Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Berlin–Prenzlauer Berg (1990)

There’s been a slight negative whiff from the oul’ blog for the last while so it’s time for something positive*. This is fucking great. Thanks to Siobhán Dowling and Hilda Hoy for bringing it to my attention. A film shot in Prenzlauer Berg, East Berlin, with echte Berliners outlining their fears, hopes and musings in the months after the Wall fell, before reunification.
It was a time when Berlin was on the crest of a wave, unbridled excitement, before Prenzlauer Berg was take over by coffee shops, yoga salons, frozen yoghurt parlours, handbag boutiques, prams and Kitas – before the wave broke and gentrification came crashing down.

*Albeit in the past. This is when I should have moved to Berlin instead of  dilly-dallying with education and all that carry on.




Sunday, September 23, 2012

Alles Scheiße zum Geburtstag: German birthdays

I wrote the following around seven months ago but declined to publish it at the time and since then for fear of injuring the injured parties. It’s always someone’s birthday and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for ruining anyone’s day. But fuck it, now is as good a time as any.

Germans have an incredibly unhealthy obsession with birthdays. If one of them gets wind of your birthday they'll note it down in their little black book so they can wake you at the crack of dawn to wish you a happy birthday before anyone else does, unaware of the irony in ruining your day before it even begins.
How can I have a happy birthday when you’re fucking waking me up to wish me a happy birthday?!
But of course that would be very unhöflich. Instead you have to grit your teeth and thank them as they rabbit on listing all the nice things they wish for you, all the things they thought of while they were waiting up all night so they could be the first to call.
How about wishing me some sleep?!
Then the next caller will call, and wish you exactly the same stuff.
Sleeeeeeeeep! Just let me SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPP!!!
By the time you throw the phone out the window in exasperation, the damage will have been done. The phone’s ringing will be ringing in your ears from the hordes who waited all night to wish you the best on that date circled by a black marker since that same date the previous year. As if they want you to relive the pain of the day itself.
For you only ever have one birthday, no matter how old you are. Anything else is just gratitude to the Earth for successfully managing another half-arsed traipse around the sun. The Earth doesn’t give a shit, it was going that way anyway.
Try telling that to a German.
Germans start thinking of their next birthday (anniversary) approximately one minute after the last one, and making concrete plans for it about eight months in advance. Secretly, they’ll have started planning for it even earlier. I wouldn’t be surprised it planning begins even before they know they’re alive.
If you do not call a German to wish them a happy birthday they’ll be mortally wounded, and if you forget their birthday they’ll never speak to you again. Strangely though, they don’t go in for birthday cards at all.
Birthdays are celebrated, like every other occasion and non-occasion, with buckets of coffee and troughs of cake until everyone has Kaffee und Kuchen coming out their ears and the thoughts of more cake sends Kuchen sweat beading down your forehead.
The birthday boy or girl here is expected to treat everyone else, buying all the food and pints for others to get fat and drunk at their expense.
Hmm, perhaps this explains the flurry of best wishes first thing in the morning...
So be warned – don’t ever tell a German your birthday. If anyone asks, just tell them you don’t remember it.

Gentrifizierung

At the site of the Kleingärten mentioned in the previous post I discovered a wonderful notice on the subject of gentrification. A call to arms. I've translated it for your benefit below.

Enough.
A phantom is haunting Berlin – the phantom of Gentrification.
It’s spreading a contagious disease, cementitis, combined with an insatiable hunger for profit! Anything that cannot be protected and defended becomes its victim.
Tenants who can no longer pay the high rents, recreational facilities for the elderly, diverse cultural institutions, important green and open spaces for the locals, even 100-year-old garden allotments of great ecological and social value are to be flattened - mercilessly!!! The fate of a large part of the KGA "Famos" association in Pankow is quite tragic. This was fought with particular intensity and creativeness by many supporters for a long time – all in vain. Betrayed by those responsible.
And what are the thinkers and leaders* of the city doing?
Some even feed the beast and party, others are completely helpless and point to paragraphs and financial constraints, the rest want to tame the monster but have little influence.
And the inhabitants of this city?
Those affected fight, occasionally, mostly with little success.
Come together and finally bring this beast under control!!!
The protest belongs on the street.

Then there are details of the demo which happened earlier today so there’s no point in me repeating them here, but this is an ongoing battle and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more. Gentrifizierung is as much a part of Berlin as the people it’s pushing out.

