Thursday, February 26, 2015

Operation Schnitzel

I’m on my way to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the mountains on the Austrian border. I was on my way to Leverkusen yesterday when I found out. I still went to Leverkusen. I thought I’d be going back to Berlin today. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.
But there’s skiing to be covered after I watched Leverkusen out-Atleti Atleti last night. It’s men’s skiing this time, which probably won’t be as glamorous as the women’s but I’m looking forward to it all the same – to the mountain hospitality in particular.
“The hotel has a decent kitchen and makes a good schnitzel,” the chief said as he gave me the assignment. “The bar can get rowdy on weekends when rosy cheeked damsels descend from the snowbound villages.”
I didn’t bring my camera unfortunately as I thought I’d just be going to Leverkusen for the night – there’s nothing to take pictures of in Leverkusen, it’s a fucking hole of a town – so I guess ye’ll have to make do with whatever my phone produces. It’s an old phone though and low on space so it’s probably best not to get too excited.
At least the extra nine hours on a train will give me plenty of time to prepare and catch up on correspondence – it’s allowed me write this blog post for a start. There are other developments developing that I hope to elaborate on soon enough. It concerns a book. But I’ll come back to that. Professional duty is calling now and I have my orders: “Last but not least, you will have to snap a photo of the biggest schnitzel you are eating and share it with (co-workers) and myself. It’s a tradition.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Prenzlauer Berg (slow)

Despite living in a place you’d be surprised how little you know about it. Most people walk the same paths, pass the same doorways, see the same people without every really giving thought for the stories behind them. They only get interested when they see something new.
Today I went on a tour of my neighborhood with Paul Sullivan of Slow Travel Berlin. It was great. We met up at the Kulturbrauerei, home to my publishers, and he brought our little group around and told us why Prenzlauer Berg was built the way it was with its wide streets and large doorways.
He told us of its breweries, why there were more in the area than you could shake a bottle at, of soldiers at the front being sent beer for nutrition, of Jews’ struggle for rights well before the Nazis took over, of the running battles between Nazis and Communists frequenting rival pubs on Danziger Straße.
We saw wartime bullet holes in walls and he told us of punks being harbored by churches, of opposition movements within the GDR, greedy landlords and gentrification, Käthe Kollwitz, windmills and the winds of change. The winds’re still blowing of course – there’s change afoot at Helmholtzplatz. He told us of Jewish kids playing today where bigots once committed atrocities against their ilk, exorcising demons with their freedom and innocence – their very existence.
In short, he gave us an insight into why Prenzlauer Berg is the way it is. It’s been home to struggles of one kind or another from day one. It’s a fascinating place, rich in stories, as is any place when you stop to listen to them. It’s always worth stopping once in a while.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


The young fella’s four. Four! I’m not sure if he’s a young fella anymore. He certainly acts like an oul’ fella and has done so for a long time…
But he has now made his way four times around the sun – some 3,784 million kilometers – since that day he finally emerged.
All he cares about are the presents and celebrations, but for the parents of course it’s a time to be proud. To be brutally honest though, I’m incredibly proud of him all the time, and a birthday doesn’t really change that in any way.
He’s a great laugh, smart, witty, kind in a selfish way. He’s the kind of kid you’d go for a pint with, though he seems to have inherited his mother’s aversion to beer. He doesn’t seem keen on wine either. It leaves me in the awkward position of having to drink for the two of us…
So my brain cells are gone. I can’t think of anything else to write. He wanted to go to a demo for his birthday, as well as the aquarium, national history museum, a balloon shop and a restaurant.
The demo had to be “walking” demo. None of this standing around shite. Apparently he was unimpressed with standing outside the French embassy for the Charlie Hebdo victims the week before.
In the end though we only managed the national history museum and the restaurant. He learned all about volcanoes, the planets and the universe (at the museum, not the restaurant). Later he drank a pineapple juice. It was good. He insisted I tried it too.
So we’ll just have to do the other stuff another day. Good thing he’s still a young fella. Happy birthday little man.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

We're all Charlie

“What’s going on?” the young fella asked. I tried to explain but it’s impossible to explain something that doesn’t make any sense.
Here are pictures from outside the French embassy tonight, where people were drawn by feelings of sorrow, outrage, solidarity, or for reasons they didn’t understand. Je suis Charlie. Tout le monde est Charlie.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas cancelled

Christmas was cancelled. Despite the tree (brought home in the back seat of the Trabi), a Christmas brack, presents, a bottle of brandy and two bottles of rum, it didn’t happen this year.
We’ll go home next year. It’ll be Christmas then.

