Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Papi

I came out of the shower to find Jenny left something on my pillow. She was smiling. Kind of. "Look," she said.
I looked. A white plastic stick two bars in a window. She had thoughtfully left the instructions beside it. I picked them up. Two bars = schwanger, one bar = nicht schwanger. I looked again. Definitely two bars. The instructions said the bars may be faint and may disappear after ten minutes or so. These weren't faint and they weren't disappearing.
"Wow," I said.
"We're gonna have a baby!" said Jenny.
I kissed her. "Cool!" I didn't know what else to say.
I went to work with a hurricane in my head. A thousand knives chopping at my brain. Nothing real anymore, nothing important, nothing mattered at all. It was my second day in Bild. I wondered how we were going to manage, how we could cope. The job was badly-paid and only for three months in any case. Then I'd be looking again.
The first doctor's appointment was a week later. I took a couple of hours off to accompany her. She was all dressed up, smiling, looking very smart, while I'm sure I looked like shit. I was sweating internally, heart in my mouth, eyes black, worried. "You look very serious," she said.
"This is very serious," I replied.
She still looked happy when she came back out from the doctor's office. "Well?" I asked her.
"I'll tell you outside."
We sat on a bench at Schönhauser Allee, opposite where I'd first kissed her before running away nerves a jangle while she waited for a tram.
They were a jangle again now. She told me everything was okay. Everything healthy, no problems. She'd seen it moving and could hardly contain her excitement. It was 1.32cm long apparently. She showed me the photo, a shape on a dark square of paper. "That's the head, that's the legs..."
Suddenly it was all very real. I bowed my head, couldn't look her in the eyes. Tears came to mine. "How the fuck are we going to manage Jenny?" Doubts, fears flooded my mind. We'd been through a turbulent couple of months. "Hey," she said, "we'll be fine." She held me as I cried, tears rolling down my face, tried reassure me. Thank Christ she was much stronger than I was. I gathered myself and went back to work.
I was sick with worry. I cried again the next week when I told Dáire. They just came out of nowhere, suddenly rolling from my eyes while we sat in a café jammed with people. He comforted me too. "It's alright. Everything will be okay."
Talking to him helped. Somehow. He went home at 6am and I hurried back to Jenny's, kissed her, told everything would be fine. Then I fell asleep. We'd all day Sunday to talk, make little plans for a little family. We agreed on a load of things and it felt good. Calm, happy.
The next doctor's appointment was June 10th. Still I was worried, but everything was fine. "Unser Baby wächst und gedeiht!" It was 3.27cm, two and a half times bigger in three weeks. At that rate it'll be a monster. "Es geht ihm gut." Another cryptic photo and a due date: January 9th.
I told my parents last Saturday. "I've a bit of news for you..." I didn't know how they'd take it but they were delighted. A million congratulations, happy down the phone. "It had to happen sometime."

Everything now is different. Upside down and unknown. Everything is of the greatest importance. Significant, magnified, immense. Everything considered at once, dissected, weighed, intense; exposing insecurities, instabilities, fears and doubts. No longer possible to take one day at a time.

I consider the implications of being a father. Naturally I want to be the best damn father possible. I'm sure Jenny will be a great mother; she's handled it so well so far. I'm not in a great position for either of them though. More ends to meet than before, and my contract's up on August 18th after which it's staring down the barrel of unknown. Hand to mouth isn't good enough now - work is a priority.

We'd talked about kids before, but obviously I'd like to have been better prepared. I guess the baby's already showing his/her father's impatience. I haven't dealt with it well so far, and can only admire Jenny for how she has. Time to get myself in order.
"Soon we'll be celebrating another," I told her on her birthday. "Two!" she reminded me. She was right of course, but only one is important now...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Irish rooting for Deutschland

