22 May 2011

Where's the party?

Dear Neighbours,

It’s my birthday on Saturday and I’m throwing a party.  This is just to let you know that things might get a big loud late at night and I apologise right now for any inconvenience.

Best wishes,

The above message was scrawled on a scrap of paper and sellotaped onto the inside of my apartment building’s front door.  It happens quite often.  Some notices are professional – they are run off on a computer with fancy fonts and printed nice and large so you can’t miss the message.  Others, like Jacqueline’s, are scribbled by hand with whatever writing instrument comes to hand.  In Jackie’s case, a dried up felt tip pen.  She obviously doesn’t do much in the way of writing at home.

It would be nice if Jacqueline’s party was of the kind where you have tea and cake, play musical chairs and thank the hostess as you leave late afternoon.  But no, this was the other kind of party, the kind your mother wouldn’t want you to go to.

The sticking point here is not the fact that Jacqueline has given me advance warning that I’m not going to get any sleep on Saturday night, but the fact that, it’s somehow acceptable to be unsociable, just so long as you tell everyone about it beforehand.  It’s sort of like saying: ‘Look, I’m about to have a tantrum, and I’m really sorry about it, but you can’t accuse me, because I told you what was coming.  So tough luck.’  Jacqueline knows that she can exploit her neighbours’ implicit approval.  She can behave badly with impunity.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no killjoy.  Have a party if you want, get drunk, burst your ear drums, and race down the staircase clinking your empty beer bottles.  Just don’t insult my intelligence by saying you want to celebrate your impending senility and you’re really cut up about my sleepless night.

13 May 2011

Getting around in one piece

Policemen, firemen, and prison officers travelling around Berlin are allowed to use public transport for free, not just while performing their official duties but also when commuting to and from work.  The only stipulation is that they have to be wearing their uniforms and not civvies.

A good move on the part of the city authorities - this is one section of society that deserves as much help and support as they can get.  (Some may disagree with me here, but that's another story).  The philosophy behind the idea is that the presence of uniformed law enforcers on Berlin's trams and trains would act as a deterrent to would-be vandals and yobbos.  

A good idea in theory, but there's a problem.  The employees in question don't want to travel in uniform.  They prefer to pay 91 Euros (3 zones) for a monthly travel ticket and use public transport incognito.  Why would they voluntarily pay so much when they could travel for free?  

Policemen, firemen, and prison officers say they don't like to use public transport while in uniform because they are molested by other travellers.  Makes you think.

5 May 2011

Karl Marx Allee - socialist lifestyle in Berlin

Originally named Stalinallee, this boulevard is a two-kilometre long living museum dedicated to the ideals of socialist living.  The buildings went up in the early 1950s, with the aim of providing spacious housing for the proletariat, and emulating the socialist classicism of Soviet architecture.  This region of Friedrichshain suffered heavy wartime damage and in the post-war era, new housing was needed.  Since the area fell under Soviet jurisdiction, it was only natural that the housing constructed reflected Soviet tastes.

The boulevard has its own homepage which gives inside views of apartments for sale or rent, in addition to business premises available.  Prices are not exactly ‘bargain basement’ but then I suppose the developers are placing emphasis on the historical element. 

East German buildings are not known for their technical sophistication or high quality and I can well imagine these apartments would have had their fair share of problems.  Labourers had to contend with a strict schedule and manage without modern construction technologies: they literally used their bare hands to erect each floor. 

Deemed to be of significant architectural merit, the entire complex is now listed and under state protection.  As such, no structural changes can be made, for example, installing double glazing to replace badly fitting windows.  Potential occupants might want to bear this in mind before they buy a piece of history.

Frankfurter Tor
If you wanted to take a look inside one of the buildings you could always pretend to be a potential buyer and approach an estate agent.  A quicker alternative would be to visit the Humana second-hand shop at Frankfurter Tor.  The building in which the shop is housed forms part of the Karl Marx Allee complex and the visitor is free to wander around inside.  As a charity shop, they have obviously left the interior as they found it – winding stone staircase, draughty metal-framed windows, mosaic-marbled floors.  By the way, the Humana shop is itself another museum of GDR fashion trends.  Lots of 1960s polyester skirts, loud ties, and absolutely hundreds of gents’ long leather coats, of the kind once favoured by the secret police.

Domed tower at Frankfurter Tor
Finishing this short tour of socialist architecture, I found the following detail ironic.  At Frankfurter Tor, there are two corner buildings facing each other from opposite sides of the square.  Each building is topped by a grand, domed tower which the architect (Henselmann) intended to resemble the domes of the French and German cathedrals (c.1705) in Gendarmenmarkt.  How appropriate that the German Democratic Republic wanted its grandest square to resemble the splendour and grandeur of eighteenth-century Calvinist churches in Friedrichstadt.
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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.