Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hoffnungsträger

The arrival of the nipper into the world did not go unnoticed by the local church. He was four weeks old when a letter arrived congratulating his mother on his birth, along with a booklet on baptisms and a bib – made of organic cotton – lovingly embroidered with the word “Hoffnungsträger”. Bearer of hope. For whom, or what exactly they hope to do with him was not divulged.
I was furious, not just because the fucking church was sniffing around, but because it had been provided with personal information by the Bürgeramt it had no business knowing.
For a country which kicks up such a fuss about privacy on the internet, it sees no wrong with the fact you cannot take a piss without the authorities knowing it, and then passing that information wherever they see fit. In this case, the local authority took it upon itself to pass personal details of a child to the church.
Registration of the nipper’s birth and existence was compulsory – presumably so he can be tagged, watched and controlled like all good citizens of this state are – but I didn’t realise at the time his name, address and date of birth would be passed around to all and sundry.
Just over a month old, he already had a tax number to pay his taxes, a health insurance card to pay his premiums, and now the church wanted to enrol him to pay his dues. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the GEZ sends him bills for all the tellies and radios he must have stuffed in his nappies.

But the fucking nerve of the church to serenade him. Of course not every priest is evil, but cover-ups, feigned ignorance and an unwillingness to confront the truth indicate complicity. A refusal to adhere to the law, hiding behind canon law, confirms it.
I covered the Ferns Report while still a budding newshound with The Echo and it sickened me to the bone. Even worse, however, is the utter failure of the church to deal with it. Instead they promote their like into sainthood.
They’re all tainted, in Germany too, so when the fucking Bürgeramt passes on my son’s information to the local church I’m not amused. Of course, he can join it if he likes, but only when he’s old enough to be able to decide if he wants to.
That they pass his information around to anyone is bad enough, but the church!
My aversion was clear from an early age. My parents said I was a “good baby” who “didn’t cry much”. Then I was baptised and “had a fit” screaming and roaring the church down. It’s gotten worse over the years. Now I can’t hear church bells ringing without a feeling of unacceptable intrusion.
“I’ll go ring a bell in the priest’s face, see how he likes it,” I told Jenny yesterday. She rolled her eyes.
But I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to be baptised. No other group blackmails parents with hell and eternal damnation to recruit members blissfully (or not) unaware of their membership. With such easy targets, the church doesn’t need the Bürgeramt’s help.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rabbitmess

The annual slaughter of the chocolate bunnies has begun. It’s sickening.
All over Germany, they are rounded up in their hundreds and thousands, passed around like church collection boxes, and callously murdered, as locals give vent to the frustrations caused by their own rules.
Shiny gold wrapping seals their fate as soon as they’re wrapped in it. (The rabbits, not the locals.) No chocolate rabbit is spared – no matter how big those eyes, how floppy those ears, how buck those teeth.
Some dig burrows to try and escape the annual murderfest, but very few make it. Chocolate rabbits were the real reason the Berlin Wall was built, you know. Honecker couldn’t bear the thought of all those delicious Kaninchen fleeing to the West.
Tales of those who made it are few and far between, although one is remembered by the lover he left behind in the ballad “My bunny lies over the ocean”. He adopted the name Bugs in a swipe at the secret police who failed to stop his escape and became a big movie star in Hollywood. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Heilstätte Grabowsee - TB or not TB

