Pankow …

I’m in Berlin, just finished one mini biography and another is nearly done.

Where we live is a middle-class, leafy suburb in northern Berlin, it’s more like a village, with a square and local-ish shops, but our landlord Heinz to him there’s a very enclosed feeling, a sense that he and his house are being ‘watched’, and disapproved of. Housemate has said the same, that Heinz is seen as a ‘maverick’ in the neighbourhood. To us he’s an updstanding guy, brought up in the GDR, doesn’t really drink, doesn’t smoke, never done drugs, can remember the two times in his life he got pissed, is a middle-managering engineer at BMW, has a family in another house. Couldn’t be more normal. But he was telling me re smoking, and drinking, at school there were two halves to the class, the smokers and drinkers and the others, like him, and he was good at doing his own thing, not succumbing to peer pressure at all. On the face of it you’d think great, that’s the kind of clean-living aesthete you’d want in the GDR. But actually no. The boozers and smokers are clubbable, and that’s what power is about. Tenets like living clean and pure go so far, but the regime like any other, the ‘party’ like any other, functions not on its ability to be pure but to keep itself collectively safe and allow for its members to indulge in vice. Zealots can only get so far. Remember Fiedler in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold or Tom Courtenay’s character in Dr. Zhivago. They’re great for going and making hell for the non-believers, for whipping people into line, but you don’t want them doing the same in and among the party powerful.

When touring through Nazi Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war, picking through the rubble, through the pretty little towns of wooden cross-beam houses that the Russian soldiers coudln’t understand why the inhabitants would leave and come 1,000 miles to destroy the shacks they lived in … When the war was over and the papers were burned and the lapel pins were binned, how did one know who the petty town Nazis were? Because they were fat.

Heinz would become a marked man because he stood alone. Neither a zealot nor a ‘partying’ party hack. He could be the individual, and there’s no such thing in the GDR, no outside morals allowed. But by that he endangers himself because he is alone, and can become the target for all sorts of lies, and frustrations. And like he was from the GDR and lived in Pankow, so his neighbours are ex-GDR … maybe the worst combination of middle-class suburban conformists with the history and experience of the truly devastating power of gossip and targeting people because they dare to stand not even against, but apart …

(Funnily enough, DARPA when planning out super surveillance systems in the mid-00s, were more interested in the straight-laced side-parting white men than the drop outs, Muslims et al. The picket fencers were all the more suspicious for their apparent zealotry of their adherence. Was that just a cover for something else?’ Incredibly, then, the most slavishly, unwittingly loyal to the creed of white Christian low-tax gun-toting nuclear families were of the greatest suspicion …. )

I digress. I’ll go on a loop. I’m here in Berlin writing my novel about selling ice-cream in Chicago. There’s a scene in it where the protagonist is out and comes across a young girl who wants an ice-cream and she has a parakeet on her finger. How come the bird is so tame, asks the vendor. Because its wings have been clipped, she said. Of all the things a bird can do, must do, it must be able to fly. And someone chose to make a dollar by denying it that very thing. It wasn’t the child’s fault so much … but that poor, poor bird. Why would anyone maim a bird so?

Then I thought of To Kill A Mockingbird, and the rape in that, where Atticus in his defence of Tom Robinson, not only makes it clear that Tom couldn’t have beaten and raped Mayella, but that her father very likely did. Mayella made a pass at Tom which he rejected (interestingly do we presume this to be true because we perceive Tom as the black man to be the victim, or greater victim, and thereby telling the truth more than she as a rape victim, as a woman? But we know she was raped … By her dad – possibly out of jealousy for her feelings for Tom, the disgust of it, then Tom must be punished for that?). The point being there is a crime for which there is punishment, and Tom is the one to take the fall, because he’s black. And that’s what blacks are there for, to cop punishment for the crimes of the whites. It’s not so much a racism that says ‘he must have done it because he’s black, and we’ll believe that in the face of all incontrovertible evidence’, it’s racism that says ‘even if this guy had died 10 years ago we’re going to lynch his skeleton because we cannot contemplate a white man being punished for a white man’s crimes, not if there’s a black guy to take the fall. That’s what the blacks are for …’

So potently ‘moral’ a society, full of sinners, bound and flagellated in body and soul even for what they might think of doing … someone’s going to have to take the punishment, but not them.


