Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Winter finally struck Berlin last week and as I feared, it was with a vengeance. It was just waiting to pounce, lull the poor fools into a false sense of security and then freeze their arses off as soon as anyone mentioned “Frühling.”
It was -13°C at the weekend. MINUS THIRTEEN!!! But I confess I’m not half as outraged as I pretend to be. I once survived a Berlin night when it dropped to -24°C.
Still, it was fucking cold, cold enough for me to get sick when it was only -7°C or so, relatively balmy. I went out on the bike after taking a shower so I was probably asking for trouble.
The whole city was caught out by Blitzeis before that, when it wasn’t yet cold enough for snow but when the rain turned to ice on impact, coating everything in a non-stick layer and turning Berlin’s entire population into penguins.
Despite the comical waddling, the emergency services had their busiest day in years. There were accidents and broken limbs all over the place. The only thing you could hear all day was the sound of ambulances and limbs breaking. Only the limbs were breaking, not the ambulances. They ran out of those and had to use fake ambulances. I presume they sound the same as the real ones.
I slipped briefly on the bike when I was bringing the young lad to Kita, and then completely on my way back home, when the whole bike flew out from under me as if yanked by a chain. I landed directly in a puddle. Worst part was, the road was so slippy I could hardly stay on my feet when I was getting up again.
Thankfully temperatures became more bearable yesterday, when heavy snowfall warmed us all up. I never imagined I’d be rescued from coldness by snow, but it’s true. (I’ll resist the obvious pun here.)
Today we made the most of it. The young lad stayed home and we went to Mauerpark on the sleigh. Well, he went to Mauerpark on the sleigh, I was pulling it like a reindeer. He wanted me to go like a rocket, so I had to run (like yesterday too) and any crashes only added to the hilarity.
He’s become such a sleigh aficionado that he was cursing the street cleaner for clearing the snow off the pavements.
“The street cleaner made the snow gone!” he exclaimed in outrage. “Fucking street cleaner.”
Yeah, we had great fun, despite the fucking street cleaners (they’re not so fussy about cleaning up the dog shit) and sure if the weather’s the same tomorrow, we might do it all again. Once it doesn’t get any colder we’ll be alright.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Unexpected praise

Abandoned Berlin has been named among The Guardian’s best city blogs around the world by its freshly launched Cities site!
Apparently it is, or I am, one of the “local urban voices who cover their home cities most insightfully.”
Obviously it’s a huge honor. Supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, Cities is designed to promote debate, garner predictions and spur fresh ideas for the future of cities around the world.
Hence the nagging feeling there must have been some mistake…
But I guess Abandoned Berlin is full of examples of the pitfalls to avoid, the likely dangers, the mistakes never to be made again. Worst-case scenario manifesto. I’m thinking, emulation is not what they’re going for here.
Guardian Cities editor Mike Herd wrote that they’d be looking for ideas and thoughts on urban life and developments in Berlin. That I can do. It promises to be an interesting experience.

The site has certainly been getting a lot more attention lately. You may have seen Der Tagesspiegel’s comprehensive piece three weeks ago. That set pageviews through the roof for a while and let to all sorts of unaccustomed attention.
There were TV and radio requests from Germany and abroad, newspaper interview requests galore and the Tagesspiegel piece was featured in media-watchdog website Bildblog as well, which led to even more pageviews.
The interview itself was pretty good. The interviewer, Paula L. Pleiss, shared the penchant for old rotting places and it was very nice to talk to her. The whole thing was in German!
“Mit der Polizei kann man redden, mit einem Dach nicht,” was my favorite line. I was telling her how the ceiling in a room collapsed just after I’d left it once, and that the greatest danger was always the condition of buildings. “You can reason with police, but not with a ceiling.”

Other recent media mentions lately include the very kind inclusion on Slow Travel Berlin’s list of its 40 Fave Berlin Blogs & Websites, a plug on Danish website Vild med Berlin (at least I think it’s complimentary), and the lovely surprise of being included in Lonely Planet’s “Top 20 free things to do in Berlin” a short while ago. Abandoned Berlin was also featured in El País’ travel guide for 2014, El Viajero. (On page 34 if you’re impatient to get to it.) Their star reporter Belén Kayser wrote some very nice things about the site en español.