Lurking in the shadows of the forest, Heilstätte Grabowsee creaks and groans through the gloom, the former tuberculosis sanatorium sighing with echoes of the past as it sinks into the resignation of decay.
Trees bend and sway to listen, their rustling branches quivering from the calls of the unfortunate souls who perished and suffered in these crumbling buildings, their solemn corridors, their tarnished halls, their empty rooms.
The breeze rustles from the branches and rushes thoughtlessly through the forgotten wards, swinging doors and windows, banging without respect. It foolishly attempts reviving the unrevivable, leaving new formations of dust and leaves in its wake. Nothing else stirs. No mouse steps paw in these haggard halls, no rat scavenges for discarded bodies. They’re all gone, long long gone.
They’re gone since 1995 to be precise – the Russians that is. They scarpered once they realised they weren’t as welcome anymore in reunified Germany. I’m sure the rats hung around a little longer. Rats don’t give a rat’s ass for politics and will happily live anywhere that isn’t too expensive. That being said, they are more attached to their arses then we are, and would not give them lightly for any reason.
The Russians stayed 50 years, using the place as a military hospital once the war ended, but I was unable to find much detail about their shenanigans.
My search for facts did uncover an altogether more interesting story than that of a nation with more military than sense (just one of them) when I stumbled on the tale of the lost city of Grabow! Apparently the city was destroyed in a “minor earthquake” (must have been made of straw) and was covered by the lake that today bears its name. Locals say you can still see the towers of the city in the lake on a fine day, notwithstanding their supposed destruction by this “minor earthquake”.
Apparently the ruins of Grabow Castle are nearby. The only ruins I found, however, were those of the Heilstätte. The former sanatorium can only be described today as fucked, which is a shame, as I’m sure Gotthold Theodor Pannwitz would agree.
In 1895, Herr Pannwitz was at the Kaiserlichen Gesundheitsamt, where he campaigned for a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, quickly getting support before it was established at Grabowsee on a trial basis in March 1896. Twenty seven barracks for lung patients were added, and the first 30 patients moved in a month later. I guess they’re all dead now. Nevertheless, it was a success and became the Red Cross Sanatorium for the Working Class, before it was taken over after the Great War by the Brandenburg Insurance Company in 1920. The architect Arnold Beschoren was then responsible for the complex’s expansion and renovation, the results of which are the buildings which are crumbling today. A small church was built beside the lake at the time, but was burnt down by some idiots in 2007.
Of course the other Great War came and went, before the Russians did. A number of commercial enterprises failed, but apparently it was taken over by a crowd called Kids Globe in 2006. They have big plans to turn it into some sort of paradise for kids. Good luck to them. Thankfully the complex is far enough away from Berlin that some fuckbag developer hasn’t turned it into apartments.
It’ll take a helluva lot of money to do anything with this place, giving people a bit of breathing space before it’s “cured” but I wouldn’t wait too long, or the serenity of flaking paint, dust, rust, rubble, shards and impenetrable gloom may be shattered by the shrill screams of snotty kids.
A pigeon frightened the bejaysus out of me as it tiptoed down a long dark corridor – I swear he waited just long enough before flapping his wings for maximum effect – but he was the only soul I met. Old sofas, couches and chairs somehow always make their way to these places, as if drawn by the solidarity of quiet abandonment, and the forest is slowly taking over. It would be nice if it stayed that way.

What
From 1896 to 1945 the former sanatorium for tuberculosis patients of Heilstätte Grabowsee, and from 1945 a Russian military hospital.


Where

Grabowseestraße 1, 16515 Oranienburg, Germany. Beside the lake known as Grabowsee, incorrectly marked on Google Maps as Grabomsee.


How to get there

Bring your bike with you and get the S1 or regional train to Oranienburg, to the north of Berlin. Cycle east on Bernauer Straße until you hit the canal, turn left and follow this along until you come to the bridge which will take you across to the complex.
You’ll pass the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on your way if you fancy a detour. I can’t say I’d recommend it. Here’s a map which may or may not be useful.

Getting in
Hop the fence. Easy enough where someone has conveniently cut a tree to make a handy leg up, confusing as a handy leg may sound.

When to go

Daylight. Whenever it’s not raining would make it less miserable.


Difficulty rating

3/10. Very easy to hop the fence. The hardest part is getting here and finding it, which isn’t that hard if you follow the instructions above.

Who to bring
As with the previous site, whoever. Go on your own if you like being spooked out.

What to bring
Camera. Torch. Sandwiches or something to nibble on. A beer or two for rehydration. Good boots and possibly a hard hat.


