Monday, August 27, 2012

Yet Germans always lock their bikes to poles

Three banditos tried stealing my bike the other night. Again. I tried unlocking it in the morning to find I didn’t need to unlock it at all. It simply came away in my hand.
This, if you remember, was the super-duper lock I invested in to keep the fuckers from stealing my bike after the last attempted robbery, apparently the best and most secure lock on the market, the only one without YouTube tutorials on how to pick it, the one that “only an atomic bomb will open,” the one that cost more than the bike is worth, bought at a time my wages were precisely €0 a month.
It wasn’t that the lock did its job and stopped them from stealing the bike, it’s that they were disturbed mid-crime by our vigilant neighbour, whose ears pricked when she heard unusual noises from her balcony around 10 p.m.
Either she warned then off and then called the police when they wouldn’t desist, or she called the police straight away, (she was talking too fast when explaining what happened), but the police duly arrived either way – and caught them!
For me, this is the most surprising aspect of the story – police stopping the bad guys and doing real work for taxpayers’ money. So credit where credit’s due. Polizei 1, Gardaí 0. The Irish police would have to have tea and biscuits before responding to a call only when they’re sure the culprits had escaped.*
Our neighbour was really indignant. She was still excited about the whole business the next night. She had to do one of those identification parades, where they line up a load of dodgy-looking fuckers and she has to pick the ones “what done it”.
“They were Poles,” she told us, as if it were an explanation.
Poles. She lifted her eyebrows. What else could it be? They couldn’t be German of course. Everyone knows the Poles rob all the bikes, just like the Nigerians run all the internet scams, the Romanians are pickpockets, the South Americans all drug traffickers...
Yet Germans always lock their bikes to poles.
But seriously, I wish she hadn’t mentioned it. I’d no interest whatsoever in their nationality and no good comes from reinforcing stereotypes, or stereotypes at all.
Here’s one: poor people steal because they have to and rich people steal because they can. The crooks in Ireland, for example, are very rich because their friends were in government for so long. Not just in Ireland. Everywhere you look, crooks determine government policy to stay rich while forcing the poor to steal bikes.
But I digress. This was about another robbery attempt and the fuckers who attempted it. I doubt they were so poor they absolutely had to steal my bike, so I will be charging them for the damage caused to my expensive lock. A lock I now feel little point in replacing. I’ll have to track them down through the police, via our neighbour, if I can, and produce them with the bill – if only to see what happens.
Ironically, I’d be better off if they’d stolen the damn thing (though still down the price of the lock) as the bike’s covered by insurance. Of course, insurance companies are up there with banks as the biggest crooks of all. No doubt they’d find a way to weasel out of it. Either way, you just can’t win.

*This is no exaggeration. Gavin, when he was manager of Mother Hubbard’s, called the gardaí after they’d had a robbery. The guards showed up – hours later – demanding to know what happened, where the culprits were, everything, quick!
“Well, they’re long gone now,” Gav replied with resignation. “That’s nothing much you can do now. Sure, will ye have a cup of tea?”
“Ah no, you’re grand. We just had a pot up in the station.”

The second picture down (first on the right) is quite interesting. It’s an old East German propaganda poster which is saying that anyone who leaves the country for the dastardly West is “like a thief in the night.” I guess they decided to build the Wall shortly after that.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Daredevil types to grocery types: Back to earth for abandoned airfield

