Saturday, October 30, 2010

Leave the leaves

All over Berlin armies of men with gigantic ear muffs are going around with the opposite of hoovers, bullying leaves and terrorising twigs off the pavements and streets. They generally work in pairs, one man blowing all the leaves into heaps while another then loads them all up into carts to be taken away. I don't know why exactly they're doing it but locals seem to be unperturbed and I for one feel it is time to speak up against this worrying development.
It seems leaves on the pavements are seen as vermin, to be gathered up and disposed of before they dare offend anyone with their presence. No leaves are to be left for schoolkids to kick their way through, or for the wind to make dance in the air – German leaves have fulfilled their purpose as soon as they've taken leave of (or leaf off) the trees.
Well damnit, it’s wrong! Leaves are called leaves for a reason, and it’s because they should be left the hell alone. The colours at this time of year are simply magnificent, a pleasant distraction to be enjoyed for as long as humanly possible before we’re plunged irrevocably down the abyss of deepest darkest winter.
By a cruel twist of language fate, the German for leaves is Blätter and with it their fate is sealed: every autumn they’re gathered up be blattered. Enough is enough! I say it’s time to leave the leaves alone.

Most beautiful of them all...

Never before has Berlin been treated to such a wonderful issue of the Exberliner magazine! Sitting in the shops as I type, November’s issue is quite possibly the best ever! It’s certainly the most beautiful ever – my first as copy editor (hopefully not the last) is the beauty issue!
Of course the standard of copy editing is simply fantastic, but that’s not the only reason readers are in for a treat – all bias and shameless self-promotion aside, it’s actually packed with interesting stories: from that of the guy who learned he was the product of an Aryan breeding programme; to the beauty of being an ugly model; Berlin’s Miss Germany on why she isn’t into Schnick-schnack; director Guy Maddin wondering why nobody in Winnipeg remembers when the Nazis took over the city; and Angela Merkel just telling immigrants to fuck off.
I’ll copy links over as they come available for those of you too scabby to splash out €2.50. In the meantime, I encourage the rest of you to get out there and get it. And don’t forget to tell them what a wonderful job the copy editor has done. That would be the most beautiful of all...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The nipper already has more clothes than I do. It’s ridiculous. It’s not even born yet, but it already has enough to clothe an army of nippers – boxes, crates and bags of miniature jumpers and trousers, tiny socks and t-shirts, scarves, hats, sleeping bags, miniscule jackets and hoodies with ears on the top – a veritable mountain of vêtements for which I’ve had to sacrifice my wardrobe so they can all be stored.
It turns out nippers are socialists, not as possessive with their clothes as in later life, and they will gladly pass them on once they’ve outgrown them. I came back from Ireland with a whole sports bag stuffed with clothes thanks to the generosity of Matzke (Happy birthday! The big one yesterday) to add to the bags already donated by Pawel and the cases from Coco. And there’s the promise of still more to come!
Some of the jumpers and things are quite fetching. I tried on a couple but none would fit, although if I was to wear the socks I might be able to fit one on each toe. Maybe when winter really sets in...
The nipper even has a little writing desk and chair! I don’t have a writing desk and chair! (I’m typing at the kitchen table as I... well, type.) What the hell it’s going to do with a desk it can’t sit at, or a chair it can’t sit on, is beyond me. Forget the fact it can’t write! Unless it’s been practising in the womb – maybe I shouldn’t be so presumptuous.

Welcome generosity aside, preparations are ongoing. Jenny painted the walls in its room with fancy stripes around the sides (what else would a pregnant woman be doing on her holidays?) and I scraped, sanded and painted the floor and skirting yesterday. I loathe DIY and it’s hard not to do a half-arsed job when you know its not forever. Or when the nipper’s not going to give one of its many flying shites what the room is going to look like. (Apparently they shite a lot, usually just after you change them.) But Jenny disagrees (about the room) and I’ve been warned not to argue with pregnant women. So the nipper’s now got the fanciest room in the apartment – all the rest look crap which is, ironically, what the nipper’s will be covered in according to the poosayers. “Pesto poo,” warned Matzke's dad Tony. Something to look forward to.

