Thursday, 25 December 2008

Magical Christmastime!

Our first Christmas in Germany!

We haven't enough money to exchange gifts or buy extravagent decorations, but we cooked a full (vegetarian) Christmas dinner with roast spuds, Yorkshire pudding, and sage and onion stuffing and gorged ourselves on chocolates and booze in the traditional English way.

Not so traditionally English, instead of crashing out on the sofa with a tin of Quality Street to watch the Sound of Music, in the evening we went to the Staatsoper on Unter den Linden to see a performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte). 

The view from our seats in The Gods was pretty crap, but then we'd only paid 17 Euro each for them, and what would you pay at Covent Gardens? Otherwise, the production, stage design, orchestra and singing was excellent. I particularly enjoyed the Queen of the Night's performance, so difficult to sing to perfection but this singer hit the high F6's with exhilerating precision. The guy who played Papageno was also noteworthy, sprinkling the standard text with ad libs and generally camping it up so he reminded me of David Walliams. The set had a strong Egyptian theme which fitted well, and some nice innovations, such as 'the three ladies' being disgorged by a three-headed serpent at the beginning.

If you don't analyse the Elightenment and Masonic references too much, The Magic Flute is basically a traditional pantomime ("Where's Monostatos?" "He's behind you!"), and with this performance they even threw in a pantomime unicorn (and Horus, and crocodiles etc).

A magical evening, albeit marred by poor views of the stage, topped off with after-show Glühwein next to the ice-rink on Unter den Linden.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Bring on the Bagpipes! - Corvus Corax

It's the week before Christmas. What better time then to go to church and listen to mediaeval music chanted in Latin by guys dressed in robes? Hmm, and with six bagpipe players, gargantuan drums, lots of luting, and squeeky pipes please.

Let it be so!

Tonight we went to see Corvus Corax perform their reconstruction of profane mediaval music at the Evangelisch Passionskirche on Marheinekeplatz. I'm not sure Martin Luther had in mind places of Christian worship being given over to a band of bizzarely dressed and sweaty tattooed men led by a guy named Teufel (Devil), but never have I seen a church congregation so happy-clappy (and stompy-jumpy). Cliff Richard should be so happy for this reception. The audience seemed an eclectic mixture of young musicology students checking out the authenticity, puzzled looking goths, beardy middle-aged Womad types, and people dressed as if they were on their way to the Crusades; the CC groupies I guess. And us; we're totally normal of course.

As a spectacle it works perfectly, and audience and performers interact as one in buying into a mediaeval travelling musician folk mystery-play kind of thing. Only a few fire-eaters, tumbling dwarfs, and people on stilts seem to be missing. But then there are only so many notes you can get out of a bagpipe or chanter whilst the drum-beats repeat the same beat and the harmonics reach again the diabolical thirds, and after a while each set-piece starts to sound like the last. We left them dancing in the aisles and hummed the latest hit from the thirteenth century on our way to the S-Bahn.

Here's a photo of Teufel I snapped just before my camera was confiscated by the security monks:

Friday, 19 December 2008


It seems like Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' is going to make the British Christmas charts as number one and even number two.

As it always reminds me of that great German film The Edukators (in German Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei) here is Cohen singing it himself:

And here's a link to Jeff Buckley's version which was actually used in the film (and let's face it, Cohen can't actually sing very well!).

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Berlin Christmas Markets 2008

Wheinachtsmarkt stall, Berlin 2008, by Andie

Today is Totensontag, the Sunday before advent, when the dead are commorated. The protestant version of the Catholic All Souls Day, but more importantly for the sensation-seeking atheist it is the traditional Sunday after which the Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkten) open. Hooray!

Below are a selection of the largest, but many many smaller ones are all over Berlin and Potsdam. Wherever you pop up to on an S-Bahn it seems like a fair-ride or bratwurst stand have sprung up nearby. Enjoy!


  • Weihnachtsmarkt an der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche - Christmas  market at the  Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
    Next to Budapester Straße, near the Zoologischer Garten U- and S-Bahnhof
    see map.
    24.11.2008 – 01.01.2009. Sun - Thu 11 am - 9 pm. Fri - Sat 11 am - 10 pm.
    more info

  • Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Charlottenburg - Christmas market in front of Charlottenburg Castle.
    Schloss Charlottenburg, Spandauer Damm
    see map.
    26.11.2008 – 28.12.2008 Mon - Thu 2 am - 10 pm Fri - Sun 12 am - 10 pm 24.12.: closed
    25./26.12.: 12 am – 8 pm.
    more info 


  • Chanukka-Markt - Hanukkah Market (Chanukka-Markt).
    At the Jewish Museum Berlin, Lindenstraße, in the Glass Courtyard
    see map.
    30.11.2008 – 31.12.2008 Mon - Sun 12 am - 6 pm 24.12.: closed.
    more info

  • Kultur-Weihnachtsmarkt - Culture and Christmas market, with artists, clowns, musicians, and theatre.
    On Marheinekeplatz
    see map.
    27.11.2008 – 23.12.2008 Mon – Fri 3 – 10 pm Sat/Sun/holidays 11 am – 10 pm.
    more info


  • Wintertraum ums Alexa - A Vision of Winter around Alexa.
    from the new Alexa shopping centre by Alexanderplatz, along Alexanderstraße to Jannowitzbrücke.
    see map.
    24.11.2008 – 4.1.2009 Mon-Fri 1 – 10 pm Sat/Sun 10 am – 10 pm

  • Berliner Weihnachtszeit - Berliner Christmas Time.
    In front of the Rotes Rathaus (Red Town Hall), including a skating rink around the Neptune fountain.
    see map.
    24.11.2008 – 28.12.2008 Mon - Thu, Sun 12 am - 9 pm Fri/Sat 12 am - 10 pm 24.12.: closed 25./26.12.: 12 am-10 pm.
    more info

  • Weihnachtsmarkt auf dem Alexanderplatz - Winter market on the Alexanderplatz.
    see map.
    24.11.2008 – 28.12.2008 Daily 10 am - 10 pm
    more info

  • Weihnachtsmarkt am Opernpalais - Winter market at the Opernpalais.
    Eastern end of Unter den Linden.
    see map.
    24.11.2008 – 28.12.2008 Mon - Thu 12 am – 9:30 pm Fri - Sat 11 am - 10 pm Sun 11 am – 9:30 pm 24.12.: closed 25.-27.12.: 11:30 am – 9pm 28.12. 11:30 am - 8 pm
    more info

  • WeihnachtsZauber - Yuletide Enchantment.
    On Gendarmenmarkt.
    see map.
    24.11.2008 – 31.12.2008 Mon-Thu, Sun 11 am - 10 pm Fri/Sat 11 am - 11 pm 24.12. 11 am - 6 pm 25./26.12. 11 am - 10pm New Year’s Eve 11 am - 11 pm
    more info.

  • Winterwelt auf dem Potsdamer Platz - Winter World on the Potsdamer Platz.
    Potsdamer Platz
    see map.
    01.11.2008 – 04.01.2009 traditional Christmas market 24.11. - 28.12.2008 Daily 10 am - 10 pm, Advent Saturdays 10 am - midnight.
    more info

  • Weihnachtsmarkt im Sony Center - Christmas market in the Sony Center
    Potsdamer Str., off of Potsdamer Platz
    see map.
    27.11.2008 – 04.01.2009 Mon-Thu 2 – 9 pm Fri 2 – 10 pm Sat 12 am – 10 pm Sun 12 am – 8 pm 24.12.: closed 25./26./31.12.: 12 am – 10 pm 1.1.: 12 am – 8 pm
    more info

  • Ice rink on Bebelpatz (next to the Opernpalais market) and Eisbahn (ice road) of white-lit trees up the Unter den Linden.
    see map.
    27.11.2008 – 4.1.2009 Sun-Thu 10 am - 10 pm Fri/Sat 10 am – 11 pm
    more info

  • Berliner Umwelt- und Weihnachtsmarkt - Environmental and Christmas market
    see map.
    Weekends leading up to Christmas; 29./30.11.2008 06./07.12.2008 13./14.12.2008 20./21.12.2008 Sat 12 am - 9 pm Sun 1 - 7 pm.
    more info.

