Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bärenquell Brauerei (Brewery abandoned to the bears)

Once the Berlin Wall came down locals suddenly had a lot more to do than just drink. Unfortunately for breweries in East Germany this spelled the end for most of them. Beer production plummeted, and in the years following reunification breweries in the former GDR closed down and were abandoned quicker than parties when the fridge runs dry. They simply couldn't compete with trendy beers available from the West everyone wanted to drink because they could.

Today victims of the Great East German Beertrayal are scattered around Berlin, idle and neglected. A hangover from a country which doesn't want to remember the party, a country which doesn't even exist anymore, they hulk over vast yards, immense halls empty, loading bays silent, vats as dry as fridges at abandoned parties. Perfect for exploring!

We hopped into the Bärenquell Brauerei through a side window just in front of the main entrance. It was a low window, and someone had conveniently left a beer crate underneath as a step. Carefully, we picked our way through the broken glass and debris. We were in!

Pausing briefly in the silence to go through the outbuildings full of crap and shite (old paint cans, mattresses, crappy furniture, fruit boxes, none of it beer related), we soon found ourselves outside the main building of interest - the Maschinenhaus! The door was ajar so we invited ourselves in. Up the steps and soon we were staring down at where the giant beer vats had been. This was more like it! Metal stairways, platforms overlooking great spaces where once inebriating substances were concocted, wires on tiled walls, ladders, steps, weird looking rusty pipes going anywhere and everywhere. A busy place once, inanimate and soundless now, there was nothing here but clues to feed our curiosity.

Well, my curiosity at least. Jenny had brought a book and she pulled it out and sat down to read while I continued sniffing around every corner, poking every dark hole and scampering up every stairs I could find. Twenty minutes later she was still there, sitting on a metal platform with just a beer crate for company surrounded by graffiti in a tiled loading bay.

The next building had even more clues. Paperwork, files and training manuals behind a dusty door, GDR stuff, manifestos and propaganda, labels scattered around, dusty beer bottles in a crate, then behind a door up the stairs a kitchen! Desks with drawers pulled out and papers scattered, strange machines and contraptions, broken windows onto an outside world below us, a world which had left this one behind. Jenny pulled out her book again and I went exploring again. In every room, down every hall, up every stairs, down every tunnel. I'd brought a torch this time, and was happy I did as I'd still be in there now if I hadn't.

When the Bärenquell Brauerei closed its doors for the last time on April 1st, 1994, it marked the end of a brewery 112 years old. It first opened as the Borussia Brauerei in 1882, was bought by Schultheiss AG and expanded in 1898. After the war, it came under state control like pretty much everything else did. It was renamed the VEB Bärenquell. (VEB stands for Volkseigener Betrieb, people-owned enterprise. Of course the people had nothing to do with it.)

Bärenquell proved to be one of Berlin's most popular beers and was renowned for its good taste. By the time of its closure it was one of the 'big four' with Kindl, Berliner Pilsener and Schultheiss. If it was that popular however, I fail to see why it went bust. Perhaps they ran out of bears. (Bärenquell literally means Spring of Bears). I certainly didn't notice any when I was nosing around...

My search for beer turned out as fruitful as my search for real bears. The closest I came to either was a particularly happy looking bear proudly holding a giant pitcher of beer. He featured on the side of a Bärenquell crate but he wouldn't share any of his favourite brew, and neither would any of the other bears still adorning thousands and thousands of bottle labels strewn around the floor. Obviously the latest batch of labels to be printed, it turned out they didn't come any closer to the beer they were promoting than I did.

Bärenquell Brauerei, abandoned brewery.

Schnellerstraße 137,
Schöneweide, 12439 Berlin, Germany.

How to get there

The S8 towards Grünau will drop you off at S-Bahnhof Schöneweide. It's a 650 metre walk from there. Or cycle through Treptower Park if the weather's nice, maybe stopping if you dare at Spreepark enroute, and just keep the river on your left until you find yourself on Schnellerstraße with the brewery on your right.
Here's a map so you won't get lost.

Getting in
It's very easy. A low window just in front of the main entrance on your right practically invites visitors, while the convenient crate underneath is sheer luxury!

When to go
Anytime really, although there could be weirdos and shady types here at night. Nightime is always spookier, but you will obviously see more during the day and some of the street art is well worth checking out.

