Sunday, 28 June 2009


There are 10 types of people in the world: those who 'get' this 'joke' and think it's funny, and the vast majority of the other type who wouldn't have attended Linuxtag 2009 at Messegelände Berlin from 24th to 27th of June even if you'd paid them to.*

Actually, we were paid to, as one of the exhibitors was employing us to take photos of visitors to the event to put on their website. Or they agreed they would, but are now refusing to pay me for the seventy or so photos I took on the Thursday and which have been published on their website since then. Watch this space for some naming and shaming if our bank account isn't added to soon! [Edit 07.08.09: Finally I am getting paid. But not the full amount, as my camera is too old and my photos weren't of high enough standard for the web. Apparantly. I'll just have to take down all my photos on this blog then if that's the case.]

I confess that some of the stalls were quite interesting though. I am a great advocate of open source software, and see it as a force for good in the IT world in comparison to, say, Microsoft or Apple. The Linux 4 Africa project seemed a particularly worthwhile initiative; producing cheap solid-state notebook computers loaded with a free open source Linux operating system and software, for use in teaching those people of the world who are lucky if they have a decent water supply less than a days walk away. Personally I believe that education is the greatest liberator, and keeping people in ignorance the mark of a repressive and evil society.

If only these people weren't such geeks though! One gorky individual had a t-shirt on which said "You read my t-shirt. That's enough social interaction for one day". Yes, yes, I know it is self-parody, like the guy with a Robert Smith fright wig, eye-liner, white face and black lipstick, enough studs to repair the Tyne Bridge, and full-length floor-duster trench coat, who will also have a t-shirt with 'Goth!' written on it (in gothic script natch). As if we couldn't tell already.

I half expected a group of PHP programmers to march at the Christopher Street Day Parade under the banner 'Gay Geeks for GNU' (and if you don't understand that, then don't worry; it just means you are not a geek yourself!). Unfortunately not. If any of the Linuxtag participents were schwule (oder lesbisch, but let's face it, 99% of geeks are of the male persuasion) then they weren't coming out of the network patching cabinet. In fact, the last day of the event (a Saturday and CSD day) was almost empty, only visited by those people who had actually bought their own ticket, rather than have their employers pay for them and who welcomed a work-day out from the claustrophobic depths of the machine room.

Still, there was one t-shirt design which made me laugh, even if I had got tired of seeing the one about the line of evolution with the last image a guy sitting at a PC. You know, this one:

Funnier is:

Nnng! Oh no, I feel like I must get one! I must be turning ... into ... a geek! Put me down now, please!

* The joke is that 10 is binary notation for the number two, whereas people who don't know binary (the underlying principle for instructing mico-chip processors to do what they do) wonder what the other nine types of people are. Oh but my sides are splitting! Fetch me a staple gun quickly!

Linuxtag 2009: Competition Winner

And the winner of the Best Self-Parody of a Computer Geek award is ... this guy from the Gentoo Linux stand, showing off his t-shirt which says "You read my t-shirt. That's enough social interaction for one day."! He's probably got a brain the size of a planet, but he's not beyond playing up the popular image of a binary-freak to spectacular effect. Well done!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Schwul's Out For Summer!

My puns get worse! Schwul is German for 'gay' ('School's Out' is by Alice Cooper). And by the way, I kept wondering why on die Wettervorhersage (weather forecast)they kept saying that tomorrow would be ein schwuler Tag (a gay day?). Actually, they were saying it would be a schwüler day, which means hot and humid. Just shows how important pronouncing those umlauted vowels is!

Anyway, today was very much a Schwuler Tag, it being the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin. You would spend a long time looking at a map of Berlin without finding Christopher Street (besides, it would be Straße). The reference is to the name of the street in Greenwich Village, New York, where the so-called Stonewall Riots took place in anger over a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in 1969, and which pretty much marked the beginning for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) folk not taking any more shit anymore. I paraphrase of course. Curiously it is only known as a Christopher Street Day (or CSD) parade in Germany and Switzerland; elsewhere around the world it is called a Pride Parade.

So what's it all about? I can sum it up with one representative photo I took (as usual, click for a larger image):
"We're gay, we love each other, we will demonstrate our affection for each other in public and we don't care what you think!" And what on earth is wrong with that? Well, looking at TV footage of the people watching the first Berlin CSD parade in '79 (faces displaying shock, disbelief, disgust), there obviously was felt to be a great deal wrong with that. It shows how far we have come as a society that at today's CSD parade straight people were joining in the spectacle and bringing their kids for a day out. Indeed, I wonder how many people there had become 'gay for the day' just to be able to let their hair down, dress up (or undress!), and take part in this event of unbridled celebration, exhibitionism, and total FUN!