Prenzlauer Berg

  • Adventsökomarkt rund um den Kollwitzplatz - Advent Sunday eco-market around Kollwitzplatz.
    see map.
    30.11.2008, 07.12.2008, 14.12.2008, 21.12.2008. Sun 12 am - 6 pm
    more info

  • Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt, at the Kulturbrauerei. >> more info


  • Advent Sunday only market on Winterfeldtplatz


  • Spandauer Weihnachtsmarkt in the Old Town (Altstadt Spandeau). >> more info

  • Kinderweihnachtsmarkt, Christmas market especially for children, at the Citadel (Zitadelle Spandau). >> more info


  • Alt Köpenick Christmas market, on the Schlossplatz Köpenick


  • Markt der Kontinente - Market of the Continents, at the Dahlem Museums. >> more info

  • Adventsmarkt der Domäne Dahlem - Advent Sunday markets, at the Domain Dahlem open air agricultural museum. >> more info

  • Märchenhafter Weihnachtsmarkt am Jagdschloss Grunewald - Magical Fairytale Christmas Market at the Grunewald Hunting Lodge. >> more info


Today we woke up to a covering of snow! All very wintery and Christmassy:

Though Tosca wasn't so impressed and sheltered in the barbecue:

It was so cold that we had arctic wolves:

and even brown bears:

and polar bears in the garden!:

Well no, obviously not. The last three photos I took at Berlin Zoo, where we have bought a yearly ticket. So now we could go and see Knut the polar bear every day!

Here's another photo of our house in the first snows of winter:

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Happy New (Celtic) Year!

Today is Samhain (Scots 'Samhuinn' or Irish 'Oíche Shamhna'); the beginning of a new annual cycle in the celtic/pagan Weltanschauung. So of course yesterday evening was that spooky festival to mark the transition from light into dark, from life into death, known as 'hallowe'en. So how cool was it that in Brandenburg where we live(and in most former East German states) 31st October is a national holiday?!

Or rather, yesterday was a holiday to mark Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg on 31st October 1517 and thereby starting the Reformation. Nowadays he would have published them to his blog and poked his Facebook Friends to read them. Maybe. Anyhows, there are a lot of pumpkins around the village and the door-bell kept ringing throughout the evening. Seems fair; Germany gave the UK and America most of its Gemütlichkeit Christmas traditions, whilst the USA reciprocates with kids wandering around in the dark dressed as mass-murderers and corpses, operating a Mafia style protection racket. You give us da' sweets and da' house no gets hurt. Capiche? Though then again the Süßes oder Saures (trick-or-treat) tradition started with the Celtic folk, who once occupied most of Western Europe including Germany, and who took it to America (in the Irish, Welsh and Scottish emigrations), who have reimported it back to the European continent. So what goes around, comes around I guess. Or so the received knowledge goes (i.e. Wikipedia), but when I were a lad nay high to a grasshopper's knee in Yorkshire in the Sixties we trick or treated: turnip lanterns rather than pumpkins, but all the same.

Sowieso, we didn't answer the door-bell last night, and found in the morning that the gate-post and bell-push were covered with a sticky-sweet lemony goo. Maybe it was lemon curd, in which case couldn't they have at least left us the jar of it? It's been a long time since we've had that on our toast.

Other notable events:
we had a nameplate engraved and we have fixed it above our letter-box on the gate-post. Apparently it is a necessity to have your name on the letter-box otherwise you might not get your post delivered. Up until now we have had a hand-written announcement of our residency, which has elicited some curiosity amongst the locals. If only we had left it another day before screwing the shiny new name-plate on, because it is now covered with yellow goo (see above)!

The terrace and 'Sockel' are now finished at last! That's after about two months when the builder estimated it would be done in a week. However, rain has run down the Sockel facing in places and washed it off before it dried. The builder will not be paid until it is 'fertig'.

I joined the local library! All it took was my passport and twelve Euro annual fee, and I can now get out as many books as I want. Unfortunately, they are all in German for some reason. First off then, the librarian is ordering me a 'German for Beginners' language course Hörbuch I can pick up next week.

Yesterday was the event of the final flight from Tempelhof Airport. It has an interesting history: the name 'Tempelhof' itself is becuase it is on land owned by the Knights Templar in mediaeval times (Dan Brown take note). From being a parade ground for the Prussian army it became the site where the first demonstration of the practicality of mechanised flight took place (by the Frenchman Armand Zipfel), in the same year but BEFORE the Wright brothers. Germany's national airline, Lufthansa, was founded here in 1926. Architecturally though it is that Nazi visionary of a pan-European Germania we have to thank (or otherwise), Albert Speer, for Templehof airport's stark neo-classical-pruned-harshlessly-to-its-basics design. I admit to have an emotional response to its history and its role in the Berlin Airlift, but frankly I think it is an unattractive collection of buildings with no future useful function other than as a monument to Nazi intellectual jejuneness and later to a divided Berlin. Let the Air Bridge sculpture and the tree monuments to those who died bringing supplies into West Berlin survive, but turn Templehof airfield into a green park for the people of Berlin and let the hangar buildings crumble into a Romantik neo-classical ruin.
Here are a few of my photos of Tempelhof Airport taken this week:

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Berlin Festival of Lights

These past two weeks (14.-26. Oktober) have seen the nightscape of Berlin shift and glow to a display of coloured lights and illuminations at most of the Berlin landmarks. Bowls of fruit and classical paintings were projected onto the Berliner Dom, coloured spotlights played up and down the shaft of the Fernsehturm, and the Brandenburger Tor shimmered with changing pure pigments of light. From Schloss Charlottenburg to Oberbaumbrücke bridge, from the Ku'Damm to Gendarmenmarkt, not a molecule of CO2 was spared to pour a stream of iridescent photons into the Berlin night sky. The carbon footprint was enormous, but the spectacle was, well, spectacular. It might not have been on the scale or brashness of Blackpool Illuminations, but it did bring out the crowds on cold Autumn nights and threw the classical buildings and monuments into a new perspective. There was even a colourfully illuminated 'light train' running round the S-Bahn.

Here are a few of my photos taken during the week (click to bigify):

The Berliner Dom from the Spree

Schloss Charlottenburg

The Siegessäule (Victory Column)

The Elephant Gate at Berliner Zoo

Note to Rammstein fans:
that's the Universal Records building on the left of the picture.

Check out more (and better!) photos of The Festival of Lights on Julie Woodhouse's website.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Besuch von den Eltern 2

This week we have had my Beloved's father and his partner visit us.

We gave them the obligatory guided tour of the sites in central Berlin (we're getting this off pat now - we could start doing paid tours soon!), a session or two in the beer tent at the Oktoberfest in Alexanderplatz, and a wander around Basdorf village.

Here are a few of the photos I took around Basdorf. This is of the rear of our house:

Here is my Beloved and her father checking out the restaurant menu at the Barnimer Hof. "Hmm, not much vegetarisch." "So, what are Schweinshaxen exactly?"