Dangers

The buildings are in a terrible state as I may have mentioned before. Watch where you step, and under which roofs you stick your head. Ceilings – like Irish banks – are very much in danger of collapse. Of course, keep an eye out for wannabe informers and any builders or security.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Back to banjaxed

What a shit day. My back’s fucked again. Jenny’s back’s fucked too. And the nipper got his vaccines today so he’s got a fever and howling accordingly. I just offered to hold him but I can’t with my back so I’ll pound the keyboard instead.
Goddamnit. I didn’t even do anything to it this time. It started with a niggle yesterday and got progressively worse throughout the day until I was a hunchback by the end of it. I’d ring a doctor but there’s no point. They wouldn’t answer the phone, and if they did you’d need to ring back at a prearranged time a week later to make an appointment for the following fortnight, by which time they hope you’ll have died and saved them the trouble.
So I’ve been lying around all day with my legs up in the air reading about what a bunch of fuckers Coca-Cola are. Then Jenny came home with the nipper after his shots at the doctor with a free packet of Nestlé baby milk. The fucking doctor is distributing Nestlé baby milk! This is the same doctor who made the nipper (and consequently all of us) sick the last time. I wasn’t a fan then, so you can imagine how I feel now. The milk went in the bin. That whore of a doctor should follow.
Earlier I’d to sing to the nipper to calm him but can’t sing and don’t know the words to any songs. All my lyrics are variations of nip, nippedy, nippedy-nip and nippedy-nu. He likes it, which is the main thing. But I’m a bit worried he might never learn his real name. Whatever it was...
And then Jenny banjaxed her back. The solidarity is nice, but badly timed. Although hers was fucked before mine and there’s never a good time to banjax your back anyway. So it’s midnight and the nipper’s wide awake. I’m guessing the neighbours are too. It could be a long night.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Quarter

A quarter! I wasn’t around to celebrate three months of nipperness with him today as I was working, but made it back on time to ascertain he still doesn’t give a rat’s ass for birthdays.
Despite the food, wine and friends who had gathered at the table (unfortunately, food and wine only gather when friends do) he cried and whined. He simply does not give a Scheiße for friends, food or wine, and kicked up a fuss until he was changed, kicked up a fuss until he was fed, kicked up a fuss until he was brought to bed, kicked up a fuss until he was sung to, kicked up a fuss until he was talked to, kicked up a fuss until he was rocked, and kicked up such a goddamn fuss there was nothing to it but to feed him again – his only friends, food and wine – before he was too knackered to kick up a fuss again. He’s asleep still as I type. The third monthivarsary put to bed.
The nipper bid adieu to the grandparents yesterday, before they took flight out of earshot back to Ireland, cries still ringing in their ears. I doubt they’ll be back.
I should point out for the natives that I am of course exaggerating. The folks seemed very happy with the little fella who ensured their lasting affection by shamelessly firing off a series of killer smiles at them before they left. He even gurgled and churgled at them just to make sure.
Of course he farted as soon as they met, and waited until they were eating before attempting Brahms’ symphony number 4 with his arse, much to my dad’s amusement.
It ain’t easy being a nipper (as he keeps reminding us) but all things considered, he’s doing a fine job of it so far.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Expecting expectants

Expectant grandparents expected tomorrow, probably more expectant than expected (if that ain’t expecting expectations) as they visit in expectation of the nipper only expected when they were last here as expectant grandparents. Now they’re simply expecting.
They’ll pretend they’re here to see me too, but I know there’s only one star from now on.
I expect they don’t like being grandparents, but will be happy with the result once they see him for the first time.
Jaysus knows how he’ll react. His manners are still shockingly bad; belching and farting without fear of reprisal. He’ll probably fart in their faces. But stars can do no wrong.
Hopefully he’ll be quiet though. He’s been pretty whingey and whiney of late, screamey and screechey of early. It was 5.30 a.m. when he kicked off this morning! The apartment’s eerily quiet now, which has me worried for the storm ahead.
I guess my parents have been here before though. After all, I was a nipper once, or so they tell me. I don’t remember so can’t be too sure. But they seem prepared. It’s a short visit and they’re wisely staying out of earshot, down the road. Hopefully he won’t exceed expectations.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Preamtle (Not a typo, abandoned local government)

