Back to Berlin

Mon 10 – Sun 16 April 2017 (Easter)

Brandenburg Gateway

This week, stories of my wild weekend in Berlin. Well wild if you mean coffee, reading, walking and sleeping. The new (gay) capital of Europe is one of my favourite places to chill. Dave’s mum asks why we go back to the same places, ‘you must have seen everything there’! It’s about being somewhere you feel relaxed and yet still excited about. London is somewhere I love but I feel less comfortable generally in Brexit Britain. How to be in love with a country that wants to exist in a nostalgic imperial bubble, a bit like Rhodesia or South Africa before they gave themselves up to the tide of history? Not my thing.

Disappointing weather

Main problem with Berlin is the weather, it is freezing during winter and I like warmth. This weather was one of our worst ones when being there. Generally quite chilly with intermittent rain and cold winds. Occasional patches of sun to warm oneself but basically lower temperatures than I would like. Apparently Madrid and Athens are hitting mid-twenties. Perhaps there for Easter next year?

Charmless flying

Plane flyingWe flew out on Thurs with a BA flight from Heathrow. Dave had access to a lounge which was busy but fun. We filled up on porridge and pastries. Flight itself was OK though service was efficient if somewhat charmless. No free drinks or snacks on BA now, it’s just another airline. Shame how there is no charm to flying any more.

Settling in

Outside Romeo und RomeoArrived at that wonderful sixties/seventies airport Tegel and taxi to the hotel with a chatty driver originally from Lagos. Another example of the reach of the African diaspora. Our usual hotel and then a wander around including going to the wonderful Romeo and Romeo. A gay cafe that also exhibits artwork but used to be a rent boy bar. It’s always been a gay venue apart from when the Nazis deliberately converted it into their local office. And our favourite eclectically decorated Italian restaurant in the gay area for dinner. So our crazy weekend started with us being knacked and in bed by 9.30 LOL.

Tiergarten and snoozes

Fri we took a walk up to the wonderful Tiergarten and wandered around this beautiful piece of open ground in the centre of the city stopping for the obligatory coffee by the boating lake. There followed a day of coffee at Romeo and the new quieter pretzel coffee shop nearby also featuring lots of art. Berlin really is a cultural as well as historical centre. Plus lots of snoozing to set us up for the night. Dinner at Elephant, traditional German cuisine. Then onto BioHazard at Connection. Not the best night I’ve ever had there for two particular reasons.

Why I was disappointed on my big night out

First, they’ve redesigned the club so that there feels like less space on the top floor and they’ve got rid of the small bar I liked downstairs. The latter was the sort of place where you could chill and talk to people. Now it’s just part of the main club layout. Second, it is amazing how gay men desperately cling to trying to be something they are not and are so unfriendly or even dismissive of each other. We all age and die. Being gay has become some vain attempt to avoid this. Older men who all look the same (even I’m starting to be bored of beards) and avoiding men of the same age. The cult of youth rules supreme. Young men who think they will never be old and older men trying to pretend they are twenty years younger whilst chasing men of that age. Why can’t we just chill and be nice to each other?

Dossy Saturday

Big German dept storeFive hours sleep then up to make the most of Saturday. All the shops were open again after being closed for Good Friday. Dave went off to KaDeWe, the big dept store that always enthrals him. I bummed around coffee shops reading and pootering. Intermittent sharp showers stopped a big wander. Late lunch/early dinner at Zsa Zsa Burgers. Then Dave got ready to go out. I decided to have a night in and spent it chilling in the hotel bar reading. I do like a nice hotel bar, they always feel so civilised. Finished my Peter Carey book and chilled with some short stories on the kindle.

Wet Sunday and website recovery

men dressed as puppiesPissed with rain on and off all Sunday which was frustrating. Dave got in about 5.30am, I was up and out around 8am leaving him to recover. Couldn’t watch the new Dr Who as you can’t get i-player abroad – grrr. Between Romeo and Prezel cafe whilst pootering. Dave joined me around 12 noon just as the ‘puppies’ were meeting. This really is my least favourite gay fetish at the mo. It is very popular especially with youngsters but I just don’t get it and it feels silly. Each to their own though – live and let live.

