Blast from the Past: LARP-Time: Let’s go crush some Ork-skulls!

Editors Note: This is the first of our “Blast from the Past” series where we feature top Gumboot posts of years past. This post – on the art of “larping” is the second most popular of all articles (placing behind only your “Douchebag Digital Fill”). Our kudos to the amazing writing skills of Fake Pete – our German correspondent and resident Larping expert. This story was first posted March 26, 2010.

What do you do, when you really want to get away from it all? When you want to clear your head? Some people go running. Some people do narcotics (not recommended or endorsed by the Gumboot-Team and John Horn’s parents). Well, dear gumbooteers – I go LARPing. LARP is the acronym for “Live Adventure Role Playing”. And yes, this probably gives me away as a real nerd now.

All of you probably know “Dungeons & Dragons” or have heard of it or other pen & paper roleplaying games. You sit around a table with a few players while one of the guys figures as the Game Master (GM). It’s like an interactive story, your classical gaming: The players steer the PCs (player characters) whereas the GM wields control over the entire scenario he prepared and launches the NPCs (non player characters) whose roles he also plays. So the GM will enact the ork-horde attacking the PCs, outlining their actions and so on, as well as portraying the old sorceress they might meet in a market. Whenever an action is unclear (e.g. one of the heroes jumps over an abyss or shoots someone with a longbow) checks are made by rolling dice. Gaming is a cool hobby in itself, but still, you’re in jeans and t-shirts and you’re in someone’s living room. LARPing takes it to the next level.

Ever carried a wounded man through a forest, while you wore chainmail-armour? Ever tried to shoot an opponent with a longbow at more than thirty paces at dusk? Ever sneaked into a troll-camp in order to rescue your friend they’d captured? LARP is pure excitement. In Germany there are about 100.000 active players (official estimate) and there are even entire medieval castles that you can rent for events. And “the hobby” is becoming more and more popular. I’ve done this for three years now and it really beats anything else I’ve done in terms of organized recreational activities. If you meet the right people with a knack for interesting characters and stories and a bit of an inclination towards acting or improvisational theatre, it’s the ultimate thrill. Trent Reznor would probably call it “the perfect drug”.

And it really creates a special kind of bond within the community of the people you play with. I remember almost

Orks at the Drachenfest with an unlucky victim (this pic) and an epic battle at Conquest of Mythodea (above), the two most massive German annual LARP-events.

dying after a battle under the hands of a friend of mine who plays a healer. Well, I didn’t know we were such actors. I did the whole “It’s cold, so cold – do you see that light?”-routine and Christian actually started crying: “Angus!!! (name of the Celtic character I played at the time) Don’t walk into the light!” while he tended to my wounds (those Drow-suckers had got me in the back and smashed my legs…) It may sound cheesy, but when you lie on your back in a cold German forest with the bodies of slain enemies around you and you can still hear the sound of the battle carried on a few hundred meters away – well it can get very real and very moving.

I’ve also “rescued” close friends in situations like that – by the skin of our teeth. Needless to say – the weapons aren’t real, they are foam-props with a latex coating (they only look real at a distance), and you count down according to a hit-point system. Each normal human being has three hit-points, and, well you guessed it, wearing armour gives you more hit points (but it’s a bastard to pull off, in summer). So there’s also the outdoor-sports element.

Ah, and one more thing about the mechanisms of the game: There is a also a GM, yet in LARP it’s mostly several people, who act more or less as directors of the event they organized. Because there are always NPCs (like extras in a movie) who take on various roles, and those need to be coordinated. At an average event, you get around 20 PCs and sometimes up to 30 NPCs – so we’re really talking logistics here.

But the most interesting aspect is the psychological insight. I never thought I’d ever go berserk if someone attacked my sister (she’s also heavily into larping) or that I’d ever like to play the role of a religious fanatic (the cleric I now play is something like a Norse Taliban XD). Basically – you get to do stuff you’d never do otherwise. One time I even played the big villain-character as an NPC in 2008 – man, it can be so much fun to be evil… If you want an entirely new take on your community, go and do a LARP-event together.

Here’s a British documentary on LARP – it explains everything in a nut-shell (and then some!):

And here’s a slide-show of one of the last conventions that I organized with some friends – “Askland 6 – The Ore of the Gods”. Enjoy!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to… Commuting in Germany??!?!?

Hey there, you gumbooteering crowd. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the mad-cap travels of Arthur Dent, the Englishman who survived the demolition (read: blowing-up) of his home-planet, i.e. the Earth because it needed to give way to a new hyperspace express-bypass route. Anyways, in Douglas Adams’ successful run of novels (the only trilogy ever to comprise at least five novels, and as some claim, six) Dent, formerly working in local radio, is rescued and turned into a galactic hitchhiker. He encounters many strange entities, aliens and civilizations. What’s the point of this you say? Well – I’ve recently been re-reading the tome of Adams’ works – while commuting to work by train. And I thought – well, it’s a bit special after all. What if a prairie dog, a Klingon or say, a Canadian needed to commute in Germany? Would it work out? Wouldn’t it be quite similar for them, to hitching a ride on a flying saucer? How would I put my suggestions in a nutshell – given the fact that even I myself, German by nature, feel a bit alien in our public transport system?
After all, there’s some specialties to observe. Watch and learn, kids. This is how to survive German public transport. Trains especially.

1st Rule: Never expect trains to be on time. This never happens. Quite contrary to the perception that people have of

The S1, the regional train I commute to work with in Duesseldorf Main Station. This is what it looks like when doing overtime.

Germany, things don’t really work. Not to the extent they used to. During my childhood a quarter of a century ago, time tables were exact, Russians (well, Soviets / Commies / Reds) were evil, men were more adventurous, women more beautiful, there were only three Star Wars-movies and trains were on time. The German railway-system used to be a company run by the state. And it’s funny how most people who travel by train every day get nostalgic about those times… Sad but true.

2nd Rule: You wanna talk to someone – talk first. Us Germans, we’re rather contained characters. Not as outgoing as Mediterraneans, Germans are rather reserved. And thus, if you want to start a conversation in the context of travelling with people by train in Germany, a bit of sensitivity is in order. Especially amongst commuters, angry grunts are a likely response if you’re a chatterbox. Choose your counterpart for conversation wisely and don’t rush too headlong into talking with strangers. Allow people to be able to warm-up.

