Sunday, May 08, 2005

Saved From Disco Hell, And Other Crumbs

I just came back from walking around the block, because there have been sirens all afternoon. This is the 60th anniversary of the Germans' acceptance of the Allied peace terms, and I know that, among other bodies, the PDS, the hard-left party here, has been planning celebrations, but none in my neighborhood. All I saw was massive numbers of police cars and wagons directing traffic away from a number of streets, so what I suspect is that the Chancellor or someone else of similar importance is doing something at the New Synagogue. If I find out what's going on later, I'll let you know.


No question, though, that the festive season is upon us. One notable celebration missing in action (so to speak) this year was the annual Mayday riot. I didn't hear a single siren, although I did notice a few trucks of out-of-town policemen arriving the day before. The riot is used as a training situation for various police departments these days, and it would be wonderful to think that the crazies' response this year was to just do nothing, thereby frustrating the cops. But I'm afraid that's imputing too much intelligence to them, since there's not much to the content of these riots these days except a meeting of testosterone and beer. Still, interesting that it had such a low profile.

One celebration that definitely didn't disappear was the one on Thursday, which is Ascension Day, or Christi Himmelfahrt, a day whose German name has always made me think of a stuck-up cheerleader (who would have spelled it Kristi). Himmelfahrt does double duty, though, as Father's Day, which is basically an excuse for men to get drunk. And boy, do they ever. You see them in groups, sometimes riding around in an open vehicle of some sort, singing, wearing odd clothes, and drinking and drinking and drinking, and I must say that that night there were sirens well into the evening. In Dresden, apparently, a bunch of right-wingers used it as an excuse to have some sort of demonstration which ended up in a riot.

But the thing I hate most about Himmelfarhrt is that there's a restaurant with a large beer garden in my back yard, and a chill went through me when I saw a white van with Disko '82 emblazoned on the side pull up. Sure enough, a guy started unloading a mobile disco unit, complete with flashing lights, to be set up there. I was wandering around doing this and that, so by the time I got back from my errands, he was set up, blasting music at a single table with a man and a woman sitting at it.

I've always said that Germans will drink outdoors as soon as the ice breaks on the puddles in the gutter, and so seeing these people out there wasn't too surprising, but I suspected that Mother Nature had the winning card this time. After a short spell of mid-70s weather, we had some hard rains and since then it's been brightly sunny and barely 50 degrees. Not even standing in the sun is particularly warming (at least it isn't today), and as I sat here in the apartment working on this and that, I had a feeling that the endless Stars On 45-style medleys of ABBA songs and Boney M hits, interspersed with the DJ's patter, wouldn't last as long as they had in previous years. I was right; by the end of the day, I'm sure any drinkers at the restaurant had moved inside, and Disko '82 had packed up and departed to whatever Satanic hole it had crawled out of.

That said, it'd sure be nice if it actually did warm up a bit more. I like to sit outdoors in a beer garden myself from time to time myself.


My favorite beer garden, though, the Pratergarten up the hill in Prenzlauer Berg, had some unwelcome visitors the other evening, as did a number of other clubs around town. Ever eager to eliminate cool places before the flood of summer student tourism gets here, immigration police raided a number of premises Wednesday night looking for "black workers," ie, those engaged in illegal work. They caught a literally black worker at the Prater, some poor African with a forged passport, who was arrested and will probably be deported. The CCCP club, a Russian-themed place just down Torstr. where a lot of the Russian chic types hang out, also got raided and apparently 100% of their employees were illegal, so I hear they're in big trouble. And White Trash Fast Food, on the corner, got raided (of course: it caters to foreigners), but it screens its employees very well and the cops left empty-handed. Which isn't to say they're not in trouble, too: apparently some building inspector type showed up recently and told them they had to spend €6000 on a new ventilation system. So, more good news: it looks like they'll be abandoning this particular property in a month or two.

Look for more raids throughout the summer, particularly in illegal bars, which, although premises for them are getting harder to find, still exist. And if you're coming here as one of the student tourists, don't worry: you won't be arrested or deported for drinking in an illegal bar.


Thanks to Snippy for sending me, several weeks ago, the link to the BBC story from mid-April headlined "Germany's new 'great depression.'" According to the story, cases of depression among Berliners have risen by 70% since 1997, based on research by a national health insurance company. They surveyed 2.6 million employed Germans -- employed ones, mind you -- including 90,000 Berliners, so I'd venture to say the results are statistically sound. Some of the depression, apparently, was linked to the huge unemployment here, and the uncertainty as to whether the respondents' jobs would actually last much longer. The survey said they were more likely to blow off a day of work because of depression than for any other reason.

I wonder, though, if the depression might not be for reasons the insurance guys never even thought of. For instance, the fact that this city is dirty (if dog-shit were a commercially-viable crop, the city wouldn't be broke), with graffiti covering just about every flat surface. Or perhaps the fact that, with the unemployment numbers rising and the city treasury being depleted, the cultural life here has nosedived. Or the fact that ever since the government got here five years ago, the blue-noses have been doing things like raiding nightspots looking for illegal workers, putting a damper on the milieu in which the very creative people who are supposed to be making this the hip, vibrant place the New York Times says it is are doing their socializing and networking. Or maybe this is just the culmination of the culture of negativity which rules here, the impulse to say no first thing when people bring up new ideas.

I'm depressed here most of the time, so I don't see why others shouldn't be. Both visually and socially, this is a very depressing place to live. Maybe this survey is just acknowledging that with facts and figures.


Several people have asked where they can get the Goldapple Guide to Jewish Berlin, which I mentioned in the last post. I'm working on it, folks. There is, I think, a way to order it so that the authors make the most money on it, and, while it's not 100% up to date, it's still the best book on the subject available. Andrew? Kevin? You reading this? I need some info! Get in touch!

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