Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Karneval der Kulturen

Karneval der Kulturen is fantastic! The sights, smells, sounds; the people, the music, the excitement. In one word - PAAAAARRRRRTTYYYYYYYYYY!!!!
We got down there early, me and the little fella, to where the participants were getting ready for the Umzug. Normally Umzugs should be avoided like the plague – it’s where Germans rope their friends into carrying all their heavy furniture and boxes of worthless shit from one house to another – but the Umzug at KdK is the main attraction of the festival.
People from all corners of the globe done up in crazy costumes, in all the colours of the rainbow and others never seen before, dancing, bopping and lunging their way from Neukölln to Schöneberg via Kreuzberg, to the accompaniment of their respective music (samba drums, techno or even diddley-eye from the Irish float) à la Carnaval de Brasil (only with fewer breasts on show, at least until darkness falls and/or the drinks kick in) with each float joyously cheered by delirious revellers fuelled by Mojitos, Caipis and Sternis.
As I said, we got there early, me and the little lad. His eyes nearly popped out of his head with saw the hula-hoopers warming up with their hula-hoops, he laughed with joy as we bounced up and down to the samba beats, and he spent the rest of the time with mouth agape at sights too strange to behold or running between legs with me frantically in pursuit, terrified of losing him among 750,000 people.
Jenny joined us later and I took advantage straight away by lashing a Sterni into me to recuperate from watch duty. It felt good. I got another.
The lad got an alcohol-free caipirinha but didn’t seem to pushed on it, though it was worth it to see passing reactions as he guzzled away on the straw.
When I say KdK is fantastic, I strictly mean the Umzug part and the procession along Gneisenaustraße. The other part at Blücherplatz is alright with its live music and so on, but the crowds are just too much and the prices a shameless rip-off. The stalls were more expensive than shops and then it’s €7 for a mojito, PLUS €2 deposit for the glass which you’re as likely to bring back as the ice, making it NINE FUCKING EURO FOR A MOJITO! Madness. I don’t know who’s crazier, the people charging it or the people paying it, but unfortunately it’s indicative of the rampant commercialism taking hold in this city. Once there’s a sniff of popularity the prices rocket.
I didn’t even check how much they were asking for beer – I knew I’d fly into a rage – but gave my custom to fella selling Sternburg out of a bucket for €1. Still a rip-off, but it was cold and he was selling it beside another fella selling it for €1.50 a bottle. As always with Sterni though, it may be cheap when you’re drinking it, but you pay the price the next day.
We sought refuge in the park, my favourite part, where likeminded souls all sat around on the grass sucking on bottles of Sterni and wafts of marijuana caressed the trees. The lad fell asleep – finally! – exhausted from the earlier excitement, and we could relax.
He didn’t sleep for long though and Jenny had to bring him home.
Esteban and his hippie friends had left by that stage, but after a couple Sternis more I was joined by Francesca and Mauricio and some guy from Albacete whose name I forgot upon hearing it. Yer man from Albacete said he knew where there was a party going on and before too long but not before more Sternis, we were there.
So were the Polizei, apparently because some clowns had climbed out onto the roof. There were millions of police, all filing up the ladder onto the roof and asking us – we’d just arrived by lift – to leave the hallway.
“But we just got here!” I protested.
They were even less amused when I asked where the toilet was.
“Francesca’s burstin’.”
We went into the party when it became apparent the Polizei weren’t in the mood for laughs and found the place jammed with people. Food was scattered around on a table, but I needed beer at that stage, the earlier Sternis having deserted me. There were only three left in the fridge so I grabbed two and Albacete-guy got the last one.
Another guy tried talking to us in the queue for the jacks, said Thorsten brought him along and wanted to know who we knew.
“Oh yeah, Thorsten asked us along too.”
“Thorsten, eh? Everyone knows Thorsten!”
“Yeah he’s great,” I replied and then quickly changed the subject while hoping Thorsten wouldn’t walk by.
There was no alcohol left so there was no point in staying. When we got down in the lift two girls were arriving, with drinks.
“You’re going up to the party and you have alcohol?!”
“Yeah, come on!”
I didn’t, but we went back out to where the real party was happening – on the street. There was no shortage of drinks there. I got another beer.
As dusk was falling, the loons made themselves apparent. One fella who clearly loved himself or was off his head on drugs – probably both – stood on a electricity box with his top off dancing and flexing his abs as techno blasted from a irreputable den. The crowd waved their arms in approval.
“I never liked techno until I moved to Berlin,” I confessed.
“Me neither!”
I was getting hungry. I’d eaten nothin’ but Sterni all day. I made my way to a tent with great clouds of smoke coming from the top, a swarm of chefs frantically trying to get the huge barbeque with half a farm’s worth of meat over a mountain of coals under control.
“Gimme one of them steak things.”
“That’ll be €9.”
“What?! Then gimme a bratwurst.”
At that stage it was all wurst. It was washed down by another beer, possibly another three or four, I’ve vague recollections of a mighty fine burrito and a haphazard journey home.
’Twas enough Berlin culture for one day.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rant of reason