Difficulty rating
2/10 Piss easy. The biggest difficulty is getting here which isn't that hard at all. As with anywhere where betreten is verboten, watch out for passing Idioten who have nothing better to do than ring the police at the slightest hint of anything illegal going on.

Who to bring
Like-minded explorers.

What to bring
Beer! Ironic as it may sound, it is essential to bring beer. Looking at all those happy bears enjoying their giant pitchers will have your tongue hanging oit of your head. And that exploring is thirsty work! Bring a torch too, and a camera if you want to take arty pictures.

Watch out for weirdos and squatters. There were definitely signs of habitation in some of the outhouses although they weren't what you would call luxurious. I'm sure most weirdos and squatters are harmless, but caution is nevertheless advised. But then, this is Berlin, you'll be used to all that by now.

More wonderfull pictures of the Bärenquell Brauerei can be found by clicking on More wonderful pictures of the Bärenquell Brauerei can be found.

Dedicated to little Fionn, just six hours and 15 minutes in the world as I type this. As I told his father earlier, it's all downhill from here.
Congratulations Fionn! It's already a lifetime since you arrived but there are plenty more exciting days ahead. (Although the first one's gotta be pretty damn exciting. I can't remember mine.) Hopefully there'll still be a few abandoned buildings lying about when you're older and they won't have all been taken over by banks or converted into apartments, and we'll be able to go exploring them together some day.

It was Fionn's father who originally put me onto the Bärenquell abandoned brewery by showing me the following short film by Picture Report. It captures the true beauty of the place. Absolutely fantastic.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


It's official, there's a bump! It's been there over a week now actually, but Jenny only admitted as much yesterday as her belly protruded undeniable evidence.
We could have a revolutionary on our hands. The bump first appeared on July 14th, Bastille Day, at precisely 10.22pm. However much the mother may have denied it since, both the bump and I agreed, and we were vindicated yesterday when she finally admitted defeat. Vive la Révolution!
Apart from that there's little to report. We haven't been to the doctor since so there are no new obscure pictures of dark blurry shapes or shadows to decipher. (Photo to the right is from the previous visit.) We can only presume it's bigger if it's making a bump for itself, and if it kept growing at the pace it had set for itself it must be the size of three large spuds now.
I've been looking stuff up, and its cheekbones should be visible at this stage. (To who I don't know.) Its legs should have grown longer than its arms, and its body should be longer than its head. So, all coming along nicely then. Apparently, the kid's kidneys are producing urine - I'm sure Jenny will be delighted with that - and the sex can be determined if you're so inclined. Jenny is, I'm not. We'll cross that bridge when the time comes. The first hair will be appearing now. I just hope it won't have dreadlocks - tattoos are fine - but dreadlocks don't make for speedy deliveries. Probably where they get the name.
Its ears should be fully developed now, but I'm not sure if that means it can hear or not. I hope so - we'll be going to see Arcade Fire at the end of August, so I'd feel we're getting more value for money if the Würmchen could hear them too. As long as it doesn't expect a t-shirt too...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Woddy's Nedding

Since Noddy moved to Australia last year one of us has been upside down. It means one or the other is always doing something arseways. Well, today I'm sure it's me, for today is Noddy's wedding day.
For all I know he may be married already - time differences and communication issues (he's in the middle of nowhere where even texts flounder) have conspired to keep the big occasion shrouded in uncertainty (for me at least). There's nowhere I'd rather be right now than joining in the celebrations, but the cheapest flight down under was €1,000, about €1,000 too much.
I've never met his bride but Noddy evidently likes her a lot, so I'm looking forward to meeting her when I do. His wife. I'm wildly curious to see what kind of woman would be willing to tie the knot with that lunatic, a friend and brother since we were nippers. I was five, Noddy and Sully four. We've been through a helluva lot of shit since then, but none together in the last year. The three amigos have been split up - Sully's still in Ireland - and I haven't seen either of them in almost a year, since that famous night's camping when we rivalled the Amazon for burning wood. It sure is quiet without them...
The last time Noddy was in Berlin was over a year ago, when we looked to the future, pondered the past, asked questions, questioned answers. Little did we imagine as we sat by the river, that the next time he'd be over he'd have a wife he hadn't even met and I a kid (who I still haven't met). Life's mad. You just never know what's around the corner.
Happy wedding Nods. I would have married you if only you'd asked but she must be better looking. I wish you both all the happiness you deserve. Go n-éirí an t-ádh agus an bóthar libh.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Arse licking for an apartment

