Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trabitrip Ostsee

We went to Ostsee (the Baltic) for a couple of days. A Trabi trip! At first I wasn’t sure it would make it – the furthest we’d ever been was Wandlitz – but we got a battery for the CD player the day before so there was nothing holding us back anymore. Once you’ve tunes you can go anywhere, do anything – doesn’t matter if you break down, good tunes will get you through.
We just aimed north, didn’t matter where we were going as long as we got there.
The Trabi went and went and went and it was only when we were on Usedom, the closest bit of Baltic to Berlin, that it began to complain. There was something wrong, it was losing power. We stuttered on till I pulled in and had a look at the engine, no idea what I was looking for. I poked and prodded and poked some more. We drove on. It seemed to sort itself out and so we kept going.
The last time I drove to Usedom was with a girl. We were in love. It was kinda strange to be driving back again now with the result of that love. I ruffled his hair, told him he was a great fella, memories came back, strange feelings…
Eventually we got to Ahlbeck, the last town before Poland. I’d enough of driving at that stage. We found a place to stay and hit the beach. Then the storm hit the beach. We reluctantly hit the pub. Lightning struck and we were stuck. We consoled ourselves with beer and ice cream.
We were nearly blown off the pier after that but it was cool. Literally and figuratively. Apparently it’s the oldest “Seebrücke” in Germany. It was nice.
The next day we got up with high hopes for a miraculous turnaround in the weather. But the wind would still blow you away. We persevered as long as we could, built sandcastles, played football, flew a pig-kite (so there was a pig flying above Ahlbeck) but couldn’t bring ourselves to swim. It was just too damn cold, though the beach was lovely, soft fine golden sand sifting through your toes.
I wanted to check the FKK beach and complete the DDR holiday with a bit of naked bathing but alas, it was a choice between bathing my bits or keeping them. I kept them.
I asked the young fella if he wanted to go to Poland. He asked what they spoke.
“Polish. Do you speak Polish?” I answered.
“No. Do you?”
“It’s not a good idea then,” he said. So that was that.
We ate well, drank well, and found a rake of abandoned buildings including an abandoned hotel that I’ll write about later.
We didn’t even try the beach this morning. It was just as cold and windy as the days before. (It’s not for nothing that “Baltic” is a euphemism for “fucking freezing” in Ireland.)
By coincidence there was a Trabitreff at Anklam, near Usedom, while we were there. The place was full of Trabis, all flashing lights, waving hello as you drove past. The Trabi was never so happy to see so many of his friends.
One of them broke down going in the opposite direction, causing a tailback about five miles long. Drivers were out of their cars, pacing impatiently. Evidently they were there a while.
Our Trabi flew home! We clocked over 100km/h at times and overtook a Wartburg. I think I may have to expect a speeding fine too – something flashed as we zoomed past.
But the Trabi trip was a success. Now that I know it’s possible there’ll be more of them. A summer of FKK awaits…