Where once bare-knuckle journeys of daredevil danger and excitement began, groceries are now packed and sorted before beginning their own slightly safer and less exciting journeys.
Flugplatz Oranienburg used to be home to fearless test pilots, engineers, mechanics, military advisors, warmongers, soldiers, airplanes, bombs and all sorts of other frightening and dastardly equipment.
Now it’s home to REWE, or rather, the supermarket chain’s logistic centre, which supplies 355 supermarkets in the region with 10,000 different grocery types.
Such is progress.
Not much remains of the former airfield which was built between 1936 and 1939 and used almost until war end by Heinkel-Werke Oranienburg to develop and build warplanes for the Luftwaffe.
Heinkel also had facilities in nearby Germendorf and Reinickendorf in Berlin, helping give rise, literally, to beasts like the Heinkel He 111, Heinkel He 177 and Junkers Ju 88 from a patch of land now occupied by tins of soup and shrink-wrapped lettuce.
Another aircraft allegedly tested here was the famed Horten Ho IX/Horten Ho 229 Flying Wing, the world’s first ever “stealth” bomber. Only a few prototypes were built and the end of the war cut short its development – for Germany. The Americans nabbed the plans and a model in Operation Paperclip, which was put into operation to secure German weapons research before the Russians did. And of course the Americans found plenty of use for stealth bombers later on…
Allied bombing put paid to the Heinkel works In April 1945, and the Russians moved in after the war, commandeering the site, as they did with so many others, and using it as a military airfield until they left.
Those Russians are the leeches of the military world. It seems anywhere they found a Nazi airfield or military camp, they moved in and used it for themselves.
“It was nice here when the Russians left in ’94,” said an oul’ wan out for a walk when I was poking around. She had a dog in a basket that she was pushing along on her bike. That has nothing to do with anything but I thought it worth mentioning all the same.
“There were loads of buildings around the place,” she continued. “And lots of animals too, plenty of boar and deer, foxes and hares.”
“And now you have REWE,” said I, pointing to the rectangular monstrosity with a floor area the size of 28 football pitches.
“Ja, huh! Now you have REWE.”
A motorway runs through most of the original runway, though some remains. The tower building is gone though – I presume it was sacrificed for REWE – and all that’s left now are a few scattered buildings, one with Russian stuff written over the door, and those triangular wall-things that you see at airports sometimes. I’ve no idea what they are or what they’re for. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.
One of the buildings still standing, however, is the giant hangar, presumably where planes were built before being sent to do their destructive business elsewhere. It’s in good enough condition – there are still pulleys and contraptions hanging from the beams overhead and the doors are HUGE, making you wonder just how tall Germans must have been in those days.
So while cars and supermarkets may have taken their toll elsewhere on the site, it’s good to know there’s still a hangar a hangin’ after all these years, as hangars like to do.

Abandoned airfield of Oranienburg, once home to daredevils and their machines. Now home to turnips and their brethren.

Flugpionierstraße, 16515 Oranienburg, Germany.

How to get there
Get the S1 S-Bahn in the direction of Oranienburg, but get off at the station before, Lehnitz, and cycle northwest to Saarlandstraße, follow that street all the way along until you hit Birkenallee, turn right, then over the bridge, right at the roundabout, and you’ll see the REWE monstrosity on your left. What’s left of the good stuff is further on, to the right. Here’s a map showing the route
The cycle’s about 5km altogether. On the way back I suggest cycling along the canal and getting the train back from Oranienburg. Just, whatever you do, do not buy a beer from that whore in the store on the left as you walk into Oranienburg S-Bahnhof. She wanted €1 for a Sterni and then, when I only had a €1 and nothing more, another 8 cent for the Pfand, making it (for those of you who can’t count) €1.08 for a Sterni. For a STERNI! I didn’t have the extra eight cent and the scabby cow wouldn’t let me away with it so I suggest you take your custom elsewhere.

Getting in
Okay, I’ve calmed down now. It’s quite easy to get it to the hangar building. Don’t be put off by the huge metal doors. Stroll around the side and there are more ways in than a fiddler’s elbow

When to go
Day or night. Day is best if you want to look around, but I imagine you could have the party to end all parties in the hanger at night. Of course, it would have to be a techno party, with stobe lights from the ceiling, and the added excitement of knowing you could get killed at any moment.

Difficulty rating
1/10. The 5km cycle here is the biggest obstacle really. Otherwise there’s nothing to it.

Who to bring
An airport buff who can explain what the weird triangley things are to the side of what remains of the runway. It’s not particularly romantic but there’s nothing stopping you bringing your girlfriend/boyfriend. And if you’re having a party it might be a good idea to bring a few friends.

