Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Legal leeches

More problems with the law. This time not the Polizei for a change, but a lawyer who's attempting to charge me €100 for doing absolutely nothing at all.
Lawyers are, of course, the leeches of the legal system, and Stefan the solicitor turned out to be no different. I originally went to see him three weeks ago, after being encouraged to do so by Björn, another solicitor, but one who's ultimately no longer in the trade, perhaps because he wasn't leechy enough.
"I spoke with my colleague and he would love to help you with your case," Björn wrote. I definitely had a case, he believed, and his colleague apparently agreed.
So I went to see Stefan with high hopes of seeing justice after I was effectively fired before I'd even started a job. My would-be-employers apparently changed their minds about employing me in the three months between the interview and the agreed start date in February - and then failed to tell me.
Once I actually met the fucker, Stefan hummed and hawed as if Germany depended on it. His tune had changed drastically and he informed me how difficult it would all be, that I'd be liable for the other crowd's costs, that it could impact world peace, jeopardise inter-spacial trade agreements, cause the English to win world cups etc. etc.
After telling him just to write the damn letter seeking damages, start the legal ball rolling, he agreed to do so. He wrote a different letter however. Not two days passed before I got a letter from him, this a bill for €229.55, which I was to pay him before he did anything at all. The fucker must have typed it up as soon as I left.
Of course I rang him. He helpfully pointed out that this was the cost of his services if he wrote the letter. He still wasn't optimistic of success however. If I was reluctant to proceed, he informed me kindly, he would "just" charge me for the time he spent with me.
"I usually charge €130 for an hour," he pointed out, "but I'll be able to do it for you for a bit less." What a prick. I reminded him he left me waiting at our appointed time for 20 minutes if not more.

Today a bill for €99.96 arrived. "Falls Sie die Sache nicht weiter verfolgen möchten, würde ich Ihnen insoweit als Honorar 84,00 € zuzüglich 19% Umsatzsteuer, insgesamt 99,96 € in Rechnung stellen."
Of course I rang him again. "So you're asking me for €230 to write a letter you believe has no chance of success, or €100 to do - in effect - nothing," I said.
He complained the €100 wasn't "für nichts" but for his time and advice. Now I know why he was so keen to take the case.
I pointed out I wouldn't have gone to see him at all if he hadn't told Björn he'd gladly take the case. "Bin ganz unzufrieden damit," I told him.
I added that €100 is almost half my monthly rent, and that I'm still (hence the legal case) looking for employment. There were free legal advice services available.
"Das tut mir Leid," he replied. Sorry my arse. He wasn't sorry enough to scrap his bill.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Half-full / Half-empty

Personal vanity has once again been sacrificed. Today I ordered glasses for the second time. The last time I ordered glasses with the intention of improving my perception of things around me, I left them behind on a bus city tour of Cuidad de México. They were left sitting on the seat beside me, perhaps proving that I didn't really need them to begin with. After all, if I wasn't going wear them on a feckin' sightseeing tour, then when was I going to wear them?
After buying them at considerable expense at a place called Apollo Optik, I thought I'd be able to see things on the moon. An opticians for astronauts (or cosmonauts as probably called here). Arse. I would have been happy just to see an old rocket wreck, or a ruined lunar module, but I could see no such things. I couldn't even find the film studio where Armstrong allegedly planted the flag or started any of the other conspiracy theories.

I'd probably only worn the glasses five times altogether, each dealing a further blow to my self-esteem and pride. I felt like one of those poor dogs who have to suffer the ignominy of those conical flea-collars, walking around with heads like satellite dishes while their fellow canines snigger and guffaw, suppressing the howls of laughter for fear of themselves catching the fleas' attention.
But the seed of having perfect eyesight was planted in my head. How great it would be to see things on the moon! I'd tried everything. Even carrots, but I soon found that's another myth. I dunno how many carrots I'd stuck into my eyes to better my night-vision but they seem to have the opposite effect. I might as well have eaten the damn things.

So eventually I decided it was glasses or nothing. I didn't go back to the lying Schweinhunde at Apollo however, instead taking my increasingly-decreased sheckles to the unfortunately-named Fielmann. What a terrible name for an opticians. Why feel when you can see?
Never mind. With the help of a volunteer with perhaps the greatest to lose/gain from my new furniture face features, I finally picked a pair of spectacles today which bring the promise of new discoveries. Sure, I might look like an eejit, but won't it be great to have supersonic eyesight? The air-bubble rising as a fish burps after a good meal; the fear on a fly's face when he sees the spider coming and realises the futility of struggling against the sticky clutches of the web; the spider's look of disappointment when he realises it's just another skinny fruit-fly in his ointment.
I'm not happy about this development, but unseen things remain to be seen. And if I do look like a fool, hopefully I'll look like an intellectual fool.

Norbie's back!

He's back! The chancer who abandoned Spreepark €15 million in debt, made off with six of the fairground attractions, and then attempted to smuggle €21 million worth of cocaine back to Germany, Norbert Witte is back!
He's now actually living in a couple of caravans on the site of the abandoned fairground. (Mystery of the security guard I believed to be on the site is solved.)
Divorced, broke and somewhat repentant for leaving his son rot in a Peruvian prison, Witte still harbours ambitions to make it once again. "Once a showman, always a showman," he told Der Spiegel. "I'm curious to see if I can make it to the top once again."
Maybe he should consider a life in politics. I'm sure Fianna Fáil, for one, would welcome him with open arms.

