Wednesday, July 31, 2013

End of a world

It’s the end of the world as we know it. I don’t know that I feel fine.
Tomorrow I get the keys to my new place. Tonight is the night before everything changes for all of us.
I guess it’s a good thing. A new gaff. It’s what we both wanted. But I know in my gut that it isn’t what the young fella will want. He wants the three of us together, all the time.
It hasn’t really been that way of late, but things haven’t been so bad that we can’t humor him from time to time, at least at mealtimes, sometimes more. Maybe we can continue that way and he’ll come to enjoy having two homes where’s he’s loved and appreciated.
I certainly hope so. The next month will be a bit weird obviously. Hopefully we can manage the transition organically and with as little stress for the lad as possible.
Having said that, we’re probably more worried about it than he is. A scary world awaits. Let’s hope it’s a brighter one than the last one.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Staying cool at the Eisfabrik

It may not produce ice anymore, but the old Eisfabrik has apparently become a pretty cool place to hang out as Berlin swelters in the summer heat.
You couldn’t really say it’s abandoned anymore. It’s crowded. The place was crawling with hipsters and dipsters Friday evening, loads of them sitting on the roof, gazing out over the train tracks, river and city, clinking their bottles of beer as they toasted the marvelous sunset.
There were so many that bottle collectors were roaming around picking up discarded bottles for the 8c deposit. One girl had stacks of sacks stuffed with bottles. She said she was there all the time.
Squatters have made themselves at home in some of the rooms below. They looked pretty comfortable, with proper beds, bedclothes, furniture and all. They didn’t look so comfortable, though, when I shined my torch in at them and asked them how they were doing.
A lot of the doors are padlocked shut, so evidently they have some belongings and notions of privacy.
There was also a family downstairs, possibly Turkish, playing cards, drinking and chatting around a table. I suspect they were linked to the girl upstairs collecting bottles. But they were friendly enough, though an oul’ fella wanted €2 for me to take a picture of the window. He didn’t get it. The picture didn’t come out. Karma.
Outside, really taking the piss, a tented community has sprung up beside the river. There were a load of wigwams set up and hippies sitting around listening to some fella playing the guitar.
It was all very pleasant. It was dark at this stage and they’d strewn candles around the place so it was all nicely lit up. An English fella named Oliver, who didn’t know what the hell I was saying when I started talking to him in German, was selling bottles of lukecold Sterni for €1.
Oliver said they’d set up the “café” three weeks before, that the Eisfabrik belonged to a Russian investor, the other building to an investor from somewhere else, and the land on which the tented community was set up belonged to the city, which wants to keep riverside access. They were allowed camp there while building work was going on next door. Welcome to the murky world of gentrification in its infancy.
Perhaps not so pleasant were the rats foraging around the rubbish discarded at the bottom around the Eisfabrik. Apparently the bin collection service has dropped off in recent years, so the squatters and inhabitants just fuck their refuse out the side. The stench was unbearable, though I guess it must smell delicious for the rats.
The smell of piss on the stairs was also quite pungent, and the source is apparent from the rivers of urine cascading down from the upper steps. Well, not rivers exactly, but certainly streams trickle down from time to time.
Unpleasant smells notwithstanding, the Eisfabrik remains a pleasant place to visit, especially now it’s summer. Bring your friends, some beer, ignore the crowds, poke a hipster in the eye and enjoy the rooftop views over Berlin.

I wrote about the Eis Fabrik before, its history, likely future, and directions for how to get there and enjoy it before it’s gone forever. Click here for the link.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Irish summer(!)