3rd Rule: Do complain (also works as a cold-start for chatting people up). EVERYONE complains about the German railway-system. So why not join in the chant? And you’ll notice that the following quote from Father Ted does ring quite true, sometimes: “To speak in German is to speak in rage.” Only hardened commuters like me tend to have become fatalistic and calm enough (sort of old Ben Kenobi-calm) not to be bothered any more. We’ve seen it all. We’ve been through all scenarios. (Hell, I was even once on a train that went through an exploding petrochemical plant WHILE it exploded – no bloody joke!) We’ve heard every reason German railways can give you for terminating a connection in the middle of nowhere whilst you’re desperately trying to be on time. But most people… well not everyone’s a die-hard commuter and during the past recession (well, whether it’s really past may be subject to debate…) a lot of people only recently switched from their cars to trains. And those proficient enough in English will be glad to be able to complain together with you in two languages.

What is this alien place? Arthur Dent (middle) and Ford Prefect from Betelgeuze meet Marvin the paranoid android. Nevermind Arthur's puzzled look - it's his first ride in a flying saucer. What would your first ride on a German regional train be like?

4th Rule: The dance. Well, more like the choreography of sitting. You need to observe this one STRICTLY. First of all, you never sit with someone, if there’s the usual four-seater arrangement. You always take an empty four seater first. If there aren’t any empty four-seaters available any more, you sit diagonally across from people. Only after that are you entering the stage when you may actually across from someone or next to them. So – the train would have to be rather crowded for this scenario to happen. If you don’t do this exactly according to the book, you will get funny looks.

 

5th Rule: Make sure you’ve got a ticket. And the correct one. No-one will understand if you don’t. And protesting in a prestigious foreign language like English will only make people think you’re being a smart-ass. Not having a correct or valid ticket might be mistaken as an attempt to overthrow the public order. And you don’t want to leave that impression.

6th Rule: Which leads us to Rule No. 6. Never buy tickets from one of those machines. The automats and terminals selling them even confuse the engineers who designed them. Their only purpose is an elaborate scam to drive everyone stark, utterly, raving mad. No-one understands the menues, no-one in their right mind knows when the money goes into the slot. Don’t buy tickets from the machines. It’ll only make you unhappy.

7th Rule: Never obstruct doors. Even if you’re holding them open for people to still jump aboard the train. You’ll make EVERYONE wish terrible things for you and your family. It’ll be really bad for your karma. And it’ll make the engine-driver of the train put on his most doom-laden voice, and it’ll come over the crackly PA: “BITTE DIE TUEREN FREIGEBEN!” Now that is something chilly. You just don’t wanna hear that. Ever. So spare yourself the embarrassment and don’t obstruct doors. Even if it may mean leaving friends or loved ones behind on the platform of a German train station in the middle of nowhere. The German railways Displaced Persons-department will take good care of them.

8th Rule: Don’t expect trains to wait for you. That is also because they are afraid you might obstruct the doors. Anyways, if you see a train sitting in the station and you know you’re late or just on time – don’t start running towards it. Because THAT will be a clear signal to the driver to shut all the doors, lock them and pull out of the station while you run panting along shouting obscenities he will never hear. It’s one of the few things that still brings some fun into being an engine-driver in Germany (what with measly pay and bad-ass working-schedules and so on, not to mention the complaining passengers). Let ‘em have it. But not at your expense. Think of Sting: A gentleman will walk but never run.

9th Rule: Don’t expect to be able to get any sleep on a German train. People will do anything – and they will be loud.

Well, it's not that arduous to travel as a commuter by train in Germany. But the S1 that I travel on and which connects Solingen and Dortmund via Duesseldorf has also been called "S-India" because it's never on time and ALWAYS overcrowded...

The Turkish great-family consisting of three generations at least will entertain the entire compartment in their native tongue, teenagers will listen to hideous German “ghetto-rap” on their boomboxes, EVERYONE will talk on their cell-phones, and the people who don’t will sigh as audible as they can and roll their eyes. Spack off, discipline and consideration for fellow human beings. Public space in Germany is loud. And trains are no exception. What about the 2nd rule, you say? Well, it was never broken. People create white noise. They don’t necessarily need to talk to one another in order to be able to do so.

10th Rule: If you ask questions like “Which train is this?” or “Is this train bound for Cologne?” don’t expect people to do more than either nod or shake their heads. See rule no. 2. The whole shebang may change if you manage to swing the morose commuters around by actually complaining: “Dammit! They told me this was the train to Hamburg! Now I’m on the train to Nuremberg? That’s just not fair! Those up to no good-bastards from German Railways…” Everyone will cheer for you. Believe me.

Amplifier – become a part of the Space Rock-Octopus

Dearest Gumbooteers! It’s been a while – but thanks to a few simple tricks involving time travel, weapons of mass destruction, a wide range of none-canonical haiku-literature, black magical incantations and poutine (yes, poutine!) I am back in the ring. And since John and Kurt kinda promoted me to European correspondent, I am glad to give you and the world… Amplifier! (as in: Space Rock-Band from Manchester, UK). So, buckle your seatbelts, prepare for warp-speed and don some hearing protection – because you ain’t ever heard the likes of this before. This is what happens, when Space Pirates get their hands on guitars…

I still remember being introduced to Amplifier by my friend Mart down in Karlsruhe near the French border last year. It was around the same time of the year, and it was… mind-changing. You know, I’m kinda your average German indie-music nerd, so… I’m past 30 now and that means I’m also kinda disillusioned with music. It’s just not as fresh as it used to be, just as Robert Smith put it in that old Cure-song: “Everybody’s jumping everybody else’s train…”

Amplifier were different. Right from minute one. It may sound cheesy, but they gave back to me my firm belief in rock music and its power to save the world. You know, when you get that feeling you used to have as a teenager about music? It completely draws you in, becomes a pathway to a new dimension… Nah, needless to say, we were thrashing Mart’s living room furniture to this strange sound from Manchester – the loudest three-piece in the world, as the lads like to describe themselves. And furthermore, needless to say, I invested into the available Amplifier-back catalogue as fast as I could, which as of today comprises three albums and one EP.

