An English Idyll in the Rheinland

This blog is getting too political lately. Now for something completely different.

I visited Heltorf Castle Park (g) yesterday, an English-style landscape park from the early 19th century located on the very northern outskirts of Düsseldorf. It's part of the private holdings of the Spee noble family (g) which has resided near Düsseldorf for centuries and has left its mark on the city and the surroundings in innumerable ways. 

The park was originally part of the private grounds of the nearby Castle Heltorf, an early 19th-century pile. A certain Abbé Biarelle conceived of the idea of creating an English-style park in 1796, and the renowned landscape architect Maximilan Weyhe (g) began the work in 1803. The park is 54 hectares, and open to the public only on weekends during spring and summer. I'd always meant to visit. I rarely met people who had, but the ones who did returned singing its praises. 

It's quite far outside the city center, a 20-minute streetcar ride away, but very much worth it. The place is magical, on a par with the finest English parks. The landscape is lush, slightly hilly, and dominated by a spectacular centuries-old trees from all over the world -- conifers, firs, maples, magnificent copper beeches (called "blood" beeches in German!) and the largest tulip tree in Europe, which must be at least 45 meters tall. A brook winds through the park, and forms several ponds in which fat carp meander and tadpoles squirm. There are innumerable rhododendrons throwing off blossoms in all colors.

And the best thing is visitors have it all to themselves, since the park isn't very well-known, is somewhat out of the way, and is only open for a small part of the year. I saw only 6 other people in the few hours I spent there. The park is located well outside the city, charges €3 entrance, and has no "attractions" or ice cream vendors or playgrounds or bandstands or trashcans or bathrooms or any other distractions. The only sounds are birdsong and occasionally a faraway hum of traffic. (This is the most densely-populated part of Europe, after all.)

If you need any more stimulation than nature, discreetly molded by men of impeccable refinement, you're in the wrong place. And probably quite unclubbable.

I saw not a single speck of litter anywhere. The park doesn't even have any seating (although there are a few simple log benches) or signs, except two discreet wooden arrows pointing you in the general direction of the exit. You can get a photocopied map of the park about the size of a postcard at the entrance, but it looks to be about 30 years old. Not that anything's changed much in that time, of course.

You're meant to meander around, pleasantly lost, until you encounter a moat or ha-ha. The modern Spee family runs a forestry business in the area, and a small corner of the park is apparently used for this purpose, since I saw a small, discreet sign asking visitors to keep out. But that just adds to the charm. Something's got to pay for the massive effort of work it takes to keep the park looking so unpretentious.

I even ran into the owner, Wilhelm Count of Spee (pronounced 'shpay'). He lives in fairly modest water castle on the edge of the property, and was out taking pictures on this fine spring day. Like every member of the German nobility I've ever met, he was quite friendly and laid-back, but also impeccably groomed and dressed. He looks a bit like Ulrich Mühe. He obviously loves this jewel of a park, and seems to know something about every tree in it. He says he's working on a detailed book on the park's history, which I'm looking forward to.

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"Mainly Criminals, Psychopaths, and Petty Thieves"

While we’re on the subject of contrasting grateful, peace-loving refugees who are mostly women and children with the motley crew of young males Germany imported, let’s look at conditions in one Düsseldorf migrant shelter. Well, a former migrant shelter -- it no longer exists.

After the migrant influx of 2015, one of the huge halls of the Düsseldorf convention center was converted into a massive migrant shelter for hundreds of unaccompanied male migrants. On June 7, 2016, the entire hall was burned to the ground in an act of intentional arson: 

The massive fire created a cloud of smoke which could be seen from everywhere in the city. The estimated damages are €10 million. Dozens of people were treated for smoke inhalation.

The trial was intentionally set by one of the migrants in the shelter. Now he and an accomplice are on trial in Düsseldorf for aggravated arson. According to testimony, the fire was set by a 27-year-old Algerian named Adel Z. Adel was enraged that food was being served to people in the shelter during the day, even though it was Ramadan. He wanted all shelter residents to be forced to observe Ramadan, no matter what their religious views. A 27-year-old Moroccan named Mohamed B. allegedly spurred Adel Z. to follow through on his anger by burning the place down.

