Sunday, June 14, 2015

Oslo (I don't belong, I belong)

Anytime I go to Oslo I look from outside with my face pressed against the glass. Just an observer, I cannot partake. It’s too damn expensive.
This time I didn’t have even one beer the whole time I was there – it must be a record. I bought a book with the money I would have spent on a beer. An expensive book but a good one.
Again I paid for everything on credit card. But I found a krone in my hotel room on the last day – the first time I handled actual money on any of the four visits in the last couple of years. One krone (NOK) is about three billion euros.
I managed mostly to survive on free food from the “Strawberry Party” at Oslo City Hall and the free grub for journalists at the Bislett Games. I ate like a snake, stuffing myself when the food was free, abstaining when it wasn’t. I tried digesting slowly. I’m still alive so I guess it worked. I guess that’s how all journalists survive. Free grub and/or cheap beer.
Oslo itself is pristine, steel and glass buildings, not a corner askew, immaculate. Cars are shiny and confident, the yachts too, all the fucking yachts. It’s spotless, no place for rubbish. There are sculptures and art pieces on every corner. The city’s pretty, everything and everyone.
Somehow I like Oslo, I’m not sure why. It seems like a fourth home now. I guess I like the sculptures and art pieces. The people are very nice and friendly. And I found a squat, though the squatters probably also have yachts. I admit being envious of the yachts and the fancy apartments overlooking the sea. There are equal levels of envy and disdain. I don’t want them, I don’t think I want them. I’d like the option of being able to reject them though. Perhaps I’d be corrupted too.
On the other side of the kroner there are the Osloers left behind, the ones who don’t have yachts, fancy apartments or restaurant reservations. There are quite a lot of fucked-up people around, some lying on benches, cans in hand, others on drugs of one sort of another. There are plenty of beggars too. When I arrived, four white police officers were harassing a black guy. I don’t know the circumstances – maybe the black guy murdered someone (I doubt it) – but it still jarred the attention. Them vs. us. Insiders and outsiders.
I imagine Oslo is a hard place to survive without connections, possibly even with connections, a hard place for outsiders. I suppose it always was – even the Vikings left for greener shores.

The first picture below was taken at 1.03 a.m. on June 11, after I’d finished work. It was darker than the picture shows – I guess the camera gathers what light it can – but still remarkably bright for such a time of night. I have to go to the Arctic Circle. One of these days, if I save enough…

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Fußballfest (Someone's gotta do it)

I was beginning to feel like I was living at Olympiastadion. Five times in just over a week I was there, culminating with Saturday’s Champions League final. In a way, I’m writing these words to remind myself of how privileged I am. It’s mad how quickly it all becomes commonplace and normal.
But of course it’s a huge big deal, the Champions League final. Messi, Neymar, Suárez, Iniesta, Buffon, Pogba. It was Xavi’s last game for Barça, likely Pirlo’s too for Juve.
The Saturday before it was the German Cup final, Klopp’s last game as Dortmund coach. I couldn’t bring myself to take one last photo of him from the last presser he gave – he was heartbroken, it was like a funeral. German football will be a helluva lot duller without him.
It’s incredible to think I’m being paid to go to such things, but of course I had to work too. There was a feature on Klopp and match report for the German Cup final, a Messi/Neymar/Suárez feature and then player rankings for the Champions League showpiece. I wasn’t the only one there – all the bosses including the top boss from New York were all over for it. We went for a fancy dinner Friday night at a restaurant where the prices would make you cry. Thankfully I didn’t have to pay.
I ventured down to the mixed zone in the hopes of getting an interview with one of the stars (at the match, not the restaurant). Well, I wasn’t too optimistic. My Spanish isn’t good enough to interview anyone and my Italian’s non-existent. I got Barça’s German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen but he didn’t say anything interesting.
Messi walked through with his kid, so did Neymar (with his own kid, not Messi’s), and Dani Alves bounced through blaring jungle music or something. The great Pirlo walked through without stopping for anyone.
I cycled home without stopping for anyone. I’d been biking it all week. It’s great waking up in your own bed and cycling to the Champions League final. I locked the bike inside the stadium and got strange looks from security when I cycled out.
That’s it for me now, the football season’s over. I’m off to Norway on Wednesday for athletics and the Strawberry Party at Oslo City Hall. That’ll be fun. Then Halle for tennis the week after that. ‘Tis a tough oul life.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The beach

First swim of the year today, the first of many I hope. Jesus, it was glorious. It was too sunny to stay in and do the things I needed to do – summer arrived Thursday and I’d been running around like a blue-arsed fly since – so I hopped on my temperamental steed and cycled to Flughafensee, beside Tegel.
I was only there in winter before and wasn’t even sure if it was the same lake, but it was, lovely, airport in front, forest behind. You could watch the planes taking off and landing from the comfort of the sandy beach and throw yourself into the water to swim. Swim! I swam, twice, good swims, great swims. I’ll go swimming again. It was refreshing to do something non-destructive for a change.
I lay on the beach and let the sun massage me. I skipped the FKK beach this time – I passed it on the way but was put off by a spread-eagled man with his scrotum looking up at me – and so opted for the safer option. One of these days…
The beach was crowded by Irish standards, sparse by local. Teenagers arrived on one side blaring some shite German rap. Rap is bad enough in any language but it’s even worse in German for some reason. Other teenagers on the other side, who’d been quiet up to then, responded with dance music. Thankfully they won, the lesser of two evils when you’re at a beach. I could actually have put up with either of them. My tolerance levels have grown.
I read my book about punks in the DDR and wished I were a punk. I always wanted to be a punk but never had enough strength in my convictions to make the necessary concessions. The punkiest thing I ever did was have my ear pierced and hair dyed when I was 17. Some punk I was.
It was good at the beach. Introspective. Sunshine. Warmth. Water. Outrospective too. I looked around at my co-conspirators, made judgments on them all.
I got a puncture on the way home. It was outrospective again. I forgot about being a punk and pushed the damn bike home.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Sitting amongst rubbish for sunset. A bin's on fire, nobody cares. Guy pissing on a tree beside oblivious couple, girl in pretty dress. Woman talks to herself, laughs hysterically, doubles over. Happy. Birds chirping chirping chirping. Trolley pusher rattles by, full load of bottles. Low beats compete for attention, here, somewhere. Spanish voices. Dog barks, once, forgets himself. Sun's rays nice and seducing, just a wisp of cloud in the sky. Scent of marijuana. Fire services come, put out the bin, somebody cares. Polizei drive through, checking. Laughter, no crime here. Everyone with a bottle. The woman's laughing again, falls over.

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.