Usually I’m happy to come back from Ireland, having been reminded of the reasons I left it in the first place.
Perhaps this time though, because I’d been more than adequately reminded of them before we even traveled, I was sorry to leave after a week that was always going to be too short.
Even the young lad wanted to go to the beach again rather than get the plane back to Berlin. Of course he wanted to see Jenny, and when I reminded him she was waiting patiently for him to return, he smiled in anticipation and didn’t complain about skipping the beach.
It was, in effect, a beach holiday, and a week is never enough for a beach holiday, even if there isn’t family, relations and long-neglected friends to catch up on. (Not that all my neglected friends are long, only some of them are.)
Of course the young lad didn’t give a rat’s ass for meeting old pals of mine, though he remained polite and civil throughout, but the highlight for him (apart from seeing the folks, my aunt and uncle and Helen again) was a reunion with cows, his old pals, and an introduction to his new love, the sea.
Jesus, he loved the sea! There was no hesitation whatsoever. As soon as his clothes were all off he ran right in and didn’t stop running up and down along the shore splashing and frolicking until he was pulled back out again, kicking and screaming, despite the fact his lips were blue and teeth were chattering from the cold.
A quick towel dry to get temperatures up again and then he’d run in again, laughing and cackling manically and he splashed, kicked, splashed and kicked again. When he was done with that, he’d throw sand into the sea, then stones.
“Don’t hit the seagull!” he warned me when I joined him in the stone-throwing.
The seagull evidently didn’t trust me and flew off.
The young fella was the only one naked on any of the beaches we visited. Evidently FKK isn’t a hit in Ireland, not even among the really little kids. Perhaps the Catholic Church’s activities have conditioned parents to cover their children up lest any lecherous priests be wandering around.
He missed his cousin and aunt due to a lack of time, but was reacquainted with Matthew, Jill and Tony’s young lad, and the two of them hit if off like a forest fire.
There were warnings on the telly and radio about “forest fires” – as if there were any forests left in Ireland – as well as warnings due to the “heatwave” which never hit 30C.
“Young children and the elderly are particularly at risk,” said the apologetic forecaster, while another was even more apologetic for the warm nights. The radio was moaning about the “unusual summer weather we’re having” and – to top it all – an “absolute drought” was declared after it didn’t rain for 15 days.
Evidently nobody left in Ireland – none of the weather forecasters at least – have ever travelled outside the country to gain a bit of perspective on what summers are supposed to be like. Rainwashed or brainwashed.
But we made the most of it, and to be fair, others did too. You could tell which ones they were from the lobster red glow they sent back toward the sun.
The young lad thought Helen’s kettle was very loud (as you can see to the right) but that was his only complaint.
And though I didn’t meet all the people I wanted to, it was a success for the sheer pleasure I gathered from those I did. I was humbled to meet Eoghan again and see how positive and cheerful he remains despite all he’s been going through and all he faces on a daily basis. He’s an example for anyone who feels within rights to complain about trivialities.
Then there was Mark and his family for the first time in seven years or so, Gavin for what seems as long, Jill and Tony, and others whose chance meeting along Bray seafront was an unexpected pleasure.
I missed Sully, who bogged off to Cork for the one weekend we were there, and Noddy, who’d already bogged off to Australia but whose presence was and is sorely missed.
Even the young fella asked for Noddy when we called up to the house to see his folks.
“He’s not here. He’s in Australia,” I told him.
“No! Where’s Noddy?” he’d ask again.
It’s not that you forget about people when you move away, but you come to appreciate all the more what you miss. The people are Ireland’s greatest resource. It’s just a shame the gobshites in charge are squandering them all away.
But we’ll be back of course, for more happy occasions and memories you cherish even as they’re being made. ‘Twas good to be home.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer’s in Ireland

