Thursday, May 30, 2013

London

Well, I survived London, but only just. I was coming to the conclusion it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it was, but again it ended badly and again I vowed never to go back. London doesn’t like me and I don’t like London. We’ll go our separate ways, again.
The people I met were friendly, but I avoided the pubs, the cuisine, and anything London except the London Underground. I saw a lot of that as I made my way to and from Wembley, except when I finished work on the Saturday night and the damn thing wasn’t running.
Capital city of England, Britain, the British empire and the trains don’t go through the night on a Saturday night! The whole metro stop was locked up and barricaded as if someone would steal it.
I had to get a taxi back to Earl’s Court. The first crowd I rang told me there were none available and hung up. I found another thanks to my disconcertingly smart phone and a dude from Somalia turned up. I know he was from Somalia because I asked him what language he was speaking after he finished his argument over the phone with some other dude, who I guess was Somali too.
“Somalia eh? Haven’t been there yet. How are things there now?”
“War.”
Right. We talked about other things. He seemed to think Britain was doing good things for his country. Meanwhile, to survive and pay an insurance premium of £3,000 a month, he was working 19 hours a day. You can learn a lot about a country from its taxi drivers.
It was then I discovered the roads were closed, some of them at least. Imagine, closing roads! But closing time is England’s favorite time apparently.
It’s the reason I avoided the pubs. But even in Wembley, when I finished work, they were trying to turf working journalists out as if they were in a pub. I finished my last report sitting on the pavement beside the stadium with my back to a pillar.
The work itself was great, the match was fantastic, apart from the result.
“The result is so shit that I cannot....” Jürgen Klopp trailed off. “All the other things were, great.”
It was a privilege to be there, to share in the excitement, to be part of the whole thing. I got my reports written – one twice after Word crashed – and rubbed shoulders with the players in the mixed zone. It’s there you learn they’re human too.
Arjen Robben was happy, obviously. Schweini and Thomas Müller sauntered by and Dante had some sort of ghettoblaster thing to his ear, blasting out some Brazilian stuff as he sang along and danced past the journalists without stopping for one interview.
The Dortmund fellas were pretty down as you’d imagine.
I was so tired by the time I finished after the final I didn’t even have a beer, just collapsed into the bed once the Somali fella had negotiated the closed roads to bring me home – to Hotel Oliver on Cromwell Road.
Not even Cromwell could stop me sleeping. But he was to have the last laugh, the fucker.
I had two hours to spare by the time I finished up on Sunday, two hours to see the city. I made the mistake of heading for Westminster, where all the tourists go. The place was swarming with them, you could barely move. I wandered down along by the river, past the big wheel, toward the bridge with the towers. Well, by the time I got there I’d seen enough, hopped on a train for the airport.
They like their steel and glass and soulless shiny buildings in London. Camden, which I’d seen briefly on the Thursday, looked much more interesting than the center, more Berlinery, if hammed up Berlinery. It’s run down but sanitized, not real. Regardless, I couldn’t enjoy that for long either.
Nobody drinks on the trains – it’s probably not allowed. I get the impression everything is shackled. There are signs everywhere telling you what you can and can’t do. Everything is designed to avoid being stolen. Evidently the natives are all either thieves or terrified of thieves. Paranoia roams the streets.
Berlin thinks it’s multikulti, but it’s not compared to London, where you have people of all varieties from corners of the world never heard of in the German capital.
The only other discernable difference is that London is round shapes where Berlin is 90-degree angles. The London Underground sign is a prime example. Soft circles are preferred to jagged angles. Germans never cut corners so it’s only jagged angles here.
Jagged angles or not, I was happy to get back. Not before Cromwell put a curse on my escape. He delayed my plane and cancelled two buses to ensure I only got home at 4.30am. He also ruined my photos. My camera was on some weird setting so only a few survived.
But I survived. Ultimately, that’s all that mattered.

London’s not all bad of course. Almost 50 years ago, the city gave the world The Kinks, and for that I will always be grateful.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