A reporter from a website named nrw-direkt is observing the trial (g)*. His account of the testimony is worth quoting at length (my translation):

The testimony of the second witness was faster, less ambiguous, but more shocking [than the first]: The 57-year-old social worker stated that the shelter housed mainly "criminals, psychopaths, and petty thieves" (Verbrecher, Psychopathen und Kleinkriminelle). The police were called out there "every other day". He learned from a colleague that the day before the fire, there had been "extreme rioting" between shelter residents who were fasting and those who were not. He himself remember that after "loud complaints", shelter operator the German Red Cross had promised a warm lunch. However, this did not happen. Instead, snacks such as bread with sausage or cheese were provided.

During the meal on the day of the fire, two residents of the shelter insulted and threatened shelter workers. These were "the usual" threats and insults, like "fucking Germans" and "assholes", which were the customary insults used by shelter residents against German Red Cross workers. The witness also recalled threats such as "we're going to burn this place to the ground", "we'll set you on fire", "we'll kill you all", which were also everyday occurrences at the shelter. "When you're constantly insulted, you eventually get really sick of it", the employee said with a quiet voice.

"They found everything funny and awesome"

...After the fire broke out, he noticed many residents who were sitting on packed suitcases and "found everything funny and awesome". One of them filmed the fire with his phone. When the judge inquired whether he concluded that this meant the shelter residents knew about the plan to set the fire beforehand, he said "of course".

I know some German social workers, and it takes a lot to get them to describe their charges as "criminals". To say nothing of "psychopaths".

After the shelter was destroyed, these "criminals, psychopaths, and petty thieves" were distributed to other shelters all across the city.

Continue reading ""Mainly Criminals, Psychopaths, and Petty Thieves"" »


On the Street Where I Live

Somebody made a documentary about the shops on the street where I live. Aki Chaabeni, the owner of the cafe Süße Erinnerung (g) teamed up with another filmmaker to interview some of my neighbor-entrepreneurs.

Not exactly sure what the purpose of the film is -- though they mention a food truck/marketing project named Petit Frere -- but it's a nice piece of work, and shows you the side of Düsseldorf I see every day, which is its best side:

petit frère doku from cafe suesse erinnerung on Vimeo.

It's people and places like this that make Düsseldorf one of the most livable cities on the planet.


Separate the Colors, Leave the Lids On

The local news visits the largest glass recycling facility in Europe, in Dormagen. The report clears up a few mysteries about the ubiquitous glass-recycling boxes you see in Germany.

First of all, separating glass by colors actually does matter. You typically hear Germans saying it doesn't, because the trucks which clear the containers seem to dump everything haphazardly into the trailer compartment. Wrong! What bystanders can't see is that the trucks have separate compartments for each color of glass.

Glass of the wrong color, as well as non-glass items such as ceramics or even gun parts (according to the plant manager) are removed from the stream by hand. The rest is automated.

Oh, and although every box has a warning sign tells you to remove the lid before you recycle the bottle, this turns out to be wrong. The machines can easily remove lids, which are recyclable themselves, and intact bottles with lids are "more hygienic" for the human sorters to handle.

This has been your public-service post for the month of October.


Operation Glasshole™ Concluded

Yesterday, I donned protective gloves and wading boots, and finally finished cleaning up one short stretch of the Düssel river. Here's the video: 

As you can see, another 100 or so bottles, to add to the 100 or so I had fished out before. Plus, this round brought us:

  • A steak knife
  • 7 more bicycle locks
  • a pair of sunglasses
  • one (1) women's boot
  • a 1.5- meter length of rusting steel re-bar
  • a disc-shaped battery-operated IKEA light fixture, complete with rotting batteries
  • 5 plastic bags or pieces of plastic sheeting
  • 1 more umbrella
  • 1 section of metal grille
  • several plastic cups
  • three metal rods and/or picture frame elements
  • one laminated official notice on white A4 paper from the City of Düsseldorf which was formerly attached to the bridge, warning people not to lock their bikes to it until 16 October 2016 because of bridge maintenance.
  • what appeared to be one-half of a foam soccer ball
  • a still-stoppered fake mother-of-pearl perfume bottle
  • several parts of an ironing board
  • a few unclassifiable pieces of metal and plastic which looked like auto or machine parts

I displaced at least 10 juvenile and 2 adult spiny-cheeked crayfish from inside various bottles.

At the end of the day after making several tours of inspection, I could see no more junk. There were still hundreds of bottle caps, but I have my limits. One couple passing by asked me whether I was fishing for eels. After I was done, I had a chat with the Slavic woman who runs the convenience store next to the bridge. She called me "poor guy", and apparently assumed my clean-up operation was a form of punishment. I informed her that I had just gotten fed up and decided to clean up the river. She said "Well, that's nice of you, but let me tell you, people are just going to keep throwing stuff into it. I sit here all day and watch them."

