Last day of Berlin Trip

Berlin Trip
It's the last day of my 4-month trip to Berlin before I fly home to Dublin. I'm not sure "trip" is the right word as after the first few weeks I settled into living here in Berlin and working on this writing project, so a 4-month project is probably more correct.

For the first 9 weeks, I concentrated on writing every day, about 1500 words (6 pages) a day, mostly 7 days a week. This usually took about 2 - 3 hours a day as I was prepared every day and knew what I was going to write. After 9 weeks I had the first draft completed (98,000 words, 380 pages). 

I also took a lot of photos and created about 20 paintings and drawings. I settled into visiting museums and galleries once or twice a week, rather than every day as I did in the first two weeks. 

The writing meet-ups were of great value to me and I went to them 3 times a week and made a few friends there, and it motivated me to hear what others were writing- short stories, essays, novels, film scripts, graphic novel scripts and poetry.

Sometimes I went to other meet-ups - drawing, photography, technology, graphic arts and social. There's so much going on in this city I could have gone to several meet-ups every day if I wanted to but I found a balance by settling for 3 writing meet-ups and one or two others per week.

I took a break for a few days after draft 1 was complete and then focused on completing draft 2 and draft 3 by the start of August (about 8 weeks) I underestimated how much work was required in the editing/ rewriting and so I found myself just concentrating on it, excluding other activities during the last 4 weeks. 
However, I managed to finish draft 3 yesterday and so I'm ready to print 6 copies on my return, to give to my beta-readers in early August. 
It's been a fantastic project and I've really enjoyed living in Berlin and I'll be coming back next year to write book 3.
The book is called The New Frontier and continues the story from The House Always Wins ( but it's not necessary to have read Book 1). There is a main plot and four sub plots all woven together and set in Berlin in the present day and London in the past.

Stumbling Stones

Stumbling Stones - 'stolpersteine'
There are thousands of brass cobblestones all over Berlin, and in fact, all over Germany and several other European countries. They are memorials to people who lived in a house close by to the 'stolpersteine' and were sent to a concentration camp. The project started in 1992 and there are now more than 20,000 installed. The one below is from Torstrasse and remembers two people aged 14 and 15 , probably brother and sister.

Bananas

New still life digital painting- Green Bananas

Street Art

Berlin street art is everywhere.

Oasis

What could be better than a comfortable 30 minute browse in the air conditioned Dussmann English Bookshop at the end of a busy day writing and editing, when it's a scorching 29c outside in Friedrichstrasse?

Who Rules the World by Noam Chomsky

I’ve just finished “Who Rules the World” by Noam Chomsky and this is an excellent book to help understand geopolitics, where the real power in the world is, inconvenient truths, and the decline and fall of the American empire.

It covers mostly the power bases in the world from the end of the second world war, when the USA was at it’s strongest point, to the current day where it has been constantly involved in wars and propping up dictatorships to help maintain it’s ever declining power in the western hemisphere.

It’s well researched and fascinating read, and discusses among many other things, the two major threats facing the world: potential of nuclear war and the effects climate change. Noam Chomsky doesn’t pull any punches and he has his finger on the pulse of modern politics and explores it in all it’s gory detail.

Impressive, thought provoking and highly recommended.

Alte National Galerie

I was in the Alte Nationalgalerie today. It's part of the Museum Island, Berlin State museums which are in the centre of Berlin on a partial island in the Spree river. They have a number of rooms of impressionist paintings, with Manet, Monet and Renoir and many other impressionist paintings. The building itself is a work of art. I made a drawing while was there. (see below)

One of the domes in the museum

One of the domes in the museum

Manet

Manet

Nectarines

I used Adobe Sketch on my iPad to paint this digital still life: Nectarines.

Nectarines

Nectarines

Abstract Digital Drawings

Now that I'm taking a break from writing for a week I've started to do some abstract digital drawings. The first one is Sunlight On Grass.

Sunlight on Grass

Sunlight on Grass

Fruit Bowl

Fruit Bowl

Berlin Street Photos

Some street photos: Closing the windows in CommonGround restaurant as a sunny day suddenly turns to torrential rain. Five minutes later it was sunny again just like in Ireland.