Now the French are out of the way with the unexpected bonus of more Schadenfreude than we can possibly enjoy, Irish World Cup ambitions revert to seeing England knocked out as soon as possible. For me personally, this takes on added significance as the task falls to Germany, the country I now call home.
As an immigrant in this oft-misunderstood land, I admit the idea of German patriotism is one which sits somewhat uncomfortably with me. As an Irishman, my country of origin will always be in my heart - as I'm sure it is for any immigrant in any land - but Germany is probably where the process of integration and taking pride in the country is harder than most.
Recent history plays a huge part in this of course, casting its shadow still, while for me the niggly obsession with rules - waiting at red lights when no cars are coming and so on - also prohibits me from fully committing to the cause. While I'm now a Berliner, I'm very much an Irish Berliner.
Watching Germany take on Portugal during Euro 2008 with Theresas Mütter, I fully expected my teammates to get behind their team. A few of them however, did not. René actually hoped Portugal would win. "I don't think Germany is ready to be patriotic," he told me.
Not all Germans feel this way of course. Jenny says something changed when the World Cup was hosted here in 2006. Suddenly it was acceptable to take pride in the country. Flags adorned balconies and cars, fans wore Deutschland jerseys, and wherever you went, people got behind the team as its Sommermärchen brought everyone on board.
Even now however, I notice Germans are reserved when it comes to supporting their country. Sure, there are flags on balconies and flying from cars, but they aren't hanging from every balcony, flying from every car. Not everyone is painted in black, red and yellow.
I compare it to Ireland during Italia 90. The 'Boys in Green' had qualified for a World Cup for the very first time and the country went ballistic. Absolutely crazy. Flags everywhere, Ireland jerseys everywhere, walls and windows painted green, the team's World Cup song top of the charts for weeks on end, shops closed, kids dreaming, women dancing, grown men crying; even the dogs on the street barking for Ireland! It was incredible.
Since those heady days when dreams could come true, the Irish have had resort to taking pleasure in seeing England flop. A long history of animosity means it has become a favourite pastime to take pleasure from our neighbours' misfortune.
Germany have never needed any extra motivation to beat England, but they'll have the support of the Irish in any case. For me, der Klassiker can only help my integration. Certainly, this Irish Berliner will have no problems shouting for Deutschland later!

Also appears on Young Germany.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Garbáty's, a cigarette factory up in smoke

Looking for the abandoned Iraqi embassy a few weeks back, we came across an abandoned cigarette factory. As you do. There's shit abandoned all over this city.
We stood at the gate, peering in - myself, Jenny and Franzi (every German girl has a best friend called Franzi) - wondering whether to go in or not. My enthusiasm was dampened by the undoubted dearth of Saddam Hussein memorabilia but eventually I couldn't resist. Who knew what stories waited to be told? Lass uns gehen!

Little did I know I'd stumble on a story of Nazi persecution, East German indifference, and shameful greed leading to the systematic destruction of a family enterprise.

The Garbáty cigarette factory in Pankow isn't actually abandoned anymore, but being converted to apartments. They can't leave anything alone. A glut of diggers, construction paraphernalia and scaffolding scattered around, evidence of the poor building's fate.

We squeezed in through the loosely-locked gate, made our way to the side where I pushed open a carelessly-secured barrier and we were in!

Up the steps to where a huge expansive room greeted us, a hall well lit through a thousand sunny windows, bereft of any furnishings or curiosities. It seems were were too late: Industrial without the industry. I left the girls and went up to the next floor where I found more of the same, and on each floor as I made my way up. Brick walls, pillars, smooth clean floors and disconcertingly clear windows providing no clues of a turbulent past. Nothing to be found, nothing to be seen, nichts.

Josef Garbáty-Rosenthal began producing tobacco products with his wife Rosa Rahel at home in 1879, opening a factory on Schönhauser Allee two years later, and then moving to a more suitable facility on Berlinerstraße in Pankow in 1906.

He had 800 employees the next year, with both the Kurmark and Königen von Saba brands proving very popular, according to Beate Meyer in Jews in Nazi Berlin. Josef transferred the company to his sons Eugen and Moritz in 1929, and the former sold his 50 per cent share to the big-shot Reemtsma brand which controlled more than 60 per cent of the market at the time.

Following the Nazis rise to power in 1933, Der Stürmer, repeatedly denounced Kurmark cigarettes as a "Jewish product", before the Nazi newspaper proclaimed: "The Garbáty cigarette factory is a purely Jewish firm." Moritz Garbáty received threatening letters, and was then accused of smuggling foreign currency. Cue a dreaded Gestapo investigation.

Minister Hermann Göring reduced Garbáty's import quota by ten per cent in January 1939. Competitors jumped on the bandwagon, breaking the company's regular supply to customers. Turnover practically halved between 1937 and 1938.

