Monday, July 28, 2008

A typical day in Berlin

Picture this: you've been out in a club till noon. You walk out onto the street. Your eyes still haven't adjusted to the light and your ears are still only picking up tsum, tsum, tsum from speakers that are a long way behind you.When all of a sudden an egg flies out of nowhere and then a head of cabbage, and after it a big bag of flour soaked in brown curry powder and vinegar.
This is the annual Berlin vegetable war fought between two neighbourhoods that used to be on either side of the wall. The West side have been kicking ass for three years in a row but this year they got pummeled by the East. The violence is limited to the soft kind and anyone who takes the war too seriously gets thrown in the river.

After that, filthy and stinking, the crowd all head along to the East Side Gallery and hang out on the river beach watching hand ball or Ricardo Villalobos who just happened to turn up to play party hits. There are grandmothers and some of the biggest gurners in the crowd and fresh pizza going around for €4.

This is just another typical day in Berlin. The girl with the pink umbrella is just seconds away from getting a water bomb full of yellow curry all over her nice black dress.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Speed, €3 noodles and my blocked sink

Speed is big news in Berlin. It's everywhere. Now speed is not a bad drug. It won't convince you that you have flying abilities or make you chew holes in your cheeks, or give you a superman complex. In that regard it's a good drug. And it would be a totally good drug if it weren't for the fact that it turns you into an unstoppable, two-headed, red-eyed consumption freak. You'll chain your way through two packets of smokes in a few hours easy, and you drink like it's last orders on the eve of the rapture. It's like a performance enhancing drug, and the performance is drinking. You don't drink smart either. You'll take slugs from anything, be it wine, shots, beer or even a half-finished bottle of poppers that happened to be closer to reach than the beer. And it doesn't stop. If the speed is specially good it might never stop. And money is no object either as speed makes you resourceful. If you can't afford any more alcohol, you'll find it. You'll do shots of cough medicine or mix cleaning products with coke. If you run out of smokes, you'll roll teabags in bible pages. It's awful. But speed, at heart, is a good drug. If it were a person, you know it would give generously to charities and never use the word 'cunt' in polite company. So when you wake up two days later and your sink looks like this and you can't remember whether it was you who puked or one of the eight other madmen you took back to drink bleach and smoke earl grey with, then you shouldn't really blame the speed, just blame the freak that it unleashed in you. Speed is your friend and deep down it means you no harm.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Order amongst pyromaniacs

Berliners have a dysfunctional attitude to the rules. You can find yourself on some dirt road in the back end of nowhere with no traffic as far as you can see, and a little queue of pedestrians will develop all waiting for the redman to go green. Smoking is illegal in bars and restaurants, yet unless you're somewhere posh, no one's going to tell you to stub your smoke out. And this is where this little piece is leading to. Berliners like to burn cars. Never mind that one in five jobs in Germany are linked to the automobile industry. Actually, come to think of it, seeing no one works in this city, maybe that's why they're doing it? But they like to burn cars, not in a Parisian manner, but in an orderly manner. They pick BMWs and Audis. And they have a map. I guess that's to stop someone burning the same car twice. Order amongst pyromaniacs: that's Berlin in three words. Incidentally my car's parked right in the centre of the tight cluster of spermy-looking tags.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hitchhiking etiquette and Franz Ferdinand

Last weekend, we took the car down to Melt Festival. En route we had to pick up a tent and welly boots. The tent I'd had coming over was missing a pole. At night we'd have to take turns sleeping standing up to support the roof. We found a tent but no boots (This will become important later).

I've written a couple of articles on the festival on, but if you don't have time to check them out it'll suffice to say, no drugs and lots of rain are not the ingredients required for a weekend of fun. The one good thing was finding a way through the partition and into the backstage area. Apologies to Franz Ferdinand for drinking all the beer from your rider, and apologies to Bonde Do Role: we're not in a band called 'gay faces'. I don't even think there is a band called the gay faces. But if I start reading about a new Brazilian 'buzz band' going under that name, I'll come looking for royalties. Apologies to Roisin Murphy too. I spilled Red Bull on her shoes.

