Monday, 31 March 2008


Today we had an appointment with an estate agent to look round two properties in Zepernick, North East of Berlin.

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The town of Zepernick is on the river Panke and is next to Barnim Nature Park. Despite being set in beautiful rural countryside it is but 30mins from Berlin Zentrum on the S-Bahn.

The first house we looked at had promising potential. Okay, it was a bit on the small size, needed rewiring downstairs, and the crumbling Communist-era rendering needed stripping off and redoing. But on the plus side it came with a reasonably large plot of land (Grundstück), had a small but well equipped fitted kitchen, and had a newly tiled roof. The owner also had a liking for the Häuser of controversial architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (check out the house in Vienna) , which showed she had good, if mad, taste.

At the second house we interrupted what seemed to be a DDR OAP women's whist drive. The house was larger than the one we'd seen earlier, but needed to be fully modernised. The upstairs floor also looked like it was sagging in the middle, as the roof in the attic certainly was. We left the old girls to their cards and walked to the S-Bahn station, which took us alongside the railway track on an unlit dirt-track. I don't think we'll be bothering with this one.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Willkommen in meinem Leben

Did I say yesterday that we'd be up fresh and early for an appointment with an estate agent today?

Ah, that was before we poisoned ourselves with too much of the madness juice that is Caipirinha.

No way could we make it to an appointment at 10am. No way could we make it outside into Alexanderplatz. Even to the bathroom was a hazardous journey, but was somewhere we had to visit quite often. Never again! never again!

I couldn't even get my head together enough to talk to the estate agent (in German). So I chickened out and texted his mobile to cancel instead.

Not a lot else happened for most of today. It's a good job the room is so nice.

But in the evening, now recovered, we went to an Unheilig gig at Columbia Halle near the Luftbrücke monument next to Tempelhof airport (in remembrance of the Berlin Airlift in 1948).

The venue was about the size of Rock City in Nottingham (if that means anything to you) and had a similar atmosphere (and similar dress-sense - black it seems is compulsory). Our friend from South Africa and boyfriend had backstage passes and were in the guest enclosure near the front (jammy so 'n' so!), so we didn't actually meet up with her.

The event was being filmed for a DVD and as a consequence I imagine Der Graf put on an especially good performance for the cameras. He's always good for a show anyway, looking like Nosferatu's handsome younger brother in a natty black suit and staging his set with an arch of large church candles.

The playlist was mainly from his latest album Puppenspiel (puppet show), which was fine because it is a very good album. But he also did his earlier stuff, engaging lots of audience participation with for example 'Freiheit'. His international success 'Sage Ja' was saved for the final encore, natürlich. The audience was handed out glowing red light sticks to wave for the slower numbers, though a few die-hards still waved lit cigarette lighters in contravention of Health & safety regulations.

Der Graf threw his all into the performance and always politely acknowledged the applause with many vielen Danks after each song. 'Berlin ist der total Hammer' he shouted, and the audience agreed.

Unfortunately, we learned afterwards, Der Graf totally exhausted himself at the concert and has been instructed to rest his vocal chords until 6th May, canceling the rest of his German/Austrian/Switzerland gigs and the whole of his Russian tour. We have tickets to see him again at Sheffield Corporation on the 16th (with many thanks to our South African friend who gave them to us for free); I hope he is well enough by then, but won't be too disappointed as we have our Berlin memories of an excellent concert and we wish him to make a full recovery.[Edit: sadly Der Graf wasn't sufficiently recovered to do the Sheffield gig, which was unfortunate because I was looking forward to seeing how well the Steelers coped with Unheilg's (German language) audience participation. Not that I wish to disparage Sheffielders linguistic skills, but I have trouble understanding them when they speak English!]

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Caipirinha Time at Paul's Metal Eck

we spent the morning looking around Königs Wusterhausen, a pleasant little cobbled-street town way out to the South East of Berlin and handy for Schönefeld airport if not for Berlin Zentrum.

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We did an outside viewing of a house for sale, and generally checked the area out for living or renting in; very nice, if a little quiet. Meanwhile we were fielding calls on our Handy (= mobile phone) from an estate agent about viewing a house tomorrow morning. The afternoon was spent trying to get back to Alexanderplatz. We'd gone out to Königs Wusterhausen on a red DB (Deutsche Bahn) train (actually, the Regional Express to Schönefeld airport), but had decided to travel back on the S-Bahn. Big mistake! There was evidently some disruption to the running of the trains and we had to change three times, mostly just to go one more stop down the line. Don't believe anyone who tells you the German transport system runs like clock-work!

In the evening we headed out for the infamous Paul's Metal Eck in the Friedrichshain area of Berlin. We were meeting a friend from South Africa and her English boyfriend, who were also going to the Unheilig gig the next day.

The last time we'd been to this 'Metalkneipe' was for the Verboten 2006 Tour, a crowd of Rammstein fans gathered from across the globe, and I had memories of crazy (in the nice sense!) women dancing on the tables to Rammstein videos and copious amounts of Caipirinha cocktails.

So in memory of brain-cells fallen in the call of pleasure, we had ... glasses and glasses of Caipirinha. A little too many in retrospect. We left just after midnight as we had to be up and fresh in the morning for our appointment with an estate agent. Our friends continued until four (or five - the clocks went back this night).

Friday, 28 March 2008

Flying to Berlin

We flew off to Berlin from Luton Airport today, with a laptop full of house details and a head full of dreams.

Unfortunately the heat and the excitement got to me on take-off, and I had a brief panic-attack, passed out, and woke up to find the cabin crew around me putting an oxygen mask on me. My rational centre quickly kicked in and reassured my endocrine system that we weren't all going to die and the rest of the flight passed without incident.

