Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wolf

Cycling through the trees of the forest looking for Russian nuclear missiles I startled a couple of wolves. At least I think they were wolves. If not, they were wolf-shaped deer or wolf-shaped boars. They scattered before I could get a proper look. Gone.
I cycled on, more slowly, uncertain what I should do next. I didn’t know wolves roamed the forests north of Berlin and I wasn’t sure of their eating habits either. Enlightenment might be hard to digest. The bicycle especially.
I stopped, figured I wouldn’t find them again unless they wanted me to, and if they did, then I probably didn’t want to find them again. Be careful what you look for or you may just find wolves.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dralowid no more, Pankow Fabrikation

This city can’t help destroying itself – wars, walls and now... apartments. Wherever you look they appear like rashes; shiny, new, twinkling at foreign investors lured by developers fuelled by greed and pushed by banks to spend their borrowed money before it’s too late. Buy! Buy!
Yes, many a fine building is damned as an investment, sentenced to apartment conversion, the dignity of quiet crumblement denied, proud histories forgotten, stories buried in plaster, echoes of the past drowned out by cement mixers, cranes and drills. Bah!
Some ignorant builder yelled at me and the nipper as we made our way into the former ceramics factory first opened by Ernst Hildebrandt almost 120 years ago.
“You can’t go in there! Verboten!” Jaysus, you’d swear we were going to rob the damn thing.
So I went back, on a Sunday, when all Germans – builders included – are gorging on Kaffee und Kuchen for the day. I cared not a damn for detection and easily made it in. Stepping over the scars of construction, past diggers and machinery I felt an impulsion to switch on, I passed a great lake of water and soon found myself inside the one remaining building from what was once a bustling factory complex.
A long long hall, all windows broken, all paint flaking, all sockets ripped from the wall, lamps ripped from the ceilings, the place was fucked. Jesus, it really was in a sorry state. Graffiti or street art (depending on your opinion of its quality) adorned walls not interrupted by smashed windows. There were offices on the next floor, also fucked, rubbish on the next, and yet I went up floor after floor, crunching glass underfoot, driven by the hope there might be something still to see.
I don’t know what pleasure pigeons take from scaring the shite out of me, but another waited here before announcing himself with an almighty flutter of feathers as I inched forward. Then I saw a ladder leading to a black hole in a wall. Of course I had to look! Nothing. I don’t know what I expected but it was disappointing. Disappointing in particular to see how the mighty had fallen.

Herr Hildebrandt founded his factory here in 1894 making ceramic gas lights. In 1910, it became the United Magnesia Co. & Ernst Hildebrandt AG, a leading light (ha!) in the manufacture of high-quality insulators for electric heating technology, before it became the Steatit Magnesia AG (Stemag) in 1921.
Alexander Kremener had used part of the site as an iron foundry from 1902 and in 1932 Stemag bought this part and merged it with the existing business to form Dralowid, short for Drahtlose Widerstände (Wireless Resistors). Their parts were used in things like record players, radios and projectors and mad things you wouldn’t have thought bits of ceramic would be in. It would drive you pottery just thinking about it.
The war opened up further openings and the product range was extended in 1939 to include production of parts for the V1 buzz bombs. Then this particular street corner was bombed to bejaysus on March 12, 1945, leaving gaps still there today.
After all the unpleasantness of the war, the Russians took over Dralowid, before it became the GDR-owned VEB Elekrokeramik producing ceramic parts for electric heating and radio frequency contraptions. It was the only company of its type in East Germany, making parts to be used for communications and no doubt helping the Stasi spy on anyone and everyone. Its days though, like theirs (oder?) were numbered.

What
Former Fabrik going under the names of United Magnesia Co. & Ernst Hildebrandt AG, Stemag, Dralowid and VEB Elekrokeramik – for the manufacture of ceramic parts for gaslights, heating systems, radio equipment, bombs, radio and spying equipment, with focus changing accordingly with historical events.

Where
Florastraße 8 and Gaillardstraße 34-38, Berlin, Germany.

How to get there
Get the S1 to Wollankstraße and walk from there. It ain’t far. I almost forgot the map. But this proves I didnt.

