Friday, December 31, 2010

Stalking the Stasi in Haus der Statistik. File 3

Continued from File 2.

Down we went. An eternity later, the lift beeped again, doors parted – no one there. I* couldn’t believe it. We hurried to our door (not before trying all the others), scampered quickly out the window, ran along the roof, jumped down onto an electricity generator and off onto the pavement.
Walking hastily away, we headed back towards our bikes. We’d survived! The niggly feeling persisted though. It felt like we were still being watched. In fact, the feeling persists – they are watching me. And now they’re watching you too.

‘Haus der Statistik’, former statistics-gathering HQ of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or DDR, depending on how good your German is), with the top three floors given over exclusively to the Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit, better known to you and me at the Stasi. I’ve written about these guys before.
Following German reunification, the building became ‘Die Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen DDR
, housing the Stasi files where natives could check the dirt dug and dished on them in East German times.
For legitimate visits to former Stasi buildings. I wholeheartedly recommend both the Stasi Museum and Stasi Prison. A tour of the latter is unforgettable.

Otto-Braun-Straße 70/72, 10178 Berlin, Germany.

How to get there

Walk from Alexanderplatz. It couldn’t be more central. Here’s
a map.

Getting in

This is the tricky bit. It’s genuinely difficult – first scale the high wall at the side on Otto-Braun-Straße north of the giant coffee cup, try to squeeze under the ledge without falling back off the wall, slide onto the roof, keep low as you run along the roof, and if the broken window is still there, use a ladder or ladderish device to get in.

When to go
Daylight is best for the views from the top floor.

Difficulty rating
9/10. The only reason I’m not giving this a ten is because I was able to get in. It’s difficult, and dangerous. If you find a better way to the way outlined above, use it!

Who to bring
Someone to hold your leg. Preferably someone who isn’t as mad as a insomniac squirrel at hibernation time.

What to bring
Camera. Quiet soles. I guess you should make sure the camera is quiet too.

Security. As far as we could tell this place is manned. The electricity is running, cameras too. Watch out for anyone and everyone who isn’t you. Fiend ist, wer anders ist.

Apparently these buildings’ days are numbered too. They just can’t leave anything alone. Plans have them making way for hotels, shops, apartments etc. Bah. It’s a race to the bottom to make Berlin as bland and boring as any another city.
Once they realise what they’ve done they’ll rebuild the Wall for money. In fact...

Best to enjoy it now before they feck it up completely.

* Again, I is not me, nor am I included in we who have nothing to do with us, whoever they are. He/she (the author) refuses to accept responsibility for any grammatical errors in this disclaimer, and neither do I (as in me).

Stalking the Stasi in Haus der Statistik. File 2

Continued from File 1.

