Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shenanigans - the play

Well, it's two weeks since the Shenanigans came to a close, and it's only now I can catch my breath. Stephen Don's play opened to a packed and somewhat ironically-named English Theatre on St. Patrick's night and played to sell out crowds on each of the following five nights.
On opening night they were pulling out old dusty rusty seats from the cellar to fit in every corner of the theatre, seats on top of seats, and when they ran out of seats, people crammed in the sides and behind, and still people were turned away disappointed from the door. Schadenfreude for the ones who made it in. They were beating down the door to get in but there was just no more room. Must have been the outstanding publicity piece which had been written beforehand.
After going to the rehearsals, 'twas mad for me to see the transformation on stage, as the Shenanigans bar was brought to life in front of my eyes, with the map of Ireland made by Dáire's mother behind, the old clock on the wall, and the compulsory pictures of things no one will ever look at. A sandwich board gave the day's lunch specials: Ham and Cheese, Ham and Bacon, Ham and Onion, Ham and Beef, and for the vegetarians - Ham and Lettuce. I don't know what they would have done if they ran out of ham.
I felt like I was in the bar. I practically was, with a beer in my hand and sitting beside the jukebox as the play got underway with Colum (David Masterson, another Brayman lost in Berlin) sheltering a frantic Jimmy (Paul Salamone) under the bar from the rampaging big brother Mickey.
"There's a lot more going on here than meets the eye," said Mickey when he barged in. "A great deal more!" He was right. There feckin' was. I didn't know where to look half the time despite the happenings happening right in front of my eyes. Mickey, played by Belfastman Stephen Hanna, roared and bellowed, paced and prowled, and let his frustrations loose on the theatre, as the pipes trembled under the bar. It wasn't long before the riddle of Jimmy rattling the pipes was discovered and then all hell broke loose.
Nuala, played by Anna Tkach, brought some rare glamour to a country bar, but even she was powerless to stop the escapades of the "two boyos", played by Alan Glen (right) and Kevin McKinnon, from scaring the beJaysus out of everyone. Violently funny or funny violence, the audience couldn't decide as the tension built up and up. Quentin O'Tarantino. The crowd didn't know whether to laugh or run away, but they remained rooted to the spot as events unfolded before their shamshocked eyes.
"Sometimes you need to be diverted in life," they were told. Well, there was no end to the diversion here! A tragic comedy, a black poem, a trick and a triumph, this was a plotty plot which loses the plot but then finds it again as everything threatens to go to pot. A dark comedy in which you're afraid to laugh, but you laugh all the same. Who said Schadenfreude was German?
For those who missed all the Shenanigans there is good news. It's coming back! Not sure when or where yet, but I'll let you know as soon as director S.D. Clifford comes out from hiding under the bar.

More pictures of can be found here: http://picasaweb.google.com/faheyc/Shenanigans#

Monday, March 29, 2010

Clingless

Cling-film in Germany doesn't actually cling. Instead it flops pathetically to the side of sandwiches practically inviting them to run around your bag, pocket or whatever your chosen method of sandwich-transport is. It's actually clingless.
I know this because I've been bringing homemade sandwiches into work for the last week. Sliced bread with a few scraps of cheese and cucumber or tomato (both if I'm feeling luxurious), a healthy sprinkling of pepper, yum! (Only yuppies can fork out €2.30 for a belegte Brötchen everyday.)
Forget about wrapping them though. The alleged cling-film is allergic to itself, actually going out of its way to avoid contact with any other parts of cling-film. German cling-film is definitely the most anti-social, bringing shame on the rest of the cling-film community. As alien to clinging as a Klingon is to a dog.
I'd been bringing my sandwiches loosely wrapped in this abhorrence, further wrapped in a plastic bag, only to have to scoop out what remained of my sandwiches at lunchtime. A bag of crumbs and cheese and cucumber would be a fairer reflection of what I'd been eating. With a couple of handles I could have strapped it behind my ears and eaten from a real nose bag.
On Saturday I was given a lunch box. Problem solved. Today was sheer luxury as I had intact sandwiches for lunch. Just don't talk to me about German cling-film (or plastic wrap or cling wrap or whatever it is you call it). Frischhaltefolie auf Deutsch apparently but Frischhaltefolly would make more sense.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Frühlingsgefühling noch mal

Frühling's finally here! It might even be Sommer. Just a few weeks after everyone was freezing their arses off and slipping in a deadly mixture of slush and dog shite, now they're all walking around in t-shirts, licking ice-creams and sipping beers at midday on Unter den Linden.
So they were today in any case as the temperature climbed to a balmy 20°C. It wasn't so long ago that was a minus figure. But today was all chirping birds, café tables full outside, loungers on benches, chatter without chattering, and girls in skirts on bicycles. Yes, legs are very much in fashion in Berlin once again. As are bicycles. It's feckin' great! I even saw one guy driving around in his convertible (no doubt hoping to pick up one of the Madels).
There's a different feel to the city; it's in the air, a different smell, an awakening, a new lust for life. Frühlingsgefühl is threatening to take hold, when everyone goes slightly crazy after a long hard Berlin winter, spring in their step and everywhere else. Flirty, frisky and frolicky fun times are just around the corner! And I have to work.
At least the winter is gone though. Although I may have just put the comither on it. Hopefully it's not zu Frühling gefeiert.
(And hopefully that's how you spell comither. Darby O'Gill won't answer my calls.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fistful of Eurwoes