Witte was responsible for the deaths of seven people in Hamburg in 1981, when he crashed a crane into a carousel while attempting to repair the "Catapult" rollercoaster. Fifteen people were also injured, some seriously, in what is to date Germany's worst carnival disaster.
Apparently he has no problems sleeping or going out though, even as Marcel, his son, faces another 17 years of hell in a Peruvian jail. "To endure the pain, you have to try not to think about it," he said.
Achterbahn, a documentary by Peter Dörfler, opens in Berlin on Thursday, when cinemagoers can hear the scarcely-believable story of a chancer whose mistakes have always been paid for by others.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Berlin cycology

Bought a new lock for my bicycle yesterday. €35. Thirty-five euro!!! But one has to be certain in this city of bike thieves but otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Over 23,000 bicycles are reported stolen every year in Berlin, so I wasn't taking any chances when my old lock died. Through some sort of bike-lock karma, it died straight after Jenny bought a new lock for her bicycle.
The damned bike is costing me a fortune, what with locks this week, a new back-light the week before, crash damage compensation two weeks before that, and all manner of shit before.
It also has an insatiable appetite for puncture repair kits and new tubes, probably due to Berlin's lax laws regarding drinking in public - broken glass all over the place. Still, in not complaining. If daily punctures are the price for on-street parties and outdoor revelry, then so be it!
Of course, the current bike is the third I bought since moving here. The first was shite, so I had to bring it back. (Never buy a bicycle with square wheels.) The second was stolen less than a week after I paid €400 for it. Locals advised me at the time to buy a crappy old bike for €20 which would attract less attraction and be less prone to glances from envious bike thieves. Did I listen? No. That would admit defeat. I went out and bought exactly the same bike. Another €400. This time however, I made sure to insure it.
I've been disappointed with the thieves' response to be honest. Now I have the same bike almost a year later. The fuckers must know it's insured so they won't steal it. I'd been hoping lately it would be stolen so I could get another bike. One that's bigger, faster, lighter, snazzier - einfach besser. Maybe one that can fly too. I've been cycling like a lunatic lately (38.4km yesterday), so a flying bicycle would actually be quite useful.
So when the old lock died, I was presented with a dilemma - do I actually get a lock or not? Maybe I should simply leave the bike at the mercy of the thieves before claiming the insurance and buying my new super-bike. After all, what's the point of insurance unless one makes use of it?
In the end I bought the lock. It's a damn good one, which means, according to Murphy's Law, my bike should be stolen sooner rather than later. Knowing the way the thieves' minds work however, they'll probably steal the lock (because it's not insured) and leave the bike. Schweinehunde!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Um ein Haar

Today was a momentous day! I finally got a haircut. As it turned out, having consulting mobile phone and SMS evidence, it was exactly six months to the day since I'd been to Dee's for the last one (not December 16th as previously thought).
I'd have been pissed off if I found out I didn't make the self-imposed six month shearing famine, but to be honest there wasn't another moment to lose. My hair was getting ridiculous! It was bad enough being called a mushroom about a month ago, then a woolly mammoth, then a Beatle; but yesterday someone told me I was from the "80er Jahre". That was the final straw. The fucking 80s! The decade which should be banished to to history, ignored like it never existed. Of course in Germany the 80s has always been in fashion, probably even before the 80s began.
It was time to act. For the first time I could ever remember, I could feel my hair blowing in the wind when I cycled, billowing like a mermaid's. But my head was heavy. The heat was unbelievable. I was starting to feel a sheep was actually living on my head, or at least his fur anyway. Something needed to be done! Jana recommended Friseur Kaiserschnitt for "sehr gute, coole Haarschnitte" but they were booked up 'til Monday, so I turned to the interweb for advice. Someone called Injured Ninja wrote the following on Toytown: "Go to Haarschneiderei on Pappelallee in Prenzlauer Berg. I can't recommend them highly enough ... their haircuts are always fantastic."
I presumed the poor ninja wasn't injured getting a haircut or he wouldn't have written a review like that, so up I went. The girl's eyes widened when she saw me. Mouth opened and closed. She almost dropped the scissors she was holding.
"Ja ja, es ist ganz dick," said I, stating the obvious. "Ich will das dunner haben."
She gulped. Beckoned me to a chair. A bead of sweat ran down her brow. She asked me to wait a little while. Presumably so she could gather her nerves.
The place itself was funky à la Berlin. Groovy beats. Low sofas and armchairs. A fancy coffee table featuring a selection of fashion magazines casually laid out for perusal. Playboy included. A long white skinny pointy dog lay spread out in front of the table. Evidently he'd already read all the magazines.
It was time! After washing my hair, the girl gathered enough courage to tackle the mop. "Just do what you want," I told her. "Just make it better." I didn't care anymore. The wait was over!

