Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg is a city built by cars for cars. Wide open streets without people criss cross among buildings of glass and concrete, shiny like showrooms. The city is overshadowed in every way by the Volkswagen factory looming over it, four tall impressive chimneys a landmark for miles around.
Rabbits who bound around outside the stadium are the only ones – it seems – not touched by cars. And when they are, they don’t care either.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

And women to boot

Five years after the great Zidane exited with a bow, I finally made it to the Olympiastadion for the World Cup, as the women take a bow.
The opening match took place after the first one (women’s logic?) but I was there to capture the excitement for the AP with the most comprehensive, stunningly incisive match report ever written!
FIFA have been looking after me very well, giving me a media goodie bag complete with pen, folders, calendar, magazine, snazzy bag and a lame cup, before I had to go back out to the stadium yesterday to hear Sepp's blattering on anything except corruption.
The catering’s been pretty good. The carrot cake was quite possibly the best carrot cake I have ever eaten. It even had little carrots on it! (Although Jenny told me carrot cakes are like that in this country. They must have tiny little greenhouses to grow them in.)
We’re in Germany so there was an ample supply of Wurst (flavourless sausages), Kuchen (to go with the Kaffee), Brötchens and a fridge full of Coca Cola and other evil drinks from the sponsor.
No beer though! I was very surprised (and disappointed). Evidently only German journalists can do a good job after consuming buckets of beer before a match. The international brigade cannot be trusted.
Beyond the inevitable and somewhat unfortunate comparisons with the men’s game – complete with compliments that can’t help sounding condescending from my brethren – I did notice differences among the fans, with far more women present. Queues for toilets were much, much longer than usual (nature at play I guess), and there were far fewer drunken bowsies singing: “DEUtschlAAAAnd, DEUtschlAAAAnd, DEUtschlAAAAnd...” and so on. You know how it goes.
In fact the fans were altogether more pleasant, calm and mannerly (no pun intended) compared to the usual idiots at these things.
There was also a distinct lack of broken glass around the Olympiastadion when I started making my way home. Either women are far more careful with their bottles, or the bottle collectors have become so efficient they snatch them before they hit the ground. I suspect the latter.
Tomorrow I’m off to Wolfsburg, then Leverkusen and then a load of other cities – hopefully none as shit as Bonn – as I sample FIFA’s catering all over West Germany, and women’s football to boot. Yes, they can.

Paulette la bicyclette

It may seem heartless to have replaced Derval already with another, but I wanted to ensure at least some of the proceeds from our bitter parting were not simply frittered away on things whose fritteration I would not remember frittering.
“I’ll buy a bicycle, a red one, and call her Derval too,” I told Jenny.
But then I met Paulette. Paulette la bicyclette! She’s silver, French, and she’s a beaut! Un vélo vintage, Peugeot, possibly a PR10 from 1976, maybe a PX10LE from 1977, or a 1979 PR10LE, or maybe even something else.
I wanted a racer to get around Berlin more quickly – to race around it if you will. Public transport is good in this city but it’s not good enough. A bike is the only way travel. My old bike is fine for cycling through bushes and crashing through trees, but it’s too chunky and bulky to always force along at top speeds without banjaxing the oul’ knees.
So I brought Paulette for a test spin along Luisenstraße and up Kastanienallee when my speed was helped by a torrential downpour that soaked me to the skin. She isn’t so fast she can dodge torrential rain and I looked like a drowned rat by the time I brought her back. Still, an impression had been made. The next day, last Sunday, I took her home.
She’s great! She’s been bringing me out to the Olympiastadion and back for the last week – three times already (more on that later) – and she’s fast as bejaysus (but not as rain), light and nimble too. You feel every bump in the road though, and she appears invisible (if anything can actually appear invisible) to pedestrians and some other cyclists who only manage to jump out of the way at the last – there’ve been several near misses already.
The only worry now is that one of the city’s many beady-eyed bike banditos will abscond with her as soon as I leave her unaccompanied. She hasn’t yet learned how to handle a gun, you see. It’s never too late to start.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Nipeye the Sailor

