Thursday, 30 April 2009

Adventures in Gardening

Spring is here! Apparently Germany has had the hottest, sunniest April for gosh, ages probably. Which makes up for just having one of the coldest, snowiest Winters. The garden has responded by growing into a jungle of thick greenery, with accompanying wildlife!

No, it is not a snake, but actually a slow-worm (aka blindworm, or in German a Blindschleiche), a harmless, legless, lizard. When you are deep in the undergrowth pulling up grass by hand and you grab one though, the instinctive reaction is an involuntary yelp!

First I found one very long slow-worm (about half a metre long) in a burrow amongst the roots. I took it away from the garden and found it somewhere to live in the woods. When handling it, I found the skin smooth, dry and cold. It had very strong muscles and writhed under my grasp but it didn't try to bite me.
Subsequently I found another four smaller (about 20cm) ones. I guess the large one was the mother, and these were her off-spring. I let the smaller ones wriggle off to find somewhere safer from the aggressive weeding.

My Beloved was horrified, and now I have to do all the digging in the garden in case there are more! I think they are kind of cute though, with blinking eyes (a sign that they are not snakes, which have lidless eyes) and a flickering, forked tongue.

They aren't the only unexpected wildlife we've found in the garden; earlier in the year we were strimming a hummock of incalcitrant grass back and found a hibernating hedgehog. We moved it to a snug place under a pile of cut-down fir-tree branches, and now he is not there so hopefully he survived the Winter and has moved on.

It might still be like a jungle out there, but it is a very colourful one. We have a wonderful display from the lilac trees, which also smell heavenly:

We also have some tropical-looking butterflies visiting the garden now:

And some strange-looking bugs:

Not that the cats are bothered; they are just enjoying the sun (like Tosca here)!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Der Berliner Mauerweg: Day 1 Pt1

Leipziger Platz to Schönefeld - Part 1

So, we have decided that to get to know Berlin better we will cycle around the course of the former Berlin Wall along the signposted 'Berliner Maurweg' cycle/walking/and inline skating path.

The Berlin Wall used to run for about 160km around the border between the former Soviet controlled GDR sector of Berlin (German Democratic Republic - DDR or Deutsche Demokratische Republik in German - otherwise known as East Germany), and the FRG sectors (Federal Republic of Germany - Bundesrepublik Deutschland - West Germany) which were controlled by the UK, USA, and France. West Berlin was itself an island of the FRG within the GDR. Therefore, a lot of the wall wasn't just between East and West Berlin, but between West Berlin and the East German state of Brandenburg, which is very rural and makes for pleasant cycling away from the urban built-up areas of the centre of Berlin.

Our first leg took us 34 km or so, and we said hello to the first bit of wall in Leipziger Platz.

This is actually what was the inner wall, and between here and the sections of wall on Potsdamer Platz was the Todesstreifen or 'Death Zone'. Here you can see the inner wall crossing the octagonal Leipziger Platz, marked with a double-row of cobble-stones that would become very familiar over then next week or so:

The mechanical logic of building the wall precisely to the borders agreed at the Yalta Conference bisects once harmoniously laid out urban spaces like Leipziger Platz. After reunification, trying to recreate these areas out of what had become a barren hinterland proved a difficult proposition. In Leipziger Platz a few segments of the wall like this were preserved, together with their original 1980's graffiti:

Another three sections of the wall from here were donated to the United Nations, where they were installed outside the UN building in New York. An observation tower which once stood near here was moved a few hundred metres down the road, and we shall see that shortly.

A hundred metres or so away are the sections of outer wall in Potsdamer Platz, which are much more touristy:

Indeed, here you can even get your passport stamped by somebody in ersatz uniform with an 'authentic' DDR visa stamp. There is something not a little ironic about a wall supposedly built to protect East Germans from so-called fascist capitalism ('Antifaschistischer Schutzwall') nowadays being exploited to fleece tourists, but there you go, that's progress.

And if you want your photo taken with a stencilled image of Spartakist Rosa Luxenburg it remains free. (I remember that for a while this stencil didn't have a cross through it, or a heart around it, but then it had the words 'Ich bin eine Terroristin' suddenly added to it. Such are the fluid opinions transmitted by the art of grafitti. Media Studies students please discuss). Perhaps one of Rosa Luxemburg's most famous quotes is 'Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden.' translated as ' Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.' This quote was hurled back at the totalitarian GDR regime by dissenters who dared to think differently.