Individuals do not matter a damn in Germany. Not a damn. Any rights you think you have are not worth their weight in thought.
It’s the only explanation for what I have seen and experienced over four years in this country. People are shat upon, and they don’t seem to mind one bit.
I guess the people doing the shitting, and their cronies who control the whole shithouse, see the little people, the commoners, as cogs in their all-consuming system, there to be cranked, squeezed, occasionally crushed – whoops! – and generally fucked around because they can.
Lone voices aren’t heard in this country. When they come together, they’ll be ignored. People have little or no say in matters that directly concern them.
There are many examples. Residents’ concerns over the impact of the new airport on the environment and their quality of life – ignored. Thank you for complaining, next.
Residents’ concerns on the impact of all the extra late night and early morning flights flying out of Tegel because said airport* could not be finished on time – ignored. I’m not sure they even got to complain. The decision was already taken by the time they found out about it.
Mobile phone masts jostle for position on countless apartment blocks and the residents are either unaware of the jostling or the consequences.
I could go on about landlords’ stupefying contracts, or companies’ stupefying conditions for termination of a contract – six months notice and then only after two years, regardless of the quality of their service or even if they were providing one at all. As I said, stupefying.
But what’s gotten my goat this week is builders. And by Jesus is Berlin full of them right now – builders, not goats. All lashing up apartments in a frenzy I haven’t seen since the giddy days before Ireland’s housing bubble burst. Yes Germany, enjoy it while you can.
Building sites seem to enjoy diplomatic immunity. They can close roads, divert traffic, block off footpaths, force people to walk on the other side of the road.
There’s a whole block down the road from us being renovated and the road around the whole block has been declared off limits. That’s four roads. Residents are told to park elsewhere while the work goes on. Trucks take up the street, cement lorries and so on, and barricades are placed at either end to stop traffic passing through. It’s been going on for weeks now, and I suspect it’ll continue. The fuckers look like they’re in there for the long haul.
Yesterday, on our side of the street, someone placed a sign up saying there was to be no parking there from May 25 at 7am until – well, they didn’t give a date. But there were no cars parked there today so people evidently heeded the all-powerful sign. I suppose their cars would be towed away if they defied the sign.
Well, why don’t they defy it?! Why don’t they say, “No! Bollocks to your sign! I will not move my goddamn car so you can build apartments and make millions.”
No one ever takes a stand. They’re so paralysed by authority, by rules, by laws, so goddamn subservient it just encourages the sharks – whether they’re in business or in government – to take advantage of them.
Individuals have more rights in Ireland. Sure, progress may be slower, if not regressive, but at least people matter. People. Leute. Nothing matters more.

*It’s one thing a flight being delayed, but a flippin’ airport – by nine months! Fuckin’ eejits. Maybe if they weren’t so distracted building apartments...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hot snot

Damn it’s hot. This country is ridiculous. It freezes the balls off you in winter, burns the arse off you in summer. If I live here much longer there won’t be anything left.
I’m not sure if it’s even summer yet. I seem to remember previous years with similar temperatures in May getting the locals all excited, stripped off and running to their nearest FKK beach, ecstatic at the thoughts of three months naked, only for the real summer to put a dampener on their goosebumps and all the other bumps too.
The pollen’s struck again, just like it does every year. Its close ally, the wind, has whipped up a bit too to maximise the damage. This season always brings out the snot in me. Snot’s running like the Olympics, water’s gushing from eyes blinking in disbelief, swelling and reddening to the point of absurdity and my fucking nose-spray isn’t doing a damn thing.
It’s the one I used last year and the year before with some success, so I was confident it would bring relief against the dastardly pollen this year too but the dastardly pollen is evidently more dastardly than I’d been led to believe – doubly, triply or even quadruply dastardly – at which levels of dastardliness it’s best to just give up and go home.
Some fuckbag builders across the way have considerately started renovating the apartments on the other side of the road, so the incessant racket forces us to keep the balcony doors closed. Very nice of them. I’d love to return the favour sometime.
Despite their best efforts to help though, the pollen must be getting in through the letter box, along with the bills. If the pollen doesn’t make your eyes water, the bills will. It just never ends.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Berlin, Berlin

A city like no other. But if you don’t accept her gifts, a city just the same.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lousy cows

It’s not possible to get two litre cartons of milk in Germany. I’ve only ever seen one litre at a time here. Lousy German cows. They’re milking us for all we’re worth.