Update on the apartment search. Jenny went to look at a place today, thought it was okay, registered her interest. It turns out the guy showing her the place is the guy moving out. He said he'd ring one of us on Sunday to let us know if we were successful making it onto his list to be handed to his landlord. If he'd grant us the privilege...
What the fuck?! Not only do you have to lick the arses of the prospective landlords in this country, but also the arses of the previous tenants so you are permitted then to lick the arses of their landlords! What the hell the previous tenants have to do with anything at all in the first place is beyond me. I'm going to live under a bridge.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wohnungsgesuch (The search for a Berlin apartment)

The search for a dream apartment is fast becoming a nightmare. More hoops and obstacles to jump through and over respectively than at the circus. Not enough to say "I'll take it" and hand over a deposit - there are forms to fill and procedures to follow you know.
A signed form from the old landlord to show you don't owe any rent, a Schufa form to prove you've no debts anywhere else, proof of identification, proof or registration, tax status, wage slips, curriculum vitae, blood samples, urine samples, DNA samples, proof you're not a figment of your own imagination (sometimes I'm not so sure) - the list is fucking endless. Don't even go down the road of the Wohnberechtigungsschein (WBS)...
We've been looking without success for a while now and time is running out. Jenny has to move out of her place by mid-August. It doesn't help that we've a lot of boxes to tick - something nice naturally, three rooms (enough for a little family), a garden, balcony, a view of the Fernsehturm (for me), in either Prenzlauer Berg (nice but snooty), Mitte (central, where I live now), Friedrichshain (hippies and wasters but more relaxed) or Pankow (quiet but where Jenny's friends live), all for half nothing of course as neither of us have any money.
Prices have been creeping up in the last few years and Berlin is now longer the place to go for rock-bottom rents. A shortage of suitable properties is driving them up, and any available property is crawling with prospective renters. Good news for Irish landlords no doubt. More than 50 people went to see one place Jenny was looking at before. So many she didn't even add her name to the list.
We went to see one place on Sunday which ticked most of the boxes (except for the Blick auf Fernsehturm) only to find the couple wanted another €1,000 up front for their cooker, washing machine and dishwasher. It was already too expensive in any case. Then the landlord of another place Jenny saw on Saturday didn't even know it was up for rent when she called around with her wheelbarrow of forms to the Verwaltung on Monday morning. Turns out the rent will be going up from what the existing tenants are paying anyway.
We'll have to find somewhere, and pretty soon. I've given up on my dream of somewhere where I can gaze out at the Fernsehturm. No longer will I be able to simply look out the window when I need to remember where I am. I'll just have to write Berlin on my hand. A roof over our heads is the priority now.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

All hail San Iker and Pulpo Paul!

If we had just listened to Pulpo Paul and given the trophy to Iker Casillas like he suggested in the first place, we would have been saved the ordeal of a brutal World Cup final. The players - Xabi Alonso in particular - would have been spared the ordeal of Holland's kicks, and the referee the ordeal of "the most difficult two hours" of his career in which he issued 14 yellow cards and one red and should have issued more.
While technically perfect, Spain are surely the most boring team ever to have won a World Cup. They scored eight goals in total - the lowest for any world champions ever - and only have San Iker to thank for keeping their hides in it at all. The captain made crucial saves throughout, most notably Robben in the final. Simply put, without him they wouldn't have won it.
Again Spain were happy to pass the ball around amongst themselves as they indulged in 'tiki-taca' between fouls. It took them 116 minutes to score, when Holland would have been ahead but for the aforementioned San Iker and a desperate lunge from Carles Puyol.
La Furia Roja may have been the best team in the competition, but only if possession is a cornerstone of greatness. Forget the aesthetics of passing the ball around in the middle of the field far from the danger area, the basic point in football is to score and Spain failed miserably in that regard. Four 1-0 victories in a row is not a sign of greatness. Although they certainly weren't complaining on the plane home...
Germany provided far more entertainment at this World Cup, creating more chances than their Spanish rivals and scoring twice as many goals. Crucially though - even with Jogi's lucky blue jumper on board - none of them were against Vicente del Bosque's men. They salvaged some pride against Uruguay but ultimately it was a hollow victory considering what could have been.
Overall, a pretty disappointing World Cup, with low standards of football compared to previous years. From an Irish point of view, the highlight was undoubtedly watching the French self destruct - incroyable! - closely followed by watching England's bubble burst again. Even the Three Lions' attempt at a coup was upstaged by their friends across the channel. "We couldn't even do that properly!" remarked one Englander I know.
Now that the whole thing is over South Africa is left to pick up the tab. For us non-cephalopods life returns to normal while Paul the psychic octopus can look forward to resting his weary tentacles. The undoubted star of the World Cup has opted for retirement, just like the great Zinedine Zidane four years ago.
Both used their heads to great effect in their respective tournaments, but the Oracle Octupus was more consistent with the use of his, correctly predicting all eight matches he was asked to and making a mockery of his chief rival Mani the psychic parakeet who declared Holland would win the final. Psychic my arse...
Pulpo Paul was presented with a gold cup for his perfomances on Monday; a replica of the one San Iker got his tentacles on the day before. Despite containing three delicious mussels however, it was ingnored by the 'Okrakel' at first. Maybe he's not ready for retirement just yet. Frenzied transfer speculation is now linking him with a big money move to Madrid. The lure of that World Cup trophy might just bring him there.