UPDATE: Wednesday, December 31, 2014 – Turns out it was only postponed. Santa never came back to take back his presents so they were opened today.
“Santa’s a good man,” the young man affirmed. He was happy with his haul – a fire truck, Aer Lingus playset, dinosaur book, a couple of jigsaws and the world.
He wanted a map of the world; now he has a football-map he can kick around
Well, there’s no time for dallying. The next big event is the horizon. We have our stash of sparklers and fireworks to shoot at unsuspecting passers-by from the balcony.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Munichization of Berlin

A puncture forced me to walk home from work tonight, forced me to see all the shit I’d been oblivious to as I’d been whizzing by on the bike.
It was even worse than I feared it would be. Starting off along Reinhardtstraße, past the Friedrichstadt-Palast on Friedrichstraße, along Torstraße, up Kastanienallee, I saw what it had become – art galleries with more space than art, bright clean delis with more mark-up than food, and shiny shops with blinding lights filled with all manner of worthless designer shit that nobody needs.
I used to comfort myself with the thought all these places would soon be out of business but they’re not. They’re multiplying if anything. Someone must be buying the crap, eating in these places, paying for the wasteful space in which to throw their money away.
Humans roaming by on the pavements seemed oblivious to the affronts presenting themselves on each doorway. Maybe they even welcomed them. Well-heeled girls laughed as they breezed past in groups, dolled up for the Saturday night ahead. There was a time they didn’t bother.
Bottle collectors were scarce on the ground. I guess people would rather smash bottles than pass them on. Maybe they don’t drink from Spätis at all anymore, preferring instead to give all their money to the fancy bars.
There was one headbanger at the bank, sitting at the doorway looking for money talking to himself and jerking his head back and forth like a woodpecker, but he was the exception proving the rule.
Kastanienallee, aka “Casting Allee” due to the posers who hang out there, was devoid of headbangers, punks, deviants or personalities. Everyone I met looked the same – well dressed, comfortable, boring.
The beloved bear that used to adorn the side of a building beside U-Bhf Eberswalder Straße is gone, hidden behind some admittedly nice-looking but obviously fucking expensive apartments.
Spaces along the way are being filled in by more. I thought of the Bumerang and how that had been fucked over by gentrification, of Blu’s fellow artists destroying his murals in protest at what the city is becoming, and mourned the process of change, specifically the forces driving that change.
It’s not what it was, and nothing ever is no matter how much you want it to stay the same, but this race toward Munichization is not Berlin. It’s not Berlin.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Madrid: Strange days