Amidst all the post-cards and photo-opportunities though, there are interesting information boards which tell the story of The Wall. Hopefully a large enough number of people will come away with a feeling of 'never again' rather than 'Look Honey, I've got this cute souvenir authenticated piece of the former Berlin Wall to put on our mantelpiece'. (Aside: why anyone would pay good money for a lump of perfectly ordinary concrete with a bit of spray paint on it as a memento of an atrocity which divided families and caused many too many deaths is beyond my scope of imagination. And strangely, though the wall was 160 km long and three + metres high with both inner and outer barriers - therefore the potential for an awful lot of concrete - the chances of a postcard with pieces of the wall attached of being genuine are about as high as a church having a splinter of The True Cross).

In the centre of Potsdamer Platz is a reminder that this area of Berlin was once one of the busiest intersections of the city, with a replica of what were possibly the first set of traffic lights erected in Europe. The original went up in 1924, and it is said that people made special trips out just to see the lights change colour. I know some towns in Derbyshire where that's still the main source of entertainment. This reproduction was erected in 1997 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Berlin electrical company that created the first, Siemens.

First the heavy allied bombing and shelling during the war, then the sweeping away of the rubble to make a death-strip for The Wall, made Potsdamer Platz into a deserted wilderness where the only visitors came to climb Western surveillance platforms and take a peek over the wall. Now a fascinating cityscape of ultra-modern buildings have sprung up, but the square hasn't managed to recover its pre-war importance or the buzz of activity it once had.

On the edge of Potsdamer Platz is one of those strange ironies which most visitors pass by. It is a plinth intended for a monument to Karl Liebknecht, unveiled on 13th August, 1951. Liebknecht was an anti-militarist who formed the German Communist Party (KPD) together with Rosa Luxenburg, and the foundation stone is located at the site of an anti-First World war demonstration in Potsdamer Platz organised by the Spartakists on 1st May 1916, for which he was imprisoned and tortured. Together with Rosa Luxemburg he was murdered by the Freikorps in January 1919, their dead bodies ignominiously disposed of, Luxemburg's in the Landwehr canal (which we'll be cycling alongside later). Liebknecht and Luxenburg later became heroes of the DDR, their names given to streets, squares, and S-Bahn stations across East Germany. But Liebknecht's plinth in Potsdamer Platz languished un-adorned for ten years until 13th August 1961 when East German authorities began to seal off the border. Subsequently the foundation stone was left standing bereft in the border strip beside the westernmost wall, created by the very people who idolised him. What the anti-fascist, anti-war Liebknecht would have thought about the militaristic regime which gave him pin-up status can only be imagined, but I don't think he would have been too worried that the DDR never got around to erecting a monument to him here of all places.

The foundation stone says: "Grundstein eines Denkmals für Karl Liebknecht 1871 - 1919"

Just around the corner from Potsdamer Platz is the Stresemannstraße guard tower, now on the end of Erner-Berger-Straße. This used to stand on Leipziger Platz, but it was probably a good idea for business to hide this symbol away down a side-street rather than distract from the advertisement hordings in Leipziger Platz.

A few minutes cycle away and the wall trail turns into Niederkirchnerstraße, grimly contrasting with the magnificent Martin Gropiusbau:

On the opposite side of Niederkirchner Strasse from the Martin Gropius Bau stands the Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin - the Parliament building for the State (Land) of Berlin. It was originally built in high-renaissance Italianate style for the Preußischer Landtag (the Prussian Parliament) in 1899 and served as such until 1934 (Hitler had seized power in 1933, and made Hermann Goering premier of Prussia. In January 1934 a decree issued by Hitler dissolved Prussia as a political unit and it has ceased to exist ever since). This building has seen many revolutionary events, such as the foundation of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) on 1st January 1919 by - oh come, on you can guess by now - Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht. On 25th October 1990 the legislature of Berlin, which during the Cold War years had been convening in the Schöneberg town hall, voted to make its home in the Prussian Landtag after unification, which it duly did on 29th April 1993. By the way, it was from the front entrance of Rathaus Schöneberg that JFK made his famous 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech.

The photo below is looking the other way up the street, from the back of the wall, which is on land which was formerly the site of the building of the Nazi Gestapo, SS, and Reichsicherheitsamt Headquarters. A grim, grim place. But hey, you didn't come to this blog to look at pretty, post-card pictures did you?(You did? Okay, stick around. We'll be getting to the picturesque bits soon enough. Promise). If you really want to cheer up your day, then visit the Topographie des Terrors exhibition nearby. It documents the horrors of the Nazi state in mercilessly and mechanistically putting down resistance amongst its own citizenry, so in a way adds justification to why The Wall was erected against a paranoid belief that it was a protection against a resurgence of these kind of atrocities. If only the DDR didn't itself then recreate its own Gestapo-like state security Stasi thugs. Oh hum. Not so much 'the Iron Curtain' as the Irony Curtain.

