Wednesday, May 27, 2009

German lessons

Another chapter of life in Berlin came to an end today with the end of my Deutsch C1.1 Intensivkurs. I got a certificate and all to say I can now have a normal conversation with a Muttersprachler without Belastung (whatever that is) and that I can understand concrete and abstract themes in Spezialgebiet and Fachdiskussionen (whatever they are). It also says a load of other stuff, but to be honest I’d probably have to repeat the course to understand what they think I’m able to do now.

My German is at least better than it was this time last year. If not worse. Better of worse; I’m not sure which yet. I definitely know more, but I also know there’s a whole universe of shit I don’t know that I didn’t even know I didn’t know.
Yep, Deutsch C1.1 showed me German is harder to learn the more you know. The grammar is just ridiculous. Ridiculous. Four cases which are threatening to turn me into a basket case. All the verbs, bar one, flung together at the end of sentences – you’ve forgotten what the hell someone is talking about by the time they spit them all out. They also throw in extra verbs at the end in case you aren’t confused enough.

Still, I’m glad I did the course. I’m hoping some German seeped in through osmosis. These Volkshochschule are great. €110 for 100 lessons. Where we did the course was fantastic! Graffiti and funky artwork on the walls. It was an old fire station converted into a youth centre, so we had use of all the facilities: unlimited tea and coffee, table tennis, darts and even table football! (Isn’t it ironic that table football is known as Fussball in the English-speaking world, while in Germany they think you’re mad if you call it anything but Kicker?)

I tell ya these German youths are spoilt rotten. The kitchen was stuffed with fruit, crisps, nuts and other party goodies including crates of fizzy drinks and beer! BEER!! They had a mixin’ desk and a suitcase of ripped CDs featuring some damn good music. Disco lights and a mirror ball. Their parties must have been mad at weekends. Ironically for an old fire station, there was no sign of any fireman’s pole. I suppose pole dancing would have been just a step too far for the kids.

The lessons were great. We hardly bothered with the book, concentrating instead on hot topics like globalisation, the morals of cloning, genetically modified food, religion, art and local thorny issues. It was here I learned about Berlin’s ethics vs. religion debate, the unity memorial farce, and about Monsanto, a genetics company which represents all the evils of corporate greed.

My classmates were very nice too. They took a little longer to loosen up and chat with each other than on previous courses; probably because their heads were fried from all the grammar and learning.
Today was actually the first time we went out together, when we went for pizza and made false promises to stay in touch. ‘Twas sad to bid them adieu.
If enough people sign up for it by tomorrow, Deutsch C1.2 starts next Tuesday. Only four put their names down however. Alle andere hatten schon genug. Heads wrecked.
When I got home I finally relented and ate the two strawberries I found growing on my balcony a little over a week ago. Jesus, they were lovely! The tastiest strawberries I think I have ever eaten. More budding strawberry siblings are threatening to come to fruition. Patience I tell myself. Patience.

Nodding off with Nod

Poor ol' Noddy wasn't a happy camper to be going home. "The thought of having to go back to that country in the morning is making me SICK!!!" he exclaimed over Frühstuck on Sunday. His sudden outburst startled fellow breakfasters and sent birds flying up from the treetops. For a moment it seemed as if life in Berlin just stopped, as if all were considering the meaning of his words.
"That country." He couldn't even bring himself to say its name.
Well, he's back there now, if only for a couple of months which can't go quickly enough for him. Then Australia will have to get used to his sudden outbursts.

We spent an inordinate amount of time asleep on Berlin's public transport over the weekend. Probably just as well; we had to sleep sometime. It was 11 a.m. Saturday when we got home after negotiating our way through Friday night. We left Kaffee Burger to wake up on the tram near Ahrensfelde. The damn thing must have taken us home and then back out to Ahrensfelde, about as far from my house as you can get without hitting Poland.
In Ireland, where they're used to drunken idiots falling asleep on trains and buses, they usually wake you up when you get to the end of the line. Not in Berlin.

It happened again the next night, when we woke up in Sonnenallee. How that happened I still don't know. It isn't even on the same line as the S-Bahn we had taken. A bottle of tequila and a feed of beer might have had something to do with it. It's not as unhealthy as it sounds; we had orange and cinnamon with it, and there were three of us. We had made our way to Treptower Park where we sat on the banks of the River Spree, legs dangling over a discarded shopping trolley in the water, listening to the ducks, looking across at the bright lights and the Fernsehturm blinking away in the distance. A bat flittered above our heads before dusk made him invisible. The odd S-Bahn would occasionally rumble by on the bridge to our left, but apart from that all we could hear were the ducks, and the odd cries from like-minded souls elsewhere in the park. That for me is Berlin. No knackers. No Polizei or Gardaí. No one hounding you. No stress.