We were the enemy now. We* passed door after door after door, opening office after office after office, all the same, all empty. Horizontal stacks of uniformity.
The stacks went up too: we were in a beehive of offices 11 stories high. Wooden panelled walls lined corridors with big empty carpeted rooms at either end. Prying, prodding and poking, we made our way around the first floor stumbling across holding cells monitored by cameras, Stasi art and more propaganda – “Staatsicherheit, Garant der SED-Diktatur” – until we came back around to where the whistling had come from.
“That’s where I think the canteen is – down there,” said Chunko. “We’ve got to get down there!”
Tentative toesteps brought us closer and closer, and before I knew it we were down there. I examined a sole bottle of water left on a counter to see the best before date: it was still in date.
Chunko wandered in a bit when I stuck my head in a doorway. Shit. My heart stopped dead. Waves of alarm surged through my veins. I couldn’t move. Stunned. In front flickered a bank of monitors showing the very corridors we had just wandered, the gates outside, the windows, the entrances the exits... A desk stood before me, chair pulled out, and sets of keys labelled and arranged on hooks on a huge board on the wall. LEDs blinked as the monitors projected wavy images at the panic button in my brain.
That was it. I signalled to Chunko to get the fuck out of there. Whoever was manning the surveillance was obviously just around the corner. It was them who whistled earlier. Let’s go! Communication broke down with my frantic signals, however, and so he came back to investigate.
So so carefully, we made our way in, into the lion’s den, barely breathing lest we make a sound. In slow motion we made it through to another room, bare and white, a huge desk and single chair, out to a corridor on the other side.
There was nobody home, not for now anyway, but I still wanted to get the hell out. Doors to the elevator were open and lit up just around the corner from the security office.
Chunko, the mad fucker, wanted a look in the basement. As he made his way down an internal alarm sounded in the office. LET’S GO!
Back up to the first floor, to our way of escape, and there... we decided to go on exploring. Walking past door 1043, I thought, “This is the point I’ll remember later when I’ll say to myself I should have left then.” The point of spurned return.
On we went to the Far Side, up up up – up to the 10th floor, the very top, where more offices awaited. These offices were brighter than the ones below, with stunning views of the city. Alexanderplatz was spread out like a picnic cloth below, the Fernsehturm a candle in the middle. People-ants scurried around and tiny cars made their way to intersections to give way to little trams. No doubt the Stasi took great pleasure in observing their subjects below. I could have spent hours there.
But we still had to make our escape. We made it back down to the seventh floor, where office doors still had their workers’ names advertised, many with pictures of dogs underneath for reasons unknown even to the Stasi.
Chunko, who I’d ascertained by now was as mad as a sleepless squirrel in a Berlin winter, suggested the lift back down to the first floor. A potential kamikaze move – the lift was just around the corner from the surveillance office on the bottom floor. It could open to reveal security guards – but what the hell – may as well be hung for a Honecker as a Merkel.
Button pressed, and we waited for the lift. It arrived with a ring, doors opened slowly. It was empty. Thank fuck. We jumped in to the copper mirror-plated interior. Chunko pressed ‘1’ and we descended, inexorably slowly. It was then I knew security was waiting for us below. They’d observed us this whole time, discovered our escape route with the surveillance cameras, and would nab us as soon as the lift arrived. Dread swept over me.

Continued in File 3...

* For legal reasons we is not us, nor is us in anyway connected with me, whoever me is. See the previous disclaimer, referring to I.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stalking the Stasi in Haus der Statistik. File 1

The stranger’s note arrived without ceremony. “I have a route into the big Stasi building on Karl-Marx-Allee.” An invitation to meet up the following day. “Not sure how long it will remain.”
Of course I* jumped at it.
Warning bells went off when he asked if I’d a chain cutter, but we met as arranged the next day opposite the great hulking building at Otto-Braun-Straße 70/72.
“We don’t need it,” Chunko assured me.
A high wall with overhanging ledge above the roof complicated matters but we scaled it before squirming under the ledge on our bellies. I grabbed his foot as he dangled precariously below to grab the construction barrier; lower, lower, lower – thoughts of losing grip and him plummeting to the ground – before he finally grasped it and I hauled him back over. The makeshift ladder was put to use again: up to a broken window; it swung open, I swung in, feet crunched down on broken glass, and we were in!

I looked around. An office, unfurnished, totally bare, remarkably unremarkable. We inched our way to the door, out to the corridor, completely dark, completely silent. We stopped.
“Just remember this is our escape route,” he whispered, “this door here.” I looked. Door 1043. All looked the same in the dark. As I was about to find out, they all look the same in the light. He flicked a switch; light came on. The electricity was still running!
We went on, around the corner, down another corridor. My shoes were squeaking like hungry guinea pigs – wiiieek, wiiieek, wiiieek!! Stupid rubber soles. I rubbed them with paper to desqueak de squeak but to no avail. Tip-toes from then on.

Tip-toeing towards the stairs, following signs for the library, suddenly there was the sound of whistling from below. Fuck! We froze. It stopped. We weren’t alone. We waited, waited for another whistle, but there was none. Perhaps they were waiting too, waiting for a squeak. We inched our way back, conferred in whispers – it must be security – but decided to try the other side of the building. Again on tip toes, we pushed on. My heart was in my mouth – I was sure we’d be caught – but on I went . May as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.
On the laminate corridor floor, a chilling catchphrase: “Fiend ist, wer anders denkt.” The enemy is whoever thinks differently; perfectly betraying the philosophy of the Paranoia State. The Stasi motto repeated over and over and lining the floor as if marking a murder scene. In a way it was.

Continued in File 2...