We stayed at the four-star Park Inn Hotel on Alexanderplatz. The room was excellent; spacious and comfortable with a well-stocked mini-bar and panoramic views from the tenth-floor window. Well okay, the view was of the building site in the street next to the Inn and nothing much else, but if you used your imagination ... The room was also getting more expensive by the minute as the pound nose-dived against the euro.

In the DDR days the Park Inn had been occupied by visiting dignitaries from across the Communist World. Thankfully they had changed the decor since then, but we did wonder if we should sweep the room for electronic bugs.

Alexanderplatz was filled with a Frühlingmarkt, which looked very similar to a Weihnachtenmarkt with small wood cabins selling everything from lace, sweets, craftwork to the inevitable Bratwurst and Bier. But they also had a cute petting zoo with rabbits, lambs, and a kid goat which enjoyed leaping on and off bails of straw, its mother, and (much to their annoyance) the lambs.

And so to sleep, with lots ahead to do in Berlin.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The Cure!

Tonight we travelled down to Wembley Arena for a concert by Robert Smith and The Cure.

Wow, these guys are so good, even after all these years. The wall of sound is incredible, filling the vast space of the arena and churning pleasurable parts of your body.

The audience was a good mix of all ages and types, from the ubiquitous Smith look-alikes, through ageing goths (Hi!) and emo's, to fresh-faced young people probably not even born when The Cure was formed. We were standing up near the front, but not in the thick of the melee. One guy who had been sent to get the beers in, gave up on ever fighting his way back to the middle of the crush, so he gave his beers away for free to us, then texted his friends what he had done. Cheers!

Robert looked rather chubby (well, so do I nowadays!) but had the stamina to keep going for three hours, though his voice was getting a bit ropey towards the end - but who could blame him? He was belting the songs out with enthusiasm, not just going through the motions. He was obviously enjoying himself immensely, and so was the packed crowd (when I phoned my Mum and told her who I'd been to see, she asked if there were many people there. Oh, about ten thousand I said. 'He's popular then is he? I've never heard of him'. Yeah Mum, he is). Robert engaged with the audience in his usual mumbling way, and ended each song with a n'kyou n'kyou.

If you were expecting all his greatest hits then you weren't disappointed. The Cure's back catalogue was mined for ghems all the way to Three Imaginary Boys, and they even gave a spirited rendering of 'Love Cats', much to the delight of the crowd. The highlight for me though, as it often is at Cure concerts, was an awesome production of A Forest. In fact, I think it was the best Forest I've ever heard them do (except perhaps for the last time I saw them at Wembley Arena on the Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me tour - maybe there is something about the acoustics that lends itself to the swhirling hypnotic dirge sound?).

Here I believe is the playlist (pinched from this blog and I can't disagree with it):

Plainsong, Prayers For Rain, A Strange Day, alt.end, A Night Like This, The End of the World, Lovesong, To Wish Impossible Things, Pictures of You, Lullaby, From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea, Hot Hot Hot!!!, The Only One (Please Project), The Walk, Push, Friday I'm In Love, Inbetween Days, Just Like Heaven, Primary, A Boy I Never Knew, Shake Dog Shake, Never Enough, Wrong Number, One Hundred Years, Disintegration

1st encore: At Night, M, Play For Today, A Forest.
2nd encore: The Lovecats, Let's Go To Bed, Freak Show, Close To Me, Why Can't I Be You
3rd encore: Three Imaginary Boys (with a little bit of Foxy Lady at the beginning), Fire In Cairo, Boys Don't Cry, Jumping Someone Else's Train, Grinding Halt, 10:15 Saturday Night, Killing An Arab.

A very enjoyable evening; one of the best concerts I've been to for a long time.


Tuesday, 18 March 2008


Tonight we went so see the acoustic arm of the long-serving punk/folk agit-prop anarcho-syndicalist Prescott soakers Chumbawamba at the Darwin Suite, Derby.

A strange event. For a start, the room was laid out with individual round tables, four chairs around, with vases of flowers, giving the impression of a twenties German underground nightclub. And then the audience; a bunch of hand-woven folky types of all ages from 6-60 who looked like they had come down on a coach trip from Hebden Bridge. I felt I stuck out a bit in my standard punk ensemble.
And of course, the music. We'd downloaded their latest album (The Boy Bands Have Won) so we should have known what to expect, but heck, sorry guys but Chumbawamba without Alice Nutter or Danbert Nobacon is like a chili con carne (vegetarian version of course) without the chili - nice enough, but no flame, no heat, no va-va-voom.

They managed to slip in a snatch of 'Tubthumping' ("a medley of our one hit") , but otherwise there was little energy in the set. The acoustic Chumbies engaged in a little nervous banter with the audience (for example, wondering why the venue was called the Darwin Suite. An erudite member of the audience reminded them that Erasmus (Charle's grandfather) used to live not a hundred metres from there. As heckles go, this was actually informative!), but on the whole they came across as amateurish and unrehearsed. That's not a bad thing; they were real people you might meet in a pub who had some interesting thoughts on Bertolt Brecht and Philip Larkin they'd like to share.

A gem though was the accordion playing of Phil Moody, evoking the atmosphere of a smoky Parisian dive (though of course, in these smoke-ban days, that's just wishful thinking).

They tried to get a singalong going for 'On eBay' (from Babylon back to Babylon. And there's a coincidence, as I bought their 'Un' CD on eBay for 99p), but otherwise the audience were pretty sedate (at a Chumbawamba gig! Where were the Sisters of the Immaculate Misconception?! Where was John Prescott?!).

Still, all in all pleasurable enough, and better than staying in and watching the telly. And I forgive them the dreary 'Hull or Hell' because they did do the excellent 'Homophobia', which I have embedded below.

Oh and here's a link to their MySpace site where you can hear clips from their latest album.