Tea or not tea, that's the question

As I type I'm drinking a cup of inferior German tea. My stocks of Irish tea are running dangerously low - just three bags left! Although it's marginally better than English tea, the stuff I'm drinking now is still piss. Weak as a new-born lamb, it tastes like a watered down version of hot milk. How they can call it tea at all is beyond me. Its only offering of pleasure comes when releasing it back into the toilet I suspect it may have originated from.
Anyway, this isn't anything new. I'd always known there was no proper substitute for Irish tea. In fact, even with Irish tea one has to be careful. Noddy brought over my last batch a few weeks ago; 160 bags for which I was very grateful. He had taken them out of the box and thoughtfully placed them in a "ziplock" bag to keep them fresh. Like an excited puppy on Puppies' Day, I couldn't wait to finally get a refreshing gulp from of "a daecent cup o' scald". The first cup failed to live up to expectations however. I blamed it at the time on the manky dishcloth-taste from the cup. It obviously hadn't been rinsed after its last pretend-wash. (In fact, it would have been better if it hadn't been washed at all. The taste was revolting. Revolting in a disgusting way, not in a rebellious way.) The next cup was slightly better. Only slightly however, despite it being served in a clean cup. What's this?! Was I losing my taste for Irish tea? The only thing I truly miss from the old sod? (Friends and family excluded of course!)
I couldn't believe it. After Noddy left I had a closer look at the tea bags. Once I was sober enough to do so. Aha! Their shape betrayed their shameful origins. Lyons Tea! Lyons Pee as is should be more accurately called. I had, of course, requested Barry's Tea, as if one should ask. I know one shouldn't look a gift beggar in the mouth. (No I'm not mixing my metaphors - if someone gives you a beggar as a present, give it back. Don't even bother looking in his mouth. Brown encrusted molars poking from sore bleeding gums, not to mention the acrid vile stench.)
Everybody knows only Jackeens who don't know any better drink Lyons. (Everyone but the Jackeens.) One needs to use twice as many bags to make the strenght-equivalent of Barry's Tea, the only good thing to come from Cork, or the greatest city in the world as its deluded residents believe it to be. "Boy."
Still, even Lyons Tea is better than that stuff I've just forced myself to drink. I give out about it it, but I miss it already before its even gone.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

History in the remaking

History is being recreated, or should I say repainted, in Berlin this summer as the famous East Side Gallery gets a makeover in time for celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the wall's fall in November.
Not that the Berlin Wall actually fell down - such a thing could never happen in a country which prides itself on its sturdy workmanship - but the crossings between East and West Berlin were declared open on November 9th, 1989, prompting scenes of unbridled jubilation followed by a mass exodus of Trabis and Wartburgs across the border.
Among those celebrating at the time must have been countless graffiti artists, salivating at the thoughts of all that lovely clean smooth concrete just waiting to be painted - a blank canvas for their creations.
Up to that point of course, just the western side of the wall was adorned with graffiti. Nasty East German border guards, death strips, machine-gun fences and fearsome guard dogs among other things had kept would-be-artists well away from the GDR-side of the 140km "anti-fascist protective barrier".
After Günter Schabowski inadvertently brought about its demise by mistakenly declaring the border open, the wall met its undignified end through the actions of eager sledgehammer-swinging locals and countless souvenir-hunting Mauerspechte (wall woodpeckers), but a few sections have survived to this day.
The longest-remaining segment of the wall, a 1.3km stretch at Mühlenstraße, became the famous East Side Gallery when 118 artists from 21 countries brought their visions to life in 1990; their 105 colourful murals helping to convey the feelings of hope and euphoria at the time.
Declaring it a national monument in 1993 did not protect their works of art from almost 20 years of pollution, vandalism, graffiti (how ironic!) or weather however, and in recent years the East Side Gallery became decidedly less impressive than it had been as Berlin was taking its first steps in a brave new world following the wall fall.
Its shoddy condition became a matter of concern for the powers-that-be, especially with large celebrations pencilled in to celebrate "20 Jahre Mauerfall" later this year, and they decided to take remedial action.
(Cynics would say it's because the monument has become such a tourist magnet, with camera-clutching hordes bringing millions in €uro every year to the German capital. Almost 8 million tourists visited Berlin last year, more than double the city's population.)
After being granted €2.5 million for the restoration project, the authorities began work earlier this year; firstly stripping away the original murals, then reconstructing the cement, and then painting it with a special protective whitewash so the artists could return to recreate their works. They were to receive €3,000 each to redo their magic.
Needless to say, not all the artists were happy. The Russian Dmitri Vrubel was reportedly furious after learning through press reports of the plans. He termed the removal of the famous Bruderkuss mural as "artist abuse" and refused to recreate his image of East German leader Erich Honecker sharing a passionate kiss with his Russian counterpart Leonid Brezhnev.
Yesterday however, Vrubel grudgingly began work to repaint his iconic creation. "I don't like that my work was destroyed," the 48-year-old told reporters. "It's not good and I'm speaking up against it."
He indicated he only changed his mind about repainting the piece after speaking with Iranian artist Kani Alavi, head of the group overseeing the restoration project. Vrubel also admitted he was worried he might not be able to remember exactly what he painted, and that he would not be able to replicate it precisely as it was before. "I don't find it good but okay, I'll do it now," he said with a wry smile before starting work. He'll be at it for the next month at least.
Another unhappy camper is Bodo Sperling who is holding out for more than the €3,000 on offer. He pointed out that the city of Berlin had made "seven figure sums" from merchandising from the East Side Gallery over the years, and he wants €15,000 for recreating his work. Typical Wessie, always looking for more money. He has a few supporters. I guess they must be Wessies too.
Not all the original artists have been found, with some of the 118 going to the great art gallery in the sky, but 88 are willing to return. Of the ones that didn't die that is. They will replicate their works and restore the others to the best of their ability in time for the grand celebrations on November 9th.
So far, I have to say, the work looks great! I just happened to be passing on my bicycle on my way to an important appointment (I have to at least pretend to be busy), when the furious sound of brush strokes caught my attention. I slowed down enough to see what all the commotion was about, and was soon captivated by what I saw. I must have been there for hours, appointment forgotten as I surveyed the freshly-painted and ongoing murals before me. (I'd been there last year, before the restoration began when it looked crap, and the difference is incredible.)
One guy, who was painting with a brush just a little wider than a toothbrush, must have been getting worried as I observed him at work for ages. His work was fantastic though - a huge mural, just black and white featuring interconnected demons, spirits, thoughts, processes, plants with bones etc. Life and death, everything connected, whatever the hell it means, it was great stuff - something I told the artist in German before realising later on he's probably an Auslander like me. He didn't reply in any case, probably afraid I'd stay even longer if he did.

