17 November 2008

Hot off the press

Some stories that made an impression on me from Berliner Zeitung of 14th November.

Many young people are turning towards the army, not out of any patriotic fervour or out of a desire to become career soldiers, but because it will get them off the dole queue. Many new recruits come from the eastern states and place all their hopes in the army providing them with a secure job and a living wage. Recruiting officers, however, stress that whoever sees the armed forces as a last straw is doomed to failure.

BVG are trying to keep one step ahead of the vandals – they are in the process of covering all windows in underground trains with protective plastic film, which makes it difficult for juvenile scribes to scratch gangland mottos on the glass. The sticking point is that the film is not plain but printed with etchings of the Brandenburg Gate. Vandals are left with very little blank space in which to scratch their inanities. A similar tack has been adopted on the trams, but instead of the Brandenburg Gate, the film is dark green (useful for keeping out the strong rays of summer sunshine in a city where the clouds are permanent residents). BVG had to fork out nearly €9 MILLION last year to repair damage caused by vandals: inevitably these costs end up being passed on to the traveller. You would think that anything that could reduce this figure of €9 million would be welcome, but instead passenger associations are complaining that the patterned/coloured film obstructs their clear view out of the windows and they don’t like it! In all of Germany, the extent of this problem of vandalised trains is worst in Berlin.
p.s. Ticket prices will be raised 2% in the New Year.

I am tempted to suspect that the newspaper scans other local publications, looking for ideas for new material. (Those of you who follow the themes featured in English-language periodicals of Berlin will pick up on the innuendo). Perhaps it is only coincidence that they have a “puffer” article on the Undertakers Guild: half a page of adverts for bespoke funeral parlours (who would actually cut out the page to keep for future reference??) together with a half-page article lamenting the fact that there are too many cemeteries in Berlin and not enough funerals (i.e. deaths). The two go together – too many businesses, not enough customers.

This development is logical, since the population of the city is not growing in leaps and bounds and the numbers have never returned to the peak reached in past decades. A bit sad for the capital of the world’s biggest exporter.

[p.s. Judging by the preponderance of articles/features on death, funerals, hospices etc. in other local papers in recent days, I am more than inclined to believe that such appropriation of ideas for stories continues on a wholesale basis. I shall follow future developments with renewed interest!]

Amongst the mundane police reports of stabbings, raids on drug dealers and flats set on fire by burning candles, one report stuck out. Chicco the police dog singlehandedly apprehended three teenage youths who broke into a youth centre. They tried to hide in a store room but the German Shepherd sniffed them out. They were so frightened of the dog that they surrendered immediately. Chicco’s photo appeared in the report, as a warning to any other would-be miscreants.

14 November 2008


Technically, it is still autumn even though temperatures have been unseasonably high. However, winter is nigh, the trees are now virtually denuded of their leaves and the forecast predicts colder temperatures and rain in the next few days. My problem is this: I want a picture to illustrate this page that is representative of winter (literal winter and metaphorical, taking into account the current economic climate). But a Google image search only brings up cute, clich├ęd, sunny photos of villages blanketed in snow, the kinds seen on Christmas cards. I want something more atmospheric, sober, immaterial. All I could come up with was this artist’s impression – the search will continue unabated. (On second thoughts, perhaps the snowy vistas are popular because they are becoming scarce thanks to global warming. Snow will soon be a rarity even in the North Pole).

“I blog, therefore I am”

After an enforced absence from the virtual world, the time is right to return with remarks about the world around me.

I am moved to comment about the student demonstration in Berlin this week, in which high school pupils and other students neglected their studies for a few hours in order to voice their demands for more teachers, more equipment, more money, more everything. En route, they passed outside the historical main building of Humboldt University and some decided to enter the main foyer in order to make their grievances more blatant, in case anyone was still in any doubt. They did this by launching countless rolls of toilet papers from the upper windows into the courtyard, throwing litter around the foyer and destroying an exhibition that was informing visitors in the main entrance. Photocopiers, notice boards and furniture were also rendered useless. Police were caught offguard and Berliner Zeitung reports that the demonstration was accompanied by members of extremist groups (as is the norm in situations like this) – it was a pleasant morning, not raining and they probably had nothing better to do that day.

There comes a point in one’s education (whatever the student’s age and particular situation) where you have to take charge of your own learning growth. Yes, equipment, teachers’ salaries, facilities, teacher/student ratios etc. etc. are important – but only up to a certain point. The student cannot blame a lousy school system for the deficiencies in his education when he himself never opens a book of his own accord, never does any independent research, never questions or takes initiatives, always watches television with religious fervour or hangs about street corners. While students are young, the onus is on the parents as well as the school to ensure that the child begins his education as he means to go on. The parents cannot absolve themselves of all responsibility: they too must teach their child (where “teach” here is used in all senses of the word).

Teaching and learning are reciprocal actions. Learning is not a passive activity such as, for example, watching television. Perhaps by putting all the blame on the state, detractors are looking for a hook on which to hang their own detachedness from the whole education system? Here endeth the first lesson.

“Don’t mention the ‘R’ word!”

Germany is in recession. As an indicator of how bad things must be, the BBC World Service disrupted its regular flow of news of insurrections, genocides, dictatorships and other run-of-the-mill events from the former colonies. Instead, they provided an in-depth analysis with interviews and reports from the capital. Ministers were at pains to point out, however, that the world’s biggest exporter is in difficulty not because they are financially inept but because the rest of the world at the moment can’t afford to buy German technology and big Mercs.

Christmas fair

It’s that time of the year (again) and Alexander Platz has been commandeered, this time for the purposes of a traditional Weihnachtsmarkt. Observing the erection of faux mountain houses and traditional stalls somewhat takes away the magic, especially when you see wooden panels being fixed onto metal structures. Still, in the dark with all the fairy lights and in the eyes of small children, it should look very fairytale.

Incidentally, the hot dog vendors in the square have upped their prices a whopping 20%!! A hot dog with mustard and ketchup will now set you back €1.20. I’m not sure if they are anticipating huge crowds of Christmas shoppers/tourists in the Christmas fair and are hoping to make a fast buck or whether they are simply further victims of the credit crunch. P.s. the photo is of the market in Jena.

The Bay City Rollers are back!

I had to walk back and take a second look. A poster in the street advertised an appearance by Les McKeown's Legendary Bay City Rollers, a reincarnation of the original Bay City Rollers. I am obviously betraying my age but this was a group that I was crazy about MANY decades ago. The very first single (on vinyl, if you please) that I ever bought was one of their hit songs. I was astounded that they were staging a comeback but even more amazed that this was to happen here and not in Britain – perhaps there, they would be pelted off the stage with rotten tomatoes. They obviously anticipate enough people here in Berlin will pay money to go and see them: this assumption quite honestly leaves me flabbergasted. As if this blast from the past wasn’t enough, more posters down the road announce a different event featuring Suzy Quattro and sundry other acts not of this decade (nor indeed of this century).

Don’t tell me there has been a sudden surge of interest in pop music of the 70s and former teenybopper Berliners are pining for nostalgia from their youth. These performers must be as old as Tina Turner (who is also coming here in the New Year), so what has induced them to come out of retirement, when they should be booking cruises or writing their memoirs? Could it be, like the hot dog vendors in Alexander Platz, they are a bit strapped for cash in these straitened times and the pension plan needs a top up?

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.