the marauder’s guide to “wagenplätze,” continued

And then the questions kept coming. If you didn’t read part one of this question and answer, you can find it here . Otherwise, here are some more detaily details about living in a wagon community with a whole bunch of people.

What about animals?

There are at least as many animals here as there are people, wild and otherwise. And they make for good argument fodder, tell you what. When I moved to Mainz, there were two dogs and three cats. The dogs were used to the cats, everybody ran around free, and even though the cats killed a lot of mice, the dogs didn’t kill any of the cats and everybody was generally happy.

Then came the chickens, which brings the count here up to three cats, one dog (the second dog having recently gone to dance with Patrick Swayze in the big disco in the sky–pictured above, RIP Moritz, sweet old geezer dog, pat pat), and ten chickens. Of all the “pets” here, the chickens have been surrounded by the most debate. One of the intial roosters was regularly attacking male residents, which landed him in the pot. Then some of the vegans got upset because they didn’t want the chickens to be slaughtered (and had only agreed to the chickens living here at all with the stipulation that they wouldn’t be eaten, but that was before my time), which led to a four-hour plenum, which led to the decision not to let the chickens keep any more of their eggs to avoid the situation where we have too many chickens and slaughtering becomes logical.

But–oh beautiful, stubborn life!–the chickens managed to hide some eggs in the blackberry bushes anyway. The result: a lot of people have their panties in a bunch and there are 10-20 more chickens on the way. The chicken people, meanwhile, are secretly peeved about the no-slaughter decision and have also declared all-out war against punks with dogs who refuse to leash their dogs. Funny, the way every dog owner insists that “my dog wouldn’t do anything,” and how that statement has repeatedly led to another bloody carcass by the coop. Oops. Guess your dog is still a dog after all, huh.

Then there are all the others who live here: the hedgehogs whose coughs you can hear in the bushes at night and the magpie couple who I most often see dive bombing Momo the cat as she attempts to steal their eggs and/or babies from their nest in the maple tree. There are a handful of red, pointy-eared squirrels who throw nuts at me from the walnut tree above my wagon and who look suspiciously like elves in pompous fur coats. In our kitchen is a green and black striped spider (a garden spider, says the dictionary, though their name in German–Kreuzspinne or cross spider–more accurately reflects their ominous appearance) who builds her web above the tea and who we leave alone as an ally in our constant battle against the fruit flies and this year’s overly aggressive wasps. And last but not least are the rats, who I–surprisingly–have only ever seen on the compost pile and who are–lucky for us–more interested in the building across the street than in us. Who knows what other little creatures we unknowingly share this land with.

Are there any families living on the wagenplatz?

At the moment we don’t have any children living here, though one resident’s ten-year-old son comes regularly to visit. Just after I left the Frankfurt wagenplatz two residents gave birth to a son in the mother’s wagon, and another resident’s teenage son has lived on the wagenplatz for years.

The social benefits for a child here seem obvious to me–”It takes a village to raise a child,” right? Well, try telling that to your conservative social worker. I’ve heard people say that they “don’t think it’s right to force a child live in such a place,” and I’m sure children have been taken away from their parents for less.

One mother who often brings her 3-year-old here for the afternoon and who is a part of a group trying to find land for a new wagenplatz in the area explained recently that they haven’t found land yet because they have to be picky about things like water and electricity. Why? Because she is terrified of losing her daughter and is regularly checked up on by social workers employed, among other things, to enforce the status quo. All because of the government’s perception of wagenplätze as asocial, politically radical slums.

Do some people work 9-5 jobs?

I think one of the most common myths about people who live on wagenplätze is that they are all asocial leeches who don’t work and live off of government money. I do know people who live on a wagenplatz and get unemployment or disability money but whether or not that makes them leeches is debatable and a conversation for another day.

There are Wägler (a term we use to mean “people who live in wagons”) who work 9-5(ish). An English teacher comes to mind. At the Frankfurt wagenplatz there were people I rarely saw because they were always at work–one women owned a joke article shop in the city, another worked at a printing company, and oth- ers were students always in class or in the lab or the library.

More common, however, is that people living on wagenplätze work seasonally or freelance. A lot of people build and take down stands at trade fairs or take the occasional job helping someone move, renovating a house, or selling mulled wine at the Christmas market.

Living here are a furniture maker, several carpenters, a sound engineer, several mechanics, a master of props at the state theater, students, and quite a few clowns (due to Mainz’s renowned clown school). There is a man who works one night a week on a factory assembly line, a carpenter’s apprentice, and a women training to be a camera(wo)man. The thing is that wagenplatz living is cheap, and when you don’t need a lot of money to cover your basic expenses you don’t need to work 9-5 and can take the time to do more (or less) work for money and more (or less) work for yourself or as a volunteer. Because this lifestyle involves a lot more work (chopping wood, lighting fires, carrying water), it can be more of a hassle than it is worth to work so many hours a week.

