Category: Photos

BERLIN: A SHITTY GUIDE

This was originally written as a miniguide in the “Stories” section of Shitty Guide, a publication based out of Antwerp. Though it has not since been edited, you can read the original here. There are some pretty good memes on the website.

We’re standing surrounded by police cars, eyes locked on the very angry Rottweiler rolling its eyes around and routinely lunging at us between foaming snarls, as the Berlin police copy down our information. Our mission had been relatively simple: a routine jaunt over a fence into an eerie abandoned theme park, to lounge about on decapitated plastic dinosaurs or try to get stuck at the top of the big creepy Ferris wheel like one nostalgic 90-year-old woman did in the summer of 2013. (source)

The Berlin police, however, don’t take so kindly lately to these harmless fence-hoppers, as evidenced by their unleashing of the killer dog, which chased us through a field and was called back just before it tore a man’s asscheek off.

________

This summer Shitty Guide went out and about to discover what shit lies beyond, in the obscurity of the European ether. Turns out there’s lots to choose from.

Berlin, for example, is the notable historic home of lots of really bad shit. Fortunately there’s some left over, and it probably won’t get you killed anymore (police dog chases aside.) Perhaps due to the flourishing fascism and division that once held Berlin and its inhabitants so firmly by the proverbial balls, the city has since rebounded in the opposite direction and helixed itself into a graffiti-covered, anti-fascist, punk-rock, electro-hipster paradise. It is often stupidly, unsufferably cool, crammed with freshly-tattooed youths and bad-but-hip conceptual start-ups, fancy clubs that fire off confetti and darker clubs where you can bone for as long as you like on the sofas, but of course, these things require access to money, and for this visit we shot for some shit of lower cost.

SPREE PARK

The Kulturpark Plänterwald was opened in 1969 to celebrate the German Democratic Republic’s 20th birthday, but the fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the GDR eventually dropped it into the hands of one Norbert Witte, a carnival operator with an unfortunate history of accidentally killing people with cranes.

Unfortunately, the park failed to perform as Norbert had expected, and he moved his operations to Lima, Peru in 2002. This ambitious venture evidently took a turn when he was imprisoned for eight years for attempting to smuggle 181 kilos of cocaine back to Berlin inside the ‘Flying Carpet’ ride. (source)

The park went up for sale on ebay (seriously) after Witte went to prison, but in the end it was purchased back by the city and, as evidenced by our very brief visit, security has since been ramped up. Fortunately, the German police don’t have many options for prosecuting trespassing offenses by non-Germans, so we were released with little more than a slap on the wrist, fond memories of the eerily murmuring park and near-death by murderous Rottweiler.

TEUFELSBERG

Atop the Grunewald Forest on the crusty rim of West Berlin suburbia, there lies a cluster of white globes struck up on the horizon like a suspicious crop-up of warts. These land-warts are the towers of Teufelsberg, German for “devil’s hill” – a man-made hill reaching 120 meters above sea level, constructed from 75 million cubic meters of post-war rubble lugged out of Berlin and dumped over the incomplete remains of a Nazi military-technical college — making Teufelsberg essentially just a really, really massive pile of shit.

Due to the superb listening abilities atop the shit pile, in the 1960’s the U.S. National Security Agency chose to set up shop and construct one of its most massive listening facilities to monitor Soviet and East German military operations, thereby forcing the shut-down of two massive ski jumps that had opened on the hill (depressing both deviant Soviets and ski bums alike.) The remaining globes are military radomes that comprised a NSA spy station, though the rest of the facilities were broken down and removed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Teufelsberg Field Station has since been unofficially adopted by the Initiative Kultur-DENK-MAL and reconstituted as an urban graffiti wonderland/artistic shit zone. The raised woodland property is lined with trails and alcoves sometimes occupied by squatters or artists. The shit pile has become the collective brainchild of innumerable artists and muralists, littered with sculptures and discarded home fixtures, freestanding bathtubs (for lounging, we suppose,) deconstructed furniture, pallets, plantlife, recyclables, and piles of bare materials owed to unknown projects in the works.