And here is the main shopping street in Basdorf looking seasonally autumnal:

Select this link to view my full photo-set of Basdorf photos on Flickr.

I believe they enjoyed their first visit to our new house, and indeed their first visit to Germany, though we may have tired them out. Hopefully they will want to return, perhaps when the evenings get longer and warmer and we can sit out in a Biergarten.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Besuch von den Eltern (Parent's Visit)

This week my mother, and my Beloved's mother and partner came to visit. It was a late flight into Schönfeld airport, and there were a lot of railworks on the S-Bahn network causing delays, so they were ferried to Basdorf by taxi. Even so, it took almost as long to get to our house as it did the flight from East Midland's Airport to Berlin.

We gave them the usual tour of Berlin: Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten, up the Reichstag (dome closed for cleaning unfortunatley), Unter Den Linden, Museum Island, up the TV tower, Alexanderplatz, Nikolaiviertel, boat along the Spree, Gendarmenmarkt, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Ku'Damm, Checkpoint Charlie, Hackescher Markt, the Neue Synagoge, the Prater Garten ... have we missed somewhere? Of course we couldn't expect to show them everywhere, and we had no time to look in any of the marvelous art galleries and museums, but we hope it gave them the flavour of Berlin and a desire to come back for more. 

There was even an Oktoberfest going off in Alexanderplatz, so they got a taste of Bavaria too:

On the last day we went for a walk through the woods which surround Basdorf, collecting mushrooms. We didn't find any we could confidently eat though, certainly not this one:

Hopefully everybody had a good time, and we look forward to their next visit. The rail network might be working better then too.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Ikea, Heating, Plumbers and Mothers

Our mothers arrived last night (see next post) but the vital slats for our new bed only arrived this morning from Ikea. As we only got the water heater and central heating working yesterday as well, it was a close-run thing that we had the house ready for them. Trotzdem, we had my 'mother-in-laws' partner putting together an Ikea bedside cabinet first thing this morning. And that wasn't to much success, as Ikea had failed to put in a vital screw.

We are pissed off with Ikea as it is. The rest of the bed had been delivered last week, missing the slats. Ikea's checkout Arbeiterin had failed to run them through the till, so the van turned up with the rest of the bed, but nothing to support the mattress. Damit, we had to trail across to Ikea on the other side of Berlin again, and pay for delivery of the missing slats, which arrived today. Last night we were sleeping student-style on the mattress on the floor.

The central heating boiler was another matter. It packed in last Sunday and the only plumbers we knew about were the emergency ones listed in the Berlin Gelbe Seiten (Yellow Pages). Eventually we had one turn up and he finally diagnosed the problem mid-week as a broken pump which of course had to be ordered. In between was the German national holiday for German Unity on 3rd October (Tag der Deutschen Einheit), and a weekend. And the mothers were coming on the Tuesday. It looked like the mothers might have to be booked into a local hotel rather than wash in cold water and huddle around the Holzkamin (wood-burning fire). We ourselves had to take a shower at the Wash & WC Centre in Alexanderplatz Bahnhof so that people would deign to sit next to us on the S-Bahn. Having a shower at Alexanderplatz station was in itself a strange experience; I don't think I've stood naked under a stream of soapy hot water listening to platform announcements and with hundreds of train passengers walking by just outside the cubicle door.

Anyway, the plumber fixed the pump on the Monday and the final bed parts arrived Wednesday so all was well. Except the cost; not only of Ikea having to deliver twice, but of the plumber's bill. In future we shall have to find a local plumber, and not pay exorbitant fees to have one come out from Berlin.

The cats thoroughly like the bed though!

(clockwise top left: Simba, Cassie, Suki and Tosca).
Alles gut, endes gut!*
* Wilhelm Shakespeare

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Herrlich wie die Sünde! - Wonderful as Sin!

Ahoi Berlin!

Yesterday night we went to the Columbia Club to watch a performance by German Industrial Rock group Eisbrecher.

You can read my review of the gig here.

And here is a gallery of photos that I took.

A great concert, but a bit of a rush to make the S-Bahn connections for the last train back to Basdorf! If we hadn't have caught them in time, we might have had to endure spending the night in e.g. Paul's Metal Eck drinking Caipirinahs or something. Oh dear!

p.s. Eisbrecher's really rather good third album, just out, is called Sünde (Sin), hence the title of this post.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Anmeldung - Residents Registration

It is a requirement of German law that if you move to a different address within Germany you have to register within a week of moving with the local government authority there. This isn't just for Ausländer (foreigners) like ourselves, but all German residents.

Our local authority resides in the Rathaus in Wandlitz, so today we set out on the Heidekrautbahn railway to register ourselves with the Einwohnermeldeamt as officially resident at our new address. 

Or such were our plans. What we thought was that all trains going North of Basdorf went through Wandlitz. Ah, but no. Every other one goes on a seperate line to Wandlitz, ending at the tiny village of Wensickendorf. I am sure Wensickendorf is a beautiful hamlet in its own right, but you can't register residence there. Somit, rather than wait for the next train back to Basdorf and then try again for Wandlitz, we started walking East along Wandlitzer Chausee (see map here). Of course, we hadn't thought to bring a map with us, but we figured the road name was a give-away that it might go to Wandlitz.

After 6km or so we made it to the Rathaus. We expected the registration place to have a large, crowded waiting room where you had to take a number before you were called. Well, maybe not many people register to live in our area, because we were beckoned straight in to ein Beamter's office and sat down with him in front of the computer. He asked us a number of questions about name, address, marriage status, date moved, religion (because you have to pay income tax to the church if you say you are a church- or synagogue-goer!), and so on. All these were done in German, even though he knew full well we were English. After ten minutes we had an Anmeldebestätigung (certificate confirming registration) each, and then he said something to us which completely went beyond our German comprehension. We asked him to repeat it, and he told us in perfect English, that we were entitled to pick up a free welcome pack to the region from the Tourist Information Bureau opposite. Why he let us squirm to understand and answer everything before that in German is beyond me. Well, maybe not; Officials are the same everywhere and like to complicate matters.

We are now legally official residents of Basdorf and Germany!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Freiheit! - Freedom!

Today we let the cats out to explore the garden for the first time. Here is a photo of their first taste of freedom in Germany as the patio door is opened for Tosca and Cassie (soon followed by the more timid Suki and Simba):

The pussies soon found all the best sun-bathing spots, soil-digging areas, and likely mouse hideouts.

They were freaked out by the trains running past though, especially Tosca (on the left in the photo above). One time she was outside, the train went past, she ran into the house, the patio door was shut, and ... whump! A surprised cat with a bit of a headache!


Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Es werde Licht! - Let There Be Light!

A man from the electricity company came this morning and connected us to the power. At last we had light, and a cooker! Now began the long process of unpacking. The boxes everywhere didn't upset Simba though:

As we were keeping the cats inside, they weren't aware yet of another resident living in the garden - a hedgehog (der Igel)!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

From Bruges to Berlin

An early start for a long day ahead. Tosca isn't very impressed with the hotel's breakast or toilet facilities:

Goodness knows what the people in the neighbouring rooms thought about the sound of four cats miaowing for their breakfast and to be let out! 

Before we set off we had to clean out the cat carriers. How do you do that in a tiny hotel room? Well, there is a small bath and shower . . . 

I hope the hotel manager doesn't recognise this!

Before we left we cleaned up the room as best we could, sweeping up bits of cat litter and cat biscuits which had escaped. And then we had to extract the cats from under the bed where they had hidden. Of course the bed was too low to get under, so in the end we had to up-end it to get at the kitties. We opened the windows to try and relieve the odour of cat-food and litter trays, and surreptitiously vacated the room. I wonder what the hotel cleaner thought had been happening there, and did the smell linger for the next occupant?

