How I missed out on visiting the Biggest Chocolate House in the World

This afternoon, a red-faced Berliner with a moustache reprimanded me for committing a traffic offense on Unter den Linden. My crime: staying put when I saw the red man.

I know that there are a lot of things I don’t understand. Many of them I have written about here before.

But of all the enigmas with which I have battled, nothing remains as clandestine as the reason for pedestrian traffic lights occurring at the same spot as a zebra crossing.

Granted I had been walking along the narrow central stretch of the beautiful tree-lined promenade, instead of the wide pavements designed for walkers, but I had good reason for it. From the middle, I had a wonderful view of both the Victory Column ahead, and the Brandenburg Gate behind.

I had stopped with the intention of crossing over to have a look at the Russian war memorial. I almost pulled a muscle in my neck with all the looking left, then right, then left again I was doing. Ligaments have the right to rebel when called into use after periods of benign neglect.
It may have been a zebra crossing, but the light was red.

To be honest, I was charmed by the iconic red traffic man, with his wide hat and purposeful stance. Even if he had been green, I probably would have stopped to stare. Anyway, something about my immobility irked the balding motorist with whiskers sprouting from his nose. He beeped and growled at me as he drove past.

On I wandered down Unter den Linden anyway and turned off at the corner to have a look at the Schloss Belvue, the residence of the new Federal President, Joachim Gauck. On Monday, when I took a bus tour of the city, the lady guide quipped that it was Germany’s “White House”.
I found it pleasant to look at and unusually unguarded. You’d know it was a ceremonial role.

When I got to the end of Unter den Linden, I reached the Siegessäule or “Victory Column”. This monstrous tower was erected to celebrate defeats first against Denmark, then the Prussians and then Austria. I remembered that the guide had mentioned the number of steps to the top but I had promptly forgotten the number, which is in line with my tendency to not see the trees for the wood.

It didn’t matter. As I was climbing higher and higher up the spiral staircase, I considered the number to be infinite. With each loop, I looked upwards with expectation and to my horror found the distance yet to be conquered to be increasing.

At one point, I stopped and considered the possibility of failure. After all, if the column celebrated success over adversaries, I may as well be monument to its victory over foreign invaders.

As I was gazing upward into the infinite abyss, I embarrassingly caught the eye of a German champion who had made it and was gazing patronisingly downwards. Her laugh echoed down at me and I boomed a nervous one back.

As I climbed higher and higher I was struck powerfully by my absolute solitude. If I were to fall, nobody would know. The only people to accompany me during my last breaths would be a group of exuberant southern Germans too busy in the big smoke to care, and a Spanish couple, so visibly in love, with their linked arms and communal tickling, that my death might even pass them by.

I huffed and I puffed and I made it. I had a breath-taking view of the city covered in mist. The TV tower to the east fought with the clouds and together they looked like a clumsy mass of candy floss.

Church steeples and colourful concrete blocks, and in between a glass dome, or a power station: the city’s skyline is a muddled testament to its troubled history.

I took a few photos and implored an Italian man to take my picture.

Sieger!

That’s the funny thing about travelling without companions; you’re much more forward about approaching people, even if you risk inferring that you wish to become a shareholder of Sparda bank.

After I had made it down safely, I sat at the base of the Victory Column and considered my next move. I could go to the Zoo, but I probably wouldn’t have time to see all of the 15,000 species of animals. Or I could go to the Pergamon museum, but I wouldn’t have time to look at every specimen of Athenian artefact on display.

So I thought I might as well head west back down Unter den Linden and check out the beautiful Gendarmen Square, which I had read about in my trusty guide.

Alas, that plan was destined to fail.

I had just reached Humboldt university when I spotted a bookstall set up outside. Given that I’ve a penchant for independent booksellers, I wandered over to browse the titles.

I picked up a hardback copy of Hermann Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf and a translation of Gabriel Garcua Marquez’ A Hundred Years of Lonelienss.

The vendor, a bearded man with glasses and wearing a black hat, took them from me and said: “Ich bin beeindruckt”.

I smiled. He had told me he was impressed with my selection.

This man reminded me of the type of person I thought I would miss from Ireland.

He was an unconventional and incessant talker, belligerent one moment and benign the next.

