Monday, December 31, 2012

New year, same shit

Good riddance 2012, you failed abjectly to live up the little hope you proffered. Even the eagerly anticipated apocalypse failed to materialize when we were expecting it to put us all out of our misery.
It was a good year for banks, bankers, those protecting bankers, and those with a vested interest in ensuring bankers are kept happy. Fuck the rest of us. And so it looks set to continue.
Whether Merkel, Obama or Kenny’s your poison, one thing’s for certain – they’re all the fucking same. They’ll all keep dancing to the tune of those who would have to rest of us paying our taxes from battery cages.
Apologies if I sound a little pessimistic about our prospects. My uncle told me my posts were getting a little “morose” lately, but it’s the only way you can be when you look around. A blind fool will tell you nothing is improving anywhere. It only seems to be getting worse. And no one cares.
Global warming? No longer an issue even as its dramatic effects take hold. Our esteemed overlords have seen to that.
Syria’s fucked, death toll rocketing, yet no gives a damn. It’s fast becoming the new Africa.
And Africa? Yeah, well, there’s some bad shit happening there too but it doesn’t affect us so there’s no need to care abut that either.
Israel is hell-bent on destruction and all the west can do is tut-tut politely from the sidelines. It’s a fucking disgrace.
Of course Iran is a threat, yada-yada.
The U.S. continues with its state-sponsored program of murder through drones abroad and through the NRA at home.
Germany, still openly contrite for horrors fresh in the memory, is nevertheless happy to profit from horrors now perpetrated by others, as it sells its arms and submarines to all and sundry.
Money, again, the recurring theme. Someone has to pay for those BMWs and Mercs. What does it matter that they’re paying with their lives in Mexico, in Yemen or in Palestine?
In short, it appears that the human race’s dominant trait – greed – will be responsible for driving it out of existence. Apathy speeds up the process, while stupidity created the conditions.
So it’s hard to be optimistic about the year ahead. Who knows? Maybe 2013 will defy the odds. It might get lucky.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Feelin' festive after surviving Christmas

Christmas night has to be the fartiest of the year. All those gases and fumes vying for freedom, itching for expression, struggling to be heard…
To make matters worse, poor ol’ Nip also had to contend with a badly timed dose of the runs, causing a sleepless night punctuated by innumerable nappy and pyjama changes. I think it’s fair to say it all ended on a bum note.
Not that it was a shitty Christmas. Far from it – I think I even enjoyed it. I can’t yet be sure. Perhaps I’m being flathúlach from the elation of mere survival, or perhaps my expectations were too low to begin with, but it was quite refreshing to have a remarkably unremarkable Christmas.
It comes at the cost of Schadenfreude, however, and so I can’t beguile you with tales of trees stinking of cat-piss, or stories of burnt dinners, or of sharing choc-chip cookies with grateful pigs. Not this year anyway.
I got presents! Jumpers, fine jumpers too. And other things.
I know it only confirms my fatherhood, but you can never have enough jumpers. Socks too, you can never have enough socks. For some reason all my socks are odd socks, as if half my sock collection knowingly met up and escaped when the other half wasn’t looking. But I didn’t get any socks. I’m just sayin’ you can never have enough socks or jumpers.
Germans give out their presents on Christmas Eve. They’re so efficient they open them before Santa’s even had the chance to deliver them.
We’d gone out to the in-laws, where the Nip got a ton of stuff, more stuff than you could shake several sticks at, and where we were served several varieties of cake followed by a very tasty buffet. I mean the food was very tasty, not the actual buffet, though for all I know that was tasty too.
I don’t know what Jenny’s folks have on Santa but they managed to get him to show up, despite his busy schedule. They had to get the real Santa to turn up after I politely declined their invitations for me to play the part. Imagine me as Santa! Jaysus.
Nip was nonplussed by the bearded fellow’s presence, but not as freaked out as I thought he’d be. He was happy with the presents, though they run the risk of spoiling him. Better to get nothing and be grateful for your health, your family, your friends. The young lad hasn’t been found wanting for anything yet and I wonder if that’s a good thing...
Then on the day itself, when the Germans had no presents left to look forward to, we did our own little family Christmas, when we did everything precisely when and how we felt like it. We went for a walk in the morning, when Nip amazed us with his basketball prowess.
Then he showed remarkable restraint to avoid pulling down the tree, I showed remarkable restrain to put up with Christmas carols and Jenny showed remarkable constraint to put up with my humbuggery.
To round it off – once we’d packed the Nip off to bed – we started Frankenweenie. (It was too scary to watch in one night so we split it over three and only finished it last night. Brilliant film. I’d watch it again.)
At the end of it all I basked in the knowledge that it was 365 days to the next one. And then the shit hit the fan. Merry Shitmas.
Hope you all had a good Christmas, wherever ye are, whenever you celebrated/will celebrate. I know it’s late, but it’s easier to be festive when you’re no longer obligated to be festive – now is the time to enjoy it.
Nollaig shona agus Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas treeson