Won’t be long before he’s wearing my shirts. He was driving a boat on Tuesday. Seriously. I drove a boat for the first time in my life on Tuesday, the nipper only needed a little over five months. He couldn’t keep it in a straight line but wasn’t quite tall enough to see where he was going. (Nothing to do with all the beers he drank.) Sure what the hell, it’s more exciting that way anyway.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Macht's jut liebe Derval

After a long period of separation, I finally decided it was time to face the inevitable. Myself and Derval have parted ways. Permanently. We’ll have a final fling when I go back to Ireland in a few weeks, but after that she’ll be in someone else’s hands.
It was the only fair thing to do. I had to set her free. For too long she’d been sitting neglected in a carpark, gathering cobwebs, left to idle thoughts of fantastic journeys and racing down motorways, wondering when she would once again feel the thrill of the ride, her misery compounded by the sound of other cars whizzing gleefully past on the road outside.
I thought of rescuing her from her distress, bringing her back to Germany again, but the thoughts of all the inevitable forms, hoops and bureaucracy put paid to any noble notions.
Far better to leave her in the hands of someone I know will treat her right – Delphine has promised to give her the love and attention she deserves – than subject her to battles at the Bürgeramt.
I’m distraught to let her go, but I know it’s for the best. We’ve shared some wonderful times together – she even accompanied me all the way when I first moved to Berlin, then there was the weekend in Paris, camping trips and music festivals – but she deserves to have more wonderful times. Even if it’s with someone else. Sniff.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Boar!

I hereby confirm the existence of wild boar! Three years of no sightings had me convinced boardom was just a myth, a false prophet for real profit (tourists’ dollars), or a piglet of someone’s imagination.
Cycling through the forest (again!), I came across a whole family of them. BOARS, fuck!
Thankfully they ran before it even occurred to me to. Four adults (Auntie and Uncle Boar must have been there too) charged off through the trees and undergrowth leaving me in shock before four little ones scurried after them. BOARS! I grabbed the camera before it was too late but it was already too late even before it was too late.
I’d seen boars in captivity, behind fences, but they could just as well have been hairy pigs or deformed sheep. The pictures show some of them, fat and stupefied from easy living and cheap booze, but shadows of the majestic beasts I now know roam the forests.
The mother boar made an almighty racket before the little ones (little stripey fellows, brilliant!) followed through the undergrowth. Lucky for me that they did or she may have come back. They charge apparently. You have to pay for everything these days – even boars want a slice of the action following Mauerfall. Magnificent animals, I suppose it’s only fair they get their due.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fat fünf

He’s reached the same age I was when I was five months old. Coincidentally, he’s also the same age now as Jenny when she was five months old. Yesterday, the nipper turned five!
He won’t be a nipper for long at the rate he’s going. He seems to think he’s in a race, or one in a litter of nippers, horsing grub into himself as often and quickly as possible before anyone else does. Between naps. He’s taken to guarding his precious milk by sleeping with one eye open at the source, before it’s time to resume gulping again.
Perhaps he’s planning for the winter, or he fancies a career in sumo. He’s got the belly for it – it protrudes even when lying down – and his legs are like tree trunks, arms like wrenches and he’s got a grip like a vice. I reckon he could tackle the honbasho now.
He has a neck now too. We noticed it one day – it must have grown in the night – but apart from that he’s subtle with his changes. He can almost crawl on his belly but bellyaches once his belly aches.
He doesn’t bellyache much though, except when he’s hungry or tired, but impending teeth have been troublesome. The poor little fella’s face crumbles with gnasher pangs, yowls of pain only soothed by Dentinox and time. He’ll be happy to have them once they’re there.
Socks seem to fly off his feet – evidently he likes them even less than he likes hats or putting on jumpers – and he can now grab his feet to ensure their speedy removal, usually in the middle of a busy road with impatient motorists in no mood to wait for sock recuperation.
His favourite pastime seems to be rocket horseriding – puke notwithstanding – while fart noises are the funniest thing he’s ever heard. Angela Merkel has him in stitches. He can actually laugh now, and I’m happy to report he does it quite often, in between gurgling, squeaking and yabbering away in his own fantastic little language to himself and whoever else may be listening. We never interrupt. He talks with his tongue out – the best way of talking of all.
Today was a momentous day. He picked up his passport from the embassy – the same woman was happy to see him again – and promptly tried eating it. (The nipper tried eating it, not her.) “You’ll need that, Nippity!” I warned him, to little avail.
He also started his baby massage course. I thought he’d come home and massage me, but apparently it works the other way around here. It must be an East German thing to have a room full of nippers in the nip having their stresses and strains eased away. It worked. His arse muscles relaxed to the extent of release. Good shit man, good shit.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bunkers for Russian nukes, lost city of Vogelsang