We discussed life. Solved all our troubles. Looked to the future. Pondered the past. Asked questions. Questioned answers. Righted the world's wrongs. That tequila is great stuff!
We differed in opinions. I said I wanted to know everything, everything there is to know, all the knowledge there is.
Others were more practical and selective about what they wanted to know. "I don't want to be bothered with the shite," Jenny informed us. Fair enough.
On second thoughts I don't want to know the shite either. How to get home without waking up in strange S-Bahn stations on the other hand, is most definitely not shite.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Boaring existentialism

I was beginning to doubt if wild boars existed at all. Fourteen months I've lived here without seeing one, despite the fact Berlin and the surrounding countryside is meant to be stuffed with them. Even before I moved here, I had read they needed to cull the poor feckers because they were playing havoc with traffic, running out in front of cars and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
I was told they were even to be seen from the S-Bahn on the way out to Birkenwerder, hanging out in groups and snuffling around by the side of the tracks, much like Irish teenagers.
Anyone I talked to told me they had seen them. Not just one or two either. Heaps of them. Not one Wildschwein did I see however. I was beginning to think it was just a myth, an eleborate hoax, that people were having a laugh at my expense.
Then, last Friday, I finally saw one! My first Wildschwein! Although he wasn't very wild. He was penned up in an enclosure and he came running over towards us when he saw us approaching. Very friendly he was too, so we fed him grass and roots and shit through the fence, leading me to discover he had a wet nose. Pig snot I suppose. He chomped up everything we gave him, wagging his tail with contentment.
So my first encounter with a wild boar proves they do exist. At least in captivity. Although that raises more questions. One has to ask if a tame wild boar is a wild boar at all. Surely that just disproves their own existence. Dammit, I don't know what to believe anymore...

My theology-studying flatmate was very put out when I told her I doubted the existence of wild boar because I hadn't seen one.
"So you can't believe in something unless you see it?" she retorted.
"Yes," I replied, much to her disgust.
I wonder if she'd appreciate the irony of her inadvertently comparing God to a Wildschwein.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Herrentag

Tomorrow is Herrentag, (Men's Day), when women all over Berlin will hide behind their curtains, quivering with apprehension, afraid to step outside, waiting for normality to restore itself again.
You see, Herrentag, known as Männertag if you're a Wessie, is when middle-aged German men drink with the sole intention of getting pissed completely out of their minds, rendering the streets outside unsafe for members of the fairer sex. They gather together in groups in the morning, beer bellies poking out from stretched t-shirts, flowers in the handlebars of their bicycles. They carry their booze in little wooden carts or trailers which they then wheel around for the rest of the day.
It can get quite messy; participants generally start drinking very early in the morning to get pissed as soon as possible, so by 10 a.m. they can be found swaying dangerously by the side of the road, beer stains, snot and puke on their shirts, crawling on their hands and knees, perhaps even barking obscenities at "sobers" as they pass.
"They're fucking eejits," Dáire warned me. "You get them every year. Gobshites getting as drunk as possible, falling around, and then falling asleep by the side of the road."
It's the busiest day of the year for ambulances here. Why they do it nobody knows. Tomorrow is actually a holiday: Himmelfahrt, (literally "sky-journey"), the day Jesus is supposed to have gone to heaven. Maybe the men are trying to join him.
Himmelfahrt originally coincided with Vaterstag (Father's Day), a day when the whole family used to gather around, celebrate family life, have a barbeque and eat Kuchen together, as Germans seem to do with any half excuse or at any available opportunity. Single men or men who weren't fathers complained however, resulting in it being called Herrentag instead, so it could be a day for all men. Like Good Friday in Ireland, it's evidently the perfect excuse to get pissed.
I got my crate of Radeberger yesterday, and my bicycle is ready and willing. Noddy arrives in the morning so the timing couldn't be better, although as Jenny pointed out, everyday is Herrentag when Noddy's around...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hertha blow it

Hertha blew it on Saturday. 75,000 fans crammed into the Olympiastadion to see them beat Schalke 04 and maintain the challenge for a glorious Bundesliga title, the first they would have won since 1931. Instead however, they played their part in a borefest which only served to show what undeserving winners they would have been.
Locals and the media had been getting their knickers in a twist about the possibility of "Die Alte Dame" winning an unlikely title, "Berlin macht sich Blau," or words to that effect on the cover of one of the tabloids, but sadly for the capital's Fußball fans it seemed the team didn't really want it as much as they did.
The match ended as it began. 0-0. An anti-climax of an event if ever there was one. The disheartened players lined up in the middle of the pitch with a banner afterwards. "Danke für 17 mal Gänsehaut." Thanks for 17 times goosebumps. This wasn't one of them. It was as if the players were seeking to atone for their ineptness by undergoing a further humiliation.
In fairness, the fans deserved thanks. They sang and cheered all the way through, right to the bitter end, despite the lack of anything worth cheering. Due to the absence of entertainment on the pitch, I suppose they had to make their own. They reminded me of Waterford fans, the same colours, the same enthusiasm, the same disappointment at the end. One of the Hertha fans had a blue Union Jack however - you'd never see a Waterford fan with that.
The club itself had also done all it could to encourage the players. A giant Hertha wizard was unfurled over the eastern end, while mascot "Herthino", (a lion, bear or something,) and the stadium announcer did their best to cajole the fans into making more noise.
The supporters are a marked contrast to Real Madrid fans at the Bernabéu who generally just sit there and demand to be entertained. It's like 80,000 squirrels watching a match, all chewing pistachios and sunflower seeds and discarding the shells. These form little shell mountains which can be seen under seats after a game. Only the visit of Barcelona gets them truly excited but the less said about that the better...
What really took me to the Olympiastadion was the beer and brötchens. Eoghan's tall tales of beer on tap for journalists meant I had to go back to see for myself. "Definitely have an empty stomach going to the match..." he told me.
It seems every journalist in Germany had the same idea however. They actually ran out of beer! Luckily I had helped myself to two at a time. I would have been very disappointed otherwise. Eoghan wasn't lying about the brötchens either. Little bread rolls with cheese, gherkins, tomato, cucumber, onion, ham, salami etc. They also had fresh fruit and a sort of stew or soup with sausages in it. It was a fine spread! Pity the players couldn't live up to it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Challenges