I said that almost all the stuff was covered in silt, which made it seem as if it had been there a long time. She said that, on second thought, that she hadn't seen much littering lately: "There was a group of people who were doing most of it who moved away." She made a certain gesture indicating what sort of people they were, but I couldn't really decipher it. It sort of looked like a mixture of air-bottle glug-glug (drunks) mixed with some kind of arm-waving. Possibly a Nazi salute. But I can't be sure.

This gives me some hope that most of the garbage came from short bursts of antisocial behavior years ago; possibly a gaggle of winos colonizing the riverbank for a few days, throwing their empties (mostly 200 ml flasks of Stepanoff vodka) into the stream. And then, of course, the garbage was passively tolerated by thousands of local residents who crossed the bridge over the years, wrinkling their noses in disapproval but doing nothing about it.

One mystery that's provoked plenty of discussion on my Facebook page is the bicycle locks. A few of them had obviously been cut, but most of them seemed to be intact. Which raises the question of why anyone would throw what appears to be an intact bicycle lock into the stream? My only guess is that some people steal bikes by picking the locks. Then they reattach the lock and throw it in the river, presumably to get rid of evidence. It seems like a fairly ludicrous precaution, given that local police don't even try to solve individual bike thefts. But who knows?

Any guesses about this mystery?


Operation Glasshole™ Phase II Preparation Intermediate Status Report

Both here and on Facebook, where I post much more interesting stuff much more frequently, the question has been raised: what happened to the bottles I removed?

The answer is I dumped them all in a nearby recycling box.

Germans, notorious as among the stingiest penny-pinching races on earth (sorry guys, you know I love you but it's true), are now collectively spit-taking in a combination of intense disapproval, anguish, and Angstlust: "Dear God!! You mean you just threw away bottles worth €1.78?!??! Typical wasteful American."

Allow me to explain. The bottles were, as I earlier remarked, all covered in some sort of black slime, inside and out. Probably some combination of tannin from rotting tree leaves and fine particulates from automobile exhaust. It would have taken 2 or 3 minutes of hand-washing to clean each one.

Further, the labels had all long since rotted off the bottles. Nowadays, it is the label on the bottle that contains the all-important bar code which machines use to calculate the deposit. Without a label, you're done for.

Now I hear many Germans saying: "So what? Technically, stores are still required to give you the deposit back if you present them with a bottle, even if it doesn't have a label. After all, it's the glass that's important for recycling, not the label. I once saw a rail thin, boil-covered man with mushrooms growing in his beard actually manage to convince a supermarket manager to give him an 8-cent deposit on an unlabeled beer bottle after a 5-minute argument. See, it can be done!"

I've seen that man, too. But I don't want to be that man. So no, I am not earning anything on the bottles.

On another note, it turns out that wading boots are quite cheap. I thought they might be kind of expensive, but that's only because I live near a Sack & Pack luxury camping-supplies store, which has wading boots hand-crafted by transgendered Tibetan orphans selling for €170 per boot. Online, you can get cheap rubber boots for 7 Euros, so that's what I bought.

Once Phase II is complete, I will furnish a thorough report.


Operation Glasshole™ Phase I Status Report

A little over a month ago, I noted that the small creek which runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel (after which Düsseldorf is named) was full of bottles, since glassholes have been throwing bottles into it over the years.

So today I took a pole and a net and started work. Here is the before and after pictures of the part of the river I worked on:

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As you can see, a slight improvement, but much work remains. Once I got down to the level of the river, I could see there were many more bottles than visible from the top. It took me half-an-hour to remove about 25 of them, but at least 100 remained. All the bottles were covered in some sort of black grime, and filled with black liquid the color of motor oil. A few of them were being used as homes by freshwater crayfish, whom I summarily evicted. Sorry dudes, go find a rock or a tree stump.

Only when you cleared off the grime could you see what these litter-lovin' Untermenschen were drinking. Most of the bottles were ordinary brown beer bottles whose labels had long been washed away. Doubtless these bottles contained Oettinger, the local cheap & nasty choice for the undiscriminating booze-bag. Some were Carlsberg, a surprisingly civilized choice. Many, predictably, were Frankenheim Blue, a sugary mix of beer and soda which is also used as a Class 3 industrial solvent and barely deserves the designation fluid.