The tree is up. It’s actually been up a few days now, decorated and all, but my enthusiasm for all things Christmas is finding itself hard to rouse this year. I haven’t been arsed taking pictures or writing about it up to now.
I actually got the tree a couple of weeks ago, on my way home from the German course. I popped into Kaiser’s for a couple of beers and they had potted trees so I figured I may as well kill three birds with the one stone. I had the beers on my back and the tree in my arm as I cycled home. Luckily there was no urgent need to pull the break with the other arm.
It’s a pretty small tree again this year, perhaps even smaller than last year’s. So it’s on the same display case. It’s so small the Nip hasn’t noticed it yet, hasn’t ripped it asunder. I guess it’s only a matter of time.
Last year’s tree didn’t survive the experience. It’s still replanted out the back, but it’s only a tree skeleton, a macabre warning to other potted trees with aspirations of surviving Christmas. It’s such a shame. I genuinely don’t see the need to murder trees at this time of year, Santa’s birthday notwithstanding.
If this year’s tree doesn’t make it, I think I’ll get a plastic one next year, though the environmental damage from its manufacture would probably be greater than deforestation’s. Still, it would give me an excuse to play that Radiohead song.
I want to enjoy Christmas, I really do, but my enthusiasm for it wanes by the year. You know when you’re force-fed something you lose your appetite. It’s so inescapable I want to escape. It’s gotten to the stage where I think all Christmas songs should be shot – especially that fucking Tannenbaum song – as should all Glühwein sellers who think €3 is the minimum to be paid for their slop. How can it be more expensive at a Weihnachtsmarkt than in a pub, which has the added benefit of warmth and comfort? But there you go. It is. They take advantage of the prevailing idiocy.
Yesterday, as well as four pig-candles, I got a bottle of buffalo grass-vodka to help me survive. Tonight it smashed to smithereens on the kitchen floor. I’d made the mistake of asking the Nip to take the cheese out of the fridge.
“This isn’t cheese,” I said as I held up what was left of the smashed bottle.
“Bamashed,” he replied.
“Yeah, it’s bamashed alright.”
Jenny’s trying hard to overcome my allergy to Christmas. In fact, I think my apathy may be driving her. And vice versa. There’s all kinds of Christmas shit up everywhere, the Hallowe’en pumpkin’s been relegated out of sight and she’s voluntarily listening to Christmas songs. There’s a load of presents wrapped up, and she even made some sort of house thing out of cake that we’ll eat on Christmas Day if the flies leave any of it. I thought at first she was doing it to annoy me, but she’s genuinely excited about the whole thing.
So I’ll just have to grit my teeth and enjoy it too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

End of the world

The world ends every day. Every Day. And every day another starts with much the same characteristics as the world before. Sometimes the changes are so subtle you barely notice it’s another world at all. Other times they’re huge and you’re left in no doubt.
Sometimes the world ends in an instant. Sometimes it causes other worlds to tumble down too. Sometimes it really is the end. But nothing ever ends. You survive, somehow. You go on. There are still other worlds.
Every day the world ends, not just today. Make the most of it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ice skating, go figure