What to bring
Camera, beers (so you don’t have to buy them off that whore in S-Bahnhof Oranienburg), a torch for dark holes, a bag of pistachios for non-beer related nourishment.

I didn’t notice any. Either that means there are none or I’m becoming seriously flathúlach the longer I carry on at this, well, carry on. Still, watch out for nosey neighbours, Polizei, there’s a farmer next door, and any other people who may turn out not to be your friend. Having said that, I only met an oul’ wan with a dog in a basket and she was friendly enough.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Snotshot of madity 6: First day at kita

A milestone in the little fella’s life today! Well, depending on your point of view. I guess you could say he took his first step on the long precarious road to independence, his first steps in the world of dealing with other people, their whims and idiosyncrasies. But not their shit – there are adults there to deal with that. Today was his first day of kita!
By people, I mean little people, and they are indeed littler than him. He’s the giant of the group. I guess all those months eating like an elephant are having an effect. No, he doesn’t have a trunk. I mean he uses his ivory tusks to scoop food from the floor before tilting his head back so it can roll into his mouth. None of this knife and fork business. We’re not savages.
But back to the kita. For those who don’t know what a kita is, it’s called kindergarten outside of Germany and playschool or crèche in Ireland. I’m not sure if playschool and crèche are the same thing or if there are different levels of babysitting involved.
He’s going to a kita and that’s all that matters. It’s a highfaluting kita with grand notions of itself but as far I’m concerned it’s a place he’ll go for a few hours every day when he won’t be wrecking the place at home. He’ll be wrecking the kita.
I know some of you imagine a German crèche to consist of a load of cages where locked-up kids bang their metal cups on the bars for more water, but this one isn’t like that. It’s new, full of friendly, expensive looking stuff with no sharp corners, loads of toys all safety-certified to the point of ridiculous, or even further, to the point demanded by bureaucracy and the wheelbarrowloads of forms needed by ignorant stampers to stamp so the damn thing can open at all. Not a loose tile anywhere did I see.
“Just don’t torture him or let him come to any harm,” I told Franzi, one of the kita founders, when she was asking me what I “wanted” from it. She seemed surprised, as if none of the other parents had made that request, but she agreed to grant it which was good enough for me.
As I said, I think they have great ideas of filling the kids’ heads with learning and knowledge and stuff like that. Stuff they can’t eat. I bet they won’t teach them how to skin a kangaroo and roast it on a fire made of nothing but sand. These are the things to know if you find yourself lost in the Australian outback someday. Der, die and das won’t help you then.
Anyway, we were only there for an hour today. I have to go with him for the first few weeks and stay there with him so he gradually gets used to it and can come to me when the others get too much for him.
Well, I evidently felt like going to him more often than he needed to come to me. Though the other kids weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be – Wencke and another kita warden kept them under tight control – apart from one kid who kept bursting into tears every so often. Maybe he’d just realised this is the start of it all, as good as it gets, all downhill from here. I know how he feels. I felt like bawling meself.
Nip made himself at home straight away, started opening presses, rooting shit out - no, not their shit - and then dragging around a trolley holding all the shit he’d just stolen. He even tried stuffing a few balls into his top, presumably to steal them and bring them home. I was so proud. Then he tried stealing a bike on the way out…
An hour today, an hour tomorrow, an hour Friday, then for longer periods from Monday. Hopefully this “Eingewöhnung” won’t take too long and before you know it he’ll be his own man and just waiting for me to leave so he can have some fun. Sniff.