After a while, though, I realized that fishing these bottles out of the river one-by-one was a waste of effort. I was working retail, when I should have been wholesale. So to get the remaining 100 bottles, I am going to buy or rent a pair of wading boots, and go in there with one of them litter grabber thingies. I'm sure that physically entering the river, even to clean it up, probably violates 2 laws and 4 regulations. But frankly my dear, I just don't give a damn. If they fine me, I'll crowdfund my defense. Judging from the approving looks I got, I think I'll get plenty of contributions.

 


Behold! I Shall Fish the Bottles Out of the Düssel

Take a look at this:

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This is the Düssel river, the local Rhein tributary that gives Düsseldorf its name. Some rivers are so big, cities are built around them, not over them. The Düssel isn't that big. The city fathers of Düsseldorf did actually keep the river, mind you. However, it flows underground most of the way through the city, only popping into view occasionally. But when it does come into view, it's a refreshing change. And as here, near the Karolingerstraße, a bit of riverbank has been preserved, creating a nice park-like atmosphere.

Granted, it's only a little brook, and the riverbank is only about 5 meters on either side before the streets and buildings begin. But even a small bit of nature and green in the city does a surprising amount to make a place more livable. Trust me, I've lived in cities which don't know how to do this.

But here's the thing: you see those shapes in the water? No, they're not fish. There are fish in the Düssel, but they're much smaller. Those things are bottles. 

Fucking bottles.

Over the years, subhuman fucksticks have finished their bottles of cheap beer and casually tossed them into the river. Even though there's a bottle deposit in Germany, which poor people rely on, scouring the city for deposits. You could simply put the bottle on the bridge over the river, and it would be gone in literally 5 minutes, collected by some retiree living on a miserly pension. Also, no more than 2 meters from where I shot this photo, there are not only trash bins but a fucking glass recycling box.

But did Jackass McShitforbrains (or perhaps Güldüz Al-Antisocial) use any of these opportunities? No. He just threw the fucking bottle into the cool, clear, pristine water of the river. So every single time a human crosses this bridge and pauses to enjoy a nice view, he's reminded of the fact that certain humanoid entities exist who would fuck up a nice little view out of sheer laziness or spite.

I have never actually seen anyone throw a bottle in the Düssel. Actually, that's pretty fortunate, because if I did, I would probably fly into a rage and try to beat them to death. I'm not joking. One of the reasons Northwestern Europe is such a nice place to live is that people take care of public spaces. One of the many curses of the developing world is that people in those countries have no understanding of why it's important to keep public spaces clean. They are often scrupulously neat in their private homes, but think nothing of throwing garbage anywhere in the open. This is one of the key conflicts that arise when immigrants from the Third World arrive in Germany: they go picknicking in the park and leave a mound of dirty diapers, trash, bottles, plastic bags, disposable barbecues, and food remains just sitting in a pile in the middle of a pristine meadow of luscious green grass. 

Now, part of this is because the countries they come from don't have functioning garbage-disposal infrastructures, etc. But there's also a cultural component, as anybody who's ever lived in a country like India can tell you. Even in middle-class families, there's a sense that the interior of the home is a focus of pride and should be kept spotless, but if you don't own the land -- especially if nobody owns the land -- then it's fair game to just throw anything away there. As a 2013 book call The Concept of the Public Realm puts it:

Take something as simple as streets and public parks. Since they lie outside the family home, they are seen as a no-man's land, an empty space, almost a wilderness. While the Indian home is clean and tidy, streets and even parks are unacceptably dirty. Streets are used as garbage heaps, and rubbish and leftover food is thrown around in parks. Even the front of the house is sometimes turned into as a garbage heap. Since public spaces are not seen as theirs, Indians generally take no care of them and expect the civic authority to do so. And if it does not, as is generally the case, things are left as they are. It is striking that few Indians protest against dirty streets and lack of pavements and zebra crossings, almost as if they cannot see how things can be otherwise (Kakar and Kakar 2007, p. 21).

Not that India deserves to be singled out. The problem also exists all over the Arab world and even in Italy, although it's much less serious there.

In any case, I've had enough. I already have a really long pole which I use for certain camera shots. I just ordered a pool net strainer. When the weather cools down, I am going to go out there and clean out those bottles. You'd think some German would have done this already, but there's an old German proverb -- as accurate now as it ever was -- which goes: "A German is someone who, when he sees a mess, sneers in disapproval (die Nase rümpfen) instead of cleaning it up." 

Well, fuck that shit. Just as Tyrell Corporation's motto is "more human than human", mine is "more German than German". I am going to clean out those goddamn bottles, and post before-and-after pics to prove it. If that doesn't earn be the German Service Cross, I don't know what will.