Saturday, 26 May 2007

Shopping in Berlin and Hunting for the Tiergarten Biergarten

This Monday is, like in England, Whit Monday Bank Holiday and all the shops will be closed. Tomorrow is Sunday and German shops are always closed. Yup, unlike England even the DIY and garden centres. I don't think they even have car-boot sales.

So, today was going to be shopping day. Julie wanted to get a DVD of the 2004 film Vinzent, for the simple reason that Till Lindemann (front-man of Rammstein if you didn't gather) plays an animal-rights activist in it. Unfortunately we didn't track it down in Saturn or Dussmann book and music shop.

We head back to the Zoo area because we drastically need some clean underwear and tee-shirts; it has been hot beyond our predictions and we are rapidly either going to run out of fresh clothes, or stink the S-Bahn out. Where better than KaDeWe, variously claimed to be the largest departmental store on continental Europe? Because, and let me not put too strong an emphasis on this, Saturday at KaDeWe is the earthly manifestation of Dante Alighieri's most tortured nightmares about the extreme limits of what torment is physically possible to inflict on humankind. Though I add that (in case the management of KaDeWe are as litigious as our own Harrod's department store proprietor Mohammed al-Fayed) this is totally my personal opinion and I am sure that thousands (though it appeared like millions) of happy shoppers regularly enjoy the shopping experience there without a scratch on their eternal souls. I also foolishly didn't think to exchange fifty pounds into Euro just so I could buy a pair of knickers. Thank goodness for H&M at the Potsdamer Platz Arcade for something within my budget, but I might add that I had to queue to pay for an interminable time because whilst Brits are indoctrinated in the art of standing in turn from birth, Germans just don't seem to get it (and I'm too polite / socially inept to assert my prior claim to being served).

Ok. Right. Rant over. Just let's say it was a nightmare trying to shop for pants.

We then made our way into the Tiergarten for lunch. We had discovered a Biergarten hidden away by a lake in the park on a previous visit, and wished to revisit it. Well, actually the Tiergarten is pretty big. And unlike, say, Hyde Park in London, it is rather enclosed by trees and flower borders so you can't see very far at any one time. So an hour or so later, we didn't find the Biergarten and we were getting rather hungry, thirsty, and foot-weary. We found our way to the top of the Tiergarten, by the Brandenburg Gate, where there was a large video screen, spectator stands, and lots of people milling around dressed in football colours. We gathered that today was the German-cup Finales 2007 between Stuttgart and Nuremburg in berlin at the Olympic Stadium.

... I'm going to get round to finishing this someday, honest!

[edit: still haven't done it, and now I haven't a clue what I did!]

Friday, 25 May 2007

Köpenick, Rahnsdorf, and Aldershof

(Not one of my photos but by German Wikipedia contributorAndreas Steinhoff. It is of the Köpenick Rathaus.)

Today we learned a new word; Ersatzverkehr, or replacement transport.

We started the morning in Alt Köpenick, me with a delicious 'Becher' of walnuts and ice-cream. Today we had two properties to view with estate agents, but first we wanted to check out this South Eastern area of Berlin on the opposite banks of the river Spree. The Altstadt has the charm of a sleepy seaside port, whereas Köpenick itself is a busy bustling town. What we should have paid attention to were the roadworks along the tram-lines, because our plan was to take our time going from Köpenick, up North and East alongside the Müggelsee, to our first viewing appointment at mid-day in Rahnsdorf. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, but today the roadworks were causing disruption to the transport system big-time, and we didn't know where to catch the correct Ersatzverkehr laid on to replace the tram service.

Miraculously we made the appointment only a few minutes late (though a few minutes late to a German is important!). Neither the estate agent or the owner spoke anything more than a few words of English, and our German is pretty poor, so it was rather a pantomime of trying to explain ourselves in sign language and pointing at things. But they were both utterly charming, and they showed us around their beautiful, but small, house. The owner said (I think!) that he'd lived there for sixty eight years, which to put it in an historical persepctive, meant he'd witnessed the devastation of Berlin towards the end of WWII, and lived most of his life under Communist DDR.

