Monday, January 30, 2012

Tanks for the memories: Another abandoned army camp

Not much can be gleamed from the old abandoned Panzer Kaserne near Bernau apart from the fact that Russians love covering their walls in newspaper and playing basketball in attics. It’s true.
At one time the Red Army’s 90th Guards Tank Division was based here, or so I’ve presumed anyway after conducting my fill of painstaking and contradictory research.
It may have been another division. They were definitely Russians, or Soviets at the very least, and they definitely had tanks, missiles, weapons, arms and legs, ready to be put into action quicker than you could say Sputnik.
Luckily for me they were gone by the time I hopped over the wall and in. I’d actually been looking for the Wehrmacht’s laundrette during the Second World War. I mean it was the Wehrmacht’s laundrette at the time of the Second World War, not that I came looking for it during the Second World War. I’m not crazy – I’ll wash my own clothes thanks very much.
I thought this was where Germans had their uniforms lovingly cleaned, pressed and ironed so soldiers could keep up appearances when off foreign but my explorations established that that was in another location nearby, where the Russians later made themselves at home too. I don’t think they’re there anymore either, but I’ll go back for another look.
For now I was happy exploring the deserted army barracks that I found myself in, spread out stoically, with imposing buildings, huge and overbearing, all ringed off by a high wall which left the camp sealed off from the outside world, not that it cares as it sits out its solitude in the forest.
Inside, there wasn’t much to learn about out Soviet friends. Nearly 20 years have passed since they left, and each winter has done its worst, during more damage than they did as it turned out, wiping walls clean without emotion, smashing windows, bringing down roofs, stripping the ubiquitous newspaper off the walls, flaking away at the previously inspirational murals to leave patches of paint in their wake, old makeup worn away like Russia herself.
Decay and rot are doing their best to erase her memory, though many of the buildings are sound, still good enough to play basketball in their attics, as the Russians must have done with their aforementioned arms and legs to alleviate the boredom of waiting for a war that never came.
Now they’re occupied by pigeons – I guess they like basketball too – cooing and whooshing at visitors as they attempt to shoo them away. They’ve waited long enough for peace and quiet, they don’t want to give it up now. Either that or they love scaring the shit out of intrepid explorers...
The only other heart in mouth moment was when I walked by yet another doorway to spot the legs of a man inside. A dead soldier. Forgotten perhaps. Maybe he couldn’t bring himself to leave. Russians being Russians, they didn’t bring him either. I’d already walked past the doorway before I realised what I’d seen, the thousand doorways before warranting only half a glance if I was going to see them all. Shit! A fucking corpse! Maybe he’s still alive, maybe he’s only sleeping. Dead or alive. I don’t know which is worse. I inch back, stretch my neck around the corner. A tarp and a pair of shoes. Thank Christ, there’s no body, ‘twas only a trick of the eyes.
They love playing tricks in places like these, when nerves are a jangling, every sound is a ghost and the spirits of the past are just waiting for the right time to say hello. You can't expect to wander around an abandoned Russian camp without expecting them to say hello. It’s all part of the fun of camping. No wonder they loved it so much.

Abandoned Soviet military camp, home at one time to tanks and, of course, Russians. None of them are there anymore. Well, just a couple of their ghosts...

Schwanebecker Chaussee, Bernau, Germany.

How to get there
Get the S2 S-Bahn in the direction of Bernau, get off at Bernau-Friedenstal‎, walk in the direction the train was going, under the underpass, follow the path around to the right until you come to another underpass, this time under the motorway, keep going, take the path up to the right, past a small lake with a private fishing club hut. This is where you cut into the forest. Either follow what you can of the path in a westerly direction and then cut in to the left, or walk to the back of the fishing club and strike a right there. Either way, once you’ve made your choice, stick to it and keep walking until you reach the high wall. Follow it until you find a spot where it’s easier to climb in.
Here’s a map in a well meant but ultimately futile attempt to make it easier to find.

Getting in
Not too hard, once you find a part of the wall which is easy to clamour over. There are parts where it has collapsed or where a convenient mound of muck has gathered to give you an easy jumping off point.

When to go
Daylight. You really don’t want to get lost in the woods when it’s dark. For all I know the place is crawling with boars and wolves.

Difficulty rating
6/10. Slightly awkward to find, and there’s a bit of a trek through the woods where doubts will enter your head before you finally find the wall. Maybe there’s an easier way in from Schwanebecker Chaussee but I didn’t go that way so I can’t tell you. You’d also be much more likely to be seen going in if you go that way.