Here are a few photos from the day:

On the downside though, I never, never, want to hear 'Dancing Queen' or 'YMCA' ever again!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Beelitz-Heilstätten - The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum

I have been to some weird places in my time - I lived in Bonsall for a number of years after all - but none were as strange and creepy as Beelitz-Heilstätten. This is an abandoned Soviet-era sanatorium and psychiatric hospital which was formerly a military hospital (a young Adolph recuperated here after injuries he sustained at the battle of the Somme. If only someone had accidentally od'ed him on morphine). Nobody seems to know what to do with the site, and the buildings have fallen into rack and ruin.

We visited it today with a couple of friends from the TT Berlin photography club, and the place was instantly calling out to us to be photographed before it completely dissapeared into a heap of vandalised and well-scavenged rubble. One of us had visited a week before, and you could see from his photos how in just seven days many more windows had been smashed, furniture and copper wire looted, and speeded-up entropy taken hold.

The site has been used as the set in at least one horror movie, and whilst we were there people were doing photo-shoots (one model posing as Laura Croft in a dilapidated theatre). What was strange to our British health & safety sensibilities was that there were lots of curious people out for a day's ramble just wandering around all over. Underfoot there was broken glass and rubble from smashed down walls and doors, and some of the staircases were decidedly iffy. You would have thought that the whole complex should have high security fences and 'Keep Out!' warning signs. But no, parents were even letting their children use the ruined surgeries and corridors of glass shards as a playground. Whoever owns the site now, I hope they are well covered for third party public injury insurance!

Anyway, here are some photos of the place (click to bigify). I was also inspired to muck about with some of my photos and do a 'Tales from the Crypt' type horror story!

Beelitz-Heilstätten by Andie Gilmour

Hanging plants always make a decorative addition to any room

The Eagle has landed

Beelitz-Heilstätten vine-covered window

Close windows and doors to maintain room temperature

Vorsicht! The corridor of peeling lead-paint death!

I so hope the owner of this crutch is still around and mobile somewhere

Gorgeous Beelitz window

'White-goods are stylish'

Sit yourself down in the armchair and tell me all about it

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Robert Smith on the Berlin Wall

The East Side Gallery is getting a spruce up, with all the old grafitto being white-washed over and artists creating new murals for it.

To save this for posterity then, before it gets eradicated, here's a stencil somebody did of the grandfather of Goth, the lovely Robert Smith of The Cure.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Surf, Sand and Seagulls - A Day Trip to Warnemünde

A day-trip to the seaside in Germany is naturally not as easy as for sea-bounded Britons, where the coast is never that far away. Many English people, when they think of Germany, probably wouldn't even associate it with having coastal resorts. But it certainly does, along the North Sea (Nordsee) and Baltic (Ostsee) coasts.
Warnemünde is one such resort, and is about three hours Noth-West of Berlin by train, just North of Rostock.

The day we went, it was very windy blowing in from the sea. I mean, incredibly windy. So windy that you could hardly stand upright. If any of these photos look a bit shaky, it's because I had difficulty even holding the camera steady. And the ultra-fine, bright white sand - which must be gorgeous to wriggle your toes in on a fine, sunny day - was being whipped into a sand storm which would annoy a Bedouin's camel. Indeed, I was still finding  grains of sand in my ear-hole days later. Here's a photo of the waves rolling in onto the end of the harbour  mole (as usual on this blog, all photos are copyright me, and you click on them for a bigger image).

And here's a photo from the same place, looking West along the 3 km of beach. I had brought my swimming costume, but nothing was going to get me into that swell!

Here's a photo of a guy returning from the beach wearing what you did need if you wanted to go into the sea; a rubber wet-suit!

He had probably been kitesurfing. We saw dozens of people doing this,  which is kind of like surfboarding, but  whilst holding onto a large controllable kite. The wind would pull them at speed along the breakers, and then they would leap into the air off of the crest of a wave and glide for about twenty or thirty metres before landing again on the sea. It was incredibly impressive, and I'd show you some photos of it if I'd been able to keep my camera straight!

Higher up the beach, the most notable features were the lines of beach chairs, which in German are called Strandkörbe (translates as 'beach baskets'). These aren't your common bog-standard English deck-chair, oh no! The land of 'Vorsprung durch Technik' has invented a two-seater whicker basket creation, with self-contained foot-rests, arm-rests, tiltable top, and storage space below the seats for your bottles of beer and beach picnic. Here's a photo of some of them:

And here's a composition of them, with seagull:

On a day as windy as when we went, people were using them to get a bit of shelter (and a bit of kip too, it looks like). Notice the sails of the kiteboarders in the background.