Shadowed by fear, consumed by guilt, somewhere in the contradiction of nowhere lies a forgotten city so secret only darkness and light know it’s there. A whole city without a soul. Curtains flutter nonchalantly through broken windows, backs turned on hollow rooms and impotent corridors, while outside stand giant empty hangers shellshocked and still, doors creaking forlornly, their stash of deadly nuclear missiles long gone and with it their raison d’être.
Welcome to Vogelsang, where the Russians once had atomic weapons earmarked for Western Europe’s consumption, ready to launch at a moment’s folly in retaliation for a pre-emptive strike or pre-emption of an imminent retaliation.
Construction at this 7,000 hectare site began in 1951 (one of the few complexes purpose-built by the Russians, most likely off plans seized from the Germans after the war) before the garrison became home to around 18,000 soldiers and civilians, a shit load of tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, tactical missiles and the most fiendish missiles of all – nuclear missiles.
Soldiers carried out manoeuvres at night to avoid American surveillance, and locals had no idea what kind of shenanigans were going on behind those guarded walls.
R5-M (SS-3 Shyster) missiles were brought here by the elite 72nd RVGK Engineer Brigade in January 1959, and allegedly aimed at London, Paris, Brussels, the Ruhrgebiet and Bonn (where an atomic bomb would actually be an improvement). These things were HUGE, weighing 29.1 tonnes and reaching 20.74 meters, and much more powerful than those dropped on Nagasaki or Hiroshima.
The East Germans were not informed, and the missiles were delivered under cover of darkness using back roads so they wouldn’t find out.
The Russians withdrew the weapons in September, as part of a disarmament pact Nikita Khrushchev agreed with the Americans in return for the removal of US missiles in Turkey.
However, another sneaky deployment – this time with R-12 (SS-4 Sandal) nuclear missiles – was sent here in 1961 during the top secret Operation Tuman.
It was so damned secret even the soldiers did not know where they were being deployed.
“Officers and career servicemen for a long time had no clue that the road ahead of them crosses the western border of the USSR and transited to the GDR,” reported the commander in charge, Colonel Vladimir Aleksandrov from Smolensk.
Col. Aleksandrov’s forces waited for the order to fire. “Everyone agonized from the suspense. But the command to load up never came,” he said. “On several occasions I reported to division command ... but each time I got the same answer: ‘Wait. Increase the regiment’s training and combat readiness.’”
In the end, the Soviet Union’s production of the R-14 Chusovaya missile (SS-5 Skean) with its much greater range eliminated the need for armed nuclear missiles in Germany, and Col. Aleksandrov was given the order to disband on July 12th, 1962.
Of course, there was still enough going on through the Cold War and beyond to keep Vogelsang busy. The Russians didn’t leave until 1993.
Now the Germans want to wipe it from the face of the earth. It’s not so secret that they can leave it alone. Mechanical rubble makers are slowly making their way from the north, gobbling and grinding their way through history, while the forest does its best to reclaim the 4,000 hectares of woodland cut down before construction began.
I entered through the south and promptly found a corpse. In the middle of a dark shed. A ram ravaged by wild dogs or a forgotten soldier. Teeth bared by lack of flesh in a permanent grimace, bones poking awkwardly toward the ceiling reaching for the spirit which left it behind.
Hordes of mosquitoes attacked to keep me from venturing further – must have been under Khrushchev’s orders – but there was no way I could turn back now. Bunkers, bombs, battalions – all were discoverable in my head as I and searched for clues to secrets nobody wants me to know, hiding from time to time as I heard voices, other people perhaps, perhaps not. Lenin was definitely there and more besides (electric fuses boxes made by J.W. Stalin in Treptow, Berlin!) but despite a day picking my way through scattered roof tiles and scurrying from one building to the next, peering, poring, pontificating, I only made a scratch. Interrupted by darkness and wolves, I didn’t see it all. I have to go back, I’ll go back.