Anyways – just to get some data straight. Amplifier are Sel Balamir (guitar, vox), Neil Mahony (bass) and Matt Brobin

Amplifier: Neil Mahony, Sel Balamir, Matt Brobin - the loudest threepiece in the world, as it could only come into existence in Manchester. Nuff said.

(drums). They are from Manchester, and I guess it shows. This city is home to the likes of Joy Division, the Stone Roses, or surrealist and SF-writer Jeff Noon – somehow, this city seems to occupy a special spot in the space-time continuum when it comes to creativity and poetic utterances backed by loud, distorted guitars. As for Amp – think Tool meets Pink Floyd meets some Sabbath meets Monster Magnet – a psychedelic, space rockin’ power machine. Formed in 1998, Amplifier debuted in 2004 with their self-entitled first album.

Incidentally, Mart and I also found out that these guys REALLY rock because… well, there’s a lot of bands out there who will say a lot about being fan-related and wanting to reach out to the people who dig their music – only, most of the time, it’s just talking the talk, not walking the walk. Buzz had been around for a while on the web, when I hit the Amp-bandwagon, that there would be a new double album tentatively and curiously called “The Octopus”.

It was a bit mysterious, but with the promise of such great, great space rock in the back of my mind I enlisted with their mailing list about being able to pre-order a limited edition of The Octopus. And that’s when I started to learn about the nature of this musical venture – also, because both Mart and I got personal e-mail from singer Sel Balamir. Kudos for that, Sel! That just doesn’t happen that often to fanboy-geeks like us! And what we found out, and why I present Amplifier now here on the Gumboot, is that these three guys are REAL, community minded Space Pirates!

As much as we're all part of the Daily Gumboot, we're also all part of the Octopus.

And The Octopus is more than just the third album by yet another band. It took Amplifier three years to make and they’ve financed it themselves. No record company (no interference), and thus pure, unadulterated progressive, psychedelic space rock with some kraut-bits thrown in. Huge in scale and panoramic in scope.

16 songs, more than two hours of music – I mean hey, when did that last happen? And people releasing it themselves… Songwriter and spokesman Sel is under no illusions: “A record company would have insisted we release it as two separate albums. We talked about doing that ourselves – because we’d probably make twice as much money – but to us the aesthetic way it’s received is more important. Putting it out like this is a statement.”

There was no plan, but slowly, slowly, The Octopus started to stretch its arms into the lives of Sel, Neil, Matt and the fans. Eventually it became not just an album, but also a book written by Sel (a special edition, limited to 500 copies and dedicated by hand by the band, was available as a 70-page CD book detailing The Octopus). The book is as much a trip as the album and explains the The Octopus as a metaphor for the human condition, for society, for infinity and entropy in the Universe, for everything and nothing. A trip to the other side of the singularity that resides at the bottom of your coffee cup on a bleak Thursday morning – at least!

Having made the decision to sell and promote The Octopus off their website, so far, Amplifier were rewarded. The Octopus is indeed becoming the network of people the band dreamed it would be (each person who bought one of the limited copies is listed) – also because of their intellectual understanding of music based on the reception theory mostly applied to literature. I.e. a text does only exist in the reader’s mind when it is read. Well, I guess the same is true of music, it is only real when perceived, and it only works monodirectional in time, so it’s bound in a double way to the listener and the time of his life he or she is willing to invest. An interesting view for a rock band to express and probably why Amplifier have such respect for the people who listen to their stuff. Thus they also have a whole bunch of viral ideas up theirs sleeves involving fanbase activity that will hopefully make The Octopus embrace the entire world with its arms – and push the envelope of what an album can be. The fan-base is eager and diverse. I feel in good company. Geographically, it stretches from Japan to South America and includes illustrious people such Mart and me who work in advertising and communications, yet also one of the blokes who writes incidental music for TV’s Doctor Who and a bunch of NASA technicians. These guys claim to listen regularly to the first album while assembling the payloads to be sent to the international space station.

Sel sums the usual fan reaction up: “Fans come up to us and say, ‘I don’t understand how you’re not massive!’. To which I always say, ‘I don’t understand it, either!’.” That may be about to change. So – I say thumbs up for these ultra-cool Space Pirates from old England’s grim North.

Amplifier on the web (needless to say, you can listen to all their stuff online – and you can also buy it):

http://www.amplifiertheband.com/index.html

http://www.theoctopus.info/

And here – the video for “The Wave” from The Octopus:

Holiday season in Germany: Gather your clan!

Hey there folks, here we go again. The venerable Mr John Horn asked me to write an account of what the festive season in Germany feels like. So… the Holiday season in Germany… Well right now, it’s in a bit of a weird state. Since people are really grinding to a halt (hell, even I am not working – okay just a little freelance stuff), and those who usually wouldn’t are forced to do so by the unusual onslaught of winter (the third heavy one in a row, by the way). Things are definitely slowing down.

What is also slowing down is the usual shopping marathon I still remember from years back. But that is not necessarily

Tired of Reindeers, Santas, crazy little Elves or Christmas Trees? Try Wolf-Cookies - they're good! Cookies courtesy of Headhunter Heiko.

a bad thing. And it may be different for other people. But most people I know work either freelance, or in start-ups or they have temporary contracts. So… no diamond-necklaces as Christmas-gifts. The resulting Feedback-loop: People remember what Christmas was about before turbo-capitalism. Way back, when you either really celebrated the Advent of Christ or, even before that, gathered the Clan around you for winter-solstice.

Last weekend's early Christmas-walk out in the woods near Hagen: Runen, Real Pete, Real Pete's wife Silke (from left to right, mind you...). Photo courtesy of Headhunter Heiko.

Which is what we did, last weekend. As some of you may remember, I am part of a super-awesome live-roleplay group, and since one of our buddies celebrates his birthday on December 14th, that is always a welcome excuse to celebrate Christmas one week early. Before you gotta go and appease the whole family by your presence. You know, just hang out, bring on great food, sharing stories and affection for one another over the occasional bottle of beer or mead. And the best thing: Our friend Runen lives so far out in the woods that usually, once you’re at the party, you don’t get away again at this time of the year. So: Even the designated driver may celebrate.