In essence, there's nothing more to figure skating than prancing about on ice at dangerous speeds attempting logic-defying acrobatics while trying to appear graceful and pretty without snotting yourself. Many of them did, but there was no Shadenfreude in watching them fall. Everyone could appreciate the finite line between glory and failure, the razor edge between elation and despair, dignity or humiliation.
For figure skating is such a cruel sport. One slip and the whole thing's lost. All those months of painstaking preparation, the long hours of never-ending practice, the discipline of controlled concentration and self-sacrifice can be wasted in just a tiny lapse, an unseen glitch, or a fleeting moment in which the pressure seizes command.
I don't think it's coincidence that many of the skaters seemed to improve after their first fall, freed of the shackles of pressure after knowing they'd nothing left to lose. They were suddenly zipping around without a care in the world, detached from their surroundings and all the expectations they held.
This was how Kim Yu-na made her debut. A hush fell on the hall as soon as she appeared, all craning their necks to get a glimpse of the Olympic champion as she awaited her turn, despite some other poor girl still doing her best to entertain them out on the rink.
Yu-na hadn't been seen in competition for 19 months and the excitement was palpable. When she entered the rink she was at one with it, moving with exceptional elegance and grace, launching herself fearlessly into spinning jumps, yet landing with implausible softness. (As written before.)
I have to say she was impressive. I'm no figure skating expert, but it was clear to see we were witnessing something special. All were spellbound in her presence.
I felt sorry for the other girls – the mere mortals – especially those we had to skate after her, even as the spectators were still buzzing and chattering excitedly after what they'd just seen. Many just left.
On the second day Yu-na proved that she too is human – she fell. You could almost hear hearts breaking in the hall.
“I've never seen her fall before,” said one woman behind me.
Yu-na got up again, and carried on with her routine again where she left off. She had already done more than enough to run away with the competition, but she continued wowing the spectators – and evidently the judges – with more spectacular jumps, each followed by landings as soft as a feather's.
Over the two days, she set the best mark achieved by any woman all season, and she has electrified the sport once again before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
My assignment went well. Who knows? Maybe I'll be there too!

ESPN: Kim Yu-na makes triumphant return
NBC: Kim Yu-na reigns on return to skating competition
Japan Today: Kim Yu-na posts season's best to seal return
The China Post: Kim seals return with season-best score

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Snotshot of madity 10: Winter

For advent, the Kita decided it better to open even earlier, so now the latest they'll accept their prey is 9 a.m.
Every morning I have to set the alarm to wake him; every morning he gives out, incredulous that he's being rudely awoken from pleasant slumber at an ungodly hour, again.
It was bad enough trying to get him there for the previous cut-off time of 9.30 a.m.
If you arrive a minute later, they're already sitting around in a circle, singing, the way they do.
The wardens shoot you dirty looks if you're late, as we have been every morning since advent began.
I didn't even bother bringing him the last few mornings. What's the fucking point? It's unholy out there, cold enough to freeze the balls off a penguin, and the most sensible place to be is snuggled up in a warm bed away from the torture of Berlin's winter.
I asked one of the wardens why they moved the cut-off time forward and why they think it's a good idea to deprive everyone of half an hour's sleep.
“Because there's so much to do!” she replied enthusiastically. “There are so many preparations to be made!”
I stopped listening then, so I've no idea if the preparations are for winter, for Christmas or for the end of the world itself. It doesn't matter. They're obviously stone mad.
But if I'm to get anything else done I've to bring him to the goddamn Kita, so this morning I'd to wrap the poor fucker up in so many layers he can no longer move, stick him on the back of the bike, and cycle tentatively through the snow and ice, careful not to pull the brake or go so fast there might be a need to pull it.
He's learned a new word: “Slippy.”
I'd take him on public transport but we'd be frozen corpses by the time we got to the U-Bahn station, and we'd have to change for an S-Bahn, and then we'd be frozen corpses again by the time we got from the S-Bahn station to the Kita. It would also mean we'd have to get up even earlier.
So we cycle; him stoically quiet on the back seat, me screaming in agony as the cold bites through my useless gloves. I wore two pairs on the way back and my fingers are still in bits. I think I may have frostbite. I've been typing these words with my nose, which has the unforeseen advantage of lubricating the keys as you type.
My hands are wrapped around the teapot, and still stinging more than two hours after making it back safely. I don't know if they'll ever thaw out. And I've to pick him up again in a couple of hours...
These are the joys of Berlin in winter, joys compounded by the natives who evidently take perverse pleasure from pain and misery. Yes, let's all get up half an hour earlier for half an hour's more singing. O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum. I'll strangle the next fucking Tannenbaum if I hear that song once more...
I always question my wisdom in moving to Berlin at this time of year. It's 8° in Madrid now and even warmer in Mexico. But no. Instead I find myself in a land where inhumane cold is allowed and fun is verboten (GEMA).
They were already singing when we arrived this morning, late. Cue more dirty looks. I needn't tell you, they were returned with interest.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Royal assignment

