I thought LSB might be missing Edinburgh’s hills, so I decided to take him up “Teufelsberg,” or “The Devil’s Mountain,” to see a Cold War spy station that is crumbling to pieces.
The station is surrounded by a fence. Last time I was there, I clambered through a hole in it. Inside there was a vast spy column and a huge building, both falling apart. And graffiti, everywhere. And gaping holes in the concrete floors. Yellow felt lining and rusty bicycles lay strewn on the ground.
This time, all the holes in the fence were closed up. We walked around and around and thought about making our own.
Suddenly we encountered a commotion.
There’s nothing I like more than a commotion.
A man dressed in camouflage gear and a green beret was standing by steel gates, barring entry to the facility. He had his chest puffed out.
A group of tourists were standing by the fence, fretting. Their friend was inside the facility and he was not answering his phone.
“Oh my God, we need to get him out,” said one.
“Dude, don’t worry, he’s out of battery,” said another.
“Hi,” I said, “what’s going on?”
“These guys won’t let us in unless we pay €7,” one of them told me. “But we think they’re dodgy.”
I took a closer look. Three men were stationed in a triangle outside the gates.
Apart from the one with the green beret, there was a lad of about nineteen. He was wearing baggy jeans and a cap. Another man in a brown jacket was standing very still and watching us from a tree.
Our conversation took place in English.
“This is complete bullshit,” said one of the tourists. “These guys are just trying to make money.”
“I like the guy’s beret,” said another. “He’s sure playing the part.”
The man in the green beret kept his chest puffed out and gazed ahead with steely resolve. When he was asked why we couldn’t enter without paying he said “It’s patented.”
I’ve never been in a fight but something in the air felt like one was brewing.
I caught the eye of the youngster in the cap. He had a harmless, roguish face. I took a liking to him though I suspected he was a criminal. He didn’t speak much English. He struggled to explain that the facility was now managed by a really cool dude and that it wasn’t safe to go inside, but for €7, we could take a tour.
I startled him by breaking into German.
“What’s the deal?” I asked. “Why can’t we go in like before?”
“Dude,” he said. “I know it kind of blows but you see, it’s not really safe to go in.”
“Really?” I said. “But it’s safe if you pay?”
He looked sheepish.
“No you see, you go in for a tour,” he said finally.
“I see,” I said. “How did you get this ‘job’?”
“I’m friends with these guys you see. I used to come here all the time and I loved it. And now I’m training to be a gardener and this cool guy is doing up the place and that’s how I got involved.”
“Who is this guy?”
“And he is your boss?”
“Can I Google him?”
“Oh, I never said that,” he said, looking at my feet. “By the way, I really love your shoes.”
“Thanks,” I said. (I got them in a vintage store in Rathmines.)
We chatted some more. My new criminal friend had been to Ireland. He said he liked the sheep and had visited Belfast.
Meanwhile, there was more commotion. The group of tourists said they were calling the police but the man in the green beret said he would call them first.
So he did.
LSB and I stayed on scene, chatting to the tourists and to the youngster from the other camp who had admired my shoes.
“You know, I really did use to like coming here to hang out too,” he said. “I’m just kind of on the other side now.”
It was like Romeo and Juliet.
Suddenly a man and a little girl walked out of the facility, accompanied by a petite, gamine French girl.
“Hey man,” my possibly-criminal friend said to the man. “How’d you enjoy the tour?”
“She didn’t say a word,” the man said, motioning to the girl. “Barely even when I asked her a question!”
A little while later, a police car drove up the hill.
I decided this was a breaking news situation so I retreated close to a hedge to take some pictures.
A policewoman got out of the car and had a talk with Mr Green Beret. A policeman talked to the tourists, whose friend had meanwhile emerged unharmed from the facility.
Then a man in a white body suit appeared.
“That’s Shalmon Abraham,” said my new friend.
Shalmon Abraham did not take off his mask when talking to the police.
I asked the policewoman if the facility was really “patented.” She said it was.
I asked her when. She told me years ago.
I said I had been here a year ago and had encountered no unofficial looking men dressed in military gear barring my entrance.
She said that was strange.
I took some more pictures. Then LSB and I climbed another hill.
When we got to the top, he said “Let’s charge €6.50. We’ll undercut them!”
At home, we Googled Shalam Abraham. He exists (under is nuclear power suit). He’s a 28 year-old artist. And evidently, he has friends in high places.