Friday, 26 April 2013

32: Why Suzuki is a dirtier word than bukkake

While in previous posts I have extolled the virtues of cycling, through snow, frost or curfews, I turn my attentions this week to the German vehicle of choice, the car.

Germany has millions of cars, most of them made in Germany by conveyor belts smart enough to teach at Harvard. Besides the usual dictator's favourites - Mercedes, BMW, Audi  - the German automobile industry generally produces cars that are made to last and that rarely require technical attention; faultless vehicles.

Germans know that other people make cars too, although they would never drive these. To be seen driving a Honda or a Toyota in Germany is like swimming across the city in puddles. Better buy a Volkswagen.

Everything is designed to make your air-conditioned journey in an iron frame at high speed as pleasurable as possible in a Volkswagen.

Like for many Europeans, a car is the ultimate identity captured between four doors for the young Teutonic social aspirant. Opel Adam even lets you style your own car; the front blue, the back striped - Adam Jam, Adam Glam, Adam Slam - the full individualist packet to provide the ultimate air of sophistication.

Once you've got the car, drive it fast. The motorways in Germany have no speed limits and have spawned thousands of wannabe Schumachers, only driving Volkswagen.

Foreign drivers are all crazy. Every German knows this. Commuters exchange tales of Neopolitans who drive while singing opera. Lorry drivers gather at the local Kneipe (pub) and smugly forebode of overseas cities filled with one-way streets, where traffic lights are decorative and double white lines are street art. Only drive a Suzuki in Germany if you want to be ridiculed for your lack of horsepower.

The fact that some of the biggest car lobbies in the world - Daimler, VW and the like - are based in Germany should come as no surprise. How else would the nation share the dubious title of being a member of a triplet of sovereign entities that don't have speed limits (the Isle of Man and Nepal are the other two privileged members of this pikey-policy toting troika).

Not Hitler nor Ferdinand Porsche: Josef Ganz, inventor of the Beetle prototype.
Germans see themselves as pioneers of cars: inventors of perfect machines that have been defamed by cheap imitators on sweatshop wages in countries with different alphabets.

It's worth noting however that Germans were up to the same kind of commercial theft years before China dipped into the Rhine Valley. Ferdinand Porsche is credited with the first breakthrough designs for the VW Beetle. But the fact is the model had been previously developed by a German Jewish engineer, Josef Ganz.  

Even though Germans have many cars, there is nothing more popular than riding in someone else's. This carpooling trend is known as co-riding opportunities, or mitfahrgelegenheit.

The process is simple: Get online, drag your bags to a petrol station and stumble through five hours of discussions about bio-foods in Bavarian slang driving at 265km/h. Make reference to leather seating, wooden dashboard or plated tires where appropriate.

Friday, 19 April 2013

31: Lady on the roadside

Just like you can live a life in Apps in Germany, you can also purchase almost everything you need without ever talking to a human being.

The British started recruiting machines to perform designated sales tasks instead of humans in the late 19th Century. At first the iron beasts sold postcards and stamps. But it wasn't long before they evolved into the child-friendly glass pimps of today, spawning across the globe thereafter selling mainly chewing gum, cigarettes and hot and cold drinks. But then the 80s came, the wall came down and glass pimps diversified. 

The fact is I've witnessed a post-modern vending machine that threatens to derail the stability of the universe. Outside the male toilets at a petrol station in Nuremberg, the word pussy etched in logos all over a distributor lurking tall like a seasoned pusher. Enthralled by this electronic purveyor of cats or vaginae, I stopped.

"Travel Pussy. €3."

 What looked like a pink jelly bag wrestled around a sausage advertised the bizarre product: TP. I tried to buy one but was out of coins - all I could do was stare with a mixture of contempt and awe for the marketeer who gave birth to a rubber, liquid-filled vagina.

For those who are already familiar with the brothel in a container, forgive my musings. I feel like the child who just got told Santa is his Uncle Pete only to walk outside and find a sleigh and seven giant reindeer.

False advertising?

If, on the other hand, you're reading this thinking you've just found the perfect distraction for those long drives through Latvia, then you can get your own Travel Pussy here.

Beware though: the TP haunts. The thought of it haunts me still. I can't look at a bin at a motorway stop now without thinking of it. I can't drive by a lorry without being suspicious. I feel I should write to customs and alert them but until I find out more, let's keep the plague on the hush hush. If it's already found its way to motorways, there's no guessing where it could end up next.

The fact is Germany has first some class retail robots and this Travel Pussy could soon be in all of them. Women watch your backs; men beware.

Other vending machines selling pregnancy tests could strike as sperm, abundant enough to refuel several galaxies, is lost time-after-time in lorries beside refueling stations across Europe.

That vending machines are trying to do away with the institutions of gender and matrimony should come as no surprise. The very art of condensing life's necessaries into one secure container is über-teutonic and makes using German vending machines a pleasure. Barring children and guns, you're likely to find most things you'll want to buy in a vending machine somewhere.