More pictures are here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mütters Rache!

Ein Sieg! Ein Sieg! Endlich ein Sieg! Nicht ein Sieg gegen ein Mannschaft von alte Omas oder einbeinige Invaliden, sondern gegen ein Mannschaft von echte Männer (mit alle ihren Beinen)! Gestern haben Theresas Mütter gewonnen! 7-1! Ja, SIEBEN! Wahnsinn na? Nach unsere dunkle Tage scheint die Sonne noch mal!

Non-Deutsch speakers may have gathered from the above that we finally won a game in the league. We won! 7-1 with yours truly scoring the all-important second goal. Woohoo!
We had the chance to avenge the heartbreak of three weeks ago when we were cruelly beaten by a last-minute goal. Once again we were pitted against Westberliner SC. Their unjust victory focused our minds as never before. We even had a team plan with our positions marked clearly on a little pitch. I'd never seen such diligent preparation before!
We were focused, we were motivated, we were ready! We got stuck them into right from the whistle. Within a few minutes we got our first reward. Jean Baptiste opened the scoring with typical French flair to put us in the lead. Take that you fuckers! Belief surged through our veins. We can do it!
We had another attack. Ball played forward behind the defence. I bust my guts to get to it before their goalkeeper. We both got there at the same time and both kicked the ball at the same time. THUMPPP!!! We stopped. The ball inched towards the goal. We looked, spellbound as it crawled towards the line. I mean crawled. I could have gone home, stuck the kettle on, made tea, rang the relations in Ireland, and then come back to see it finally roll over. Not my classiest strike, but what the hell, it went in!
2-0 and just 20 minutes played! JB then scored his second to put us in a commanding position at half time. We remained cautious however. Our heartbreak from before still fresh in the memory. 4-1 up before losing 4-5. We were determined not to let that happen again!

After we scored again at the start of the second half, Skodran winked at me, a great smile on his face. "Noch nicht," I warned him. "Wir müssen aufpassen!"
Sure enough, we then gifted them a goal. A shitty annoying crap goal to give away to bring memories of three weeks previously flooding back. 4-1 again.
We'd learned our lesson however. We wanted revenge! No way could these West Berliners beat us again! Damned Wessies.
Revenge is a dish best served cold someone once said. Not sure if that was a footballer or Al Capone. He might have said it after a match for Mobsters United against the Chicago Police Department. Now that would have been an interesting game. Bound to be followed by a shoot-out.
Anyway, we kept cool heads while our opponents lost theirs - throwing themselves to the ground after tackles, screaming pathetically after every half-contact, having fits when the referee's decisions didn't go their way. Jesus, I just wanted to slap them.
Instead we scored more goals. Martin put Germany on the scoreboard, Frederico slammed the ball home for Colombia, and Skodran kept the Kosovan fans happy with his second to cap off a truly international victory for Theresas Mütter!
It was also a victory for the team, with everyone including our two Mädels playing their part.

Afterwards, tucking into our Shawarma and Falafel at our celebratory dinner in in Neukölln, I asked my teammates what division we were actually playing in. They were amazed I'd been playing for the team for almost a year and half before wondering what division we were in, but then I found out why nobody had told me before: we were in Division 4B, the last of the last, and up to yesterday we had been bottom of the pile.

The worst team in Berlin? Not anymore! From the bottom, there's only one way to go. Onwards and upwards for Theresas Mütter!

Mehr Bilder sind hier.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Einfach so

Wasserdampf is the German for steam. Der Wasserdampf to be precise. It illustrates perfectly the wonderful functionality and matter-of-factness of the German language. Why invent a new word when sticking two words together will do? In this case, Wasser (water) and Dampf (damp). Waterdamp = steam!
A totally logical language. A pity the grammar then screws that all up.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spreepark! (And how to get in)

The spirits of dead clowns had been mocking me long enough. Since April they had been goading me, taunting me, deriding me for not venturing in. So yesterday I finally confronted them, stared down my fears and faced down the evil clowns.
Getting over the fence was easier than I thought. Almost as if they had been expecting me. They wanted me to come in. I hit the ground and stopped. All was eerily quiet as I surveyed the area around me. I looked around again. Nothing. Just trees and shrubs. Cautiously, heart beating like a drum, I proceeded up the bank towards the overgrown path, slipping in the soft ground beneath me.
What's that?! A snicker? A suppressed laugh from a tree perhaps. Or one of the clowns. I looked back again but nothing was there. All quiet. "Calm down!" I told myself. "There's no one here, nothing here. You have the whole park to yourself!"