And this is what I wish you all: That you can ban the thoughts about “who’s got the biggest Christmas tree in his living room” or “who gets the most expensive gift” and replace them with the heart-warming knowledge that you are together with your clan, with the people you love and that everyone’s as safe and happy as they can be. An early Merry Christmas to y’all, my dear fellow Gumbooteers!

And don’t start no fights:

Festive Season in Germany: Why Terror-Threats aren’t so bad after all…

Hey there, all my fellow Gumbooteers! It’s been a while since the last news from Germany here on the Gumboot (at least from me), and since the last piece was really emotional and deeply political, well today for a lighter topic. You may or may not have heard about it, but Thomas de Mazière, our Minister of Interior Affairs and hence highest Chieftain of all German police, has announced it: Islamist Terrorists like Al Quaida are running for barbecue season on German Christmas Markets, Airports, Train Stations and what nots. The DefCon on terrorism has been raised, all German police are on hair trigger alert. Well, there are those who believe the German government just wants to distract the populace from all our major political problems. There are also those, who believe that there is indeed a certain danger that terrorists might blow up a mall or a bank, or that they might indiscriminately kill as many civilians as possible in some public area, modelled after the suicide runs on that hotel in Mumbay and so on.Well, all voices, those critical and those cautioning have their arguments and ideas. And today, I don’t want to mope about anything (surprise, surprise!). Hell, why not just hang in there for one hell of a ride??? Here’s my personal Top Ten why this terror-threat thing isn’t so bad after all. And if anyone finds any irony or some such in this text, he or she might as well keep it. Enjoy! ^ ^

1. All police holidays cancelled because of the current situation: Now, that today REALLY made my day!  Struggling tax-payers like me, rejoice! Finally, the police, feds and locals, won’t just be sitting on their bums munching donuts. They’ll now go out there and play cops and robbers terrorists like they ought to. No more tax payer’s money squandered – they’ll simply get to work for their dough. That I should live to see this…
2. The inverse lottery effect finally working in our favour: We’ve all heard about it – the inverse lottery effect! Meaning: Really winning all those millions in the state lottery is virtually impossible – the chances are astronomically slim. But then again, and you keep on stumbling across this comparison – the chances are equally slim to get killed in a terrorist attack, i.e. it’s almost as unlikely as winning the frickin’ lottery. Heck, getting struck dead by a meteor is more likely! Take THAT, you terrorist twats. You are not even unlikely people, you are downright improbable. The inverse lottery effect makes Germans feel safer. How many people do you know who become millionaires over night? Exactly.
3. Fear knits closer communities: It’s like grandma’s stories about the nights in the bomb shelters during WW2,

Tough break, buddy: Your threats aren't even unlikely, they're improbable. Do statistics 101, Friend Terrorist!

when the Allies bombed the living daylights out of Germany. It sounds weird, but sometimes you feel a certain nostalgia there. Like: People just had to be close, because they were faced with the bare essentials of survival (well, the Third Reich as the backdrop certainly wasn’t so nice). So… Maybe this period of terror-angst will cause the alienated average German to value his community or clan in a higher fashion. Remember that diamonds are formed under pressure! The same goes for really GREAT communities. Imagine yourself commuting on a train and this guy with the dark beard takes the bomb from his rucksack – wouldn’t you feel a strong bond with all the other Joe and Jane Does present around you? Well, maybe just for a second, but then that depends on how close to the suicide bomber you were sitting…
4. You get to see all this cool riot gear and armoured vehicles: Whoa, dude! I didn’t even know our police had all this stuff. Incredible! Light tanks and cops in full riot gear armed with submachine guns in every train station. Makes every train-ride a bit like being in a Stallone-movie.
5. At least now we see that what the German army does in Afghanistan matters: At least to the Taliban and

Whoa, dude! I didn't even know our police had all this cool anti-riot stuff!

the rest of the filthy, evil, twisted terrorists. Why else would they threaten us? Our German soldiers have suffered from allied indignation for so long since 2002! “They’re just fooling around, building schools and giving candy to those Afghan brats”, the Brits were complaining. “You never see them fighting, they just sit in the North on their Teutonian behinds”, the US generals were criticizing. Well well… If we’re important enough to be threatened, maybe we did get those Taliban buggers after all where it hurt. Go, Germany go! For a hundred years more of terror threats!
6. Better security procedures for the German national postal service – finally! What with all those bombs being sent hither and thither. About time somebody upped the ante here. So now, we can all be sure that no-one will blow up our Christmas cards. What a relief… The only trouble may just be, that those fifty bucks Aunt Martha usually sent for Christmas may disappear mysteriously from now on. But I can live with that. The people who from now on have to read ALL our letters get hungry in the process, and they must order pizza I guess.
7. Immigrants from Islamic countries can now show their loyalty: Yup, a great chance to right all the

Let's face it: Most of all, this is a real coup for Osama's PR-department.

wrongs in the great debate about integration. Muslim immigrants can now show their true colours by speaking out against terror and supporting the police who freeze their XXXXX off out in the cold with their MPs and riot gear with baklava and dark, hot chai and other tea specialties. Of course, the officers will have to check the stuff for poison first since it was given to them by an ethnic group composed entirely of terror-suspects – but it’s the noble gesture that counts!
8. Your daily thrills: Oh, what an adrenaline kick to spot abandoned luggage in a subway station. Now’s the time for dangerseekers and adrenaline junkies. And it comes so cheap compared to climbing Mount Everest or hiking on your own in the Sahara. A subway-ride in Munich during rush hour for instance will now do the trick.
9. And we’re down to important questions of national survival: Alarmism? Comfortism, I say! Finally, all the stuff that bored us on the news is swept away for good! Crisis in national funding, crisis in the banking sector, Euro-crisis, demographic crisis, Greece, the nuclear waste-transports in the north – just forget it. Terror threats on the news are less complicated, way more interesting, and you get to see all this cool riot gear (cf. 4).
10. And the best thing – they might actually catch some terrorists! Don’t forget – maybe there are some bad guys who are planning to wreak havoc and unleash hell on Earth now, during the time before Christmas, that is meant to belong to your families and loved ones. Make the festive season more festive, catch a few terrorists, dear German police. We might as well wrap them up – then our government would have a nice gift for the CIA.