The drive to Berlin was a long, hard slog. We must have gone close-by some interesting towns - Bruxelles, Eindhoven, Duesseldorf, Essen, Dortmund, Hannover, Magdeburg, Potsdam, Berlin! - but the view from the car was of just motorway (or as we would call them in England, dual-carriageways) through flat urban landscapes.

Driving on the right wasn't so bad when you got used to it, though giving priority to cars merging with the motorway from the right was a bit of a hassel, as they were coming at you from your blind-side. When we hit the German Autobahn that was an experience; you'd be happily cruising in the fast lane at 80 mph and seemingly out of nowhere there would suddenly be a Merc or BMW behind you flashing their headlights. Once you'd pulled in to the convoy of HGV's in the slow lane (still only two lanes, note) the Merc would speed off at 120mph or so. And that's legal in Germany!

The cats were very well-behaved by now, with only the occasional miaow of protest. Somwhere just over the German border Tosca got really vocal, and would have stamped her foot if she could. We stopped at a lay-by and found that she had made rather a mess in her carrier. It was so bad that My Other Half investigated the lay-by toilets to see if it were possible to smuggle Tosca and the carrier in to give them a clean-up, but unfortunately the toilet doors had gaps under them and we didn't want to lose Tosca to the countryside of middle-Europe.

We evetually arrived in Basdorf as the sun was setting. The removal van had made it before us and was waiting to unload. Unfortunately his Germany-side assistant wasn't there to help with the unloading, as the removal man couldn't get his mobile phone to work on the continent. It was now starting to get dark, and there was no electricity connected to the house yet. An hour or so later and  we managed to get hold of the assistant, and unpacked the rest of the van by torchlight. It was about ten-thirty when we had finally done and settled into our (dark) new home.

We made a cup of tea on a camping gaz stove and settled down for a good night's kip in sleeping bags with some rather bemused cats.

We've made it!!!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Berlin or Bust!

This morning we set off on the long journey to our new home. We left at nine a.m., before the removal men arrived, and set off for the channel tunnel with four cats on board. We were averaging about 100 miaows per mile for the first hundred miles or so, until the cats settled down into a grumpy scowl at us through the bars of their pet carriers with only the odd plaintive meowl to stop this nonsense and let them go home.

Above are from left to right Simba, Tosca, Suki and Cassie in the back of the car at a service station on the M1. God, I hope the RSPCA aren't looking at this! There was the odd little 'accident' on the way down, necessitating a cage clean-out without letting a cat escape from the car and trying to find their way back up the motorway (of course cats are useless hitchhikers; no thumbs you see. So they wouldn't have got too far). Needless to say, it was getting a bit smelly with the 'odour of fear' in the car, Cassie in particular kept letting off some fruity exclamations.

On the whole the cats travelled fairly well (either that or it was the copious amounts of Felispray drugging them), and took an interest in the motorway traffic. Tosca got rather scared though when we went over the Dartford Queen Elizabeth II bridge; I think she thought we were going to take off as we drove up and over the Thames. Eventually at about 3pm we arrived at the entrance to the Eurotunnel. Surprisingly, no-one wanted to see our passports, or the cats passports and documents (which made us wonder why we'd forked out so much for them), and we were waved straight through and onto the train. Here is a photo of the car at the head of the queue waiting to board.

Once through the Chunnel we drove East through northern France into Brussels to finally arrive for the night at a cheap hotel outside Brugge (Bruges). When we booked the room, we asked if they allowed cats. Yes they said, as long as they are quiet pussies. Our little angels? But of course! So, we ended up in a small chalet-type hotel room with not enough room to swing a cat (!) and had to somehow fit in four cat carriers, two litter trays, and four feeding bowls. We also had to cover the bed-sheets with a plastic sheet in case Simba took his revenge and wee'd on it in revenge(something he'd done before when we'd moved house). This and try and get in and out of the room without allowing a cat to break for freedom.

Tosca, at least, settled herself in (below). The rest of the cats remained hiding under the bed.

I am sure Brugge is a beautiful town. Unfortunately we only saw industrial estates and the inside of our small room. The local television stations were interesting though, in a choice of either French or Dutch. French I am ok with, but Dutch sounds like German would after you've spent too much time in an Amesterdam coffee-shop. Which reminds me of a classic Dutch commercial with John Cleese.

We are not even half way yet, and only 850 km to drive tomorrow! Gute Nacht!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go!

So, this is it.
Tomorrow we are driving down to the Eurotunnel terminal (with four cats don't forget!) and across to Dunkirk or possibly Bruges. Tuesday we then drive to Basdorf bei Berlin and our new home. We have borrowed a car for the trip from a kindly relative, but this means that then my Beloved has to drive all the way back to the UK Midlands (this time via the Rotterdam-Hull ferry) to return the car, then fly back to Berlin. I, meanwhile, have to get the house in Ordnung and passify four homesick cats. I am sure it will all go swimmingly, and thanks to everybody, family and friends, who have given their support and best wishes. I don't think many of you thought we would actually go through with this change, but thanks to your encouragement we are about to make our dream a reality! Vielen Dank! And see you in Basdorf!

p.s. okay, I know that the mien of this blog might suggest we wanted to get to Berlin, but hey, we are just on the outskirts of that wonderful city and in a place which also begins with 'B'. When you are aiming a dart from a thousand kilometers away, that's almost a bulls-eye!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Macht's gut, und danke für den Fisch!

Today we both handed our notices of resignation in at work, effective for finishing at the end of August. What a liberating feeling! Nothing to keep us back here, nothing to keep us awake at night.

In situations like this one is of course tempted to do the two-finger salute as one leaves, in recognition of the crap days, the boring days, the stressed-out days, the frustrating days, and of course the inevitable occasional bastard colleagues who get on your tits (Verzeihen Sie meine Ausdrucksweise - pardon my 'French').

But there have also been good folk, good times, interesting projects, lots to learn, lots to challenge. Better than staying at home and watching day-time TV anyway (except for the Inspector Morse re-runs of course).

I'm with the dolphins on this one: let's forget for one moment the deadly tuna nets, the disruption of our sonar by military maneouvres, the cruel parody that was 'Flipper', and instead think on the positives and say 'So long, and thanks for all the fish!'

Friday, 25 July 2008

Jetzt geht's um die Wurst!

Here we go! It's now or never!
(Though the title of this post literally translates as 'Now we go around the sausage!').

The money is in the Notar's account ready for the 28th, and the seller has agreed to arrange for the house to be handed over the following Monday!

We think that only one of us needs to go to Berlin for the key-handover and final utility meter readings, so my Beloved has volunteered to be the one, and will be flying out from East Midlands on Sunday 3rd. Then she will fly back Monday evening, and the house will finally be ours! Our search will be over! Or as the German's say 'Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei'. ('Everything has an end, only a sausage has two'. What is it with Germans and sausages?!)

Or rather, our search is over, but our new life has just begun!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

So How Do You Get Four Cats To Berlin?

Some time soon we're going to have to solve the logistics of transporting four cats across a 1000km of Europe, when the furthest they have been in a car has been a few miles and that was traumatic enough.

We can't fly them over and we want to sell our cars (which are too small for four cats in their carriers) before moving, so the options are:

1. Rent a large estate car or small van in the UK, drive down to the tunnel and go over on Eurostar, drive up to Berlin. Offload the cats and drive the car back to the UK. Fly over to Berlin from the UK. The problem with this is all the driving and flying.