Downpour in Berlin 

Downpour in Berlin 

Buskers at Potsdamer Platz

Buskers at Potsdamer Platz

Kino International 1960s cinema building on Karl-Marx-Allee near Alexanderplatz

Kino International 1960s cinema building on Karl-Marx-Allee near Alexanderplatz

The New Frontier- Draft 1 completed today

I finished the first draft of my new book "The New Frontier" today. It's the second book in the trilogy, and follows on two years later from where "The House Always Wins" finished.
It's a crime spy novel, set Berlin and London in the present day, and starts with Ethan Harris and Amy Knight rushing to Berlin after their friend Axel Mueller has been killed and as they investigate they find GCHQ and BND (UK and German intelligence agencies) are involved in a new secret project. I had planned about 320 pages but it ended up being 380 pages to tell the story from start to end. It's taken me 9 weeks to get this first draft done, writing around 1500 words every day (mostly 7 days a week)
I'm going to take a break now for a week and catch up on painting and photography and a little travel and then when I return to it with fresh eyes, I plan to get Draft 2 and possibly Draft 3 completed in the next 2 months before my return to Ireland in August.

Rembrandt Drawing

I was back in the Gemaldegalerie today and I did drawing of the a Rembrandt painting.

Masters of Light and Dark

Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Vermeer, masters of light and dark. Some of the fantastic paintings on view at the Gemeraldegalerie near Potsdamer Platz.

Caravaggio

Caravaggio

Rembrandt

Rembrandt

Vermeer

Vermeer

More Visitors

Paul and Trish visited Berlin this week and we did a walk around of the Brandenburg gate, holocaust memorial, Reichtstag, and Unter Den Linden. Lovely weather now in Berlin.

A Slice of History and a Side of Art

Kieran and Orna are visiting this weekend.. After their 4-hour walking tour, we met at the Brandenburg Gate, walked up to Potsdamer Platz, then over to the Topographie des Terrors (history of the rise of the Nazis and WW2) for some history, and afterwards, on the Berlinische Galerie for some contemporary art:

A coffee, a slice of history and a side of art - a delicious afternoon.

Me, Kieran and Orna

Me, Kieran and Orna

From Berlinische Gallery collection

From Berlinische Gallery collection

From Berlinische Gallery collection

From Berlinische Gallery collection

Cafe Culture Working

Working in CommonGround cafe in Berlin today, cool inside with good music and coffee and looking out through the open doors to the passing trams on the street and people enjoying the 29c weather today.

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From Visiting to Living

I've been here in Berlin for 7 weeks of the 18 weeks I'll be here, and at some stage, I'd say around 3 or 4 weeks in, I moved psychologically from visiting here to living here and it happened without me noticing it. 
When you visit a place you tend to run around and see and do everything that's available in the city because you won't be there long. But when it's for a longer period, and in my case 4 and possibly 5 months, you tend to develop living routines as if you are at home. I'm no longer frantically trying to go to everything instead I'm pacing myself to see them over a longer period. Laundry, shopping and cleaning routines click in and also as I'm writing every day, it's become my work schedule. Making friends at the writers meet-ups, who I see several times every week is also a development that doesn't happen on a visit but is part of a longer stay. 
One of the most notable things is the fact that I brought so few possession- a small set of clothes, toilet bag, 2 cameras, an iPhone, a MacBook and some basic painting materials, and I'm surviving quite happily with those items and it makes me think how little we really need to live and work comfortably. So many other things are superfluous, more a product of consumer society than a real need. It fits in with the minimalism approach which I had started several months before I left for this trip. I've no desire to adopt Buddhism (and lose all desire for material possessions) but needing less things certainly has its benefits.  
But I'll have to wait and see if this non-materialistic approach develops over the 4/5 months. Now if only I could apply this to food then I might lose some weight. :)

Bubble maker at Alexanderplatz

Bubble maker at Alexanderplatz

Axel's Letters

Here's a excerpt from one of the chapters I've written in the last few days, part of the new book I'm writing "The New Frontier":