London calling

When I last left London I swore I’d never go back. Never again. It was, and remains, the only city I crossed off my list. I didn’t go back. If I’d gone back then the last time I left London wouldn’t be the last time I left London but another time, which would then be the last time I left London. Regardless, the sentiments would have been the same.
Fate has conspired to send me back. The Champions League final, the frickin’ final! It doesn’t get any bigger than that. It’s a big assignment, the biggest yet, and the head honchos have placed their trust in me so I can’t let them down.
But me and London never got on, there’s always been problems. Good memories are unfortunately overshadowed by bad. London is still the only place I managed to miss at least six flights in one night, where I’ve been searched for weapons going into a pub, and where I’ve had to suffer the shittiest food and pissiest beer. Jesus, the beer is terrible.
The worst thing about the beer is they don’t even let you drink the stuff. “Last orders” is called and when you try drink your last order, they grab it out of your mouth.
But I won’t be thrown off course. I leave in the morning. I’ll get in, write my stories, go to the match, write some more, and get out.
My hotel’s on Cromwell Road, just to make it worse, called Hotel Oliver. You couldn’t make it up. I suppose the fucker is haunting the place. It amazes me that the British evidently still think Cromwell was great, despite the atrocities he committed. They’d complain if Berlin had a Hotel Adolf, on Hitlerstraße. But Cromwell didn’t lose his wars…
Neither Cromwell nor London are going to stop me, however. I’ve a job to do and I’m damned well going to do it, damned well too, I hope.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cultural shenanigans at KdK

It ended how it always ended before, how it always will end. Sitting under trees adorned with pretty lights, listening to nearby gentle bongos, contemplating the meaning of contemplation as wafts of marijuana drifted lazily over the cool dark grass. At the Karneval der Kulturen it always ends in culture – Berlin’s.
First thing we’d seen when we got down to Urbanstraße Sunday morning was an Irish flag. Two of them, sticking up on a grassy verge in the middle of the road. Culture indeed.
The young lad grabbed one, an old drunken German picked up the other, and they both waved with gusto. I guess they both had claim to.
We wandered on, found the source – Jigs and Reels, an Irish dancing troupe based in Schöneberg which is doing its best to inflict hands-to-the-side madness on the natives. It’ll never catch on. The young fella waved his flag and tried to steal the balloons from the side of their truck. I pulled him away before he could do serious damage.
Techno and samba beats brought us further along the parade route, and the young lad took everything in with mouth opened wide as his eyes. He called for more. More, more! The flag got lost somewhere along the way.
We saw more. There were drums, drums and more drums, dancing girls too, twisting and writhing, wearing half nothing, I had to cover the young lad’s eyes. More, more!
He’d seen it all before, but it was evidently all forgotten. I carried him on, through the crowds, past the revelers and the drunken piss artists. The sun was doing its damnedest to lure them all out onto the street.
The excitement was too much, and the poor fella fell asleep on my shoulder as I carried him along. I let him sleep it off in Nathan’s camera shop on Gneisenaustraße before bringing him home, though not before he devoured a pretzel with cheese, ran amok on the street, threw stones into a fountain and hurled abuse at Polizei – just sticks, but he’s still young.
I was so tired myself after I got him home that I considered not going back at all, and went instead to Mauerpark. But then I heard Francesca and Esteban were down there so I finished my beers, set off, and was glad I did.
Well, I didn’t actually meet them of course, but I found plenty of others. There was no lack of interesting characters around. The guy selling plants, for example, who had an unusual technique for dealing with prospective customers…
“You look like shite, the state of you,” he told one guy. “God, they’re getting worse and worse.”
Still clutching his beaker of coffee, he then tried selling some shit to the people he hadn’t insulted, picking up plants and small trees and just flinging them all together into a bag.
“€20 for the bag,” he shouted. “I don’t care anymore. Just take it, everything has to go.”
A heavy metal band was on stage playing to a bunch of heavy metallers, while all around people were jostling as they roamed the stalls selling overpriced useless shit in search of their next material hit. The retailers had a drunken captive audience and were taking full advantage.
I got away from the stalls, sat under a tree and cracked open a beer. I learned my lesson from the year before and had brought my own.
I got talking to a Jamaican guy beside me. It was cool. He was drinking whiskey and smoking something a little more powerful than tobacco. We discussed everything and anything, racism, life, the afterlife, religion, God’s existence.
“He doesn’t want shit, doesn’t need shit,” the Jamaican fella said. I’m sure Jesus once said exactly the same thing.
It was great, just relaxing, talking shite, listening to the drums, watching people go by, the lights twinkling in the trees. These cultured evenings are always a pleasure.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wohnung gefunden!