* For legal reasons I does not refer to me in this instance, nor does I wish to have his or her name known. Any apparent similarities to real events, people or, indeed, illegal activities is entirely coincidental. I – in this case referring to me – cannot condone any sort of illegal activity (for self-explanatory reasons) nor would I – in this case referring to the author – want to. I stress once again: I ain’t me.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Winky wonky Weihnachten wonder

I hereby wish a lousy Christmas on all employees of German health insurance companies; on all Deutsche Post counter employees, especially the wagon who wanted €3.60 each to send two Christmas postcards because they were a centimetre wider than normal ones; on all Bürgeramt employees, employees of JobCenter Pankow and anyone else who makes a living from making others’ harder through bureaucracy; on all employees of German telecommunications companies; ING-DiBa workers; workers of banks in general (except Tony); Irish politicians; politicians in general; the GEZ; and anyone else who pissed me off or even slightly inconvenienced me over the last year.

Thankfully these dastardly Schweinhunde are in a minority (albeit significant) and the vast majority of people I encounter deserve all the good wishes and pleasantries normally exchanged at this time of year as we celebrate the birth of Santa.

To my friends scattered around the world, and family scattered around Whitechurch and Kilsheelan – that’s six people between two villages in the south east of Ireland – I wish Nollaig shona agus Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.

Impending family expansion here in Berlin means I can’t be with you right now, nor indeed anywhere else, but it gives us the chance to start some nice family traditions of our own. So far they’re all good – sleeping in until 1 p.m., breakfast of scrambled eggs with Tabasco and goat’s cheese, and absolutely no plans at all for the rest of the day. Jenny’s sleeping as I type and we might raid the presents under the tree when she wakes up. It might be best to leave them there though. Que sera sera.
It’ll be the last one on our own. Just the two of us and Winky. A calm Christmas before the nipper storm. Last year he/she was just a twinkle as we wandered around starving on Isla del Sol in Bolivia. How quickly things change.

The Germans celebrate Christmas on the 24th, when Ireland is still shopping, so we went out to Jenny’s folks for a mountain of food, Kaffee und Kuchen of course, Plätzchens (cookies which all Germans have been baking night and day for the past month), Sekt, Bier and Mümmelmann Jagdbitter Kräuterlikör. Strangely enough in a country of such wonderful Bier, the Germans eat more but drink less than the Irish. My beer consumption has actually plummeted since I moved here – a sobering thought.
Anyway, despite the embarrassment of getting presents when I‘d brought nothing but a bottle of wine (which wasn’t drunk anyway), it was nice to be included in the native celebrations. I could get used to that Mümmelmann stuff actually. Afterwards the whole town gathered for Turmblasen outside the local church in the driving snow – some lunatics blowing trumpets and things. These Germans are crazy. I threw snowballs at Jenny’s brother.

She’s awake. We’re going for a walk. Despite it being 10 below zero. I told you these Germans are crazy. Frohe Weihnachten to Yule all.

Friday, December 24, 2010


He laughed at me when he saw me coming in the door. It had gotten that ridiculous.
"Hallo Stefan," I said. "Bin zurück!"
It was time for another haircut. Although I'd gone past caring anymore. There are plenty of distractions these days and I’d gotten used to having a sheep on my head and people looking at me strangely. Very baaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.
My first paycheque from the AP allowed the long overdue, however. So last night, to cap a busy day in which I collected my bicycle from the bike doctor and my boots from the shoe mender, I went back to Haartari on Bänschstraße to be their last customer before Christmas. After me Stefan needs a holiday.
Instructions were simply as always: “Nicht so dick und kein MacGyver Look.” I hold poor old Angus in the highest esteem but I sure as hell don’t want to look like him. Anymore.
Stefan got to work with furious abandon. (Why is abandon always furious? I've never heard of it being anything else.) In between his wild tales of strip clubs and debauchery we reminisced about our favourite beers and agreed Becks is shite, only fit to be drunk to be drunk or when there’s nothing else to be drunk, by drunks.
By the time he finished both of us could have done with a drink and I looked semi-presentable once again. Just in time for Christmas! Now I just need a hat.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stinky Winky the Christmas tree

The tree is up! Finally. It looks great! It’s a bit wonky, so we called it Winky, and it smells of cat’s piss, so I guess we could have called it Stinky.
We didn’t think to smell the trees when we were inspecting them to pick the best one, and smells are not as pronounced in the sub zero outside world, so we didn’t notice that some tom cat had urinated all over our one. I guess the piss must have frozen on impact, and the true scent could only be released in the room temperature thaw.
The smell is unbelievable. I’ve been burning incense like an incensed pyromaniac to try and mask it, but its pungent whiff is kicking up quite a stink.
But we have a tree, which is the main thing. It was beginning to look like we wouldn’t get one at all. I didn’t want a murdered tree (unless I was going to murder it myself) so we were on the lookout for a potted one. The prices were crazy and when we eventually resorted to get one of the cheaper inferior ones, they were already all gone. Your wan in Blumen 2000 said they wouldn’t be getting anymore in because the ground is frozen and they can’t be dug up.
A generous donation from my parents for a tree meant we had to get one, so we were delighted to find a shop on Schönhauser Allee with potted trees for a reasonablish price. (Anything more than free is too much really.) ‘Twas great fun carrying the thing home, first on the tram, trying to fit it in the door, and then lugging it back from the tramstop. Then we had to let it acclimatise, leaving it one night on the balcony and another out in the hall outside before we could bring it in. The sudden change from well below zero to a sane temperature would have killed it.
So now it’s sitting in our living room, covered in Weihnachtsschmuck and looking damn fine. I got the last of the decorations today. There are even a couple of presents under it too!
A pity Winky is stinky, but we love him all the same. Sure if it ain’t one thing it’s another.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Wunderland

Snowing Katzen und Hunde earlier, it’s stopped now. It’s actually got a bit warmer too – it’s only minus 10 Celsius now. It was 14 below zero when I cycled home from work.
Gloves are rendered useless at these numbers, but my fingers are getting used to agony. I grasp the handles as hard as I can to force the blood through but the cold bites until it refuses. The cold presses down like a heavy fridge, slowly but constantly squashing until I can feel the fingers no more.
The only possible refuge would be up a fully grown seal, but of course seals are watertight and an adult seal on each hand would just replace one problem with another: steering.
Steering is hard enough through the snow and ice as it is. I’ve been cycling to and from work everyday and have so far escaped serious mishap. If you can still call it cycling. It’s more like ciceling. Or diceling. Everyday I’ve to shake off the night’s snowfall, battle with the frozen lock to set it free, and then balance like a drunken ballerina just to keep from falling.
It’s been fun. Motorists are arseholes as always but some do show more courtesy, but the main problem for now is the tram tracks. They’re treacherous as vipers. Not as poisonous of course, but slippy. They’re slippier than well-oiled eels. Not drunk eels but the sort who like to get a tan. Greek and Italian eels and the like. Suffice to say tram tracks are deadly. One look at them is enough to send you scooting off onto the ice.
My brakes have been frozen so they don’t work anymore, but this may actually be a good thing in the world of a cicelist. Sudden stopping is just not an option as some careless pedestrians have been startled to find. Pedestrations follow, but they’re careless no longer.
Everything is inclement, even inclines. In fact, I’ve never before been presented with so many incles, but I have no inclination to give up now. Ciceling is still quicker than public transport, and I find the constant struggle of ploughing through banks of snow and ice actually is the only thing which can keep me warm, apart from the fingers of course.
The conditions have taken their toll, however. Tomorrow I’ve to get another new chain. I’ve become a chain reactionary. And I’m getting my boots repaired too. There’s not a moment to lose.
It might sound like I’m coping quite well with winter so far but this is only the beginning. It got down to minus 24 last year. These Germans are mad. No one would willingly live in a place so hellishly cold but they do it just to prove that they can. That’s the way they are.
They’re taking the piss, or at least the weather is. I can’t last five minutes outside without needing to pee. The cold must shrink my bladder or something. Five minutes after peeing, I need to pee again.
It’s just one wonder in Winter Wunderland. Kids don’t walk in this land but are dragged around on sleighs by mothers conveniently turned into reindeer. Berlin is unbelievably pretty for once, but it’s a femme fatale. I just wunder how the hell I’m going to survive.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Smokin' Yann

Yann the Man was back in town on Tuesday, although my aunt and uncle weren’t there to greet him. Plenty others were though, and they all stood directly in my line of sight. One fucker with big ears in particular. The volume was loud enough; he didn’t need them. But he moved his head this way and that, as if his giant receptors were somehow linked to my viewing attempts.
The Astra Kulturhaus was jammed, and Yann jammed along too, like his life depended on it. He had long ago abandoned Amélie and all her wonderful music, but recently he has taken to playing some crazy stuff altogether. Les Retrouvailles will never be found again.

This gig was on the back of his latest album, Dust Lane, but it doesn’t settle as well as the others. Forced sounds complete with synthesisers and aimless voiceovers just distract from Yann Tiersen’s real genius – the violin. Man, can that guy fiddle! After five songs with all the baggage he finally goes wild and the crowd does too. More, more, more! He gives us more. The string breaks. He stops. Awww. He plays on. Waaaaaayyy!!! Brilliant.

Meanwhile great clouds of smoke drifted up towards the stage. There’s supposed to be a smoking ban in Berlin but nobody in the city seems to give a shit. Once one Schweinhund started the rest of the selfish idiots followed suit until they were all chugging away to their lungs’ content (or not, as the case may be).
I find it bemusing smokers deem it their right to pollute everybody else’s air as well as their own, giving not one iota of a fuck for those around them. Of course I know some notable exceptions, but none of these were at Yann Tiersen.
Yup, Yann was smokin’ Tuesday – in more ways than one.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The System's means

How this country functions at all is beyond me; how it manages to plod along despite itself. Since I last wrote about The Systemisation it has surpassed how pedantic, painful, self-serving and otherwise pointless I thought it actually was. It's without doubt the main unpleasantness in living here. You wonder how anyone does anything at all.
Take getting internet access for example: The first company is now threatening to sue; the second extended my contract to 2012 when I asked to cancel; and the third is sending duplicate bills for one service, and – despite acknowledging the problem – is unable to fix it due to reasons known only to themselves. “It’s the system,” I was actually told.
Meanwhile my health insurance company is sending threatening letters detailing how much I owe them with interest, while the JobCenter in Pankow – which was supposed to pay the damn bills – still hasn’t sorted it out despite that being the ONLY reason I went to them in the first place three months ago. My earnings were zilch at the time.
Instead I have received letters after letters containing forms after forms after forms to be filled out. Bundles of them. They just keep on coming. I worry for the Amazon, I really do. There were 16 pages in the last delivery.
The letter concerning health insurance was in such language it could not be understood by a native. I’ve no idea if they're going to pay it or not. I replied again with the latest bill, their 16 pages unfilled, and a request to simply close my file along with a thank you note for all their lovely letters.

Health insurance is compulsory in Germany, whether you want it or not and whether you’re earning or not. The insurance overlords hold a captive market to ransom for obscene amounts while sending glossy brochures to tell their subjects how lucky they are to be their customers. They all charge the same. It is basically another form of taxation.
The Techniker Krankenkasse wants €332 to cover my health insurance each month. Almost €4,000 a year! This before any of the regular taxes are then siphoned off. What's left is so meagre it defeats the purpose of working at all. They know where they can go.
Once you’re caught up in the cogs of The System, however, there's no way out. No matter how much you plead, health insurance companies will not release you from their premium web. Bills will simply keep coming until, I’ve heard, you provide proof of another policy.
So the means to keep the means is through a provider I found through a nice broker in Hong Kong who will insure me for under €500 a year. It’s not being mean – it's damage limitation for me from now on.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Officially less than a month to go, but indications indicate (as indications are prone to do) it might be landing even sooner. The nipper is getting impatient.
The belly is HUGE and appears to be growing ever-bigger by the day. Jenny wasn’t too amused when I told her she looked like Humpty Dumpty as she sat on the tram, but it’s gotten to the stage now where I can joke about such things. Even poor old Humpty himself would see the funny side, but then he had an eggceptional sense of humour.
Thankfully for Jenny, it's just her belly which has expanded at an alarming rate. It’s now belly belly big. I presume it will keep on growing until the nipper decides to come out and that could be any day soon now. It seems to be raring to go, kicking and thumping for attention anytime it feels it's being ignored. It probably can't wait to get out and play in the snow.
Conversations can be interrupted without warning: “Hey baby!” Jenny would say as she suddenly looks down at the attention-seeking bubble. Without uttering a word, whatever its inhabitant is trying to say is already deemed more important. A foretaste of what lies ahead no doubt. He or she is causing such a commotion the mother-in-waiting is telling her belly to “relax the cacks”.
The last we actually heard from the nipper was at the doctor's a couple of weeks ago. They hooked the mountain up to a machine which listened to the baby's heartbeat and drew lines on a graph. The volume was cranked up so we could all have a listen. It was quite a performance! It must be wearing wellies (probably thinks it's in Ireland) because all you could hear was squelch, squelch, squelch... Evidently the weather in there is no better than the weather out here. No wonder it wants to come out.
As far as I know everything is prepared, apart from little things I only discover are essential after the previous essential things are done. The bed still needs to be literally made, and the cot's en route. Some forms need to be filled in (of course) and we’re to go mattress shopping this afternoon.
But I know the preparation must be done because the mother-in-waiting is getting bored. She seems remarkably calm about the whole thing, I guess because she's done all she can for now. It's over to the nipper to make the next move.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The summit

The summit of the expectant grandparents was – in the words of my dad – “a great success”. Introductions were warm and friendly, in direct contrast to the weather outside, and the occasion went off without a major hitch.
In fact, it was not nearly as awkward as I imagined it would be, with both parties appearing to get on very well despite some inopportune references to Hitler from one side and some indiscreet scientific analysis from the other.
No doubt the show-down was made easier by a spread usually only reserved for Irish politicians and bankers. Salads, fancy cheeses, a delicious tomato soup, and then a sumptuous turkey pie prepared by the German party, followed by apple crumble and enough chocolates and sweets to put Willy Wonka out of business, all washed down with wine and herbal liquor much to the appreciation of the Irish party. Promises to visit again were made before the parties could be separated.

I’d been worried about what my parents would make of Berlin, especially when the only sensible thing to do right now is hibernate, but they seemed pleasantly surprised, particularly with the food and wine (albeit Spanish) available from the local supermarkets. Highest praise was reserved for the bread – perhaps unsurprisingly: after all, it was Kürbiskernbrot which brought me to this city – and for the Glühwein, a necessity for life at this time of year. Then there were the museums and fare dodging on public transport. Fair dodging considering the prices.
‘Twas great to see them again for the first time in almost a year, to be able to show them around and reveal perhaps some of the reasons I’m living in Berlin and not Paris or Madrid. Neither has Kürbiskernbrot for a start.
No doubt the next reunion won't be so faraway. Of course this was my last as the centre of attention.

Life now resumes to as normal as it will never be again. I await the weekend’s Bundesliga action with bated breath, appetite whetted by a stunning preview in Sports Illustrated, Yahoo, the Taiwan News, and Canada’s Metro, among I don’t know how many others. A lot. There’s a silly thrill in just seeing that first byline knowing people all over the world will be mispronouncing my name.
Last weekend, my words appeared in The Canadian Press and 37 of them made it into The New York Times!
The AP Christmas party’s tomorrow. Now to get drunk and mess it all up.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

If all else fails...

The parents have landed! With tea AND another mug! Now I have a back-up mug for the back-up mug, so it doesn't look quite as sombre. It's just one mug from a country of mugs, although I suspect more and more will be leaving as the mugs in charge press self-destruct. Not even tea can save them now. After all, we've been here before – tea bags, tea leaves, tea gone.
They might think twice about coming here though. There was an icy reception for my parents on their first visit to Brrrrrrrrrrrrrlin – 14 C below zero – and the next day could only be described as inhumane. The cold wind would skin a polar bear. Even penguins were complaining before they upped and left for the relative warmth of Antarctica.
Family matters means there's no escaping for me this winter, and work means I won't be able to hibernate through it either. Not that I'm complaining: nipperdom promises exciting times, and work is a hAPpy distraction from chilling thoughts of weather. And if all else fails – Glühwein.
Tomorrow sees the first eagerly-anticipated summit of the expectant grandparents take place. Kicking off at 11 a.m. (only at my insistence; otherwise it'd be even earlier), it promises to be quite an occasion. There are rumours of Bienenstich and meat-platters being prepared. There's not a word of a communal language between them so myself and Jenny will be acting as translators. Again, if all else fails – Glühwein.