At the end of the night, there were giant puddles separating the campers from their tents. This is when the welly boots would have come in handy. Three hours of sleep later, we went home covered in muck. We picked up two hitchhikers who broke all hitching etiquette by first talking too much, then spilling beer and then falling asleep and snoring. The weekend was so bad that, that night my girlfriend decided to split up with me.
On the plus side, one of the hitchhikers gave me ten bucks for petrol, so that's me sorted for halloumi kebabs for another week.

Friday, July 18, 2008

It's Santogold's round

The Germans have a fine thing known as cheap alcohol and the city is awash with it. You can buy baby-sized bottles of Jagermeister between lollipops and Bounty bars at shop counters. It's so cheap it could be classed as a welfare perk. If you buy a case of beer and return the bottles, they compensate you with hard cash. If you're a productive drunk, you could spend your night filling your pockets, or your loved-one's handbag, with bottles, return them the next day, and then use the excuse that drinking is your employment. And the bars don't ever close, they just move across the street and take turns like a relay race. In Berlin, the tradition is to help your barman lock up then follow him to another bar on the next street. This refreshing cycle can go on for days, weeks even. Stories abound of youngsters coming to this fine town and spending years caught up in bar crawls until the €50 (it is that cheap) they had in their pocket runs dry. The alcohol may have meant my driving is suffering, but I think my photography is coming on really well. This is Santogold playing at Tape, or maybe it's that Roma kid who cleaned my windows for 10 cents.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Switzerland to Berlin through the eye of a storm

The Autobahn is possibly the only stretch of road in all of Europe where you can cruise along at 220km an hour and not even be in the top ten fastest drivers on the road. But at 220 strange things start to happen to a road-weary Japanese import. Everything begins to rattle, the steering wheel turns like a rusty nut and the aerial that had been picking up the German classic rock station keeps drifting away to static. Boston, static. Journey, static. Steppenwolf, static. You turn into a robot. Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Nurnberg, you devour the whole of Germany and see nothing but Polish trucks and Audis. 1500 kms of countryside, thousands of years of tradition and development and all you know of it are the same service stations every 100kms selling hotdogs and variations of Red Bull. They also sell really bad porn. The nasty housewife shit. The front covers have stars covering their non-PG bits. I recommend covering some of their faces too. If the truck drivers in these parts stoop that low in their appreciation of females then I think it's probably safer for pretty men to piss in the bushes rather than the 20 cent toilets.

The last three months have been beautiful in Germany. They had the sort of weather that Naples only dreams of. We brought a storm. It didn't stop for ten hours. The roof leaked the whole way, so whenever we eventually got to Berlin and I got out of the car to ask for directions, it looked like I'd pissed in my jeans. It was midnight, we tried to go for a beer but nowhere would take Swiss Francs. Twelve hours straight driving turns you into a zombie. I eventually fell asleep with my eyes open and my arms in the air, still steering.

This is where I left my car. If anyone can speak German and wouldn't mind translating, I'd appreciate it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stuck inside of Switzerland

There's a lesson to be learned from this, and that's when on a roadtrip never leave the road. We decided to take a bus up into the mountains for a day and left the car down at the foot of the valley. But then two days of massive storms meant we couldn't get back to the car again. Two days eating fondue, listening to yodel music and staring at mountains that are so fucking huge they just hang over you like a pack of bullys and we're ready for Berlin. We've about 1500kms to do. The plan was to make it there in two days and spend a night in Frankfurt but I'm sick of driving and sick of throwing a days wages into the tank every time I want to fill it, I just want to get there. Red Bull is about as strong a substance as you can find at short notice in the Swiss Alps. The best plan is to take it intravenously and tie a headband above my ears so the bubbles don't go to my brains. I've got a playlist set up so that every fifth song is Hounds of Love – I won't be falling asleep with that coming round every fifteen minutes to jolt me. This time tomorrow night, we should be in Berlin.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nevers to the cheapest hotel in Switzerland