In the center of this maze of half-realized creative structures are the towers themselves, rearing up to 80m above the forest, comprised of multiple exposed floors devoted exclusively to graffiti and murals, and capped with three massive white globes of peeling white plastic canvas. The top tower is mostly intact, so after a climb of six to seven flights up a pitch-black staircase above the roof, you emerge in the darkness of the top radome. The radomes are impressive echo chambers and notably bad places to pass gass. Save the grumpy old dude at the gate that wants seven euros for entry (though there’s beer and chocolate cake on donation) and quite a few lost-looking Germans wandering around on acid, the site is nearly bare of touristic traffic. Plus the view is nice or whatever, if you’re into that shit.

MAUERPARK KARAOKE

Every Sunday at 3 PM, Joe Hatchiban treks his massively powerful portable sound system out to a stone amphitheater in Mauerpark, a large stretch of park behind during the flea market. This has become one of the largest public karaoke sessions in existence, meaning a massive horde of people gathers together to make each other suffer in unison at the same time every week. Sounds a lot like church! Maybe Sundays just aren’t supposed to be good. A crowd of hundreds crams a stone stadium on the backside of the Berlin wall and is generally fairly supportive of its victims, though bad performances notably get preference. The spectacle is apparently a Berlin tradition, all thanks to Joe and his unmatched passion for shitty singing.

The market itself is crammed end-to-end with Berliners selling all their old shit, ranging from boxes of rummage and detritus from innumerable dead grandparents to more upscale small business owners hawking their wares to tourists. We found a bunch of plastic dinosaur skeletons for 5€ and a paperweight in the shape of an ass with ears for 2. Whatever strikes your shitty fancy.

RENT-A-BIKE 44

We owe a notable shout-out to a not-so-shitty guy named Alexandros, who helped us get around the city for next to nothing.

Alex loves shitty bikes. He was the neighborhood repairman for upwards of twenty years in Neukölln before he saved up enough to buy himself five shitty bikes and start renting them out to people for four bucks a day. Now, he owns hundreds of shitty bikes and rents them out daily on the basis of trust, with a host of helpers from eight different countries. Yunus, his right-hand-man on the day we stopped by, explained Alex’s ascension from neighborhood handyman:

“I think this should be mentioned – he didn’t have the ten or twenty thousand euros to start the business. He started piece by piece. He was working from the opposite, from the cellar. This is our first year where we have the rental business in priority, before it was a mechanic – like a repair store.

“Today we have 230 bikes. That means Alex made something good, and now we are not only colleagues anymore, we are also workers for this – well, let’s say good guy. My deepest respect, you asshole,” he says, kicking Alex in the leg. “But he lost all of his hair during the time – look at that.” Alex doesn’t say much, rolling a cigarette and smiling. Up rolls an older woman on a commuter bike, and she stops to talk to Yunus in German, clasping his arm affectionately.

“That’s our grandmother,” Yunus says when the woman rides off. “She’s 82. She can’t walk, but she can cycle. It’s her mobility. She says without that shitty bike, she’d be dead.”

For more information about abandoned shit in Berlin, check out the excellent resource www.abandonedberlin.com

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UPDATE: SALZBURG, AUSTRIA

Came to Salzburg for a Dopethrone show and my Couchsurfing host was immediately like “oh btw you gotta be out tomorrow lol” so I ditched his ass and went on a 6-hour hike in the rain and drank beers on this here hill. Prost, Salzburg.

IRELAND

Alright folks, I’d like to try and tell you about Dublin. I feel like I owe you at least that much. But I’m having trouble, see, because if Paris (or any city in France, really) is a nice classy woman exiting her limo and stepping delicately over a homeless man as she flits into a high-end cocktail bar, Dublin is a raw-legged tramp who just ditched the bill for a couple of pints eagerly pulling the homeless man into a taxi to get his pants off. The homeless man will happily be paying the fare.

In short, Dublin’s got the right idea about things.