Axel’s Letters

One of the places which Axel had been working was near Kreuzberg. Under darkness, and having managed to give their tail the slip Amy and Ethan took the U6 to Mehringdamm and got out and walked the streets along Zossener strasse. It was hot and the streets smelled of the oil and dust and sweat of the construction workers. Looking across the street under the ubiquitous linden trees, were the never ending road works and scaffolding against the buildings, with dirt in the gutter, and a plague of graffiti tagging covering virtually every building like a rash that was slowly enveloping the city, choking it and gradually bringing it to it’s knees. The hideous black and luminous red and blue daubed everywhere, scrawling on top of scrawling, posters pasted on walls advertising countless bands, and parties and events of all types in many different languages, posted thick on top of each other, fighting for attention, and the top most posters obscured by more sprayed scrawling. Amy imagined that every night as people went to bed, after midnight, an army of scrawlers crept up out of the drains, the manholes, and the subway passages from their deep, dark lairs and with spray cans in hand, began their nightly job of spreading the graffiti, tagging, marking of streets, corners, lampposts, defacing street murals, anything that was in their way, was covered. It was like a plague of locusts leaving destruction in their path. These nameless, faceless people, these fake artists wanting their moments of fame, were capturing the city, making it theirs and dragging it down into a swirling scribbled mess.

As they walked passed the young men and women standing at corners, talking, laughing and smoking as if was mandatory to do so, in some unwritten law of social interaction, they saw there were also older men sitting behind them at small tables outside the restaurants, drinking beer or expresso and talking, often in other languages, possibly Turkish as there were generations of Turkish people living in this area although many had abandoned their original heartland streets in Kreuzberg for the further, more southerly area of Neukolln. Nevertheless these streets were still marked with the indelible signature of Turkish influence, the small cafes, the markets, the traders shops, the distinctive black haired and black bearded men, small and thin, with light tan skin and the beautiful women with shawls on their heads and children, on their hips or in prams or running along beside them, playing and dancing and full of life and activity even long after dark when Amy thought they’d be in their beds, but no, they were out there on the sidewalks, swinging out of the scaffoldings running, shouting and so very alive.

They crossed and turned into a smaller street with Nepalese cafes, with families eating at the tables out on the streets, the food looked delicious and invited them in but they continued on their way and as they walked they kept a lookout, stopping a while pretending to be looking in the windows but actually scanning the reflections to see if anyone was following. Then they’d retrace their steps for a block, then suddenly turning around and walking quickly in the opposite direction and then back again, Anyone following would have had a difficult time not being spotted and to avoid being followed by a car they ducked down alleys into courtyards, which could only be walked and slipped back out again after a few minutes making sure no one was there.

Eventually they arrived at the first location which Axel had indicated in his notes. It was a second-hand English book shop. Inside was like a cavern with books laid out in a seemingly haphazard way, in boxes, on chairs and tables, in nooks and crannies and some on the loosely categorised book shelves which adorned the walls from floor to ceiling. They wandered thought the shop looking for a specific category in the non-fiction area, it was right up high at the back, a small section on Egyptian Antiquities.

Ethan had to stand on a chair to reach the books on the top shelf and behind the very last book, prised into the corner of the shelf , was a flap, a cardboard flap stuck to the edge of the upright of the bookshelf. When he took out three or four books he was able to fold back the flap a bit and behind it he could see an envelope. Axel’s envelope he presumed.

There was no one else in the book shop except the owner up front, two rooms away andthere were no video cameras so it was safe to say they were probably unobserved. But they couldn’t say for sure, maybe this lack of security cameras and emptiness in the shop was just to get their confidence that no one was looking, or maybe that was just paranoia.

They certainly knew that there were increasingly fewer places where they could be alone and unnoticed. Just as they were about to fold back the cardboard flap fully to allow the envelope to be released, they heard the owner shuffling as he approached from the front rooms of the shop.

Ethan stopped and quickly got down from the chair and pretended to be looking at another section by the time he arrived into the room. He was an old man, wizened with white strands of hair still clinging to his almost bald head.

“Is there something I can help you find?” he said, assuming they were English speakers as this was an English bookshop.

Amy hesitated for a moment, she hadn’t thought about anything they’d say, if asked.

“Egyptian Art” said Ethan.

“Islamic Art” said Amy almost at the same time.

“So which is it?” the little man asked eying them both with curiosity, “or perhaps you are looking for a particular title?”

“I know almost all the books in the shop, and their locations, even if it looks in total disarray.”

Amy smiled broadly. And he responded with a nearly toothless smile.

“We are really just browsing the art books in a few categories. Such an interesting collection you have here."

He nodded.

“Yes but nobody is interested in the books back here. I put the more popular books up in the front two rooms and only the most adventurous browsers like yourselves venture back here.” Amy could detect that he had a slight London accent, obviously eroded by years of living in Berlin. She wanted to engage him and was about to when she caught Ethan’s eyes. He flicked his eyes twice in the direction of the front of the shop. She understood.