All courage is a form of constancy. It is always himself the coward abandons first. After this all other betrayals come easily. So writes Cormac McCarthy in All The Pretty Horses. I read it this morning when I should have been in college. It was a wake-up call. It comes as everything around me turns to shit. These are the darkest days since I came to Berlin, but I have to keep things in perspective; things could always get worse.
I have my health and am loved. Great friends. Without these all is lost. I also have my honour and I'm not going to throw that away by running away. I won't give in to the Audi asshole without a fight. Whether he wants it or not, whether I'm in the right or the wrong, whatever it costs.

The work situation is less certain. So far, I've tried every newspaper in Ireland and Britain but none are interested in accepting freelance material from Berlin. They'd rather not have the news than have to pay for it. Some at least were honest and upfront about my prospects. "I’m afraid that there will not really be an opportunity ... as we have a fulltime staff correspondent in the city," Paddy Smyth from The Irish Times wrote, before wishing me the best in finding other outlets. At least their correspondent is good.
It pains me however, to also see other writers' absolute shite from the city being printed.
Other newspapers were not as polite as the Times. The Indo was as rude as fuck (as I should have expected) as was its British cousin, and the rest of the Fleet Street gang followed suit with varying degrees of indifference.
"We have a correspondent in Berlin who does everything there," some snotty cow told me. "If there's a story there she'll do it."
"She doesn't have these two stories," I pointed out.
"It doesn't matter. If there's a story in Berlin she'll do it."
Fair enough. The stories never appeared. It looks now that the North American press is my only option if I want to remain a journalist. Two stories printed in three months is a pitiful return. I've even considered getting back in touch with Bild to see if that €400 a month job is still available.

I look back at the last 14 months and ask myself what I've achieved since I got here. Fuck all. In the last weeks it seems one calamity follows another. The humiliation of watching Barcapigs celebrate in the Bernabéu. Madrid losing every game since. Running out of Barry's Tea. The Bike Crash. The Police Fine. The Rejections. Rows. It even looks as if Theresas Mütter's days are numbered...
Maybe it hurts more because life's promise shines so brightly here. The rewards stay just out of reach however, just can't be gripped. Maybe that's just Berlin. Maybe it is tainted soil. But it could be wonderful.
Giving up is the easy option; the coward's option. I also know if I did leave what little I have achieved would have been for nothing. A wasted year. A fruitless time.

There are grounds for hope. Bright days always follow dark ones. (Even in Ireland, although you need the patience of a saint.) Noddy's arrival on Thursday should coincide with the arrival of tea. And there's no way the Americans will be as rude when I call looking for prospects. Other problems will be sorted with respect, compassion and patience.
Yesterday, on my balcony, I noticed two strawberries growing from the plant I planted a few weeks ago. White yesterday, today they're red. Hopefully they're a sign of more fruitful days ahead.

Hitler's a hit!

Hitler had Berlin in stitches on Friday night, earning rapturous applause, shrieks of laughter and howls of approval. Yes it's been a while since the mad fella was so popular here, but he received standing ovations from the crowd after the German premiere of Mel Brooks' hit musical The Producers at Admiralspalast.
I'd no idea Adolf was so talented, but boy that man can sing and dance! Jesus he was great! His Nazi buddies were great too, singing and tap-dancing their fascist hearts out for the Vaterland. Maybe if they had stuck to that instead of trying to take over the world, we could have avoided all that unpleasantness and carry on with the war.

Of course, Frühling für Hitler, "a new neo Nazi musical", was only a small part of the overall show, but it was interesting to see the reaction of the crowd to an unpolitically correct farcical comedy which takes the piss out of stereotypical Germanness and the Nazis. I thought there might have been a few stony silences, maybe a sharp intake of breath at the sight of a swastika, or an indignant stomp out of the theatre. Not at all. The crowd loved it!