We’re in Ireland. I think it’s Ireland. They told us it’s Ireland and it’s full of Irish, but the sun’s shining so I’m not sure. Clouds have been suspiciously absent the last couple of days and it’s warm. Warm!
People are going around topless and witless, out of their senses due to the unseasonably summery summer in Ireland so far. Everyone’s talking about the weather, there are even warnings about “the unusual summer weather” on the news.
“A blue sky! It’s even blue at night,” said one aul’ wan to another as they were walking along, as if the other couldn’t lift her eyes and gaze at the wondrous blue sky too.
Even the young lad can’t believe it.
“It not raining,” he says, over and over.
Fellas are baring their bellies so they can be sunburnt too and girls who shouldn’t wear bellytops are wearing bellytops. It’s belly disconcerting.
My cousin doesn’t think she’ll survive unless normal service (rain) resumes soon.
But we’re making the most of it, catching up on old pals too good to let slide, frolicking in the sea yesterday, traipsing around the zoo today, looking at the animals who can’t believe they’re in Ireland either.
Summer’s in Ireland. Something’s not quite right.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Güterbahnhof Pankow (End of the line for the railroad yard)

The only trains left at the Güterbahnhof Pankow are the trains of thought. Even the tracks are gone, taken away lest the carriages that once trundled through feel like trundling through again. Yes, their trundling days are over, and the surviving buildings mourn their absence even as they crumble and fade into the ignominy of abandonment.
Now they’re hollow and empty inside, starved of the hustle and bustle they crave, denied their lifeblood of freight cars coming to be loaded. How they must long for their trains!
The S-Bahn still whizzes by from time to time, stopping next door with all its bells and whistles, but that only makes it worse for the once-proud Güterbahnhof, as it looks over with disdain fueled by the jealousy of not being wanted. Passengers, bah!
Now it just rots. Nothing works and nothing’s being repaired. The train turntable doesn’t spin anymore and the control cabin’s in a sorry state. Too many parties – even the DJ has left.
Blackened beams attest to a hellish retirement, the smell of smoke still lingers, scattered sheets of paper flutter around the office, names and addresses for all to see (so much for Germany’s paranoia with privacy law), and the clock on the administration building only tells the time twice a day.
It used to be so different. The railroad yard began operations in 1893 or 1904 (depending on your source) and was only closed down (for reasons I have so far been unable to determine) in 1997. At its peak, it could handle up to 1,800 freight cars a day. One thousand 800 Güterwagen a day!
But they ripped out the rail tracks and knocked down a few buildings by 2007. Then in 2009, the whole 40 hectare site, including the land going down as far as S-Bahnhof Pankow, was snapped up by developer Kurt Krieger. He wants to invest €350 million to build a 30,000 square meter shopping center and a 40,000 square meter furniture shop (à la Ikea), while planting 1,370 new trees and creating a five hectare park.
The impressive round building, where they were able to turn locomotive engines with no reverse, is a listed building, a denkmalgeschützten Rundlokschuppen, apparently dating to 1893 and one of the last two in Germany.
Krieger reportedly wants to invest €5 million to restore it for cultural use.
“Maybe we’ll turn it into the opera of Pankow,” he joked in his broad Berliner dialect, according to Tagesspiegel. Pankow and opera are a strange mix, to say the least.
For now the site is inhabited by rabbits and talented street artists and odd people who like to practice voodoo or some such.
One of the buildings I found myself in had a load of bricks and sheets of paper arranged in the middle of the floor like a voodoo temple. Each to their own. At least it’s not as far-fetched as opera.
For now Güterbahnhof Pankow is at the end of the line. But development work could start as soon as next year. Seems it won’t be long before it goes off on a new track.

Güterbahnhof Pankow. Former railroad yard or freight station with two train turntables, one inside, one outside, that used to handle up to 1,800 freight cards a day. Now it handles none. But that’s progress.

Am Feuchten Winkel 137-145, Berlin 13089. 
Beside the S-Bahnhof Pankow-Heinersdorf. Literally, right beside it. Here’s a map to make it even easier for you to find.

How to get there
You might think it’s easiest to get there from the aforementioned S-Bahnhof but it’s not. Best to get the train there but then go back over the bridge from where you will see the Rundlokschuppen to your left, keep walking, then take your first left, go left again, and again, until you’re walking alongside the main road you just left. Keep going straight and you’ll soon find yourself in the Betriebsgelände.