I'd finally made it into Spreepark, an old GDR-era amusement park flanked by the River Spree, abandoned to the elements at the edge of Treptower Park in Berlin.
East Germany's only permanent funpark after opening as the 29.5 hectare Kulturpark Plänterwald in 1969, it was hugely popular, not least because of its 45 metre Riesenrad (ferris wheel).

Spreepark was host to some 1.7 million visitors a year at its peak. Since the wall fell in 1989 however, its decline began. Only 400,000 visitors graced the park with their presence in 2001 before it was finally closed, escalating prices, stupid decisions and dodgy dealings contributing to its demise. Debts of €11 million were reported.

One of the head honchos responsible for the thing, Norbert Witte, legged it to Peru in 2002, along with his family and six of the park's attractions which, the authorities naïvely believed, were to be repaired there. The fools. Witte tried to open a funpark in Lima but failed, and in 2004 was jailed for seven years for attempting to smuggle €21 million worth of cocaine in the masts of the "Flying Carpet" ride back to Germany. There must be Irish blood in that family. Witte's son was also jailed for drug smuggling (20 years) in 2006.

Spreepark is now just left to rot among the trees and foliage of Plänterwald, its roller-coasters rusty and neglected, buildings boarded up, and fun-rides left for just the birds and rats to enjoy. It's fenced off from unwanted guests and big angry signs proclaim "Betreten verboten!" every 100 metres or so.

Of course, that just makes it more fun to go in! Spraoí, coincidently pronounced Spree, means fun in Irish, and it was even better than I imagined it could be - probably even more fun now than it was when it was open.
I quickly found the water-slides with their boats now covered in leaves and shit. A bit further on I found the first roller-coaster with its cars still lined up ready to go, eager to plunge into the gaping jaws of a fearsome-looking cat/tiger. The ferris wheel still looms over the park, its 36 cabins begging for someone to climb in. (Unfortunately the bridge to it is broken, so there's no way to get over unless one wades through the stagnant foul-smelling water surrounding it. I declined to do so.) Beside the ferris wheel is an old abandoned viking ship, and near that one can find the remains of dinosaurs which used to freely roam the park. Other buildings scattered around the park also invite investigation.

Exploration is not possible without a thumping heartbeat and adrenalin surging throughout your body however. Weird noises broke the eerie silence. Strange wildlife apparently now call Spreepark home, and they did their best to frighten the bejaysus out of me while I was there. Rustling in the grass, shuffling in the trees etc. I heard voices from time to time, sending my heart up into my mouth. Luckily they were just passers-by walking on the path outside.
Then a black Mercedes cruised along by the side of the fence and stopped suddenly. I froze and waited, before pushing on deeper into the park. I'd no idea who that was, and I'd no desire to find out.

There are rumours of a 24-hour watchman who guards Spreepark but I didn't encounter him. I suspect if he exists at all that he's based at the northern end of the park, where I saw a van and signs of recent activity. I did find fresh tyre tracks in the soil, so there was definitely someone else there in a vehicle shortly before me. Trespassing is not looked upon with kind eyes in Germany so it's better to be careful.

Spreepark is a wonderful playground though, and one which shouldn't be boarded up and sealed off from the public, so I've compiled the following little guide for people who would also like to experience the joys and thrills of an old abandoned East German fairground. Of course, I could never encourage anyone to trespass or do anything illegal. This guide is for information purposes only!

Spreewald Berlin.

Kiehnwerderallee 1-3, 12437, Berlin.
How to get there
Get the S-Bahn to Plänterwald or Treptower Park and walk from there. Map can be accessed
Getting in
The fence is in bad repair in places. Simply walk along until you find a low spot, or slide under one of the few gaps underneath. It may be easier to find an entry point during the day than at night!

When to go

Daytime is definitely easier to get in and explore. There are more people about in surrounding park however. Nighttime is definitely spookier!

Difficulty rating
3/10 Not too difficult. Patience needed to find a spot to hop over fence.

Who to bring

Friends. Do NOT go alone!
What to bring
Camera. Beer. A bottle of tequila is also good, preferably with oranges and cinnamon. Can be drunk either beforehand for courage, while sitting beside the River Spree, or while straddling one of the fallen dinosaurs.
Rumours of a security man may be well-founded. Care must be taken. Also watch out
for nosy passers-by who may feel its their duty to report trespassers. Petty fuckers. Oh, and watch out for the dead clowns.

Hopefully this can be of use to some people. Please share with the world, and leave a brief comment if you found the information of use, or if you want to share your experiences. Any suggestions are also welcome, or indeed, if you know of other abandoned buildings or sites around Berlin which demand exploration!
Viel Spaß!

Mehr Bilder sind hier.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Fighting on all fronts