The Wohnung search is over, I’ve found a place to live! I’m relieved it’s finally over but the process of finding it and reasons for doing so are so demoralizing it’s hard to celebrate.
My desperate measure of plastering flyers on every doorway I could find did the trick. It led to nine leads, including three time-wasting offers from estate agents, one of whom was stupid enough to offer me a luxury penthouse for a mere €1,700 a month. Gobshites.
The six real leads were all places I could have taken, so I was spoilt for choice in the end. None had a view of the Fernsehturm, however. Now, my ultimate dream is to live in the Fernsehturm some day. Though then I wouldn’t see it. Hmm.
Yesterday I finally decided between the two it had taken me two weeks to decide between. Well, the young lad did. I brought him down on the bike outside the first place, asked him if he liked it there, he said he did. Then I brought him down to the other.
“Whaddya think of this?”
“No red door!”
That was that. I don’t know what he has against red doors but at least a decision was made. Perhaps if he had gone inside and seen the trains trundling underneath the balcony, he may have changed his mind. He loves trains, as I mentioned before. But I guess if he was feasting his eyes on trains all the time, they wouldn’t be so special anymore.
So from August 1st I’ll be living on Malmöerstraße. We live on Hallandstraße now, so it’s really just moving from one part of Sweden to another. Malmö is in the south so perhaps winters won’t so unbearable there.
It’s a nice apartment, one I’ll be untermieting from a girl who’s moving to Madrid for one year, maybe two. It feels strange – she’s going where I was supposed to.
But it means I’ll be on the lookout for another place in a year or two. I’ll be more determined than ever to get one with that elusive Fernsehturmblick.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Submarine bunker Lager Koralle, U-boat HQ

In the silence you don’t know, you must go on. I cower in the pitch darkness ten meters below, unable to move, frozen still. Deafening silence, broken only by a solitary drip. DRIP! Then silence again. I can hear my heart beating. Heart pounds again before the next inevitable drip, steady as the last. DRIP! I flash a torch at the wall beside me. It glistens black. Wet. The drop falls again. DRIP! The only sound but for the thumping of my heart. I can’t go on, I’ll go on. I’ve made it this far.

Subterranean treasures are rarely easy to find. Submarine even less so. Armed with sketchy directions, hope and a rough sea idea, I set off, leave the road and cut through the forest. Trees, trees and more trees, more trees again, and more, more again, then there it is. Boom! A shock when it finally appears. Looming in murky light. Surrounded by a rusty barbed wire fence. The dilapidated shack I was looking for.
A “Betreten Verboten” sign confirms it. Flies swarm to greet me as soon as I defy it. One lands on my neck. Bites. A dog barks, somewhere. Christ, I hope it isn’t on the site. It sounds further away. Too late to turn back now anyway. Come on man, get a hold of yourself, get a grip!
I pull myself together, spot the hatch I’m looking for. A bee hums, something else rustles in the grass. I lift up the lid. A swarm of flies buzz up in my face. AAAAGH!! A gunshot. BANG! Another bark, closer. More gunshots, louder.
The hole is eight metres straight down. No steps, ladder, nichts, not what I was expecting, but fuck it I have to go now. I jam my legs on one side, my back on the other, and jimmy down like a peanut. No idea how to get back. Jacket ruined. I pull the flashlight out and proceed. I’m in the bunker!
Soon, however, I discover it’s not the right bunker. It was smaller and had less rooms than expected. Not what I was looking for. It leads me straight back to the dilapidated shack. I get out and start again, back through the trees.
More abandoned buildings present themselves, each with stories to tell no doubt, but I was looking for something specific.
I cycle on. Then I meet two oul’ lads ambling along through the forest. Vladimir and Estragon.
“Excuse me, do you know where the old bunker is?”
The smaller, younger one replies.
“Ah yes, that’s where the Russians used to store their rockets. They had them aimed at Berlin. Very bad. But there’s nothing there to see now. The bunker’s destroyed. I’m 71, you know!”
I didn’t, but thank him profusely all the same.
I wander on, eventually find gates. The gates I was looking for! I hurry in. More buildings, more, more, more, but where’s the fucking bunker? I’d about given up, had enough, when finally, I lift the manhole and see the ladder down, down, down…
This is it! I take a last look at the sky and plunge in. I’m here! I’m finally fucking here! I scurry down, heart in mouth, wary of previous tenants still hanging around. It’s dark. Darker than Thatcher’s soul. I can’t see a thing. I’m 10 meters underground, in the very bunker that controlled Germany’s feted U-boat fleet during World War II. Central command for submarines marauding the seven seas. It was here those poor fuckers on Das Boot would have been ordered to go past Gibraltar! Wow, just wow.
They began building here in 1939, for what was originally supposed to be a naval intelligence school. When all the falling bombs made Berlin somewhat uncomfortable, some bright spark decided the German Naval High Command should move here, to this heavily forested area in the middle of nowhere, via Eberswalde, where it moved first after leaving Tiergarten in Berlin.
The Befehlshaber der U-Boote (BdU), which was the part concerned with Germany’s submarine war, moved to what was codenamed “Lager Koralle” (Coral Camp) on Jan. 30, 1943, and began controlling U-boat operations shortly afterward under direction of German Navy Commander-in-Chief Karl Dönitz, later to achieve fame as Hitler’s successor.
Koralle’s end came in April 1945, however, with an air raid doing its bit on the 17th, and the Russians taking over on the 21st. Dönitz had already ordered the BdU to “Objekt Forelle” in Plön, near Denmark, before going on to Flensburg-Mürwik, even closer to Denmark, eight days later.
When all was already lost, Dönitz succeeded Hitler according to the mad fella’s last will and testament, though there was little to do at that stage but surrender and hope for the best. Dönitz led the short-lived Flensberg Government before undergoing trial in Nuremberg.
On his release from prison he gained further fame for creating the snack that bears his name, the Döner Kebab. It remains popular to this day.
The Russians took over Koralle of course, blowing up the flak bunker and the other overground bunker. Perhaps in gratitude for the lovely kebabs he made, they spared Dönitz’ house and the underground bunker, where the navy headquarters had been based over four levels. It had a barracks, officers’ casino, loads of telecommunications equipment and other army-type stuff.
Maybe that’s why the Russians kept it. They used the site as a munitions depot, storing the missiles previously mentioned by Estragon, or Vladimir.
As I said, it was dark down there, 10 meters underfoot. I actually felt I was in a submarine, not just a subterrain. The silence was deafening, excruciating. Nothing but the drip. Drip! Drip! Then thump, thump, the thump of my heartbeat. The loudest silence there ever was.
There’s not much to see, not even graffiti. Wet crumbling rooms, corridors, pipes, tubes and cans of fuck knows what. Crazy cans, silver, big, sitting there with tubes coming out.
The Russians must have stripped the place of all its U-Boot paraphernalia. Those Russians are parasites of the military world and will strip any military stuff they reckon is better than their own. Any military stuff then.
When there’s nothing to hear, you listen. I thought I heard a voice, a girl’s voice, a laugh. I stopped, listened again, but there was only the incessant dripping and thumping. It occurred to me someone outside could come along and close the hatch, sealing me in there forever, leaving me to lick walls for sustenance and grow big bulbous eyes to cope with the dark. Trapped forever with the ghosts of tortured submarine men.
I could imagine the clang of the hatch slamming shut. It wasn’t fun anymore, I needed to get out. I flashed the light along the dark empty walls, retraced my steps through holes, long forgotten corridors, empty doorways. It was endless, I hoped to fuck I didn’t take a wrong turn. The hatch was unrecognizable – it was almost twilight outside – but I finally found the damn ladder and emerged. I was never so happy to see the sky. Even heroes of the deep were happy to see the surface.