Moritz Garbáty saw no option but to sell the firm, and his lawyer opened negotiations with interested Aryan parties. Dr. Jakob Koerfer's consortium included Emil Georg von Stauss, prominent Nazi supporter and director of Deutsche Bank with excellent connections, including Göring himself. It was simply a matter of how little the Garbáty family would get.

Reemtsma didn't dare rock the boat and sold his 50 per cent to Koerfer for six million Reichsmark. Various institutions were pushing for the rapid Aryanization of the firm, losing value by the day as the political climate worsened. Anti-semitism sending the value of Jewish companies plummeting.

Moritz Garbáty signed over the firm - valued at RM 31.6 million on December 31st, 1937 - to Koerfer and his Aryanizers for just RM six million on October 24th, 1938. A Schnäppchen indeed. His brother Eugen was given one million and a further RM 1.74 million was paid for the factory premises in Pankow.

Formalities, including the payment of RM 4.11 million to the Reich in "compensation", were finalised on November 8th, a day before Kristallnacht and the subsequent arrests and beatings of Jews. Ninety-one were killed that night. Moritz Garbáty had to go into hiding. His wife and 8-year-old son found refuge in a taxi travelling through Berlin:

"[She rang home] to see what the situation was like," recalled Thomas Garbáty in 1999. “Our housekeeper Elise answered the phone. 'Elise, how are things at home?' asked my mother. The answer was, 'I'm sorry but Mrs. Garbáty is not here.' Then we knew that the Gestapo were in the apartment. They were looking for us. It was Kristallnacht.”

Jews with money could obtain exit visas by making a compulsory "donation" to the chief of police. Moritz and Eugen Garbáty paid Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf RM 1.15 million in total. He was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler some years later and consequently hanged.

Jews were also forced to pay "compensation" for the damage of Kristallnacht through another compulsory voluntary donation. Moritz Garbáty coughed up RM 20,000. A property levy accounted for RM 1.12 million, an emigration tax RM 1.43 million. More too elsewhere leaving him with 861 Reichsmark. This too was then confiscated for the German Reich.

Moritz Garbáty, his wife Ella and son Thomas, managed to escape to New York via Amsterdam and Bordeaux, arriving finally on June 9th, 1939.

Josef Garbáty-Rosenthal, 87-years-old, had stayed behind. He died three weeks later, on June 29th, shortly before the outbreak of the war.

The Königen von Saba and Kurmark cigarettes were replaced with inferior "war brands" in 1942. Very little quality tobacco available anymore.

The factory was badly damaged in the Battle of Berlin in April 1945. Its owner, Jakob Koerfer, had already fled to Switzerland in 1944.

The business was appropriated after war's end by the GDR regime. It continued to produce cigarettes, was renamed VEB Garbáty in the 1950s when it began producing the Club brand, and it merged with VEB Josetti to form the Berliner Zigarettenfabrik in 1960.

The fall of the Berlin wall spelled the end. The factory was taken over by the infamous Treuhand agency set up to oversee the East German privatization. Club was sold off to the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company for just 13 million marks on October 2nd, 1990, a day before German reunification when it would have been illegal. The last cigarettes rolled off the production lines in September 1991 and all the furnishings, machines and fittings were sold to the Lübeckener Zigarettenfabrik. The workers were all let go. The Garbáty Zigarettenfabrik was no more.

It seems a final insult to build apartments there. I certainly wouldn't buy one (as if I could). Even if it were a Schnäppchen too.

What
Garbáty Zigarettenfabrik (cigarette factory).


Where
Berliner Straße 120/121 and Hadlich Straße, 13187, Berlin-Pankow. 

How to get there
Get the S2 S-Bahn from Friedrichstraße to Pankow, or the U2 U-Bahn (say hello to Bono if he's driving) from Alexanderplatz. If just a two minute walk north from the station, on the right hand side. Here's a map in case you get lost.


Getting in
You'll need to squeeze in between the gates, or simply hop over beside them where the construction material allows. Getting into the building itself proved more difficult a second time around. I had to jump down into the muck beside the side entrance and climb in through the basement which is full of pools of water. Bring waterproof shoes!

When to go
Sunday is best as the construction workers will be off. Or anytime after dark. Spookier!