*Denker und Lenker loses something in translation, unfortunately.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sacred Kleingärten are sacred no longer

Berlin’s sacred cows are sacred no longer. Eighteen of the city’s Kleingärten in Pankow are to be dug up, uprooted and paved over with cement so apartments can be built in their wake. It’s just the latest example of the city going to the dogs - the dogs of greed, speculation, corruption and profit at all costs.
Deutsche Bahn are the main culprits for the loss of these garden allotments at Brehmestraße/Heynstraße – garden plots which had been lovingly tended by their respective owners since 1921 – but of course the courts, politicians and property sharks are also culpable for rejecting a petition which gathered 18,000 signatures against the development.
Deutsche Bahn, which was given the land by the City of Berlin in the first place, scrapped the rental agreements with the garden tenants and sold the land to a joint building venture called Himmel & Erde, whose so-called “Ökoprojekt” entails the construction of 72 apartments once the gardeners are kicked out.
And they will be kicked out, don’t worry. Despite the vigils they hold every Monday at 6 p.m. in front of their gardens. They have until the end of October to water their flowers, tend to their veg, share loving last moments with their trees...
Then the bulldozers are moving in. After all, as of September 13th, all but three of the 72 apartments have been snapped up. Those behind the Himmel & Erde venture will rake in a cool €21 million altogether. That’s a fucking lucrative Ökoprojekt. Of course, not all of this is sheer profit. No doubt there are expenses, wages and bribes to be paid out too.
Beyond the obvious ecological benefits Kleingärten bring to a city, they were once deemed vital to the survival of its inhabitants. Even to this day, a Kleingartener will have to grow vegetables in his or her Garten according to long-standing conditions originally enforced to ensure the city was self-sufficient in times of war.
(I was aghast when I heard about this first – that a person couldn’t grow whatever the hell they wanted in their own damn garden – but I learned the reasoning behind it last week and am increasingly seeing the benefit of being self-sufficient in times of war [and peace for that matter].)
Apparently that’s no longer important and now Berlin’s 70,000 Kleingärten are all under threat.
These are different times of war after all, and the enemy is within, rich and powerful.

Monday, September 17, 2012

GEMA

GEMA is another wholly evil institution like the GEZ or, indeed, like any other German institution you care to name.
Internet users, and YouTube users in particular, in this country will be familiar with this dastardly association’s work, its propensity for flattening eager anticipation of, let’s say, a music video to leave a feeling akin to wearing mouldy wet socks in its wake.
You may be sent a video highly recommended by a friend only to be greeted by the message: “Unfortunately this video is not available in Germany because it may contain music for which GEMA has not granted the respective music rights. Sorry about that.”
You can almost hear the GEMAites wetting themselves with Schadenfreude from their Wittenbergplatz headquarters.
Well, fuck you GEMA and your respective music rights.
This carry on has been going on since early 2009, rending impotent many fine tracks from bands I love and bands I could discover I love.
GEMA’s side of the story is that they redistribute royalties from music to the artists who created it. How much they redistribute and how much they line their own pockets with is not easily discernable, however.
GEMA doesn’t just stop at blocking YouTube videos either. It wants to block nightclubs from playing music too. The leeches are demanding extortionate fees from venues that play music, putting many of them at risk. At least that roused some protest from nightclubbers in Berlin last June.
But most Germans, as is their wont, meekly accept the situation for what it is. “Regeln sind Regeln, yada, yada, ja.”
One German I met vigorously defended the indefensible, saying GEMA was providing a valuable service to the music industry and he went on with some other shite which I could no longer listen to. And then people wonder why Germans are misunderstood.
There are ways to defeat GEMA and listen to music videos online if you have a mind to. @MRodden recommends installing ProxTube while Anonymox is another good add-on. The private VPN service HMA also works but you have to pay for it. I generally use it because you can get an Irish IP address to watch GAA matches and so on.
But ultimately, with nightclubs also now coming under threat from these evil fuckers, there’s only one solution: GEMA must be destroyed.

UPDATE: supernaut kindly left a comment with the following advice, which I cannot vouch for, but which may or may not help those attempting to overcome the evil GEMA and listen to a song or two – “ProxTube doesn’t seem to work anymore since YouTube updated a couple of weeks ago – neither do any of the other YouTube-specific FireFox Add-Ons, and Anonymox is really really slow.
“One solution is using Tor, which is a little slow also, though reliable and secure, and I’d use it before any free proxies. The other is to use KeepVid or similar, but then in general you need Java installed.”