Getting in
You can either hop the gate, or do as I did and go in through the trees at the bottom of the site on Gaillardstraße.

When to go
Sunday. Let the busybodies, nosy neighbours and smelly builders feast on their Kaffee und Kuchen.

Difficulty rating
2/10. Maybe I just didn’t give a damn anymore but I sauntered in there like I owned the place. Damnit, if you get caught, say you you’re looking at buying an apartment.

Who to bring
Girlfriend/boyfriend for an alternative date.

What to bring
Bier. And some more beer.

Dangers
The building’s in a bad way. I don’t think it’s been refurbished since 1930 or so. Try not to trip or fall or otherwise kill yourself, and as always, watch out for nosy neighbours, wannabe informers and builders.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Revealed, or indeed vealed for the first time

The world’s littlest known famous journalist is surely a little less less known with the publication of a rare revealing interview. Words of wisdom and nuggets of nonsense. And a photo to boot! Not that the photo is of my foot – I mean it’s an added bonus in the way the English language considers boots to be something special. And I thought German was weird.
I’m rambling, as I tend to do when tired – not when I’m sick and tired, when I tend to do nothing at all – but merely tired and rambling, like Angela Merkel any time she opens her mouth. Anyway, I’d better get back to the point.
The interview. For Spotted by Locals, by Spotted by Locals. They asked questions and I answered, in itself a rare occurrence, paled only in rareness by an actual picture of me on the interweb. Unseenly. It was taken when I was much older than I am now, and is sure to get the offers of film work and modelling flooding in.
Feel free to share with friends (especially any involved in the film or fashion industries) and don’t forget to leave complimentary comments. I’ve already got the ball rolling to get you started...
http://www.spottedbylocals.com/blog/berlin-interview-with-ciaran/

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Raúl

Raúl’s in Berlin. Raúl! Here, in Berlin! It’s not everyday you get the chance to meet one of your heroes so I wasn’t going to miss the chance today when I had the, well, chance.
Raúl González Blanco – as if he needs introduction – is up there with the greats. Former Real Madrid captain, the club’s all time leading scorer (323 goals), the Champions League all-time top scorer (71), winner of three Champions Leagues and six Spanish Ligas, Raúl is Madridismo. El mejor. The day he left after 16 years’ service last year was a black one.
So I wanted to make a good impression. Normally I wouldn’t step foot in swanky hotels like the Westin Grand on Friedrichstraße (nor would they let me) but damnit, I’d make an effort today. Had a shower, brushed me teeth. I even put hair stuff in my hair and asked Jenny if I looked alright. “Doing yourself up for Raúl?” she asked. Of course! It’s Raúl!!
All that fluting around making myself presentable left me late, so I’d to cycle like the hounds of hell, burst into the hotel gasping and panting, sweating buckets. Thankfully he was late too. All the greats are always late.
There were other people there too, from Schalke, Benedikt Höwedes, others, mortals, but there was only one Raúl. A hush fell when he walked in the room. He took his seat, surveyed the hacks in front. Owned them all. “Buenos tardes.” The words! Puta madre, the words he used! Football speak, but damnit, spoken by Raúl! Every utterance beatified, every word embellished by virtue of his saying them.
I caught up with him outside. Raúl! He graciously obliged, a polite smile, an extravagant swish. His autograph! For the nipper of course. He’s a big fan too.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Die Gebühreneinzugszentrale (GEZ)