But perhaps to kick off I should first mention Nice in the south of France, Nice which is bright shiny and gorgeous 364 days out of the year but rainy and ranging from 7 to 9 degrees Celsius with the wind chill on the day we were to pass through. Yet despite this frigidity the Mediterranean glowed pale turquoise under the grey of the sky and man, how that lady can beckon. Tourists and locals alike got their kicks watching as I clambered out of clothes and into blue water, air shocked from my lungs and the sky rumbling grey above, foolish girl again doing foolish thing but foolish girl hasn’t tasted saltwater since before she broke her spinal column and really couldn’t give a flying fuck about anything other than greeting the sea. Squeezing my frozen body back into skinny jeans while sticky with Mediterranean sea salt was more of a challenge, at which point one opportunistic middle-aged fellow up on the quay became notably fond of his camera. Casey held out a sweater and I struggled back into clothing while Elaine, bless her, kept busy shouting “YOU LIKE THAT, I SEE THAT YOU LIKE THAT” in loudly broken French.

Now, back to Dublin. The first thing you should know about Dublin is that Dublin loves you and it demands your love in return. Dublin is willing to work for it.

It’s illegal to purchase alcohol of any sort after 10 PM anywhere in the Republic of Ireland, which contributes directly to its universally thriving bar scene — one where pub crawls are packed with deceptively adolescent boys but it’s easy enough to find dashing Irish rapscallions partaking in their evening “mother’s milk” (creepy term for Guinness) while they bide their time awaiting a lady willing to cook them decent potato dishes in return for marriage vows. Dublin is a place where it is not possible to sleep before 5 AM if one is at all interested in flirting with rugged tattooed off-duty police officers or smoking in hostels with exceptionally friendly Croatians, in jumping in on ukulele orchestras or clubbing with handsome strangers keen on paying your way, in giving pep-talks to/charitably fondling desirous transvestites; in being tattooed late at night by a guy who is essentially Badger from Breaking Bad; in kicking a few back and communing with homeless folks and water hens down on the riverbanks; in lolling about in ancient crypts and shaking hands with 800-year-old Crusader mummies; in hanging out in bars dating back to the 1200’s or, at the very least, in drinking one’s dinner on the nightly.

We stayed four nights in Dublin, during which some of the above probably happened.

On to Galway and the Burren National Park, where resteth scattered tombs and burial remains dating back to 3000 B.C.E., where chalky sheep graze in dampened fields of grass and clover across rolling hills and rocky outcrops, dropping off on the brutal western coastline at the Cliffs of Moher (a.k.a. the Cliffs of Insanity, as featured in the Princess Bride.)

westley

Better experienced from the top.

Our arrival in Galway coincided with the final day of “rag week”, an unfortunate chunk of time in which the closest European equivalents to fraternities and sororities do what those groups do best: get sloshed to the point of no return, pretend that they’re interesting individuals and hump each other in public. The boys break glass all over the damn place and the gals later walk around barefoot, toting their overly-ambitous heels and contracting various forms of Hepatitis. This booze-charged display of gratuitous juvenile douchebaggery had enveloped most of downtown Galway and, as it reminded me sickeningly of frat row back in Eugene, I did not rest long. Trudging back to the hostel one evening, my newfound French comrades and I stumbled upon an old man resting contentedly in the street with an enormous bloody hematoma on his forehead, and while we flagged down staff to call an ambulance this man took quite a shining to me. He grasped my hand tightly, telling me all about himself (name, address, the fact that he used to be a renowned street fighter and was chummy with Tom Hanks) and in the end I had to stay with him as I was the only person to whom he was willing to give his information. I explained frankly to my bewildered compadres that, according to the recurrent patterns of my life, it made quite a bit of natural sense that this man would select me as a BFF.

Ireland is an indelicate balance of esoteric landscape and raw humanity; one minute you find yourself contemplating the meaning of existence and simplicity in the clover fields and the next you’re shocked back down to earth by drunkards howling in the streets and the searing whiskey shot you just took to get your evening going. My French companions interpreted the Irish way as sleazy and inelegant, and I suppose they’re not exactly wrong. But for me this break from the delicate, guarded French approach to all affairs in life was a startling breath of fresh air and a welcome relief. I felt as though I’d unshouldered a heavy knapsack I’d been slogging around unwittingly for the past few months, and this feeling of intense calm chased me all throughout the country – from Galway down to Limerick for half-pints of Guinness, melted cheese sandwiches and old men hollering at the televised rugby game; to Killarney shoving into sweaty pubs and live music with Elaine and Lisa, a hot-blooded badass from Austria who travels Europe on her motorcycle; while winding through the unrestrained misty wilderness in the southern part of the isle on an inter-city bus; while passing the evening with a scruffy Irish bloke in a mescal bar on my last night in Cork. I even made some money when I demanded cash from a carful of guys that had hollered in my direction; they scrambled to get five euro together and handed it over without a word. That’s Ireland for you.

