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.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

"The feckers" - The story of the Berlin Wall

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not that it fell at all. There were hammers and diggers involved.
The news is full of it at the moment and people are getting nostalgic for the elation caused by the destruction of this symbol of Cold War divide.
The young lad hadn’t even heard of the Berlin Wall so he was asking me when he heard your man on the radio talking about Mauerfall last Wednesday. He actually started laughing, thinking that your man was saying Mauerpark wrongly. We go to Mauerpark quite a bit.
So I told him all about it, that there used to be a huge wall going right through the middle of Berlin, preventing people from going where they wanted to go. It was right beside our last house, meaning we wouldn’t have been able to cross the bridge up by Lidl.
I told him about the people guarding it too, that there were feckers there who’d even shoot people for trying to cross over.
But then, 25 years ago, thousands and thousands of people had enough, enough of this wall disrupting their lives and preventing them going where they wanted to go, and they all screamed and shouted and pushed and pulled and they got their hammers and knocked down the damn wall.
Naturally he was very impressed. This was all mad shit to be hearing about for the first time.
I told him this was all a long time ago, when Jenny was still a kid in school and when I was kid in Ireland, also in school.
Then I asked him if he wanted to see it, and of course he did, so we hopped in the Trabi and crossed the border (like all those people years ago) to go down to the bits of the Wall remaining at Bernauer Straße.
He was apprehensive when we got there first, didn’t want to get out of the car.
“The feckers…” he said, before I reassured him they were long, long gone.
He later asked what happened to them. I told him most probably ended up in the Polizei and some must have died in the meantime. All this shit happened a long, long time ago, when he was but a twinkle in my eye. (And his mother’s eye too, of course.)
I brought him right up to the Wall, showed him how tall it was, asked him if he’d be able to climb it.
“No,” he said.
“Me neither,” I told him, so he didn’t feel too bad about it.
I showed him the watchtower, told him the feckers used to stand on that and shoot anyone they saw trying to cross. He nodded solemnly.
He wanted to know why the Wall was still there if everyone went at it with their hammers.
“They left this bit for you, so you could see it,” I said. It’s true.
Well, he loved it, especially the video footage of them blowing up the Versöhnungskirche. He wanted to see that again and again.
Then he wanted to see more videos, so I brought him over to the Gedenkstätte building across the road. On our way I spotted Nordbahnhof, told him that was all closed up while the Wall was there, that all the entrances were bricked up and blocked.
“Everything was feckin’ blocked,” he said, before pointing up Gartenstraße, then the other way. “That way was blocked, that way. That way was blocked. Everything was blocked. The feckers.”
And with that, he told me the story of the Berlin Wall.