In this sort of business I’m not sure if all this attention is a good thing, but I’ll make the most of it anyway while I still can. There was a time I could always be found in bars. Now I want to avoid being put behind them.

Pictures, in order of appearance, are from Buzludzha, Spreepark, Die Siemensbahn, Buzludzha again and the one below is from Zossen, enroute to Wünsdorf.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The treecutters

It’s started. Last Thursday the chainsaws came out and two men began cutting down the trees in the wild bit of land opposite.
This morning, early, they started again with more chainsaws, more men, and a noisy tree-mincing machine. It was gobbling up their cut branches and boughs and spewing a stream of sawdust into a trailer. It was snowing, hard.
Two Polizei came along, went in to talk to them. They all shook hands, talked, waved arms, the Polizei left – first one way, then another.
I went over and tried talking to two of the men, one with a chainsaw and ear-muffs, the other more senior, with a luminous orange jacket. They couldn’t hear me at first so I had to shout.
“What’s going to be built here?”
“A house,” orange jacket replied.
“What kind of house?” I persisted.
“A house. With a roof,” he said.
The fucker. He knew what I meant.
“Do you want to buy a house or what?” he sneered while ear-muff guy sniggered.
I went off, went around, began taking pictures.
Orange jacket soon came over.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“A camera,” I replied as I took his picture.
He pulled out his phone, rang someone, began speaking hurriedly.
Another guy in an orange jacket came over.
“Stop that,” he said with his hand trying to block the lens.
“Why?” I asked. I was on the footpath.
No answer.
I couldn’t make out what original jacket guy was saying on the phone. I continued taking photos as I walked around the site.
I decided the walk the scenic route home – just in case. Sure enough, when I looked back, I could see an orange jacket following. I didn’t hurry and neither did he.
I did a lap of the block until I was back at the site, ducked around the corner and waited for the guy. He was surprised when I popped out.
“Do you want to speak with me?” I asked.
He was still on the phone, and put his hand up as he backed away across the street.
When I walked back I could see he was still looking to see where I was going. I took another scenic route, doubled back, and made it home, unseen.

I don’t know what they’re building. The guys cutting down the trees probably don’t know either. Maybe it’s social or affordable housing in which case I’d even welcome it.
But Berlin’s track record is poor in this regard. More likely they’ll be “exclusive” apartments aimed at rich investors who’ll leave them empty as they wait for the market to catch up with their speculative investments, thus contributing to the problem new properties are supposed to be solving. So ist Berlin, Wowereits Berlin.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


The young fella’s three! There’s still only one of him – I mean he’s three years old today. Three!
He’s old enough to be excited about it. Last night when I brought him to bed I asked him what tomorrow was.
“It’s my birthday!” he giggled, writhing with happiness. Someone (obviously German) must have been telling him of all the wonderful things he could expect.
When I asked him last week what he wanted to do for his birthday he replied: “Go somewhere else. On a plane.”
I should have listened. We’re bringing him to a swimming pool and pizzeria. Not at the same time of course – that would be asking for trouble, chlorine-flavored pizzas at the very least – but he likes water and he likes pizzas so we may as well do what he likes. We’ll see how it goes. I’m sure there’ll be laughs, there always are. Lately he’s been regaling me with his comedic abilities…
“Can you put the milk and the yogurt in the fridge before they go off?” I asked him after breakfast.
“Where are they going?” he asked.
That was the start of a good day. We didn’t do anything in particular, just went for a walk. We crossed the Bösebrücke into West Berlin. It’s only around the corner, yet still a world apart.
He found two sticks – one was half the size of a tree – and he dragged them along the path. I had to stop him when he went to hit parked cars with them.
“Only police cars,” I told him.
He bashed the sticks together in accompaniment as he sung Skippy – “Skippy, Skippyyyy, Skippy the bush kangaroooooo….”
Then he replaced the word kangaroo with “shite, shite, shite.” Not that I encouraged him. But still. It was a moment of pride. Such improvisation!
Then he sang to the tune of Jingle Bells using only the word shite. That was even more impressive.
He never fails to impress me. It’s a week since his first standing-up pee. He was so proud. I still am. Jenny was horrified when I told her, and I subsequently learned German “men” actually sit down to pee. Unglaublich. Anyway, the young fella doesn’t want to sit down anymore. Upwards and onwards…
He acts older than a three-year-old. Last night he asked me if I was finished my dinner.
I replied in the affirmative.
“Then you can go play in my room,” he said as he continued eating.
He’s still asking questions for which there are no answers. Last month he wanted to know why the moon was there. Now it’s: “Why are the stars?”
It was a tough year for him but he seems to be coping well with the new arrangements. In fact, I reckon now he’s turning them to his advantage. But sure, who can blame him?
He’s loved and he knows it. That ain’t such a bad thing.
Happy birthday young fella!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