These fine beasts pictured are, of course, Irish cows. German cows are too mean to allow themselves be photographed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Heja BVB, Real y Rayo

I was privileged to be at the German Cup final last night, when Borussia Dortmund made fools of Bayern Munich – something Real Madrid couldn’t do.
The atmosphere was fantastic. Borussia fans put up a huge banner, “Win the game for us today and be our heroes.”
The Bayern fans answered back with, “We’re taking the Pott... You can keep the Ruhr.” Pott is another name for the trophy, and also for the Ruhr area, a blacked industrial metropolis from whence (or just whence?) Dortmund come.
It ended 5-2 to Dortmund. At one stage the Dortmund fans were singing and all jumping up and down in unison. The whole west side of the Olympiastadion was bouncing. Incredible. I actually had Gänsehaut .
Of course, as a reporter, I’m strictly neutral in such matters, but few would find Dortmund’s football against their taste. I can honestly say they have made my job a pleasure with their play over the last two years. Not-give-a-shit football, swashbuckling, nothing to lose, and made all the better by their humility and appreciation of boundaries they’re pushing back.
So they defended their title, and yesterday claimed their first ever double. Their first! Sure Bayern have loads of them!
Which brings us nicely to another successful team. Real Madrid made it an unprecedented 100 points tonight. Cue more tacky celebrations. But hey, 32 ligas!
But Rayo! Rayo Vallecano, my second team since they had the horrible shirts with the bumble bee on the front when they were sponsored by a honey company or something, clinched Primera Liga survival in injury time on the last day of the season to send their fans into frenzy. Tears, delirium, underpants. One player had had his shirt ripped off and then his shorts as the fans went wild, leaving the poor fucker in his jocks. He didn't care, went crazy, would have gone crazy in the nip if someone had ripped his jocks off too. Last second survival! Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.
Sid Lowe summed up the madness brilliantly in The Guardian. And if you want to see how the Rayo players celebrated, click here. Well worth a watch! 
’Twas a weekend for late goals, in England, in France – allez Montpellier!
Wonderful scenes, to rival the sheer joy on show in the Olympiastadion last night.
This is what sport’s all about.

(Real pic from Real via Twitter)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

An utterly preventable catastrophe

I watched as stocks dwindled with increasing alarm. I knew what was going on. On several occasions I could have taken preemptive action to ward off catastrophe. But still I desisted, just watched disaster unfolding like a car crash in slow motion. I have no idea why I didn’t act. Rising panic accompanied decreasing supplies. Still I did nothing, rendered incapable of prohibitive action until finally the inevitable came to pass. “FUCK, THERE’S NO TEA!!!”
A German would never be so reckless. But I’m Irish, and now I’m tealess.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Rioteous indignation

