Friday, 18 February 2011

Now Suki has Left us Too

29.05.98 - 18.02.11

Just a month after our Super Simbi died, now our sweet little Suki has also passed on to play in the Tabby Hunting Grounds.

They were both unwell at the same time, but they died from different causes. Suki had developed bad teeth problems that caused an infection that got into her sinuses, making her face swell and her eyes weep. The vet removed the bad teeth, including one of her canines, but the infection got worse despite antibiotics and lots of TLC. Though managing to eat lots, she lost weight rapidly, and as she was the smallest of our kitties she didn't have much weight to begin with. In the end, she was anaesthetised again by the vet to look at her mouth, and the abscess was getting really bad. She had been in pain, and frequently gave out the most aweful screams. So we made the sad sad decision to tell the vet to let her carry on sleeping and not bring her out of the anaesthetic.

Despite being so small, she was always the most adventurous of our cats, and the best hunter. On many occasions she came in through the cat-flap dragging a rabbit or jay twice her size, or was caught sneaking in after a visit to the lake in the woods, duckling feet dangling from her mouth.

Here's to the memory of our tiny Jägermeisterin, probably now terrorising the ghost mice and squirrels in the afterworld, and perhaps even playing with Simba again.

Sweet dreams little one, you are dearly missed.

Suki on a Santa hat, dreaming of mice pies for Christmas

Sunbathing by the pond

Suki surveying her domain

With her sister Tosca. They were both 'rescue' cats

Cat in a box!

Sweet tabby dreams

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Schornsteinfeger - Chimneysweeps

Today we had a visit from the Schornsteinfeger, that is, the chimney-sweep.

By law, in Germany you have to have your chimney cleaned and your heating system inspected twice a year by a Land designated chimney sweep. And you have to pay for it of course.

You don't need to make an appointment, they will make it with you. On the whole this is a good thing - you don't want to suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning from a poorly ventilated heating system, and you wouldn't want a build up of soot to cause a chimney fire. The history is of the risk of whole towns of wooden-framed buildings burning down because of one house catching fire. If only the Pudding Lane bakery in London had had such inspections then the Great Fire of London might not have happened. And then we wouldn't have had Christopher Wren's magnificent buildings in the rebuild, so swings and roundabouts.

In other German towns in past times the regulations were even stricter, and householders had to legally have leather-bellow fire extinguishers on hand in case of fire.

In the UK chimney sweeps are supposedly considered lucky, especially so at weddings, though I have never been to one where a sweep has been present. The media representation of a sweep bringing luck is in the film 'Mary Poppins', and the chim-chiminy.chim-chiminy sweep played by Dick Van Dyke with his peculiar Cockney/Hungarian accent.

In Germany the superstition of a chimney sweep bringing luck is much more prevalent, with table decorations in Kneipen and restaurants of ladders and chimney-sweeps climbing up the foliage at New Year. Other symbols of good luck in Germany, especially at New Year again, and on  birthdays, are four-leaved clovers, ladybirds, and pigs (Glücksschwein). Why? Keine Ahnung!

Sweeps in the past have also had a bad reputation; in the Nazi era their statutory right to enter anybody's house allowed them to collect evidence of un-patriotic anti-National Socialist sentiments. This continued after the war in DDR times when they were often Stasi Mitarbeiter, spying on anti-communist dissident activity.

Unfortunately black kids in Germany were also compared to chimney sweeps in a negative way; a school-yard chant would be 'Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger!' because, duh, a sweeps' skin is sooty black. The experience of a black kid growing up in Nazi Germany who suffered these taunts resulted in the autobiographical book by Hans Jürgen Massaquoi, and subsequent film, which are well worth reading / watching. See 'Neger, Neger, Schorsteinfeger'.

An engaging aspect of the chimney sweep tradition in Germany is that they often still dress in traditional top-hat and buttoned-up jacket. They might also become Journeymen after their apprenticeship has finished, travelling on foot with other newly professional former-apprentices across Europe dressed in their traditional gear. This tradition by the way gave us the Australian term 'swagman': so now you know what he was doing by the billabong with Mathilda!

The visit from the chimney sweep might cost us a few tens of Euros, and might seem like the state regulating where it doesn't need to in this day and age, but for the peace of mind of not worrying my boiler or wood fire is poisoning us or about to catch fire, I think it is worth keeping. And if it brings us luck, all the better! (we need a bit after the past year).

This photo is not by me - please contact me if you are the photographer or model and wish me to remove it.
Good though, innit?

Frankfurt und Słubice, Oder?