So what does it cost then?

The rent we pay was decided on by a group before my time, and covers the water and electricity we borrow from Haus Mainusch. It is 40 euros a month. If you can’t pay one month, or eight months, it’s no big deal to pay in big later (or earlier) chunks. Generally the ebbs and flows of people paying and not paying balance each other out so that we can continue to pay the trash and electricity bills, which we split with the house.

Besides the occasional wagon repair expense–tar to stop up a leaky roof or new boards for a rotten bit in the wall–the only other living expense is wood, which, if you’re crafty and observant you could scavenge entirely. One man here bought a press at the end of the last winter and has been pressing his own paper briquettes (saw dust and paper scraps courtesy of the trash) all summer, which we sometimes order together in bulk from the building supply store. If you were to buy all of your wood, you would need 1.5 to 2 square meters for one winter here, and this year’s prices are 55 euros for a “shaken” meter of beech, 65 euros for a meter of oak. (“Shaken” meter is not stacked, but poured into a square meter box by a big machine–never quite a true meter, but all that is available in our area this year.)

So your average yearly expenses–not including food–are approximately 630 euros: 480 for rent, 100 for wood, and maybe 50 for wagon repairs. You might also consider things like health insurance and/or doctor’s bills and luxuries like booze and vacations and concert admissions. Me, being an avid dumpster diver and Pfand collector (the cans you can return for cash), I currently live a really sweet life for less than 1,000 euros a year. I think of it as taking the “starving” out of “starving writer.” And once upon a time I made 800-1,200 euros a month, to pay the rent and all the other bills that come with a 9-5 job and apartment life. Wow.

According to the (American) Federal Poverty Guidelines, however, I live in such deep poverty that I would probably be statistically categorized among the bearded hobos who drink Drain-o and live in boxes, even though I am able to own my own house, having running water and electricity, and eat like a sultan on the money I have. According to those guidelines the category “poverty” begins when a $10,000 (6,800 euros) yearly income supports one person. Almost 7,000 euros a year I can no longer even imagine.

At the Frankfurt wagenplatz rent was 5 euros a month, which would have left me with about 150-200 euros worth of solid expenses each year. However as we didn’t have electricity there, I probably would have invested the initial savings in solar panels, 12-volt gadgets, and candles.

I want to know more about the communal kitchens. How do you get food for the vokü? Is there some kind of schedule that makes everyone lend a helping hand for community-based activities or can a wagon owner be lazy and live off of others’ toils?

First of all, I have to stress that there is a very clear difference between the communal kitchens and the kitchen in Haus Mainsuch out of which we run the vokü. The vokü is run by a diverse (and constantly changing) group of people. Each day’s cooking group is responsible for obtaining the food they need to cook what they’ve planned for that day, cooking it, and cleaning up after themselves. This does not always happen (that is, the cleaning part), and we are often understaffed (hey, want to come cook with us?) and stressed out. But then right when you think everything is the worst ever and are about to lose your faith in humanity and communal-living projects completely, everyone comes together and gets everything done and lives happily ever after.

Each of the resident’s communal kitchens are run differently, and I don’t know a lot about what the others do to keep the dishes washed and the cabinets full. In Hell (die Hölle, or hell, is our name for the vegan kitchen that I currently share with two others) we don’t have any specific system. We’re the crusty dumpster divers, and our kitchen reflects it. We have a vague order for whose turn it is to wash the dishes (“I washed the dishes yesterday and Scissors washed them the day before, so it’s your turn again”), and whoever feels like it cooks and cooks enough so that we can all get a portion.

Because all three of us are living under that imaginary poverty line, there’s also no question of counting up receipts. Whoever has money at the time goes shopping and puts all the food in the kitchen. Everything in the kitchen is there for everyone to use as they want. If you buy ingredients for something special, then you let the others know not to eat it or leave a note. Whoever is broke doesn’t have to feel guilty or go hungry, probably largely because we all know that the person who went shopping yesterday will be broke in a week and someone else will have just gotten paid. And when we’re all broke at the same time there are the dumpsters and leftovers to be picked up from the market.

We also have no schedule for whose turn it is to go dumpster diving or to pick up leftovers from the farmer’s market. Whoever feels like it goes, fills up the cabinets, and everybody eats really well, money or not.

All of the kitchens here have refrigerators, but in Hell we toss ours out every winter, and grab a new one from the student trash across the street every summer (most common dumpster finds in the student trash: bags of bags, refrigerators, clothing, oh wait, fucking everything). Why use so much electricity when you can just put the soy milk and the beer on the windowsill to the same effect?

In the residents’ kitchens or in the house kitchen, it is always possible for one or the other person to “be lazy” and “take advantage” of the work of others. However, I don’t find this to be the case. What from the outside might appear to be a “lazy person taking advantage” is often more of a tidal situation–one week I might feel depressed or lazy or be simply too busy to do anything for the kitchen and the others take care of things, and when they feel that same way I am there to back them up and do what they did for me when I wasn’t doing a lot of chores. For me personally the only distressing event is when the tide stops, and people start bitching about individual events instead of taking a look at the give and take of the big picture. But I grant it, in the moment when you don’t fucking feel like doing the dishes again, it can be hard to maintain that perspective.

What’s it like having a kitchen with no running water?

It takes a little getting used to, and a few small changes in cooking style, but is otherwise just like cooking in any other kitchen. We carry water from the faucet in the bathroom to the kitchen in a ten-gallon canister which usually lasts us a day or two. Some people have canisters with little taps on the bottom so that you can just turn a lever and have water run out into your cup/pot, but our canister does not, so we just pour.

To do the dishes we have a large metal bowl in place of a sink. We fill the bowl, heat up the water on the stove, wash the dishes as you would anywhere else, and then pour the used water into the gutter on the street behind Hell.

Who cleans the communal spaces? Do you guys decide on a schedule, or does anyone even clean them at all? And other communal spaces–is there communal cleaning that goes on at all?

The communal kitchens are the respon- sibility of the people using them. In Haus Mainusch, the people who cooked the vokü that day, or the organizer of any event that goes on there is responsible for cleaning up after themselves. Sometimes it works, and sometimes we all get really pissed off and have to clean it all ourselves anyway. But lately it’s been working.

The only thing we have a plan for is cleaning the woman’s bathroom. There we have a schedule with one lady per week to make sure things stay tidy.

As for the other communal spaces–the movie wagon and the guest wagon–it’s not really clear cut. For example a few weeks ago we had a pajama party/double surprise birthday party in the movie wagon, so a bunch of people spent the day cleaning it up and decorating together and did the same the following day. It’s mostly event based. If you walk into the movie wagon and think, eww gross, you either get started cleaning, or find the person you know made the mess, yell at them, and get them to finally clean up after themselves.

The guest wagon has only recently become a guest wagon again–for the last few years various people have lived in it for longer periods of time–so no cleaning pattern has had time to establish itself. When I have a guest coming to stay I make sure it’s cleaned up beforehand and after they leave, and I assume that will be the general trend, with random people sleeping in it, making a mess, and not cleaning up after themselves in between.

And that concludes this segment ladies and gentlemen.

If any of you still have questions, that would make me very happy, and you should leave them in the comments for me to answer in another installment. They’re lots of fun to answer.

Tuesday September 22nd 2009, 7:16 pm 12 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,marauder's guides,wagenplatz


the marauder’s guide to “wagenplätze”

I have been exchanging emails with a soon-to-be Frankfurter who, through his questions, has made me realize that despite all my winding narrative attempts, I’ve left a lot of unanswered questions about wagenplätze for the detail-oriented and the seriously curious. So here is a detailed question and answer with some of the most common questions I get about wagenplatz life.

So what the hell is a Wagenplatz?

The short answer is that a wagenplatz is an intentional community in which people live together on a piece of land in a variety of wheeled dwellings.

Most of these dwellings are what are called Bauwägen (building wagons) which can be moved from place to place like any other heavy trailer-on the back of a tractor or truck capable of handling the weight. Others live in the back of trucks that have been converted into living spaces. Your classic trailer–what is often called a Wohnei (living egg) or Wohnmobil (living mobile) in German–are rare, and often unfairly stigmatized by the wagon community as being undesirable and unpleasant.

The fact that wagenplatz dwellings tend to be wheeled leave many English-speakers tempted to translate the term as “trailer park,” though the term rings false in my ears as the trailer parks I have known were not neighborhoods based on common left-leaning political ideas, consensus, mutual aid, and autonomy, but accidental communities brought together by space and not necessarily similarities, much like the traditional off-wheels neighborhood.

When it comes right down to it, there simply is no term in English for wagenplatz, because the concept does not exist in the United States or Britain. When friends from back home ask me to describe our community, I often say things like “Remember the Boxcar Children? Something like that, but with a lot of us,” or “Oh I don’t know, something like a wooden gypsy/circus nomad trailer settlement.” (Shhh, a lot of wagon dwellers get really pissed off when you mention the word “gypsy romantic” in relation to this lifestyle.)

Who owns the land?

