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Location, location, location April 25, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

There is a bar in our neighbourhood which makes me shake my head and tsk my teeth whenever I walk past. It’s not in glorious Ruislip proper. Nor is it quite far south enough to technically be in the next area, the mere mention of whose name is enough to double property values and make everyone in London want to buy a flat there. No. It is in a sort of no-man’s-land in between. Not, unfortunately, a no-man’s-land that I can romanticise and say was former wall country – though one unremarkable-looking house does have a plaque to some victim or other of fascism on it. Which just goes to show that even resistance fighters can grow up in unremarkable-looking houses – where people were constantly making daring attempts at a dash to a perfect life in the West. Mind you, if any did do their dashing around here, it’s a slightly sobering and deromanticising image to think they dashed from Pankow (Ruislip) to Wedding (Northolt). This bit of no-man’s-land is, far more prosaically, probably so no-man’s-land-like because it’s along a fairly long sweep of mainish road with a good gap between U-Bahn stations and the U-Bahn is actually still just about above ground, or about to molishly bore its way into the (thankfully, suspecting and prepared) ground right there, which means the main road is divided in two by engineering which gets in the way of life nicely organically springing up. There’s no waving to your neighbour across the road, really, if a big train’s going to yellowly trundle past with Teutonic predictability every couple of minutes.

No-man’s-land, as befits the designation, is not pulsating with life. The pavements on this couple-of-hundred-metre stretch are even less pounded than elsewhere in Ruislip. A petrol-station is perhaps its highlight. A video-shop whose recruitment policy was only to employ ravishingly handsome working-class young men. A bric-a-brac shop (not-)selling the same ancient toaster. A market which I’m not sure deserves the prefix flea-. All in all, an uninspiring few blocks, fitting for a perfectly ordinary and OK residential area in a forgotten and forgettable part of Berlin.

One of the vacant commercial lets – there are lots of those, and those which do get let are usually for let again very quickly as, surprise, surprise, there turns out not to have been that much call for a shop selling coloured glass in a corner quiet even by Ruislip’s standards – was one fateful spring to be seen with a gaggle of youngsters inside clearly preparing it for a grand opening. Youngsters with a project! How enterprising. And they looked a certain type of Berlin youngster. Perfectly nice. Nerdy and cool. Can’t think if the girls might have shown a millimetre of midriff. The boys would have been too thin. Probably took a drug or two but preferred green tea. One of the girls might have been a lesbian once. Would ideally have liked their enterprise to open in Prenzlauer Berg, aber, na ja, the rents were probably too high down there and they were probably convinced – they were a good few years too early – that Pankow was the next big thing.

They beavered industriously away. It was going to be a bar, by the looks of things. The Russian and I feigned interest and enthusiasm. “Oh, that will be nice. There’ll be somewhere we can pop into in the local area if it’s run by green-tea types.” And then they installed shelves! And books! It was to be a ‘Leselokal’. A reading pub. A book bar. An imbibrary. They painted their sign. Quite a good font. Neutrally stylish. And stylishly neutral. The name was neutral too and alluded to the local area. Café No-Man’s-Land it was. (Not really.)

But it all seemed an age before it got off the ground. When was I going to be able to go and get pissed and educated? Sellotaped A-4 Word documents started appearing on the door. “Due to problems with the landlord…” “Due to problems with the electricity people…” and then the explanation, written in the carping language perfected by youngsters conflating grievance and privilege.

Hmm, this wasn’t looking good. Not only were there delays getting the place open, so the young entrepreneurs weren’t making any money, but was a literary saloon really what this area needed? And would the locals go for it? I had my doubts. But internally wished the youngsters luck.

Eventually it was open. The décor looked all right. There was the rash of early promotions. Which looked, as each customerless week passed, increasingly desperate. “Buy one (or even a half), get nine free.” “Beer, wine, hot drinks, snacks and as many books as you can get in your pannier.” They tried everything. “English night.” “Free sex.” But none of it worked. Soon it closed down and the young entrepreneurs tasted, for the first time, the bitter pill of failure.

The premises remained vacant for a while. But then, sure enough, the busy-bodies that we are, some other humans decided they’d give the location a shot. “Ooh, I wonder if they’ll come up with something unnecessary and inappropriate,” I pondered as I walked past, imagining myself as a ruthless business guru with rings on my fingers and gold on my teeth. These owners were older. Perhaps more local. A bit tougher. Less green tea.