The previous Snotshot of madity to mark the young man’s 1½ years on the planet can be seen here, complete with photos only updated recently which you mightn’t have seen before. This is directed at those related to the fella (through no fault of his own) in particular.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Naked no longer

Good news for friends, family, photo-freaks and those of you who can’t read! Not that those of you who can’t read will know this is good news because, well, you can’t read. Hopefully you’ll have the wherewithal to click on the links I plan to insert later on.
Previous posts without pictures are now adorned with pictures! The backlog of naked posts built up while we were away has been dealt with and all are now illustrated beautifully and naked no longer.
Family and fans of the little fella will particularly appreciate the photos I added to the fifth “Snotshot of madity” to celebrate him turning 1½. (Click on the underlined words to open it up.)
I’ve also adorned the posts about easyJet, Lozoya and Guernica with photos, while those about Bilbao and Madrid already had pictures, but sure you may as well look at them again.
Please do. I was up until 3 a.m. the other morning updating the damn things in just the latest late night/early morning in front of a computer uploading and fucking around, knowing there are better things to do in life than this. There has to be a less time-consuming way of adding pictures...
Anyway, I hope you like them, that they tickle all your fancies, that they don’t shatter the images in your head but rather embellish the whole friggin’ experience of reading this here blog. Who’m I kiddin’? There’s no one reading this here blog. It’s all about the pictures.

To balance the recent lack of naked posts elsewhere, I thought I’d adorn this post with a bit of nudity. So here’s a naked meerkat, donkey and some naked monkeys…

Monday, August 13, 2012

The problem with Berlin...

I think the problem with Berlin is that there are too many people like me in it, happily blogging away about how great it is and telling all and sundry they should come live here too, post-haste.
It seems they are all coming here, post-haste, and being people who read blogs and the like, they write them too, and happily blog away about how great Berlin is, telling all and sundry they should come live here too, post-haste.
If anything they’re moving here post-hastier than ever before, aware from all their reading that Berlin’s not without its problems despite being great, and that they need to move here with the post-hastiest haste to enjoy it while they still can.
The urgency of enjoyment drives the latest arrivals to write about it too, telling anyone left in the rest of the world how great Berlin is (though not without its problems) and urging all and sundry to come live here too – you got it – post haste.
More and more people are coming and those who are late to the party are finding a city with cutthroat competition for apartments and rocketing rents, shameless capitalism, unbridled gentrification, few opportunities, worker exploitation and – in short – all the ills of modern society where those at the top are milking the dreams and hopes of the herd below.
So maybe it’s time to stop blogging about how great it is. It’s still great of course, but Berlin’s at a slippery sloped crossroads. Fifty one years after they began building the Wall it might be time to build another.
Of course the Berlin Wall was another shining example of those at the top controlling the herd below, and the last thing anyone wants (bar a few DDR die-hards and those chasing tourist dollars) is its reconstruction. I wrote about it this time last year.
But even metaphorical walls are not without their dangers. They can’t be knocked down for a start and they’re hard to paint.
So disregard all I just wrote, disregard it! Come to Berlin, come all and sundry! Come live here too, post-haste rather than post-great.

That picture on the left is a photograph I took of Mr. Peter Leibing’s famous photograph of East German border guard Conrad Schumann legging it over the Berlin Wall (as in defecting) while it was still just a hastily constructed barbed wire fence on August 15th, 1961. Both of them are dead now.
And someone should tell that Berlin Loves You crowd there should be no apostrophe after the heart. Their whole empire is based on a grammatical mistake.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Blackberry bandits

Blackberries are outrageously overpriced in Germany. €2.49 I paid for a miserly 125g punnet earlier today. Two fuckin' fifty! For about five blackberries. They were gone before I realised I’d opened the punnet.
We used to eat them off the side of the road for nothin' in Wexford. Spend hours browsing brambles and gorging on the delicious fruit their thorns couldn't protect. Used to eat them bugs, animal piss and all. A perfunctory glance before each berry was thrown into the mouth, but you'd have it chewed before you processed what you'd looked at. Delicious all the same. And insects are probably nutritious.
Our only enemies at the time were the crows and magpies, who'd have them all gobbled up and gone if you let them. But at least they were honest enemies. You knew what you were dealing with.
The blackberry bandits here drive BMWs and Mercs financed from the extortion of blackberry-lovers like me. In their greed-fuelled ignorance, they tear up and down the country’s Autobahns spewing fumes on the very fruit from which they build their immoral empires.
Blackberries are the finest fruit known to humanity. I guess from now on I’ll be getting them on the blackberry market again.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