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Funky Pádraigstag

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! I’ve 22 minutes to finish this post before it’s not St. Patrick’s Day anymore so I have to dash.
You’d think I’d loads of time to write it – this St. Patrick’s “Day” started last Wednesday on the Fernsehturm and is ending almost a week later with the launching pad playing no part whatsoever in the celebrations.
You broke my heart Fernsehturm, you really did. As we drove home from the Funktum in West Berlin I cast my eyes southward and there you were, barely lit at all, despondent, morose, mourning for your friends whose Olympic bid was shot down before it could end in certain disaster. You dodged a bullet, Berlin. You have to finish your airport before you get dessert.
There was a great last-minute push to get the Fernsehturm in green but diplomatic appeals, including my own, fell on two deaf ears. They belonged to the guy with the authority to literally give the green light – but he was having none of it, not from me, not from anybody. That’s all I can say. I don’t want to jeopardize the chances of a green Fernsehturm next year.
This year the Funkturm stepped in. The young fella and I were the only two there. Your wan at the tower looked at me like I’d four heads when I asked her what time it would be green, and some gruff oul’ security guard barked at us for being on private property as I was setting up the tripod. The young fella kept an eye out for him afterward and we still got our shots.
We met the guard again on the way out and I wished him a happy Sankt Patrickstag – he hadn’t even known. It didn’t occur to him to wonder why the fuckin Funkturm he was guarding was glowing radioactive green.
The parade was on Sunday, two days before the day itself, but it was a good laugh. St. Patrick himself chased a snake or was chased by a snake down Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg. The young fella assured me it wasn’t a real snake. To the accompaniment of uilleann pipes and a few hundred sympathizers, our hero chased the snake, or the snake chased him, down Wienerstraße beside Görlitzer Park and conveniently into a beer garden, where anyone who wanted to follow had to pay €5 admission. I think the snake and St. Patrick got in for free – I didn’t see them entering because we stopped off at a Späti as, I think, nearly everyone did along the way.
We met a great older couple sitting on a bench wearing funny hats and dressed up for the occasion. The woman was wearing Ireland socks.
“They’re Irish drinking socks,” she explained.
“But they smell like German socks,” her husband said. Apparently she had been his English teacher and they took a shine to each other.
They didn’t go to the beer garden. Many didn’t, turning off at the gates and going home or elsewhere. While the music in the beer garden was great, you could listen to it outside and avoid paying €4 for pissy Guinness or €5 for pissy stew. It was hard to tell which was which. The young fella spilled his pint of stew all over his jacket and trousers. He said dogs were sniffing him the next day.
The night ended in the appropriately named Gel Gör köfteci. The beer’s cheep, the köfte’s delicious and there are no pictures of Enda Kenny on the walls.
All in all, despite some misgivings, the “St. Patrick’s Festival” was a success – mostly because of the people involved. Forgive the burst of unseemly patriotism but the Irish are a great bunch of lads. Reunions are always fun. Especially when Irish drinking socks are involved.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

St. Patrick was angry but he's alright now

The Fernsehturm will not be green this St. Patrick’s Day because the crowd lobbying to have the Olympic Games in Berlin have coloring rights booked out until April at least, possibly May.
Right, that’s the tragic news out of the way. I have to admit, I was heartbroken when I heard it. It’s been green the last couple of years, brought tears to my eyes, but this year ain’t gonna happen. The Funkturm in West Berlin will be green instead.
I had a bit of a rant about it on Twitter but at least the Olympic people showed they've a sense of humor.
The news was broken at the launch for the St. Patrick’s festival, to which I was invited by the Irish embassy in Berlin. At first I thought it was a trap – my name was on the emailed invite, addressed to Abandoned Berlin – and if anyone were to attempt luring me anywhere, it would surely be to my beloved Fernsehturm.
I smelled a rat but thankfully no rats were there. Even they can’t climb that high. The guy operating the rocket-lift to the top told us that the Fernsehturm has actually grown in recent years. It used to be 365 meters – one for every day of the year – but they had to extend it by three for digital TV. It’s still a functioning TV tower after all.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the launch, or even why I was there, but was pleasantly surprised to find no one else really knew either. Everyone was very friendly, very nice, and everyone took full advantage of the free wine that was poured into your glass regardless of how much wine there was already in the glass.
I believe it’s called “networking” – you’d be talking to someone or pretending to listen, when suddenly they’d break off mid-sentence, excuse themselves with a flourished gesture that could mean anything at all, and go off to interrupt another group’s conversation.
The ambassador came over to talk to me, clearly expecting some sort of rapport, but I’d absolutely nothing to say. The only thing I could think of was “Jesus, your German is fucking terrible!” You'd think the ambassador to Germany of all people would have daecent German, but no, it’s awful. Anyway, I thought it better to hold my tongue. He looked at me expectantly, said some stuff he must say to everyone the first time he meets them, and promptly moved on before I could think of a reply. This networking is great.
I met some nice people and promised to meet them again. The fella who organizes the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Dara, is the type you’d gladly go for pints with. There was Adrian, who apparently owns every pub in Berlin and introduced everyone there to everyone else at least twice; a businessman with a big booming voice and big booming laugh, all winks and gestures; embassy staff among the friendliest people I’ve met in Berlin; and some (German) people whose minds were clearly blown by the whole experience.
There were also people there from Tourism Ireland with very nice goodie bags for everyone with sheep key-rings and small bottles of booze. We hate these clichés but we love them really, especially when we can drink them.
I’m going to the parade on Sunday. I know it’s not St. Patrick’s Day – that’s Tuesday – but my stance has softened after meeting the people involved. Nothing like free booze to soften a stance.
I think the first and second St. Patrick’s Day parades will never be topped – they just can’t be bettered – but that shouldn’t put the brakes on future fun. It’s a celebration of Ireland after all, a country we love from a safe distance even as one abuse or corruption scandal scars us with a deep sense of shame. No wonder we drink so much. This weekend, we’ve all the excuses we need.