The house in Rahnsdorf is in a great location, with forest and lakes around. And it has a beautiful garden with a pond well-stocked with giant koi that the cats would have liked, but ultimately it was too small. Perhaps it would be fine for just the two of us, but the layout and size wasn't conducive to having family and friends stay over, of which we expect a lot of.

The next house to see was in the south of the city, towards Alt-Glienicke and near to Schönefeld airport. We figured that this would at least be handy for people visiting us. We made our way down by S-Bahn to Adlershof and caught the airport bus service, which should have taken us right by this house. Well, Ersatzverkehr would have been welcome, because the bus got stuck in an almighty Verkehrstau (traffic jam). Not fun at the best of times, but with the heat sweltering on the bus, and an appointment to keep, we despaired as the bus inched forward.

We eventually made it, and only a few minutes late, but we were getting rather frazzled. Again the owner and the estate agent couldn't speak English, but we managed to muddle through. Actually, the house sold itself. It is very well laid out over three floors, with exceptional build quality and amenities. The owner told us he is Elektriker von Beruf, and it showed with the impressive lighting and sockets in every room.

What let this house down though is that it is rather too close to the main road. Apart from the noise when sitting outside on the otherwise very nice terrace, we wouldn't trust the cats not to try and cross the road; the same road that was snarled up with traffic trying to get to the airport. Also, a larger garden would have been more appealing.

Anyway, after the tour of the house and a chat in the garden we tried to get back into Berlin centre. We waited for the airport bus service, but after half an hour it was obvious it had got bogged down in the Stau. Either that or it had been withdrawn on health & safety grounds after one too many passengers had collapsed with heat exhaustion. So, Ersatzverkehr, we walked to Altglienike S-Bahn. On the way, we took in the local neighbourhood, and if the house we had seen had just been set a few tens of metres back from the road it would have been almost perfect.

That evening we went to an excellent Italian restaurant we know of in Prenzlauer Berg near the Kulturbrauerei (Culture Brewery - only in Germany!), and one we'll happily take you to when we have moved to Berlin for good. After that we did some window-shopping on the trendy Schönhauser Allee, then caught what we thought would be an S-Bahn to Alexanderplatz to finish up with cocktails. After going backwards and forwards to the next stop on the U2 in the opposite direction from Alexanderplatz, we realised that the announcement on the train was saying 'alles umsteigen' (everybody off!) and that dreaded word again, Ersatzverkehr. Yes, there had been work on the S-Bahn's as well today, and the S-Bahn service into the centre had been replaced with a bus. Well, stuff trying to find where the bus was leaving from, we piled into a nearby cocktail bar (The Chillout Lounge I think), and finished off the evening sipping ice-cold Caipirinha's. Himmel!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Pankow, Karow, Spargel, Knut, and Pratergarten

Our aim was to do some serious leg-work and check out which areas of Berlin we could happily live in. Our first exploring tour was to Pankow, directly to the north of Prenzlauer Berg where we were staying.

The main street in Pankow, Breite Strasse, is a wide boulevard with a neo-Gothic parish church in the middle and a rather Baroque red-brick Rathaus ticking all the buttons of what a fairy-tale German town should look like. Something that pleases me about German towns is that you don't get the same ubiquitous high-street franchise stores that you can predict will make up a British high-street; Boots, WH Smiths, Woolworths, Body Shop, Superdrug, HSBC, Halifax, Clarkes, Specsaver, McDonalds, . . . anytown UK in fact. Pankow (or any German town I've been to) instead have mostly self-owned shops; local shops for local people! (Except for C&A for some reason; after abandoning our shores they seem intent on dominating the continent).

Wandering around the locality of Pankow you have no sense that the tourist honey-trap of Unter Den Linden is just a twenty minute S-Bahn ride away. You also find that contrary to what you might be told, not every German by any means speaks fluent English. More incentive then for us to learn German!