This being Germany, there are of course a squillion forms to fill in for all sorts of pedantic reasons. The nipper doesn’t have to fill them in – although if they could find a way, believe me, they would. I suppose it would give it a use for its writing desk.
And, despite not being born yet, or even having a name, it’s already enrolled in seven Kitas. Seven! These are the schools they go to once they’re two years old or so and the parents have to go to work. Basically Kindergartens or fancy crèches. It’s allegedly imperative that they enrol now, before they're born, before it’s “too late”. How the hell it’s going to go to seven of them is beyond me. We’ll have to get it a little motorbike I suppose.

The belly is looking increasingly like Machu Picchu, albeit without the trees. The latest check up was yesterday and everything’s fine and healthy. Another scan, another screen of blurriness. I couldn't make out anything. You'd swear they were trying to build up the suspense.
But the head's pointing ominously to the ground as it hangs upside down like a bat – must be a thinking nipper – and we were told it’s four weeks(!) ahead of schedule, weighs 1.7kg and its head is 8.4cm. To think it was 1.32cm altogether not so long ago.
Jenny’s now concerned there’s a monster growing inside her. I reckon it’s just impatient – it can’t wait to try on all those lovely clothes.

(Unfortunately there are still no pictures to share. The Mutterpass is lost forever it seems, along with all the pictures it contained, and no new snaps have been snapped in the meantime.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Flat tyred

I'm getting sick and tyred of this. Seven punctures in one week. Seven! Last Sunday I actually had to repair one in the front wheel before switching attention to the one behind. It's gotten to the stage where I went and bought a 'puncture proof' tube which I put on the bike yesterday after I decided there was no way I could repair the SIX holes in the tube which had already been repaired too oft before – there were patches on the patches.
Puncture proof you say? My arse. I cycled to work this morning and half-way I got that familiar sinking feeling: I carried on regardless and by the time I got to work it was flat again. Flat-as-fuck. The bike's now leaning against a pole outside the window looking very sorry for itself and deflated.
I blame Berlin's liberal drinking laws where locals are practically encouraged to walk around with a bottle of beer in hand. Unfortunately, consumption of said beer can lead to slippy and/or careless fingers leading to tragic consequences for bottles all round. And Berlin's bicycles. It's a cyclogical nightmare. Not that I would change the city's liberal drinking laws – it wouldn't be Berlin without them and the alcohol helps us forget these problems.
Whatever about puncture proof, it seems there ain't a bicycle tube built which is Berlin-proof. Verdammte Scheiße.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Abandoned Krampnitz, First Nazis, then Russians

A worn soldier's jacket still hangs on the back of a rusty chair, a lapel fallen to the floor, all covered in dust. Colours can barely muster themselves from the gloom of dilapidation. The wooden floorboards creak when stepped on, quivering with the excitement of something new after almost 20 years. All around the otherwise bare room sheets of Russian newspapers sag limply or hang from the ceiling, wallpaper reincarnation redundant now in the monotony. All quiet, all still – but for the wind outside brushing branches lightly against the window, trees’ limbs craning for a peek through the opaque panes.
Suddenly a bang! Clanking! Creaking from below. What the fuck?! I freeze. Listen. Dare not breathe. It must be a Russian soldier coming up the stairs to reclaim his jacket! A door slams. Carefully, I inch my way back out of the room, back into the hall. I nudge open the offending door across the hall. Creeeeeaaakk!!! I peer in. An empty room. A vodka bottle the sole inhabitant. Open windows swing gently in the breeze. Glass miraculously intact all these years. I assure myself I’m still alone, physically anyway. There may or may not be someone downstairs, but at least nobody’s coming up the stairs. I hope, at least. I continue on, heart in my mouth.