What
Kaserne Vogelsang. Soviet military barracks and top secret nuclear missile launching site. This image gives you an overview of the site and run down of what happened where.

Where
Vogelsang, 16792 Zehdenick, Oberhavel, Brandenburg, Germany.

How to get there
Get the S1 S-Bahn to Oranienburg and then the RB12 (a weird little regional train that comes along every half hour or so) in the direction of Templin. You might need to push the button to request a stop at Vogelsang train station. Bring your bike – Vogelsang itself is tiny, but the abandoned site you’ve come to explore is huge. One day is not enough, so if you’re brave or crazy enough you could always sleep in one of the buildings to continue exploring the next day. The site of interest is to the northwest of the train station. Map here.

Getting in
Either hop the fence (quite easy) or cycle on until there’s no fence (even easier).

When to go
Now. As I wrote, they’re intent on destroying anything remotely interesting around here. I mean, what harm is an abandoned Russian nuclear missile launching site in the middle of a forest? Nope, they just can’t leave anything alone.

Difficulty rating
$/10. The main problem is getting here and the expense that incurs. Train tickets for human and bike (necessary because they do check) come to a whopping €18 or so return! The train ride from Oranienburg is about 30 mins.

Who to bring
Like-minded explorers. A Russian would be useful for translation purposes. 

What to bring
Camera, torch, anti-mosquito spray, snack, bicycle, sleeping bag and more snacks if you’re overnighting. Phones don’t work here so maybe let someone know where you’re going so if you don’t return after a week they’ll know to send help, somewhere. Ah yes, a map!

Dangers
Some – scrap that – all of the buildings are in a bad way. Be careful etc. etc. and don’t trip over any atomic bombs or anything like that. Also watch out for the mozzies. In fact, you won’t need to – they’ll find you. Just make sure to bring a good mozzie spray to keep the hungry buggers at bay.

Many thanks to Danish nuclear missile expert Martin Trolle Mikkelsen for much of the background info on the Russians' covert activities. It seems he misses the Russian nuclear missiles as much as I do!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Weiß

I painted myself white today. A nice shade of white. White only has one shade which is why it’s nice.
I painted myself white because I painted the ceiling of our balcony from which I cannot see the Fernsehturm. I still cannot see it, my beloved Turm. Not that I expected to when I painted the balcony ceiling but I thought I should point it out all the same. Its elusiveness.
Balconies don’t have ceilings of course. Really I painted the bottom underside of our upstairs neighbours’ balcony, something they should have done, and gravity ensured I painted everything below it – including myself – too. I fucking hate DIY.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Revenge of the killer tomatoes


I don’t know how long I can write. I shouldn’t be writing now but have to get a message out somehow! For the last week we’ve been hiding in the basement. Licking the walls for sustenance. At least they’re safe. Since the killer tomatoes started prowling outside, we don’t know what to do, where to go, who to trust. We’re fucked!!!
Those dastardly tomatoes. No doubt they’d been planning this for years, but finally they swung their plan into action with the help of those treacherous cucumbers and lecherous lettuces – lecheruces. It’s revenge for all those years of grilling, chopping, slicing, dicing and shredding – the veggies strike back!!!
Man they’re angry. The tomatoes were getting redder and redder, bigger and bigger, until finally they just had enough and took matters into their own hands. “We’re not veggies! We’re fruit!” Now they’re the ones doing the grilling – bullying and pushing people about for information, stomping and splattering – now they’re ketching-up.

Nobody knows how to stop them. They’ve killed, infected, sickened, spread terror and will kill again. It’s terrifying. I just went upstairs and found a bunch of tomatoes lurking in the fridge. I slammed the door shut and am now typing under the duvet. I hope they don’t find me. Just in case, I wish to proclaim my allegiance to our new vegetable (and fruit) overlords. (They might actually be better than our current, human, overlords.) All hail o mighty tomatoes, cucumber and lettu—shit! What’s that?!
I think I heard a rustle. Soft padded footsteps. Heavy breathing. Oh shit shit shit. The duvet’s twitching. No no noooooooo!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!