Sunday, October 12, 2014

Settling, nearly home

Slowly, slowly, the walls and space in between are taking shape as a home. It’s been a long, painful and expensive process.
I got the keys and moved in Sept. 4, when I was seriously pissed off to discover my “new” apartment was a fucking mess. I know these are first world complaints, but it was unpainted with holes in the walls from the previous tenants’ shelves. It had a toilet, bathroom sink and shower – but nothing else. No kitchen sink, no oven or cooking facilities, not even a fucking lightbulb hanging from a ceiling.
To be honest I didn’t expect a lightbulb. That’s the way they do things here. When you rent a place you get a shell, when you leave you take everything with you, including the light fittings. I said before Germans are like snails. They carry their houses around on their backs.
So I moved into a place with nothing and blew the last of my savings on painters, a washing machine, cooker, fridge, kitchen presses, crockery, pots and pans, a wardrobe and a couch. The couch was expensive but I figured if I’m going to get a couch at all I should get one I like. Ditto for the wardrobe. I can pass them onto the grandchildren.
I’ve since realized that everything I got is pretty dark and somber, much like my mood under the circumstances. I’ll have to brighten things up with plants and pictures and things.
For 22 days I lived without being able to make tea. That was the hardest part for sure. The day your man came along to connect the gas cooker to the mains was a breakthrough. Finally, tea! It never tasted so good. Being able to cook in your own place is a luxury most take for granted.
Nobody would connect the gas cooker to the mains. The crowd I bought it off wouldn’t do it for “versicherungsgründe,” the crowd I’m renting off wouldn’t do it for “versicherungsgründe,” and another crowd I rang wouldn’t do it for “versicherungsgründe” because I didn’t buy the cooker from them. In the end I had to plead with the crowd I’m renting off to do it or risk having the whole building blown up. So they sent the guy.
Getting a sink in the kitchen was another biggie. Finally, you could eat at home off a real plate and be able to wash the damn plate afterward.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel now. I just need to get a shelving unit for the young fella’s books and toys and then we’ll be sorted. We’ll be able to unpack the last of the boxes then.
Well, there’s still the lack of a kitchen door. I rang the Hausverwaltung and sent them an email about it. Nothing will happen in a hurry. This is Germany, where to get a phone line connected, you need to make an appointment weeks in advance and then wait at home all day for a Techniker who may or may not turn up to do a job he’ll probably do remotely anyway.
After blowing my savings I figured I’d only buy second hand stuff from now on. In a way it’s nicer. The stuff comes with history, stories. I got a shoe press for €7 from a girl who was getting rid of her granny’s stuff because the granny was going into a home. I felt a bad about that. But at least the shoe press has a new home, too.
Yesterday I got a small shelf unit for €10 and a bedside cabinet for €15. One girl was getting rid of stuff because she’s going to Canada and the other simply decided she needed more room. I got a table for nothing this evening because a Brazilian fella living underneath is giving away a load of stuff.
Today was spent scrubbing floors with sandpaper and wire wool to get the paint left behind by the painters off. They left as much paint on the floors as the walls.
The place itself is grand. There are two balconies and you can see the Fernsehturm from them. A dream! We’re up on the top floor and I don’t think my knees will thank me for that in years to come. But I always want to be on the top floor. It’s fucking loud here, though. Bornholmer Straße is around the corner and the noise is ridiculous.
There was a nicer place going, with a bigger balcony on the much quieter Schonfließer Straße, but when I said I’d take it they suddenly jacked up the rent by more than 50 percent from what the previous tenant was paying. Well over €1,000. Out of my reach.
I’d found that place through my strategy of plastering flyers on each and every doorway in the neighborhood saying I was looking for a Wohnung. It wasn’t as successful as last year when I did the same thing.
Some people took affront, ripped down my fliers straight away. I was shouted at for “wilde plakatieren” by one fucker who demanded I went back over and took the flier off again. Some people have little to worry about. His girlfriend said it wasn’t their fault, those were the rules. When I hear that I can only think of Nazis. I told them to go and shite.
So it wasn’t easy. In the end the only reason we got this place is because we were quick, fucking quick with the wheelbarrow of forms, and because the young fella was there, batting the eyelids above his big brown eyes at Babs, who must have put a good word in for us.
The Umzug wasn’t much fun either. Four Trabi trips and a hired van but I got it done.
It was a dump when we moved in but we’re thankful to have it all. It’s our dump for now and slowly but surely it’s becoming less of a dump. One day, when I get a mat for the front door, it’ll be a home.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Der Bumerang bites the dust

My favorite pub in Berlin is gone. I went to Stubbenkammerstraße tonight to discover the dreaded day had come. Messages lamenting its demise – and that of the city – were scrawled on its windows and doors and a large wooden board blocked the door to hammer the message home. Es ist vorbei.
It was a great pub, Der Bumerang, full of wood, dirty and smoky. There was a dirty fish tank in the window, so dirty I’m not sure if there were any fish in it. The toilet’s street art was plastered with antifa stickers and slogans.
They used to show violent films on a projector and there were readings and performances from time to time, artistic things and philosophical things. I left once because I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.
The last time I was there the barman was drinking vodka from the bottle, barely able to stand, drunk as a Yeltsin. He was still able to pull our beers, damn tasty beers they were too.
On a previous occasion I learned the whole building had been bought by Zalando, the mail order clothing crowd. They’d been trying to get rid of the bar for a while but of course there were campaigns, petitions and so on to save it. As if they could. They just delayed the inevitable.
The barman, another one who was relatively sober at the time, said the pub didn’t have the clout the likes of Schokoladen in Mitte or others had, so there was little political will to save it. He knew this day would come.
I may even have stumbled upon its boarded-up door before. Recollections of seeing the same distraught messages seem to be there. I guess I drowned my sorrows to the extent of not being able to remember what caused them anymore.
Not tonight. I read the messages with a sorrowful heart, went on a few doors to where I could hear laughter. Maybe it had just moved! But no. It was a fancy café, all nice and new, with painted walls and well-dressed people inside. It was clean for fuck’s sake, clean! They sat around at tables, chattering without a care in the world, probably sipping water shipped from Japan.
I didn’t hang around. Nothing hangs around any more. And this is one Bumerang that ain’t coming back.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Ireland, pics

Had holiday. Need holiday. Words gone. Here pictures.

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 was being 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.