2. Rent a left-hand drive estate car in Rotterdam, bring it back to Hull on the ferry, drive down to our place in England. Load up the cats, drive down to the Eurostar pick-up, drive up to Berlin. Leave rented car in Berlin. The problem with this is the cost of a rented car that you are able to leave at a different location from where you picked up, and the time to get to the ferry and the crossing (which may be rough!). Good practice for driving in a left-hand car mind.

3. Persuade a friend or relative in the UK with a large car or van to pick up us and the cats and drive down to Eurostar. Share time at the wheel up to Berlin. Friend drives van back. The problem is finding a gullible very kind friend or relative with time on their hands. It would be an experience for them though!

4. Trade our cars in here for an estate-sized car and drive the cats through the tunnel to Berlin. The problem here is we don't want to be stuck with a car in Germany (running, taxing, repair costs etc) and are planning on using just local transport once over there. It would also be awkward selling a right-hand drive car in Germany.

5. Rent a car in the UK, drive over with the cats on Eurostar etc. Meet removal van in Berlin. Removal people have brought along another guy who we pay to drive back to the UK and return the rental car for us. Here the problem is persuading the removal company to take this on, and our trust that they will get the car back and in one piece.

6. abandon the cats with the RSPCA This is not an option!

The timing of all this with moving out of our UK house and meeting the removals van in Berlin could be a nightmare!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Dann sind wir Deutsche!

der Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz, photo by Andie Gilmour
Today we made our way through sporadic showers to the Berlin district of Grunewald for an appointment with the Notar, and the signing of a contract which will change our lives. For better or ill, who knows? But change it, it will and life without change is, well, langweilig. You can stay in your comfort zone, or you can go and try something different, risky, and exciting.

The meeting with the Notar wasn't exactly spannendes though. An hour and an half in which the Notar read out every clause of the contract, first in rushed German and then, for our benefit, in faltering English. A few clauses were struck out by the Notar, 'das ist Quatsch', but unfortunately not the one about the vendor guaranteeing that the land is free of soil contamination, bombs, and asbestos. The seller present at the signing (or at least their appointed guy, who just happened to also be the estate agent) assured the Notar that this was a standard clause for them in post-industrial land sales. Hmm.

And then we signed our names and that was it; we had first call on the rights to a small piece of Germany. We have to get the purchase price into an escrow account with the Notar by the 28th July, and he's got to do some legal stuff including updating with our details the page about the property in the Grundbuch, and then we can do a key handover and final reading of the utility meters. And then our Traumhaus will legally be ours!

We celebrated at the Biergarten im Tiergarten (actually, the Cafe am Neuen See), where they do excellent beer and the largest pizzas ever (well, maybe not 'ever', but they are pretty big). And then we had to rush back (ok, waddle back) to Alexanderplatz to catch the AirportExpress to Schönefeld.

Before we caught our train home though, we made a visit to the Kaufhof Galleria (noting that for some reason Alexanderplatz had been filled up with comfy sofas and chairs for people to sit on. WTF?). We are going to a barbeque organised by our South African friend next month, and she is somewhat partial to the Brazilian cocktail caipirinha (remember this? Same gal). The main ingredient is cachaça, which you can't seem to get in the UK but is easily available in Germany, so we thought we'd buy a bottle from the Galleria to take to the BBQ. Oh, and one for ourselves to celebrate our signing. So, bottles in bags we head for Schönefeld airport, and then we think, ah, we've only got hand-luggage, and what aren't you allowed to take onto planes in hand-luggage nowadays? That's right - bottles of liquid. Damn those terrorists, trying to deprive us of our caipirinhas!

Rather than abandon our cache of cachaça, we put the bottles into one bag which we had to check in at the airport. And of course there was a big queue at check-out, and time was running short. Finally we got to the front of the queue, and then we were sent to the cash desk because we had to pay for checking in. It cost fifteen euro! That was nearly as much as the two bottles of spirit had cost us! And one of us had to give up our priority online booking and be in the last tranche to board the plane. Well, it wasn't really a problem, as my Beloved went ahead on her priority boarding card and secured us both seats together, and actually even with the additional cost, buying the cachaça in the UK (you can only get it online) would have been much more expensive.

So, we flew back to Luton and drove (in Friday evening traffic up the M1 in sleeting rain) home to see if the cats had missed us and how they were getting on with their German, because they will need it soon!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Bauamts, Beaches, and Industrial Rock

Last night we flew into Berlin from Luton, and travelled up to Basdorf to stay at the Barnimer Hof, a pleasant hotel with spacious rooms, friendly staff, and a cracking breakfast buffet. How such a small village can support a 22 room hotel is a mystery, but there were plenty of guests and visitors to the restaurant.

Today we had an appointment with the estate agent at 9am at the Bauamt, or Building Authority, next to the railway station in Wandlitz. We wanted to see the original architectural plans and Building Certificates showing that the house we want to buy didn't have any known defects, complied to building regulations and planning permissions, and was i.O. (in Ordnung). These had been requested from the Bauarchiv, which is a repository of all building applications and plans in Germany.

Everything looked okay, and we requested copies of all the architectural drawings and building applications and certificates. If nothing else, the floor plan and elevation measurements would inform us how much floor-tiling and wall-paint we'd need. 

Afterwards we went for a walk along the shores of Wandlitzsee. 'See' in the name doesn't mean 'sea'. Here it is der See, which means 'lake'. 'The sea' is totally different, it is die See! To conflate confusion there was indeed a sandy beach, beach-huts, beach-volleyball, swimming boards, a surf-boarding school, and shops selling ice-cream and buckets and spades.  But this is not the sea-side, right?

In the afternoon we drifted back to Alexanderplatz and checked in at the Park Inn on Alexanderplatz, which we have been to before, but this time we were on the 22nd floor and so got a bit better view than just the building site.

And this evening we dressed up in black (just for a change) and went to the Kreuzberg area of Berlin to the Kato Club (follow this link only if you are not in a 'quiet zone'). We went to see the Industrial Rock group Combichrist perform (again, only follow this link if your speakers are muted or you are alone in the room and not liable to scare the dog/cat).

A fantastic gig, but after it we think that tomorrow THE NOTAR WILL HAVE TO SPEAK UP!

Combichrist Almighty!

Kato Club, Berlin-Kreuzberg.

An intense two hour-long assault of unremitting, pounding, industrial techno-beat enacted by a manic Norwegian psychopath, and we’re loving it!

The difference between listening to Combichrist on your iPod and seeing them live is like that between admiring the quality of a polished stainless steel cutlery set, and actually being in a Sheffield steelworks whilst the molten metal is poured out, hammered, rollered, stamped, and shaped right in front of you.

Combichrist on audio are reminiscent of Marilyn Manson. Live, with lead singer LaPlegua madly grinning at you from a few feet away, Charles Manson comes more to mind. Their albums sound like a computer is looping the vocals over a drum-machine and randomly inserting electronic screeches and samples whilst the band piss off down the pub. On stage though, the guys thrash the music out with the energy of an out-of-control industrial pile driver. I don’t know how they are going to get to the end of their current tour without doing themselves an injury – whiplash most likely.

LaPlegua was right-in-your-face with the small, intimate audience; spraying them with Becks, posing for photos, and sometimes grabbing a camera and photographing the owner back at them. He repeatedly slapped his head with the microphone and hopped around the stage like a demented Keith Flint (Prodigy), flashing his lunatic smile from his darkened demonic face.

They covered all the favourites from their back-catalogue, injecting them with an aggressive energy that totally revamped the sound. And the mostly German audience chanted along, the language of ‘This Shit Will F*ck You Up’ knowing no boundaries.

