Tag Archives: Police

A few more steps

I recently became a little bit more German.

Me: Right, that’s it. We’re clearing out the living room. I don’t mind you having all the wires, cables, batteries, old phones, place mats, last year’s birthday cards, post from 2012… I just don’t want to have to look at it every evening.

Manfredas: You’re right. 

Me: I know. I’ve bought three “decorative” storage boxes. White is for documents, black is for any technical stuff, grey is for anything in between. 

Manfredas: You scare me. 

Me: I know. LET’S DO THIS! 

Ta dah!

And that’s not even the half of it. Everyone knows that the Germans love insurance – Manfredas isn’t even sure how many different types of policies he has. While I’m not quite in that league, I have taken out two more forms of insurance – bicycle and (say it with me) Haftpflichtversicherung.

You see, I bought a new bike not so long ago and, looking at it in comparison to the shitheaps most people in Berlin ride around on, I felt that maybe my beautiful Tecnobike needed a little extra protection.

I heart my Tecnobike.

Given that there were more than 34,000 reported bicycle thefts in Berlin last year, you’d think more people would have insurance. Not so. Having asked Manfredas, friends and students for tips, in the end, I had to resort to Mr. Google – and even that wasn’t easy. I eventually found the brilliantly-named Bike Ass and, for the bargain price of just €46.41 per year, Tecnobike can sleep easy at night, even if she is chained up in the basement.

Manfredas: You should also get Haftpflichtversicherung.

Me: Sounds like some kind of disease. 

Manfredas: (Sigh) No, it’s personal liability insurance. If you do damage to someone or something, it covers you. 

Me: Nah, I don’t really think I need it. 

Manfredas: Well, nobody takes out home insurance believing there’s going to be a fire, do they?

Me: No, I guess not. How much is it? 

I went with AXA and now, for a yearly pittance, I can do €50,000,000 euro’s worth of damage. Woop!

A couple of months later, I’m very happy that I have both forms of insurance. While I haven’t damaged anyone or anything (yet), the potential for this happening in Berlin seems rather high.

Example: “OK, Tecnobike, I’m going to have to leave you here for a couple of hours while I go work. But look, you’ve got loads of room and plenty of bikey company. You’ll be just fine. I’ll miss you…” 

Spacious.

You come back a while later and this has happened.

Tecnobike! Where are you!?

You might be thinking “What kind of idiot would park their car there?” or, more pressingly, “What IS that??” but if I damage either the car or THE THING trying to get out of there, it’s on me. I was tempted to do a couple of grands’ worth of damage just to prove a point, but I’m trying to be a responsible cyclist…

Interestingly, in Berlin, this is probably the most dangerous thing you can be. If you follow the rules, act like a normal human being, and show some consideration for other people using the roads and cycle lanes, chances are you’ll be the one taken out. Naturally, me being me, I’ve learned this the hard way.

So, there I was, pootling my way home on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I was heading for Karl-Marx-Allee, in the cycle lane between the lane of cars turning right and the lane going straight ahead, like me. I had started slowing down as there was a red light up ahead.

BAM. Out of nowhere, another cyclist tried to overtake me at speed (why I don’t know, as the light was red anyway), clipped Tecnobike and somehow my left leg and arm ended up crushed between the two bikes and a taxi. Miraculously, I managed to stay upright, which is good; I’ve found that roaring “ARSCHLOCH!” at someone from the ground isn’t nearly as effective.

Me: ARSCHLOCH!

Arsch mit Ohren: Me?!

Me: Yes, you, you @^$#^%^%#%$#$@#%%$^^&^&^%. You could have killed me!

Arsch mit Ohren: Uh, sorry.

We somehow managed to disentangle the two bikes and I limped to the pavement, the Arsch following me. The taxi driver had since driven off, satisfied that we hadn’t damaged his car. Eye roll.

Arsch mit Ohren: Oh, you’re bleeding. Would you like a tissue? 

Me: I’ve got my own damn tissues.

Arsch mit Ohren: You’re shaking. I’m sorry, I don’t have any water. 

Me: I’ve got my OWN DAMN WATER!

Arsch mit Ohren: Would you like to go for a coffee or something? You’re probably in shock.

Me: Are you insane?

Arsch mit Ohren: Or I could accompany you home? Make sure you’re OK? 

