Archives for the month of: January, 2014


Having posted last week that we were having unseasonably mild weather, temperatures plummeted this week, and we got snow! On Monday, I stayed in all day and didn’t notice that the weather had changed dramatically.  When I went to pop out to LIDL, the pavement was an icy death trap and a neighbour skidded and fell just ahead of me. Monday’s black ice was a surprise all around – there was a big accident on the bridge above the U-bahn, where cars simply didn’t realise how icy the road was, and I overheard two people talking about how they were on the bus at this same bridge and lots of people stepped off falling flat on their face.  There was no hint of this the previous day, when it was “No Pants Day” on the U-bahn   Not really something I need to join in with.

On Tuesday, we woke to a snowy landscape, and the Powers-That-Be had organised machinery to clear paths and throw out gravel, so it was a great deal easier to negotiate.  It has snowed on and off all week, though it’s more like flurries than heavy snowfalls, so everyone has got used to it. Because snow is such a feature for people like me, who haven’t experienced it much, every time it happens I re-live other snow moments in my life: Building a snowman in the back garden during playschool circa 1958; dancing in the heavy snowflakes with Anne Collins on New Years Eve 1962; sliding down the Burma Road on a tray; trudging up to Johnny Fox’s for hot whiskeys over Christmas circa 1972; thick snowdrifts seen from the night train from Bremen visiting Johnny Parle in 1973; a silent snowy wonderland in Bad Herrenalb in December 1976; Brigid and Niall, visiting us in Galway, sliding in snow, demolishing a stone wall in the Morris Minor in 1978; Eamonn and myself almost getting stuck in the mountains driving between Cork and Kerry, shortly after Christmas 1982; Clare as a baby, in a snowsuit, investigating the snow, in the Sierras, California over Thanksgiving, 1994; making a snowman in the back garden with Clare and friends during playschool in late snowfall, Good Friday 1998; bringing Clare over to Knockroe to toboggan with Esme and Nisa, and having a go myself, circa 2004; getting snowbound at home Nov/Dec 2010, then snowbound in Dublin the following week.

Here, it’s a very workaday attitude to the snow – just get it cleared and get back to normal, no standing around talking about it.  They are (of course!) exceptionally efficient – I woke up the other morning at 4.30, to hear the snowplough going past, getting the streets ready for the working population.  I thought loads of students wouldn’t bother to go in, but the classes were full. Today the sun thawed quite a bit of the snow, even though the air temperature was a chilly -7 degrees (tonight it’s dropping to -13 degrees).  That seems to be the low point and after that, it’s back to just cold, not freezing.  We turned on the heating this week, quite amazing to get to almost the end of January without heating.  Today there was blazing sunshine, so I walked again as far as Templehof, where children in snowsuits were pulling sledges along.  On the way back, I stopped in ALDI, which, in Ireland is usually considered to have better quality than LIDL, it’s sister-store (or brother-store, I should say – LIDL and ALDI were traditionally owned by rivalling German brothers).  Here, ALDI has oddly rundown stores, don’t carry everything you need, and have exceptionally rude staff (that usually means bad conditions).   Opposite ALDI is a strange business, I couldn’t figure out what it was – called “Zwiespalt”, it means something like “In Two Minds” and it was open 24 hours, for adults only.  I found out that it’s a sort of swinging club for bored marrieds.  You always imagine those places to be in the middle of town, not in a residential area, but I guess maybe you have a watertight excuse if you run into your boss there “Oh I must have the wrong place! I was looking for ALDI!”


I just came back from a walk to Templehofer Feld, which is quite near where I live.  Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day, but I barely got out of the house, as I was chained to the desk trying to get a presentation finished. Today there’s thick fog and it’s chilly out there, but even in Templehof, which is a big open space that used to be an airport, there was barely a breeze.  I went to walk among the community gardens – each person gets a small space that they build “constructions” on – raised beds, benches, chairs, little open-sided huts, bowers.  Since most people rent, the gardens are really necessary.  It’s astounding that the “constructions” don’t rot over the winter, but I guess they just don’t have the damp we have.  (If you came back from a walk in thick fog in Ireland, your coat would be sopping wet – here it was dry on my return) And it’s also wonderful to see that everyone can walk through the gardens, stop and look at what people have done, check out what’s still growing, and yet there’s no vandalism.  The weather has been unseasonably mild up to this, and even though there’s a dip in the temperature coming early in the week, long-range forecasts predict that temperatures will rise again at the end of the week.  Today I spotted birds in formation flying south – a bit late perhaps – and there’s no sign of our friendly local squirrel who springs around the bare trees outside the kitchen window.  I had to google whether squirrels hibernate, but actually, they do a sort of part-time hibernation.  They sleep when there is very wet or cold weather, and wake to eat from stores or forage when it’s milder.