Here's a view along Niederkirchnerstraße itself. The building on the left is Göring's Air Ministry (shudder), which managed to survive the War almost intact and is now the German Federal Finance Ministry. Niederkirchnerstrasse, by the way, was previously named Prinz Albert Straße, until 1951 when it was renamed after the communist resistance fighter Käthe Niederkirchner who was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured, carried off to Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in May 1944, was imprisoned in isolation cell there, wrote secret diaries during her last days (which survived the war and were later handed over to her family), and was shot by the SS during the night of 27 to 28 September 1944.

I suspect that a monument on the wall of the Finance Ministry passes most tourists by, so here it is:

The words say:

"Wenn wir auch sterben sollen,
So wissen wir: Die Saat
Geht auf. Wenn Köpfe rollen, dann
Zwingt doch der Geist den Staat."

"Glaubt mit mir an die gerechte Zeit, die alles reifen lässt!"

Which roughly translates as:

"Even if we should die,
We know this: The seed
Bears fruit. If heads roll, then
The spirit nevertheless forces the state."

"Believe with me in the just time that lets everything ripen."

These words are by Heinz Harro Max Wilhelm Georg Schulze-Boysen (2 September 1909 – 22 December 1942), German officer and resistance fighter with the Rote Kapelle against Hitler's fascist regime. He was murdered by the Gestapo at Plötzensee Prison. I find this monument particularly poignent in such proximity to the site of the Gestapo HQ and the so-called anti-fascist protection wall (sic).

The wall continued along Zimmerstraße on the right-hand side of the street. As you walk along it is worth pondering on the fact that when the wall was up, only armed patrol guards would have been able to walk along here, and that the impressive late-nineteenth century buildings lining the street would have been closed up and empty.

Soon we come to the itersection with Friedrichstraße, where the infamous Checkpoint Charlie was located, and where the next part of Day 1 picks up.

Der Berliner Mauerweg: Day 1 Pt2

Leipziger Platz to Schönefeld - Part 2

Checkpoint Charlie is on every tourist's itinerary when they visit Berlin. And some days it seems like all the tourists have descended on this one spot at the same time.

Checkpoint Charlie is so named from the NATO phonetic alphabet designation for the letter C. As you might expect, there was also a Checkpoint Aplha and a Checkpoint Bravo. The Checkpoint Alpha civilian crossing point was by the town of Helmstedt in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), and the village Marienborn (Sachsen-Anhalt) on the former border between the GDR and the British Sector of the FRG. This was the access route for supplies and transit traffic into and from West Berlin along Autobahn 2 (see map). At the other end of this road-traffic corridor was Checkpoint Bravo on the Western side of the Berlin/Brandenburg border near Dreilinden, and we will be cycling past that later. It is worth remembering that whilst we are only cycling the 166km or so of the Berlin Wall, the whole length of the FRG/GDR border was similarly guarded with deadly intent.

Though Checkpoints A and B were more important to the survival of West Berlin, it is Checkpoint Charlie that everyone flocks to see. Here's a photo of the much reproduced sign on the former West Berlin side of the crossing 'You are leaving the American Sector', next to a depiction of a Soviet soldier which is one half of Frank Thiel's installation 'Leuchtkasten' (lightbox). The other half is naturally of an American soldier looking out to the Eastern side, and the sign says 'You are entering the American Sector. Carrying weapons off duty forbidden. Obey traffic rules.' It is curious that people weren't reminded to obey traffic rules in the Soviet sector!

Checkpoint Charlie was the only road crossing for foreigners and Allied Forces personnel on foot or in a vehicle between the Eastern and Western sectors. It came to world prominence in October 1961 when a stand-off there between Soviet and American tanks nearly sparked off a Third World War. The incident began trivially enough, as these things do, on 22 October 1961 (just two months after construction of the wall) with a dispute over whether East German guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a senior U.S. diplomat and his wife passing through to East Berlin to attend the theatre. Events escalated out of all proportion and both the Soviet and the Allies massively increased their military forces and armoury. By 27 October ten armed Soviet tanks faced ten armed American ones a hundred metres away across the border crossing. After sixteen hours of heightened tension when it seemed a shoot-out could break out at any moment, the first Soviet tank started up its engine and withdrew five metres. The tension was relieved, and the world breathed a sigh of relief. There is a good full account of the incident here. It doesn't relate whether the diplomat ever got to the theatre, and if the show was any good, though.