Further reading: Der Spiegel’s article on GEMA is pretty good. "GEMA is generally about as popular as dog shit." You can read it here: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/new-gema-fees-threaten-to-stifle-famous-berlin-club-scene-a-850151.html

Friday, September 14, 2012

Snotshot of madity 7: One and two turds, shadow of 1¾

Jaysus, where does the time go? He’s clocking up the quarters like a bum* on a San Francisco street corner. He’ll be 1¾ next month. For now though, he’s one and two turds!
Coincidentally, today was also the day he discovered his shadow. I missed the main show, but Jenny recounted that he looked at the ground, freaked out, ran around in circles, looked at the ground again, freaked out again, ran around and so on until she figured out what was ailing him. He repeated the performance for my benefit upstairs. I told him he’d better make friends with his shadow because it’d be following him from now on. The poor fella. I guess if I’d a shadow like his I’d be freaked out too.
Every day there’s something. Not everything produces such a reaction of course, but there’s no end to the excitement.
We’re evidently crap parents because he loves going to Kita every day and hates coming home. Even if he’s been there for hours he won’t want to come home. Maybe if we weren’t still living in Pankow...
I think German is poisoning his mind. He runs around shouting “nein!” indiscriminately, much like the locals do. And people try to shake his hand already, trying to mould him so he’s a good little German. As soon as he’s old enough I’ll teach him to pick his nose when he meets people. That’ll put the breaks on. Mind you, he does that already and that doesn’t stop them...
So I’m bringing him to Ireland next month for a bit of renascence. Just for a few days but I hope it’ll be enough. And we might get to go to his first match, Ireland vs. Germany at Lansdowne Road! Of course he’ll be wearing his Ireland top. Jaysus, the way Ireland are playing these days he might even get a game for them. He likes nothing better than kicking the oul’ ball around.
At least he won’t look as much like a German anymore. The 1980s mullet is gone! Jenny insisted on it and cut his hair last Sunday, thankfully. I’d actually been the one against it, refusing to believe that nature could be so cruel. Jenny couldn’t take it anymore and cut the overhanging tufts behind the ears. There’s no stoppin’ him now.
There really isn’t. He runs around like mad, jumps with gusto, balances himself while walking atop walls, kamikaze stuff, and he pays no attention whatsoever to anything he’s told.
“He’s cheeky as fuck,” Jenny said.
He must be driving the poor woman downstairs berserk with the football, when he’s opening and banging doors, when he drags chairs across the floor so he can reach the lock with the keys. Yes, he loves keys and locks and figuring out how to pick them. Another useful talent is burgeoning.
We have to watch him so he doesn’t climb onto the toilet and out the bathroom window. That would be the end of him. But I’m both proud and fearful to say he’s irrepressible.
Of course, you have to draw the line somewhere. But when we do there’s trouble, drama and hysterics only exacerbated when he throws his body backwards and hits his head off the floor. He loves jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
But it’s not all bad. He’s anxious to learn, to further himself at a breakneck rate. If he keeps it up he’ll be running this country by the time he’s 25. He insists on using a knife and fork even as I eat with my hands, won’t drink from plastic beakers anymore – they have to be glass – and he’s a great man for the wooden puzzles. He has them cracked before I do.
He celebrates his (many) fine achievements by giving himself a rousing applause. We always join in. Tonight, we applaud him again. Keep it up little man, you’re doing just great.

*The original post was amended to change “hobo” to “bum” after further research revealed that hobos are traditionally wandering migrants or vagabonds picking up work wherever they can, while a bum is someone who avoids work at all costs. A tramp, incidentally, only works when he has to. I should have known all this already; Berlin is full of hobos, bums and tramps.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Colossus: The abandoned chemical factory of Rüdersdorf