In most cases, the land is squatted. For example, the wagenplatz where I live started after Haus Mainusch was squatted in the 80s. Within a few weeks the squatters had come to an understanding with the land owners, in this case the Johannes Gutenberg University, and were allowed to continue to use the property. Eventually a wagenplatz sprang up on the land behind the house, as a housing solution for those involved in house organization and renovation.

All this means that somebody could decide to show up at your door with a lot of police officers with riot gear and guns, and physically force you to leave, and be completely within the letter of the law. I have heard horror stories of people who have had their wagon homes removed from squatted land by crane and compacted before their eyes. In other more peaceful incidents, land-owners negotiate and provide or help find another suitable piece of land for the community to move to.

Recently we were evicted from the back half of our land by the university because they wanted to build a new chemistry building and needed the space to park their building equipment. Luckily, the university was willing to negotiate and provided a second piece of land, to be bought over the course of 20-something years, where half of the residents then moved over the course of several months. It was quite an act, but in the end it means that our town now has two wagenplätze, and maybe someday, when the construction is finished, we can squat the back half of the property back, and fill it again with color and life.

And just what is a bauwagon?

A bauwagen is a boxcar-shaped trailer, today most commonly used as the temporary office at construction sites, thus the name bauwagen, or building wagon. Some people have them in their garden as tool sheds, chicken coops, or play areas for the kids. They are common among circus folk and other nomadic groups–I’ve heard tell that very similar structures can be seen in the United States at SCA and RennFest gatherings.

Older wagons are usually sided with wood, while many of the newer wagons are sided with metal. They range from a few meters in length to ten or twelve, with width averaging at about two meters (inside). They are insulated for winter weather and heated with woodstoves. Some people build towers or additions, and if you’re a creative builder, you’ll find that wagons are structures with a lot of room for innovative space savers and additions.

How many people live in each wagon? And what about shared spaces like kitchens and living rooms?

Usually each person has his or her own wagon, though occasionally you can find a couple sharing a wagon.

Communal space differs from wagenplatz to wagenplatz. At the wagenplatz where I previously lived, we had a large communal kitchen; a food wagon; two platz-built buildings: a pub/meeting room and a cinema (complete with old school red velvet theater seats that someone had thrown away), a library wagon, multiple guest wagons, and a meter-long telephone wagon.

At the wagonplatz where I currently live we have a 9-meter cinema wagon (imagine a big living room, with a table and games to play on it, couches, and a TV and VCR for watching the hundreds of films that line the walls), four communal kitchens, a guest wagon, and the house/venue/bar that another group consisting both of people who live on the wagenplatz and people from the region.

The variations depend on space, need, and wagon-availability.

How are decisions made?

Most wagenplätze meet regularly for what is called a plenum, which is a meeting to discuss current issues, solve problems, share news, and make decisions. At the beginning of the meeting a list of topics is made, and then each is discussed and decided on through consensus. Sometimes this means a ten-minute discussion, and sometimes it takes weeks, but everyone gets a chance to speak his or her mind, and nothing is final until a solution is found that everyone feels comfortable with.

What about electricity? Bathrooms? Internet?

This, again, differs from place to place, but I will use my previous residence again as an example here, as I think it is more typical of wagenplätze across Germany.

In Frankfurt we did not have grid electricity. Just about everyone had solar panels that ran 12-volt power to their stereos, computers, and lights. In the summer this meant an endless stream of electricity; in the winter it could mean a few hours of light before the juice dried up. I lived in a guest wagon without solar panels. At night I read by candlelight and used a headlamp to find my way around outside.

We also did not have running water. There was a parking garage next to our land where we jointly rented a small room with a faucet, two washing machines, and electric plugs for charging cell phones and computers and electric razors on the days when there wasn’t enough sun to make it on solar. Drinking water was carried from there in large canisters, or bought bottled from the grocery store.

As for bathing, everyone seemed to have their own ritual. Some took constant cat baths, others used solar shower bags (large black bags that you fill with water, lay in the sun to heat up, and then hang on a tree to shower under), and still others showered at the homes of friends. Quite a few had memberships at a cheap local gym so that they could shower indoors all year round.

Toilets were mostly homemade compost toilets, each lady for herself, though there was one compost toilet located next to the pub for communal use/visitors. I peed outside and got permission to use my neighbor’s compost toilet. Other friends walked across the street to the building supply store that had a bathroom near the entrance.

At my current residence we have it plush: grid electricity and running water in the house and in the toilet wagon (with urinals, two toilets, two sinks, and a washing machine). Showering we either do on the university campus or, in the summer, in one of several outside showers in which you can either fill a watering can with heated water or hook up the hose for an ice-cold, but running shower.

In both communities we had the internet.

What if I want to move to a wagenplatz? What should I do?