He talked to me about socialism and National Socialism, about Gunther Grass and Johann Goethe, about the student movement of the 1960’s, and about anti-Americanism; about a Japanese girl he had sworn at because she had dared haggle over a Hermann Hesse book and about a journalist at the Berliner Morgen Zeitung, who gives him hundreds of newly-released titles for free because he is inundated with copies to review.

The man was an intriguing blend of madness and intellect. His depth of knowledge on all matters of political, historical and cultural importance impressed me, his unflappable loquaciousness did not.

I was making polite one or two word responses to his tirade against anti-intellectualism, when a lady with a tight bun and pursed lips interrupted.

The direct translation of what she said was:

“Would you ever give me some attention and quit your incessant blabber about nothing?”

He didn’t so much as glance in her direction when he beamed at me and said “This lady thinks I talk too much. She’s right!”

I tried to make a dash as he was completing her transaction but he continued to speak,now about Theo Adorno, looking me directly in the eye.

It was getting dark.

“I would like to introduce you to my friend in the Berliner Morgen Zeitung”, he said. “I am absolutely certain he would fall instantly in love with you. He’s a very brilliant man; a philosopher”.

“That’s impressive”, I mumbled politely.

“He is in his sixties”, he added, by way of explanation.

After one hour and five minutes, he leaned over and shook my hand.
“You’ll come back, won’t you?”, he asked.

“Yes”, I said.

Because I feel his gift of the gab might be newsworthy.

When I returned home late this evening I told my flatmate what had delayed me.

“Why didn’t you just say you had to go?”, he asked.

“Because it was utterly impossible!”, I cried.

“Then you should have just thrown a book at him”.

To add to my woes, I saw someone on the U Bahn today with my totally unique Rittersport chocolate bag. And as if it couldn’t get any worse, I just googled Gendarmenmarkt and found that it is home to the biggest chocolate house in the world.

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Banking Crisis in Berlin: A Special Report

I would like to set up a bank account in Berlin. So this morning I popped into the Sparda Bank on Georgenstrasse, where I’ll be working, and looked around for somebody to talk to. It was an odd kind of bank. There were several ATM machines and people milling about but there was an unusual formality in the air.

A man resembling a pencil caught my eye and glided over. He had a silver pen wedged into the pocket of his shirt and there wasn’t a crease to be seen in his pin-striped suit. He exuded pleasant authority.

“Hello” he said, “how can I help you?”
“Hello! 🙂 I’m new in Berlin and I’d like to open a bank account. Are you the right person to talk to about this?”
“Potentially”, he said, “though I’ll see if one of my colleagues can help you. Please take a seat”.
“Thank you!”

I sat down opposite a round-faced man with tufts of thick blonde hair. He was reading the Spiegel. My heart did a little skip.

Posters of grinning middle-aged men in flashy cars and attractive women getting massages in exotic surroundings were pinned to a display board advertising loans. A coloured graph showing the values of shares going up and down was captioned “Values always rise after a financial crisis”.

After some time, a lady came to me. “If you’re ready, Madam, I’ll take you this way”.
My Goodness, I thought. What service. You don’t get this in the Trinity Branch of Bank of Ireland.
She led me into a little chamber, pulled out a chair for me and said, “Please take a seat”.
I shuffled in and got my feet tangled in my bag.
“Could I get you something to drink?”
Something to drink? I thought. Sweet Mother.. How long does she think I’m staying?
“No thank you”, I replied brightly, compensating for my bewilderment with excessive friendliness.
“Now”, she said, “tell me about yourself”.
“Well” I started, “I’ve just moved here from Ireland and am going to do an internship with Spiegel for three months. I’m not sure how long I’ll stay after that but I would like to have access to money from a German account if it’s possible”.

Her face changed. Suddenly she looked both panicked and apologetic.
“I’ll have to check with my colleague. Please wait”.
“Sure”, I said.

I twiddled my thumbs.

She came back.

“I’ve discussed the matter with my colleague. We feel that this might not be the right bank for you”.
“Oh really?”
“Your plans are a little vague. We require our customers to hold onto an account for a minimum of one year”.
“Ah, I understand”, I replied.
“Furthermore, when you open a bank account with us, it is mandatory to become a shareholder of the company”.

I gulped and tried to smother laughter.

Had I just attended an important business meeting with an investment banker?

Yes, I had.

There was nothing for it but to head to the Brandenburger Tor.

Next stop: Brandenburger Tor

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PS – My day was very eventful so I might blog again later if I’m not being a superhero in the hostel kitchen.