Difficulty rating

4/10. Quite easy to get in. 

Who to bring
Anyone with an interest. Girlfriend or boyfriend if you fancy making a roof-top proposal.

What to bring
Camera. Picnic for the the roof.

Dangers
There's a Polizei station just behind, so look out for them and don't shout and laugh and draw attention to yourself. Again, as with all such sites, nosy neighbours with little going on in their lives are a constant threat. Keep your eyes peeled.

UPDATE - January, 2012 - This place is no longer suitable for "urban explorers" apart from those who like exploring people's kitchens (feeds the belly instead of the soul) and freaking out dwellers in their homes. Might also be fun...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The blind man who could see

Each act in this world from which there can be no turning back has before it another, and it another yet. In a vast and endless net. Men imagine that the choices before them are theirs to make, but we are free to act only upon what is given. Choice is lost in the maze of generations and each act in that maze is itself an enslavement for it voids every alternative and binds one ever more tightly into the constraints that make a life, said the blind man.
Our plans are predicated upon a future unknown to us. The world takes its form hourly by a weighing of things at hand, and while we may seek to puzzle out that form we have no way to do so.

Today I finished Cities of the Plain, last in The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy. Incredibly vast and overpowering, haunting but beautiful, desolate and full of sorrow but utterly romantic and moving, the books are quite simply brilliant. I don't think I've ever read better.

The wineglass stood empty and he took it up. Those who cannot see, he said, must rely upon what has gone before. If I do not wish to appear so foolish as to drink from an empty glass I must remember whether I drained it or not.

Thank you Dáire for giving me something to read on the S-Bahn home.

Friday, June 18, 2010

¡Qué viva México!

Fireworks greeted the first goal. And again the second. They weren't for Germany though, but for México who evidently have loads of fans in Berlin. I suspect the Mexican restaurant down the road may have something to do with it. Airborne burritos after the first goal, fountains of tequila for the second. ¡Ándale ándale! ¡Arriba arriba!
The defeat for France effectively guillotines any hopes Les Bleus had of progressing to the second round. Not that there's much sympathy out there. Even the English seem to revelling in their dismal failure. "Their manager is an idiot and almost to a man, their players are a disgrace to their country," said The Guardian's commentator.
Schadenfreude is a dish best served with a glass of stout, and there's nowhere it's being enjoyed more right now than in Ireland, home to more México supporters per capita than anywhere else in the world - including México.
Memories of France's illicit progression to the World Cup at Ireland's expense have been relived and reviled backwards and forwards (see what I did there?), so there was no second invitation needed to support another team in green instead.
France coach Raymond Domenech - who surely won't be France coach much longer - didn't even play the instigator of the infamous 'Mains de Henry'. As if to add to his humiliation, he asked Thierry to warm up for 20 minutes without then allowing him a hand in the action! Perhaps he was mindful of the previous game when Henry - of all people - appealed for a penalty to be given against Uruguay for handball. Oh, the irony!
Poor Domenech sounded like a doomed man after the deserved loss to Mexico. He didn't bother trying to blame the controversial ball, the distracting sound of vuvuzelas, or the weather. "I have no words," he said, contradicting himself as he said them. He said some more too, just to make it worse.
Defeat to Les Verts Mexicains means Les Bleus need a miracle against the Bafana Bafana in their final game. It doesn't look good. The last time they scored within 90 minutes at a World Cup was Zinedine Zidane's outrageous penalty off the top of the crossbar in the final in Berlin four years ago. Only one man can save them now. Time to bring Zizou back!
There go more fireworks. Maybe there's a few Irish in that Mexican party after all...

Also appears on Young Germany.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From Jogi with Löw - Schwarz, Rot, Geil!