French motorways cost about €10 a pop and being a foreigner, with no way of making a traffic fine stick, you can drive as fast as you like. This is fine but it ends up costing a fortune in petrol. It's also about as boring as it gets. Passing through the Borgogne, both sides of the road as far as you can see are just vineyards or wheat or cornfields. This is the land of Chablis. Old Roman roads that go straight for hundreds of kilometres and then we reach the Jura mountains and the beginning of the Swiss Alps. The border crossing guard pulls us over and asks us what we're doing in Switzerland. "Trekking," I reply. "Really?" he says. I'm hoping he doesn't go through the back of the car as we've got a mountain of musical equipment, a bicycle, suitcases, a tent and loads of books piled in there, and if he takes them out I don't know how I'll get them back in again. "Enjoy," he says and we go on. Ten years ago I got a full body search at the border crossing into Canada. I'd been on a bus from Mexico for the three days previous. I had no money and all I'd eaten were doughnuts. The bus had no air conditioning, and was packed with inmates from Oakland prisons. I stank and felt bad for the guy who had to do the search. It wasn't his idea. It was the nazi bitch at customs who asked me if I'd any drugs in my rucksack. Of course I hadn't I was crossing one of the most regulated borders in the world. Then she asked if I did drugs, and I said no again, and she didn't believe that so I had to get searched. He ended up finding a small bud at the bottom of my rucksack. I think It'd come all the way from Australia, through NZ and Central America. He ignored it. To this day I love Canadians.

We arrive near Lausanne around ten in the evening. We put up our tent in a public park but get moved on by the police. Then we get moved on again from another park. At around one in the morning we decide to pull into the laneway of someone's house and just sleep in the car. We're so tired at this stage that even if someone offering free money were to wake us up, he might get his arm bitten off.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Roscoff to Nevers-never land.

Nevers is a town about 200kms south of Paris. It took all day to get there. Possibly because we ended up on the road to Brest going West rather than East. Maps are funny things. They're apt to change like that. I'm driving and Bridie is doing most of the map reading. She's from Australia and is new to Europe. Up until three months ago she thought the 16A out of Dublin would take her to London. French is not her strong point, it's not mine either. On top of that she can't find her glasses half of the time, so imagine one person who can't see and another who can't pronounce, trying to pick their way through a French countryside where every town is spelt with silent 'x's and 's's and you can see how come five '0 clock that evening we were both glad to still be in France and not Spain. The tracking on the car is shot too. It keeps on pushing to the right. It's so bad that you can actually overtake and then pull back into the right with no hands. One good thing is that a temperamental steering wheel keeps you awake, you're so busy correcting all the time. Outside of Nevers there's a campsite. The French guys running the place give us a discount on account of the car. They offer us joints too. The only food we have is a tin of corn and a tin of long beans, which we mash together in a sawn-off coke bottle. Deep in the middle of the country that taught the world how to eat and we're chowing down on baby food.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cork to Roscoff on board the floating creche

Imagine being locked in a McDonald's over night with about two hundred kids and you get the idea of what it's like to travel Ireland to France on Brittany Ferries. Understandably, when the majority of the people you have to deal with are waist high and don't have their new front teeth yet, the French staff are as friendly as a box of razors. Getting your small change wrong is about one step away from saying they were the product of a relationship between a sheep and a hen. At night DJ Jaime spins hits for the kids while their parents drink heavily. A tune called P.I.A.N.O. where the kids mime different instruments brings the roof down. And the parents must love it too as suddenly there's a rush on the bar. The cinema on board costs €7. No Country For Old Men is showing in room no.1. Apart from at the helm, it's the only kiddy free area on board, but it's easier to sneak in free to What Happens in Vegas, so that's how we kill time till France. At seven the next morning we hit it; at five we're woken up. The French demand respect. They demand you queue an hour in the hall before escaping downstairs to your car. Ours is the only car without backseat TV screens. We have no children's bikes attached to the roof either. We get looks. Maybe they think we've eaten our sprogs.

Friday, July 4, 2008

god says go

A blessing from the divine road-tripper himself was in order. It might have meant going off course by about 50kms to Waterford but for this photo it was worth it.

You could make it from Dublin to Berlin in less than 48 hours. The ferry out of Cork to Roscoff takes seventeen hours and then French motorways can take you right over to Strasbourg in about twelve hours and then the autobahn, going at whatever speed you feel like, will take you up through Frankfurt into Berlin in about eight hours. It could be done easily enough but then so could taking out your own eye with a blunt blade. I like to piss, eat and sleep every so often so for this trip we're going to take it a bit slower and cut down through central France over the Jura and into the Swiss Alps.

On the road this morning, we got a couple of boy racers pulling up close to take camera phone shots and a lot of little kids shouting 'wow' and 'deadly'. One cheeky fuck flashed a peace sign. Thanks Maser. I said make it stand out and that's what you did. The filthy hippie mobile rolls on.