My big news of the day was my website crashing after I tried to do a plug-in update. One of the nightmares all people who dabble in tech hate – a blank screen with ‘Fatal Error’ followed by tech babble. I tried many ways to sort it out but then gave up and went out for a drink at the fun Scheune bar. Returned to the problem in the hotel bar before bed with a whisky on the rocks. Problem solved via webchat with the company hosting my site (Hostgator). Indeed solved very quickly and simply, I was impressed. They basically went in and deactivated all my plug-ins so I could get to my site. I then had to work which ones to activate and I deleted the naughty one that had caused my problem.

Tech for good / work

Big work news for last week was that my lovely job-share Nissa has gone on maternity leave. We get along really well and it’s a great example of how job-shares should work. We know how each other ticks and can operate separately but also connect up regularly. She’s ready to drop and pissed off with everyone saying how big she is (she is big). But she gave a lovely farewell speech telling us how she wakes up feeling shit and then has a shit commute to work. However once she’s with everyone then she feels great.

Meanwhile on the tech for good front:

  • All my latest tech for good projects are underway and doing weekly sprints / updates as they have just four months to get their product / service done. Details on them here. Me and Martha (Nissa mark II) had a catch-up with the main external tech advisers including starting to organise the wrap-up / final presentation event at the end of July.
  • Me and colleagues made a podcast to promote the new Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award – open to any type of organisation based anywhere in the world but with the end benefit of helping people in sub-Saharan Africa deal with poverty and social injustice.
  • Another catch-up with my M-ITI colleagues doing their research on social tech eco-systems in sub-Saharan Africa. It will be strange when this ends as it has been such a part of my professional life for several months.
  • A catch-up with my colleagues from our Sport for Change team about the possibility of doing a tech for good programme. A divide between some thinking it exciting and innovative whilst others not persuaded there is a gap in provision that needs funding.
  • A meeting on Mon evening of people and agencies interested in tech for good at Newspeak House. We discussed differences between this and other groups but more importantly the possible shape for a ‘Summer of Tech for Good’.

Health and efficiency / Personal development / Art & culture

In a normal week I would never bundle these categories together in the way I am doing now. They are more important than that. But between work and Berlin, it was not a normal week and many usually important things became a bit peripheral.

  • Exercise-wise, a poor week with just one trip to the gym on Mon. 20 mins on the treadmill and main body exercises.
  • Duolingo really went to pot particularly in Germany where I decided being immersed in the country and language would be my answer to speaking the language better. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple. However I did start watching some videos on German in YouTube.
  • And taking the wonderful YouTube’s potential further, I also watched some videos on Git and GitHub plus a brilliant series of videos on JavaScript with more details¬†here.
  • Tues evening me and Dave went to see a jazz show, ‘This Joint is Jumpin’. Jazz is not normally my thing though I think I understand it more as I get older. A fun show about Fats Waller. The venue was a great little studio setting making it feel like being in a club. Good entertainment and recommended.

Books and reading

‘Ashes of London’ by Andrew Taylor

Lots of people have been raving about this book which I picked up in a charity shop for ¬£2.99. I had not realised how many good books this author has written. It’s a historical crime / detective novel. And reminds me enormously of similar books by CJ Sansom (with his main character Richard Shardlake) and SJ Parris / Stephanie Merritt. This is a good book though I prefer Sansom’s. However I would recommend reading ‘Ashes’. It’s a clever and complex (but not too complicated) story involving two main characters who briefly inter-act at the end. The usual silly trend of these type of books with very powerful and famous people making guest appearances but I suppose that adds to their popular appeal.

‘Bliss’ by Peter Carey

Found this in a charity shop again and the blurb sounded really intriguing – a man who hasn’t died but thinks he has and that he is in Hell. My poor nan got very ill before she died many decades ago. I was young but I can remember her saying that she had died and we were all in Hell. Carey’s book is even more strange than I thought. A sort of morality tale about what happens once someone survives something life-changing. But it’s almost a folk tale as well with weird and wonderful characters having new age adventures like giving up materialism, chasing their dreams, free love, and facing up to death. Strange but good.

Dr Who audio adventures

‘The Fourth Wall’ (sixth Doctor Colin Baker and companion Flip)

One of those OK but not brilliant Big Finish stories. The Doc has a new companion but she ‘dies’ pretty early into the story. It’s a clever but not terribly original plot. A TV space opera crosses over into reality. Some fun bits where the stereotypes of space stories are played for laughs. This includes the hero never getting hit by a laser and a heroine who is always screaming whilst needing to be rescued. Decent enough but not a classic and I think there could have been a better, more serious adventure here.

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