It helped of course that the musical itself was completely ridiculous and absolutely hilarious. Even in German! It probably helped too that it took the pee-pee out of southern Germany, with the main Nazi-supporter character being a Lederhosen-wearing oaf from Bavaria.
They don't like Bavarians in this town. Particularly those from Munich, München as it's called here. The inhabitants are called Müncheners, or Münchkins if they're little. Anyway, Berliners don't care much for Müncheners. With good reason too - they're shite.
Berliners, on the other hand, evidently have a very healthy sense of humour, and they lapped up every minute of The Producers. The singing was fantastic, the dancing faultless, production smooth as newborn peach. Those who asked if it's time to laugh at Hitler got a definitive answer. Jawohl!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dee's Haarschnitt

According to my calculations it's been five months and a day since I've had a haircut. On December 16th last I went to see Dee up the town in Bray to make myself look respectable in time for Christmas.
"Have you all your presents bought love?" Dee wanted to know. "You doing anything nice for the holidays?"
"Oh lovely," she said when I told her I was going to Guatemala. "Where's that?"
I could have told her I was going to the moon. Never mind. Dee's more at home with a scissors than an atlas. For €10 a haircut she doesn't need to know where Guatemala is.
Her handiwork has lasted far longer than I thought it would, even if I now look ridiculous. I've been told I look like a mushroom. It's been so long since I got it cut however, that I can't go and get it cut again now. It's like holding onto a rising balloon. When do you let go? So I guess I've involved myself in an experiment to see just how ridiculous I can look. Poor aul' Noddy's in for a shock when he arrives in Berlin next Thursday...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mütters heartbreak

Honour was restored to the ranks of Thesesas Mütter today. But not without heartbreak.
It looked so good for so long. A 3-1 lead at halftime! That after playing out of our skins, giving our all, fighting like fuck. "Mein Kampf" Adolf once wrote. He didn't know the meaning of the word.
Nils said he wanted blood. He got blood sweat and tears.
With a two goal advantage, we were confident we could maintain our tremendous fighting spirit and courage and do something special. We dared not speak of a win, though such giddy thoughts entered all of our heads. We were on the verge, the verge of something incredible.

The second half began as the first; us harrying, pressing, hounding our opponents for the ball. Then I crossed the ball out to Holger on the right and ran like fuck towards goal. He floated in a lovely cross and I got in ahead of the defender. My outstreched leg got to the ball, sending it past the despairing arms of the goalkeeper. A goal! 4-1.
We dared believe. Could this be possible? We had these fuckers on the rocks. They knew they were bet.
A soft goal changed things however. Gave them hope. We had given everything to that point and the effort was taking its toll. Legs complained, lungs strained, muscles pained. With five minutes to go it was 4-4. Then Disaster. Dis-fucking-aster. They edged in front. 4-5. Sickener.
Komm, los. We need another goal. We can't let these pricks win. Komm Leute! Come people! I ran and ran, but my legs complained. What the fuck are you doing to us? they asked. Shut up legs. Run, damn you! Run! I nearly puked. My mouth frothed, my eyes watered, throat coughed. Every muscle moaned. But we can't let these fuckers win!

Cramp said otherwise however and the final whistle sentenced us to a defeat we didn't deserve. Defeat from the jaws of victory.
My heart is low, my heart is so low. as only a Mütters heart can be.
But we fought all the way. Against the odds. The final scoreboard might say otherwise, but the little team won today. A victory for the poor. Mother Theresa will be proud.

Liebe Mütter,
Wir haben Heute ein Sieg fast gemacht. Aber leider nicht. Trotzdem, für das Mannschaft war es ein moralisches Sieg. Wir können unseren Köpfen hoch halten. Nächste mal, wenn wir spielen wie Heute, werden wir ein echtes Sieg machen!
Mehr Bilder sind hier.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Indecent proposal

Still waiting for the Polizei to make their move. No developments yet. No sudden moves. Maybe they're waiting for me to make the first move. Let them wait.
In the meantime, the aggrieved motorist whose rear I crashed into has been furthering developments. I met him on Tuesday at the local Mexican restaurant, (if anyone sneezed I was outta there), when he make me an interesting proposal. This after he told me the damage caused to his brand new shiny black Audi A3 amounted to the not inconsiderable sum of €1,242.54. For three dents to the back of his car! It might have been 45 cents actually. Maybe 42. To be honest I can't remember how many cents are involved. It's a lot of fucking money.
Anyway, I made it clear in no uncertain terms that I have none. I have literally -€13.19 in my account right now. Regardless, he seems to think I'm to blame, and that I should pay for the damage.
That's when he made his interesting proposal: namely, that I pay him €50 a month for 10 months, and... give him English lessons, ten of them at a rate of €30 per hour. He told me the structure the lessons would take, their length, their content etc. Meanwhile, his daughter, who he'd conveniently brought along as a witness, nodded appreciatively.
"I'm just trying to be fair," he assured me.
I reminded him the accident wasn't my fault.
Uncertainty regarding the liabilities of cyclists compelled me to listen however. I told him I'd have to think about his proposal. His daughter paid for the coffee, (they declined my suggestion to try the best mojitos in Berlin), we shook hands and left it at that.
Today he rang back, with a better price of €750 for the repairs.
"What's your proposal?" he asked.
I've no money and the accident wasn't my fault I reminded him again.
The more I think about it, the more I feel he's chancing his arm. If he can pay €30 an hour for English lessons, I don't need to hand over any hard-earned money to him, an Audi driver.
He's the one who stopped suddenly in the middle of the road because "a Mädel on a bike suddenly shot out" in front of him. The mysterious Mädel didn't hang around however, and I never saw her. Facts I'm sure a court of law would find interesting. Or at least so boring they will just throw the case out.
If it's not one thing it's another. Feck.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kompletten Schrott

Germans are generally not known for their subtlety. They say what they think, often at the expense of diplomacy and people's feelings. Sometimes however, this sledgehammer approach is to be admired, such as last week when all 532 suggestions for a memorial to commemorate the reunification of the country were dismissed as complete crap.

The following article, which I wrote after seeing how bad the actual applications were, tells the rest of the story:
The quest to build a monument in Berlin suitable for commemorating 20 years of German reunification has failed spectacularly with the jury deriding the competition’s 532 entries as “complete crap”.
The memorial was supposed to celebrate the unity and freedom of the new Germany, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, but the project has now been thrown into doubt following the jury’s complete rejection of all submissions.
Entries came from artists and architects all over the world, including one from a firm in Dublin, and were accepted on the basis they celebrated the symbolic unity between East and West Germany following the “Peaceful Revolution” of late 1989 which eventually led to reunification.
A 19-man independent jury was given the task of reviewing all entries, and 20 were due to be selected for final consideration before an overall winner was picked.
The jury, made of respected political figures and artists, found none of the submissions good enough even for final submission however, and the 532 entries were lambasted as “kompletten Schrott” (complete crap). Individual jury members expressed the opinion the pieces were “disastrous” and “naïve”.
Their frank assessment of the competition’s entries leaves the process in limbo, and it is now unclear whether a memorial will be built as planned near the site of the former Palast der Republik, the former seat of East German government in Berlin.
One of the submissions made for the “Unity and Freedom Memorial” was a giant banana. Bananas featured prominently in many West German jokes about their socialist cousins due to the rarity of such exotic fruit in the former GDR.
Berliners can now assess for themselves the quality of all the submissions, after they were put on show at an exhibition at the Kronprinzenpalais in the city until May 31st. Nobody would be expected to pay to look at “complete crap” however, so entrance is free.

In fairness, the exhibition is absolutely hilarious for anyone up for a laugh. Apart from the giant banana, other laughable submissions included a huge giraffe (what with the giraffe being a potent German symbol); a UFO (evidently spacer architects); and a 3-D version of the word Zweifel for some reason. Zweifel means doubt. Incidentally, one would have no idea what that was supposed to be as the word could only be made out from above. Presumably the artists were in cahoots with the crowd who suggested the UFO.
The clowns from Dublin simply suggested a load of poles painted in the German colours. Jesus lads, make some sort of effort would you!
Most of the applications actually had fancy graphics and so on. Others didn't even bother. One girl just wrote a load of shit on A4 pages and stuck them all together. My favourite came from Wolfgang Strack in Hamburg. He just got a load of Smurfs, stuck them on a pedestal, took a picture and sent it in! There was no note or explanation on what it had to do with German unity of freedom. Brilliant!
On the way out of the exhibition is a visitors book. Even that's hilarious. Two lads were pissing themselves going through it. "This is even better than the exhibition," said one.

It struck me Germany is the only country in the world where each and every submission to a serious competition, by so-called serious artists and architects, could be dismissed as complete shite. Nowhere else would they be so honest. Look at the Spike in Dublin for example. A frickin' needle, sticking up pointlessly into the sky! Built at a cost of millions. What clown thought that was good? No German jury would ever have given it the go ahead - that's for sure.
Mehr Bilder sind hier.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Trouble with the law

I may have to flee the country. Yes, the Polizei are hot on my heels. One of them was in my room this afternoon, just an hour ago, his giant frame blocking the door as I scrambled furiously to find what he was looking for. Eventually I found it: my passport.
"Humm," he frowned, before trying to pronounce Port Láirge. "Irisch für Waterford," I explained.
"Humm," he repeated, apparently not familiar with Déise hurling exploits.
He took my details and departed, heading back down the stairs with his colleague, a sour-looking cow. She was particularly grumpy and bitchy. Evidently a while since she'd had any Frühlingsgefühling.

They had queried the suspicious absence of my name from the front door. I tried explaining that I keep putting it there but some fuckers keep taking it down again. It must be the English. Who else could it be?
(I notice there are now quite a few visitors to the blog from the UK, presumably all from Scotland or Wales. If not however, the above was meant in jest.)

The unfortunate business began on my way home from Volkshochschule via the supermarket. The car in front of me took off at the green light and I went to pull my bike between it and the car behind when the clown in front braked suddenly. Of course I went crashing into the back of him. I had been too busy avoiding the car behind to notice him stopping.
It seems his shiny black Audi is more fragile than my bicycle which inflicted two dents/scratches to its rear.
"Tut mir leid," the driver said as he got out.
"Damn right you fecking eejit. What the hell were you doing?"
He explained a "Madel" on another bike pulled out in front of him and he had to brake. I didn't see any Madel but there you go.

The Polizei were duly called, and they quickly ascertained I wasn't angemeldet (registered) at my address. Apparently you have to register here after you've been in the country seven days.
Seven days! Well, I've kinda been busy the last one year, one month and two weeks, so I hadn't gotten around to it yet. I blame the English again. Now I can expect a €35 fine to arrive by post. I'm not sure if that's for the accident or my lack of Anmeldung.
The Polizei couldn't tell me what will happen regarding your man's car. He seemed to think it was my fault. Of course I've no insurance or anything like that. He estimated the damage at €1,000. Yeah right. I sure as hell won't be paying it.

So I may have to leave. I wouldn't be the first to flee Germany for South America. I wonder if my gal would come with me...
It seems a bit extreme however. Maybe I'll just lay low awhile in Berlin, wait for the Polizei to make the next move before deciding what to do.

Actually, they may have more on their hands at the moment than they would have imagined. Among those who waited for me to leave before engaging in riots in Berlin last week was an off-duty cop! He was one of 289 people arrested for taking part in the shenanigans which left more than 450 of his colleagues injured. Apparently he is suspected of throwing cobblestones and striking police officers in at least two instances! Like most things in this city, you couldn't make it up.
Good pictures of the action, (unfortunately none of them mine), can be seen here.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mütters in distress

Today was a bad day for Theresas Mütter. I suppose things went wrong right from the kick-off, at the ungodly hour of 10 am. On a Saturday! Do they not know people have parties to go to in Berlin on Friday nights?!
We were to play against Lokomotiv Hallelujah who had all their players on the pitch, ready and waiting at the predetermined time. I arrived at 9.55 only to find we were nine, including me. Injuries and, presumably, the early start taking their toll. Never mind, we kicked off in any case, determined to beat the odds. Once Britta took to the pitch we had five girls, or Mädels as they're called here, making up half our contingent which included emergency draftees. No subs, and still we weren't 11.
"Hallelujah" thought the lads of Lokomotiv, not a Mädel among them. The greedy bastards wouldn't let us play with the ball and proceeded to pass it around amongst themselves before the inevitable bombardment of our goal. After 30 minutes we did manage to get the ball into their half, but it was promptly returned before they passed the ball around a bit and scored another goal. Six they got altogether before half time mercifully came.
There wasn't much we could do or change for the second half but we said we'd give it a lash anyway. I scored a goal! Unfortunately it was at the wrong end, with the ball ricocheting cruelly off my legs into the net for my first own goal. They chalked up a few more goals as they continued to run rings around us. But still we tried.
Then we got a chance! The ball landed at my feet and I turned and ran with it towards goal, Lokomotiv players all around me. I managed to skip an illegal challenge and keep going. Somehow I threaded the ball through to Christoph who played a lovely one two and I found myself in the penalty area, some fella hanging out of me as he tried bundle me off the ball. I shot at goal. The goalkeeper saved. The fucker. You'd think he would have let it in out of pity, but no, that's not the German way.
Later we had another chance when the ball rolled across the face of the empty goal, but our forwards' legs unfortunately weren't fast enough to get there on time. There were to be no more chances and the Hallelujah boys lashed in another few goals before the referee put us out of misery. I think it was 16 goals by the end of the game, but sure who's counting anyway? Isn't it the taking part that's important?
That famous victory in November seems like a long way away now but at least we tried. Oh God how we tried...

Liebe Mütter,
Heute war ein schlechtes Tag für Theresa und ihrer Mütter. Leider haben wir 16-0 gegen Lokomotiv Hallelujah verloren. Na ja, es gibt kein Grund für sorgen. Wir haben alle viel gekämpft und gute Kampfgeist gezeigt. Wir haben viel die sind verletzt, das Wetter war nicht für uns, und ich denke das früh Anfang war auch nicht für uns. Ich habe an J.Y. gesagt das wir sollen lieber in Abends spielen so dass wir können saufen vor dem Spiel gehen. Wir spielen immer besser wenn wir sind betrunken.
Also, blieb stark meine Freunde und macht keine Sorge. Wir müssen Geduld haben, und nächste mal noch mehr kämpfen. Wir werden noch ein Sieg machen! Hoffentlich früher lieber als später...

PS - The pictures featured here are from another game, played under happier circumstances when we played amongst ourselves. The full selection from this day are available here: http://picasaweb.google.com/faheyc/TheresasMutter#