By the time Elaine and I reached Paris on our eighth day we were exhausted on every imaginable level, and our rapidly dwindling motivation to return to Lyon drove us to stay and recuperate two days with my dear Australian friend Leanne. We successfully visited the Parisian Catacombs, which I will save for a future post. That’s all for now, folks.

Ireland, you remarkable old floosie, you stole meh heart right out o’ me.

May the winds of fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea.
May it always be the other guy
who says, “this drink’s on me.”

PARIS

Just returned from Paris, two weeks living with basically the staff of the UN. How I ended up in a Villejuif apartment with two Turks, a Syrian and two Australians (one of whom is also Chinese) I cannot tell you. That last sentence was a lie, I am going to tell you now.

I met Leanne (Australian #1) kind of because we had a class together but mostly because four years ago she suffered the same exact type of spinal injury, except hers was for an acceptable reason (falling down a flight of stairs) rather than a dumbass reason (falling out of a tree.) Leanne is the definition of badassery: 30-something, multiple (legal!) passports, over 60 visited countries under her belt (her life goal is 200, lofty considering there are only currently 196 in existence.) She has been a dirty hippie and a rich bitch, been fat and been thin, and has left a trail of lovers all over the world (basically I’m aspiring to spiritually become her.) Leanne’s magnetic personality and clinically confirmed “unrealistic optimism” about all things in life make her an exceptionally adaptive human being and quick to build a social circle, hence the mixed-heritage carpool plan. We (the Syrian, the American and the other Aussie) “helped” her move out of Lyon to join her Turkish boyfriend Ilkem and his roommate/best mate Erke at their flat in Paris. (Worthy of note: Erke and I shared a white-hot romantic chemistry which culminated in his uncomfortably placing a hand on my shoulder/armpit area in the kitchen on the fifth or so night and stammering, “You’re good.” Mon dieu, Erke. Seductive skills top-notch.)

Aside from this whirlwind romance, the highlights of the trip are as follows.