We explored some delightful parks in the area, from the formal Bürger park (which nether-the-less seems to have a herd of goats!), to the wildness of the Volkspark Schönholzer Heide. In the latter, you could imagine you were deep in Sherwood Forest if it wasn't for the regular aeroplanes flying overhead to Tegel airport (and for the distinct lack of any litter or dog waste). Eventually we came to the grandeur of a monumental Soviet Cemetery to those Russians who had fought liberating Berlin from the Nazis. It is not quite on the scale of the one at Treptow, but still enormous, impressive and moving.

We made our way back to Breite Strasse through what seemed a village of charming allotments and community gardens, each with their individualistic summer houses and arrangements of garden gnomes. This seemed like an area we (and the cats!) could definitely warm to.

Unfortunately, whilst in Pankow I got a call on my mobile from Halifax. The sale on our house has fallen through! This is bad news, but we don't let it stop us continuing our exploration of Berlin's housing market.

To the North East of Pankow (but still in the same Bezirk of Pankow) we came by S-Bahn and bus to Karow. We had seen on the internet an interesting house for sale here, but hadn't manage to arrange a visit with an estate agent (Immobilienmakler). We'd also seen another house, that had then been sold, and new-build opportunities on the edge of the area. Definitely woth checking out.

Karow is on the edge of Berlin (just short of the end of zone B on the public transport network), and abuts onto countryside. How much longer that will last with new buildings going up all the time is a matter of conjecture, but for the moment there are vistas of rolling rape-flower fields, trees, and open spaces.

We saw the house that had sold, and it was a missed opportunity. It even had a vets a few doorways along, so not so far to take the cats! The house we hadn't managed to get a look round certainly looked promising; fairly large and with an impressive Grundstücksgrösse (total property size including garden), enough to build another house on in fact. On the down-side, it was rather close to a main railway line, and it did seem a bit remote down a rough road.

Travelling by bus into the heart of Karow, there was a lot of evidence of DDR social housing blocks of apartments being renovated. It did seem a bit remote from Berlin, but there looked like lots of opportunity for new build housing.

Back to the centre of Berlin for lunch, which for me was a large dish of spargel (asparagus) near the Zoo Bahnhoff. Unfortunately I had assumed that spargel in a bechamel sauce would be vegetarian, but for some reason it also had strips of parma ham which I delicately excised from the dish before eating. This is the spargel season here in germany, but it is always the forced, white asparagus. I can't see what the attraction is; British green asparagus seems to have a lot more taste to me, and white asparagus has the consistency of stringy over-boiled leeks. Still, when in Rome . . . oh hang on, that's where we were supposed to be this week, but sitting amidst the buzz of Berlin I cannot complain.

Any visitor to Berlin could not be unaware that a cute polar bear called Knut has been born to Berlin Zoo. There are even postcards of giant Knut's curling around the Brandenburg Gate! So, we had to visit the Zoo and see the little chappy. Unfortunately, we missed the end of his twice-daily audience with the visitors by a matter of minutes. No worries; Berlin zoo is one of the largest and best in Europe, and I did manage to photo Knut's family instead:

No visit to Germany is complete without visiting a Biergarten, and the Pratergarten in Prenzlauer Berg is the first (begun in 1837) and possibly the best. I believe it is also where Rammstein Herman Munster look-alike (boy, am I going to get my ass whipped for this!) Till Lindemann had his fortieth birthday party, so pretty damn famous then.

So that's where we ended up this evening, particularly enjoying the Prater Schwarzbier.

Zum wohl!

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Return to Berlin!

We were supposed to be meeting friends from the USA in Rome this week, but we had an offer on our house and so it was all systems go to find a place in Berlin.

A change of plan, and we found ourselves today flying from Luton for Berlin-Schönefeld airport.

We arrived in Berlin late afternoon and made our way to our friend Debbie's apartment near Greifswalder Strasse. Select to view a dynamic map of the area.