An Irish Christmas

Once you think you’ve loads of time you’ve no time at all. Since I last wrote we’ve been to Ireland, and back. Ten days we had, or so I thought, but in the end it was over just as it seemed to begin. I saw no one but the unmissables and I even managed to miss some of the unmissables…
I didn’t see my sister, her daughter, Tony or Jill, their kids, Mark, the other Mark, Jessie, Julie, Eoghan, Kaner, Tom, Barry, Sandra, Gav or Delphine, their kid, the list goes shamefully on, and here I am back in Berlin wondering if we went to Ireland at all.
But we did of course. We spent Christmas there, the first that the young lad will remember.
It was a long trip over – more than 12 hours from Prenzlauer Berg to Whitechurch because of unfortunate connections – and he was happy as a pig in shit once he got there so perhaps I was loath to inflict another long journey on him.
We only saw whoever was in Whitechurch, a village of 11 houses, and my aunt, uncle and cousin an hour’s drive away in Tipperary.
We called up to Noddy’s house the first night. He wasn’t there, but we were made welcome all the same. The young lad traipsed muck in all over the place, made himself at home.
Noddy was there the next, back from Australia with his wife Tahnee, and ‘twas great to see them. I told the young fella to stop jumping on the lego, he was supposed to jump over the bucket, but he ran up and gave it a great kick instead, sending me and Noddy into convulsions of laughter, and Noddy’s mother into convulsions of her own.
We went outside to look at the village Christmas tree and the crib beside it. The young fella ran up to it, burst his arse laughing as soon as he reached it.
“Yeah, that’s religion,” I told him.
Smart kid, he didn’t need me to tell him.
Then he threw himself headfirst over a fence into the grass beside the graveyard, beckoned us over to sit on a bench. The young fella’s a bit mad. We sat like he told us to. It was great.
We missed Mass on Christmas Day because we couldn’t get up on time. It was at half fucking 11 for Jaysus’ sake! But my dad told us Santa didn’t turn up (as he had in years before) so we dodged a bullet there.
The Christmas tree itself was only erected around 6pm Christmas Day because the stand for it couldn’t be found. ‘Twas only a plastic thing so it needed a stand. Then me and the young lad waited in the kitchen and listened to the bashing and banging next door as Santa came (especially for us) to deliver his presents. He was literally squealing with excitement. The young lad, not Santa. It was great.
We opened the presents after dinner. That was great too. As was the turkey, spuds and pudding. I brought some pudding back. Pudding of both varieties.
We went for walks down to the river either side of the hurricane-force storms, lost a slíotar, splashed in puddles, trudged through muck, greeted sheep, waved at cows, gazed at horses, got followed by a cat, enjoyed a magnificent sunset at the beach and et like kings. Everything the young fella saw was a marvel.
I saw Sully on the last night. Up at Noddy’s house. The three amigos. We were all talking shite as usual, just like none of us had ever left.
“Only a small drop,” said Sully when asked if he wanted some weird cocktail to drink. Then, as Johnny was pouring it out, “Horse it in.”
Noddy talked of crocodiles having two aortas and of strange time continuums. “She was only there a brief two hours.”
That was the last night. The next day we’d to travel from Whitechurch back to Berlin again.
Noddy and Tahnee were supposed to follow us over for New Year’s Eve but Noddy’s sick – he just wouldn’t slow down when his body was telling him to stop – so they couldn’t make it. A shame. But fuck it, better we see him again in two year’s time than we never see him again.
And he was there to become an uncle as Jane, his sister, gave birth to the last baby born in Waterford in 2013. A new life and a new year. Wishing ye all a very good one.