Friday, May 08, 2009

BellX1 do the Bang Bang

BellX1 played in Berlin again last night, again at the wonderfully-named Bang Bang Club. Twice in the space of a year I've been to see them there, making it a reasonably easy task to calculate inflation in the German capital.
Last October it was €10 to see the lads from Kildare play, but last night the price climbed outrageously to €13. Three Euro! A third more than before! In six months. I guess that makes the rate of inflation a staggering 66.6% per year in Berlin. So much for falling prices in these hard times.
Thankfully I didn't have to pay. (One of the perks of being a journalist. I mightn't earn any money, but I can go to things for free.) The gig itself was great, thanks to the venue and the band's will to entertain. The Bang Bang Club is tiny, about the size of a large stamp. I stood as far away as I could from the band but could still tell Paul Noonan had onions for dinner.
Bellx1 were once famously introduced by Pat Kenny as Bell Eleven on the Late Late Show. After being told of his mistake, he cheered them off stage as Bell X Eleven. Yep, that's Pat Kenny.
For once at a gig in Germany, I wasn't asked to stop talking by other people, possibly because everyone was chatting throughout the whole set. Only when the lads went off did people realise the music stopped and so they kicked, screamed and hollered for more. When the lads came back out for the encore they went back to chatting again.
Actually, it was the second time I had been to a gig here and had not been asked to stop talking. The night before I had seen Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Columbiahalle. Great but short. One hour five mins. Including encore. €25. 'Nuff said. I was on my own for most of the gig, hence the reason for me not having to talk.
Afterwards I had to wait a staggering seven minutes for the U-Bahn home. Seven minutes! I don't think they even put on any extra ones. I was wondering how all the crowds were going to fit on it when it arrived, bracing myself to push, kick and punch my way into the carriage.
There was no rush however, no pushing, nothing. Everyone simply strolled onto the train calmly, and sat down. I even got a seat! My fare home was included in the price of the concert ticket. As I tucked into my large bag of Erdnüsse I wondered if it wasn't just too easy. Where's the challenge?!

Angie

Angela Merkel is a fine lump of a woman. Anyone who ever had any doubts had those doubts quashed decisively by a giant billboard which is illuminating (in more ways that one) the famous Kurfürstendamm in Berlin.
Angie poses suggestively in just bra and knickers in a mocked up image for an underwear company which is inviting people to trade in their old jocks to get €5 off a new set of undies. You couldn't make this up!
Of course, I had to go out to see it with my own eyes and I wasn't disappointed. Standing there last Monday with her hands on her hips, posing coquettishly with a mischievous glint in her eyes, Angie practically winked down at me.
She had gathered quite an audience, with a small crowd assembled beneath her to share in her glory. I conducted my first ever interviews in German to find out what people thought of it.
"Ihre Nacktheit?" one girl replied. Yes, her nakedness. What do you think of her nakedness? "She's going to be very annoyed by it, but I think it's good." She blabbed on about the political implications and the impact it may have on the September elections. Right on sister.
Another guy, an absolute mongo, was more forthright. "Es ist gut, ja." His mongo wife beside him gave dagger looks.
Merkel herself is refusing to comment on the billboard. I suspect she's secretly delighted with all the attention. The saucy minx.
Behind her, on the billboard, was a line of her political foes and buddies, also half naked. Of course, it made me wonder what such a billboard in Ireland would look like. Could you imagine? Harney, Cowen and co.? Jesus. They'd be picking people off the street.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMkFjYRWM4M

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Slippers, dogs and crap

I found out today that kids wear slippers in school here. What a country! Only the little ones. I guess they take off their shoes at the door and then transfer into slippers for another day of learning. Hilarious huh? Presumably it's so they don't go traipsing dog shit all over the classrooms. Unless they're too young to notice the difference between the words Schule (school) and Schuhe (shoes). That still wouldn't explain it however...

In fairness, there's quite a good chance of walking in dog shit around Berlin. I know I used to do it all the time after I first moved here, presumably because I was wandering around in a state of excitement, looking up all the time at the novelties all around me. I never looked down where I was walking.

German dog owners seem to expect their mutts to be as efficient as the rest of them and to scoop up their own crap, but the canines don't oblige the misleading stereotype and leave their mounds of foulness there for recent immigrants and, apparently, schoolkids to walk in. The dogs don't give a shit, or rather, they do.

It would never happen in Ireland, where the dogs wear slippers to stop them walking in Irish schoolkids' shite. Only when safely home in the sanctuary of their kennels would the dogs dare take off their protection.

Now that I've been living here almost 14 months, I guess things aren't so new for me and I've been looking where I put my feet before putting them there. I guess my bike has a lot to do with it too. I've been cycling everywhere, so my feet no longer need touch the ground
Yes, it's been a while since I stepped on a dog turd. A bird did shit on me as I was walking through the park at Humboldthain however, and another actually shat in my soup while I was looking forward to some fine Mexican cuisine at the Zócalo in Oaxaca last January.
It seems I attract shit no matter where I go. As long as it's good shit I don't mind.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tribune strikes gold

Irish newspaper readers were in for a rare treat on Sunday morning. Not only did they wake up with that warm feeling which comes with the realisation Monday is a bank holiday, (the pub is suddenly an optional cure for the inevitable hungover,) but sitting at the breakfast table, sipping Barry's Tea and tucking into greasy rashers, runny eggs and more-fat-than-meat sausages, they may have leafed through the pages of the Sunday Tribune.
They may have stumbled upon a certain article. "Wow!" they would have exclaimed through a gobfull of toast and half-eaten sausage, sending lumps of food tumbling onto the pages below. Shaking the crumbs and chewed pig particles off the page, they would then have proceeded to read the rest of the article, a piece so brilliant, so damn informative and witty, so freakin' fabulous, they may even have gone back to bed, just so they could get up and do it all over again.
Yes, the Sunday Tribune's readers struck gold this week.
http://www.tribune.ie/arts/article/2009/may/03/springtime-for-hitler-upsets-the-vaterland/

Monday, May 04, 2009

Springtime for Hitler

Hitler will soon again be performing in Berlin; a prospect filling locals with unease and trepidation 64 years after World War II.
Germans are bracing themselves to see him in an unfamiliar role however, as the Führer is taking to the stage to sing “Heil Myself”, flanked by tap-dancing Nazis and accompanied by big-busted beauties wearing over-sized pretzels and sausages on their heads.

