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!