Me: I was just fine ’til you ploughed into me. I think I’ll be safer by myself, thank you very much. 

I finally got rid of him and, after calming down a little, inspecting Tecnobike (unharmed, thankfully), made it the rest of the way home unscathed. I was scathed enough as it was.

I watched with interest over the next few days as various parts of my body swelled up and turned different colours, my main regret being that I hadn’t turned back and run that asshole over in return. I am insured, after all…

Last weekend, there was a demonstration for safer conditions for cyclists in Berlin. While there is definitely room for improvement, from what I’ve seen, these people’s time would have been better spent learning some manners and oh, maybe how to ride a bicycle.

Berlin Demonstration von Fahradfahrern
Cycling for safety – while on your mobile. Genius. (Source: Deutsche Welle)

In the few months I’ve been with Tecnobike, I’ve seen people cycling while looking at their mobile phones, a guy cycling while reading a book, cyclists with a beer in one hand and a fag in the other, hands-free cycling, one idiot with his feet up on the handlebars, people sailing through red lights, not indicating which way they’re turning… and, of course, no lights.

Since the police and Ordnungsamt are somehow blind to all of this, Manfredas and I have started our own little “Balkonordnungsamt”. This involves yelling “Licht an du Vogel!” at the morons down below. However, as we’re on the sixth floor, it’s more likely that only our neighbours above and below can hear us and someone will call the Ordnungsamt on us.

I wonder if there’s insurance against that…

 

 

 

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Is Berlin drowning in its own filth?

It pains me to have to ask the question but a few things have happened in recent days (and before that if I’m honest) that really make me wonder.

Take yesterday, for example. I was on my way to the supermarket at around 3 p.m. I was just approaching it when I noticed a man sitting on the street, yelling at the top of his voice, and smashing beer bottles on the ground beside him. Now, people drinking beer in public at all hours of the day and night, broken glass and random shouters are nothing out of the ordinary in Berlin – though I did think it a little wasteful that he was smashing full bottles.

It was around then that a bottle whizzed past my head and smashed against the supermarket wall. I can’t know if he was aiming at me or if he just fancied a more challenging throw but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I ran, the sound of another beer bottle exploding into smithereens just behind me ringing in my ears.

I hightailed it into the supermarket, which was, luckily, practically empty. I walked over to the cashier.

Me: There’s a crazy man outside throwing beer bottles at the wall. 

Him: What? 

Me: There’s a crazy man outside throwing beer bottles at the wall. 

Him: What’s he doing? 

Admittedly, I was a bit shaken so my German was probably a little hairy.

Me: He’s throwing bottles against the wall. It’s very dangerous for customers. 

That got his attention so he went outside to investigate. I pointed out the man who could have brained me but it turned out I didn’t really need to; a small crowd had gathered and another man was already calling the police. I decided there was nothing else for me to do but carry on with my shopping – now that I still had a head, it would be necessary for me to eat again at some point.

The (rather young and sexy) police showed up just as I was waiting at the cash register and it was all super-dramatic – which way did he go? What does he look like? A description being shouted back, the cops running (sexily) back out the door and peeling off in their waiting van as more sirens got closer.

As I left, I noticed that the man who’d called the police was bleeding quite heavily from one of his legs so I felt even more fortunate that I’d avoided being hit. I have no idea if the police caught him but I learned that the supermarket has cameras on its tills and he’d bought the crate of beer there, so there’s a good chance they’ll nail him. Good thing too – from what I’ve seen, that man has no place on the streets.

Of course, this is the sort of idiot that you can call the police on. But there are plenty more people out there who do their best to foul up Berlin for the rest of us. They range from the totally oblivious (morons on mobiles, for instance) to the “I’m so cool and awesome that normal rules of behaviour don’t apply to me” – yeah, I’m looking at you, gobshite who popped the cap off your beer bottle on the train today and hit me in the back with it. GOBSHITE.

However, it takes a special kind of asshole (two of them actually) to carry a sofa loaded with plastic sacks full of twigs and branches – don’t ask me why – throw the sacks over a wall and dump the sofa on the side of the street, as was witnessed by me and Manfredas from our balcony two nights ago.

FUC is right.

And while you might think that these guys are an exception, unfortunately that’s not true. Berlin has perfectly good dumps and, if you can’t make it there, you can arrange an appointment for the BSR to come and pick up your unwanted crap. Of course, you have to pay for this and that’s the problem – too many people in Berlin don’t want to pay for anything and would rather turn the city into their own personal dumping ground than do so.

