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Archive for April, 2010

May Day!

A friend of mine is flying into Berlin tomorrow, on the first of May. Great timing. Coming from Australia, a country where political radicalism means wearing red underpants, the depth of political feeling here – and the domestic disruption and violence which is expected tomorrow – is an intriguing curiosity.

Less so for the locals. For Berliners, the planned Neo-Nazi rally and its corresponding ANTIFA (radical anti-fascist) counter demonstration mean a day of nerves, burning cars, and closed supermarkets. Prenzlauerberg will be the site of this particular flashpoint, although pockets of violence are expected throughout the city.

Berlin is the flagbearer for left-wing activism in Germany. Although the initial assassination attempt against Rudi Dutschke took place in 1968, creating a martyr for a generation of activists, it was 1987 when the current tradition of rioting really took hold, after police tear-gassed a street party. There have been large-scale demonstrations ever since.

But how political is it really? Among many Berlin residents (and no doubt the genuinely committed small band of activists) there is disgruntlement over how the event has become an excuse for your average fun-loving punter to pick up a rock and hurl it at the police, or torch a car. Let’s face it, there are so few instances of this kind of socially accepted transgressive behaviour, small wonder that everybody wants to ride the rollercoaster.

One of the biggest issues is not the locals but the Riot Tourists. A quick google search will bring you the latest and greatest in locations, handy hints and tips, and of course a Best-Of Guide. Want to know where your best local riots are? Where you can find iron bars, members of the opposite political persuasion, and filthy capitalist establishments? Thanks to the information age, it’s all at your fingertips.

So what will I be doing tomorrow? Well, you wouldn’t catch me dead out on the streets by myself. No, I think I’ll take the ‘Revolutionary Berlin Anti Capitalist Tour‘. At five euros, it’s a steal that any self-respecting anti-capitalist shouldn’t miss.

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My socks today are green. I was going to choose blue but instinct prevented me much like it will prevent me from using commas in this post. The German word for letter is die Brief which I like although der Kugelshreiber remains my favourite word. My spellcheck has identified Kugelshreiber as an anomaly although ‘die’ and ‘brief’ are untouched. It’s not that smart after all. An urban legend during the early noughties claimed that the nouns ‘Keating’ and ‘Howard’ brought up auto-suggestions of ‘cheating’ and ‘coward’ respectively. I never tried it.

A friend of mine is also taking an intensive German class at a different school. There are Russians and Italians and Spanish and Yemenis and other nationalities in the class. One Friday evening she saw four of the Russians talking about meeting up the next day. The group included a girl and a new man who had only joined the class a couple of weeks previously. On Monday the teacher arrived in tears. He told them that the girl was dead. She had been murdered by the newly-arrived Russian man. On Saturday he met her in a bar and later killed her and put the body in a car and drove to a park where he left it. He went to the police and told them what he had done. He said he couldn’t remember which park he left the car at. It took them three weeks to find her body.  Everybody was interviewed by the police and the remaining Russians left. A week later the class was merged with another class.

I met a real-estate agent last week. She was an Irish woman with blazing red hair and a smoker’s growl who has lived here since before the wall came down. We pored over old maps and traced the bizarre meanderings of the iron curtain. She told me how it was Irish investors who first discovered how cheap Berlin real estate was around the turn of the century.

She said it is very difficult to evict a tenant here. Even after they stop paying rent it’s hard to get them out of the property and can take a lot of time. When looking for a Berlin apartment I was told to find a place with some kind of outdoor space which faces west or south-west so that it gets the afternoon sun. Nothing higher than the third floor if the building has no lift.

Outside from the street screams drifted through the window. A boy had fallen on the steps of the U-Bahn and was having a seizure. He seemed to be mentally disabled. The screaming lasted twenty minutes and the real estate’s secretary ran out to offer some water and see if she could help. Later she told me that the boy was autistic and had been walking with a large group of similarly handicapped children. His carers told her that this was a calculated tactic to make them buy him more coke and chips. So it goes.

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Ich lerne hier Deutsch

First class yesterday, and what a nervous rag-tag bunch we were, waiting for our teacher who showed up ten minutes late. Not very German, muttered a voice in the crowd. Japanese catering lady with a square business card, Israeli ginger, petite Spanish, Basque guy from Spain (I’m from Basque Country – in Spain), wizened young Italian musician, two beaming Vietnamese.

We had to spell our names aloud using the German alphabet. I suspect some would have had trouble in their native tongues let alone a new one. Neol turned out to be Lior. Ehuazel revealed herself as Iguacel. We all chuckled commiseratively over each other’s mistakes and made oversized faces to pronounce new sounds, gargling our Rs and hocking up our CHs. We were introduced to insipidly contructed dialogues between Peter and Laila and Carlos and Marina, which we recreated in a mingle just outside the classroom.

Thomas our teacher has a flowing brown crown surrounding a bald pate, infectious energy, and is self-conscious about his own (excellent) English. Actually English was used quite a bit both in the classroom and outside of it, as it’s the lingua franca of most of the students; I’m not sure if our German will get much better but everybody’s English certainly will. Three and a quarter hours is a hell of a long class, so we gladly collapsed outside with coffees and rolled cigarettes during our break and swapped potted histories. Nobody’s really got a proper job except Tomoko the smiley caterer. Everybody else is a student or intern or housewife or househusband or, like me, has decided that the word ‘unemployment’ is decidedly more palatable if you can claim to be learning the local lingo.

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Schonleinstrasse, Kreutzberg: It’s such a gorgeous day, every man and his dog is out in the sunshine. I went for a random wander and found a canal lined with wistful weeping willows. I followed the canal and stumbled into a huge Turkish market just off Kottbusser Damm. Assault and battery on the ears. Suddenly out of nowhere I was stuck in a pramjam. Hundreds (well, tens) of Turkish women wielding wheely trolleys covered in plaid did battle with highly determined single mums and their prams. I was caught in the middle. I tried to go around the outside but a grandmother with a moustache cut me off by running over my foot with her shopping.

I fully intended to buy nothing and just walk through the chaos. Flip-screen transition to me at home surrounded by shopping bags:

One gozleme with spinach and cheese. ‘Apetit auf gozleme?’ read the sign. One punnet of strawberries, mediocre quality, stupidly purchased from the first stall I saw, schoolboy error on my part. Half a kilo of green grapes. A tub of small sticky honey drenched Turkish sweets. Six yellow bananas – the salesman brazenly short-changed me a euro, and when I asked for it, handed it over without the slightest hint of shame. A block of Franzosische (French) fetta. Three firm avocados. A bag of ruccola – even though I’ve bought it, I’m not entirely sure what it is, and look on it with some suspicion. A bag of black kalamatta olives and a large green papaya. A small block of superbly aged English chedder sold to me by a grizzled man who is now trapped here by the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland. Whole thing cost me fouteen euros.

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