A fatal error was made. We acknowledged the GEZ’s existence. Of course they’d been put onto ours by the fucking Bürgeramt. It seems you’re obliged to register with the Bürgeramt (it’s illegal not to) so they can pass your personal details to all and sundry.
The Gebühreneinzugszentrale – for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure – is a parasitic organisation, wholly legal in this country, which mooches money from people with televisions, radios (!), laptops (!) and other devices invented or not yet invented.
We don’t have a TV, but the GEZ was told we had two radios and two laptops. Big mistake. You have to pay for the privilege of listening to the radio in Germany, or even accessing the internet.
Once you’re snared in the system, there’s no way out. These are the situations in which German bureaucracy thrives.
Bills arrived. Demands for money followed previous demands.
Then a second fatal error. I wrote to the fuckers to tell them we don’t watch TV on the laptops, that one radio doesn’t work (it actually doesn’t), and that I sometimes use my laptop for work. They sent another bill for that too! As it stands I (stupidly) paid €50 for having a laptop and radio and now they want another €51.84! For nothing.
Germans seem to find nothing wrong with this – with paying a licence for a radio or laptop. “But you’re getting a service.” I’m not. The fucking GEZ isn’t providing a service. They simply send bills for someone else providing it. They want over €100 for not providing a service since last August.
The latest bill came with a friendly note: “Diese Erinnerung ist für Sie kostenfrei!” (This reminder is free of charge!) Why thank you, thank you for not sending me a bill for sending me a bill – for a service you’re not even providing.
But the threat is implied of course. The next reminder might not be free of charge. Bills arrive with a “fine” for not paying the previous one. And more bills will follow, with more fines, and costs will spiral to bail out proportions. All this is legal in a country where companies are sacred but individuals are milked for all they’ve got. Which ain’t much. But they don’t seem to mind.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nuff said

In other news, we’ve run out of tea bags but still have ample supply of loose leaf tea. I invested in a tea filter that has proved more successful then anticipated. I should have got one yonks ago. More tea has also been ordered to avoid any unpleasant tea-famines.
The wind smashed the bathroom window today. I guess that’s why they’re called wind-ows. Thankfully, Germans are forward-planning creatures and all windows in this city come with double panes. So fuck it, one’s smashed, but we’ve another. And we don’t have to bother opening two panes anymore if we want a gentle breeze to come in.
Meanwhile, I’ve ascertained that limes are incredibly expensive in this country. The cheapest lime I’ve seen is 39 cents. For a lime! Everywhere I’ve looked, a lime is 39 cents, meaning it’s 39 cents for the most expensive lime too. Coincidence? They must think we’re all lemons. We pay it, so I guess we are...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

4=1/3

Quatro meses! A third of a year old! Where does the time go? It seems only a lifetime ago he didn’t exist at all.
The nipper’s growing, puking and farting all the while – in that order – and becoming more vocal by the day. He hums, gurgles, croaks, beeps and squeaks, while maintaining the threat of all out screeching, and has tweaked his killer smile repertoire to include happy laughs and sighs of contentment. Ah, they’re great.
He talks too. Not with words or anything so vulgar as that, but with his own language less complicated than ours. Feck knows what he’s trying to say, but the response is always the same: “Really?! Jaysus, go on outta that!” Once he has your attention he’s happy to chat away for hours.
As I mentioned before, he’s a fan of music. He’s taken to stomping his right foot along to makey-uppy songs I bark to him. He loves barking noises. I’m sure he’ll grow up thinking he’s a dog.
He rarely sits still. Getting him to pose for a passport photo was a nightmare. There was no way in hell he’d keep his head straight, mouth closed or expression neutral – the way they want you to so you look like a terrorist – but eventually we’d to settle for one where he was looking at the camera. (Central picture below.) “I think we can make an exception in this case,” said the nice lady at the embassy.
Such a curious and easily-amazed person I’ve never met before. (Him – not the lady at the embassy.) He looks at everything, and everything’s a wonder, a reason for eyes to widen as big as the moon, even without mentioning Ireland’s fate or the latest financial forecasts. Yes, it’s been an interesting four months. Through the nipper’s huge eyes, and ours.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Foreign assignment in Hamburg