Getting in
You may have to hop a gate if it’s closed, but it was open when I went last. If you follow the instructions above, you’ll be in.

When to go
I reckon daytime is best. There are no vistas for watching romantic sunsets, unfortunately. But, it could also be a decent spot for a party under moonshine.

Difficulty rating
1/10. It used to be 4/10 because it was tricky enough getting into the Rundlokschuppen. You needed to walk around, find the broken window, climb up and hoist yourself in through that, but that’s no longer the case now. See the update below.

Who to bring
Girlfriend/boyfriend (but not both at same time) or simply friends for a party. Trainspotters are a weird species but they’d also be into this.

What to bring
Beer. You’d survive if you brought nothing but beer. Bring a camera if you want to take a few snaps. Bring some snaps if you want to drink some snaps. Bring vodka, whiskey, and rum too if you want to get shitfaced.

There’s no security and I don’t think the Polizei give too much of a Scheiße. Just watch out for the usual things when venturing around such places. The ceiling in the Rundlokschuppen is none too safe anymore on account of the idiots setting fire to it. (Again, update below.) Don’t trip up over anything, or cut yourself on the plentiful broken glass lying around.

For more reading about this place, the Digital Cosmonaut wrote about it here.

UPDATE: Monday, July 29, 2013 - Sadly the Rundlokschuppen is even more burnt now than it was before. Since my previous visit, the door into it has been forced open, and now it gapes invitingly for idiotic vandals to go in and set the thing on fire. What utter gobshites.
It’s such a shame to see an important historical building like this go up in flames. Again, it proves Denkmalschutz (for a listed building) means absolutely nothing at all. Denk mal.
Of course, for well-meaning visitors it means there’s no longer any need to crawl in through the broken window over smashed glass and shards that tear your clothes. The fun’s been taken out of it. Now you can simply stroll in, as I did today with my bike in one hand and my camera in the other, and snap away to your heart’s content.
I went back to take more photos because I wasn’t happy with the previous ones. (Now you know why some are brighter/sunnier than others.)
I also wanted to see if there were really goldfish under the train turntable as a commenter mentioned. There are! There seemed to be quite a few of them having a bit of a feeding frenzy at the surface.
Otherwise I didn’t see another soul, though the familiar Berlin whiff of marijuana as I walked by one of the buildings indicated at least one soul wasn’t far away.
I’ve downgraded the difficulty rating from 4/10 to 1/10 – as another commenter kindly suggested – to indicate the ease of exploring this site. It really is no bother at all. Just be careful, you know, like you generally have to be in these places.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Kid A