Someone said as such on Twitter…

Is that the role Heinz fills for his neighbours?


Hahaahans Fallada

I read and was truly thrilled by the amazing Alone In Berlin, as Hans Fallada’s book was retitled for its reprint since having been rediscovered as a lost gem. Following that I read and loved Little Man What Now? and have A Small Circus and Wolf Among Wolves to get through. Then I saw Nightmare In Berlin, set in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII. A nightmare? More than say that depicted in Alone In Berlin, of the Gestapo engaging in the hideous pursuit of a couple sent sideways and into resisting the Nazis for the senseless death of their son. You can smell the sweat, the bad breath of the murderous bureaucrats muttering threats.

What would Nightmare be about? More of the same?! Except would this time the thrill come from seeing the Nazis on the run, seeking to evade detection in the New World Order by blending into the background as bland desk jockeys, or cloaking themselves with the most mundane jobs, like in The Night Porter, far beneath anything anyone who ever donned a golden-brownshirt and armband could consider going back to? Or would they, like in Porter, be part of a sinister self-saving group of Nazis, committed to the cause and one another, and ready to kill anyone attempting to compromise their nostalgic soirees of Swastikas and schnapps?

Well … not really no. A drug addicted writer leaves hospital, goes to Berlin with a young wife, and in the city of rubble they both fall into a complete apathy of morphine addiction and flailing efforts to get writing work / stay out of rehab clinics.

They’re just advanced stoners in a Hellish landscape of unrepetant fascists and hoarders.

Oh. Well. Meh. Shit.

Then you read Fallada’s own biography of the time – and it’s exactly that!

A good read nonetheless, but not what one expect!


Views like these are surely almost daily and global in occurrence, yet in Berlin they have this transcendental beauty to them.

Ich liebe Yoga

I am in Berlin for a few days, and have sought out a yoga studio, with two 90-min session done.

Christ. It is pretty God damn mind blowing and I hope this early flush of wonder and enthusiasm translates into a longer take-up of this, not me buying a 10-session package then giving up after five.

Funny though how the session seemed to go in four stages. First, the bits that I knew and could do, albeit, poses and stretches I’ve only done from a book before and doing it in class with instruction is a completely different thing – and how quickly you sweat!

Then you’re into the positions you don’t know but can just about follow, basically from watching everyone else and having an idea about them.

Then you hit positions you don’t know and you have a real job getting your body towards successfully doing, a real job that for the most part doesn’t happen, you get about 60% there then your ribs/spine/some muscle deep in your thigh you never knew you had starts aching bigtime, subtext ‘go no further than this!!!’ and you’re really beginning to battle to keep the position for the five breaths. This is tiring, and you’re glistening all over. But all this is new, and with no clocks, there’s no sense of time and no means of pacing yourself. It’ll end when it ends!

But I’m also aware of other restrictions. I can feel a guff brewing, which at a boot camp you could creak out on a run or something. No way can that be done in this packed, enclosed room, with only the sound of breathing and the instructor’s voice over the way. Even then tho one wrong twist and something could well get pumped, ‘trapped air’ and fear of this begins to distract. I’m also prone to exhale and exclaim at boot camps etc, but this is not the place, and for all the timed breathing, you’re really in such uncomfortable positions it’s amazing anything seems to get in and out at all. Breathing is key tho – so much effort spent getting into and holding a stance that you forget to breathe and basically tire and topple over because of it.

Some time around an hour in, maybe an hour, no way of knowing, you’re so tired, you can’t pride yourself at all on appearing to have any more stamina than the chap next to you because while he puffed a bit earlier he’s now waaayy up ahead in flexibility and flipping into gravity-defying stances that would simply put your own back out for thinking about it …  there are positions you just aren’t even going to try and there are those you get wrong anyway as you lose track of what’s going on, and even then there’s a real job of sweaty hands and limbs defying the grip needed for the most contrived contortions. There are moments you make an effort and push it, and think, ‘I’ve not given up, I’m pushing it beyond, and next time will be better!’ but overall you know you’ve had it and really wonder at the easy litheness with which everyone else seems to be twisting themselves, their bodies still dry while you’re dripping with sweat. I curled myself into a ball like the bloke opposite, and held it for a few seconds, basically created my own shell to shield me from the intensely misleading ease with which everyone else was moving and holding … only when I then looked up, they’d all gone from a ball into this free-standing handstand position, like the room was suddenly full of spindly black trees, it all having happened with the eerie silent speed of that scene in Poltergeist when the chairs are suddenly arranged on the kitchen table.