From the fleeting glance of Hamburg I got through the S-Bahn window today, it’s a poor man’s Berlin. (Or a rich man’s Berlin by the prices.) There’s more water, sure, but what good’s water if you ain’t got a boat? The waterfront’s pretty enough, if you like looking at things, with its unimaginative spout spewing gallons up into the sky, but really what copperfastened my opinion was its pathetic excuse for a Fernsehturm. I got a fleeting glance of that too. Crap! Pointy, yes, but puny, barely a Fernsehturm at all, not even of a height to tickle the arse of Berlin’s beloved beacon. So that’s it. Bah Hamburg! Such a Fernsehturn is but an insult to the real one. I’ll give Hamburg another chance though. It’s not shit, like Bonn.
I got an ICE train there and back. Jesus they’re fast – no leaves on the track to slow them down here – and not as cold as I thought they’d be.
The longest part of the journey was trying to buy the damn ticket from Deutsche Bahn. I put in all my details, address, date of birth, credit card details (German and Irish), seat preference, blood groups, hopes for the future (a goddamn ticket!) religion, favourite colour, favourite number, shoe size when I was a toddler, ticked boxes, declined insurance in case I lost the ticket I was desperately trying to buy – before the damn system crashed – and I’d to do it all over again, SIX times, until I exploded and rang the fuckers on their premium rate number (the only way you can contact them) only for your wan to want an extra €9.50 for booking over the phone. “The internet’s not working!” I screamed. No matter. Extra charge. Then all the same rigmarole over the phone again, before she couldn’t include the U and S-Bahn stations, so I would have had to pay extra for them too... if her system hadn’t crashed and she couldn’t sell me a ticket either!
I know now why they’re called ICE trains – they want their customers to cool down when they finally do get on the damn things.
So I got to Hamburg, by the skin of my teeth, for my first “foreign assignment” to meet two lads intent on belting lumps off each other for four other belts. Why does a heavyweight world champion need a bodyguard? Beats me. That’s why, I guess.
From the ICE home I knew I was back in Berlin as soon as I saw the marvellous majesty of the Fernsehturm in the distance, standing tall and proud, wondering where I’d been. I was in Hamburg dear Fernsehturm, but you’re the tallest and the fairest of them all.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

ClásiKOed

The last 18 days have been hard. Four Clásicos have taken their toll. I’m shattered, nerves shot, indignation Piquéd, face slappiraed and belief beggared as four games ended all square with only one winner. Yes, Madrid won the Copa but any trophy you throw under a bus is hardly worth winning at all. Barcelona, “The World's Greatest Whiners”, win the league and, despite not beating a Real team (in both senses of the word) with 11 players, face a stroll against a pedestrian team in the Champs League final. They can’t both lose. Qué pena.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Riot act

This year’s riots were even more disappointing than last year’s. As far as I know, there weren’t any at all! Not one police baton raised in anger did I see, not one stone hurled through a shop window, nor any windscreens smashed or buildings torched. Two cars were burnt out under the bridge at Bornholmer Straße. An Opel Corsa and a Mercedes, but that’s it.
In fact, there was very little anger at all from what I could see as Kreuzberg was taken over by live music, ethnic food stalls and a neverending supply of booze and techno. Paaaarrrty!!! It was brilliant. Freaks, punks and other wonderful people abounded. This is why I live in Berlin, I thought to myself as I inched through the crowds of revellers, beer in hand, and simply soaked it all in. The atmosphere as well as the beer.
The Polizei were there too of course, hundreds of them stuffed in every courtyard, their fingers just itching for a good scrap with lefties, righties or centralies – whoever would oblige – but people were content just to have fun. One crowd all dressed in black with sunshades and hoodies arrived carrying banners and they were definitely up to no good – they had earpieces and batons – but could not pass due to the crowds dancing to 70s hits outside SO36. Dancing the riots away.
Leftist nutters handed out propaganda for an Arbeiter Macht revolution to usher in 30-hour working weeks, solidarity with revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, an €11 minimum wage, unemployment benefit of more than I earn in a month for everyone over 16, an end to taxes and racism etc. Nice ideas I guess. I shouldn’t be so cynical.
I’d brought my own beer to avoid the inflated prices, and later took refuge from the non-existent violence at an underground party near Neukölln. On my way home I cycled straight into more non-existent violence at Kottbusser Tor and decided to hang around in case anything was going on. Indeed it was, a Klezmer band playing their socks off and the crowd dancing their heads off. I stayed far longer than healthy, made new friends, promptly lost them again, ate some crazy foreign stuff, and have no recollection at all of burning those cars...