“Perhaps you could help me browse some of the popular crime fiction,” she said and she could see the old man’s disappointment that she wanted to move away from the books on ancient antiquities which were obviously his favourites. He turned and shuffled towards the front of theshop with Amy trailing behind leaving Ethan to finish retrieving the envelop. When they were gone he got up on the chair again and removed more books from the top shelf and managed to fully open the cardboard flap and found that there were two envelopes behind it. He took them down and then carefully replaced all but one of the Egyptian Art books: “Tutankhamen’s Treasures”. He put the envelopes in his inside pocket, tucked the large book under his arm, and made his way back to the front of the shop. Amy was in the corner pretending to browse the Jo Nesbo novels and the little man was sitting on his perch behind a small desk covered in books and notepads and some coffee cups.

“I’ll take this one.” He said handing the book to the old man.

He smiled. “That will be seven euros, and it’s in perfect condition.”. He was holding the book now with loving care as if he was going to have to part with one of his children.

“Ethan paid him and then he and Amy made for the door.

As they were leaving the old man cleared his throat, ”You be careful now,” he said, “those envelopes contain secret stuff, Axel told me, and he said only friends of his would know where to find them and what to do with that information. But he said it was dangerous and that he might not be alive if someone else came to get the envelopes. Is he dead?”

Amy was shocked.

“I’m so sorry to tell you but he is dead. He was shot a few days ago.”

“The old man nodded.

“Such a nice man, such a pity to loose his life.”

Amy wanted to to talk more, but the old man had turned and was making his way into the back of the shop with his head bowed.

Ethan placed the Egyptian book onto the front desk, returning it to it’s rightful owner. Then they turned again and left the shop.

They were anxious to find out what was in the envelopes but they had to be sure that their trail had not been picked up again.

They cautiously scanned the streets and parked cars looking for a tail. It seemed like the coast was clear and they headed back they way they had come looking for a little coffee shop on a side street as they went. When they found one which was almost empty they sat at a corner table, ordered some coffee and two heated chocolate croissants and then Ethan reached into his inner pocket and drew out the letters.

Reasons to Learn German

When I went for a haircut this morning in the nearby Moabit area in Berlin, it was a small barber shop run, by Eunus, originally from Damascus, but he wasn’t a new Syrian refugee as he had been in Berlin for 20 years. His German sounded pretty fluent as I listened to him chat to another customer, Nelson from Zimbabwe. Nelson who already had pretty short hair before the cut, was getting his head shaved and perhaps I should have taken that as a foreshadowing of my haircut to come. Anyway, when it was my turn I found out that Eunus only had very little English. I explained that I just wanted a regular hair cut. But what’s a regular haircut? especially having just shaved the previous customer’s head. I indicated short hair and assumed he understood, but he obviously had a different understanding and once he’d started there was no going back. He was pretty friendly despite the language barrier and he was never aware that it was much shorter than I anticipated.
So I guess I got value for my money - €10 - an expresso and a very tight haircut. Next time I’m bringing a photo taken after my previous haircut, so there can be no misunderstanding. :)

Four Day Visit

I had such an excellent four days with Niall and Charlie visiting me in Berlin. We took a four-hour walking tour of Berlin, taking in it's history from early settlement to the present day, but focussing on Prussian history, the second world war, the cold war and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. We visited the transport museum (Deutsches Technikmuseum) - planes, trains and all modes of transport. Then we spent some time in Charlottenburg looking a Picasso, Dali, Magritte, Matisse and other 20th century artists  at the Berggruen Museum and it's sister museum across the street, the Scharf-Gerstenberg collection.

Each night we dined on various cuisines in a different areas of Berlin: Potsdamer Platz, Kreuzberg and Kurfurstendamm.

I managed to maintain my daily 1500 words writing early each morning, before the guys surfaced for late breakfasts at their nearby hotel, but other interests were on hold. The time flew by and they've departed now, leaving me to my staple companions - writing, painting, photographing and reading. Such a great visit.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

French Huguenot Church

French Huguenot Church

Top of the Transport Museum

Top of the Transport Museum

At the Wall close to the Topographie des Terrors

At the Wall close to the Topographie des Terrors

Jewish Holocaust Memorial

Jewish Holocaust Memorial

Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz 

Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz 

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie