Wednesday, November 30, 2011

German rules and Berliner Schnauze

Oftentimes an anecdote tells you all you need to know about a country and its people. Forget spending years living in a place, studying its history, learning its language. One little story tells all. Thanks to Derek Scally* for this one.
It seems a morally outraged citizen is taking the Pope to task for not sticking to the rules during his visit home last September. His Popeness brazenly drove or was driven around at a snail’s pace without wearing the mandatory seatbelt. Das ist verboten! So now Herr Ratzinger is being taken to court and may have to pay a fine up to €2,500.
You’d think he’d have known. He is from Germany after all, where rules are rules with no exceptions. Not even for the Pope.
Of course, Berlin isn’t Germany, as I’ve pointed out many times before. Popey would have been able to drive his Popemobile around like a lunatic, cavort with prostitutes, drink beer on the streets and no one would give a damn. There are rules here too of course, and plenty of them, but the local populace scares them away.
So grumpy are the locals, known for their “Berliner Schnauze” (Berliner snout), that they have ads in the paper (see right, not my pic), informing them that actually their bark is louder than their bite, that inside that gruff exterior, deep down inside, they’re really warm and cuddly. “Berlin (where) it’s said more harshly than it’s meant.”
The bargirl’s wearing a t-shirt saying “Tips, or snout.” Of course she doesn’t mean it, but you’ll still get the snout if you don’t leave her a tip.
So the next time someone is rude as fuck to you – (Some guy actually hit me with an umbrella yesterday. I went back and asked him, “Bist du Bescheuert?!” He replied, “Jaaaa-aaaa-aaa...”) – just remember that inside they’re all fluffy and polite. Das ist Berlin.

*Mr. Scally also wrote an excellent piece on German fears in the current economic crisis, while another Berlin-based Irish journalist, Siobhán Dowling, brings home the unpleasant reality of Ireland’s loss of sovereignty to our new financial overlords.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Sightseeing is difficult when it gets dark in the middle of the friggin' day. So I saw very little of Hamburg last week. I had a spare hour after twilight and was drawn like a moth to the bright lights of the Reeperbahn. It wasn't grim, but that's all I can tell you of that. I'll have to go back, again.
This week's bringing me back to Small Beer Country. Back to Leverkusen, but I'm staying in nearby Köln this time. (Or Cologne, depending on what species you are.) I learned to spend as little time as humanly possible in Leverkusen and will be getting the hell out as soon as the match is over. The inhabitants of any place that survives on aspirin should consider the source of the headaches and just leave. Mein Gott, Leverkusen's crap. Maybe even worse than Bonn.
Hannover seems to be infested by cello players today. The train station's swarming with people with oversized violin cases on their backs, like rocket packs ready to blast off if the train doesn't arrive on time. I like cellos.
Now the train's in Hamm, evidently a town founded by butchers, and it's almost dark already. It's not even 3 o'clock! I guess I won't see much of Köln either...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dancing verboten!

Dancing is forbidden in Germany today as a nationwide Tanzverbot takes hold. I tell ya, this country is just a bundle of laughs. If something can be verboten, it will be.
Today’s ban on dancing coincides with Totensonntag, Dead people’s Sunday, when such flathúlach carry on is frowned upon by the powers-that-be. Evidently they feel their subjects should display a bit of decorum for a change, on such a solemn and reserved occasion.
Mein Gott, imagine the horror of disrespecting the dead, with shameless dancing! It must be verboten at once!
Of course, especially in Berlin, there’ll be places where you can raise your arms gleefully, swing your hips provocatively and shake your arse defiantly despite the ban. Perhaps the Verboteners fail to see the irony of driving dancing underground, where the dead can also join in. Usually they ain’t got no body to dance with. Shake them bones baby! Dance till you drop.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Upstanding citizen

Outstanding progress has been made in the last month. Upstanding, I should say, because floor level simply isn’t good enough anymore. Yes folks, he’s standing, standing at every available opportunity. As long as there’s something to hold onto, for much like many European economies right now, he’s unable to stand unaided on his own two feet. At least with the nipper we know he will one day.
Probably soon – there’s no stoppin’ him. As soon as he sees something which could be used for leverage, he crawls over at the speed of light and hauls himself up, emitting a squeal of triumph each time he’s conquered such lofty heights.
For they are lofty heights – he can reach up to grab stuff off the edge of the kitchen table for example (something we hadn’t banked on for another few months [I confess years]) – but giddy highs are often followed by howling lows, after yet another crash to the ground. He always seems to land on his head for some reason. We’re thinking of getting him a helmet. We’ve become safety nets, following him ready to catch him anytime his acrobatics take a turn for the marble kitchen floor. But he is getting better, and even in the last couple of days I’ve already noticed fewer traumatic tumbles.
Teeth are coming at a frightening pace. At least I think it’s frightening judging from his reaction. He’s almost got six now. Two upper Dracula fangs started developing after the first two in time for Hallowe’en (the pumpkin’s teeth layout was based on the nipper’s), and now he’s getting the Bugs Bunny gnashers from above. So we’re getting loads of sleep.
But at least he can almost eat real food and not only mush. He likes anything he can gnash on and then fling on the floor. Our mice are getting fat from all the food he throws on the floor. He only eats the good stuff, cheese from sandwiches before discarding the bread, all washed down with great slurps of water from a glass. His favourite meal remains his very first, though, and he often wakes his mother to let her know. As I said, loads of sleep.
He still talks a lot, but we’ve no idea what he’s saying (much like my time in Germany thus far). At least he’s not afraid of speaking his mind. He feels strongly about whatever it is he’s banging on about. Could be any number of things...
We abandoned him last night for the first time, to go to a concert (to see the aptly named Other Lives, flippin’ brilliant) but found ourselves thinking of him more often than not, especially with the crowd clapping – his new favourite pastime. (He responds to clapping with clapping of his own, until he gets bored and goes off exploring or standing.)
I’m sure he would have enjoyed it and was sorry he wasn’t there. And despite not being gone for long we hurried home to the little fella. We won’t be able to call him that for long at the rate he’s going. Now he’s ten!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Frozen out - the abandoned ice factory

An abandoned ice factory sounds cool but I’m sorry to say it’s not. It’s not, because no factory making ice should ever be frozen out, especially if the damned thing is of historical importance, under Denkmalschutz as a protected or listed building. Now they want to destroy it altogether!
The Eisfabrik on Köpenicker Straße had been churning out ice for the inhabitants of this morally-challenged city since 1896 but its chilling activities were halted 99 years later, and it’s been simply chilling since then.
One of the oldest in Germany, it began under the stewardship of Carl Bolle – known affectionately as “Bimmel-Bolle“ (Bell-Bolle) because of the little bells on his dairy trucks – who founded the Norddeutsche Eiswerke (North German Ice-works) in September 1872. He acquired Köpenicker Straße 40-41 in 1893 and began producing ice here three years later.
The Norddeutsche Eiswerke became Germany’s biggest natural ice producers, and Herr Bolle had a larger factory and residential housing built here in 1909/10. More works between 1913 and 1922 saw the building of the boiler house, engine room and three cooling houses, which were insulated with 15cm of cork between the walls.
A great big ice machine from Linde AG was installed in 1914 to make blocks of ice 1.5 metres long. In times without fridges, these were delivered all over Berlin to breweries, pubs, households, fishmongers etc.,apparently until the late 1970s at least.
After “The Emergency” (as we Irish like to trivialise the war) and subsequent partitioning of Germany (which should never to be trivialised), the factory continued in GDR times as the VEB Kühlbetrieb before being heartlessly abandoned by the Berliner Kühlhaus GmbH in 1995. I guess most people had fridges then.
One of the residential buildings had been destroyed by bombs at the end of the war, but the rest somehow survived the various bombs and several fires – until last year that is, when the old cooling houses were ripped down by, and under the “protection” of, the Treuhand Liegenschaftsgesellschaft.
The original Treuhand was the state company responsible for the privatisation of East German enterprises once the Wall came down, generally responsible for the closing of factories, loss of jobs and selling of assets.
The Eisfabrik is now caught in the web of the huge Mediaspree project which wants to allow corporate greed corrupt Berlin’s riversides with apartments, office spaces and gold mines for investors. I guess this is how they can demolish a listed building...
According to those who want to save Berlin’s Eisfabrik and Wikipedia, the cool houses torn down last year were Europe’s oldest. The rest of the factory is also to be destroyed, except for the apartments currently undergoing modernisation (no doubt before the inhabitants are paid to leave so they can be sold at wildly inflated prices). The ice factory will be replaced by a building made of glass. Berlin is going to the dogs. Not cool.

