I started giving out to him he burst into tears. I guess he must have been worried after all. I couldn’t give out to him anymore. Hopefully a lesson was learned. And we got into the zoo for free. Happy days.
We spent two nights up in the Wicklow mountains, where he spent the whole time telling me we were in Ireland. He was just happy to be there. We saw Gav, Delphine and Sid. That was great.
The rest of the planned meet-ups didn’t go so well. I found out my German phone doesn’t get all the text messages it’s sent, so plans to meet Jill and Tony, for example, floundered tragically. I’ll make sure to bring my Irish phone the next time.
But the rest of the time was spent catching up with the family and the aforementioned ladybirds and busy bees. Anyone else we only saw briefly. The whole trip was too brief, and exhausting. You need a holiday after a holiday like that.
Poor aul’ Moley stayed in Ireland. He liked it too much, or he was too tired to return.
“Will we go again in Ireland?” the young fella asked me today, and not for the first time since. I guess we have to go back. I just need to gather my strength back first…