I'd forgotten about the Polizei's mysterious €35 fine. I was supposed to have paid it within a week but it completely slipped my mind. Yesterday I called in to see them to demand why the Polizeipräsident wanted my money. "Ich verstehe das nicht," I protested, pointing to the numbers, codes and gibberish they had sent me.
Coincidentally, the grumpy sow who was called to the accident at the time was at the front desk. "I know you," she said, as she narrowed her eyes in true Community Garda fashion. Yeah, probably from the manslaughter trial when I was accused of killing all those nuns with a flame-thrower. Jesus, talk of making a bid deal out of nothing. I came off my bicycle for Christ's sake! She remembered the accident then, and put her gun away.
Thankfully her colleague was a bit more helpful. "Ja," he boomed. "It's a little 'warning fine' we give you so that you'll be more careful in future."
Ah Jesus, thanks lads. I didn't think the €375 I forked over to the Audi driver was enough. It's very nice of you to fine me another €35 to teach me to me more careful.
The policeman actually said it as if he was doing me a favour, smiling and nodding as if proud of his work. "And can I fight against it?" I asked. "Yes of course," he replied, but he didn't see the point.
"In our experience very few challenges are successful, and it will almost certainly cost you a lot more money," he said jovially. "If I were you I'd just pay the fine."
Fuck it. I'd say he's right. So off I go later to the post office to pay the €35 which will teach me to "aufpassen" in future.
The whole sorry thing has definitely taught me one thing - the next time I'm cycling along not looking where I'm going and I crash into the back of an expensive car, I'll be keeping the words from a certain film very much in mind: "Run Forrest, Run!"

Meanwhile, another legal matter is receiving my attention. Yesterday I also went to see Stefan the solicitor. (Björn's no longer in the trade unfortunately). I told him of my would-be-employers who agreed to give me a job last October, but who changed their minds before I was due to start on February 2nd last. That wasn't the problem as such, rather that they only informed me of their about-turn on January 26th despite my repeated attempts to get in touch with them in the meantime. Everything had been agreed: wages, commission etc. Three emails and numerous phone calls failed to elicit a response up to a week before the arranged start date. I had also turned down other invitations for interview, including one for Lufthansa for whom I would undoubtedly eventually become a pilot.
Björn had earlier told me I definitely had a case, and it was his enthusiasm which prompted me to see Stefan. He also has a goatee (no earring though), but unfortunately he didn't share his colleague's optimism. He hummed and hawed and pulled all manner of weird faces.
"Hmmmm. It's very difficult," he said. "Hummmm. Hawwww." He pointed out that I would be liable for the other side's court costs if it went that far and I lost.
We'll cross that bridge when we come to it I told him, before eventually just asking him to go ahead and write them a letter. We'll see what happens then.
"It's something to do," I told Stefan. Alea iacta est. The wheels of justice are in motion!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Respekt vor der Mütter

A day to live long in the memory. Saturday was one of heroics for Theresas Mütter. A whisker away from the semi-finals. A whisker! Or, to be precise, a penalty kick which sailed cruelly over the crossbar to bring our increasingly-unbelievable fairytale to an end.
We were one of 58 teams to take part in the fourth annual anti-homophobia Respect Gaymes at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark. I didn't know what to expect to be honest. An orgy of gayness. Drag queens. Transvestites. Lesbians in studs and leathers. Nipples. Nudity. Nakedness. Nothing special - just like any party in Berlin really...

We forgot all about that after we topped Group 8. We topped it! A draw and three straight wins, the highlight a victory over the CDU. There was no way we could been beaten by a fucking political party. We hounded them for the ball. They were bigger, stronger, faster and more skillful than us, but we kept on their heels, snapping, snapping, snapping. No surrender! One guy went past me with the ball. I kicked him and fouled him as much as I could to hinder him, eventually throwing myself at him in a bear-hug/rugby tackle to stop him. It worked. He didn't get past. To be honest I should have been given at least a yellow card, but it didn't matter; these fuckers knew we weren't going down without a fight! They were rattled. They saw the contempt in our eyes. That contempt turned to joy when we scored. And then another! Woohoo!
We also beat a team of midgets, a team of hippies/punks/wasters (I'm not sure which) and drew with a team of South Americans. Nine goals scored altogether. None conceded! Along the way I found out beer between games doesn't help at all. But we were top of the group and ready for the second round!

The next lads were a different proposition. A team of Turks who knew how to play football. They patiently passed the ball around among themselves. We ran and ran, but couldn't get anywhere near it. Frederico kept us in the game with a couple of stunning saves. Then heartbreak. They scored, as they'd been threatening to do for so long. The first goal we'd conceded all afternoon. Shit. Come on people! Wir müssen ein Tor schießen!
I came on for Shkodran with two minutes left on the clock. We desperately needed a goal. We surged forward. The ball was lashed in. The defence found it hard to deal with. Out of the sky it dropped. I shot. And scored! How the fucking thing went in I don't know. It was an impossible angle, and the ball just looped over the despairing arms of the 'keeper. Still, I'm not complaining! We celebrated as if we'd won the World Cup. Woohoo!
The final whistle went. 1-1. And so to the dreaded penalties to decide who went through. Up stepped Cristoph, Jean Baptiste and Eoin to decide our destiny. Jesus... the tension. We could barely look. Fingers in mouths. I guzzled the rest of the beer. We needn't have worried however. The lads did the business, and we were through to the quarter finals!

Our next opponents were again a serious outfit, although one would never have guessed it from their name - Flowing Soccers. They flowed their soccer around us and again we found ourselves a goal down with just two minutes left. Frederico abandoned his goal in true Colombian-goalkeeper fashion and ran forward, crossing the ball, but my snap shot was deflected wide. I've never seen a goalkeeper take a corner before but take it Frederico did, and then... Tomas rose like a colossus to head the ball to the back of the net. Woohoo! The dream continued...
Penalties again. Nerves again. Tension. Stress. Strain. After our three penalty takers shot we were still level. They had to go again. Jesus, the tension! Two successful kicks again. Our last kick, however, flew cruelly over the crossbar. That was it. All over. Die Ende. 5-6. But what great heights we reached! Just by fighting like fuck and never letting the heads down.