Not the Place Hot-Dogs Come From

das Museum Junge Kunst, Frankfurt (Oder)
Today was cold but bright-skied, so we got ourselves a Brandenburg ticket and headed by Regional Express South-East to Frankfurt on the German/Polish border. First of all I should point out that this is probably not the Frankfurt you've heard about, the major financial centre with the Manhattan-style skyscrapers. That's the large city on the river Main further West in the state of Hesse. The Brandenburger Frankfurt we visited is the much smaller town on the Oder - hence it is often referred to as Frankfurt (Oder) so that you don't get the it  confused with Frankfurt (Main) and arrange a conference of bankers in the wrong place. On a linguistic note, 'with-it' German youth often tag 'oder?' (= or) on the end of sentences in much the same way as English yoof add 'innit?'. This isn't one of those occasions.
A German border post on the river bank. The border actually runs down the middle of the river Oder, but you wouldn't see the post if they put it there! 
The river Oder now forms part of the German border with Poland, but it weren't always so, and Frankfurt(Oder) once straddled this busy river trade-route slap-bang in the middle of the Kingdom of Prussia. Because of the redrawn boundaries at the end of World War II, Frankfurt found itself split in two, and has since been known as Słubice (pronounced something like Swu-bitsia) on the Eastern, Polish side of the river.

die St. Marienkirche, Frankfurt (Oder)
Travelling to Frankfurt you pass through miles and miles of rolling countryside and unbroken forest, and it feels like you are heading into the middle of nowhere. This is a feeling not entirely dissipated when you arrive. Frankfurt is an attractive, clean, modern town that also has many interesting historic (rebuilt) buildings. But for mid-day on a Saturday in the main shopping area it wasn't exactly Oxford St London. Which is fine, as we hate crowds. Just as long as it doesn't feel too post-Apocalyptic.

Frankfurt Side of the Oder

We came across a great deal more people crossing the bridge over the river to Słubice. The road-traffic was understandable because the Oder is a mighty river with limited places you can cross. On the Frankfurter side you could still tell where the border-control checkpoints and customs used to be, but nowadays you don't need a passport to cross.

The river Oder, looking South, up-stream. It's wide, innit?
It immediately became clear what the main attraction for visitors to Słubice is though, as the first thing to hit you are all the shops selling cheap booze and fags - 24 hours!

A typical 24/7 drive-in duty-free emporium in Słubice 
Also, for some reason, all the pizza you can eat. Not that there weren't lots of places where you could get pierogis too, but for some reason pizzeria's seem to outnumber any other kind of restaurant.

If you want to stuff your face with Italian cuisine whilst drinking and smoking yourself to death as well as getting a tattoo - Słubice is hog's heaven for you!
Though it wasn't like Oxford Street on this side of the river either, sometimes it did feel a bit like the Old Kent Road:

A London Pub in Słubice? Make's a change from Irish Pubs I suppose.
Apart from the sense of a typical border town, the other thing that is apparent is that you are definitely in a different country. That might not be so surprising - after all, you are - but the suddenness after walking only a few hundred metres across a bridge is striking. The language, the shop and street signs, the architecture, and yes, the signs of poverty and neglect all add up to the thought 'we're not in Germany any more, Toto.'

Słubice High Street. We weren't sure if all the wooden supports everywhere were an architectural feature, or were actually stopping the balconies crashing down. We think the latter. 
As you might expect, this important river crossing was a crucial defence point during the final months of the Second World War. Here the German Wehrmacht tried to halt the advance of the Red Army at Festung (fortress) Frankfurt. They of course failed, but not before the town was pretty much pulverised along with the population. There is (of course) a memorial in Słubice to the Soviet liberators:

Poignantly, on the Frankfurt side there is also a memorial centre to the victims of the NKVD (pre-cursor to the KGB) who came in the wake of the Red Army and arrested, murdered, or sent to gulags anyone suspected even remotely of being a fascist sympathiser.

Before you run away with the idea that Słubice is all pizza parlours, drug-pushers, and painful politics, there are examples of stunning, modern architecture around the European University Viadrina too.

Back in Frankfurt (Oder) the restored architecture is more traditional, and is a reminder that Frankfurt's history goes a long way back. In fact, the numerous churches and Franciscan monastery are there because before the Reformation (when Protestant killjoys said down with that sort of thing) Frankfurt was on one of the main mediaeval arteries of pilgrims making their way to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in North Western Spain along the Way of St James (Jakobsweg).

die Friedenskirche Frankfurt
Nowadays, signs along the river bank direct you which way to go to follow the Jakobsweg. Or if that's a bit far, then there is also the 630 km long Oder-Neiße Radweg - a cycle path along the length of the German/Polish border. Unfortunately, we had to get back in time to feed the cats, so we climbed the hill (yes! A hill!) to the station and the train home.

Kitty Ice-cream!
Some of the sculptures in Frankfurt are really just rubbish