It was actually much easier to get into Krampnitz than I thought when looking at it from the outside. The old ‘Kaserne’ was abandoned by the Russians in 1992, and was surrounded by a high unfriendly wall which doesn’t exactly encourage unannounced guests. The Nazis who used this old military training compound before them weren’t too fond of visitors either – it wasn’t that kind of riding school – so I was quite happy none of them were around to tell me Betreten und Befahren verboten!
The site had been used by the German army since 1937 when the cavalry moved its school here from Hannover. It was also used as a driving training centre until the Russians put an end to the Nazis’ little gallop, taking over a day after they abandoned it April 26th, 1945.

Krampnitz is absolutely huge. In a state of nervous excitement I hurried from one run-down building to the next, happy as a drunk pig in shit, taking in as much as I could. Paint flaking off the walls, bathtubs pulled out of their homes, strange Russian graffiti in the attic. I scurried down dark corridors of power where first Nazis then Russians once stomped about in their boots thinking they were big and important. Offices, toilets, kitchens, dormitories – I opened every door, peered in every dark recess, everything catching my eye, entranced. Not even Adolf himself could have dissuaded me.
What must have been the clubhouse or pub still had signs on the wall outside. Huge bay windows inside must have been impressive in their day. Dammit, they were impressive now. A theatre stood beside it empty and silent. Behind another high wall there was an underground bunker. Deep, dark, absolutely huge, facing an immense industrial-looking building. Fuck knows what used to go on there.
Another building looked like it hadn’t been touched since the end of WWII; shiny wooden floors, wooden panels on the walls, destroyed Nazi eagles over fireplaces, chandeliers brought down from their lofty heights and one still hanging majestically, absolutely magnificent.
But still I hadn’t found what I was looking for. My frantic search had yielded nichts. Just as light was failing however, I found it. The tour de force. Absolutely incredible. The Eagle. Imperious in the middle of a huge cross, clutching a swastika in its claws, surrounded by four more, one in each corner. These were painted over in red paint, supposedly by the Russians who destroyed all the Nazi imagery. Apart from the Naziest Nazi image of them all that is – the flippin’ eagle.
Some people swear the eagle is real. It certainly looks the part – the attention to detail is frightening. Others point out that ‘Enemy at the Gates’ and ‘Inglourious Basterds’ were filmed here, while others again will tell you it doesn’t appear in either. I don’t know. Some of the mosaics are missing and such attention to detail for a film is extraordinary.
You’ll have to make your own minds up about that. One thing’s for sure – Krampnitz itself is very real. Einfach toll.

Former military training school, once used by the Nazis and Russians, now abandoned and awaiting exploration.


Krampnitz, 14476 Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany.

How to get there

The RE1 regional train from Friedrichstraβe, Alexanderplatz or Hauptbahnhof will take you to Potsdam Hauptbahnhof from where you hop on a 629 bus to Krampnitzsee. Allow an hour altogether. The 629 bus goes to S+U Bahnhof Rathaus Spandau, so if you’re coming from that direction you could get the bus the opposite way. Krampnitz is about half-way between Spandau and Potsdam. I recommend cycling though. There’s a good cycle path from Spandau, although it’s a good way and you don’t want to be knackered by the time you arrive. Here it is on a map so ye can figure it out for yourselves.

Getting in
Just off the main road there’s a line of run down-looking holiday homes for rent.
These are actually former officers' houses. You can wander in past the sign which says “Betreten und Befahren verboten!” and, if anyone asks, pretend you’re thinking of renting one. Anyway, go past the last one, follow the worn path – watch out for brambles – and you’re in! Those who favour the more direct approach can simply hop over the front gate. It looks easy enough once you don’t mind barbed wire.

When to go

Preferably when the sun is shining. Daylight is best for exploring.

Difficulty rating
6/10. Tricky enough to get to but easy to get in. (Just look for the big tower, now a [hopefully abandoned] saw mill or something.)

Who to bring
Like-minded explorers. If you’re mean, people who are easily scared.

What to bring
Camera. You’d be pissed off if you made it out that far and couldn’t take photos. Bring a few snacks too – there ain’t no shops in Krampnitz – and a few Sternis for the road. You can drink them en route. Don’t forget to bring a torch for exploring those dark underground bunkers.