The chimney poked up innocuously through the trees as I cycled past. Oh ho! What’s this? I cycled back up the path, excitement building as more chimneys presented themselves one by one, and I literally gasped when I saw what lay before my eyes: This →
OK, you’ll have seen the picture already so perhaps the element of surprise was ruined, but still, pretty fucking amazing. It stretched out below me in majestic decadent glory and I just gazed down, mouth probably open, goosebumps on my arms and legs as I surveyed the sheer giganticism of it, the bulk, the improbability, the stillness, like something from another world. You just never know what’s around the corner in this country.
I locked up the bike, not that there was anyone to rob it, and proceeded past the chimneys, hurriedly taking my time – I didn’t want to miss anything on the way yet couldn’t wait to get down to explore the wonders of the colossus waiting for me below.
I’d stumbled upon the abandoned chemical factory of Rüdersdorf (actually in Tasdorf) which was once part of VEB Chemiewerk Coswig, responsible mainly for the production of the animal feed Rükana and other phosphates used for farming.
It started life in 1899 as a cement factory operated by C.O.Wegener, which allegedly made the cement in “an ultra-modern yet highly dangerous” kiln oven. The huge Preußag concern (now the TUI travel agent) took over in 1939, producing bauxite vital for the Nazis’ war effort from 1944.
The Russians dismantled the plant after the war, but it found a new lease of life in 1950 when the VEB Glühphosphatwerk Rüdersdorf was formed to make the afore-mentioned phosphates. Two more kilns were added in 1972, and the factory came under control of the Piesteritz-based VEB Kombinat Agrochemie (agrochemicals) at the end of the 1970s.
German reunification spelled the end for VEB Chemiewerk Coswig, however, as it did for so many East German enterprises, with dwindling sales and dodgy dealings from investors preceding the inevitable. The factory made its last pig’s dinner before the gates were permanently closed in 1999.
Fencing topped with razor-wire surrounds the site now but don’t let that put you off. Sure a little bit of razor-wire never harmed anyone.
Descending past the chimneys (which I later learned were chalk ovens in the unrelated Museumpark into which you’re supposed to pay), I found a gap in the fence to the train tracks, with another convenient gap under the razor-wire and into the site. I was in!
An unsettling humming noise presides over the area, presumably from a neighbouring factory still in use, but that just adds to the spooky ambience.
Wildlife abounds in the absence of humans, birds making the most of all the lofty perches, while frogs, tadpoles and a snake(!) had made themselves at home in a murky green pool.
There are other murky pools with black evil-looking shit and no wildlife at all, not even of the six-eyed variety. Toxic reminders of the past.
The buildings are immense. I got dizzy just walking into one with huge round concrete canisters which swallowed me up. There are holes everywhere so you really need to watch your step. This is not a place to come if you’re drunk or planning on getting drunk. One wrong step and it could be your last.
To add to the excitement, the buildings are crumbling too, and concrete dust covers the ground beside the soaring walls. I hope they’re still sound. If you hear creaking, run like fuck!
Against my better judgement, I ascended the stairs without walls up, and up, and up, and up outside the canisters, my vertigo getting more intense, my grip tighter and my beating heart louder the higher I climbed, until finally I reached the summit and could pause to let the waves of dizziness wash over me. I swayed as I surveyed the ruins around me. Then I sat down. Safer.
I didn’t dare go out onto the roof of the main building. You can see it’s broken in places and one footstep could send the whole damn thing crashing down.
In one of the buildings to the east of the site, there are still stacks of old papers, delivery notes, letters and so on, as well as wrecked furniture and discarded containers littering the floor, some no doubt still holding their evil potions.
The skull and crossbones were clearly visible on some containers, so pirates must have once called this place home. Maybe they’re still there. Arrr, here be a fine place to drop anchor.
I didn’t see any pirates, nor any humans at all, so the only feasible conclusion is that the frogs I met were actually humans frogified from inhaling the various unknown gases and chemicals permeating throughout the site.
It’s incredible, but perhaps it’s best not to hang around for too long.

 









What
Abandoned chemical factory which began life as a cement factory, then made bauxite during the war, before its raison d’être became the production of animal feed phosphates and other things as part of VEB Chemiewerk Coswig, one of those GDR companies.

Where
Gutenbergstraße, 15562 Rüdersdorf bei Berlin, Germany.

How to get there
Get the train from Alexanderplatz to Erkner, the S3 or the faster regional train, the RE1 towards Frankfurt (Oder). From the Bahnhof, cycle in a northeasterly direction towards Rüdersdorf, specifically the Museumspark Rüdersdorf at Heinitzstraße 41, 15562 Rüdersdorf. The gate was open so I didn’t have to pay. Just follow the path on the left until you spot a few innocent-looking chimneys poking from the trees. You’ll find the factory laid out before you then. Here’s where it is on a map.
Otherwise, if you get caught and they’re looking for money, you can approach from the other side by cycling to Tasdorf via Ernst-Thalmann-Straße, turn right onto Berliner Straße in the village, and then take the second right onto Gutenbergstraße back down towards the factory. You’ll have to hop the gate.
It’s a good cycle, 7.4 km each way (longer if you take the second route) but it’s worth it. If you’re lazy you can get the 951 bus from S-Bahnhof Fredersdorf to Rüdersdorf, Tasdorf and walk from there.

Getting in
If you go the first route, through Museumspark Rüdersdorf, you’ll find a gap in the fence over the train tracks and another corresponding gap in the fence on the other side, rendering all that nasty-looking razor wire pretty much useless, unless it’s to stop pigeons from resting their weary wings by sitting on the fence. Those pigeons can never make up their minds.

When to go
I recommend daytime to minimise the risk of being killed by walking off an eight-story building, or tripping into a huge deep hole or a pit of foul leftover chemicals. Seriously, there are quite a number of pitfalls, no pun intended.