We were delighted to discover that Debbie had a couple of other guests; two of the most adorable kittens you've ever seen! Here is a photo of them helping me to unpack!

And here is one of the kittens on her own.

After a curry we went down to Alexander Platz to re-acquaint ourselves with this marvelous city.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Passive Leipzig

Leipzig has been anything but 'passive'. For example, it was here that the Monday Demonstrations, peaceful political protests against the government of the German Democratic Republic of East Germany, began.

No, one of the German places we are studying on the Open University course L130 is Leipzig, and I'm going to use information about it to practice using the passive.

The passive voice is when the subject of the verb experiences the action rather than performs it. He was seen, rather than Somebody saw him.

The passive imperfect is formed by using the appropriate tense of the verb werden (to become) with the past participle, which goes at the end of the clause.

So, what do I (or Wikipedia!) know?

The University of Leipzig was founded in 1409. This is called the passive voice because the subject of the sentence (the university) is being acted upon by the verb (to found) rather than initiating the action. And it is in the imperfect past (well, everything is perfect today isn't it?).

The verb to found is gründen, which I'm pretty sure is a weak verb so we can give it a regular past participle formation gegründet.

Quick conjugation of the verb werden in the imperfect tense:
  • ich wurde

  • du wurdest

  • er/sie/es wurde

  • wir wurden

  • ihr wurdet

  • sie/Sie wurden
So here's goes:
  • Die Universität Leipzig wurde 1409 gegründet.
Or, perhaps a bit more elegently:

  • Im Jahre 1409 wurde die Universität Leipzig gegründet.

(The imperferct active voice would have been something like: Ich gründete die Universität 1409. But I'm not really claiming to be that old).

That's easy enough, so what else does google know about things being founded in Leipzig? How about:

  • Das Gewandhausorchester Leipzig wurde 1781 gegründet. The Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig was founded in 1781.

  • Der Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, die erste deutsche Arbeiterpartei, wurde in Leipzig am 23. Mai 1863 gegründet. The General German Workers Association, the first German Workers Party, was founded on 23rd May 1863 in Leipzig.

  • Die Handelshochschule Leipzig (HHL) wurde am 25. April 1898 gegründet und ist die älteste Wirtschaftshochschule Deutschlands. The Leipzig Graduate School of Management was founded on the 25th April 1898 and is the oldest business school in Germany.

  • Die Deutsche Bücherei wurde 1912 in Leipzig gegründet. The National German Library was founded in 1912 in Leipzig.

  • Der Deutscher Fußball-Bund wurde in Leipzig 1900 gegründet. The German Football Association was founded in Leipzig in 1900.

Switching from gründen to bauen to build, past participle gebaut:

  • Das Völkerschlachtdenkmal wurde zwischen 1898 und 1913 gebaut. The Monument of the Battle of the Nations was built between 1898 and 1913. And as an aside, Es ist das größte Denkmal Europas. It is the largest monument in Europe.

  • Das Altes Rathaus wurde 1556 gebaut. The old city hall was built in 1556.

  • Das City-Hochhaus wurde 1972 gebaut. The high-rise building was built in 1972. And, es ist das höchste Gebäude Leipzigs. It is the highest building in Leipzig.

Those buildings could also have been described using errichten to erect, which has the irregular past participle errichtet. So:

  • Das Altes Rathaus wurde 1556 errichtet. The old city hall was erected in 1556.

Another verb to describe buildings in the passive imperfect is when were they opened, eröffnen, which has a past participle of eröffnet. So:

  • Das neue Messegelände wurde 1996 eröffnet. The new trade-fair centre was opened in 1996.

  • Das Zentralstadion wurde 1956 eröffnet. The central sports stadium was opened in 1956.

  • Das BMW Werk Leipzig wurde 13. Mai 2005 eröffnet. The Leipzig BMW factory was opened on the 13th May 2005.