Finally the drummer threw his cymbal stand into the middle of the stage and stormed off as if he’d had enough of the exhausting torture we’d put him through. It was over. Andy LaPlegua vowed that he would stay behind and party with the crowd, for as long as the bar stayed open. And you know, I think he really did, but we had the last S-Bahn to catch and wandered off into the warm Berlin night, the electronic heartbeat of pounding blood still ringing in our ears.

I don't have the copyright for the photo of LaPlegua accompanying this blog.
Please complain to me if you do hold the copyright and you object to my use, and I will remove it!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Fields of the Nephilim

(The accompanying photo is not mine, and is probably copyright.
contact me if you have objections to its use.)

And so to the Wild West, where a gang of five travel-stained renegades mosey into town one ill-fated misty night from the Bad Lands, their battered cowboy hats and long leather riding coats coated in the dust of the radioactive desert. The Fields of the Nephilim are back.

The Wild West in this case is West London, and the saloon bar they take over is the Shepherd's Bush Empire. Their posse are recruited from the leagues of the undead, paunchy cowboys, and the unselfconsciously Goth, who queue around the building to worship at the altar of the Cult of Preacherman and Psychonaut Carl McCoy.

The support for the gig was a resurrection of Pagan/Goth/Rock band Inkubus Sukkubus who I thought had quite a good guitar sound going there (unless they were miming and it was part of the mixed backing track of drums and keyboard), with the lead guitarist in particular thinking he was at times Pete Townshend, and at others Jimi Hendrix (even playing his guitar with his teeth). The female vocalist (ok, quick peek in wikipedia, her name is Cadia Ridley) had quite a Siouxsie thing going and can't be faulted on her energetic leaping around the stage, but to my ears her voice was too shrill. The set-list wasn't too memorable, but they did do one called, I think, Paint It Black, which I'm sure I've heard before (heavy irony tags around that). I kept expecting Playground Twist or Happy House to break out, but sadly they didn't.

Talking of black though, we were standing down in the stalls, on the raised bit by the cloakroom at the back. Watching the folks checking their coats in, I wondered how they'd get on if they lost their check-in slip. "How can you describe your coat?"; "Well, it's - er - black." (I'd be okay; I had depositied my olive-green East German Officer's Great Coat with red and gold epaulettes and DDR party badge, purchased near Checkpoint Charlie Berlin. I would bet a £1000 easy that nobody else had similar. I like to be different).

Eventually the Neph came on stage at 9:30 (doors opened 7), and the rest of the evening ours ears were by turn soothed and assaulted by a rich tapestry of portentious minor key chords woven with exhilarating power guitar riffs and heartbeat drumming. The waves of complex sound were unrelenting, sometime interminably so (though never did the phrase 'never-ending funeral dirge' enter my mind. Okay, once or twice). The wall of sound built on itself and climbed to Bachian recursive complexities before finally giving us release in a crash of chords falling into silence (my self-nomination for 'Private Eye' magazine's Pseuds Corner).

Underscoring the effect was McCoys deep vocal, hypnotic rhythm; a voice reminiscent of Ian Curtis , though thankfully McCoy didn't get anywhere near reproducing Curtis' epileptic dance-style (in fact, I don't think he moved at all throughout the set). The mosh pit were definitely dancing though, or at least waving their arms about and trying to go for the world-human -pyramid-and-crowd-surfing-at-a-rock-concert record. And what's with the inflatable clown fish? Dozens of Nemo's were being waved around for no logical reason. WTF, Goths are weird.

This was one of the few events where you grumble about not seeing the stage because of the man wearing a hat in front. The only other event might be Glyndebourne. But really, even without the sea of distressed cowboy hats (and back-combed vampira bee-hives - some being sported by women as well), there wasn't a lot to see; unmoving cut-out figures dimly viewed through a fog of dry ice - was it really them? - but saying that, the dry ice was very nicely lit with coloured lights. No, it was the music that made this gig. I really didn't recognise more than about three tracks, but then taken out of the pristinely-produced album context and added to with maturity and technological advances, these weren't the tracks you ever listened to on your Walkman in the eighties and nineties.

After a great evening, the audience dissolved back into the London night; to their crypts, ranches and, in our case, the Jubilee line and a long, tired, but satisfied journey home.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

It's Confirmed! Berlin Next Week!

Can we be finally reaching the finishing line?

Today we had confirmation of a meeting with the Notar next Friday morning to sign the contract.
And we are meeting der Immobilienmakler at the Bauamt in Wandlitz the day before to give the original building plans the once over, just in case.

So next Wednesday, mid-day, we will fly from Luton to our destiny! OK, maybe I'm getting a bit overly dramatic here, but it feels like a long time in arriving.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Stitches Out, New Contract, Berlin next Week?

This afternoon I had the stitches in my lip taken out. Hurrah! Not as painful as I anticipated, and the rest of my grazes and bruises are healing. The worse part was when the doctor didn't pull out a stitch, but tried to extricate a moustache hair by mistake - depiliating women, I empathise! I dare go to the shops now without freaking out the checkout folk. I will have a permanent reminder, with a scar, of my employment in Ashfield though. But then judging by the locals (sorry, I thank them for employing me but the area is rather rough), only a single scar is the marking of a pooftah. The area was mineworking country until Thatcher vented her venomous anti-NUM policies, and to get a gash working hundreds of feet underground, filled with coal dust and dirt, and not get it treated, was an occupational hazard. Scars? Even the women have them and they didn't have to work down the pit. One of the local Councillors I worked with died recently of septicemia through industrial injuries and ended his life in a wheelchair and oxygen mask, contrasted with his hacking out the coal that kept us going through WW2. Respect. And I'm a whimp twingeing when the very kind doctor pulls a few stitches out of my upper lip.

Anyway, we now have a new contract for the house in Basdorf sorted, a provisional meeting with the Notar in Berlin Friday next week, and a hopefully possible viewing of the building plans of the house from the Bauarchiv previous to signing.

Are we ready to go? Yes we are! 

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Exterminieren! Sie sind jetzt ein Gefangener der Daleks!

Martha Jones

Dr Who Series 4 Epsiode 13.

Oh excellent: German-talking Daleks! And so good of the Daleks to announce in the native language of the locals that they are about to be exterminated! Of course, there is not really such a verb in German as 'exterminieren'. My dictionary gives the correct verb as ausrotten, so the Dalek's really should have been shouting 'Rotten Sie aus!' (if they were being polite). I guess having attempted conquering the multi-verse they didn't have enough time to get to grips with separable verbs.

Anyway, a thrilling action-packed final episode to a series that had it's high points (Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead) but was otherwise IMHO not as good as previous series. Russell T Davies presumably wanted to remind us of his legacy before he left, by bringing all his characters together and tying all the flapping story-lines up neatly. Perhaps too neatly, as the plot resolutions did seem very contrived. Davies has also left nothing for his successor Steven Moffat to pick up on to achieve a satisfying plot arc. Except that actor David Tennant is still the Doctor. Thank goodness he didn't regenerate as he was hyped to do. Well, not regenerate in the usual way (I knew that hand was going to be part of it!) and really it did seem like a deus ex machina (one of many in this episode!).

Best of all though, finally and irrevocably we get rid of Catherine Tate!
(And I said she was a Timelord! (well, not really)).

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Taste of The Black Stuff


I mean OUCH!

Today I had a little unfortunate incident in a car park where I ended up falling face-first into the gritty, dirty hard-stuff. Don't ask; it wasn't by choice for sure.