Every window sealed, every door locked, until we went around again. Back to the first door. I noticed just one bolt and the handle missing. I gave a gentle pull, a more persistent one, followed by a convincing tug. The doors swung open, we were in!
We didn’t know what it was, but we were about to find out. Quickly closing the doors behind us, we hurried away from the exposed entrance to the corridor to the left. Darkness awaited, but we made our way along, systematically opening doors left and right as we went, stumbling into a world of discarded office junk and neglected shit no longer wanted.
Jackets, chairs, desks, drawers, phones, files, tyres, a Bon Jovi poster(!), spanners, other tools, a huge discarded German flag, a wheelbarrow, even a bicycle! What the fuck was this place?!
The Landesamt für Bürger- und Ordnungsangelegenheiten Kraftfahrzeugzulassungsbehörde Berlin Lichtenberg – to give it its full title, which no doubt its workers used to take sadistic pleasure in doing every time they picked up the phone.
From a limited amount of research, enthusiasm dwindled by a lack of Stasi or Nazi involvement, I ascertained this was up to quite recently Lichtenberg’s regional government authority, where vehicles were registered, foreigners tracked (there were a lot of offices dedicated to Ausländers), and from where the local population was generally annoyed and controlled accordingly with great mountains of bullshit letters and pointless correspondence. They now operate in Friedrichstraße, from where they terrorise the Lichtenbergers with less likelihood of them calling in.
The electricity was still running – lights worked when switched on – but the water was switched off. Offices above the ground were either locked or bare, suggesting they may come back to gut the bottom rooms, or they simply got bored and gave up before they were finished.
We were trying to get into the Stasi Prison when we found this place today. (Yes I know there are tours and you don’t have to sneak in. We wanted to see the bits they don’t want to show tourists.)
On our way, we also stumbled across a GDR (or shortly thereafter) industrial park where they used to wash and spray cars, make road signs for motorways, and where the buildings were made of absolute shite. They were smashed to smithereens, outside walls too, with the vandals betraying the prefabricated buildings’ utterly lamentable lack of brick.
An oul fart walking his dog stopped and came back for a closer look when he saw us poking around outside the fence. He was probably an old Stasi guard – habits die hard – with nothing better to do with his time than be pedantic. At least I hope he was. I’d hate to think he was normal.
Even his dog was tugging at his leash in embarrassment. “Come on for feck’s sake,” he was probably barking to himself. An Irish dog apparently.

What
Former Lichtenberg local government offices, responsible for making sure all its citizens’ cars were properly registered, all the pesky foreigners kept in line, everybody appropriately bothered with enough inane paperwork to justify its own existence. It was so successful, all its officials were duly moved to a more fashionable address in the centre of Berlin.

Where
Ferdinand-Schultze-Straße 55, 13055 Berlin, Germany.

How to get there
Get the tram to Freienwalderstraße, walk down towards the Stasi prison and go around to
the right of that. The industrial park will be in front of you, and the Landesamt is behind that. You’ll see the top of it poking above the trees.

Getting in
Hop the fence. Watch out for nosy codgers with nothing better to do with their time. Having said that, we just ignored your man in the end.


When to go
Whenever is fine. Although the electricity is running, I don’t think there’s active security –
although I may be wrong!

Difficulty rating

2/10. Quite easy actually, once you get there, and once you find the door with the dodgy lock.

Who to bring
Whoever. Go on your own if you like being spooked out.


What to bring
Camera as always. A torch for the dark corners. Quiet soles – just in case!


Dangers
No major dangers as far as I can see, but as always, be careful, keep your eyes peeled and watch out for nosy neighbours.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Glug glug goes the train

It’s after midnight. I’m on my way home from work and have bought a beer for €1.50 in the train station as I await the U2 back from Alexanderplatz. Everyone waiting is drinking bottles of beer. Drinking is practically encouraged when they sell it on the platform. Glug glug glug. Weird and wonderful people abound. Everyone chatting excitedly, clinking and chinking. I feel I’m at a party. This is Berlin! And here comes the train...