Who to bring
Probably a good idea to bring someone, in case one of you breaks a leg, gets eaten by a wolf etc.

What to bring
Camera, beers, a sandwich or bag of crisps to keep you sustained. Waterproof boots are a must if you’re going to go traipsing through the forest.

Don’t go into the old theatre because it really does look like it will collapse if someone even sneezes. The roof’s gone already. It’s just a matter of time before the rest goes.
As usual, watch out for the Polizei, especially if any of you are brazen enough to approach from the road. There doesn’t seem to be any security on site for now, but I guess once a few visitors arrive someone will have the bright idea to start charging.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Der Frust

Every night I cycle home from work I need to look at the numbers of the houses to see which one is mine. Before I even reach that stage I need to look at the street signs to see which goddamn street I live on.
Sometimes, when lost in thoughts or exhaustion, I pass my door without realising, and then have to turn back cursing the unimaginative fuckers who built it. I still curse them as I carry my bicycle on my shoulder up the grotty grey stairway, looking at the names on each door to see which door is mine...
For a people who have the wherewithal to give every single thing dead or alive or neither one of three genders – der, die or das – and then remember which one it is was forevermore, you’d think they could grasp the concept of building two consecutive buildings that don’t look exactly the same.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Birthday boy!

Birthdaaaaaaaaaaaay! The Nipster is one! How quickly a year goes, though each night felt like a year in itself. But in the cold light of day, it doesn’t seem so long ago since that mad night and the days following when he and the world made their first impressions on each other.
I’m not sure he feels much like celebrating though. He’s sick. Bronchitis. Sounds like an old man and it hurts just to hear him coughing. ‘Twould break your heart. No point crying about it though – it only makes it worse, but it doesn’t stop him. To cap it all, another two gnashers are forcing their way out from below and he’s undergoing the cold turkey of weaning.
At least he managed to get through Year Zero relatively unscathed. I say “relatively” due to his ailments and the fact he’s covered in cuts and grazes from various misadventures over the last week. The poor fella has really been in the wars.
So he’s a year old today. We’ve aged ten in the same time. You know when people tell you to “enjoy the time” that there’s a reason they feel they have to tell you. It wasn’t easy. Jenny said it was “wonderful” but she’s the mother and I presume nature has her inundated with hormones to think that.
He is great – that goes without saying – but damnit he’s a lot of work. He’s not a goldfish. The sheer amount of attention he needs is just incredible. You can’t leave him alone with a knife for five minutes. I’m sure there are other, inferior, babies out there who are even more work, so bringing a child into the world is not something one should do willy nilly. Of course it all starts with a willy going nilly but the less said about that the better.
When I said he was great I wasn’t being facetious. Maybe I’m inundated with hormones too. I still don’t have much time for babies, but it’s almost as if he was never a baby, that he was born a personality with his own thoughts, ideas, sense of humour...
It’s mad, though he hasn’t done anything yet, we’re so proud of him. I guess if you think about it, he’s done a helluva lot, he’s had to, stuff I can’t imagine having to face – learning to open his eyes, to breathe normally, to eat, to grab, to think, to smile, to communicate, to sail a boat, to crawl. to stand, to walk, to flirt. The latter is his forté – he hasn’t yet learned any shame. Nor should he.
He already displays dastardly cunning. When I turned the bin around this morning to stop him rummaging in the rubbish, he simply reached behind and opened it from the other side. I was outraged and impressed in equal measure. Makes me feel better about rubbish being everywhere except in the bin.
I look at him from time to time and wonder what he’ll be. What will he do with his life? All his options are open, while even more will have opened by the time he starts choosing them. The world awaits and you can see already he’s dying to get started on it. Everything and anything is possible. Then I stop and wonder, what will I be?!
For now though we’ll focus on the present, the here and now. Here’s here now and we’re grateful for his presence. Though he mightn’t feel like celebrating, we will. We’ll celebrate his lifetime over a year. From arrival on Earth to taking his first steps on it. It was a hell of a year – without doubt the maddest of his eventful life so far. Happy birthday little man.

The pics below feature His Nipperness over his first year, while the rest are from the last month, including some from the trip “home” to Ireland, where he very much made himself at home, causing almost as much destruction and consternation as he does in Berlin. The folks were happy to see him. He can do no wrong.