Difficulty rating
5/10. Getting here is a bit of a chore, getting in is easy once you find the gaps in the fence and apart from that there shouldn’t be any problems. No security as far as I could see.

Who to bring
If your boyfriend/girlfriend isn’t terrified of heights you could bring them for a romantic view across the treetops and industrial areas of Rüdersdorf, Tasdorf and beyond. It’s probably a good idea to bring someone though, in case one of you falls into a hole/off a building/gets trapped under a collapsing roof.

What to bring
A helmet won’t save you if the roof does collapse so don’t bother with that. As always, a camera, couple of beers and a sandwich or something for nourishment. I was pretty thirsty after all that cycling so maybe a bottle of water wouldn’t go amiss either. And a torch is useful for exploring dark rooms and cellars.

Dangers
The buildings themselves are pretty dangerous, either from the point of view of them falling on you or you falling off them. Falling seems to be the main danger all round really. As always, watch out for nosey busybodies, Polizei, and anyone else out to spoil the fun.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

How long is now? So long, Tacheles

Tacheles died today, September 4th, 2012. The Polizei moved in early in the morning, turfed the last of the artists and stragglers out – peacefully, it must be said, though that was the stragglers’ choice and not the Polizei’s. The police were probably disappointed.
“We’re artists and we have culture,” Linda Cerna said. “If we have to yield to force, we yield to force."
I don’t know how many Polizei turned up, but enough to “secure” the building by the time I got there. I could see them through the gaps, milling from room to room, making sure no offending art or unwanted artists remained. A couple of scowling cops stood at the doorway to make sure no one entered, glaring at the small number of Tacheles sympathisers gathered outside on the pavement.
On the pavement itself were the petitions to save Tacheles with hundreds of signatures, including my own, scattered around, trampled underfoot, worthless.
The gathering, which featured more than your average number of dreadlocks, looked like it was there for the long haul. Many had chairs pulled up and they sat there sipping beakers of coffee in resigned silence as if attending a wake. In a way, they were.
It’s a sad day for Berlin, 22 years in the making, and confirmation of its catastrophic slide towards blandness and sterility at the expense of what once made the city great.
Klaus Wowereit’s not the only culprit of course – he has plenty of cronies – but the Berlin Mayor should hang his head in shame for this latest abject failure. Like most politicians, Wowereit only pays lip service to the electorate while screwing them on behalf of those with the cash. I fear for Mauerpark, I really do.
People have been saying Tacheles’ demise was inevitable but I don’t know. The city could have done more to preserve it.
I suspect the battle was lost when the artists began infighting, when Café Zapata and the others took a payoff, when they started building fences and that stupid fucking wall out the back. The battle was lost a long time ago. Yes, its demise probably was inevitable.
German banks always get their way of course, whether at the expense of Greek citizens or struggling artists. There was no way HSH-Nordbank would be denied its dream of flogging real estate worth something in the region of €250 million. This, for a piece of land sold by the city of Berlin for €2.7 million in 1998. Someone’s being had.
Some people won’t miss it, they’ll be happy to have another H&M, C&A, Jack & Jones or Bill & Bollocks open in its place, but I’ll fucking miss it.
For me Tacheles was a symbol of Berlin, a huge imposing semi-destroyed building with a history more colourful than most taken over by squatters and artists in defiance of the evil bankers and real estate sharks. I used to love bringing visitors here, showing them the graffiti, the street art, the piss-soaked filth-encrusted foul dank corridors and to see their faces when I tell them, “This is why I love Berlin!” My aunt and uncle think I’m nuts.
I first discovered Tacheles through an alcohol-induced haze in 2001 and rediscovered it three years later, when I found myself sitting in an airplane cockpit out in the hinterhof. I distinctly remember stepping over a body as I gingerly made my way along one of the dark unlit corridors. I’d no idea whether he was dead or alive, and I didn’t wake him to find out. Somehow the place wasn’t the same once the corridors were lit. Maybe that was the beginning of the end...
I wrote about it for The Irish Times, when its future was uncertain. Well, it ain’t uncertain anymore. How could we have been so naïve? So stupid.
How long is now? So long, Tacheles. You were fantastic.

More from others lamenting Tacheles' demise...
"When your well runs dry" by Jacob Sweetman for ExBerliner: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/when-your-well-runs-dry
Read The Guardian saying "it has succumbed to the German capital's relentless march of economic rationalisation" here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/sep/05/closure-tacheles-berlin-sad-alternative-art
And if you want to see some great pictures of Tacheles in its heyday, way back when, check out: http://www.kunsthaus-tacheles.de/institution/history/photoarchive/