S21 – a challenge to the democratic community?

S21 – what’s that you say? Some new, hip vitamin-drink? Another rap-outfit, like the infamous 50 Cent? No, it isn’t. The abbreviation stands for “Stuttgart 21”, relating to the provincial capital of Baden-Wuerttemberg in Germany’s south. Swabia, the home of Mercedes-Benz and German savings-mentality at its best.

It also designates the plans for restructuring Stuttgart’s main station, in order to have THE underground train-station of the 21st century installed there.

Yet now, the term has also become synonymous with the felt erosion of democracy in Germany. How come? To understand this, you must know two things.

a) The plans are over twenty years old, and it’s clear that already now, this whole megalomaniac project will cost 10-12 billions of Euros more than it would’ve cost anyway. And the majority of the people affected by it don’t want it.

b) The Thursday before yesterday, peaceful protesters were assaulted by a few hundred heavily armed special police in full riot gear. About 130 people were seriously injured, amongst them not only students, but also elderly citizen, pupils, children. No punks, no professional left-wing mischiev-makers. It was “the people” that were attacked. Ridden down by police horses. A senior-citizen, a retired engineer, lost his eye sight due to police violence (waterguns opening fire at point blank range, his doctors doubt whether he’ll ever see again and he now sued the Minister of the Interior of Baden Wuerttemberg, Heribert Rech). The protesters were blocking an area in the “Schlosspark” in order to protect 300 up to 200 year-old trees from being cut down during the start of this completely over the top main station project. Correspondents likened the scenes to those from Civil Wars. And serious German journalists are not known to be prone to exaggeration.

Stefan Mappus, prime minister of province Baden-Wuerttemberg, blames the protesters: They had thrown the first stone, he now claims. Until now, there is

Dieter Wagner, retired engineer, who was blinded by a police water gun while peacefully protesting. He now brings up charges against the Minister of the Interior of province Baden-Wuerttemberg.

no evidence that it happened this way. All evidence lays blame on the police. If a pupil throws an empty PET-bottle of water at you, do you spray him with a full dose of tear-gas from less than arm’s length distance? Or beat him up with your club?

The truth is: The people’s protest comes late in this case, yes, from a legal viewpoint probably too late since all the contracts are signed. But part of the truth is also: The people demand more democracy. Because by now it is evident, that “backhanders and salamanders” (again thank you, Jaz Coleman, for providing the apt formula) made their deals in the cabinet-backrooms – and the participation of the interested general public was quite a joke. Because people wouldn’t have voted for Mappus’s party in the first place, had they known the ecologic results of the process of S21 – and that for a fact, it would turn the green heart of their city into a giant termite mound-like construction site for the better part of ten years. Demolishing the old main station from the German Imperial times and cutting down all those trees of course won anyone interested in historical sites over for the protest, apart from the fact that the city’s green lung will be killed. Stuttgart is located in a valley. The city needs that park and those trees in order to survive hotter summers.

Not so funny any more: Stefan Mappus (CDU), prime minister of province Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Anyways – back to Mappus. The provincial prime minister of course is spitting bile, claiming the protesters are people “spoiled by decades of wealth and acting selfishly, since this project will promote thousands of future-jobs”. I say: He’s wrong. It will create yet another investment-ruin and wreak ecological havoc, instigated by the illusion of eternal growth that, I guess we all can agree upon, is a hoax from the early post WWII-decades that everybody could see nullified in the breakdown of the global economy in 2008.

Furthermore, if you ask me, from all I’ve not read about “Stuttgart 21”, the way that the participatory process was constructed, you can’t say it’s been democratically legitimated. Not if the people were basically lied to, and vital information was being withheld, regarding both the costs and the consequences. The whole set-up was so bureaucratic and secretive, the people weren’t MEANT to get it. Now that this has transpired to a good many people, they ask questions – and protest. The people want participation. “If this is democracy, then why don’t I get a say?” That’s the issue it all boils down to. After monarchy, a short disastrous first republic, two dictatorships (the second of course being the GDR or “DDR” as it were), today’s Germans have been spoon-fed democracy for decades. We’re no longer the peasants and opportunists that made up most of the German populace in the years after WW II. We don’t want to get into fights with the police (especially not the Schwabian oldtimers in the Schloss Park). What Germany

If this isn't over the top, then I don't know: Just imagine how you'd have to butcher the city-scape of Vancouver or Toronto in order to realize such a project...

now wants is the feeling: My vote counts. My voice is heard. It’s not all about profits. It’s about having a country worth living in, where we find consensus and decide together. The only people not getting that at the moment seem to be our political leaders. They shun referendums where they can. And in the Stuttgart-case, they cling to the idea, that the managers going from Ulm to Stuttgart would have a five minute shorter bullet-train ride from 2020 onwards, while close range traffic used by Mr Man in the Street is rotting on the tracks. Well done for a state that still considers itself a high tech-nation. And never even mind the billions of Euros missing in education and other infrastructure that are gonna disappear in the Black Hole that is S21.

So – is all of this a test for democracy in Germany? In a way it is. Because now is the time to allow for more

Unforgotten: Former chancellor Willy Brandt's (German labour party) campaign from the sixties - "Let's dare more democracy!". These days, he's surely turning in his grave.

participation. The people want democracy. They are well informed, and they want a balance between future job chances and ecological risks caused thereby.

Results: Perhaps the next provincial president will already be Cem Oezdemir of the Greens. The Green party currently routs everyone else in the polls – also on a federal level, so the coalition of conservatives and liberals is really, really under pressure. They still don’t want a referendum, but basically the provincial elections in March are meant to decide the future of S21, they say. Either way, if you take my 2cents, both Mappus and this crazy Swabian Death Star-equivalent are history. Still there are those amongst the conservatives who don’t want to cancel the show – and everyone knows it’s because they promised their buddies too much money.