This is the last monthly nipper update. He’s one so he needs his privacy, and I need my sanity. Snapshots/snotshots of madities may appear when they’re snapped/snotted, depending on the quantities of snot involved. Snot the end, ’tis only the beginning.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Seeing is believing

Six months later I can see again! Less is more, more or less. We’ll see how long it lasts...

Monday, January 09, 2012


Some of you have noticed that I need a haircut. Jaysus I need a haircut. It’s come to the stage where I have to break my self imposed hair-talk Verbot.
I’ve been needing a haircut for a long time now, the last cropping coming in July, but I’d been so discouraged by coming out of hairdressers as ridiculous-looking as when I went in, that I’d just given up. If I’m going to look ridiculous no matter what I do, then I may as well save the money and look ridiculous for free.
But now I can’t see where I’m going anymore. Nor can I even see how ridiculous I look. I can hear people sniggering as I walk by, and passersby have taken to throwing of coins at my feet. They obviously think I’m a freak!
Maybe I am. One unforeseen consequence of having my hair come over my eyes is the startling discovery that my nostrils are different shapes. In order to see anything at all when I look in the mirror I have to tilt my head back and look forward down my nose, thus revealing their shocking asymmetry. I’m like your man, Nostrildamus.
Why would anyone have nostrils of different shapes?! For different smells? One or the other would be fine – they’re both perfectly acceptable nostril shapes in their own right – but two different shaped nostrils is simply wrong. Everyone nose that.
So the time has come. Only one man can save me now, if even he can. I’m going back to the hairdresser on Friday, exactly six months to the day since I had a last cut. That’s Friday the 13th. What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Little family Christmas

There are many advantages to having Christmas on a day other than Christmas. The shops are still open so you can pop out if you forgot to get, say, coffee or dessert. They’re still open when you come home with said coffee and dessert only to discover there’s no milk.
Christmas paraphernalia is reduced if you’re so inclined, there’s no Mass to be dragged to* (maybe there is but there are no draggers) and there’s no need to worry about battling hordes of frantic shoppers to purchase a present the recipient will take one look at before determining it was bought in the blind panic of Christmas frenzy.
We decided to have our own little Christmas celebration today, because it is, of course, little Christmas, the day when three kings allegedly showed up to give the baby Jaysus presents he neither wanted nor needed, thus setting the tone for the giving of Christmas presents forever more.
Not that I give a rat’s ass for the three kings, fine fellows though I’m sure they were. A little Christmas sounds just right for a little family, and we are our own little family now, so we should do our own little family stuff, with rules we break as soon as they’re made. More importantly, a little Christmas sounds a helluva lot less stressful than a real one.
Well, it wasn’t without stress. Someone (not me) decided to have a shite of Chernobyl proportions in the middle of Christmas dinner, forcing a mass evacuation from the table. I reckon it was a cunning ploy to get straight to the presents after he’d been cleaned up. Not that he gave a shite about them, ironically enough, but at least wrapping paper provides fun. (Jenny got him a sleigh. Cue the third warmest winter in the last 100 years with not even a hint of snow.) My own presents are still in the post (I’ve heard that before) so I’ve been given presents of mind. But then again it’s not about the presents. Nor is it about the past. The future? Who knows? When it’s not Christmas, it can be anything you want it to be.

*I should clarify, on behalf of my dad who was highly insulted at the implication that he dragged anyone to any Mass, that we were not, in fact, dragged to any Mass when we were in Ireland, but went of our own free will. It may have been to see Santa, and he mightn’t have shown up, but that's another story altogether.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Write off

It’s my first day off of the year. “Day off,” I say, as if such a thing exists anymore. I mean my first day off work, my first day off writing. So I ain’t gonna spend it writing.
Instead here’s a nice picture of home, in Ireland, where there’s no work at all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

First steps

Small steps for man, giant leaps of faith for an intrepid nipper. Crawling is so last year, this fella’s walkin’ into 2012!
He’s been practicing all year so far, leaving the sanctuary of whatever he’s clinging onto, boldly striking out for freedom. Further and further, from one and a half or two tentative little steps over the New Year, to a veritable gallop of five – maybe even six! – in the days since.
You could see he was thinking out it over Christmas, weighing up the pros and cons, but those dallying days are over. Approaching his penultimate days as a zero year old, nothing can stop him now.