Ich bin angekommen!

So here I am alone in a hostel in east Berlin, munching on Rittersport (Knusperkeks flavour) chocolate. The original plan was to sit alone drinking beer, but when I checked in I was presented with a formidable list of “Hausregeln” (or “House Rules”). One of them said that drinking alcohol in the dorms was prohibited. Dejected, I scrawled “Kate Katharina” in the appropriate place and signed my humble plan away.

So now it’s just me, the single square of chocolate that’s left and a potted plant with spindly leaves, which greeted me from the window sill when I arrived.

Earlier when I got off the plane and into the arrivals hall at Schönefeld, I set eyes on a peculiarly tall youngster. He was dressed all in white – in a baggy tracksuit and matching pristine cap (which he was wearing backwards). He was holding an artificial bunch of roses upside down. I thought he might have jumped out of one of Eminem’s music videos, but then it occurred to me that it might be LSB in disguise.

Given his tendency towards deceit and his elaborate plan to surprise me for Valentine’s Day again this year, I thought it was reasonably plausible that he had taken a night flight after we parted ways yesterday (underneath Ranelagh Luas Bridge) in order to welcome me in Berlin.

I looked over expectantly but the rapper-romancer was oblivious to me. There was nothing for it but to continue my journey to the Airport train station.

My going-away gifts for LSB


Schönefeld airport reminded me much more of Ireland than the swanky Terminal 2 in Dublin. It’s a modest building, and you collect your luggage from a sluggish conveyor belt in cramped space. While you’re waiting for it, entertainment comes on a screen which shows the three-day weather forecast, the business news and an advertisement for a back massage clinic in continuous rotation. It had a charming higgledy-piggledy feel which made me feel right at home.
While I was yanking my unobliging cases through the walkway on the way to the trains, I passed a man lurking about holding a sign that read “Need ticket” in neat black biro print. Some kind lady stopped to give him change. I wondered how he had landed there.

I was happily prepared to soak up my first impressions of Berliners on the S9 to Friedrichshain. I even asked the train driver, a man in his fifties with half his face taken up by a magnificent curly grey beard, if I was on the right line. I was. When I asked if he stopped at Frankfurter Allé, he paused dramatically, so that I might think I was way off.

Then he grinned and said “Ja, da fahre ich hin”.

I could have been on Dublin bus.

My mum told me that Berliners are known to have a sharp sense of humour, that can be cutting at times. It’s called the “Berliner Schautze” (the Berlin Snout). More of that in future posts.

Having taken a seat on the S9, I stared at the people around me, as I have the bad habit of doing. Opposite me sat a lady with a nest of red hair that concluded in a limp tail that looped around her left shoulder. She was wearing sunglasses and orange and blue snow boots and got off at a stop which translates as “Tree School”.

I paused to consider what kind of things young saplings might need to learn but was stumped after I came up with dendrochronology.

An Australian lady with wavy blonde hair and a nose piercing was reading an academic paper with the title “The roots of gender inequality in Government”. She was marking the important bits with a yellow highlighter.

Unfortunately, my desire to get an authentic flavour of Berlin was thwarted by a group of noisy Irish students who had also been on my flight. They were talking loudly about who they were “shifting”, about the strapless tops they’d bought in Penneys and about the RTE player.

I sighed.

When I got off, I was immediately confronted by a murmuring drug addict looking for money. On the way to the hostel I passed a man lying on a few blankets with a broken shopping trolley and two large dogs for company. A few yards up a homeless woman, her face distorted by drug use, was muttering to herself. It was surreal to hear the language of drug abuse and poverty being spoken in German. I don’t know what I expected. They couldn’t all have a flat Dublin drawl.

It was far from the fairytale villages I know from Bavaria but it was exciting, with cars whizzing by, darkness beginning to descend and the scores of pizzerias and kebab shops tempting me to dinner.

As I type my eyes are becoming heavy. I’m installed cosily beside a radiator at a desk nestled in the corner of my little private room, which is attached to a four-bed dorm. Impressively, I’ve already made a friend. We met in the kitchen. I had my mouth full of falafels when he walked in.

His name is Tom. He’s forty-six and I saved him from burning his stew. He’d popped out of the hostel kitchen muttering something about “missing the vital ingredient” and left the pot unattended.
When he came back bearing a bottle of wine, I was dealing with the cauldron, where bubbles had begun to burst at the brim.