I'm on my way to Dortmund to meet a South Korean ice-skater. It's perhaps the most exotic of my foreign assignments to date. Kim Yu-na is her name. She's 22, the world record holder and Olympic champion. She's incredibly rich and has goddess status in South Korea. She's merely "Queen Yu-na" everywhere else.
Yu-na is her first name. The Koreans put their second names first, pushing their first names second so, well, their first names are first and their second second. What I mean to say is that Kim is her surname and Yu-na her first, even though it's second.
Anyway, as you probably gathered, she's quite famous. I confess I'd never heard of her before, nor, indeed, of any other ice-skaters. It's been a steep learning curve.
Ice-skating is generally avoided in Ireland, where the sensible approach is to stay indoors when it's that slippery out, preferably in a pub. 'Tis hard enough to walk on ice, nevermind skate on it.
So she's already got my respect. Not only can she walk on ice, she can dance and jump around on it too! The amount of spinning she does would leave you dizzy. The main problem, from my point of view, will be determining how many revolutions she does. Not that she's a revolutionary, she's no Che Guevara, but each 360 degree turn is considered a revolution. That much I've learned. More problematic will be telling the difference between a toe loop, a loop jump, salchow or an axel. There are more too. I'll be cramming again before the competition actually starts tomorrow.
At least she speaks English. I don't need to learn Korean on the train down from Berlin, though my current German course would make that seem like less of chore than you'd think.**
I've brought two pairs of gloves. I'm assuming ice-rinks are cold. Heated ice sounds good in principle but I imagine it can lead to a bit of a damp squib at competitions. Splashing is the last sound any ice-skater wants to hear and I'm sure Yu-na is no different.
She'll be able to practice outside. Germany is an ice-rink at the moment. I nearly snotted meself on the way to the U-Bahn earlier. It wouldn't have happened in a pub*. But skating becomes obligatory at times like these...
It's her return to competition after a sabbatical of more than a year and a half. So it's a big deal. Some Russian champion was supposed to be competing too but thankfully he pulled out.
We'll see if I've any time for sightseeing. Dortmund can't be as bad as Leverkusen, Cologne, Minden or any of the other nondescript German cities I've been too. One thing's for sure - it'll be ice.

*Toilets of the Harbour Bar excluded of course. They're never cleaned and always very slippy. And no, it ain't ice.

UPDATE: December 12, 2012 - I've just added pictures of Yu-na from the second day of the NRW Trophy, as the event was called.
I'll write more about the event, the experience, Yu-na and figure skating in general in a separate post, possibly on Friday.

**She actually spoke through a translator. I presume she has reasonably good English, but she didn't try it in any case. I'm sure her English is better than my Korean, but thankfully I didn't have to find out.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Wolfswinkel and the monsters: The abandoned paper mill