I took these photos on a five-minute walk to the bakery this morning. And that was just one side of the street.

As this post has got a bit rantier than I’d intended, I’ll wrap it up by saying that I still love this city. I really do. There are freedoms afforded to people in Berlin that should never be taken for granted – the freedom to go wherever you want, to be whoever you want to be, and to do whatever you want (within reason).

The thing about freedom is that, with it, comes responsibility and that is what I’m noticing more and more these days. So many people just don’t want to take responsibility for anything – and have zero respect for other people or their surroundings.

If I’ve come across as a sanctimonious dipshit in this post then I’m sorry, but I really don’t think that a little accountability is too much to ask for.

Over and out.

German Men Sit Down to Pee

Relax. This isn’t going to be another post about my long-standing obsession with the German Sitzpinkel. “German Men Sit Down to Pee” is the title of a book I recently had the pleasure of reading. Co-author, James Cave, was kind enough to send me a copy to review and, although it took me a while to get around to it (sorry again, James!), once I did, I read it in a single sitting.

Even though I consider myself practically German these days, this book had me raising my eyebrows and chuckling away at all sorts of little quirks and oddities that I had previously been totally unaware of. Without giving away too much of the contents of “German Men Sit Down to Pee”, I thought I’d share some of these with you here.

  1. A pillow is considered a “passive weapon” in Germany.

Yep, that’s right boys, you can put all of those fantasies of hot German women pillow-fighting in their underwear out of your head. Not going to happen – no woman in her right mind is going to risk an assault charge just so you can get your rocks off.

Passive weapon alert!!
Passive weapon alert!!

But don’t worry too much – Germany will take care of you in other ways thanks to its lax laws when it comes to porn production. Germany has carved out a “nice” little niche for itself when it comes to gangbangs, urinal and fecal porn, otherwise known as Scheiße Porn. And if that doesn’t float your boat/penis, you’ll be pleased to hear that prostitution is also legal in Germany.

In fact, in Bonn, the ladies of the night buy tickets just like you would a parking ticket. This allows them to “park” themselves for the night and carry out the ins and outs of their business. Several cities have also introduced drive-thru sex areas.

“Yes, good evening, can I get a Big Rack to go, please?”

2. Do not “du” a police officer

As some of you probably already know, there are two forms of address in German – the formal “Sie” and the informal “du”. While in Berlin, you can get away with “du-ing” most people, it is actually illegal to “du” a police officer and you could end up with a fine of up to €600… Here’s how I imagine that working out:

Me: Officer! Officer! Kannst du mir helfen? That man has just run off with my bag! 

SIEgfried: Did you just “du” me?

Me: What? Oh, I guess but…but… the man! He’s getting away! 

SIEgfried: That’s not the pressing issue here, young lady. You just “du’d” a police officer and, in Germany, that has consequences.

Me: But…but…

SIEgfried: Can I see some identification, please?

Me: I would love to show you but IT’S IN MY DAMN BAG! 

The thief then thumbs his nose at me and strolls off into the sunset.

3. A fine for your finger

Although the German Autobahn is pretty relaxed when it comes to things like, you know, having a speed limit, there are other things that are strictly VERBOTEN. Road rage is one of them. Giving someone the finger in a fit of pique could result in a rather steep fine.

No badasses here, please. We're German.
No badasses here, please. We’re German.

Running out of petrol on the Autobahn is also illegal. It’s not regarded as “one of those things” as it’s something that you could have planned for and, therefore, avoided. And we all know how much the Germans like planning…

4. Love your hole

Germans are world-renowned for their lovable beach habits. Getting up at the crack of dawn to put their towels on the sun loungers – check. Letting it all hang out – check. Socks and sandals – check.

One German beach quirk that I wasn’t aware of, however, is the German love of digging holes in the sand. In 2010, a German tourist in Tenerife had to be rescued by firemen after the tunnel system he’d built to connect his holes collapsed around him, leaving him trapped up to his neck in sand. And while you might think this was just a one-off, there is evidence to suggest that it really is a “thing”.

At the German seaside resort of St. Peter-Ording, digger trucks appear early each morning to fill in the holes that have been dug on the beach the day before. Germans, eh? Who knew?