Riots aren’t what they used to be. There was a time Kreuzberg was famous for its riots on May 1st, but this year’s were even more of a damp squib than last year’s. If it keeps going like this we won’t be able to call them riots anymore. Lost in a wave of rioteous indignation administered by 7,000 heavy-handed Polizei.
They were heavy-handed, and bad-tempered to boot, booting of course being one of their favourite pastimes.
It seemed the only people not to have a Gute Laune were the riot police, everyone else basking in the sunshine, soaking up the sounds, alcohol, atmosphere, the Stimmung of Kreuzberg in party mode.
It was great! The smells, the sounds, the excess. Loads of strange looking people, each weirder than the one before, all colours, shapes, sizes, styles. Vive la différence! Most were fucked looking, bleary eyed from drink or drugs, probably both. Techno blasted from every corner, bands from every stage. Görlitzer Park was jammed with serene souls, fighting the last thing on their minds
Meanwhile the police sealed off Kottbusser Tor completely, one of them doing a remarkable job of remaining friendly as he explained to people they’d have to walk the long way around.
Others weren’t so considerate. One knocked over a bicycle with his fat arse. His buddies picked it up. Another fucker shoved me out of the way without asking to allow a police van up on the pavement. It wasn’t to be the first time.
I found myself in the middle of an Antifa rally beside Görli. They were all dressed in black. I had to ask which ones they were.
“We’re not the Nazis,” two girls reliably informed me. “We’re against the Nazis.”
OK then. There were fellas going around handing out propaganda nobody seemed to want. Then there was wild cheering when some guys set off flares and waving flags from atop a building over Skalitzer Straße. Woohoo! JAAAA!!!
Then we were off. At a steady pace. I almost had to run to keep up. We were flying! The hoodies were up, some had balaclavas, most had their faces covered. Generally when people pull their hoodies up or hide their faces, they’re up to no good.
I took pictures. One guy warned me to look after my camera. Another poor demented fool started shouting at me.
“Scheiß Presse! Scheiß Presse!”
I took a picture of him and he ran off before I could take any more.
Then a commotion broke out. Some of them fucked rocks at the Sparkasse, cracking the windows. Bang! Bang! Bang! It’s OK, the banks have plenty of money – yours and everyone else’s.
I held back out the crossfire. Shouting, indiscernible noises, clouds of smoke, scattered debris. The Polizei moved in, grabbed a few and we were off down the road again. Same steady pace as before.
I ran along between the two sides. The Antifa chanting, the Polizei marching, each egging the other side on.
I met the AP photographers wearing helmets.
“What are doing here?! Who are you working for? Have you not got a helmet?!”
So many questions. So little time.
We got to a petrol station. More smashing, explosions, clouds of smoke – turned out it was tear gas – shouting, screaming, yelling. Commotion, hard to tell what was going on.
More prisoners were hauled off. Their comrades asked them their names as they were being manhandled away. I guess they’d become martyrs to the cause.
I heard the next day that a U-Bahnhof was “attacked” – I presume it was self-defence.
The police were clearly edgy, despite being armoured in riot gear that looked like it could withstand several pissed-off tanks. I was pushed off the pavement more than once.
“Hey! Ich darf auch hier laufen!” I protested – though not too forcibly.
Still we went on, same as before, while the police filmed the shenanigans with cameras mounted on sticks, and other, non-stick models. They seemed to be more concerned about filming the violence than stopping it.
It was starting to get dark at this stage, but still we proceeded as before. We passed the Axel Springer building which was heavily protected of course, a water canon and something that resembled a tank outside.
We got to a square and it was then I knew this was where the final showdown was to take place. Surrounded by flashing lights, a helicopter hovering high overhead, the police carried out manoeuvres and more confrontations ensued, with more unknown soldiers carted away with their comrades asking their names. I’m not sure any of them even met before. More shouting, explosions, tear gas. I sat on wall and thought to myself, “Maybe I should go now – while I still can.”
There was a party on after all. It took some time to get back due to all the roadblocks, but it was still in full swing when I got there. I got myself a beer, some crazy ethnic food, and enjoyed the relative serenity.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Witchless Walpurgis

‘Twas a witchless Walpurgis. Not one did I see. Witchiculous. I went down to Mauerpark expecting to find loads of them dancing around a great big bonfire with their brooms safely hidden from the flames, but instead I found loads of Polizei and a piddly little fire that wouldn’t warm toast.
I thought Walpurgisnacht would atone for the crap Hallowe’ens they have in Germany, but it turns out that’s crap too.
This is what it’s been reduced to because of the riots which used to kick off here. We had to pour our beers into plastic glasses so we wouldn’t smash the bottles into anyone’s faces. Police were everywhere, hundreds of them, with their dogs, barking and howling, while the dogs weren’t what you’d call quiet either. Probably what scared the witches away.
So there were no riots at Mauerpark last night, but today’s when it really kicks off. Apparently three Nazi marches are taking place. And I don’t mean three Nazis, but three separate marches each containing loads of the fuckers, who seem to be multiplying the longer I live in Berlin. There’ll be Antifa demonstrating against them and plenty of other groups marching too, lefties, righties, centralies, all fighting for their right to fight.
Of course the police love all this. Seven THOUSAND of them are being deployed in Berlin today. I used to feel sorry for them on May Day but today’s the day they get to swing those batons, crack skulls, fire tear gas, blast the water cannon. Why else would anyone join the police? They probably salivate at thoughts of pulling on the full riot regalia.
To stave off rioting, car burnings and window-smashings, Kreuzberg hosts a massive party too. Straßenfest! Music, alcohol, dancing and revelling, all overshadowed by the threat of violence. Like Saturday night in Ireland. Only here the sun is shining.
This is May Day, this is Berlin. I’m on my way.