The Producers: Springtime for Hitler was always going to cause controversy in the Vaterland if and when it ever opened here, but its German premiere on May 15th in the theatre where Adolf had his own private box is, for some, just pushing things too far.

Elderly locals complained straight away about the red Nazi-esque banners adorning the Admiralspalast on Friedrichstraße, bringing police quickly to the scene. There was even a complaint from the German advertising agency despite the use of pretzels in place of the swastika, banned under German law.

Some might say Mel Brooks’ hit Broadway musical is following in the footsteps of Hitler itself, with the award-winning production coming to Berlin complete with Austrian cast from its 10-month stint in Vienna.
Based on his 1968 film of the same name, it first opened in 2001, and its success led to the film being remade in 2005, again under the watchful eye of Brooks. He’s understandably thrilled to see his satire shown in Hitler’s backyard, proclaiming it “a huge triumph for myself”.

However, newspaper columnists have questioned its morality, asking if it’s too soon to laugh at Hitler and the Nazis, while others feel queasy finding humour in Germany’s dark past.
For Falk Walter, manager of the Admiralspalast, there are no such issues however. “I am convinced once people see The Producers, they will be enthusiastic,” he said, “especially the younger generations, those born during or after the Nazi regime or World War II.”
Mr. Walter believes there has never been a better time to stage The Producers here, and he is hopeful that the nationalism which followed Germany’s successful hosting of the World Cup in 2006 will help people move on from the past.

Hitler frowned on the sort of debauchery which went on at Admiralspalast in the 1920s, preferring operettas such as The Merry Widow. The Nazis refurbished the theatre, building the over-sized Führer’s Box which is still there today, albeit scaled down to more modest proportions.
It can be booked for every night of The Producers’ run, except for the opening night, leading to speculation it will be attended by none other than Mel Brooks himself.
“We are hoping he can make it,” Mr. Walter explained. “He has also been invited by the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit.”

Brooks cheekily admits commercial reasons have made him a “bigger Jew than I actually am”.
One man sure not to see the funny side of all this would be Adolf himself. Thankfully he’s not in charge anymore.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Riots!

It seems the riots kicked off as soon as I left. I had gone down to Kreuzberg with camera in hand specifically to see if there would be any action. Social obligations meant I couldn't hang around indefinitely on the off chance of carnage, and so I left before the fun began.
The fuckers must have started as soon as I turned my back. I heard on the radio this morning 200 arrests were made and loads of people were injured. A group of 400 masked "militants" began throwing stones and bottles at police shortly after the bands and diversions wound up, sparking hours of running battles which lasted well into the night. The police used pepper spray and tear gas but that didn't stop cars and bins being torched, shops getting smashed up, or any police officer unfortunate enough to be separated from his buddies being attacked and beaten by gangs. Apparently some of the "protesters" threw fireworks and Molotov cocktails at police. They also threw stones and bottles at ambulance crews as they tried tend to the injured. Fucking idiots.

On Thursday night, Walpurgisnacht, we had gone to Mauerpark to party, drink beer and enjoy the festive atmosphere. The park entrances were sealed off and security searched people's bags as they went in. No bottles were allowed in, so beer was poured into plastic glasses. Then the floodlights were turned on, drenching the park with light.
The security arrangements may have been well-meaning, but totally ruined the atmosphere and we didn't hang around. Usually Mauerpark is great, everyone bringing their own bottles of beer, just sitting in the grass, chatting, listening to music or watching a performance, relaxing, enjoying the freedom of living in Berlin.
That freedom was restricted on Walpurgisnacht, and thanks to the idiots last night the police have the perfect excuse for doing so.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mayday

Berlin was crazy today. Parties, mobile raves and techno music everywhere. Everyone drinking and dancing on the streets as the sun helped draw the crowds out for Labour Day. Food stalls and barbeques were set up, it seemed, spontaneously on Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg, sending plumes of smoke billowing into the sky and mouth-watering smells wafting towards noses.
All sorts of weird and wonderful people were there. Punks mingled with freaks, the freaks mingled with hippies, the hippies with onlookers and no one seemed in anyway bemused. The carnival atmosphere promised long hot summer days to come.

I wasn't entirely satisfied however. I was expecting riots. Riots dammit! Not one bottle thrown in anger at police did I see. Nor did I see any bottles being thrown in a good-natured manner. No bottles being thrown at all in fact, in any sort of manner.
Streets were sealed off to traffic but from what I could see this was for the benefit of the on-street revellers. There were however, quite a few Polizei wagons just outside the party area, presumably ready to step in and round up any unrulies if things got out of hand.
The Polizei themselves looked bored however. Their expectations, apparently, matched my own.