5. Have yourself a scary Little Christmas

The 6th of December is known in Ireland as Little Christmas; in Germany, it’s called Nikolaus. And what better way to celebrate the start of the season than scaring the bejesus out of your children?

On the 6th, unsuspecting German kids leave their shoes outside the door for Nikolaus to fill up with sweets and goodies – but only if they’ve been good. If they’ve been bad (NEIN!), his sidekick, Farmhand Rupert, will beat them with a stick and a bag of ashes – at least in the olden days. These days, they’ll just wake up to find their shoes filled with lumps of coal. It’s a real shame when these old traditions die out…

Heh heh
Heh heh

In parts of Austria and Bavaria, it gets even better worse. You can actually pay someone to come and scare your kids straight. Krampus will show up, terrify them a bit and hope they see the error of their ways. If they try to talk back, they’re picked up, held upside down and dunked in the snow.

Brilliant. Terrible…

Anyway, that’s just a small selection of the treats that “German Men Sit Down to Pee” has in store for you. If you’re planning on visiting or moving to Germany, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It will have you chortling into your passive weapon way past your bed time.

Order your copy here or check out the website. You’ll be happy you did.

Thank you again to James for giving me the chance to write a review!

 

A run-in with the Polizei

My passport expired last month. Ever the optimist, I assumed that getting a new one would be a relatively painless process. I went on to the German Irish Embassy website, filled in their little online form, and waited for the documents to appear in my letter box. A week later, I was still waiting. Now I know that the Irish are not exactly known for their efficiency – my good self excluded – but this was definitely taking the Pinkel.

I called up, explained that I’d filled in the form a week before and asked how long it normally took to get the documents.

Siobhán-Schwanhild: It shouldn’t take any longer than three days.

Me: Huh. Can you send them again, please?

The next morning they were in my letter box. They must have hired a German in the meantime.

I had a quick look through the plethora of forms and eventually located the actual form I would need to fill in. Page 1 – fine, page 2 – fine, page 3 – not applicable as I am no spring chicken any more (much as I pretend otherwise), page 4 – crap.

Everyone loves forms, right?
Everyone loves forms, right?

In order to apply for an Irish passport, you have to have your application witnessed by one of the following people:

  • Police officer
  • Member of clergy
  • Medical doctor
  • Lawyer
  • Bank manager/assistant bank manager
  • Elected public representative
  • Notary public/commissioner for oaths
  • Peace commissioner
  • School principal/vice principal
  • Accountant
  • Butcher*
  • Baker*
  • Candle-stick maker*

You have to sign the form in front of this witness, they have to complete a section of it, including a work landline number, then sign and stamp two of the four photos you need to submit – once they’re satisfied that the photos are actually of you, of course. I toyed with the idea of popping over the road, putting on my holy face and asking a priest to do it – maybe I could even fashion a halo out of some toilet rolls and a light bulb – but it felt a bit cheeky after my leavingthecatholicchurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxes fiasco, so I put that thought out of my head. A-men.

Nice church I'm not paying for
Nice church I’m not paying for

I scanned the list again to see if game designers, artists, writers, starving teachers and bunker association founders had appeared, but alas, they hadn’t. I then racked my brains trying to think of any lawyers, doctors, accountants or bankers I knew. I realised that, at least when it came to the passport application process, I had sadly been mixing in the wrong circles for the past year.

Luckily, there’s a police station across the road from where I work, so armed with all of my documents, photos and ID, I trotted over there. A jolly-looking policeman sat behind a glass screen so I started explaining (in German) what I needed and waving documents around. I obviously didn’t explain very well as he decided he had to come out of his glass box and into the waiting room to fully investigate what it was I was after.

Me: I need ein/einen/eine/einem signature. (Wave, wave) This is my passport, um, I don’t know the word for application – probably should have looked that up. You look at photos. (Wave, wave) You look at me. Is photo me? You are happy? Then you signature. (Wave, wave) 

PC Pharamond Plod: NEIN. 

Me: Bitte?

PC Pharamond Plod: NEIN. The German police do not sign documents.

Me: But, but… look! Photo is me – no problem!

PC Pharamond Plod: NEIN. 

Me: Sigh.

I trudged out, defeated. Then, as I passed the Deutsche Bank on my way to the train station, I had another idea. An ex-student of mine works there – as a bank manager.