It was a good day's work. We each got a certificate thanking us for "Ein Zeichen gegen Homophobie". Für Hass und Gewalt gibt's die Rote Karte, it said. Slightly optimistic I'd say. Apparently, the poster boy for the Gaymes is a 21-year-old Turkish Berliner footballer who's been getting mountains of abuse since he appeared on the posters last year. He didn't expect the same poster to be used again this year. "I'm really pissed off," he said unhappily.

The football itself was a welcome respite from the ongoing political disputes, bitter rows and heated arguments which are threatening to tear Theresas Mütter apart. Jesus, it makes Real Madrid look like a well-run ship! Some people are tired of continuously losing (in the league) and want to change the system to increase our chances of winning. Others feel this compromises the team's ethos of all are welcome irrespective of ability, size, shape, creed, species etc. Others just wanna play football! Time will tell if Saturday was a last hurrah or a sign of greater things to come...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Legal alien

Today was an important day for me as a recently-arrived immigrant. I registered! Only 437 days late. "Besser spät als nie," as I've been saying quite a lot since I got here.
I thought it was about time I finally got all my affairs in order, so off I went again to the local Bürgeramt. The queues reminded me why I'd been avoiding it in the first place. Nothing to do with fast food, Bürger are people apparently, so I had to queue with the other Bürgers and wait my turn. I've still no idea what an Amt is. A selfish ant perhaps.
God I hate waiting. It's not helped when the place is stuffed with screaming babies. The place was jammed! The stench of stale sweat was overpowering. The yabbering, the screeches, the shouts. It started me thinking crazy things. Bürgers queueing after the pub in Henry & Rose (chippers) waiting for drunken idiots and chips. It occurred to me if I was in Hamburg I'd be a Hamburger Bürger. Or in Frankfurt, a Frankfurter Bürger. And so on.
After running out of amusing Bürger combinations I contemplated the ramifications of my registering. Did it make me German? Do I want to be German? "No way!" I told myself. What kind of man would I be, throwing away my heritage, blood and roots willy nilly? (Never my willy.)
And German?! I'm happy to call myself a Berliner but I could never call myself German. I couldn't be associated with those Lederhosen-wearing fuckbags in Bayern or anywhere in the south, or indeed with the West Germans either. Damn Wessies.
Berlin is not Germany I decided. That calmed me down a bit by the time they eventually called my number. I was never so happy to see 326 flashing on a screen before.
"Dreihundert sechs und zwanzig?" she queried as I went to sit down. "Ja," I replied. "Ich wollte mich anmelden."
She held her hand out, but not in a manner that encouraged a handshake. Palm upwards. She looked at me expectantly. Was she looking for a bribe? After leaving me wait for three hours?!
"Der Zettel bitte!" she barked. Jeeesus. She wanted the docket with the number on it. Good thing I hadn't thrown it away. Or eaten it. I handed it over along with the other forms and my passport and she tapped away at her computer.
Ten small-talk-free minutes later it was done. I was registered! No longer an illegal alien or whatever I had been up to then. She handed me a copy of the form and that was that.
To be honest I was a little disappointed. I thought a few balloons might have come from the ceiling. Crackers and streamers going off. Maybe some trumpets. Maybe she'd pull out a bottle of Sekt (sparkling wine) from under her desk, pop the cork and a troupe of dancing girls would come out of nowhere kicking their legs high in the air... But no. 'Twasn't to be. Ah well!

Meanwhile, I thought the legal crap was all behind me after settling with the Audi guy on Tuesday but the Polizei have other ideas apparently. I've to pay a €35 fine to the Polizeipräsident according to an official-looking letter which arrived yesterday. I've genuinely no idea why. (It's not because I wasn't registered.)
The alleged offence(s) were outlined by a series of numbers designed to stop even native-speakers from understanding the supposed crimes. I presume that's the Polizeipräsident's real game: how can you defend something when you don't know what you're accused of? The fucker. Probably a Wessie. Kaká I say to him. I've been saying Kaká a lot since yesterday in fact. Suddenly €35 doesn't seem like so much money anymore.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

German toilet humour

The idea of Germans having no sense of humour is a myth. I find the opposite is true in fact. Sure they may laugh at things no one else would find funny and tell bad jokes which they alone find absolutely hilarious, but I think this only shows they have a very healthy sense of humour indeed. Of course, the locals particularly appreciate the humour generated from others' misfortunes - you'll never hear a good offer of Schadenfreude turned down.
Germans like nothing better than a good laugh, the louder the better, preferably raucous and accompanied by a spate of hearty thigh-slapping. Most of the time, I've no idea at all why they're laughing and can only presume it's because of something extraordinarily witty and perhaps satirical I may inadvertently have said. (It may also be because of my increasingly ridiculous-looking hair. I've decided to get it cut on June 16th, exactly half a year since it was last chopped!)