Another pub! The youngsters hadn’t even bothered stripping the place. The bar was intact. The tables and chairs had probably been left behind too. All the new lot had to do was make it their own with the odd throw-cushion, perhaps a lick of paint and we’d see how Café Incarnation no. 2 did in comparison to its predecessor.

They didn’t change the name. But they did redo the sign. The font got a bit more bubbly. Some might say trashy. A lot more ‘fun’-looking. The books and shelves went. A telly appeared at one end of the bar. A pool-table and dartboard at the other. Plants and other non-Pankow fripperies were tossed out. Decoration was kept to a minimum. Though not in the Conran sense, exactly. More in the don’t-really-care-about-décor and nothing-to-distract-you-from-beer-telly-pool-and-darts sense.

Packed to the rafters every night.



1. narrowback - April 25, 2008

that’s an apt illustration of the adage “know your market” if I ever saw one….

You must give me the address of the house with the wee plaque to the victim/resistance fighter before I arrive. oh and the former orphanage as well. I’ve planned a visit to the Ehrendenkmal in Schonholzer Heide and I might be able to swing by both on the same day.

2. BiB - April 25, 2008

Will do. Will have to go and walk past the house again to check which one it is. And do you know those stinkers from the former orphanage haven’t answered my exploratory, inquiring-mind, what-would-you-think-of-a-few-Stolpersteine-outside-your-building mail? Gits. Time for a ruder second attempt, perhaps. Truly my touch is non-Midas.

3. narrowback - April 25, 2008

thanks… i’m off to las vegas in the morn so i’ll be out of commo – communication – for a bit… but i’ll be e-mailing details for my berlin visit soon and you can just reply back with the addresses.

4. narrowback - April 25, 2008

during the visit we can discuss strategies/tactics to prompt a response from the stinkers… i wouldn’t want to outline some of them here.

5. annie - April 25, 2008

Awww. If only the youngsters had installed pingpong tables and table football, they might still be there, books and all.

6. d.z. bodenberg - April 25, 2008

Aren’t most of the Stolpersteine just there as a result of someone contacting the artist who began doing them, who then makes them, and digs a hole in the pavement and cements them in? At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how the thing began.

7. narrowback - April 26, 2008

d.z. yes, that’s how the stolpersteine projects works but one needs the biographical info for the person(s)/victim(s)… I think that’s what BiB is hoping to get from the folks who own/operate the place now

8. marshaklein - April 26, 2008

I think we must live in Edinburgh’s equivalent of Pankow (or Ruislip). Businesses round here regularly come and go, despite the fact that we’re located near two very popular and thriving shopping/eating/drinking areas and seem to have a similar type of resident to both of them.

9. d.z. bodenberg - April 26, 2008

narrowback/BiB: there’s a list of some of the former residents (who they haven’t been able to trace/find out what happened to them) here:
http://www.juedisches-waisenhaus-pankow.de/suche.htm , and presumably there’s more details in the exhibition “Bilder und Dokumente zum Jüdischen Waisenhaus in Pankow von 1882 – 2001”, open Mon, Tue, Thur, Fri 1000-1900; and Wed 1300-1900; Sat 0900-1300, in the library (Janusz-Korczak-Bibliothek) in the ex-orphanage.

Presumably you’d have to get in touch with the council.

10. William Thirteen - April 28, 2008

i heard a rumour that some of more ‘conservative’ local residents are demanding a red stolperstein project to remember their fellow right wingers killed by the communists back in the day… our streets might start getting very colorful

11. William Thirteen - April 28, 2008

ah yes here it is…

12. d.z. bodenberg - April 28, 2008

Well – as the current mainstream politicians’ hegemony on the GDR and the USSR is that they were just as bad as fascism, oh I’m sorry, they don’t use the f* word, I mean “national socialism” – hang on, I actuallymean, that “all were the same” as each other (totalitarianism theory/ “violent rule” theory), the as-demanded-by-the-NPD “red stolpersteine” is just consistent with that, isn’t it? How long will it take before Friedrichshain gets a subtitle as “formerly Horst-Wessel-Stadt” on its street signs?

Carmerplatz near to Bahnhof Zoo has a memorial put up for the victims of fascism, judging by the logo of the “communist” VVN (Association of the Victims of the Nazi Regime, regarded as “suspicious” in West Germany, its members suffered repression (again))) on it, it must habe been erected shortly after the war and before the cold war got into swing. In recent years, an almost identical memorial has been put up on the other side of the square, commemorating the victims of Stalinism. Get the (not very subtle) message?