Bitte haben Sie einen Augenblick Geduld. What a ridiculous sentence. (Please have a blink of patience.) If it was just an Augenblick I wouldn't need any Geduld! But German telephone answering systems don't see the irony, presumably because their blinks are so feckin' long.
We're fast becoming acquainted, German telephone systems and me, as I continue my foray into 8.30 to 5.30 life. For precisely 16 hours already this week, I've been ringing all over Europe, trying to reach big wigs in big companies with big money to spend. The bigger the wig however, the harder they are to reach, and the bigger the company, the harder it is to find out who the wig is.
No sales yet then (apparently it can take weeks for the first one) but I'll keep at it. I'll persevere for my Fistful of Euros, and then again For a Few Euros More. Jaysus knows I need them if I'm to continue my cosmopolitan lifestyle.

I may have nowhere to put them though. Last September I started the process of opening a bank account with ComDirect, an online bank. I'd to fill in a load of forms and post them off. Then I'd to go down to the post office with proof of ID. Then I'd to fill in more forms and send them off too. Then one of the forms I'd originally sent went out of date, so I'd to go to the Bürgeramt to get another. My very last €5 to get another proof of address printed. (The fact I was receiving their letters wasn't enough proof for the bank.) So I sent that off too. And as proof of my earnings I sent my 12 page contract for work.
You know where this is going. Yesterday they wrote back to say they regretted they couldn't "grant my wish" to open an account. They listed a list of possible reasons and signed off with freundlichen Grüßen (friendly greetings). The same day they proudly announced profits of €76 million for 2009.
Deutsche Bank posted profits of €4.7 billion last year, of which its head honcho was given almost €10 million.
Then we have the bankers whose ill-gotten losses are being bailed out by the same taxpayers they fleeced for years. Fuckers. All I wanted was to open a simple current account. So it's under the mattress with the monsters for my fistfuls.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two years!

St. Patrick had the good sense to drive the snakes out on the same day I would later come to Berlin, so everyone in Ireland would be able to console themselves in my absence with copious quantities of drink. What a man!
Yep, yesterday I celebrated two years as a Berliner. Zwei Jahre! They flew by, slowly. It feels a lifetime ago since I left Rosslare Harbour with Dáire and Derval as we started our adventure across the sea. I suppose it was another lifetime ago. So much has happened since.
It's a milestone, and one which has been causing me lately to reflect on where I'm at now. Well, Berlin obviously - I know where I am - but I mean where I'm at in the whole scheme of things and if it's where I expected to be. Coming to Berlin I expected everything, nothing and anything in between, options galore and endless possibility. I've since learned to unexpect the expected. Everything's possible but nothing happens. When nothing's possible everything happens. Nothing's as it seems, isn't as it is. It's never as you'd expect, looks like you imagine, feels like it should or goes to plan. All what is isn't. Nothing which isn't is. Confused? So am I. But that's Berlin.
At least now I know what I want and exactly where I want to be. So I guess I'm not confused after all. Mal sehen. Who knows what the next two years will bring.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ill-suited but gainful

Erster Tag geschafft! The first day of work! Training, to be precise. These Germans wouldn't let you run off and start a job willy-nilly; they insist on telling you a bit about it and how to do it first. In Ireland it's a different story. "Here's a phone and there's a phone book. Good luck," is all I was ever told on starting a sales job there...
So I've another three days' training to go. Just as well too. I know as much about the job now as I did when I turned up first thing this morning. "Bin hier zu anfangen." Not a word of English did they speak, everything in German! I guess I shouldn't complain; we are in Germany after all. But still, it really was a challenge to avoid having my head fried by all the marketing and hi-tech blather I was supposed to process, in another language!
There was nowhere to hide. Just three of us training. I spent the day furiously nodding like a woodpecker, issuing the odd "uh-huh", and uttering timely observations to show I was paying attention. "Ja!" and "Das wäre ein ecumenical matter." The trick is to interject with authority, so they think you know what you're talking about.
In between I tried stop my eyes glazing over, to look at the trainers' eyes when they were speaking, and to appear totally engrossed in what they were saying. In fact, I spent more energy trying to look like I knew what they were talking about to actually understanding it! It's a good thing I did sales before, my "playground" as Noddy encouragingly described it last week.
"Bin ungeduldig," I told your wan this morning. "Ich will eigentlich verkaufen. Bin nur hier um Geld zu verdienen." Only in sales can you say you're only there for the money.
It got a bit awkward when the three of us were left alone. Total silence. Peas in a pod with nothing to talk about but the pod, which offers limited possibilities. One of them is as camp as a field of wigwams - absolutely brilliant - while the girl was shy at first and only came out of her wigwam towards the end. They're very nice but none of us have anything in common so it promises to be an interesting week.
We were brought around the office when our new co-workers waved and offered friendly smiles. Some didn't bother their arses. I got in a lift with one of them on the way up and the fucker wouldn't even say hello! I figured I was the new guy so it wasn't up to me to make the first move so I didn't say hello either. To be honest, it was nice not to have to speak or listen.
I walked home afterwards, still trying to break in my pointy shoes. They are so long and pointy I actually tripped over them on the way to the U-Bahn this morning. The rest of the day was spent walking around like a clown. I even looked like a clown in my ill-fitting suit - miles too big.
In fact, all my "business attire" is ill-fitting, as if it's an extra size they made just for me. I've to nip down to the shop again now to buy some more. Anyone looking for a pinstripe dark blue suit, too big for me (jacket eur 54 trousers eur 48), and missing a button on the trousers, but otherwise fine and hardly ever used (Derek's wedding and a couple of interviews), can get in touch through the usual channels.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Μütters zurück