Also, this short CNN documentary is interesting, especially for original film footage of the event:

It is difficult nowadays to get an idea of what the large border crossing once looked like. There is a reproduction of the first Allied guard house in the middle of Friedrichstraße, with sandbags, flags and uniformed actors willing to pose for tourists for money, but to get a real impression the 'Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie' is worth a visit if it is not too busy (it usually is).

Leaving the souvenir 'authenticated' pieces of the wall and 'genuine' Soviet army fur hats behind, we continued along the Berlin Wall trail along Zimmerstraße. A short distance along it is a memorial to one of those tragic stories associated with the wall which remind you how deadly it was. Outside a hairdresser's stands a steel pillar which briefly recounts the shooting of the young building worker Peter Fechter on 17th August 1962.

Just a year after the wall was built, Fechter tried to flee the GDR together with his friend Helmut Kulbeik. They hid in a carpenter's workshop next to the wall on Zimmerstraße and dropped down into the strip between the inner fence and outer wall from an overlooking window. They then attempted to dash across the 'death strip' before the border guards noticed, and climb the two metre wall topped with barbed wire into West Berlin. As they climbed the wall, the GDR border guards opened fire. Kulbeik managed to scramble over the wall to safety, but Fechter took a bullet in his pelvis and fell back onto the Eastern side, screaming in agony. Whilst hundreds of horrified onlookers on the Western side called in vain for someone to help him, neither GDR or FRG guards attempted to give him medical assistance, both sides apparantly fearing to leave their posts or to enter the forbidden zone. After an hour, Fechter eventually died a slow death through internal and external bleeding and his body was finally retrieved by East German guards. The event caused outrage throughout the world, and a spontaneous demonstration on the Western side shouted 'Murderers!' at border guards on both sides.

This short documentary, produced just after Unification, recounts the death of Fechter with historical film footage, and poses the question of whether border guards who shot dead people trying to flee across the wall should be brought to justice.

A bit further along, near the Axel Springer building, another death was once commemorated, this time of a GDR border guard Reinhold Huhn. He was shot on the afternoon of 18th June 1962 by Rudolf Müller, who was helping his family flee the GDR through an escape tunnel. The GDR named Reinhold Huhn a 'hero of socialism' and his death an 'insidious and cowardly assassination'. The East Germans unsuccessfully tried to extradite Müller for murder. A monument to Huhn was erected at the corner of Schützenstraße (running parallel with Zimmerstraße) and Jerusalemstraße. Schützenstraße was renamed Reinhold-Huhn-Straße in his honour. After the wall came down, so did the monument, and Schützenstraße got its old name back. There is supposedly a plaque on the corner of Jerusalemstraße noting the death of Huhn, but we tried and couldn't find it. There is a lot of this kind of historical revisionism surrounding the wall; nobody of course still thinks the wall was 'a good thing' (except those in the tourist industry, who wouldn't mind if at least parts of it were rebuilt), but the East German experience and tragedies like this seem to be written out of the history books.

No doubt those history books would gladly be published by the Springer publishing company, whose impressive steel and glass building towers nearby. Here is a photo of some brightly graffitied sections of the wall reflected in the front of the Springer office building.

Much could be written about the Axel-Springer-Verlag and its conservative founder Axel Caesar Springer, and you might find the right-wing slant and sensationalism of some of its newspapers not to your taste, but it certainly took a hard-headed businessman to build his offices somewhat provocatively overlooking the Berlin Wall. It would be true to say that his corporation wasn't the darling of the left-wing student movement. The students blockaded this building in 1968 after the shooting of student leader Rudi Dutschke, because they believed Springer had incited the shooting such as with headlines like 'Stop Dutschke Now!' in his populist Bild-Zeitung newspaper.

The part of Lindenstraße running past the Springer building was renamed Axel Springer Straße in 1995 on the tenth anniversary of Springer's death, and it is along here that we followed the Berlin Wall trail and its double-row of cobbled stones to the Prinzenstraße border crossing point.

It's whilst cycling along here that we began to realise just what those strips of wasteland are that you come across in Berlin. Here's one running alongside Sebastianstraße for example.

Of course, these barren, overgrown, rubbish-strewn lines of scrubland through the city were once the notorious Todesstreifen ('death strip'); the heavily patrolled and sometimes mined no-man's land between the inner and outer wall. Interestingly for conservationists, the fact that they were left alone for so many years whilst Berlin was rebuilt on both sides of the wall, means they have provided an inner-city haven for wildlife and plants that have dissapeared elsewhere. Indeed, many parts of the former death strip are now important nature reserves.