I’m all for memorials for (certain) victims of Stalinism. But those who campaign for, put up and finance a lot of this “rememberance” seem to only want to remember a certain type of “victim” – often those on the far right, Wehrmacht soldiers, the Waffen-SS etc; and they tend to ignore left-criticism of Stalinism too (as that doesn’t fit and makes it all so complicated).

13. BiB - April 29, 2008

d.z., I slightly never know what to think of memorials, really. I’m not against them either, of course, but sometimes wonder if they have the desired effect. Or the opposite effect. No blanket rule, I suppose. But I suppose part of what I like about the Stolpersteine – thank you for, as ever, more brilliant information. You are an info-wizard – is the individualising effect (which is not to diss those that can’t, for obvious reasons, be individual). The Soviets went with size, and I suppose no-one is likely to be left feelingless by a Soviet memorial. One of the first things you see as you drive away from St. Petersburg’s airport is a pretty massive monument. I’m almost tempted to say I’d like to get to Volgograd/Stalingrad just to see the utterly huge WWII memorial there.

William, I’ve got a sneaky feeling they won’t succeed. Surely they could open their brotherly hearts and rejoice that, just as Germany as a whole (though in different ways, when it was two Germanies) soon got down to tackling its past after WWII, the grimmer parts of DDR history have so quickly been put up for analytical and memorialising grabs. Mind you, the point of who and who not to memorialise is interesting and lovelily can-of-wormsy.

Marsha, I was doing something bureaucratic today and local information was flashed up on the bureaucratic waiting-room’s unspontaneous TV and, in true local jolly style, the number of bankruptcies were listed in all their glory, including a breakdown of what type of bankruptcies they were. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a good news item or not.

Narrowback, I know this whole subject area is absolutely majorly your bag. And yes, that’s what I was thinking, about having to have biographical info on the victims first before contacting the artist person. Mind you, in view of their silence (but now that a period of busyness has eased I’ll have another go), I might contact the Stolpersteine Berlin person – I have her details – and ask her how she thinks I should proceed. She’d presumably know.

Annie, you remind me of a blog-post I discovered on one of those random blog-strolls whose steps I wouldn’t be able to retrace now about a bar somewhere in Prenzlauer Berg where they have some table-tennis tradition, which we used to play at school, where millions (at least) of you constantly wander round the table, passing the bat to each other and whoever misses their shot is out until you’re left with one champion, who presumably is then shagged to death each evening by admirers unable to resist their brilliance.

14. narrowback - May 3, 2008

Dang…get exiled to the desert for a week and miss a good discussion of my fave topic.

BiB, there’s a “Stolpersteine Berlin person”? That’s another bit of info I must collect from you next week. I’m trying to put together a seminar/lecture panel for the 2009 planners’ conference and she might just fit the bill…unless, of course, you can pass yourself off as an expert. At the conference last week I got tentative OK for an honoraium to cover travel costs to bring a speaker from Germany.

I’ve always wanted to visit Volgograd to see the monster statue at Mamyav Kurgan (sp?)…now THAT’S a monument.

D.Z. thanks for the links… I’ll be checking the place out during my visit next week. During my last visit I checked out the dueling monuments at Carmerplatz and agree that the two are seperated by about 40 years. I’m no fan of Uncle Joe and quick to point out during barroom debates with ultra leftists that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of probably as many if not more german communists than Hitler. However, I find the simplistic moral equivilency argument repulsive. I’ll also point out that its not confined to Germany…we see it more and more here in the US from both left and right. It’s led to Pat Buchanan saying that Europe would’ve been “better off” if England/France didn’t go to war over Poland in ’39 and the “Rev.” Wright declaring that Hiroshima makes the U.S. as immoral as the Japaness militarists…

BiB..I assume your e-mail & handy # are still the same. I’ll send you my travel details by e-mail later this weekend. Hope you got that drinking arm in shape.

15. BiB - May 5, 2008

Narrowback, I’ve e-mailed all my details which, like everything else in my life, remain unchanged. And details of the Berlin Stolpersteine woman too.

On Mamayev Kurgan (Mamay, it turns out, is some famous Cossack whom, I’m presuming, the Kurgan (mound) was named after), I was going to say, having looked at this snap, ‘OK, it’s big, but perhaps not that big.’ Then I saw it from another perspective. (Actually, I found photos yesterday which demonstrated the hugeness better, but never mind.)

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