I'm hurting, inside and out. The season finally resumed today for Theresas Μütter. We lost. Dunno the score, but double digits anyway. Although we did pull one back at the end! A semblance of pride restored when Christoph blasted the ball to the net with five minutes to go, woohoo!!! But we let in another two or three after that. We tried though, which is the main thing.
Our opponents, JNC Polyvalent Berlin, turned up in yellow and green like the Brazilian national team but we turned out more Kaká than they were. Of course we were in our distinctive bright orange Theresas Mütter Trikots. Any spectators would have had to wear shades to protect their eyes from the glare. Nevertheless, I felt the surge of pride when I pulled it on again after so long, and 'twas great to see the other Mütters again for the first time since September. (It would have been nicer to see more of them though. We only had ten players for most of the game.)
It was the first time I'd kicked a ball in anger since playing with the niños from Huancayo at 3,600 metres last October. 'Twas great to be able to breathe this morning but unfortunately the eye-foot-ball coordination wasn't really there. I ran and chased and huffed and puffed and managed to get a couple of kicks in but that's about it. Knackered at the end. I'm not the midfield enforcer I know they'd like me to be.
Thankfully the league's finally up and running again after a winter of snow and ice (snowing pigs and cows again as I type though) with training again next Thursday. God knows we need it. My legs feel like tree trunks. Yeah it hurts, but it's good to be back in action. I'm sure some heroic days lie ahead.

In other news, I've worked my way through the first box of Barry's Tea brought over by Deborah and Richie some 20 days ago. That's 160 bags in 20 days, an average of eight a day. I'd have to have visitors from Ireland every three weeks of so to keep stocks at a sustainable level. I'll probably just have to calm down on the tea-drinking...

Yesterday I bought an iron. A flippin' iron! The new job starts on Tuesday, and I've to wear a suit to fit in with my fancy surroundings. I presume they don't want me turning up like a knacker so I'd to lash out €19.99 for an Eisenbügel despite it going against everything I believe in. I never thought I'd see the day.
So tomorrow's my last day of freedom. I guess I'll be ironing my three shirts on the kitchen table. No way was I going to lash out for an ironing table as well. Now that would really hurt.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fast food art at the Hamburger

A gorilla cleaning his rifle, a jaguar locked in a deadly embrace with a wildebeest's neck, a tiger taming a lion, bears hanging from a tree, a troop of monkeys fighting over the spoils of a feast; it could be any sitting of the Dáil, but it's not. It's Bestiarium, a wonderful collection of some of the works of Walton Ford at the Hamburger Bahnhof.
The images are the result of a curious fusion of the artists' natural history enquiries and accounts from the past of explorers, missionaries and colonists in a brave new world, brought to brilliant watercolour life again before our eyes. They are, in effect, mad, and no words can I write to trump the effect of this aesthetic feast.

The Hamburger Bahnhof itself is not, as its name would imply, a transport hub for fast food (which would only make it faster) but a Museum für Gegenwart (contemporary). A fine building, it was a railway station once upon a time when it was indeed used by Hamburgers to get home up to 1884. Now, like everyone else, they use the Hauptbahnhof nearby to get where they're going.
As a contemporary musum, the Hamburger Bahnhof is now home to collections of art from the likes of Andy Warhol, Otto Zitko, Salvador Dali and "Someone Else With My Fingerprints" whoever the hell that is and why they couldn't use their own fingerprints. Oh wait, they did. They're just claiming the credit for someone else's work. Oh wait, they're not. Ah, forget it.

Some of the stuff was great, but some - I'm afraid to say - is absolute shite. Quite how anyone could call it art is beyond me. Broken tellies surrounded by dustpans and smashed glass. Another room full of boulders; what the hell was that about? It actually takes more creativity from the viewer to imagine what they're looking at is art than the so called artist can ever dream of. It just shows a lot of art has more to do with cheese and wine than anything else.
One installation, The Saints by Paul Pfeiffer, was just a huge empty white room filled with the noise of a crowd, behind which was a screen showing the World Cup final from 1966 beside another showing actors reacting to the action. This, apparently, is art. Of course, any installation featuring England winning a World Cup is already off on a bad start, but even if it was Ireland I'd be hard pressed to describe it as art.
Thankfully, one can't say the same about Walton Ford's work which is quite simply brilliant. The exhibition continues until May 24th.