This is the last World Cup post from me for around four years or so.
Also appears on Young Germany.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Pablo el Pulpito gets it right again

So the Deutschland dream is over. Buried in a wave of tiki-taka. Yeah, Spain were much superior to Germany and totally deserved their win, but Jaysus, how boring is it to watch them play? Pass, pass, pass. Then pass, pass, pass again. And again, for 73 minutes until they broke German hearts with a goal 'made in Barcelona'.
It got ugly here in Berlin once the final whistle went. Schland der Tränen. Everyone pissed off, crestfallen. Frustration at not getting hold of the ball, being unable to do anything worthwhile with it when they did, and the dawning of reality - things too good to be true usually are.
I was as disappointed as the rest, I have to admit. San Iker, Xabi and Sergio Ramos aside, I don't care much for this Spanish team. An anaconda squeezing the life out of opponents. The most anti-social team of all. "It's my ball!" Pretty passes but little excitement, 1-0 now a favourite scoreline. Underwhelming to the point of irritation. With the score still at 0-0, Germany actually created the better chances despite being completely dominated.
But it got ugly here as I mentioned before. Everyone on the streets at the same time, disappointed, shouting, quarrelling. The noise of smashing glass coming from across the street. Someone throwing bottles. Crash, smash! Kreuzberg jammed with people, bicycles and cars, pedestrians arguing with cyclists, cyclists arguing with motorists, a thud and banging to be heard anytime the two species met.
The ugliest for me was the sight of workers from the restaurant beside the Spätkauf where we watched it celebrating Germany's exit. They weren't Spanish or German but immigrants. Like me. One of them pretended to kiss the TV. "Why the fuck would you live in a country you hate?" I asked Jenny. She shrugged her shoulders. Some other non-natives then passed, celebrating too, laughing at disappointed supporters, drunk on Schadenfreude. Others beeped their car-horns. Assholes, I thought.
The next morning however, one could sense the disappointment receding. The newspapers spoke of pride that Jogi Löw’s young mavericks managed to get so far, with particular pleasure being taken from the four-goal hidings handed out to England and Argentina.
“The dream is over – but we’re still proud of our boys!” screamed Bild. “Keep the heads high. We’ll collect the World Cup in four years.”
I have to say, after the initial shock, supporters have been very gracious in defeat, all agreeing the better team won, and looking forward to a bright future for the Nationalelf.
Paul the Oracle Octopus is taking the brunt of the anger now. I don't see the point in shooting the messenger, but he's been receiving death threats and featured in quite a few recipes, paella, seafood salads and the like. Apparently they were even singing 'anti octopus songs' on Berlin's fan mile. I didn’t even know such a thing existed – didn’t know octopi had so many enemies. The songs were no doubt composed by seals, whales, sharks and the like.
Paul's become a hero in Spain however. "Viva Pablo el Pulpito!" my mother texted me after the game. The place has gone bananas. They were dancing in the fountain on Madrid's Puerto del Sol, one fella bollock naked running through the middle of it. San Fermin, the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, also kicked off this week. There wasn't enough reason already for a fiesta.
Ah yes, I know where I'd like to be now. It will be a crazy party if Spain do manage to claim the World Cup on Sunday. Paul has predicted they will. For his sake, and despite my misgivings, I hope they do too.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Moral dilemma for a psychic octopus