Monday, March 09, 2015


I was in Norway earlier, further north than I’ve ever been in my life, to cover a skiing World Cup in Kvitfjell. That’s pronounced Kveet-fi-el, with the emphasis on the Kveet.
Jesus, it was spectacular, the landscape was amazing. Snow-dusted mountains covered in trees elbowing frozen lakes in deep never-ending valleys. The sun was glimmering on the ice, bouncing back up, illuminating the forest and the sheer ruggedness of it all. I don’t know if I’ve seen anywhere more impressive. It reminded me of Bolivia, the Montañas de Siete Colores, only wilder, less otherworldly.
The work was good fun, as it was the weekend before in the Bavarian Alps. I was looking at the same fellas again, only of course they were skiing down a different mountain. I knew nothing about any of them a little over a week ago; today I felt I knew them all.
I interviewed Kjetil Jansrud, the Norwegian fella, after he won the super-G World Cup title – twice because I forgot to hit record the first time – and I just thought to myself, fuck, this is a great job.
Transport was a bit hit and miss throughout the trip. I stayed in Lillehammer the first night, Hafjell the second, with no way of making it to Kvitfjell in time for the race. I started hitchhiking but promptly gave up, rang the organizers and they sent a driver.
He was great, an elderly gentleman with a wonderful voice who told me of fishing for cod on the west coast, of wood-cabin villages being burned down because of stray sparks, of salmon numbers dwindling and conservation efforts to reduce the trend, of moose being a danger for motorists when they come down from the mountains as the snow starts melting to eat at the younger trees. He told me of people getting into trouble for shooting wolves who had been attacking sheep, and of people being afraid of bears, who also attack sheep. Apparently they go for the female sheep and eat around the breast area, because it’s full of fat, before leaving the poor animal to bleed to death. They don’t bother with the rest. Nature can be cruel sometimes.
My chauffeur also told me of the land laws, that anyone has the right to go on any land, even if its private, to pick berries and so on. It should be the same everywhere.
The Norwegians seem a very open bunch. They talk and talk, but it all has meaning – they don’t talk shite. They seem quite warmhearted in some ways, cold in others – they won’t get out of your way if you’re trying to get past.
But at every train station there are people waiting to greet passengers, family members I suppose, as if they hadn’t seen them in 1,000 years. Huge hugs and a big hullabaloo before luggage is taken to the waiting car to whisk them down the valley and a little up a mountain where a wooden house with glowing orange lights is warmed by a log fire. They take off their layers and plonk themselves in front if it, pour themselves some booze and catch up on old times.
I nearly didn’t make it back. The bus was gone, the train was gone, and there was a mad dash by car to the airport, 200km away, to try and make the plane at 6pm. We arrived at 7pm, at Gardermoen, but thankfully the flight was delayed. Yer wan at the check-in desk was looking at me strangely checking in for a plane that left an hour before but she sorted it out in the end.
It was crazy and it was great. Norway’s brilliant. I have to go back, I’ll go back.