The current federal government now has a reputation for maybe being the corruptest bunch to rule our republic since its founding in 1949. Basically, the lobbyists call the shots in Berlin. The government’s desperate holding on to nuclear energy over renewable power sources like wind and solar-power is one piece of evidence, and I could name a lot more. Also, they’re cutting down on expenses for welfare and education while trying to get leverage on being able to actually use THE MILITARY inside Germany. I remember what my dad said, when he heard that: “Boy, they really must be afraid of us in Berlin…”

Is it time for civil disobedience in Germany? If the current federal government (and the provincial government in Baden-Wuerttemberg also consists of Christian conservatives and neo-liberals) continues to use force against demands for more democracy coming from the middle of our society, this will be an issue to be discussed in months to come.

If German politicians (and especially the conservatives) don't change their attitude, we'll have to get used to news like this more and more.

In Stuttgart, demonstrations go on. The pressure has reached Berlin and the federal government, and now Mappus’s administration has stopped demolition and tree cutting. For now. But the people are watchful. Don’t they dare start again. Because someday, somewhere, someone might actually throw the first stone. And then God help us all.

You never work alone

Hello dear Gumbooteers, and welcome to another odd feature of Germany’s new job world: co-working spaces. This most recent development targets freelancers and self-employed people and thus mainly affects the “working poor” of the communications business. I guess it’s probably been around for a while in the US of A, but in Germany, this is currently “the hot thing”.

Be it an old factory, an abandoned office-building or something completely different: In this new idea that first hit

Sitting alone in your office, feeling depressed? Come on lady, that's so OVER...

Berlin (what other spot in Germany would be crazy enough for such an idea?) people get together, form a sort of collective with a small company as an organisational frame and offer cheap office space to freelancers – mostly like themselves. An interesting new form of community – and probably a necessary one!

I know that very situation from my own experience, that, according to many claims by people who are involved with this new “scene”, lead to the invention of co-working spaces. You sit in your home-office and, as we say in Germany, “the ceiling starts to fall on your head”, i.e. you feel crushed by silence, loneliness, frustration, or you can’t get your act together and concentrate… You need not have been a freelancer in order to know this set-up. Most people studying for exams or working on papers for university will be familiar with this eerie sort of desperation.

So – co-working spaces. The means to get out, for little money. The idea used to be around for a while for small companies (office centres), but now this mode of working obviously also reached the freelance-sector and is thus also affordable for people who really don’t have a lot of bakshish at their disposal in order to rent an office.

The advantages are clear: You’ve got no fixed rent, you only pay for the time that you’re actually there. If you’re there more often, you can get a desk “fixed” for you, otherwise you’ll just have to look for a free table. Which is good, because if you know you’re gonna work on this project for a month flat, you go in and rent for the time. If you’re not sure about your workload and jobs and assignments are only coming in sporadically, you’re free to go in for a day, or for hours even (or so I gather). You can also use meeting rooms for representative purposes.

A co-working initiative in Mainz, Germany.

And of course, there are always people around, if you need advice, if you need (say, from my perspective as a writer / editor) a photographer, a web designer, a guy who does graphic design – it’s networking and synergies galore! Because: If the photographer needs a bloke who writes copy, you’re there…

Plus – you get all the equipment used by the collective: Furniture, web access, phones, fax, printers, copying machines etc. Infrastructure, basically.

Many co-working projects even have their own cantina or restaurant, where you can get good food at reasonable prices – often organic and sometimes even tuned to the preferences of growing minorities such as vegetarians or even people who live as vegans (i.e. people who even refrain from consuming milk or any other form of animal proteins).

Co-working definitely is trend in Germany. Freelancers, people in creative jobs and start-up entrepreneurs seem to go

But beware: Most co-working spaces have rules. Messy tables for instance are not considered "cool".

for it and thrive on it because often, as hinted at above, synergies occur when they’re brought together. As in that old Clash song: “Career opportunity (the one that never knocks)”. Except for the fact that in this case, it seems to quite often do just that. And you get a wide range of social life to go with it, which is interesting if you’re new in town as a freelance-guy: The individual communities organize workshops, meet and greets, exhibitions – what not. And that while all the time the thing stays unbinding and completely flexible with regard to your commitment in working hours. Wait a minute – they must have stolen this idea from the Gumboot-team…!

You can get an overview of all German Coworking-initiatives here:

http://www.coworking.de/

Community within the Eye of the Tiger

Sometimes, community hits you where you least expect it. Since over a year, I’m member of a cheap and cheerful gym, a quite well known franchise in Germany, McFit. And this is, where I recently had a sort of community-epiphany. That’s right: I hereby postulate my theory that gyms are great places to get different people together.

Right now, McFit is into dire-straits PR-wise because the tragedy at the Loveparade only weeks ago is partly blamed on them since their manager and owner was the driving force behind getting the Loveparade 2010 to Duisburg and organizing it. 21 people died in a mass-panic at the world-famous techno-event.

For some more info, use this link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,711099,00.html

So – I thought it’s about time to say something nice about them (you guys can send the fat cheque later or make my membership a freebie – oh no, now the entire web… well, John Horn’s parents know…)

Well, enough of that, we don’t want to get macabre here. I’m a happy member since March 2009, because all that office work will otherwise turn me into a total couch potatoe slob – and chasing Orks round the woods every odd two months or so just isn’t enough of a workout for a guy like me who’s well over six feet tall. And the last time I went for my workout, I had a kind of zen-moment. I looked around myself and I thought: My, look at this. Multi-cultural Germany in a nut-shell. Like our team in the World Cup. It was all there. With regards to ethnic backgrounds and all else. Your average German mustachio-Joe working in some factory for a company providing automotive parts, teens and hipsters, some black people who I also often see hanging out at the African store we have near the place I live, Italians (lots), German oldtimers trying to battle the shortcomings of old age like rheumatism with a modest workout – single moms, stressed out media-people (spot the pidgeon!), guys who are probably on welfare, even some manager-types and municipal officials I know. Social stratification working at full blast. People, peacefully united on treadmills and weight-lifting machines, united by the sweat on their brows and by the beat of “The Eye of the Tiger” blasting from the PA. People who otherwise hardly notice one another in the daily struggle outside. Who at best sometimes just try to ignore one another as good as they can.

Wrong, dude! Being a lone-wolf in the gym gets you nowhere.