Dedicated to Gav's Uncle Kevin. RIP.

Skating on Eis

Kids up to my knees whooshed past in a blur of motion, while old grannies zoomed by, but I concentrated on staying upright, hand desperately clutching the railing as my feet threatened to shoot out out from under me. I slipped, skated and slid, all the while grasping the lifeline of that railing, determined not to fall whatever the hell else happened.
Schlittschuhlaufen! Ice-skating to you and me, and it was great! It was only the second time I'd been and I did all I could not to suffer the ignominy of flying up into the air and landing on my arse. But it was hard, walking on a carpet of moving marbles.
"Keep your fingers in if you fall," Jenny advised me. Apparently other skaters like nothing more than severing the indexes of stricken learners as they flail about on the ice. I didn't take αny chances. After being coaxed to let go of the railing, I grasped her hand for balance, almost breaking it at times, and we skated around and around the Erika Hess Eisstadion. Head down, total concentration, resolute not to fall.
It was "Happy Hour", the price brought down to €1.65 from some previously outrageous price, and another €3 to rent the shoes, so I was determined to get my money's worth without looking like an eejit.
I'd no balance, thoroughly unbalanced by the unbalancing events of the previous night, not to mention the Weißbiers and Jägers I'd consumed to try and forget it. I clutched Jenny's hand like a two-year-old. Don't fall, don't fall, don't fall. But I didn't.
Then the five of us formed a line, Jenny and Anna on one side, Jule and Robert on the other, as they pulled me along in the middle while we reached speeds which would have relaunched the Sputnik. "Fuuuuuccckkkk!" Everything just a blur. Jule laughed they were going to let me go. "You can't even if you wanted to," I replied, gripping her arm even tighter.
"Gib nie auf!" a poster in the changing room urges. Never give up, with an inspirational picture of a frog strangling his aggressor despite already being half-swallowed. Perhaps a lesson to be learned there. Other posters advertise Schlittschuh Schule (Ice-skating school, much easier to say in English). Maybe next year I'll enroll. Either way, the season ends on Sunday, so there won't be anymore Schlittschuhlaufen this year. I'd have gone more often if it wasn't so damn cold but for some reason, known only to the ice, it just isn't as popular in the summer.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Merde alors

Waking to the realisation your team is no longer in the Champions League is a galling experience. Especially when you believe that team has a God-given right to win the damn thing every year. Especially this year, when the final takes place in your own front yard. The neutralness of waking gives way to the sinking of despair, hollow, empty, nothingness. Now we'll be watching Barcelona or an English team lift the trophy in the Santiago Bernabéu on May 22nd. I'm still not sure which is worse.
The French are to blame again, Lyon doing nothing over 90 minutes but score the goal which put them through. In the end they could have added another couple as Real went searching frantically for the two they needed to stay alive but then reality would have shown she doesn't exist. And she doesn't want that. So I guess she does exist after all.
And I'd been thinking of booking flights to Madrid for the final. Never mind the money, experiences are always worth more. But is wasn't to be. After scoring the goal Madrid tried tried tried but like the wolf huffing and puffing at the house of bricks they just couldn't score the second damn goal.
Damned French. Again I was outnumbered in the pub, thoughts of Henry's handball and the slam grand at Stade de France brought to the fore. This time will be different I told myself. But it wasn't. The wait for La Décima goes on.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Günter Litfin

Günter Litfin was shot twice in the neck as he attempted to climb the bank out of the water. He'd jumped in to escape the shouting guards after being discovered near the railway bridge at Humboldhafen. His body disappeared under the waters and it wasn't for another three hours that it was fished out by the East German fire brigade.
The 24-year-old became the first victim shot at the Berlin Wall, murdered in cold blood 11 days after the border was sealed on August 13th, 1961. The bank he was attempting to reach belonged to West Berlin while the water he was in belonged to the East. Maybe he knew there was a risk he'd be shot. Maybe not. Either way he'd decided it was worth taking the chance.
He was shot dead by some prick "following orders" no doubt. Günter was the first but he certainly wasn't the last. A figure of 171 victims is bandied about but a private initiative puts the number at over 1,200, all paying the ultimate price in their quest for freedom.
A simple plaque now commemorates the site where Günter was shot, just down the road, across from the Hauptbahnhof. It's the only sign there was a wall there at all. Hundreds of people pass by everyday, thoughts of border guards and deadly bullets far from their minds as they go about their business. It's thanks to the courage of Günter Litfin and the thousands like him who dared defy the powers-that-be that that they can do so at all.
Unfortunately he's just another victim of the stupidity of man. It would be nice to think such a thing could never happen again.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Avoiding the 80s

I was blind but now I can see. I can see! I got a haircut today, long overdue, putting both my eyes, and the eyes of people who have to look at me, out of their misery. Mine had been shackled behind a curtain of hair which made the Iron one look like a party, while anyone else's were looking at a haystack.
Yeah, my hair was just ridiculous. It had really been pissing me off. I mean really pissing me off, constantly in my eyes, poking them, stabbing them, while it flared out at the back as if trying to bring back the 80s. I know I'm in Germany now, but even Germans were telling me I looked like something from the 80er Jahre.
"They made a balls of it," I told Helen when she was over, pushing it to the side to make sure she was still in front of me.
"Yeah, they did," she agreed straight away. I was shocked. Irish are never usually so brutally honest. I thought she might have said "ah, it's grand", or "it could be worse", but I'd never have expected her to be as straightforward as a German. It was then I knew it was really bad.
Mandy, my first flatmate in Berlin, recommended Haartari on Bänschstraße 52, run some gay guys who knew all there was to be known about hair. That was enough for me. Gays are the most fashionable of the species and if I wanted to be up there with the shakers and groovers of Berlin, I was happy to entrust myself to their care. (You can see them here. My fella's on the left.)
I had to wait a week for an appointment - a week! - but I took this as a good sign. Not like strolling into Squire's or Dee's on Bray Main Street and demanding a close back and sides. Despite the long wait I was slightly late after walking into too many lampposts en route, but there were no adverse consequences.
David Bowie was playing when I arrived, always a good sign. (He wasn't actually there. Now that would have been a good sign.)
We discussed the options. I told him: "Ich will nicht wie etwas aus der 80er Jahre aussehen, aber sonst kannst Du was Du willst machen." I didn't care anymore. Anything but the 80s, and without hair in the eyes.
"Du hast unglaublich viele Haare!" he remarked. That's why I'm here buddy.
After almost an hour under his scissors, I can thankfully say I no longer have as much Haare, and I can see again! Haupt-Ding is that I no longer look like Angus MacGyver or anyone else from the 80s. Although I may have given up on the possibility of a career in Dulux adverts, I'm happy enough to look like David Bowie for the time being. As long as it's not David Bowie from the 80s, and once the Spiders from Mars approve...

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Mug for Barry's

Things are looking up. A package arrived yesterday from Hédi, our former Swiss flatmate (she's still Swiss, but no longer our flatmate), absolutely stuffed with fancy sweets, chocolates, candies, caramels and Gruyère from Switzerland! So much Süßigkeiten in one place I've never seen before! And a little note to thank us for the time she spent here. I'll never ever say a bad word about the Swiss again.
Added to the fancy Irish truffles and chocolates Helen brought over, the tea my sister brought over, the tea Deborah brought over before that, and the emergency tea Tony very thoughtfully sent over after he noticed I ran out, and you could say I'm doing very well indeed!
My stockpiles of Barry's Tea have never looked so healthy. Niamh also brought over a special limited edition Barry's Tea mug from which I've been drinking gallons of the stuff since. A Barry's Tea mug! I'm a mug myself for Barry's Tea, so it's nice to have the favour returned.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Tortured history

Last Friday, when Niamh and Helen were over, we went to the Jewish Museum, as noteworthy for its design as its content. The new building, completed in 1999, resembles a shattered Star of David and is built to reflect the twisted and tortuous route Jews have endured through their history with intersecting tunnels and steep, steep stairs. You're knackered by the time you negotiate your way around. The museum focused on all aspects of Jewish history, not just the Holocaust, although this is by far the most interesting part (though they mightn't like to admit it).
Maybe the rest would have been more interesting if I'd been able to get an audio guide. You have to pay and leave your ID as a deposit and when I gave your wan my press pass, she sneered: "Aber das ist nichts wichtiges." It's important to me ye aul' bat. So that wasn't a good start, especially when compared to the Reichstag the day before where guides are free and you don't need any deposit.
There are plenty of audio and visual exhibits at the Jewish Museum however, so even without a guide there's more than enough to digest. We started at the wrong end due to the complicated design and a natural compulsion to doing everything arseways. Starting with the Holocaust will leave you thoroughly depressed from the beginning. Some of the imagery is shocking naturally enough. The aftermath is also covered. It was fascinating to see footage of the Auschwitz trial when the accused would attempt to smash the filming cameras as they entered the court.
Of particular interest to me was the place of Jews in German society between 1800 and 1914, the plight of people who were as enthusiastically German as anyone else, who would gladly fight for Prussia against France for example, but who were denied full rights due to their religion.
The rest of the exhibition shows the Jews have always been persecuted, by everyone, so it's certainly not the place to go if you're looking for a light afternoon's entertainment. Niamh and Helen certainly weren't their usual chirpy selves afterwards, although that may have been because they were knackered too.
While interesting per se, I found the museum a bit stretched, as if they were trying to justify the impressive building with the exhibits within. You walk and walk and walk, around corners and up steps, as if the organisers want visitors to suffer so they'll better understand the suffering of the Jews. They don't actually need to do that. The exhibits would be enough.

On our way home we nearly saw a cyclist come to blows with a motorist at Checkpoint Charlie in a show of aggression not seen since Soviet and US tanks faced-off there during the Cold War. The car must have hit the cyclist who stopped in front and roared back at the driver with all the cars behind beeping like mad. The car tore off. Slammed on the brakes in front of the cyclist, driver hopped out, went to punch him! Mad shit. The cyclist wisely kept going. The driver got back in, and screeched off again, no doubt to vent his fury at someone else.
"Happens in Berlin all the time," I told Helen. Bikes and cars just don't get on in this city. Well, after that we needed a couple of Weißbiers to calm the nerves. Any excuse.

Modest acorn

Well, it's official! I got my contract now so they can't back out of it. I'm starting work Tuesday week. I'll need the week before to actually read what I've signed; it's 12 pages long! In German of course too. I had to initial every page and sign it four times, twice! They're really making sure.
She gave me a list of hoops to jump through in the meantime. I have to go back to the dreaded Bürgeramt to get a Lohnsteuerkarte (to pay taxes), sign up for compulsory health insurance, get a Sozialversicherungsausweis and a gegenbenenfalls Aufenthalts-/Arbeitsgenehmigung. I can't remember what the latter is, nor indeed the former, but I can see know why unemployment is so high in Berlin - they don't make it easy to work.
Not many fans turned up for my signing ceremony. It was a little disappointing, considering 90,000 turned up for Cristiano in Madrid. No one from the press showed up, not even from the radio. No requests for autographs, no female fans screaming in adulation, no one at all, in fact, to blow kisses at or pose for photographs with. Ah well! Modest acorn to mighty oak and all that.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Dem Deutschen Volke

The Reichstag is the most visited government building in the world, what with all the curious Auslanders dying for a gawk at the corridors of power where Angela broods on how to deal with the Greeks. Long lines of tourists, longer than the dole queues in Ireland, form outside the impressive bullet-scarred building no matter what the weather, sometimes for two hours or more, enthusiasm declining with the level of conversation. I remember last year, queuing with Eoghan, when the conversation descended to unprecedented levels of ráméis (and that's saying something) before we were finally let in.
Of course, Angela and all the other head honchos don't have to queue with the commoners outside, but are ushered in their own private back entrance. They even block off the street behind when the Bundestag (as they prefer to call it now) is in session, just to stop knackers like me running in disrupting things.
But there is a way to avoid queueing like a schmuck. Don't tell anyone or everyone will be doing it, but when my favourite cousin came to visit last week, I couldn't have her waiting out in the freezing cold with all the peasants. A quick phonecall (+49-30-2262990) and we had a table reserved at the rooftop restaurant for Kaffee und Kuchen (any excuse). We promptly skipped the queue and entered by a sneaky entrance at the side, before going through security and being whisked up to the top. Of course, the restaurant prices would bankrupt a sheik, but if you're coming directly from Dublin they're alright. You can actually just reserve the table and go off on a tour of the magnificent dome without showing up at the restaurant after you've skipped the queue, but that would be really sneaky. I'd never even think of such a thing.
The dome itself is well worth seeing, all mirrors and glass and crazy angles which encourage all sorts of arty photography from the spiralling walkway. It's situated directly over the parliament floor and the design is such that visitors can observe the shenanigans of their elected leaders below. All clarity and openness here. Jaysus, you'd need 24-hour surveillance to keep up with the Irish lads' hi-jinx.
All the mirrors and stuff radiate natural light into the chamber, while a shield tracks the sun to stop the political leaders' precious eyes being dazzled. Air is recycled, with stale air from the parliament floor directed through cleverly concealed vents to heat the building (all the shite they speak, it's good to see it put to some use), and fresh air brought in through the opening at the top.
Entrance is free of charge which might also help explain the long queues, but the idea behind it all is that German democracy at work is supposed to be accessible to all. (Again, a lesson for Fianna "Fail" there and the rest of the Irish cowboys. Can you imagine the heat they'd generate with all the shite they spout?!)
Free audio guides are also provided before you climb the walkway. They point out what buildings and sights you're looking at although obviously there's a bit of coordination involved. I didn't know what I was supposed to be looking at half the time. Go easy on the Glühwein beforehand though, and you should be okay.
There's information on the building's tempestuous history, from the proclamation of the republic in 1918, to reunification in 1990, with some great old pictures featuring wonderful moustaches. Hitler's buddies conveniently burnt the Reichstag in 1933, blaming communists to allow him consolidate power, and he subsequently conducted some of his famous rants and raves here. (Raves have always been popular in Berlin. Thankfully now they are a far more introvert affair with only direct participants and sleepless neighbours feeling any ill effects.)
It's well worth a visit. Helen was mad impressed, and she wasn't even drinking. Of course, we soon made up for that. It gets pretty chilly at the top of the dome. Even politicians' hot air is no match for the warming qualities of Glühwein.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Kapitalismus wins the day

A wiser fella than meself once said, sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes the bar, well... eats you. I'm eating the bar before it eats me - I got a job. Believe your unbelieving eyes, I got a job! I sign the contract this Friday at 10.30am and start on Tuesday, March 16th, almost two years to the day I became a Berliner.
It won't be journalism but it'll keep me off the streets and stave off the vultures for the time being. Working for Roy Keane's employer, on less money but with more prospects, I'm going to be flogging conference places to insecure managers of companies with deep pockets, the deeper the better.

The company, Marcus Evans, arranges conferences on all manner of high falutin' affairs, bringing in speakers from NASA, Microsoft, Google and the like, to explain to lesser honchos how they can be as successful as them. Prices to attend one of these events hover around the €3,000 mark. As a Conference Sales Executive I'll be identifying business leaders, calling them, and explaining how a short term investment will unleash unlimited potential for them and their company.
The pointy shoes did it. That first job I was offered over three weeks ago is still on the table for me, and I didn't need to be asked again. I'll be working in the swankiest office building I've ever stepped a pointy shoe in, above the Bentley and Volkswagen showrooms on Unten den Linden. Money is the decisive factor however. I'll be earning a regular wage for the first time in two years, not great at first, but with unlimited potential based on my success. (I'm believing my own hype now.)
About time too. Things were getting critical. I'd gotten to thinking the unthinkable; allowing advertising on the blog, going the Greek route and just ignoring the debts until someone bails me out, possibly even leaving Berlin, going to live a hunter gatherer existence in the forests of some warmer land.
Unfortunately, to make a career in journalism, you have to lick arses and know the right arses to lick. I'd been licking the wrong arses it seems. Fear not, I shan't be forsaking the blog in the name of this capitalist venture, but will continue to call myself a journalist a little longer. The only arse I depend on now is my own.

The great insurance scam

Unbefuckinglievable. I'm engaged in a struggle with my travel insurance company to try recover the $2,000 I had to pay to get home from Peru after our airline went bust. As you know already, they told me I wasn't covered for it as my policy didn't have "scheduled airline failure". Despite my paying almost €300 for four month's cover and despite a front page feature on the company's website which claims it is "one of the few travel insurance providers who offered SAFI cover (at no additional cost) with all its policies".
This last claim is made in the "Travel Feature of the Week" from December 20th, 2009, two days before Air Comet went bust, and which Columbus Direct still features on the front page of its website.

When we got back to Berlin, I wrote to say cancelled flights are covered (according to the paperwork they sent me). "Our flights were cancelled and are therefore included," I wrote. "I must confess I'd never even head of scheduled airline failure before this and suggest it is just another way for insurance companies to avoid carrying out their responsibilities."
I added: "I expect a full compensation because in this case the airline did not 'fail' but was rather shut down by the Spanish government."

I received a letter back asking me why, exactly, the Spanish government shut down Air Comet. A blatant time-wasting tactic as I had already furnished them with the news clippings on the matter, and I told them exactly that...
"I have to say I was surprised by your request for the exact reason the Spanish government shut down the airline Air Comet. I neither work for the Spanish government nor have any personal dealings with any members of same.
"I suspect your request is merely a delay tactic when it comes to dealing with my claim, and further suggest that you have exactly the same resources available to you to finding out the reason. I had already enclosed a news clipping from the internet to detail the nature of the airline’s closure.
"Moreover, I fail to see exactly what difference the Spanish government’s reasoning has on my claim. Whether it was simply a flight of fancy (pardon the pun) or the result of many late nights’ discussions sitting around a conference table ordering take-in pizza, the result is the same – the flights were cancelled.
"Nevertheless, I did take the time to do your work for you, and after doing a google search, I was able to come up with the following which may shed more light on the situation for you:
'{Spain suspended Air Comet's operating licence on Tuesday after the airline filed for protection from creditors and laid off all of its 666 employees ... Air Comet said its troubles came to a head when a British court ordered nine of its aircraft to be impounded at the request of German bank Nordbank which said the airline had failed to make aircraft lease payments. Saturday's edition of El Pais newspaper reported that Air Comet could have kept going temporarily through mediation between the Spanish government and Nordbank, but refused, choosing to "ditch 7,000 passengers". Spain's Infrastructure Minister Jose Blanco confirmed the report, saying the Air Comet management had preferred to shut down operations ... Air Comet is controlled by Spanish travel group Marsans, whose president Gerardo Diaz Ferran is the head of Spain's employers federation CEOE. Ferran blamed the closure of the airline on the British court's decision -- which he called "disproportionate" -- as well as a drop in bookings due to the global economic downturn.}'
I found that information from the Bangkok Post at the following address: http://www.bangkokpost.com/travel/travelnews/163688/half-of-stranded-air-comet-passengers-rescued.
"

This morning I received an email from a certain Ashley Fernon, in which he wrote: "We kindly refer you to the General Exclusions of your policy, in which you will note that point 12 states: - 12. The insolvency of a travel agent, tour operator, airline, accommodation provider or carrier. It is with this in mind and owing to this exclusion, we will unfortunately be unable to proceed with your claim on this occasion."
Nice of him to highlight it in big friendly red letters.