  1. Commuting: Driving in France is a lot like being on a bumper car track if everyone else on the route has had a considerable amount of wine and a couple hits of crack cocaine. On the freeway, after being cut off by a middle-aged fellow in a small van, Leanne honked and Gareth stuck up his finger, and the force of his gesture fired an invisible channel of lightning directly up the man’s ass. He immediately began screaming and swung the van as near as he could alongside us, rolled down his window and slapped at the rear view mirror on our car, finally managing to knock it sideways. He continued in this manner for the better part of ten minutes, not allowing us to get away, throwing things (mainly lighters, what a sad waste of lighters which are often inconveniently expensive in these parts), swerving and basically having a time of it all over the freeway. It was almost cute, in a way.
  2. Getting cozy: Sharing a single-sized futon every night with Gareth, a lovely gay Chinese-Australian fellow, which was pretty easy for him as I now sleep like a log thanks to a combination of busted back (read: no moving) and a good-sized dose of Nortriptyline (read: no moving, no dreaming, no breathing or making of sounds whatsoever); more difficult on my end due to Gareth’s considerable snoring problem and random jerking about of limbs. Usually this resulted in sleeping Gareth slapping the side of my ass, which did not have pants to cover it after night #2 when I gave up on that venture. Anyway, Gareth and I got real close real quick.
  3. Nightlife: Had a nice little break from street harassment, believe it or not, but traded it in for a lot of bar harassment. One guy asked to take a picture with me in the bathroom, and before I had a chance to refuse he leaned over to snap a selfie and hurried to set it as his Facebook profile photo. Another night, a little tiny Arab guy drunk off his tits actually bought me a rose from one of the unfortunate souls that toots about selling single flowers out of bouquets at bars on the nightly (a common profession in France though doubtfully very profitable.) Little fella just couldn’t take no for an answer and consorted to kissing me all over the freaking face while I mostly just made noises and swung my hands about in a flurry, turns out I really need to work on my ‘no’ skills. When he stumbled to the toilet Gareth and I ducked out and jogged a good half-mile away from the bar, only to realize his scarf was gone. Though I offered in earnest to replace the scarf, as it was 100% wool it was clear that neither of us actually possessed the replacement funds; we opted instead to go back. Of course, we ran into the little meatball halfway up the hill and were forced to duck into a fancy Chinese restaurant to escape confrontation, where we were promptly seated and served with shrimp crisps while we perused the menu with no money. Leaving was uncomfortable.
  4. #MuslimXmas2014: A valiant effort on Leanne’s part to get the Turks, both raised Muslim, excited for a Christian holiday. It ended up being pretty fucking adorable: some really terrible Christmas music accompanied by Erke crooning “Jesus, Jesus” over and over, a baby tree topped with a mishmash star I folded out of wrapping paper, a raclette dinner, a small white elephant exchange and a breakfast of TimTams (a fine Australian delicacy/art form), shitty mimosas and earl grey, all helped along by that friend among all cultures, a healthy dose of Jackie D. We ended the day by smoking under the eiffel tower, as one does.
  5. Getting lost: Busting out on my own now and then, wandering through Belleville and hunting for street art, discovering “the only 666% metal bar in Paris” which was important, though laughably over the top, getting lost in the international district, drinking espresso between old French men and their newspapers, eating the best almond croissant I’ve ever dreamed of, bumbling through vintage shops, and trancing out watching an old homeless man feeding pigeons, surrounding him like gusts of wind in enormous waves.
  6. La Vielle: One grey morning in line at the bustling pâtisserie, a lovely old Parisian woman fawned all over my hair, so curious about my life and studies, insisting I had to see Florence because apparently Florence is just the best place ever. She then bought me an entire box of baby macarons and wished me a très bonne fête, which blew my heart up like a gross meat balloon to the point of bloody bursting.
  7. Queueing: The Catacombs, bane of my existence at this point. Number one thing I planned to visit, and visit I did — three days in a row without ever getting in. The queue is a debatable 2 to 4 hour wait, they stop taking people in an hour before close, AND close two hours early sometimes without warning, hooray! The catacombs literally employs people to just hang about near the end of the queue on the daily and tell folks who have been in line for hours that they probably won’t get in, which is likely the second worst job to have in Paris (#1 is definitely working the counter in paid toilets and turning away people with no money who need to shit.) Fortunately the hours on hours spent queueing for the ‘combs was time enough to make fast friends with a lovely group of British/English gals on holiday from Sheffield-slash-Yorkshire-I-never-quite-figured-it-out. Awesome people, feminists and kindred spirits with whom Gareth and I spent
  8. NEW YEAR’S! Jogging through the Paris metro with a gaggle of people all shouting and laughing in different languages, bursting out of the elevator and scattering up the hill in Monmarte, pushing up towards Sacre-Coeur and the bustling crowds of semi-drunks all singing and screaming and kissing each other, the sky alight with gold and bursts of fireworks, the tower and all of Paris sparkling out before us. We shared two bottles of cheap champagne and a beefy cigar (which I then pawned off on a drunk in a truck — we concluded cigars are on the whole little more than a really nasty-tasting design to stroke the male ego.)

To think, last year at New Years I was sick with the flu in my brother’s old twin bed, asleep by 9 PM. Feels like eons away now, a different era — or maybe it’s just hard to see through all the torrential merde that 2014 slung about. Shitfest that it was though, it was transformative beyond measure. I see myself so much clearer for its trials and triumphs; my awe and gratitude are too great for words — for the incredible love and incredible loss, all of the pain and the enormous joy. I’m resting with open heart and open mind for new lessons, new adventures, new chaos and new passions.

Buckle up, ladies and gents — 2015 is gonna be a wild one.