As always, watch out for nosy neighbours or passing outdoor-types who can’t resist sticking their noses in places they don’t belong and getting involved when it’s none of their business. Also watch out for ticks and things like that. One of the fuckers bit me. There are mozzies too, but it’s cold enough now; they should be long gone. I didn’t spot any security guards or anything like that but again, keep your eyes peeled.

Now is the time to go to Krampnitz before it's lost to history forever, consumed by apartments, another fucking hotel or razed to the ground to make way for a golf course. Berlin seems determined to ruin all of its beautiful ruins. Don't wait any longer! Again, this guide was prepared so others can get the same enjoyment from Krampnitz I did*. Don't be greedy.

*Not admissible in a court of law. I don't care who you are.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Anyone planning a trip to Berlin can now avail of inspired tips and priceless advice to make their experience an unforgettable one. (As unforgettable, at least, as it can be after copious Weißbiers, Glühweins and/or Sternis.) They thought the place was crawling with tourists before, well they ain’t seen nothin’ yet – I’m now a spotter spottin’ spots for Spotted by Locals, voted best website at the Guardian and Observer Travel Awards last week!
Berlin is third only to Paris and London for visitors in Europe, but I’m sure now it’ll be number one in no time. I’ve no idea why anyone would voluntarily go to London – the food’s crap, pubs shite and prices outrageous. It’s still the only place I’ve been where I missed six flights in a row (may even have been more) although there were fond memories of throwing winky-lights into the river and learning Ciarán was a popular girls’ name in India. Very pretty she was too. But I digress...
I’m doing my bit to revive Berlin’s flagging economy. Not that it was ever vived or unflagged to begin with. Merkel should give me a medal when she’s finished giving out to immigrants.
(Just a note Angela; if Germany’s immigration policy has failed, then you've failed – you’re the boss.) I digress again.
Spotted by Locals is for travellers who want the latest inside info on where to go and what to look for from those who know it best. No guide book will tell you how to sneak into the Reichstag or capture the madness of Mauerpark. There are spies' stories at the Stasi Museum, cafés no one’s heard in, or walking in the footsteps of Nazis and Russians at Kaserne Krampnitz (a ‘how to guide’ on that to follow here – it’s fantastisch!) and much more.
I’ve written ten articles so far and need to get cracking on another ten now. Any suggestions for ‘spots’ would be most welcome. It’s a great excuse for exploring, trying new pubs and enjoying the best this verrückte Stadt has to offer. Not that I needed any encouragement. Now... I've got spots to spot!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teaing up for winter (Sombre mug)

An unfortunate consequence of all this working malarkey and nipper preparation is there's very little time for anything else. I'd been meaning to write about all the tea I brought back from Ireland but there's barely been time to drink it, never mind share my wonderful news with the rest of the world. Not only did I come back with an extra bag stuffed with tea (and nipper clothes, more on that in the next nipper update), but also a new mug! Barry’s Tea limited edition and all! It was waiting for me patiently on the table when I got home, albeit of slightly more sombre tones than the one which tragically took its own life last August. Perhaps it’s aware of its predecessor’s fate. Maybe it fears a similar ‘accident’. Rather than take any chances, I went and purchased another one, so now I have a back-up favourite mug!
I’m going to have to stop writing about tea. We should have enough now – 800 bags in all – to get us through the winter, approaching ominously as I type. Perhaps the sombre mug knew winter was coming. Well if it didn’t, it knows now. Leaves are abandoning trees quicker than sense Dáil Éireann, suggesting they know something we don’t. (The leaves should be put in charge.)
Don't let the sunshine deceive you; it’s already colder than summer in San Francisco. Jenny has turned on the heating, and the sooner someone invents snot-guards for cyclists the better.
I even had to use my gloves for the first time yesterday. I’d been holding off as long as possible, as if wearing the gloves were an admission of defeat allowing winter take over with impunity, but thanks to those gloves I can actually type these words today. If I’d held off much longer I’d be smashing down on the keyboard with my fingerless frozen stumps – typos everywhere, not ideal for someone clinging to aspirations of journalism. Mere stumps would make the physical clinging all the harder too, even if they are only aspirations. As for holding a mug... No wonder it was sombre.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A working man