My Beloved drove 30 miles to come and pick me up (thanks love xxx) and take me to a local Accident & Emergency. I had to have local anaesthetic injections into my lip before they could clean the wound up, and seven stitches just below my left nostril. I have grazes all over my face, my arms, my knees, and have to take a course of antibiotics to stop me getting septicemia.

I could post a photo of my face but it would put you off your dinner.

Not a happy bunny!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Dr Who - Final Episode series Four

One of the things I'll miss when we move to Germany is Dr Who. Yes, I admit it, I am a Whovian. Sad isn't it? At least I will have seen up to the end of series 4. There will now be a break until 2010 before series 5 (whilst David Tennant takes time out to do some 'serious' acting, and Russel T Davies hands over the producer's reigns to Steven Moffat). Enough time for me to get a satellite link to the BBC.

Anyway, the penultimate episode of this series, 'The Stolen Earth', was stunning. Not only are all the Doctor's recent companions and spin-off's brought back together, but there is Davros and the Daleks invading Earth yet again.

From the end scene of 'The Stolen Earth' it looks like the Doctor is going to regenerate again, after being hit by a Dalek exterminator ray just as he is reunited with Rose. If he is going to regenerate then the usual formula is that he will be played by a new actor. If this is true then who it is must be the biggest secret the BBC has ever kept. Yes, Tennant is taking a break, but I've never heard him in interviews ever less than keen that he'd like to play Dr Who for as long as he can. And the Christmas special is in the can, with Tennant playing the Doctor, so how can the script-writers explain that away? So what's going to happen this Saturday? A clue, I believe, is the prominent display at the start of the episode of the Doctor's preserved hand in the Tardis. Puzzling though is mad Dalek Caan's description of Dr Who as the 'threefold man'. Tenfold man might have been a better description, as the Doctor has had ten incarnations that we know of. And then there have been rumours of the Doctor doing an episode with two of the past doctors (McCoy and Davison). Hmmm . . .

There are certainly a lot of strange co-incidences in The Stolen Earth episode. One that struck me was that the planet Calufrax is named as one of the stolen planets. Calufrax, Calufrax, sounds a bit Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide to me, and didn't Adams used to edit and occasionally write scripts for Dr Who? And what's this about all the bees fleeing Earth, sound a bit like the dolphins leaving Earth in Hithchikers: so long, and thanks for all the nectar. A bit of googling and yes, Calufrax was first named as the victim of the Pirate Planet episode with Tom Baker written by ... yes, Douglas Adams. And the Doctor's assistant then was the fellow Timelord (Time lady?), Romana. Romana regenerated and became much more likeable when played by the actress Lalla Ward, who in real-life went on to marry Tom Baker. And then they split up and she married ... oh, hang on, she married Richard Dawkins who appears as himself in 'The Stolen Earth'! Another 'co-incidence' is that a much younger Bernard Cribbins (Wilf) acted in the the film 'Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD' alongside Peter Cushing. Well, there must be a reason for Cribbins to be cast in this series of Dr Who nowadays other than warning about aliens all the time.

How bizarre, but then the Doctor has remarked how strange co-incidences happen around his current side-kick Donna Noble. Hmm, he's also been surprised how easily she picked up driving the Tardis (well, prior to having a prang with the 1980's). And the Shadow Proclamation woman remarked how she could tell Donna had once had something on her back (that time bug from 'Turn Left'), and that was an episode where Donna was the pivotal point in a major universe-wide event. There is something we don't know about Donna. After thinking about Romana I wonder if, and this is a long-shot if, she might actually be a Timelord herself and not know it? Like John Smith didn't know he was the Doctor, and Professor Yana didn't know he was The Master?

Other curiosities: Harriet Jones somehow managed to contact the companions of Dr Who through a secret sub-wave network. Where did she get the technology for that? Apparently from the Mr Copper Foundation. Is that the Mr Copper who was in the Christmas Special 'Voyage of the Damned'? Anyway, why was the call sign for the network the same as The Master used over his Archangel network (da-da-da dom)? What is the Osterhagen key Martha has been given by the head of UNIT which Harriet tells her never to use? Maybe it could even be German 'Oster Ragen' - To rise at Easter (I'm clutching at straws here), suggesting a renewal, rebirth or reset? Who is Rose talking to - Control she calls them - who is beaming her around the place? And what exactly is the reason for the Daleks stealing the 27 planets anyway, particularly remembering that Calufrax was part of the Key To Time which maintained the equilibrium of the Universe?

Hopefully all will be revealed on Saturday. After which I shall probably come back and delete this post because it is so wildly wrong!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Sun, Sand, But No Signing

Well, it doesn't look like we'll be signing a contract for the Basdorf house with the Notar today.

The bottom line is, we are unhappy with the seller's contract. It's clear that they are a property company just interested in buying auctioned properties on the cheap and selling them on for as much profit as they can whilst doing as little as possible. Their contract is a one-size fits all whether their item of sale is a shop, a factory, a family house, or a plot of un-occupied land. It is sold-as-seen and the contract doesn't even stand by anything the estate agents told us about room size, whether the fitted kitchen actually works, or even if there is any asbestos or unexploded bombs underneath the garden. That's understandable as they aren't the owner-occupiers and have a business to run, but it doesn't make us feel comfortable about spending our life-savings on a property which, according to the contract, they can't guarantee won't be burnt down or blown up before we get the keys. We are digging our heels in to get a better contract and won't sign today.

But we're in Berlin! So, what do you do in Berlin? You go down to the beach of course! Near the new Hauptbahnhoff at the moment is Sandsation , an international sand sculpure exhibition. I really loved this; sand sculptures by artist from around the world with gob-smacking imagination in their creations, and it is in the centre of Berlin. It was a lovely summer day, and there were deckchairs from which to appraise the masterpieces, and free hand-outs of sunblock (meanwhile in England it is grey and rainy). 

See some of the sandsculptures here on my Beloved's website (and buy prints if you want!):

We then went for a walk along the banks of the Spree to Bellevue, a stroll around the lovely Englischer Garten im Tiergarten, then eventually lunch and Weißbier in Alexanderplatz with a naughty Eisbecher to follow. And so to the plane back to England where we landed in cold, grey, wet, Luton. Ah, back to the Heimat, oder?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Is There a Football Match On?

This morning we drove down to Luton airport to catch a mid-day Easyjet flight to Berlin, landing early evening. We stayed at the Art Hotel Charlottenburg; It was basic, quite a small room but ample enough. They seemed to have a Joan Miró / Piet Mondrian thing going on in the decor of our room, supplemented by strange light fittings from Ikea, and the hotel corridors and lounge had some interesting surrealist artwork. But the best part was, a computer in every room with free internet access! Maybe we'll get somewhere with the contract it is otherwise unlikely we will be signing tomorrow. The cafe downstairs also did a good range of breakfast options.

On the train to the hotel we'd noticed lots of people going overboard with the black, red and gold, some people draping themselves in the German flag. And then in Charlottenburg a lot of Turkish-looking people were similarly going for a predominently red and white colour scheme. We asked the hotel receptionist if there was perhaps a football match on or something.

Of course, that evening was the Euro 2008 semi-final between Germany and Turkey! We went out for a pizza and had planned to spend the evening in some quiet Biergarten, but every bar, restaurant, cafe, Imbiss had a plasma screen showing the match and a crowd of football supporters spilling out onto the street.

Public transport was getting to be a bit of an ordeal. I mean, I'm all for people letting their hair down and enjoying themselves, but when you are crammed into an S-Bahn carriage with noisy chanting football supporters drinking from bottles and blowing claxons, there are a few other places I'd rather be. So we took the tourist bus instead (100 and 200) and headed for the Zoologische Garten (the area around the Bahnhof of that name, not the zoo itself; Knut the polar bear was hopefully tucked up in bed by now, or he might have been spray-painted black, red and gold by ardent fans).