Since these are communities built on the common ground of the members, it is probably a good idea to start going to some events at your nearest wagenplatz and getting to know some people. It’s not necessary, but it helps.

Then you”ll need to go to a plenum and officially ask if you can become a guest or a Probewohner (trial resident). At this meeting you will be expected to introduce yourself to the group, explain why you are interested in moving in, and let them know what you are expecting–do you want to stay in the guest wagon for two months or do you want to get your own wagon with sites on becoming an official resident at the end of your trial period (every wagenplatz handles this differently). The group will probably then send you out of the room for a while to talk it over among themselves and let you know what they have decided.

Part two of this post can be found here.

Tuesday September 01st 2009, 7:05 am 15 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,marauder's guides,wagenplatz


the marauder’s guide to frankfurt am main

Frankfurt. She’s a classy lady, at first glance. She’s the kind of lady who wears little black dresses and high heels and rhinestone necklaces and stays out all night drinking expensive cocktails with bankers in five-star restaurants, one of the neuveua rich. With her twin blue-and-yellow plastic euro monuments (the first fronting the state theater, the second between the airport and the autobahn), with her banks and her guidebook nickname (“Mainhatten”) she’d have to be a woman obsessed with money, designer clothing, expensive jewelry. Wouldn’t she? Wouldn’t she?

But she leads a double life, and she’s got more dirty secrets and ripped stockings than she probably wants you to know about. She’s a disheveled red-headed junkie shooting up between her toes in broad daylight in front of the train station. She’s sitting on the hot-air vents in front of the Alte Oper with the Zeil punks, drinking cheap beer and rolling her own cigarettes. She’s spray painting a stencil on the wall in Nordend in the middle of the night, looking over her shoulder. She’s at the Au Fest, passed out in the bushes. She’s in the black bloc, protesting fur, at the Nachtanzdemo, dancing in the street.

Frankfurt’s Marauder’s Outposts

The Au (In der Au , S-Bahn Station Rödelheim Bahnhof, 5-10 walk)
The Au has been squatted since June 4, 1983. Host to a weekly Thursday-night vokü, punk rock concerts (5-7 euros admission), and the infamous summer Au Fest and a soccer tournament. The concert room is just small enough to be cozy, just dirty and cheap enough to be punk rock, with a free Fußball table and unisex bathroom.
www.au-frankfurt.org

Café ExZess (Leipziger Straße 91, U-Bahn Station Leipziger St)
A graffiti-covered autonomes center with an infoladen and lending library, concerts (punk rock, post rock, folk), theater, pub nights, and political lectures.
www.infoladen.de/ffm/exzess.htm

Dreikönigskeller (Färberstraße 71, walk over the Eisenersteg and take a left, the venue is about a half block on your right)
A regular old commercial venture, but if you like little blues/rockabilly/garage numbers, the best venue in town. A tiny cellar room with red rounded ceilings, a pint-sized stage (complete with Elvis shrine), and rock and roll music on the turn tables.
www.dreikoenigskeller.com/aktuell.htm

Raumstation Rödelheim (Auf der Insel 14, S-Bahn Station Rödelheim, 10-15 minute walk)
Though I’m not personally a fan of the „sterile youth center“ feel of the space itself, there are good folks doing good things here every damn week. Monthly voküs, concerts, parties, lectures.
www.insel14.de

Bauwagendorf Borsigallee (Borsigallee 26A, U-Bahn Station Borsigallee)
Frankfurt’s largest wagonplatz (think gypsies meets politically radical meets crust punk meets autonomous community living in wooden boxcar-esque structures) with a Sunday pub/cinema night and the occasional concert.

Club Voltaire (Friedrichstraße 43, Station: Opernplatz or Hauptwache)
Open mics, politcal lectures, and a space that tends to be sardine-packed with liberal students, wearer’s of long dreadlocks, and listeners of reggae and indie rock.

IVI (Kettenhofweg 130, Bahn Station Bockenheimer Warte)
Though run by the, in my opinion, rather-questionable “Anti-Deutsch” movement, this house offers a large and continous range of politically charged concerts, film nights, lectures, and parties.
ivi.copyriot.com/media

Bike Polo (Börse, U-Bahn Station Hauptwache, Wednesday nights)
Every Wednesday night round about 8 pm you can find a gaggle of bike people sitting in front of the stock market building drinking beer and playing polo on pretty bikes. If it’s not Wednesday and you want to find a bike messenger, they can usually be found sitting on the steps in front of the opera house between jobs. If it is Wednesday and you can’t find polo, they sometimes play in front of the State Theater over at Willy Brandt Platz.