The job search is over. I now have four of them. Honest to Jaysus – no Schieße. I even turned down more work today. All I had to do was leave Berlin for a week and the offers came flooding in while I was away. I should have known.
I am (for) now the copy editor for Exberliner Magazine. I started work today. I say for now as I am one of two candidates who will be offered the job permanently once we’ve both undergone a month’s trial. So I ain’t celebrating yet.
Exberliner is an English-language monthly dedicated to arts, music, culture and whatever the hell happens to be going on in Berlin at the time. No lack of material then. It’s quite prestigious, informative and well-respected – a direct contrast to the last crowd I worked for, but just as entertaining. Sexpert Dr. Dot’s column is legendary, frank and forthright. There are interviews with people worth interviewing (Rufus Wainwright, Yoko Ono), and intelligent comment, advice, reviews and opinion.
Any magazine with a front page headline of “F*cking bureaucracy” is one I’d gladly work for! Very considerate too, putting an asterisk over the ‘u’ like that. I was never considerate enough to consider doing that.
I’m quite confident I can do the job and do it very well, so it’s up to me now to prove it. I rely only on myself, so I’d better not fuck it up. Of course, my competitor (who will have her chance in November) could be absolutely brilliant. All I can do is my best so my best I will do. I’ll find out at the end of November if it’s good enough.
Meanwhile, I will have started another job on November 1st, full-time and well paid for Berlin, so if my best isn’t good enough, well, at least I won’t have to go back down to JobCenter Pankow again.
In the meantime, I am now writing for Spotted by Locals. I’m officially a “spotter” writing about spots in the city, so tourists or other like-minded people can go discover them too. Money’s not a motivating factor here as there’s none worth talking about, but who knows where it’ll lead? I’m sure there can only be positive outcomes to it all. And it's great to be considered a "local" in Berlin after two-and-a-half years! More on this when the time is apt.
So things are finally happening, and moving in the right direction. It’s still uncertain, exciting and exhausting, but developments are developing nicely which is the way to have them develop. Right, that’s enough blather from me – I gotta WORK.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Time for a revolution

Ireland's ready for revolution. About time. It turns out the country is fucked. Beyond fucked. Those entrusted with its care have left a bill for €50 billion. This obscene sum to be borne by generations to come. It makes me sick. Children not even born yet will have to pay for the crimes of immoral politicians and their greedy friends. It really makes me sick.
I'm not the only one. A guy drove a cement truck with 'Toxic Bank' written on the side through the gates of the Dáil on Wednesday. A hero. A pity he didn't catch a few politicians. Of course he was arrested, kept overnight in a Garda station and he will be prosecuted on some charges to be determined by the gardaí. They're protecting the wrong people. Money determining their vested interests too.
A full scale revolution is the only solution now. Storm the Dáil, burn the fuckers inside, hunt down their predecessors and burn them too. The savings in wages and pension payments would go some way to meeting the €50 billion bill. How much is Bertie Ahern still being paid by the state? It's obscene. I met that crook once. Shook his hand despite my better judgement. I'd love a second chance. Burn the bankers too! Burn them all.
There's a tragedy in seeing Ireland's greatest resource screwed by those in charge. Once again the people will suffer. The commoners. My friends, my family. I admit a surge of pride when I heard of the cement truck guy, and looking around at everyone on the Dart as I made my way home the other day, I felt a bond with them all. Acquaintances just waiting to be made. Phantom FM was playing Led Zeppelin, the sun was shining (mad!), people were smiling. An advert offered romantic advice: "Girls like it when you remember their names." That would never happen in Germany. Later people actually greeted me as I passed them. It felt good to be home. Ireland is fantastic and the people are great. Just be careful which ones you put in charge of the country.