Hordes of kids are screaming outside the back window.* Their long-awaited playground opened today and the place is swarming with them. It’s just 20 or 30 metres away. If I were a llama on steroids** I could spit on them. If only.
They’re scurrying about like vermin. Really, the place is jammed with them, as if they’ve been bribed to swarm the place. At least vermin are quiet. This infestation is anything but.
Brendan O’Carroll used to say, “Children are like farts. You can’t stand any except your own.” This is a toxic cloud of farts in a spacesuit.
As if having a homegrown little monster in the apartment isn’t enough, every day there’ll be squillions of imported little monsters just outside shouting, screaming, yelling, crying, stamping their feet...
So now we’ve the techno freak upstairs, Berlin’s loudest fuckbag builders out the front, and the shrill screams from hordes of little monsters out the back. AAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHH!!!
Two years later, it’s time to move again.

*They were screaming earlier when I began writing this post. The homegrown monster prevented me from finishing it then. Now it’s eerily quiet. He’s asleep and all the other monsters are too I suppose, gathering their strength for another onslaught tomorrow.

** I hear llamas are using LGH (llama growth hormone) these days. Because it’s a naturally occurring substance in llamas’ bodies, it makes it much harder for them to be caught. Not that there’s any escape...

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Spaß Polizei keep Mauerpark in Ordnung

Mauerpark is fucking brilliant as everyone knows, but apparently you can have too much fun here. The Spaß Polizei were on hand to control the dangerously high levels of happiness today.
Evidently the alarm was raised when they heard Joe Hatchiban was entertaining the masses with his all-conquering karaoke, fleas were flagrantly selling their wares in the market, and people from all countries, some stranger than this one, were kicking back, relaxing and basking in the joys of Berlin in summer (when the sun shines).
I spotted them watching beadily from the perimeter. The fun police, that is, not the people. The people were everywhere.
It wasn’t long before they came over, at first I thought because the nip was running around and cavorting like a lunatic, but no – to ask if we owned the unfortunate one-eyed dog who was minding his own business beside us.
We didn’t, but the dog’s owner made himself known and the skinnier cop – the one who could probably still fit behind his desk – lectured him about having the poor animal on a lead.
Now this dog was the probably the most timid, quiet being in the whole damn park at this stage, literally just sitting there and turning his head from time to time to take in some of the madness around him. Well, he carried on with his observations after he’d been duly shackled by a lead.
Perhaps the police thought he’d lost his eye in a knife fight and they didn’t want to take any chances.
They wandered on having earned their taxpayers’ money for bringing this savage beast of a dog under control and we forgot about them until they turned up again later, this time as we were listening to Silvio Talamo, a “cosmic vocalist” from Italy who was playing some mad stuff, hilarious, absolutely brilliant.
We only heard one song, cheered appropriately, before the fucking Spaß Polizei showed up and told him to play no more. Maybe he needed a permit, a form stamped by the Bürgeramt and 20 other stampers and fee collectors of officialdom.
“I’ve to stop. I love you!” Silvio told his new-found fans and that was that. Bah. If there’s one thing Mauerpark doesn’t need on a Sunday, it’s the Spaß Polizei.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Bilbao and Bizkaia