Perhaps going to Madrid in December was not a good idea. There was nothing but deep blue clear skies, warm comforting sunshine and golden dreamlike colors. The whole thing was surreal.
Back in Berlin there were reports of lakes being frozen over, ducks walking on ice, hardship, misery and general down in the dumps shittiness…
But we had a grand time in Madrid, my original destination when I fled Ireland only to be seduced and ensnared by Berlin on my way there. Madrid knew, somehow, and taunted me with its wares for the past week while Berlin was at its weakest.
I won’t be home for Christmas so it was good to see the parents, good for the young fella to see them and for them to see him. Christmas doesn’t matter, but people do.
My dad broke the news he wrote a book when he was a younger, recently sent it off to a publisher’s, and they were to print it this week! So I look forward to reading that. I hope it’s good.
I brought him and the young fella to see Rayo. I think Rayo have two new fans. The young fella was complaining that night when I brought him to bed that he “only saw one football match. I want to see two football matches.”
I saw two, two defeats, but the manner in which they played made them victories. ¡Aupa Rayito! But yeah, Madrid was good to guests last week...
Fuck it, there are more important things than football. Madrid is going through a difficult time despite the weather. Weather doesn’t put food on the table, doesn’t pay the rent, doesn’t put clothes on your back.
People were sleeping on Plaza Mayor, the main square, Madrid’s Alexanderplatz, because they’d nowhere else to sleep. I’m sure they’re sleeping there now as I type this.
Every metro trip was interrupted by a man or woman’s tale of hardship. I don’t know how many people got on that train and poured their hearts out, how they’d lost their jobs, how were entitled to nothing from the state, how they were fucked and reduced to begging on the metro.
Others begged on the streets. You couldn’t get far down the path without someone asking for help. They all looked like they needed it too.
They were only outnumbered by the policía. They seemed to be on every corner, on every street. I’m not if the two things are related but it sure isn’t a healthy sign the place is infested with police.
The week before we arrived, an 85-year-old woman, Carmen Martínez, was thrown out of the apartment she had been living in for the previous 50 years. Her son owed money and couldn’t pay the debt.
Rayo stepped in to pay her rent in a new place but of course matters should never gotten so far.
At least the weather was good. The parrots were squawking appreciatively.
The first snow fell the day after we got back. The sun is already a distant memory…

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fighting for Berlin's green spaces

Last Friday loads of people from all corners of Berlin – all 47 of them – gathered in Wilmersdorf to highlight to plight of the city’s green spaces at the hands of evil developers and corrupt politicians.
The demo brought together various concerned groups, from those against the 650 apartments planned for northern Mauerpark (it was ‘only’ 530 when the developer presented his plans last year), to people objecting to the destruction of their Kleingärten (garden allotments) and green spaces at Lichterfelde-Süd, Oeynhausen, and Spandau-Hakenfelde, along with the Franz-Cornelsen-Weg Wiese in Schmargendorf and others.
In short, people were seriously pissed off that their voices as residents are not being listened to. Some 85,000 people, 77 percent of those eligible to vote, voted to keep the Oeynhausen gardens alone but the powers that be have turned a deaf ear.
Public enemy No. 1 for the residents is Klaus Groth, the developer who has his finger in most if not all of these projects, aided considerably – a little too considerately – by city development minister Michael Müller.
Groth has a shady past when it comes to his financial dealings and Müller is a shoo-in to be Berlin’s next mayor. He’ll be replacing Wowereit, who wasn’t exactly unkind to developers. It doesn’t bode well.
Well, the residents decided, “Fuck this, we’re not going to lie down and let this shit happen.”
Hundreds, young and old, turned up on Friday to give voice to their concerns with their presence, whistles, noisy things, flags, placards, angry chants and slogans, while various speakers gave them further voice by outlining eloquently just what exactly those concerns are.
“Wir haben die Nase voll!”
The full-nosed citizens stopped outside Müller’s office for a loud protest so he could hear their concerns too. The racket was incredible! Friday afternoon though. I’m sure he was already well into his weekend.
After that we walked up to Groth’s HQ, the Groth Gruppe building on Kurfürstendamm, stopping along the way at various points for more speeches and performances from The Pokes, a Berlin version of The Pogues.
Once we got to the HQ the noise levels increased again.
"We want trees, we want parks, we want green, not Groth! Green, not Groth. Green, not Groth…" And so on. People lit candles for the developer, the holy ones in the red containers that you get in churches.
“I wish you a long life and a quick retirement,” one of the speakers said earlier.
The speeches were largely along the same lines, of broken promises, lies, greed and corruption. I wish I’d brought my recorder. Some of them were really rousing and the crowd was getting more and more fired up.
They were fired up to begin with. Assets are being stripped from communities for the benefit of a select few. Luxury apartments in Mauerpark will benefit no one but the builders and backers.
“We don't want a Berlin in which investors get rich with politicians’ help at our expense,” said the woman who gave the last speech.
I’m happy that there are clearly many who feel the same way and who feel strongly enough about it to fight for it too. The fight continues.