And as I thought that, one of the coaches approached me. New face, in his early twenties. “Hey, how’re you doing?” Five minutes into the conversation we were shaking hands, having introduced ourselves. Let’s call our new guy Kemal (not his real name, since I couldn’t ask him would he appear in this article or not). We just talked a while, and I was completely absorbed by the correctness of my observation. Would I have struck up a conversation with a guy from Turkey who I don’t know, smack somewhere in the streets? No. Probably not. It just doesn’t happen that often, you probably know this about different kinds of immigrants in Canada. Chinatowns for instance. So Kemal and I talked, about this and that, about how badly he wanted to become a policeman here in Germany, but how obviously someone with the authorities made him fail the test, because he talked back at the wrong moment, yet also how happy he is that he didn’t get into the service because he studies engineering now, and he really loves his subject and the perspective of a technically creative job in the industry.

A Johnism came to my mind, while we were talking: Do talk to strangers (I don’t think John has complete copyright there, but for once I will credit him). It dawned on me that really, meeting in this social microcosm had pretty much enabled our conversation, because some of the bias and reluctance was removed. And I noticed that… well, as well as regarding commuting to work by train, it’s good to get beyond your own fence once in a while. Even if or especially if it is in your gym. When I left, I definitely had the feeling that I’d made a good new acquaintance, if not even a new friend. And I knew that from now on, I’d chat up people more often while working out.

What about you, Gumbooteers? Are you the grim, lonely sportsmen and –women? Or are you socially interactive?

Chuck Norris sez: "Get some talking done, you punks!"

Where did you last notice that community was sprouting up through the tarmac in an unexpected place?

Greece: Untying the Gordian knot again

Greece. The cradle of European civilisation. Of democracy. Of mathematics and philosophy. Of poetry (think Homer, not Simpson!). The backdrop to the epic poem “Hyperion” by German national poet Friedrich Hoelderlin (and that’s only the first that springs to my mind, right now, oh how the classics, how Ancient Greece echoes throughout German literature and thinking). Oh Greece! I’ve never been there so far, but the fact that Greece is bankrupt really affects me, as it does all Europeans. Certainly, if you’ve got an academic background in the humanities as I do, it works and reverberates on this second level. How can a people that gave the world so much, that put their stamp on the BLUEPRINT of modern civilization, go down the drain like this? What’s going wrong there? I am confused. Europe is confused (hell, our continent is NAMED after that girl Zeus abducted on his back in the guise of a steer, and certainly SHE was confused when it happened).

Riots in Athens - scenes from a Mad Max-movie come true.

Greece. Not Grease. The thing that set us apart from the Americans. History. It really makes me bitter. Because well, the Greek went down and it was only indirectly related to the global crisis that the banksters (and the greed of millions of “Mr. Man in the Streets” who always wanted more more more for their shares) caused.

Our family physician hails from Greece and some time ago, at a garden party, she told us a few things. How in Greece, it was normal that everyone got a thirteenth and fourteenth salary. How there were bonus payments not just around Christmas, but also due before Easter. How everyone had more holidays, how no-one really paid any taxes because corruption had crippled bureaucracy into in-effectiveness. You always made an insider deal, and when you should’ve payed, say, 500 Euros for tax (turnover, income, VAT in greater invest-questions, whatever), you arranged something with the official in charge of your case. You payed like, say, 200 under the table, and all was settled. And Greek financial authorities are said to be deliberately sluggish and ineffective. I’ve heard this kind of story from more then one person with a Greek background, and it was even covered on conservative German media like ARD (basically our CBC) and in Deutschlandfunk (Radio Germany) who are not known for sensationalism. So, to a degree, bribery killed the Greek cat.

No wonder their infrastructure is disintegrating, and students are rioting. In Greece, when you retired, your state

Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot in 333 BC: Maybe something to remember these days?

retirement plan GUARANTEED you that you would have more money than you earned during your last job. And as far as I know, retirement age was what, 60? Well, no wonder they could hardly invest into the younger generations. It simply couldn’t go on like that forever. Like this, the Greek just couldn’t compete on a global level. The sad thing is, though, that a lot of Germans now chide the Greek for trying to live the idea of a, well, let’s call it “laissez-faire welfare-utopia” that we forced ourselves to abandon around twenty years ago here in Germania (yes, I know Real Pete, it’s Germany, not Germania, I live here – let’s just do this for John, right?). A lot of people dream of the seventies, when socialist and welfare-positions were strong in Germany, and when it could be financed because there were enough jobs for everyone, even people with little or no real qualifications. Maybe we’re a little jealous that at least still for a while, some of the Greek populace had it easier than we did?

German couple and the news. She: "Crisis - the word is of Greek origin." He: "Just why am I not surprised...?"

I can understand that a lot of people are angry because we had to bail out Greece (well, we, read: the German government or the people who currently pose for being “a government” waited long enough for sure, which certainly made the Greek go mad, and rightly so). But what would the alternative have been? Of course, given the fact how prices have exploded and wages have dwindled in the last decade that doesn’t make the Euro the favourite child Germany had with its former currency, the Deutschmark. Most people hate the Euro now, only the filthily rich aren’t affected by the way you have to cut your costs. And even my Euro-enthusiasm has gone down the drain quite a bit.

But still, not bailing out Greece? As a consequence, the Euro would’ve failed. I’m not a financial expert, but I talked to some people working in banks, and most told me that nobody could have rebooted the system afterwards. Of course, we’ll get a bad inflation, but still, instant hyper-inflation? With riots as we could watch them in Greece all over Europe? It could have meant civil war-like conditions in a lot of European states, at least in the capitals and major cities. No, thanks. Bail ‘em out. It’s only money. And “Money is not our God”, as British alternative rock legends Killing Joke once sang (or at least it shouldn’t be). At least now I know where most of my taxes go. And Greece is just the scapegoat, the synonym. After all, the acronym PIGS tells you that in this context, we’re also talking Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Don’t blame the people, blame the system. Both in those states and on the global level. Our governments could have pushed the reset-button in 2008, changing the rules of financial transactions once and for all. They didn’t.