Bilbao’s quite a nice city. I’d say it’s lively too, judging from the amount of bars it packs into a small area and the amount of people it packs into small bars. They’re full daytime so the locals must be shitfaced later on, slumped over each other covered in piss and puke after another good night. I can’t say for sure as we’d to get the young fella back to the hotel at a reasonable time, so we weren’t able to sample the delights of Bilbao’s nightlife. Perhaps it was just as well.
Revellers can work off their excesses from the night before with some exercise as they sit in the sun – benches often have little pedals strategically placed before them, with other gym-like equipment provided too to keep the locals fit and healthy. Mind you, I didn’t see any of them using any of it.
The locals are fiercely nationalistic with Basque flags everywhere and ne’er a Spanish one to be seen. I did hear some of them conversing in an indecipherable language I can only presume was Basque but the vast majority spoke Spanish. Graffiti with nationalistic slogans abounded too, but thankfully the locals hadn’t yet taken up arms yet, but seemed content instead to use their arms in or outside the many bars as they contemplate the changeable weather.
Decent Menús del Día at a reasonable price are in short supply though, and no tapas are served when you order a drink, unlike in Madrid, which is good for Menús del Día and tapas. So you either go hungry or have to fork out more for food. Of course you always have to fork out for food, unless you’re a savage and you eat with your hands. I’m a savage anytime I’m faced by chopsticks. There’s just no forking way I can master the damn things.
Architecture buffs will be happy in Bilbao. The Guggenheim museum is fantastic. We didn’t bother going in but admired it from the outside. I presume the artworks etc. inside are worth seeing too. There were flames shooting out outside though so that was enough for us...
The Vizcaya Bridge is brilliant too, probably the highlight, and a high one at that as it spans the Nervión river between Getxo and Portugalete, which are separate towns just north of Bilbao on either side of the estuary.
It’s the world’s first transporter bridge, built between 1890 and 1893 to literally get over the problem of allowing tall ships past into Bilbao.
So cars and people board a “gondola” suspended from wires 50 metres up which swings them across the river. Mad. It looks like the Tour Eiffel. Apparently your man that built it was an Eiffel fan.
You can cross the top of the Puente Colgante (as it’s also known) to watch the swinging gondola below (after paying €5 for the privilege) and admire some of the nearly 400,000 rivets holding what is now a World Heritage together.
I brought Nipito up to San Mamés, Athletic Bilbao’s stadium, for a look, but he didn’t seem as keen as he was at the Bernabéu in Madrid. Nevertheless, I’m sure Marcelo Bielsa and the rest of the club’s honchos will be watching him closely anyway, trying to figure out how to get past their Basque-only recruitment policy.
From Bilbao we hit the coast, taking the metro through the very scenic countryside to Bermeo. Despite its exotic sounding name, Bermeo itself isn’t up to much with very few eating options, even fewer accommodation options and a harbour that stinks worse than Germany’s foreign policy. Well, almost as bad.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is well worth a short trip west from Bermeo, just before Bakio, the next town over. It’s a hermitage on an island linked to the mainland by a bridge and accessible via a load of steps that has fat tourists panting and gasping by the time they get there – a fact the locals take full advantage of by considerately selling them beer from the hermitage.
The views are great, like those from the west of Ireland, and the little hermitage itself is pretty cool, dedicated of course to San Juan (St. John, the fella who loved throwing water on people’s heads) and to sailors who have to contend with the rough seas of the Bay of Biscay. And I presume other sailors too. Sure why would they object to protecting sailors everywhere?
Bakio has a very good beach, and a cluster of restaurants at the end where we got a fine Menú del Día before returning with our bellies full of grub and wine – ideal preparation for swimming.
We also went to Munduka, which was more touristy than nearby Bermeo, Gernika (Guernica) – which I wrote about already – and Lekeitio, to the east, which is in a very pretty setting with two fine beaches.
Nipito loved all the  beaches wherever they were. Puta madre, he went mad for them! Frolicking in the water like a seahorse, running in and out, grabbing other kids’ toys, digging, sitting, splashing, jumping, stamping, pissing. Yes, he actually pissed with happiness and without a hint of shame. Damn right, enjoy it while you can kiddo.
Of course, all good things have to come to an end sometime. There were fierce protests when we’d to drag him away even as his lips turned blue and he could no longer control the shivering. To hear him say “bye bye” with his little voice cracking as we left the beach would break your heart, but we promised him we’d be back the next day. So we had to go back the next day, and the next, and the next and so on, until one day we couldn’t promise it anymore.