Berliner Eisfabrik. Abandoned ice factory, one of Germany’s oldest, which managed to survive two world wars, several fires and countless parties but is about to meet its fate at the hands of developers to make way for luxury apartments despite being a protected building. There's a nice view of the river and my beloved Fernsehturm from the roof, and it’s also home to some fine street art.

Köpenicker Straße 40/41, 10179 Berlin, Germany.

How to get there
It’s very central so shouldn’t be a problem. Berlin Ostbahnhof is a two minute walk away. Here’s a map to make it even easier.

Getting in
Not as difficult as I thought it would be. Apparently there used to be security but they don’t seem to bother anymore, probably since they destroyed the cool houses. Simply stroll in past the offices to the left of the factory, ignoring any busybodies on the way, past the loose fence at the back and you’re in!

When to go
As soon as you can. Winter’s coming, light’s failing, and this baby’s days are numbered. It’s already too late to see the cool houses, but the rest should be savoured before it’s replaced by some overpaid architect’s hideous creation.

Difficulty rating
2/10. Central, easy to get in – not difficult at all.

Who to bring
All your friends. Have a party! Or your boyfriend/girlfriend/hermaphrodite-friend for the view from the roof.

What to bring
Camera, torch, beer, warm clothes if you’re planning on visiting anytime soon.

No obvious ones beyond the usual that come with wandrin’ around a deserted, decaying, crumbling building. Best not to be too averse to the smell of piss. There was some lunatic at the site shouting loudly when we were there but he may have been just a passer-through. Street artists are generally friendly as long as you’re not the Polizei.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


The pot’s run dry. Stocks have run out. I knew this teasaster was coming but did nothing, ignored the warning signs of stocks dwindling to alarming levels and continued my insatiable drinking without thought for tomorrow’s cup. Tomorrow arrived today and the cup’s gone to pot. The pot’s looking at me expectantly but there ain’t nothing for the cup. There ain’t nothing for the pot. There ain’t nothing for no one.
I could write teason on a piece of paper and attempt to blame others for my selfish ways, but really de fault’s all mine. I should have placed an order for fresh supplies weeks ago but kept stalling, letting the situation brew. I can have no grounds for complaint.
This tragedy leaves me strained to say the leaf. No options left, only to turn to the Germans for a cup out. Their Echter Ostfriesen-Tee from Bünting is the only thing I can get. Bad medicine. It’s shite compared to real tea but will have to tide us over while I wait for the real stuff to arrive.

I’ve placed the last (emergency) tea order for the year. Enough to get us through to Dec. 19 when we’ll be going back to Ireland personally to get more supplies. We’ll take advantage of the miserable yet bearable (by comparison) climate there to thaw out from the Berlin winter for a brief period before returning for more punishment, albeit made more bearable with fresh supplies of tea. Jenny and Nippity will be returning on Dec. 27, while I’ll stay a few more days to catch up with long lost comrades and some shorter ones too, before returning on Dec. 31 in time for the debauchery and fireworks of Silvester, when Berlin goes even madder than normal. Long or short comrades are welcome to join me while party invitations need not be shy either.