Some poor soul apparantly still has the job of setting them up (photo below). I don't know if this is a regular occurance; there are hundreds of them, so whether or not they are left out on the beach most of the season, or are brought back each night for storage (a mammoth task, and we couldn't see anywhere they could be put), I don't know. There aren't any tides to speak of on the Baltic coast and these things look like they are designed to withstand a hurricane, so I guess they could be out all Summer. If they were on the beach in England of course, they wouldn't survive the night without being vandalised or set alight. Or am I just being cynical?

In the background in the photo above is another of Warnemünde's lighthouses, the oldest, built in 1897. To the left of the lighthouse is a structure called 'Teepot', which is an interesting example of architecture from DDR times (Warnemünde was in East Germany of course). Here they are from the other side and closer up.

Anyway, back to the 'beach baskets', and here's another line of them, with some brave young paddlers in the calmer waters behind the sand-bank. What I find interesting is that of course the German coast faces North, so all the beach chairs are facing inland, not the sea, in order to get the warmth of the sunlight (and on such a day as we went, to protect you from the gale).

You might have got the impression that I have quite taken to these Strandkorb things, and yes I have! I want one for the garden to sit in having a beer on a sunny afternoon! If anyone would care to donate one to us, please send me an email :)

Apart from the beach and the lighthouses, Warnemünde has all the attractions of a typical sea-side resort. So, a promenade . . .

... a large harbour ...

... trips around the bay ....

... and even fish 'n' chips and ice cream:

In fact it's just like Skegness (Lincolnshire coastal resort favoured by day-trippers from the East Midlands)! Except that Warnemünde isn't choked with litter, blasted with the noise from amusement arcades and bingo-callers, full of drunken youths, and doen't have a beach which is half dog-shit, condoms, and used nappies. But apart from that, almost exactly the same.

Summertime Dreaming on the Baltic Sea ...

Monday, 8 June 2009

Big Cats at Berlin Zoo

I wonder how many non-German speaker visitors to the Big Cat house at Berlin Zoo understand the implications of this sign beside the Lion cage? It translates as 'Watch Out! Lion sprays urine through the bars.', and yes, it really does, we've seen it! If we could only catch it on video that would be a great post to YouTube!
You wouldn't think it of the old chap, would you? When he roars though, the whole zoo knows who is König.
The Big Cat house is one of my favorite places at Berlin Zoo, but it is an area electrically tensioned with primeaval power, anger, awe, fear, contradiction, hope, and sadness. Of course, these magnificant animals should not be here, they should be wild in their natural environment. But their Heimat is being rapidly destroyed by the expansion of humans and they are being driven to the limits of extinction.
But the people who are pushing them out are the poorest on the planet and surely need to exist too, and don't want to meet a ten-foot long predator with razor-sharp teeth and claws as they go about scraping a living. Berlin Zoo have a breeding program to at least try and preserve threatened species, but for an existence confined to caged enclosures? Is that fair to their million-year long evolutionary-honed instincts?
However, on a personal human level you are there metres away from a beast that could rip you to pieces, and that frisson of excitement is heart-beatingly glorious. And there is also the sheer, astounding beauty of these creatures; their silky coats and colours, their graceful muscle-rippling movements, their intelligent predator's eyes summing you up.
I love and respect these creatures; I am saddened that they are caged up; but I am thankful that I can be privileged to share their space and look into their eyes one-to-one.
Of the big cats, my favorite are the tigers (even if their cage does make them look like they are on a graph-sheet), and at least they don't piss on you through the bars!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Adventures In Gardening 2 - Snakes Alive!

Previously, we've discovered a nest of snake-like blindworms in the garden, but today Suki discovered a real snake.

Pictured is a grass snake (Ringelnatter in German) which our smallest cat was tentatively patting on the lawn. Thankfully grass snakes are totally harmless and non-poisonous, otherwise Suki might have got a nasty shock. Before she could bring it into the house through the cat-flap, I put the snake into a plant-pot and took it out of the garden to safety.

Unlike the blindworms it felt roughly scaly, cold, and didn't seem so muscular as the blindworms. When I let it go it zoomed off in a straight line with a speed which surprised me.

I've never had a snake in the garden before, but I guess this is what comes of living in a Naturpark. Hopefully we won't get wild boars in the garden like some residents on the periphery of Berlin have reported, but a wild deer (which we've often seen from the Heidekrautbahn train in the area) in the garden would be toll (=amazing). At least Suki would have a job getting one of those through the cat-flap!