But to get back (to) my taxes: The next time I eat at a Greek restaurant or Snack Bar (Germany’s littered with them), I’ll

Next time. at one of those Greek places, I'll ask them to give me my "Gyros-Pommes" (Gyros with French fries) for free... Afterall, I paid my tax and saved Greece!

just tell the waiter, on leaving: “Thanks for my meal. As you know, I’ve already paid for it with my last income-tax declaration…” I hope they’ll be able to take that Joke. I like the Greek. They’re quite laid back and rock’n’roll (at least the ones I met so far). They’ll have to have a lot of guts to be able to face what’s coming their way. Maybe this is what we should consider more all over Europe. We’re not just in it for the money. We’re in this together now. Trying to beat the odds. Maybe we should look to Alexander the Great for a solution to this Gordian knot? His take in 333 BC was a subtle blend of violence and lateral thinking. Maybe we can do it without the violence part today. Untying the knot, yet keeping Europe together. I don’t know about you, but I’ll drink some Ouzo to that…

Laugh at your own peril – “Money is not our God” by Killing Joke:

Global warming: Changing the tide up North

Climate change – mostly, when talking about this topic, people associate Bangladesh and India, with millions of people threatened by droughts and coastal areas that are about to be submerged in roaring torrents of tsunami-like waters. Yet also in “stable” areas of the world, climate change happens. I recently spent three weeks on the German North Sea-island of Borkum, the western-most of the North Frisian-islands. And believe me, change is in the air…

You talk to a lot of people if you are in one spot for three weeks. And drawing from experiences from other holidays on Borkum, I can only conclude: Climate change is no future-scenario for the folks on the German North Sea-shore and the islands. It’s already happening. If you ask people about the last big flood (and please, don’t whistle Peter Gabriel’s “Here comes the flood”), they won’t tell you stories from 1962 anymore. The last real great flood is now always just a few years ago.

It will be an interesting question how communities on the coast and the islands deal with the coming changes, especially since the islands also serve as wave-breakers for Germany’s mainland coastline. If they go down, flood-incidents will increase in harshness during the 21st century. Cities like Hamburg and Bremen might be in danger. I’d like to give you, dear gumbooteers, and the interested general public a short overview about what is happening at the “Waterkant” (“Water’s edge”, as the coastal areas are called in North German dialect) and where the challenges for communities are.

Here are some of the consequences that will manifest massively during the next few decades…

…regarding the North Sea:

Definitely, more strong winds and storms are to be expected in general because the water keeps getting warmer. The upside may be that more intense work on wind-energy is possible in the North Sea and the estuary areas of Ems and Weser and the Deutsche Bucht (German Bay). But the downside is that floodings will increase and that the eco-system is in danger because animal- and plant-life is migrating to the North Sea from warmer parts of the world’s oceans – life forms which imbalance the delicate North Sea-eco system.

“Global climate change is happening and the results are already palpable in the North Sea“, Wulf Greve from Hamburg-based research maritime institute Senckenberg told German magazine Focus not long ago. During the last 40 years, the seawater-temperature in the Deutsche Bucht increased about 1.5 degrees centigrade. The result: Codfish have almost disappeared and the life-cycle of plankton has been severly influenced. The larvae of many kinds of fish starve, because plankton-lifecycles and their own “infancy-period” simply don’t match anymore.

On the other hand, species of jellyfish that used to be at home only in the English channel (which is warmer because of the Gulf Stream) are now also sighted in the North Sea, for example off the island of Helgoland. Basically, most researchers conclude, the North Sea is undergoing ecological changes whose impact no-one may yet accurately predict.

I guess I need not tell you as an aside, that a higher sea-level is to be expected in general and that stronger waves and

Fishermen and pirates of the North Sea watch the future with a sceptic gaze.

tidal movements already put more danger to shipping- and transport-routes. And of course, it’s an interesting question what will be fished in the North Sea in fifty years.

Changes in the Tidelands

If you wade through the tidelands off Borkum like I did in my holidays, you find Pacific Oysters en masse! And they again take up space of your usual North Sea-mussels – while seagulls and other birds feeding off shells have a much harder time breaking them, so their populace isn’t kept at bay as much.

Also, the edge of the tidelands is eroding because of stronger winds and tidal movements. Thus the entire area of our “Wadden Sea” national park is dwindling, surrounding saltflats are no longer fully functioning eco-systems and birds / small animals that are mobile will look for new niches. Furthermore, imbalances in micro-organism-populations lead to dropping oxygen levels in the North Sea tidelands and mud flats.

That of course reduces the attractivity of this National Park from a touristic vantage point, which again may have consequences for people, especially those living on our North Sea islands.

What will happen to the Islands?

The cliffs and dunes will certainly continue to erode, beaches won’t be as spacious as they used to be which might be great for an invading army but not for the island as such. Dunes are the best natural protection from flood desasters on the islands, increased land-loss on the tideland-side increases the danger of floods that might not just damages buildings and infrastructure.

Tidelands off Hamburg: Will they still be around in 2060?

Coastal protection-costs will rise and real estate-prices will fall. Salt water intrusion might even lead to shortages of potable water on German North Sea islands during the course of the 21st century and conflicts between tourism and environmental issues will probably get stronger.

Coast-lines on German mainland will be affected in several ways

The German coastal provinces Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), Hamburg und Schleswig-Holstein are feverishly pressing projects in order to secure levees and embankments since the turn of the millenia. Hundreds of millions of Euros of tax-payers money are invested (and for once, everyone will benefit from it). Stronger wave-activity will definitely damage embankments more than in the past, drainage systems for the hinterlands will get more elaborate and more complicated, which also calls for big invest.

This may all sound overly dramatic, but you have to bear in mind that especially in not very deep coastal maritime zones like in the North or the Baltic Sea, a rising sea-level may, according to some computer simulations, be above the global average. Why? Because thermic distention of surface water has a much larger effect here, in comparison to the Pacific or the Atlantic. Some researchers even opine that the rise may be thrice as high.

Agriculture may suffer from increased salting of soils, what will happen to tourism is as unclear as on the islands.

Windpower might be a chance for Germany's north, many units are being installed as you are reading this, a great off-shore windpark is being constructed off Borkum as well.

Tourism may in fact even increase due to more sun in Germany’s north (in fact, during the last five years you had more sun near the North Sea than in Italy or parts of Spain), but environmental changes might as well damage visitors’ interest, since a lot of people do visit the north because of the tidelands and the National Parks. All in all, a real challenge to the communities in Germany’s north.