Critical Mass (Opernplatz, first Sunday of every month, 2 pm)
Take back the streets and get a damn good bike tour of Frankfurt’s bits and pieces.
www.critical-mass-frankfurt.de/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1&Itemid=29

Dumpsters (Behind every grocery store, everywhere)
The diving in Frankfurt is good, especially in the richer quarters. Extensive exploring will leave you drowing in obscene heaps of organic delicacies. Tuesday nights cruise around Nordend for excellent “big trash” scrounging, put out early for Wednesday morning pick up. The Tafel is a beaurocratic step-mutant of Food Not Bombs and usually distributes food once a week. (Last I heard, Thursday afternoons at ExZess, ask around to confirm.)

As for the old railroad bridge, the abandoned beer factory, and the best playground of all time, you’re going to have to find them for yourself. And on the way, you’ll probably stumble on a couple more of Frankfurt’s dirty, dreaded little secrets. For everything I’ve forgotten and the rest of the Rhein-Main area, there’s Untergrund (http://www.copyriot.com/untergrund), the region’s event calendar, also available on paper at most of the locations listed above.

(Photo by Gisi, I think.)

Monday August 31st 2009, 4:19 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,germany,gorilla travel,marauder's guides


the marauder’s guide to cheap-ass german beer

The mission was simple. Five people, fifteen of the cheapest beers we could find, and a blind taste test. It was a cheap beer taste test because we were broke, and since we were almost always broke, we considered ourselves something of cheap beer experts. The good, the bad, and the ugly: we’d drank it, funneled it, and thrown it back up.

So it started–like every night of drinking starts when you’re broke–with a scramble to gather up all the empty bottles and cans since the last drinking frenzy that we could take back to the grocery store for Pfand. (Pfand=bottle return money) Three people, three sacks of bottles, three stores. We’d procrastinated with the shopping until it was too late to get to the really, really cheap grocery stores (Plus, Aldi, and Lidl, for example), so we went to Rewe, Tenglemann, and most importantly (though deceivingly expensive) the gas station. We ended up with about 13 euros and 15 beers.

We didn’t have any standards to guide our grades–from one to ten, one being “reserved for beer from the Sates” and ten being the best damn beer you’ve ever tasted–but we had snacks and a tape recorder and a fridge full of cooling booze. We decided on a blind test–beer in glasses and brand names with held until the last beer had disappeared down our whetted gullets–hoping that would eliminate any brand marketing/nostalgia biases.

But beer bias is harder to lose than you’d think and whenever a beer popped up that tasted decent we automatically assumed that it must be Hansa or 5,0, two of the group’s favorite variations on cheap drunk in a can. Everytime something tasted bad, we all assumed it must be Neptun, one of our collectively hated beer brands. Which, embarrassingly enough, rated as second best of the night. I should probably also mention that along the way we tried to guess which brand we were currently drinking, and we didn’t hit the mark once.

So, for the conscious (hoping to soon be unconscious) consumer of cheap beer, here are a few to try (or avoid), and a few soundbytes from the judges to guide your shopping cart next Friday night.

the great beer verkostung

Paderborner Pils 0,50 L can 4,8%
Origin: Paderborn/Gas Station
Price: 0,89 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 3

“It smells like dish water.”

“It smells like a cellar.”

“Pfui! It doesn’t taste like beer. It tastes like Tetrapack.”

“Bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter bitter. Not herb, just bitter.”

Rössel Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,7%
Origin: Karlsruhe/Tengelmann
Price: 0,35 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 4

“I see already that there’s more foam than in the last one.”

“You’re the only one with foam in your glass.”

“Well, that’s at least something! And it smells better than the last one.”

“But it tastes like a gas station.”

“Yes! Very gas station-y. Actually, it tastes like lulu.”

“Smells better than it tastes.”

“It’s not as stale as the last one. It has a little bit more spark.”

“You could get drunk on it.”

Dominikaner Pils 0,50 L can 4,8%
Origin: Bernkastel/Gas station
Price: 1,09 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 2

“It smells kind of sweet.”

“Oooeeee, it has a really terrible aftertaste.”

“It’s not bitter at all, not like the last two, smells more brackish.”

“It tastes a little bit like river water.”

“It not being bitter just allows the puke taste to come out full force.”

Oettinger Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,7%
Origin: Oettingen/Tenglemann
Price: 0,35 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 1

“Very little foam.”

“Smells like a toilet, like piss.”

“It must be all the Spuckschlucke mixed together.” (Spuckschluck=the last sip of a beer that is more spit than beer)

“It tastes terrible.”

*Puking noises, one after the other.*

“Even drunk I don’t think it would taste good.”

“It’s the worst one we’ve had yet.”