I immediately replied to ask how Colombus Direct is not making fraudulent claims by continuing to feature the piece on its home page regarding free "scheduled airline failure" on all its policies.
The email bounced back! Spam! I sent it on again to the main company's main email address and again it bounced back, marked spam! Even with a different subject line (the original had just my claim number), it bounced back as spam. I sent a test email from a different email account and that went through. The fuckers obviously blocked my email address as spam so I couldn't write back to them!

I immediately rang to demand to speak with Ashley Fernon. A premium rate number of course, and I'm ringing from Germany. Of course, your man was on another call, and the girl who picked up the phone "couldn't find" my file. She asked me to email him and assured me there was no way Columbus Direct would dare block my address as spam. She was unable to get him to call me back as she had to "put a note on the file" and she had no access to it.
"Can you not just write my name and number on a piece of paper, walk over to his desk, and tell him to call me back?" I wondered. Eventually she acceded, but I'm not expecting his call anytime soon.
Now I just have to find where to bring this matter further.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Blindingly dark

It's mad the shit which went on in Berlin. And I'm not talking of dog doings this time but the doings of people, the happenings of the past. The city never fails to entrance and impress, whether it's events, sights, attractions or just the macabre but irresistible past so blindingly dark it will never be comprehended. (Yes I know dark cannot be blinding, but in Berlin the darkness is blinding.)
Deborah and Richie were over last week, the latter causing consternation wherever he went. A Dutch waitress, on revealing her nationality, was told: "Ruud Gullit, clogs, windmills, tulips, dams. We're from Ireland - your go!" Flabbergasted, she stuttered and stammered until Deborah told her husband to leave the poor girl alone.
We did the standard walking tour on the first day. Up Unter den Linden where the Nazis used to march - "Wow, it's mad the shit which went on here," as I'd hear more than once on their visit - past Bebelplatz where they burnt all those books in 1933, up toward Brandenberg Tor and the Reichstag to inspect the bullet holes in the walls, and then the memorial to murdered journalists and opposition politicians beside it.
From there it was on to the Holocaust memorial, a sobering installation no matter how many Glühweins or Weißbiers you've had before. It impresses me every time, its sheer magnitude and suddenness swallowing you up before you realise you've wandered in too far. It looks innocent enough from the outside but all of a sudden you're up to your neck, and then beyond as the columns tower above. It takes much longer to get out than get in. Tears from the melting ice trickled down the columns' sides as we tried grasp its enormity.
The site of Hitler's bunker lies nearby, now a carpark and aptly covered in dogshit. Enough said. We needed a Bier after all that, but stumbled instead across the Stasi Ausstellung (exhibition) on Mauerstraße. More mad shit to digest as we got a taste of what it was like to live under the shadow of Staatssicherheit der DDR.
We later made our way to Oranienburgerstraße where the hookers ply their wares and more besides and where the synagogue is still protected by 24 hour security. Again a contradictory reality. There's only so much madness you can take however and we were happy just to finally get our Biers and talk of totally unrelated matters, Connemara and the future of Irish as a language, Richie telling us of his optimism for same, and then how he and his brother "saved and stole" as five and six-year-old kids to buy some sweets or cake in the local shop. The miserable shopkeeper cut it to reflect exactly the ha'penny they had managed to gather. He was surprised he could recount a story 25 years old, but the wounds will evidently still take a while to heal. "The fucker wouldn't just give us the thing, but cut three-quarters of it for us!" He was still outraged, unhealed wounds not allowing him forget. Just like in the city he was visiting.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Dog shit Berlin

Berlin's dogs seem to have a major issue with toilet manners. Their shit is everywhere! They seem to think they can just shit whenever and wherever they please. Not one shit about their shit do they give. Drop and plop, the more the better. In fact, they seem to go out of their way to leave their Scheiße precisely where they know someone will step in it.
When I first moved here I used to stand in dog shit every other day. Eventually I learned the only way to avoid squishing into poo was to walk with the head down, eyes scouring the pavement for canine crap. I also cycle whenever possible to avoid having to touch my feet off the ground.
The problem is acerbated now that the snow and ice has melted. Three months' shite which had been in deep storage is now released for all to step in. My sister and cousin were over at the weekend. Walking along the canal in Kreuzberg on Saturday, we actually had to leave the pavement and walk on the road. There was so much shit on the pavement, there was virtually nowhere left to place a foot without standing in it! "I hate that shit," my cousin remarked, closer to the truth than she realised.
Hitler's bunker is covered in dog shit, in itself no bad thing. Just a nondescript carpark now, marked with a simple plaque, it has fallen foul of a smear campaign by local pooches who seem to shit profusely and regularly all over it. It would be quite impressive if they didn't ruin their point by shitting everywhere else too.
Of course, the dogs themselves can't be blamed. Manners are learned at home, and it seems their lazy owners have none. They just don't give a shit while their pooches do.