Toilet humour, as it is sometimes disparagingly referred to by societies to the west which consider themselves more refined, is well appreciated here. I can think of no better example than the following which can be found on a toilet which is close to my heart (and sometimes other parts).
Originally an advert for Deutsche Post's parcel service, it features a surprised-looking rabbit with its ears cocked to the sides in a most seductive manner.
"Hattu Päckchen?" it asks. "Muttu einwerfen!" (Have you a small parcel? You must throw it in!)
I'm sure it's not the use the marketing gurus at Deutsche Post intended for it, nor indeed the rabbit. Apart from the subtle reference to shite, another source of amusement for native speakers is the language used. It's actually bad German, or even babies' German. Maybe both. Bad babies' German. The little cigarette-smoking tattooed feckers.
You'd only find a bad baby saying "Hattu" instead of "Hast Du", or using "Muttu" for "Muß Du".
It may also be, in fact, rabbits' German, which would make sense since a rabbit is featured in the picture. I don't know. I haven't engaged a rabbit in conversation here yet so I've no idea how they handle their grammar. Maybe their Deutsch isn't fleißig yet either.
Either way, the locals take great pleasure (luckily) in hearing their own language butchered by Ausländers like me - perhaps the real reason they find my anecdotes so rip-roaringly hilarious.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Case closed

The Audi/bike crash/legal saga is officially over. I thought I'd better do something about it when I got a call last week from a solicitor who shot her mouth off like a machine gun before I'd even had a chance to figure out what was going on.
"Mein Deutsch ist ganz schlecht," I informed her. "Ein bißchen langsamer bitte."
She shot her mouth off again, albeit a little slower as requested. A less effective machine gun who wanted to know what I proposed to do about the accident from May 11th. I told her I wouldn't be doing anything until I spoke to my own legal advisers.
Björn the solicitor wasn't very encouraging when I told him about the case on Wednesday.
"You're fucked," he told me. Matlock wouldn't have been so honest. "A court will say you're to blame, if not 100 per cent, then 90 or 80 per cent. The best you can hope for is 80 per cent."
He was actually confirming what a Polizist had earlier said. The fact I was on a bike was no defence, nor was the fact the car in front stopped suddenly. Apparently I should have been looking where I was going. Crazy Germans and their crazy laws.
Anyway, Björn recommended if the Audi driver offered for me to pay €500 or €800 (as it would have been with the proposed English lessons) then I should take up that offer.
"It will still work out cheaper than going to court, paying the legal fees and then probably having to pay full price (€1,242) for the damage anyway," he pointed out. Dammit.
The next day I rang the Audi guy. I told him I was prepared to make an offer out of goodwill as my solicitor told me I may have been partly to blame. I'd pay for half the repairs if he got it done for the under-the-table quoted price of €750. So I offered €375. He accepted! "When can you pay? he wanted to know.
So today I met him at Viva Mexico again. I asked him to sign a disclaimer absolving me of any admission of guilt, blame or wrongdoing and he did so without qualms. I gave him the money, out of which he paid for two coffees and that was that. Case closed.

It's great not to have to worry about it anymore, and not to have to flee to South America, but still a pain in the arse having to fork over €375 for three dents in the back of a stinkin' Audi. Why couldn't he drive a banger like anyone else?
He actually still persisted with the English lessons thing when I met him today, asking if I'd meet him for five 45-minute sessions so he could practice. "I'd pay for the coffees," he kindly offered.
I reminded him there was a €375-sized hole in my bank account, and that if he wanted to learn English he'd have to pay like anyone else. It seems, if nothing else, that this whole sorry affair may have just launched my teaching career.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Pollen Krieg!

Friday 2136 hours the first attack struck without warning. Another quickly followed. Then another. And another. With all the clinical efficiency of a well-oiled military campaign, the attacks continued throughout the night without pause for respite or mercy until the devastation could be assessed in the morning.
It wasn't a pretty sight. Red puffy glassy eyes. Snuffly red nose. A mountain of tissues left where rescue teams had been attempting to tend to the injured. Once again blitzkrieg had taken its toll. One relentless attack after another leaving behind a trail of devastation. As in Poland 70 years ago, the menace again came from the air, pollen cells replacing the bombs to leave a world of suffering and misery in their wake.

With hindsight it's now clear there had been warnings. Sneezes and watery eyes the previous weekend should have been heeded. There were fears the dreaded hay-fever would strike sooner or later but nothing had been done. No precautions taken. As if the problem would go away if ignored. Like the French and British appeasement of another H however, ignoring it just made it worse.

The attacks continued on Saturday. Defenses were hastily gathered and put into effect but it seemed to little avail. Antiallergikum and Nasenspray came up against a foe with all the tactical prowess of Erwin Rommel in North Africa. Luckily for the myth of the Desert Fox he didn't have to deal with much pollen in the Sahara.

Seeing the pollen's remarkable success, and buoyed by favourable weather conditions (rain and dropping temperatures in Berlin playing their part), other parties with their own agendas joined in, much like Italy, Japan and Hungary did all those years ago. A cold struck on Saturday night, displaying the same military techniques as its close ally hay-fever. A cough then saw its opportunity and struck. High temperatures took hold later still, followed by shivering, sweating, general nausea and an inability to think properly or concentrate, as the invaders did all they could to further their advancements.

Just when it seemed all hope was lost however, prospects at their bleakest, the defences recorded their first success. Sleep played a huge role, although the Antiallergikum, Nasenspray and Meditonsin are all claiming credit. Sometime in the last 24 hours it seems the tide was turned. I'm happy now to say the battle is being won.

The German for pollen (der Pollen) is practically the same as the German for Poland (Polen). I think it's also fair to say some Poles still harbour grudges against Germany after all that nasty business some 70 years ago. Is the striking similarity between the two words a coincidence? Is hay-fever perhaps a dastardly attempt at revenge?
A Polish pollen punishment plot perhaps? This demands further investigation!