So Germany are going to win the World Cup. Mark wouldn't believe me when he visited from Paris last week, but there was conclusive proof in Bild today with no less than ten reasons Super-Jogi's sidekicks would be bring the trophy back to Berlin.
"We'll blow everyone away!" was another of my translations, along with Beckenbauer proclaiming Mesut Özil as good as Lionel Messi. The rest of the tournament is simply a formality at this stage.
Some things are lost in translation however. Black, Red and Horny isn't quite what was meant by "Schwartz, Rot, Geil", a humorous reference to the German flag. Although with Bild you never know I suppose...
There has been real coverage too. My first Bild byline came yesterday when Indomitable Lions were actually domitised, and there was another today when I covered Ronaldo's scoreless stalemate with the Elephants. I think it's great the way they've opened up the competition so all species can take part.
Meanwhile, my in depth analysis and expert opinions are still being broadcast on Young Germany. In my latest offerings I've lauded Jogi Bear's qualities and explained how many of Ireland's finest sporting achievements have been defeats suffered by England, revealed the folly of giving the captaincy to a Lahm (yes I know Lahm doesn't actually mean lamb, as if 'lame' is much better), and how the organisers made a balls of it before the tournament even started.
The latter was politically corrected so it's now a little Lahmer than before, but at least no sheep will have been harmed. There's just too much Löw in the air for that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Liberated by the twenties

Finally a real haircut! A noticeable difference this time! I went back to Haartari on Friday - put my hair's fate back in the hands of the stylish gay guys at the arty place with the classic furniture - and gave Stefan carte blanche to do whatever he wanted.
"Mach was du willst. I don't care anymore. Just make sure the hair is out of my eyes. Es ist ärgerlich."
He ran his hand through my hair, a moment of panic before he found it again, a harp intake of breath and then: "Wow."
He put his finger to his lip, pondered thoughtfully (as if there was any other way to ponder), and then I knew I was in good hands. He told me straight away he'd cut the back so I wouldn't look like MacGyver anymore, and assured me I'd be able to see as soon as he'd finished.
"It will be very cool. Something from the twenties," he said.
I'd no idea what was in during the 1920s, my memory not stretching back quite that far, but somehow I trusted Stefan completely. (Berlin always seems to be behind the times when it comes to fashion. I thought it was still in the eighties, but the twenties. Jaysus.)
Despite him being covered in tattoos and having earrings where no earrings had business being - (picture here, the guy in the middle) - he exuded calm and I was already at the end of my tether. Really I couldn't have cared less what he did, twenties or not. I was all haired out.
The chainsaw came out and Stefan got to work. Above the din we'd the best conversation I've ever had with a hairdresser, all about the beers of Germany and whiskeys of Ireland. I knew more about the former and he the latter. He told a crude joke featuring Sterni and piss, and took a break half-way through to see what the ruckus was about outside when some freak with even more tattoos and piercings started shouting and roaring as he pushed his trolley up the street.
"Na ja, Friedrichshain," he said as he came back in.
"So ist Berlin," I agreed.
I literally felt the weight lift off my shoulders as he cut the haystack down to size, and the liberation of no longer having a veil of straw in front of my eyes anymore has given me a new appreciation for things around me. After all I can see them again!
(I'd been so distracted by the mop in my face that I very nearly forgot to take pictures. I managed to take one just before I went in with my phone, and another as I cycled home when I nearly ran into a tram. Thanks to Stefan I was able to see it on time.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Party at Saddam's house (Abandoned Iraqi embassy)

Papers are strewn everywhere, files, important documents, letters, photos, names, addresses; mountains of them ripped from folders and filing cabinets and just scattered around. Chairs are overturned, sofas gutted, desks ravaged, walls blackened, shards of glass on the floor. Dirty curtains billow in the nonchalant breeze through broken windows.
You'd think a bomb hit the place even before you realise where you are. But this is one Iraqi site which was never bombed - it was simply abandoned.

They must have just left the Iraqi Embassy to East Germany (German Democratic Republic or GDR) with no notice at all. "We're leaving. Pack your bags and get out!" They didn't even bother to clear their desks. Almost 20 years later the telephones, rusty typewriters and telex machines still sit on desks, along with manuals and lists of phone numbers. There was even toilet paper still on a roll beside the smashed up cistern!

Most of what they left behind in January 1991 is still there. All the good stuff was gone of course; I was looking for a picture of Saddam Hussein to hang on my wall. Any medals, busts or trinkets were long pilfered but there was still more than enough to hold the attention. A receipt from April 28th, 1970 for 1.070,66 East German Mark made out to Herr Dr. Hl Hussani, whoever the hell he was, and letters addressed to Mr. Issam Salman Al Rawi from the Iraqi embassy in London. manuscripts on the Iran-Iraq war, and plenty of pictures of missile launchers in action, smiling Iraqi soldiers and wartime propaganda.