And they’re all so young.

And … I thought a lot of crap, and thought a lot of nothing, but felt a warmth within and wondered if something was being purged by squeezing and releasing  myself in so many ways … and I thought of mountains and Tintin in Tibet

And wondered if any of this was true …

And loved every minute of it.


Caffeine works with dopamine as well, I’ve now read. I’d thought caffeine did what it did, but it meddles with dopamine distribution, much like it’s thought Facebook does, hence the addiction, the reward-kick, then the lows. I definitely noticed it with FB and don’t miss it (instead I’m on Twitter a lot. FB at least is like being a massive pub with your mates, Twit tho is like the visiting fairground where kids you’ve never met before come to shank you and anyone else. PInterest is good, I can at least pretend I’m marauding some open ended gallery and have found out more about people like Franz Masareel, Tamara de Lempicka and the like. I digress.)

Anyway, it’s been my wont to have a couple of litres of coffee a day, although I know it burns my belly and the whole hi-lo thing, so I’ve cut down before. Now though I know of this dopamine link, maybe this’ll make it click, and am working on weening down.

The shame is how much caffeine is around these days in soft drinks and energy drinks and little Costa trolley franchises being everywhere, and you think combine this with the addiction, ADHD-hi-lo inducing effects of social media, and you have no only millions of people with 2-second attention spans, but they’re locked in their own other worlds.

Their phones are portals to their own virtual worlds, there is no connection to the full-sensed world of the now, we know that, but there couldn’t be anyway because they’re jacked on caffeine. Both distort your outlook and your mood, combine the two and surely you’re making for a lot of very unhappy and confused people, their every waking moment tapped in to lies of Donald Trump or the non-lives of sociopathic YouTube stars.

Noel, Noel

Some epically stupid cow down the road has an electronic countdown to Christmas thing in her front window, which what with her house being right on the T-junction with traffic lights we’re all most days held up there and get to notice another day down to C-Day, starting from at least 62 at the last clocking of its reappearance. So that’s what, 61 days of feverish waiting for this incredible day to come? How balls-achingly sad is that.

Anyway, testicles to it all, shops stocking mince pies in September or John Lewis’s latest shit fest being a news item or topic of conversation among people who should know far better.

Decades ago, in the very late 1970s, down south near my granny and grandpa’s house near Aylesbury, was a beautiful church in the sticks where grandpa played the organ. One Christmas I think might have been the last he was fit enough to play, unless I am misremembering things, this church was very close if not next door to a gorgeous, large, red-bricked country house with a big front door and large bottle-glass windows, a house we somehow knew was owned by Noel Edmonds, years before he became a right-wing nut, way back when he was trendy and fun and known to all kids across the land for Swap Shop.

A freezing December day my ma, Granny and us three kids, parked up across the way from Noel’s house to do a recce on the church, Noel having put an array of coloured light bulbs on a proper large Christmas tree outside his front door. Granny stayed in the car while we went in, of course we were more interested in the hope that Noel might turn up and being a childhood hero of course he’d do something amazing like sign autographs and invite us in to meet Rex the dinosaur and then have us on the show or something, or some such cascade of amazing things that someone like him would do because he’s famous and obviously loves kids, so we thought, and so on. Anyway in we went to this church, as cold inside as outside, and I can’t remember how long we were inside for or what we did, as it wasn’t interesting.

We ultimately returned to the car, disappointed in having not seen Noel. But Granny said while we were inside a car had pulled up outside the house, and a man with longish blonde hair and a beard had come out and been driven away. It could only have been him! As exciting and near mythical as seeing Father Christmas himself.