We found a comparatively quiet place for a bier, and guessed what the score was from the cheers and firework bangers going off from time to time.

Then came the final whistle and the place erupted! We couldn't believe how many people poured out of the 'quiet' bar we had been sitting outside. There were Germany supporters shouting their heads off and going mental (Germany won 3-2 by the way), irreconcilable Turkey supporters who looked as if their world had ended, and within minutes violent scuffles broke out right next to us. Quick as a flash the Polizei ploughed into the fray, pulling people out of the melee and slamming them against shop windows, all this right next to us where we were still calmly sitting and drinking our Weißbier.

We thought a quick exit was in order, and pushed our way through the chanting skirmish of emotional red and white painted faces, and jubilant black-, red-, and gold-draped bodies, trying to avoid stepping onto the road where cars were speeding past blasting their horns and waving full-sized flags from the windows. After nearly getting flattened by a phalanx of heavily armoured riot-police in gas-masks speed marching in close formation, we made it to the S-Bahn. Here we were faced with a tsunami of supporters pouring off every train that came in, and flooding into the streets around the Zoo. Fortunately, our hotel was in the opposite direction to where everyone else was going, so we made it back our nerves intact.

The hotel seems to be in a predominantly Turkish enclave, so luckily (for us; not if you were a Turkey supporter) there wasn't a wild celebration party lasting all night and the streets were quiet and subdued.

Note to self: don't still be in Berlin on Sunday when the German team plays Spain or Russia in the Euro 2008 Final.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

London Calling

Today we had a day-trip by train to London with the mother-in-law (or she would be if my Beloved and I were married) and her partner.

We met up with our nephew (again, if we were married he would be mine, but what the heck, I feel proud of him even if we aren't 'legally' related) in Leicester Square. He has moved to the Big City and works for Twentieth Century Fox on Soho Square, meeting with media types for business lunches and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

The poor lad had only just flown in that morning after a stag party with his mates in Prague. Even though he was obviously knackered he still took us to a nice eating hole and gave us a tour of the Covent Garden area (or as the MIL said, 'can we look around the garden centre?'). Well, never has there been such a tourist trap and a glut of purveyors of tat as the Covent Garden environs, but there's a buzz and a vibe of excitement and of languages and cultures mingling that strangely is missing in rural Derbyshire.

After relieving our host of his filial duties, and I guess he went straight back to bed, we wandered down through Trafalgar Square to the Embankment and across to the London Eye side. There we marvelled at the inventiveness of the many living statues (or mandarins as the MIL called them; I realised later that she meant mannequins). Maybe after our move to Berlin I could busk as one for a living, as I've never seen any there.

After dinner in the St Martin-in-the-Field crypt and a walk around theatre-land we eventually made our way back to the new St Pancras station in the evening (and what a magnificent job they've done of the station!).

Tired out we landed back home near midnight, with four angry pussies wondering why we hadn't been back earlier to feed them. At least tomorrow we can have a lie in - oh, but wait, we're driving down to Luton early tomorrow to catch a flight to Berlin!!!

Friday, 20 June 2008


I'm really excited! The Notar in Berlin has sent us a contract, and we've booked an appointment Thursday next week to sign it with the sellers!

In the meantime, we've enlisted someone to translate the contract for us from German into English. Apparently the meeting consists of the Notar reading the contract out (in German) and getting the assurance from both parties that they understand it before we sign. The Notar has told us to expect this to take between one and two hours! We could have given someone over there power of attorney to stand in for us, but as this is such a momentous occasion in our lives, we've decided to attend in person.

So, it's off to Berlin Wednesday, and if all goes well we will come back home Thursday night owning a property in Basdorf. Well, not actually legally owning it just yet; we become the legal owners when the Notar checks that there are no impediments to the transfer of land, then updates the local Grundbuch, which is like our Land Regsistry. This can take a few more weeks yet.

One thing I didn't realise, in Germany you are the outright owner of your piece of German soil. But in the UK the land always remains the property of the crown. That's why we talk about owning the freehold to land; really we are just lending it from the Queen. I wonder how they'll work it out if the UK ever gieves up the monarchy and becames a republic? The Queen might claim all her land back, evict everybody, and stick a big sign up at Calais saying "Keep of moi land!"

This morning we had a survey by a removal company of all our belongings we want to take to Germany. Now we've just got to figure out how to get the cats there!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Armer Kerl! A Cautionary Tale about Worming Cats


We're sitting here twiddling our thumbs whilst the legal Menschen sort out the contract ready for signing. There's nothing much we can do other than get ready for the call to the Notar's Berlin office and sign it.

To give me some practice writing German in the meantime, here's a tale from not long after we moved to the rented house. It is written mostly in the Imperfekt or 'narrative past'.

Es war einmal in einem Land weit weg ... Korrektur, es war letzten Januar in Matlock, wo vier kleine Katzen lebten in einem neuen unbekannten Haus.

Leider hatten sie auch Bandwürmer, und sie hatten Bauchweh. Sie brauchten Tabletten, und sie waren überhaupt nicht glücklich mit der Idee, aber es musste getan werden.

Wir freuten uns auch gar nicht darauf.

Also, langer Rede kurzer Sinn: Alle Katzen außer Simba, der unsere rötlich-gelb Kater, wurden behandelt.

Eines Abends fingen wir Simbi im Schlafzimmer mit einer Tablette. Meine Partnerin hielt die aufgeschreckte Katze, und Ich gab ihm die Tablette. Er schluckte die Tablette, aber was ist los? Simbi rang nach Atem! Sein Mund war weit offen! Er steckte seine Zunge heraus! Er rieb ihm der Mund mit seiner Pfote!

Dann erinnerte ich mich an: Ich kochte ein vegetarisches Curry zum Abendessen. Ich schnitt Chili-Paprika. Vielleicht wusch ich mir die Hände nicht genug? Oje! Armer Simbi! Meine würzige Finger verbrannt seinem Mund!

Simbi trank etwas Wasser, und es ist nichts Schlimmes passiert, aber bis heute er wird nicht meine Finger lecken.

Und sie lebten glücklich und zufrieden bis an ihr Lebensende, das Ende.

Monday, 16 June 2008

An Inspirational Poster for Your Desktop

The traditional working environment posters used to be along the lines of 'You Don't have to be Mad to Work Here But It Helps' (which I thought was a bit insensitive when I saw one in a secretary's office on a visit to Rampton Hospital back in the eighties (in my role as an NHS IT Manager I might add)).

From the nineties onwards though there was a steady creep, and I regret to say I think it might have been from the USA, of inspirational posters put up by the management to motivate the workforce. Sadly, they pushed the old jokey ones out of the offices of our land. It has been ages since I spotted 'To err is human, but to really cock things up requires a computer'.

Typically these inspirational posters have an arresting image, and an inane homily about personal growth or achievement underneath them, for example "Destiny is not a matter chance, it is a matter of choice.", "Pereserverance: What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.", "Wisdom: Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win." - I mean, what? Can you run that one by me again please?

Thankfully, in these postmodern, cynically ironic times, motivational posters seem to be going the way of the weekend paint-balling teamwork building courses and management-speak bingo (ever played that?). What will come to fill the vacuum, I don't know. Hopefully photos of fluffy cats and bunnies.

Anyway, inspired (!) by the genre, I have created my own. Hope you like it!

p.s. click to biggify it.