Saddam himself was there too! Smiling beautifully and radiating with glory on the cover of a brochure soiled by 20 Berlin winters and the passing of time. Time hasn't been kind to him either I'm afraid.
"Mmmmm, he looks so young!" exclaimed Jenny when I later showed her the picture. Maybe it's a good thing he's gone after all.

I'd hopped over the half-hearted barbed wire effort on the front gate and made my way in through the cellar. As is becoming customary, I'd no torch with me (I finally bought batteries on Sunday at Mauer Park) so I was relying on my camera infra-red to light the dark rooms. It didn't light much. I stumbled over debris, banged into overturned furniture and crunched on broken glass as I groped my way around in the darkness. I pushed open doors, peered around corners in the dark, half expecting a decayed corpse to suddenly roll out in front of me.

My heart was in my mouth. It nearly shot out of my mouth when I heard voices upstairs as I was rooting through some files. Who the hell was that?! I waited and listened. They spoke again. A laugh. Then I knew it wasn't the Polizei. Or Saddam's henchmen protecting deep dark secrets. I continued rooting.

Most of the letters were in Arabic, so I'd no idea what plots they were divulging, what secrets they were sharing, whose ideas they were betraying. I should have paid more attention during Arabic classes. I stuffed a couple into my pockets and continued my search.

The 5,000 acre site belongs to the Germany but the Republic of Iraq has "perpetual and exclusive rights" (as is embassy etiquette) after being granted same by the now defunct GDR government.
The Iraqis now apparently have bigger fish to fry and look set to keep ignoring it from their plush all-Germany embassy in Zehlendorf.
"No comment," from an Iraqi spokesman.
Meanwhile, someone in the Berlin city planning authority: “It’s a matter for Iraq; there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The building was built in 1974 when Iraq enjoyed good relations with the GDR. It had been the first non-socialist state to recognise East Germany as a country in 1969.
Saddam Hussein even invited head honcho Erich Honecker to Bagdad in 1980, probably to discuss arms deals.
The East German National People's Army helped Iraqi preparations for chemical warfare, with Der Spiegel reporting in 1990 that four officers from the 'Chemical Services' of the NVA led a project until the early 1980s to develop chemical, atomic and biological weapons at a facility near Bagdad. George W. must have read that particular article. Or at least had it read to him.

Saddam Hussein's policy included hits on political opponents abroad. Apparently the East Germans were happy for Iraqis to use East Berlin as a base for operations in West Berlin, and embassy staff could pass through Checkpoint Charlie as and when they pleased. Two were arrested in West Berlin following a tip-off on August 1st, 1980 as they were receiving a suitcase full of explosives. They turned out to be the embassy secretary Khalid Jaber and the head of Iraqi intelligence in East Berlin, Hay Ali Mahmood. They were accused of a plot to bomb a congress of Kurdish students in West Berlin, in Wedding, just up the road from me. The tip-off came from the Syrian Intelligence Service to the West German Bundesnachrichtendienst intelligence service (BND). Apparently.

Reports of large amounts of weapons and explosives at the Iraqi embassy in Berlin were confirmed by the GDR Interior Ministry in September 1990 when it was placed under watch. Iraq was already a month into the first Gulf War after invading Kuwait, and then German reunification took place in October. (Unconnected events.)
The new all-German government, no doubt on its best behavior and keen to kiss arses across the Atlantic, ordered staff out of the embassy in January 1991 while the first Gulf War was coming to an end. It's been abandoned ever since, stuck in a bureaucratic tied-knot which I hope won't be untied for a long time to come. It's absolutely fantastic!

What
Former Iraqi Embassy to East Germany
.

Where

Tschaikowskistraße 51, Berlin 13156, Germany.

How to get there
Get the S2 S-Bahn from Friedrichstraße to Pankow, and then get either the M1 tram from there to
Tschaikowskistr. or the 155 bus to Homeyerstr. Here's a map so you can figure out where to go from there. It ain't far!
You could also cycle which is the best way to get anywhere in this city.

Getting in
Just find the bit of the gate in front where the barbed wire isn't too high up. There are a couple of spots where the barbed wire sits under the top of the gate.

When to go
Daytime is best so you can see what the hell you're looking at.