Me and my falafel.

So we had a chat over dinner and he told me that I had a distinct gypsy vibe. My eyes and the shape of my face, he said. I lauded his perception. After all, I recently found out that all of the women in my family have rare mitochondrial DNA associated with the Roma tribe. He said that he definitely wouldn’t have put me as either Irish or German. Russian perhaps, or Polish.

Just as well I’m living in east Berlin, I suppose. My guidebook charmingly describes Friedrichshain as “a traditionally rather dowdy working-class district which is increasingly being discovered by the well-to. I’ve a feeling I’ll fit right in.

Now, where can I recycle my Rittersport Knusperkeks wrapper?

Thoughts on leaving Ireland: Why emigration is my lifestyle choice

This time two weeks, if everything has gone to plan, I’ll be sipping beer alone in an east Berlin hostel.

I’m leaving Ireland for a few months to do an internship at Spiegel International, the English version of Germany’s Der Spiegel.

I’m one of the people Michael Noonan was referring to when he talked about emigration being a “Lifestyle choice”.

I intended to emigrate when I graduated in 2010 but I couldn’t afford it. After I did a TEFL course, which my parents paid for, I was lucky enough to get a job at the school where I trained.

I have loved this job and were I not young, passionate about writing and curious about the world I would do well to keep it.

I don’t agree with Eamonn Dunphy that Ireland is a dump. I agree with George Hook that this country gave him a “bloody good living”.

If we were in the middle of an economic boom I’d be in more of a rush to leave.

Because moving shakes you up, allows you to meet people that challenge how you think and forces you to define yourself within new parameters.

I’ve lived in the same house for 24 years. I know its every nook. When I come home, my father is where he is supposed to be. As I push open the gate, I look in the window and see the back of his head and his arms outstretched. From behind, it looks like he’s made a tent out of the Times newspaper and is holding it stubbornly in place because he has run out of pitching pegs. I hear clinks of plates in the kitchen. I smell his butter beans beginning to burn. I find my mother’s school-bag in the hall and hear her practising the Alto part to the piece of music she is singing in choir. When I come into the room she turns from the piano and tells me an amusing story about one of her pupils or something that she saw on the way to school.

In the mornings, I wake up and Áine Lawlor’s voice is like wind, willing me out of bed. All I can think about is how warm I am in my onesie and how early Áine must have to get up every single day. After a while I feel ashamed and curl into a foetal ball and roll out of bed.

As for the the three men that are in my life but that don’t know it they won’t miss me one bit.

I saw the man with long blonde hair and pools for eyes again today. His head was pushing down Harcourt Street, like a hound in slow motion. Last week I bought the Big Issue from a Romanian women in Rathmines, instead of from my friend outside Trinity. I haven’t seen him in a while but if I do, I will buy another copy. LSB has promised that he will buy each new issue from him while I am away. I know he will, because he always keeps his promises. And if he forgets, my face will appear on his computer screen as soon as he signs into Skype and I will ask him why he hasn’t done it yet. I am charming like that.

I’ll miss town on a Saturday. My vegetarian breakfasts at Cornucopia, where I spy on people who have nice haircuts, pretty coats and carry pocket books. I’ll miss John Gormley’s neat head and chiselled chin, which you can see in a frame hanging on the wall. I’ll miss the flea markets and co-ops which are beginning to blossom like a shy bride all over the city. I’ll miss the silent Falun Dafa-practising protesters, who stand around banners at Stephen’s Green with their eyes closed, drawing shapes in the air, uncannily in sync.

After the terrible things I have said about it, I’ll miss O’Connell Street. I’ll even miss the towering superfluous spike. Sometimes when I’m whizzing along on the U-Bahn gobbling up breaking news, I’ll think back to the times I felt sad when I passed the alcoholics who drank inside the pubs on Parnell Street at half eight in the morning. I’ll think back to Wednesday mornings, which are Dole days in the north inner city. I’ll remember the sorry queue of hunched figures in tracksuits waiting to get into the little green post office.

Sometimes, I’ll yearn for those moments when you’re waiting at a bus stop or sitting on a park bench and an old man or lady looks at you a little longer than they should and then decides that you are a safe person and talks to you about the weather or the recession or about when the bus should arrive.