What
Lager Koralle. Between 1943-45 Germany’s Naval High Command Headquarters, (Führungszentrum des Oberkommandos der Kriegsmarine, or OKM). Central command center for the German U-boat fleet during this time.

Where
Two-thirds of the way to Lanke from Bernau, in off the road to the right. The site is in a northwesterly direction from the village of Lobetal. Heres a map showing where what's left of the destroyed (overground) flak bunker is. The rest is nearby.

How to get there
See above. I got the train to Bernau and cycled from there. Even armed with directions, it took me a long time to find, however. The area is still heavily forested. It’s not signposted and the tracks go off in all directions.

Getting in
Find the hatch, go down the ladder. You’re in.

When to go
Daytime, definitely daytime. A fall here is very bad news, and I seriously do not recommend taking any chances in the dark. Obviously, when you’re down there it’ll be dark anyway, but you’ll want some daylight at least so you might see where you have to get out. Do not cut it fine, like I did, and leave it till twilight.

Difficulty rating
8/10. Finding this is the main problem. If I were going again, I’d probably bring a tent and overnight in the woods. It’s also very dangerous. Apparently there are munitions still on the site, so you might get a leg blown off if you’re unlucky.

Who to bring
Bring someone, for safety’s sake. Mobile phones don’t work here, neither in the bunker nor above it.

What to bring
A torch. Do not forget a torch. Make sure it’s a good one. In fact, bring two. A compass would be useful in case you get lost. Bring a camera of course, some beer for the road, perhaps a bottle of water too. And some grub. Prepare to be out for a whole day at least.

Dangers
Like I mentioned already, unexploded bombs, hidden pitfalls, rusty ladders, loose bricks, low ceilings. I’m guessing the underground bunker itself is sound enough but you never know. A helmet is not going to save you if it does collapse. At least there’s no security, unless you count the ghosts of tortured submarine men...

Disclaimer: Karl Dönitz didn’t really create the Döner Kebab. On his release from prison he wrote a couple of books, autographed postcards and answered correspondence until he died on Christmas Eve, 1980.