Whether this terrible rating had something to do with the remnants of the last three beers in our glasses and mouths, or if it was really that disgusting we’ll never know. What we do know is this: one of the very same testers who rated Oettinger a big, ugly 1, had brought his own Oettinger along to drink between tests. And even worse: we’d served this very same beer in the pub we all more or less run together and had been getting drunk on it nightly for years. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Instead, I’ll tell you about 5,0.

5,0 Export 0,50 L can 5,2%
Origin: Braunschweig/Rewe
Price: 0,35 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 6

“Even after a good shake there’s no foam.”

“It smells ok.”

“Mmm, tastes pretty good. Best one so far.”

“It has a neutral taste, goes down pretty smooth.”

“It was a little shy at first, but now, mmmm.”

Henninger Kaiser Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,8%
Origin: Frankfurt am Main/Tenglemann
Price: 0,75 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 6

“There’s a little bit of foam.”

“It’s pretty neutral, a little watery, pleasant but nothing special.”

“No after taste.”

“Doesn’t taste like anything. But maybe that’s the brewer’s secret. As long as it tastes like nothing it doesn’t taste bad.”

“I would like to drink some more of it.”

Karlskrone Gold 0,50 L plastic bottle 4,9%
Origin: Belgium/Aldi
Price: 0,29 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 3,5

“Eww, it smells like a toilet.”

“But it doesn’t taste quite as bad as it smells.”

“It’s kind of sweet.”

“Yeah, like decay.”

“It’s already gone stale, after barely a minute open.”

“At least it has the courage to taste like something.”

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

Neptun 0,5 L bottle 4,9%
Origin: Hamburg/Gas station
Price: 0,89 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 7

“There’s a little foam.”

“Smells ok.”

“Pleasant.”

“More!”

How embarrassing. We rated our alleged most hated beer a 7 and then begged for more. We almost gave it an 8, but, thinking it was 5,0, took a penalty point for the campaign they do with the German flag on the cans every time there’s a big soccer event. Then again, directly after a Karlskrone, I’d reckon that piss might even taste good.

Licher Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,9%
Origin: Hessen/Tengelmann
Price: 0,69 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 1

“It smells unexplainable.”

“And it has an aftertaste like BLGHJKJHUGH.” (That’s one of those barf mimic noises, folks.)

“Delicious!” Scissors was the only one who liked this one. He gave it a 9. “Give me more!”

“Tastes like bitter water. Bitter, bitter water.”

“Pfui Teufel!” (This means something like eww gross ala Deutsch.)

“Somebody shoot me.”

Faxe 1 L can 5%
Origin: Denmark/Gas station
Price: 2,19 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 6

“Low foam factor.”

“Pleasant.”

“Tastes like perfume and paint thinner and paint, kind of like people apprenticing as hair dressers smell after class.”

“The after taste isn’t so great either.”

At this point in the taste test, our lovely bartender threw a wrench into things and–since Faxe comes in a liter can–served us Faxe again for round eleven. We didn’t notice, but with a little time to air out, the paint thinner taste had disappeared, and we liked it even more, this time awarding it 7 points. Whether this speaks positively for Faxe or negatively for our judgment, I’ll leave for you to decide, fair reader.

Hansa Pils 0,33 L can 4,8%
Origin: Dortmund/Rewe
Price: 0,35 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 5

“Smells like beer. Looks like beer.”

“Gross.” (This from someone who claims to like the stuff under normal circumstances.)

“Not bad, drinkable.”

Eichbaum Pils 0,50 L bottle
Origin: Mannheim/Gas station
Price: 1,09 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 3

“Bitter. Ech.”

“But maybe only because we’ve already drank 12 beers tonight.”

“Harumpf.”

Veltins Pils 0,50 L bottle 4,8%
Origin: Grevenstein/Tengelmann
Price: 0,75 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 8-9

“There’s foam!”

“It must be Hansa!” (Here come some more of those biases.)

“Tastes great!”

“It’s almost too good, frighteningly good.”

“Tastes really good.”

Though Veltins was one of the cheapest beers at the Tengelmann, it’s considered a decent beer, I’ve been told. Whew. As the highest rated beer of the night, at least you can be certain that our taste buds aren’t completely warped and rotten.

Hasseröder 0,50 L bottle 4,9%
Origin: Wernigerode/Rewe
Price: 0,75 + 0,08 Pfand
Rating: 7

“There are still bubbles!”

“Pretty good.”

“It doesn’t taste like much. Smells intense, but the taste isn’t anything special.”

“Smells good. Tastes like nothing, but pleasantly like nothing.”

“Hey, guys, I think we’re drunk!”

“Hurrah,” we all yelled, finishing off our glasses happily with a chorus of clinking glass.