I’ll miss the men and women who work in the charity shops on Camden Street and the type of lady that I overheard last week in the Cancer Society shop telling a customer that she couldn’t win an argument, let alone the National Lottery but that it doesn’t stop her from dreaming.

I will miss the -often irrational- indignation of the callers on Liveline. I will miss the ceaseless banter and inoffensive drizzle and the feeling I get of being a 1930’s maiden any time I’m in Neary’s Pub.

But I’ll be back. And I’ll have learnt how to live with a cat despite my prejudices and what it’s like to write to live instead of to live to write.

I might just have managed to see out my Quarter -Life Crisis. but I’m not promising anything.

And I’ll be blogging so that you can come to Berlin too, if you like.

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Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. E-mail me privately with suggestions as to how to get LSB back for last year.

If you’re on Facebook and want to join in on some chats, you can “like” Katekatharina’s page.

What septic tanks and education have in common

I’ve spent three-quarters of my life being educated and the last two years educating others.

Since I began school at the age of four, I’ve associated education with evaluation.

First it was stickers and stars and rubber stamps. These evolved into report cards with little boxes beside the words: poor, fair, good, very good and excellent. Next came the letters of the alphabet: A, B and C. Then fractions and percentages arrived and after that, points. At university, marks were converted into classes and you could be first, second or third.

Compulsory education – like the septic tank- originated in the nineteenth century. While both aged tolerably well, of late they have begun to fail us.

image source: insectapedia.com


After all, as Ken Robinson, an educational theorist points out, the current system of education was conceived in the intellectual era of the enlightenment and the economic context of the industrial revolution.

Like the septic tank, it has failed to keep up with the times, often producing impenetrable sludge before practical distillation.

(If you need proof, try understanding what on earth academics writing in humanities journals are trying to say).

It’s not that our education is of poor quality. It’s not that we have bad teachers, or unmotivated students. They never help but they’re neither unique to this period nor the cause of the problem.

The real issue is that we haven’t decided whether education is a journey focussed on itself or on its destination.

Let me explain.

Up to recently, education was a means to an end. You walked out of school and into the workplace. If you went to university and got a first class degree, you got a first class job.

Now things have changed. We have too many people educated in areas with too few jobs.

The difficulty is that we still believe that the higher your educational level, the loftier your career expectations should be.

Of course it’s a prospect that many are failing to realise.

Now, if you get a first class degree, you take your place among all the others and compete for any old job.

It’s a case of social progress outrunning institutional reform.

You could see the situation as a social leveler. Now unemployment is for everybody, not just the least privileged.

Some students spend twenty years collecting stamps and stars and letters and numbers.

And then they find that the numbers don’t add up to a job.

Their experience calls into question the very purpose of evaluation.

The transition from pupil to teacher has taught me that evaluating students is rather arbitrary. It doesn’t measure very much at all.

But we’re hooked on comparison. We get frustrated if our own evaluation can’t be backed up by a standard measurement. If we think we’re better than the person next to us, we want it neatly before us in percentage form.

I guarantee that in a secret ballot, students wouldn’t vote out tests and exams.

Science backs it up. Research has shown that the pleasure circuits are activated in advance of finding out a result.

We thrive in conditions of uncertainty.

Waiting for a test result is like waiting to see if you have won in Poker. Ultimately neither tells you how well you have played or how much you have learnt, but rather how well you have performed relative to others.

It’s time we took a step back though.

The right to education is one of the great privileges of our age. While its original and most important purpose-to lay the foundations for economic subsistence- has been eroded by the unprecedented pace of progressive reform relative to growth in employment opportunities-we must take time to remember what has been so long neglected: the timeless, immeasurable pleasure of learning for its own sake.

Could it be that indulging ourselves in constant measurement against others is doing us more harm than good?

Andrew Bird, an American folk singer condenses the possibility beautifully in the song “Measuring Cups” which opens:

Get out your measuring cups and we’ll play a new game. Come to the front of the class and we’ll measure your brain. We’ll give you a complex and we’ll give it a name.

This generation, more intensely than any other before it, has experienced education as a closed system of incessant measurement.

For many that measurement has not amounted to more than restlessness and disillusion.

Learning for its own sake has been forgotten amidst the obsession with making ‘it’ which means ‘making money’.

If teaching has taught me one thing, it’s that the responsibility to evaluate is nothing compared with the possibility to inspire. My job is to encourage before it is to instruct.