Vending machines, like in other countries, are often situated  on platforms in Germany. You can scour the mini shopping malls while reading the latest bestseller, drinking some flavoured water or checking if you're about to give birth - all while nibbling on Tuscan olive oil-drenched nachos at three-times their normal price.

German vending machines always have that one random item. It might be an umbrella. Or panties. A cushion. A bathroom kit. Everything that can sit quietly in public places and isn't claustrophobic behind glass has found its way into electric distributors somewhere.

And things are evolving. Don't be surprised if in a few years you find a square glass Santa talking like your mobile's answer machine and telling you he can only give your kids Coke or TP.

Friday, 12 April 2013

30: Table-football with anarchists

If you live in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain or Neukölln, you might have played table-football with anarchists.

You’ll have seen this lively demographic at demonstrations, in dimly lit bars and in dark shadows, but suddenly you’ll be not only playing table football with them but singing their hymns, deploring Facebook and fascists and pledging your blood to the revolution. Alcohol will help the whole seduction.

The ANTIFA, Berlin’s most prominent anarchist association, is militantly active against Germany’s far right. ANTIFA members live a varied life: from planting trees at traffic lights and fixing strangers’ bikes for free, to cooking vegan dinners at VOKÜS or beating up Nazis on tube stops. No other German group is so gentle yet purposefully extreme.

ANTIFA members live in occupied houses that are usually named after the street they live on. Peace flags and black circled As hang from the windows. The residents will support St Pauli, Hamburg’s left-leaning asylum for outsiders, and will deplore Hansa Rostok, the pride of the NDP. ANTIFA music draws on SKA, punk and Hip Hop and song themes range from never surrendering to fascists to turning the city green.  

House of slogans, not slaves.
If you meet one, chances are you will meet 25. This progression to Post-Sallowism will occur in a caliginous basement that Osama Bin Laden couldn’t have conjured in his wildest dreams. There will be a table-football, AKA biliardino, fiercely competed over to a soundtrack of clattering plastic. Black hoods, black circled ‘A’ motifs and Berliner beer will be the orders of the day.

You’ll recognize an ANTIFA bar because written prominently on the door or window will be the establishment’s distinct non-appreciation of Nazis. The windows will be pasted with stickers re-advertising everything from anti-nuclear campaigns to pro-asylum initiatives and the lighting will barely shine through the cracks of window that escaped the mass-pasting.

NB: Do not arrive wearing Lonsdale, Fred Perry, Hackett or New Balance. These are no-go brands in Germany that carry extreme political connotations.

Once you’ve discussed street fighting and planting marijuana in grounds of the town hall, move on to singing. If you can’t grasp any of the lyrics, just remember to sing "ANTIFA!" at the top of your lungs as required. All songs have an 'ANTIFA' moment.

If you challenge at table football, by knocking unnecessarily loudly on the edge of the table-top, make sure you’re in a condition to actually stand. While the grips you hold onto can act as crutches, they’re slippery. Besides, you’ll be thrown all over the place trying to catch sight of the small white ball while singing about reclaiming nurseries and the minds of children.

Friday, 5 April 2013

29: Green Man and his wicked ways

If you’ve walked into any souvenir shop in Berlin, you’ve undoubtedly seen piles-on-piles of Green Man. Green Man isn’t really symbolic of anything and neither does he exist, other than on t-shirts and in traffic lights.

Not entirely true: Green Man also resides on mugs, mouse-pads and lamps that look like traffic lights. He is the only man to have guided political leaders of all ideologies from Bergmann-Pohl and Honecker to Schroder and Merkel.

Green Man isn’t Sallowist because he not only originated in former Eastern Germany, but quickly became a cult hero in the West too, long after the country of his birth was extinguished.

Owning a Green Man t-shirt, hat or ashtray is essential and will reinforce your Sallowist credentials. It will advertise to people wherever you go in Germany that you live in Berlin. Green light it.

You find Green Man mainly on street cormers with his brother, Red Man. Both wear hats and are known collectively in German as ampelmännchen (yep, they have their own Wikipedia page from which a substantial amount of this post was stolen).

Green Man is the image of a peaceful man strutting forwards with a bowler hat. These days he works as a pedestrian traffic light across Berlin (take that West). As persuasive and inviting as Green Man is in his work however, Red Man, the evil twin, always reappears when you least want to see him. 

The man with the most green in Berlin
Before you can even run across the road. It’s licensed massacre waiting to happen.  God forbid if you’re crossing with children, animals or any kind of weights.

A green light has to be somebody else's red light. Every time I cross my road on the green I can see the cars waiting for my pedestrian green light to expire so they can accelerate me into a skip.  Because the cars turning have a green light at the same time as me as long as I'm not crossing - me walking across on my pedestrian green light couldn't be a better ingredient for road rage to them. They are in a car,  I'm on foot. Call the local news station.

The worst thing is the pedestrian green light turns red even faster at night, as if the road shrinks after sunset rendering it crossable in half the time. The added effect of poor visibility, the level of alcohol in drivers and my own habit of getting more tired as the day goes on makes popping out for something a heinous task.

Only the bike, or guerrilla crossing, will suffice.