I guess a further way to describe buildings is when they were demolished, with the verb abreißen, to pull down, past participle abgerissen. My knowledge (for which read, Wikipedia's knowledge) isn't so hot on when things were demolished, but I guess that with Leipzig being such an old city (a trade fair there is first mentioned in 1165), but with a modern looking city centre (I nearly said grim, grey, concrete, seventies, Soviet-style wasteland), that at some point:

  • Die alten Fachwerkbauten wurde abgerissen. The old timber-framed buildings were torn down.

In Ordnung, I think I've got the hang of the passive imperfect. But of course the passive voice can be used in any tense. For the present tense, if you are describing an action as opposed to a state, you still use the past participle, but you use the present tense of werden. To give a reminder of werden in the present tense:

  • ich werde

  • du wirst

  • er/sie/es wird

  • wir werden

  • ihr werdet

  • sie/Sie werden

So, now we can say:

  • Das Altes Rathaus wird jetz renoviert. The old city hall is being renovated (now).

  • In Leipzig wird Deutsch gesprochen. In Leipzig German is spoken (not surprisingly!).

  • Neue Gebäude werden errichtet. New buildings are being erected.

On first impressions, it might seem a bit strange that you use the past participle for present activities, but if you think about what we say in English we do something similar. e.g. In Nottingham English is spoken (compare was spoken, has been spoken), rather than use to speak in the present tense (he speaks, they speak).

To add a different twist; if you are describing a state, then instead of werden you use the present tense of sein to be.

  • Hunde sind nicht erlaubt. Dogs are not allowed.

  • Das Geschäft ist heute geschlossen. The shop is closed today.

Sein is also used if you want to express the past perfect tense (things which happened and aren't continuing to happen). In this case you use the past participle of the main verb with the present of sein, then stick the past participle of werden, worden, on the end. Or rather you don't, because the past participle of werden is actually geworden. Drop the ge-, and this form worden is only ever used to form the passive. Examples:

  • In Leipzig, Neue Wohnblöcke sind gebaut worden. In Leipzig new blocks of flats have been built.

  • Im zwanzigsten Jahrhundert sind viele Fabriken auf dem Randgebiet von Leipzig konstruiert worden. In the twentieth century many factories have been constructed on the outskirts of Leipzig.

  • Ruhige Demonstrationen sind für Montag geordnet worden. Peaceful demonstrations have been arranged for Monday.

Sometimes you need to use von (by) in the passive. So, rather than the subject directly operating on the verb such as with Der Bürgermeister öffnete das neue Rathaus the mayor opened the new town hall, you could say that the town hall was opened by the mayor:

  • Das neue Rathaus wurde vom Bürgermeister geöffnet.

Because you are using von, the important thing is to remember that von causes what follows to be in the dative case. So it is von dem Bürgermeister rather than der Bürgermeister (contracted to vom).

Finally, a note about when you don't need to use the passive when you would in English, by using man one. In English you can say 'that isn't done' and it is in the passive voice. If you were a bit posh (or wanted to sound like you are), you could rephrase that as 'one doesn't do that', with the normal active voice word order of subject-verb-object and 'done' (past) becoming 'do' (present). In German using 'one' is not only not posh, but is often the usual way of phrasing a sentence which otherwise would be in the passive, so 'that isn't done' is 'Das macht man nicht'.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

The Cats' Passports Have Come Through At Last!

And they have a place to put an identifying photograph! We shall have to dig out the guidelines for passport photographs that we had to adhere to when we had ours renewed a few months ago. So no Simba, you can't wear your cool sun shades. And Cassie, no hijab in the photo please!

I have this image of the cats standing in line at German passport control, and the guy there looks down at Tosca and then at her photo and gives the mandatory 30 second hesitation and stern look they seem to have been trained to do.

I think these passports are really quite cool; I wish I had one! (I don't fancy being micro-chipped and given an anti-rabies vaccine though).

Now we just need to sell the house, and off we go to Berlin!

Edit: I've now added a photo of the passports, showing Tosca's open.