Monsters now call the abandoned paper factory of Wolfswinkel home, transforming it into a magical fantasy land only the intrepid would dare enter.
Well, you could just ask at one of the businesses out the front if you can go in for a peak but where's the fun in that?! Far better to sneak in as we did and have the wits scared out of you by the marvellous mystical creatures who have appropriated the crumbling buildings left over from a country that no longer exists.
I was thankful for the company on this occasion, accompanied as I was by fellow lovers of decay and ruin, andBerlin and the Digital Cosmonaut. Alone, I'm not sure I would have survived the experience.
After squeezing in at the back beside the river through a loose fence we tiptoed into their lair, though we weren't aware of their presence at the time. We stepped around the broken glass, careful not to make it crunch underfoot. Futile. Then we saw them through a broken window, the first monsters, eating a rainbow. As monsters do.
We proceeded, cautiously, perhaps foolishly. I peeked into a doorway that led into what most have once been a warehouse. There we encountered the next one, standing with arms outstretched and head back in deep existentialist contemplation. How he could think at all is beyond me, for just a few short metres away was a strange bird-like creature playing guitar, with an even stranger being firing what looked suspiciously like an old blunderbuss into the air. I was about to ask the strange-looking fella where he got it – they're few and far between these days – but thought better of it. I wasn't sure if he was shooting an accompanying beat to the music or warning shots to keep intruders away. Besides, the bird-like creature had a sharp-looking sword and more monsters were lurking nearby – one of them with an axe. I left them to their party.
We went on and found ourselves in a gathering on old redbrick buildings, their soft shades complemented beautifully by the encroaching moss and vegetation. If it's not the monsters...
The outer buildings are in a sorry state, smashed and shorn of roofs allowing the elements wreak their thing. But the main one is still fairly sound, broken window panes notwithstanding, and it's there that you get an appreciation of the factory's former glory and its raison d'être. It's also home to monsters. Loads of them.
The Wolfswinkel paper mill was the only in the area to produce handmade paper until the monsters took over in 1994. I'm not sure if they actually caused production to cease or some other terror brought about its demise. Their timing is certainly suspicious.
Whatever was responsible, it ended a production line going back to 1751, when the Spechthausen paper mill began operation in Eberswalde. Friedrich II of Prussia, a.k.a. Frederick the Great, gave Jean Dubois of France the official seal of approval in 1781, and before you knew it – well, in 1799 – it was also producing banknotes and securities as well as the aforementioned handmade paper.
From 1874 to 1945 it produced treasury notes and nearly all banknotes, letters of credit, cheques, stocks and other other securities for the German Reich.
Spechthausen provided the paper for Operation Bernhard, a dastardly plan hatched by the Nazis to destabilize the British economy during the war using forged banknotes made the master forger Adolf Burger in the nearby Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I don't think I've come across a plan more dastardly. Burger's still on the go, 95 years young, and living in Prague. They made a fine film out of the whole thing called The Counterfeiters, Die Fälscher in German. And you thought this post was only about monsters.
Spechthausen, like pretty much everything, was gradually wound up after the war. The production of the handmade paper was transferred in 1956 to the Wolfswinkel plant, which had been in operation since 1765. Wolfswinkel began production of the Spechthausen brand from August 1 the following year. The age-old traditional methods were retained and each sheet of paper still featured the famous “Spechthausen 1781” watermark comprising a woodpecker (Specht) and a tree.
I looked up the processes involved but they're probably not worth getting into without risking boredom. We certainly don't want that here. If you're into the processes, you'll be able to find out plenty somewhere else on the oul' interweb I'm sure.
Of course, the Russians took over the original Spechthausen plant. It's telling that the monsters waited until they were well gone before they even thought of moving in.

Papierfabrik Wolfswinkel-Spechthausen. Abandoned paper mill that once produced the famous Spechthausen handmade paper, a brand which went back to 1781 when Frederick the Great gave it his seal of approval. Since taken over by monsters.

Wolfswinkel, 16227 Eberswalde. It's on Eberswalder Straße, roughly number 33-34-35. Not sure which, but once you get there you can't go wrong.

How to get there
Get the RE3 regional train in the direction of Stralsund to Eberswalde. It goes from both Berlin Hauptbahnhof and Gesundbrunnen, takes half an hour from the former, less from the latter. You can get the 861 bus from Eberswalde station to Finow, Wolfswinkel. Once you get there walk along the road until you see the gate with scarily accurate “End of Summer” sign. That's what you're looking for right there. You can also just cycle along in a westerly direction from the train station until you find it..

Getting in
As I mentioned earlier, you could just ask in front if you can go in for a gander. I don't they'll mind as long as you don't look like you're going to thrash the place. There are people living there (despite the monsters) and I'm sure they don't want hordes of people poking around their stuff. Otherwise you can just sneak in around the side – watch out for yer man snoozing in his van – and snoop around without getting caught. More exciting in my opinion.

When to go
Don't go when it's raining (as we did) or you'll get soaked, especially if you cycle (as I did). Best to go during the day. I don't think this is a party venue, unless you ask the folks out front and they're more obliging than I thought.

Difficulty rating
5/10. Quite easy, both getting to it and in.

Who to bring
Someone who's not afraid of monsters.

What to bring
Bring a torch, a camera and a couple of beers. Something to eat would be good too. I didn't, and was flippin' ravenous by the time I got back to the train station. I'm getting hungry again just thinking of it now.

Nothing major to worry about. You always need to take a certain amount of care in these places in case a roof lands on your head but this was one of the more structurally sound structures I've been in. Of course, there's always the little matter of the monsters.