Difficulty rating

6/10 Not hard to get in, but need to be on the lookout for police and nosy neighbours. Germans have an uncontrollable urge to ring people in authority when they suspect someone might be breaking the law, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with them. "Das ist verboten verdammte Scheiße. Ich muß dringend die Polizei anrufen!"

Who to bring
Like-minded explorers.

What to bring
Camera. Tripod if you want to be fancy about it. A bag to bring evidence home. And a torch. Bring a torch for Jaysus' sake.

Dangers
The aforementioned nosy neighbours are a pain in the arse, but the Polizei do respond to their calls. A first attempt to gain entrance a couple of weeks ago had to be called off when a Polizei Wagon parked outside actually reversed to see whet we were up to when we were nosing about outside. Use your discretion.

More wonderful pictures, despite the lack of tripod and other fancy equipment, can be seen here: Iraqi embassy pictures.


Monday, June 07, 2010

Spreepark attractions (Another brush in an abandoned fairground)

As soon as I landed over the fence with Clack Clack we stopped. Looked around listened. We'd barely gone half a metre through the bushes when a man appeared just in front. On the path. His head and shoulders suddenly out of nowhere above the foliage. We crouched down, froze, dared not move. Fuck! We waited. He walked on. Without a sound. Thank Christ, he didn't see us.
"We'll have to be careful," I told Clack Clack behind me. "That was a bit close!"
We inched forward carefully through the bushes. A quick look up and down the path, no one there, okay let's go! I was back in Spreepark, for the second time in almost as many weeks, the dinosaurs, clowns and spirits of the trees drawing me inexorably back.
We tip-toed our way up the path, staying close to the sides in case the security man was waiting for us. Perhaps it was a trap, a ploy to get us out in the open so he could strike. After a quick look at the abandoned water slide cars, full of the leaves of nine falls, we continued past the lake they would once have shot into, home now only to a multitude of frogs or some crazy-sounding ducks.
On to the rollercoaster still and silent, the baboon head gaping and inviting, a quick wander down the dark tunnel of its throat, and then on to the moustached cars with bowler hats in the forest. The ferris wheel looked down on us as we scurried around. Again, just like the last time with Jessie, it was getting dark, and I was anxious to get to the main attraction before we couldn't see anything at all.
"It's a bit risky now," I warned Clack Clack. "We'll have to leave the cover of the forest but it's worth it. We'll be out in the open and there's a good chance there's humans just behind, but we can't come here and not see the next things."
She nodded in agreement. She looked scared but happy. Let's go!
As soon as I we got out into the open I knew something was wrong. The brontosaurus was on his side, the tyrannosaurus-rex was gone. The triceratops was still standing, but there were now a load of giant white swans right behind him. They weren't there before. And where was the tusk-less mammoth?! Someone had been messing with the dinosaurs! Everything was changed, everything was wrong.
Clack Clack was oblivious of course; she hadn't been here before, and she looked around eyes wide and mouth open taking in all the wonder. "Wooooowwww!!!"
Suddenly I see see legs approaching. His body hidden by that of the triceratops, two human legs, very much alive, coming towards us. Damnit. Clack Clack sees him too, signals with mad hand gestures, says some stuff I don't understand. I give her the thumbs up. She withdraws behind back into the forest.
I'm drawn towards the swans however. Something's going on and I have to know more! I whip out the camera and am still snapping even as the guy bursts through the bushes just a few metres away.
"Halt!"
I put the lens cap back on the camera and start walking away.
"Halt!" Warte mal!" (Stop! Wait!)
I put the camera in my bag and keep walking.
"Halt!! WARTE!!! HALT!!!"
I keep going.
"Willst du mich VERSCHISSEN?!!! HALT!!!" (Are you shitting me?! STOP!!!)
I start running. He follows suit. I realise I'm running the wrong way however, so I quickly stop, turn around and start running towards him. I figure I can outrun him anyway, and I dodge him as he makes a lunge for me. No way he can catch me now, as I burst through the trees to head for the fence. There's no good spot to escape however, and I run along the perimeter with the fence tall leaning in over me. A dog starts barking and snapping on the other side. What the fuck?! A man shouts, pulls him away. Thankfully not a guard dog, just a guy out for a stroll beside the river, but I still can't find anywhere to make an escape. I'm trapped! I find the stump of a tree however, scramble over and hurtle myself over the fence.
As soon as I'm over I realise Clack Clack's still inside. Damn. I don't know what to do, no way of getting in touch as I don't have my mobile. I don't even know if she knows I left. I realise I have to go back in to get her. Jaysus. I run down away from where the guard was, find an accessible part, and hurl myself back in over the fence again.
I quickly run the forest, back to where we were, back to the moustached cars with bowler hats - I figure she'd have gone back to what she knows, albeit vaguely - but there's no sign of her. I don't know what to do. I wait, listen, but can't hear a thing. I can barely see a thing either - It's getting dark too.
I go back to the fence, climb it and call her name. Nothing. Again, louder, I can her name. "Yo," I hear in the distance, back towards the dinosaurs. I run back along the outside of the fence, back to where I think she is. "I'm outside! Get the hell outta there!" I shout.
She got out, but not before more frantic searching along the fence for a spot to climb out. It seems it's easier to get into Spreepark than get out.
Maybe that's why I'm constantly drawn back. And now that I know there's something fishy going on, I simply have to go back again!