5,0 Pils 0,50 L can 5,0%
Origin: Braunschweig/Rewe
Price; 0,35 + 0,25 Pfand
Rating: 5,5

“Smells like nothing.”

“It’s ok. Strange somehow. Tastes like can.”

“Not bad. Not good.”

And with that a night of cheap beer debauchery ended as we moved onto vodka soy milk and garlic bread. Hopefully our intrepid advice will help you choose the right cheap beer for you the next time you’re broke in the land of the red, black, and yellow. And remember the wise words of one of our testers: “Just because we’ve been pouring beer down our throats for years doesn’t make us experts!” And how. Bottoms up.

(An abridged version of this text will also be appearing at www.young-germany.de.)

Tuesday June 23rd 2009, 9:08 pm 2 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,marauder's guides


the marauder’s guide to schwarzfahren

Word on the street is that Click Clack Gorilla is writing a travel guide. It’s about Germany. Having recently escaped near financial ruin at the hands of a sinister, yet (conveniently) easily flustered ticket controller, I am posting a piece of the section on (free)riding the German rails in celebration. Here here. Break out the champagne already.

die Bahn

Schwarzfahren—in literal English, “riding black,” or, in English English, the practice of riding public transportation without a ticket—carries two risks: getting thrown out of the train in a potentially inconvenient place and/or a 40€ fine. Urban legend has it that schwarzfahren is statistically proven to be the smartest financial option. I don’t make this shit up. The people on the news do. Having done a little math I reckon it’s true. But it all depends on the train.

RE (regional), IC (Intercity), and ICE (Intercity Express) trains are checked uncomfortably thoroughly and often. It is not impossible to ride these trains without a ticket, but requires a high level of concentration, creativity, or the patience to lock yourself in a small hot bathroom for hours at a time. One variation: Purchase the sort of ticket that allows you five trips across Germany dress like a businessperson, and see if you can’t sleep through the entire ride without being shaken awake by a ticket-checking conductor. As long as no date is recorded on the ticket, it can be used again. Buying tickets to cheaper destinations that lie along your route is also rumored to be effective.

Public transportation companies within German cities employ plainclothes men and women to conduct random ticket checks. (The conductors on REs and ICEs wear blue uniforms and snappy little hats.) Possible signs that you are trapped in a car with one of them: He remains standing as the train starts in preparation for beginning the check, she is carrying what looks like a portable credit card machine, or she is with a uniformed railway security duder, recognizable by his own snappy little red tam. They tend to come in twos and there tends to be something about them that just doesn’t look quite right. But maybe that’s just urban schwarzfahrer’s legend. If you see a snappy little tam though, don’t panic. Most of these in are false alarms—duders waiting for a ticket checker in another car or doing security duty. Each city has its “hot” routes and times. Learn them, heed them, and get the fuck off the train if you smell a rat. Multiple offenses can lead to much higher fines and harsher penalties. If you pay with cash, they won’t record your name, and no one will be counting, so if you can afford it, consider keeping a 40 tucked into your wallet. Or there’s always that fake ID you used in high school to buy 40s, but don’t come crying to me when you get arrested for falsifying documents.

Signs within the train cars will attempt to guilt you into seeing your failure to purchase a ticket as a grave social offense and before the train system was privatized, I might have agreed. You, being an American taught to like the taste of corporate cum and to despise all social programs as communist propaganda, will be immune to their social guilt. Consider buying a ticket once in a while to appease the direct action cods, and your own guilt at having refused to pay your share of an already underpaid driver’s salary. Also consider the thoughts of your travel companions. There is a certain breed of Germans—fuck it there is a certain breed of people—who have a general tendency to take corpor-ehem-I mean social responsibility and abiding by the rules rather seriously.

If asked for a ticket there are several approaches you can take to attempt to avoid the fine. There is the Oh Shit I’m a Slow Witted Tourist from Am-eer-e-ca approach. There is the I’m an Exchange Student Just Starting (note: the new semester usually begins in October and March) and I Don’t Have My Student ID Yet (students ride local transport for free) maneuver. There is the Ticket From Earlier in the Day tactic (tickets are usually only valid for two hours, but some employees are not detail-oriented and look only at the date and not the time). There is the Quickly Flashed Ticket From Yesterday scam. And if you’re dressed right, there is the slightly more involved Oh My God I’m SO Scatter-Brained Can You Believe It I Lost My Ticket Oh Dear Look at These Tears of Sorrow Shining in My Eyes (I’d Like to Thank the Academy) double whammy get out of jail free card. Or you could just run. Most Bahn employees have big Bahn bellies, and most will take you off of the train, right out into freedom, in order to collect your information.

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Tuesday May 06th 2008, 6:27 pm 9 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,germany,gorilla travel,marauder's guides