After a long stint yesterday, I went out to meet up with a good friend, a Scottish woman who’s in the same class as me, who lives just near me.  We went to a new bar that had opened on her street. Typically, someone finds an old shop or closing business and does a fairly simple makeover, throws in the odd couch or two and a few barstools, and bobs-yer-uncle, you have a bar. They were having a launch night, so there was a loud DJ, which we would probably have loved if we were in the mood for dancing, but we wanted a chinwag.  Added to that, it was a small space with everyone smoking, so we didn’t stay long.  All the streets near the S-Bahn station have interesting bars/cafes and there are also pop-up galleries for art or clothing.  This is the beginning of gentrification, and we are part of the “problem”.  People like us can barely believe our luck, that we can rent in lovely quiet streets, near transport, for a portion of what we would pay at home.  However, the rents have traditionally been low in Berlin, and salaries too. So, lots of people who live and work here find that landlords bump up the rent a bit for outsiders, and then it stays at that level for Berliners too.  I was horrified to hear that the popular gay mayor here, Wowereit, privatised all public housing in Berlin in 2003, with a 10-year set of guidelines/rules to ensure the rents didn’t rocket.  Obviously, the ten-year honeymoon is over, and landlords are free to ask the tenant to leave when their contract is up (if he wants to use it for other purposes), or put up the rent.  I noticed that the Beetz shop was closed shortly before Christmas – an old-fashioned ladies and gentlemens outfitters/drapery shop, right on Hermannstrasse.  The items in the window were awful “old-dear” stuff, incredibly expensive, and I did wonder who the hell would ever buy in there, and indeed, how long they could sustain a business. When I went to a lovely veggie restaurant just before Christmas, they had a notice on the door saying that they were moving. When I asked about it, they said they had been there for 20 years, but the (new) landlord had firstly bumped up the rent, then, when they agreed, he said he wanted them out anyhow.  They were philosophical, saying they were going to another nice place.  I understand that rents can’t stay at 1990 levels, but it seems such a pity that there isn’t a middle way, so that people can feel respected and Berlin can retain some of it’s unique and wonderful vibe.


For a group so reknowned for orderliness, the Germans (or should I say the Berliners) sure surprised us on Sylvester (New Years Eve).  The excitement and noise of fireworks built up all day long, so that by the time we headed out shortly after nine, there were children and adults everywhere letting off fireworks.  On the U-bahn, people were letting off fireworks in the underground station, which was deafening, and twice the driver got off the train in the station and threatened to get young guys thrown off the train if they didn’t stop.  We had decided to go to Mano, a cozy bar right on Lausitzer Platz, and since we got there before 10, bagged a couch at the window.  Great crowd, great music, perfect atmosphere.  At twelve, the bartenders dashed around with free glasses of Sekt, and everyone stepped out onto the pavement to see the most amazing fireworks – people on rooftops, on the street, on balconies, at open windows, all firing off incendiary devices as much and as often as they could – and this lasted all night long.  It was funny to see people right beside you letting off tiny little fireworks while amazing ones lit up the sky, and the elevated U-bahn rattled overhead.  This must be their moment of power, of disobedience, of anarchy, and they want to do it even if nobody sees their fireworks.

Tons of Berliners leave Berlin for Sylvester, they find it too offensive, too noisy, too dangerous – and yes, there were tons of police cars, ambulances and fire engines on the go all night, presumably dealing with people who had burns.  It was a total surprise to us to see how mad the Berliners go – I’m very used to a population that speak quietly on their mobile phone on the U-bahn for fear of offence, always stand to the right on the escalator, follow all codes and rules to make life easier for society.  It’s like getting a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, and going completely crazy. On the way home Goerlitzer Bahnhof, always a bit edgy, had two groups of youths squabbling over selling drugs (obviously a bonanza night for drug sales), and as I was trying to edge past, one genuinely concerned young man helped me through and shouted over to the squabblers “Lass die Oma durch!” (“Let the Granny through!”).

The following day, the roads were littered with rubbish – wrapping, spent fireworks, empty bottles of Sekt, and it remained that way for days.  Even now, the red dust of the powder is ingrained in the cobblestones, and the remains of the cardboard packing is mashed into the roadway.  I went back to University the following Monday, and had a tough week readjusting, while also saying goodbye to Barry.  All the dreams you have before a visit never work out exactly as you expected, you have marvellous moments, but a visit is like your life in microcosm, and you have just got into the right rhythm by the time it’s time to go home.  The rest of my week, I felt as if I had forgotten my German, couldn’t express myself in English, and was in dread of the mountain of work I had to tackle, which of course I planned to tackle over Christmas, and didn’t.  However, the week is over, things look better from this side of it, and I can be thankful that it still hasn’t snowed.  Happy New Year!