An uncomfortable moral dilemma is looming for me tomorrow. Germany take on Spain and suddenly I'm faced with a choice. Two years ago, for the final of Euro 2008, it wasn't even an issue and I celebrated with gusto when La Furia Roja finally brought a trophy back to España.
Things have changed since however. I admit allegiances are shifting. I like this German team and the football they play. I like the fact it's a multicultural mix representing the new Germany, the Germany I'm now a part of. I like the fact that neo-Nazis are spurning it for that precise reason. I like the way there are no star names, the main man is called Schweini, the captain Lame, and the coach Jogi. Never mind Poldi, Hansi and Özi...
It's a vibrant team, a fresh attacking force, full of flair and swerve, an optimistic team which carries the promise of exciting days ahead. Of course, scoring four against England hasn't harmed them either. But I also found it impossible not to enjoy the four-star show against Diego Maradona's Argentina.
When I look at this Spanish team I find it hard to feel the same. Sure this 'tiki-taka fútbol' is nice to look at, but it's not really that exciting. They bore their teams into submission by passing the ball around and then score one goal to progress. The goal they scored against Portugal was offside and they have San Iker to thank for saving their arses against Paraguay.
The fact they negotiated a €600,000 reward each to win the damn thing really stuck in my craw. For Jaysus' sake, they're already all multimillionaires fulfilling the dreams of millions of kids around the world. Who wouldn't want to play in a World Cup for their country? But oh no, these hombres need over half a million each to consider it. Then there's the stink of culé (Barcelona) infestation...
Spain is a part of me, but it's my past. My folks won't like it, but my future is Germany - the Würmchen ensures of that. There may be no German blood in me, but my blood will be. (Just half, and it won't be allowed forget the other half!)
I confess I was disappointed when Paul the psychic octopus predicted Spain would win tomorrow. After successfully calling the Argentina result last week (and all four of Germany's results before that) the 'Oracle Cephalopod' went straight for the mussel with the Spanish flag, hovered briefly over the German one, before trusting his first instinct and thrusting his tentacle squarely back in favour of Vicente del Bosque's side.
"We were all a little bit shocked when Paul picked Spain," said Tanja Munzig, spokeswoman for the aquarium in in Oberhausen. "To err is not only human - animals can also make mistakes. Let's hope Paul got this one wrong."
The only time Paul was ever wrong was two years ago, the last time Germany met Spain. It was the final of Euro 2008. The last time he got it wrong I was celebrating. I wonder if this time will be any different...

Monday, July 05, 2010

Baby, we'll be fine

Thanks so much for all the kind comments, excited messages, phone calls, words of encouragement and offers of support. ("Holy fuckin bananas" was up there with the best of them.) Also the pictures and anecdotes from proud parents of the happiness brought upon them by their own little monsters. I have to say it's all been very warming and reassuring, and helped me realise we're not alone.
Nothing's more important in life than life (not even football). I've digested this fact and am learning to cope with being responsible for it. There's already been a change: doubts are fading, fears receding. Somehow I'm much more confident that we'll manage. I'm sure everything will be okay.
The Würmchen is now 6.93 cm long. A flippin' giraffe. We went to see the gynaecologist last Thursday. Those guys get away with murder, but I won't get into that now.
This time I went in with Jenny and we could see our creation on the screen. Its head is as big as the rest of its body (its father's brains then) and the doctor pointed out its arms and legs and arse. Again, it was all very blurry, but Jenny could see it moving, (I thought it was just your man moving the camera around).
I was surprised it even had arms and legs. I'm sure the kid is too. It's probably wondering what the hell these things are for. But they'll be handy later on. Literally. Well, the arms will be anyway. The legs will be feety I suppose.
Apparently it's even developed fingernails and toenails. Couldn't see them of course. It can suck its thumb and get hiccups. Probably not at the same time. Next it'll get fingerprints (hope it picks nice ones) and then it can start flexing its arms and kicking its legs (just in time for the semi-final on Wednesday).
It's all a bit mad, but everyone's healthy and that's the main thing. The rest will fall into place. One step at a time.