It’s been ages since I wrote about the little fella so this is for family and friends, scattered and dispersed across far and wide, but united in the esteem he holds for you all, despite your eccentricities.
He’s cool, there’s no other way of putting it – damned cool. Of course, he may drive you mad at times, refusing to cooperate on matters of domestic importance, but he’s generally reasonable and he falls in with requests once he sees they’re grounded on solid foundations.
It doesn’t always work, however, even when they are. Sometimes jumping into puddles is just too much fun, regardless of whether you’ve wellies or not, while the merits of brushing teeth are never going to be apparent to a two-year-old.
He’s nearly 2½! He’ll be in Ireland for his half-birthday in a couple of weeks. We’ll be sure to celebrate with a session down the pub. He’ll drink so much milk it’ll be coming out of his ears and he won’t remember a thing the next day. That’s how we celebrate things in Ireland. None of this Kaffee und Kuchen business.
But he has a German sweet tooth and he likes his Kuchen. He’s been corrupted already. We’d been trying to keep him off sugar and shite, but it seems it’s unavoidable. They feed him in the Kita and anytime someone farts around here it’s a special occasion that must be celebrated with Kaffee, Kuchen, sweets and sugar-laced food.
He can never get enough milk though. He’s on the cows’ milk at this stage. They’re still among his favorite animals and who could blame him? Wonderful creatures. I reckon they’re one of the reasons he’s so keen to go back to Ireland – them and all the puddles he’ll be able to bash sticks into.
I only booked the flights because he was talking about it so much, of going on a plane, the cows, my parents, Helen and Noddy. He still remembers their time throwing stones in the well and he’s looking forward to a repeat of the good old days, even if he won’t remember the good old days when he’s experiencing new good old days. These are all good old days.
He expects Noddy will be there, though I’ve told him he’s far away, in Australia.
“Kangaroo!” he says. He’s right, too. Australia is full of kangaroos.
We went to the aquarium on Friday to look at the fishes. Of course he plunged his hands straight into the goldfish. I’m not sure what he would have done if he’d caught one.
He got hungry, so I asked if he wanted a hot dog. He nodded.
“Warm,” he said after biting into it.
“You’re right! It is warm. Not hot at all, is it? And it’s not a dog, either, is it?”
Yeah, he’s no fool. On the way back he pointed out my office building from the train. I couldn’t believe it. I think I pointed it out once before, yonks ago, and the S-Bahn doesn’t exactly hang around when it whizzes by.
Every day he does something that’s impressive. His progress is impressive, of course. On our way to the aquarium we could see the S-Bahn at Alexanderplatz S-Bahnhof.
“Es wartet auf uns,” he said, paused a second, then, “The train’s waiting for us.”
Of course the train fucked off, but we got the next one.
His German is dominant but he’s surrounded by it all the time and I suppose it’s understandable, perhaps even forgivable. But he can’t curse as well in German.
“Shit,” he says if he drops something. He’s on the verge of saying “shite” and “Jaysus.” For now he only says “Jayz,” which works fine too. No rush, all in it’s own good time. Sometimes, at inopportune moments, he’ll say “fuck,” but only at inopportune moments. Hopefully he says it in the Kita, shakes things up a bit.
He saw rugby since I last wrote, and a huge smile broke out across his face (picture to the left), but I think he prefers playing to watching, whether it’s rugby in the apartment to the neighbour’s consternation, or football in the kitchen to Jenny’s.
Other hobbies include running around laughing hysterically, kicking, jumping into, onto and off of things, screaming, breaking things, splashing, watering plants and general gardening, puzzles, cars, reading, singing, eating, drinking and pooing. He still isn’t pooing in a toilet and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry about it either. Sure you may as well make the most of having your arse wiped while you can.
But he pissed in a potty today! Standing up, like a man, none of this sitting down business. He was so proud, us too. We gave him a big round of applause, lots of whooping and cheering. He smiled from ear to ear, raised his arms into the air. Woooooo! I imagine he’ll be peeing au potty more often from now on, especially if he always gets such a reaction.
He’s happy to see the Fernsehturm whenever it appears, and is asking for its whereabouts when it doesn’t. Otherwise he’s a water-rat and a spud-eater. He went off with Jenny for a few days’ break last week, spent the time running around naked DDR-style and dipping his legs in a lake. Back home, he eats spuds like they’re sweets, one after the other, skin and all. He’d eat them raw if allowed.
Lately he’s been calling me “Papa.” Papa! He must have picked it up in the Kita. I guess I should be grateful he’s so possessive in front of the other kids.
“Meine Papa,” he says, clinging to my leg.
I bite my tongue and am thankful he thinks I’m a better dad than the other kids’. Terrible, really, when you need that reassurance.
He’s a little man already, a person, a character, a chancer and a messer. He jokes around, messes with your head. He’s good at telling when you’re messing with him, too. I do it all the time. You’d think the poor fella’s head’d be wrecked but he seems to enjoy it all the more.
It’ll be strange when I move into a new place next month. Strange for him and for me, strange for Jenny on the nights he isn’t there. But I’ve no doubt he’ll make the most of it and that his happy demeanor will win the day.
He’s cool, as I said before. Damned cool. He always makes the best of things, and he brings out the best in things, too.