I wrote about Spreepark before; a visitor guide with the history and how to get to it and get in, the cautionary tale of the last brush with security, and a bit about Norbert Witte, the guy responsible for the whole thing. If planning on some snooping, be careful - it's evident Spreepark is no longer as welcoming as it was when 1.7 million used to visit every year.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Banking on Sommer, skirts and bicycles

Sommer's arriving in Berlin tomorrow at 3.05pm. I heard it on the radio Monday morning and I've no reason to doubt it. These Germans are rarely wrong. In fact, I'll be pissed off if it's even one minute later. The weather's been absolutely Schieße, bad enough to consider moving back to Ireland for a bit of relief, but from tomorrow it's sunny all the way with temperatures climbing up to 30°C!
It's been a long time coming, much like Germany's Eurovision win - ["Lena we love you! You're simply the best! The whole of Europe likes us now! We're finally in a good mood again!" So said the cover of Bild on Monday. Yes, I'm still working there.] - but finally now we can look forward to Biergartens, Schwimmbads, endless Grillen im Park, FKK at the lakes and of course skirts and bicycles.
I have my own bike back just in time. We'd been separated for the last 18 days while it was at the Bicycle Hospital on account of a broken chain. Apparently it was quite a serious operation - they were waiting ages for doner parts - and even oil transfusions were called for. I'm as much attached to it as its parts aren't, and I quickly realised how dependant I'd become. Suddenly it wasn't simply a matter of just going somewhere, and despite travelling mostly without a ticket, I still spent a fortune on U-Bahns and S-Bahns, while the constant stress from being on the look-out for inspectors is something I'd rather do without. So I'm delighted to be finally back on two wheels. Although I won't be wearing a skirt.
I have a phone that actually works now. Long story, but I'd to buy a real phone from a real shop after the one I'd bought from Ali on the S-Bahn platform under cover of darkness turned out to be as dodgy as he was. Yeah yeah, hilarious. Serves me right and all that. A planned sting operation to meet him again under pretence of buying a different phone didn't go to plan when he suddenly changed his number. Perhaps a good thing in hindsight.
I also finally now have a German bank account after jumping through more hoops than a lion at the endurance circus to get it. It only took since last September due to all the forms which needed to be filled out, boxes to be ticked, proofs of ID to be proved, and 74 trips hin und zurück to the post office. After being refused by both ComDirect and DKB, finally ING-DiBa granted my wish. (Banks have the weirdest names in Germany.) My cards arrived a couple of weeks ago, along with enough pin numbers to cover all possible combinations in the National Lottery.
Straightaway I contacted Bank of Ireland to cancel my Irish credit card after noticing the €30 annual tax charged by the government for having such a luxury. It was promptly informed I'd have to pay another €30 to do so - the tax for next year too - but that after I'd done that I could simply change my status to that of a non-resident to avoid paying any tax at all. Again, it seems offshore accounts are the way to go to avoid paying taxes, a fact not lost on Irish politicians down through the years.
Meanwhile, the clowns in charge now are pouring unlimited taxpayers' money into the black hole that is the banking system. According to friends and family reporting from the crime scene, the country is ruined. Thank Jaysus der Sommer is finally here.