Pupils are not watering cans: we can’t fill them up without their consent. They must want to learn, not in order to get a good job or to become rich or to sound clever, but because, as Merlin in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King reminds us, “it is the only thing that never fails”.

I have the following words pinned to my bedroom wall:

“You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then, to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the Mind can never exhaust never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you”.

Equipped with this original joy of learning, and a quieter, more humble confidence, our young people may be more inspired to carve an independent niche on the side-lines rather than enter the desperate rat-race of out-performance.

Let’s make our recovery less sludgy than a septic tank. In remembering why education matters for its own sake, we avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

“Welcome to life at The Irish Independent” – how Ireland’s best-selling newspaper embraced “L’Ethica dela New of the World”

Print journalists need three things.

First, a passion for the truth, second a concern for people and third a reasonable command of language.

For those that haven’t heard, on Wednesday Ireland’s best-selling daily newspaper The Irish Independent printed an article about a Polish lady living in Ireland.

image source: broadsheet.ie

The source of their piece was the Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper, which had been running features about life in recessionary Europe.

In the original article, “Magda” spoke about her life in Ireland and the state benefit she has received since losing her job.

The Irish Independent titled its piece “Welcome to ‘good life’ on welfare: how Polish waitress embraced La Dol-ce Vita”.

In the original Polish article, Magda says of being on benefits: “I don’t want to live off the state, that’s why I treat the benefits as an aid, which will help me to start my own business.”

On budgeting, she says:

“Once every two months I pay for electricity, that’s around 100 euro. I cook at home, I don’t go out to restaurants. I go to the market where I can get local products cheaper than in a shop. I look for special offers in Centra – for example 6 rolls for 1.50 euro. … I buy my clothes in Penney’s … but not too many, because I don’t have the need to glam myself up. My latest buys: yoga sweatpants for a euro, trousers for 7 … I buy my shoes in TK Maxx – max 10 euro per pair. In the autumn I get a winter clothing allowance … I look for books in a charity shop. Look: ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Robin Hood’, ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ by C.S. Lewis – all three for 2.50 euro.”

The Independent article reads “A Polish waitress living here has sparked fury after she boasted about living the good life on Irish welfare benefits”

Magda’s welfare benefits entitle her to take courses to increase her skills. According to the original article, “Magda can do a basic massage, a Hawaiian one and a hot stone one that she’s learnt at a free course organised by the social welfare office.”

The Independent’s version reads “‘Magda’ (36), not her real name, described her life on the dole in Donegal as a ‘Hawaiian massage’”. It also claims that she “revealed how she had packed in her job so she could spend her days walking along beaches with her partner” and sometimes sleeps till noon.

The original says ““I always start my days in the same way: I go down to the beach to see the sunrise. It sets me up for the rest of the day. I used to sleep until noon, but now I don’t want to waste my life.”

The Independent quotes Labour senator Jimmy Harte, who describes the claims as “outrageous” and adds that he’d “gladly pay for her flight home”.

Thanks to the John Murray Show on RTE, which commissioned an accurate translation of the text, the Irish Independent has been exposed for falsification and misrepresentation.
Its response today was tragic and even comical:

“YESTERDAY’S story about a Polish woman living on welfare payments in Ireland sparked much discussion and controversy.”

It could have been a parody on its opening from yesterday which claimed that the same story had “sparked fury”.

Its only admission of wrongdoing is the acknowledgement that “Some parts of the original interview, on which the story was based, were inaccurately translated.” It then provides a translation of the original, which it describes as “fuller”, as if its version had been missing body rather than fact.

It may seem obvious but to journalists Greg Harkin and Norma Costello it was not: the function of a newspaper is to offer responses to real events rather than elicit reactions to fabricated ones.

Even more obviously perhaps, newspapers are not storybooks. We expect them to tell the truth.

News reporting is retrospective, not prescient. It cannot claim something before it has happened.

If a Polish lady’s claims have “sparked fury” and “ignited a debate about welfare tourism”, we need evidence beyond the comments of an unfortunate local Senator who has been lied to.

Should Greg Harkin and Norma Costello fall victim to unemployment, they may do readers the courtesy of polishing up on their Polish. Perhaps Magda could recommend a good FÁS course, or better, teach them herself.

When interviewed on the radio this morning she spoke perfect English with a slight hint of a Donegal lilt.