When I got home, I sent her an email explaining what I needed. Two days later, she replied to say, “NEIN, German bank managers do not do this”. Double sigh. Eventually, I managed to charm force one of the accountants at the school (who I’d never even met before) into signing it. It had only taken around three weeks longer than expected.

Herr Accountant: You are aware that your passport is very out of date.

Me: Triple sigh.

I marched over to the Irish Embassy, handed everything in, and paid my €85.

Me: You are aware that the German police will not sign documents. Why are they on the form if they are not an option?

Siobhán-Schwanhild: That’s funny. A lot of people have their applications signed by a police officer. 

Me: Beyond sighing.

By the time I reconcile myself with the fact that maybe German police just do not like the look of me, the passport should have arrived.

*Not actually included on the list. Had you fooled though, didn’t I?

You can find ALL the information you need on applying for an Irish passport in Germany here.

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours…

Having German neighbours is great. Everyone says hello, people hold the door open for you, and they even buzz you into the building at 3am when you can’t find your key.

However, before you decide you want to move in with me, there are a few things that you should probably be aware of.

1. Germans love online shopping.

I mean they REALLY love it. Which is all well and good, unless you live in the ground floor apartment and the DHL guy always rings your buzzer first. I have worn a path in the carpet trotting from my desk to open the door and sign for people’s packages. Half the time, our hall looks like the back room of a post office with all of the packages we take in.

The tip of the iceberg
The tip of the iceberg

There’s still no rest when delivery time is over for the day, because then you’re up and down to open the door to people looking for their stuff.

2. Naked neighbours

While I don’t think I’ve taken in any packages for the couple next door, I’ve seen the boyfriend’s package more times than I care to admit. Not that I’ve been going out of my way to see it, of course.

They have no curtains on their living room window and sometimes things get a bit sexy in there. They also both like walking around naked or standing at the sink naked, something that nearly gave my Bavarian flatmate a heart attack.

And, at the risk of going a little off topic, I think they might have murdered their cat. They had the cutest little kitten that used to leap out at you from all sorts of hiding places, but seemingly also liked peeing and pooping in the bed. Then one day it was gone.

Me: Hey, I haven’t seen your cat around for a few days. 

Traute: He ran away.

Me: Aw, well, maybe he’ll come back.

Traute: No, he’s not coming back.

Me: Right…

Then the next day, they put all the cat’s stuff in the bins. I could be wrong of course, but it does give you paws for thought… (Sorry.)

3. A hit on the house

One day, I came home to find two Xs spray painted onto the front door.

Like this
Like this

I didn’t give it much thought until one of my neighbours put up a sign on the inside of the door a day later.

Like this
Like this

It turns out that the two Xs are Berlin Criminal Underworld-ese for “There’s good stuff in this building. Rob it.” Thankfully, one of my neighbours understands BCU-ese and responded with the sign that means “The police have been made aware of this situation. Don’t even think about it. Punk.”

After an attempted break-in last week, Hildeberta, my flatmate, suggested that maybe I could sit inside the door and bark for a while in the evenings. She did not get a “hoch fünf” for that.

4. Chatty Kathy

I guess every building has one of these. You know, the type that’s into everyone’s business and is almost impossible to escape when you bump into them in the hall? Mine also happens to look a bit like Kathy Bates in “Misery”.

misery_1

 

In our first conversation, she explained how she couldn’t understand why everyone thinks Berlin is cool and Berliners are friendly, as supposedly, Berliners are the least friendly people on the planet. She then told me she is a Berliner and proceeded to talk the ear off me for a good twenty minutes.

As she lives on the fifth floor, she’s worried that nobody will hear her scream (unlikely) if someone breaks into her apartment. She’s also worried that, as you can’t text the police in Berlin, the intruder will be able to hear her on the phone. So now she has my phone number.

The idea is that she’ll text me in the event of a break-in, and then I’ll call the police. Why she took the number of the one person in the building who can’t speak German is a mystery.

Heinz: Hallo, Polizei.

Me: HILFE! HILFE! EIN MANN IST… UM… UM… JUST HILFE! 

You see the flaw in the plan.

Crap, my phone is ringing – private number. I guess it’s time to let a neighbour get murdered. Sigh. I hate when this happens.

 

(Kathy Bates image taken from here.)