The Prinzenstraße crossing point was another of those places where West Berliners (not foreigners though, and not many East Berliners) could cross between the FRG and GDR, if they had special passes of course. It was also a transfer point for goods consignments and post between the two halves of the city. With all the hype about Checkpoint Charlie, you might think that it was the only place people could cross, but this was not the case. Unlike Checkpoint Charlie though, there are definitely no tourists at Prinzenstraße. The only commemoration of this busy road as once being a heavily guarded crossing point is an information board telling about two attempts to cross the border, one in a truck and one in a car. Click on the image below to read it full-screen.

Not far from the Prinzenstraße crossing point we followed the Berlin Trail to a bridge over the former Luisenstädtischer Canal. The canal had been laid out between 1848-1852 as the centrepiece of a green space designed by Lenné. False calculations of the gradient turned the canal into a cesspool which began creating an abominable stench, and in 1926 it was filled in and fashioned into a landscaped park with various gardens.

With the building of the wall, this filled-in canal and the Engelbecken canal basin became part of the border strip. With the dismantling of the wall, city planners decided to redesign the site as a landscaped green space again, and the Engelbecken basin was refilled with water.

The Engelbecken ('angel's basin') is now a particularly nice place to rest and enjoy a cool drink at the cafe on a hot day of cycling the trail. Unfortunately we tried but couldn't get served so we moved on.

The partially restored red-brick church in the background is the Michaelkirche, or St Michael's Church, and was erected between 1851 and 1861 by August Soller as a catholic garrison chapel. It quickly became a catholic community church for the fast-growing population of the Luisenstadt quarter, swelled by the demands of the burgeoning industrial revolution.

We followed the Berlin Wall trail along Bethaniendamm, alongside the landscaped former canal and border strip, to another impressive church, St. Thomaskirche.

St Thomas' on Marienplatz was built between 1864 and 1869 by Friedrich Adler of the Schinkel school of architecture. It is an amazing red-brick neo-golthic pile, which no doubt survived because it was on the Western side of the wall. Other churches, as we will see, were not so lucky.

Soon we reached the river Spree at the end of the canal, and crossed it to the busy Holzmark Str. and even busier Mühlenstraße. There awaited us the longest preserved stretch of the Berlin Wall. But I will pick up from there on another posting.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Werder (Havel) on an Easter Monday

About 36 kilometers SW of Berlin as the cormorant flies, the small, picturesque town of Werder lies on the restful Havel river. Its old town is on a small island connected to the mainland by a bridge, and it is a honeypot for tourists. So, maybe a hot sunny Easter Monday was perhaps not the best day to visit it, particularly as the train station is a good half hour's walk from the island, and no buses were running on a bank holiday. But for all its popularity the crowds weren't too bad, compared, say, with Matlock Bath on the same day. It just meant a bit of a queue for ice cream (the walnut flavour was himmlisch lecker!).

Here's the mandatory tourist photo over to the island with the Heilig-Geist-Kirche (Church of the Holy Spirit), windmill, and some strange yacht which is apparently a work of art.

A walk around the island was most pleasent and didn't take long. I particularly liked the splendidly neo-gothic Heilig-Geist-Kirche:

In the church-yard is a cross of reconciliation made of nails from the old Coventry Cathedral, which was of course bombed and destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. 

Curiously there is also a monument to those people of Werder who died at the hands of the Staasi (the DDR State Secret Police, or Staatssicherheit). I have not seen one of these before:

The windmill at Werder is pretty, though it looks like a strong gust of wind would blow it down:

The streets are narrow and quaint, reminding me of a Devonshire fishing village (not surprisingly, as the main traditional industry here is fishing, followed curiously enough by viniculture and fruit growing):

It was a gorgeous day weatherwise, and the azure sky complimented the many whitewashed buildings perfectly:

All in all, most serene and peaceful - ruhig - and a place I would like to return to. Though not on a bank holiday next time, and maybe with my bike. I can taste that walnut ice cream already!

(Do I keep going on about the tourists? Like we're not ones ourselves? Well, judge for yourself. Here's the main market square on Werder Island; as you can see, absolutely heaving with people, like being at a Wembley football match, you could hardly move for folk!)*

* = irony verging on sarcasm.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

All The Gherkins You Can Eat!

After yesterday's trip to Cottbus we took another Brandenburg ticket on the regional railway back to the Sorbian Spreewald area. This time there were just the four of us, and we travelled to Lübbenau (Lubnjow).

The region is criss-crossed with canals and channels amongst the reeds, making it something like the Norfolk Broads (England). Unlike the Norfolk Broads, you can't hire a motor-boat to cruise the waterways, but you can ride on a punted boat:

Some of these trips along the canal-ways last seven hours, but we didn't have the time, or the stamina. Instead we hired a four-person kayak and rowed ourselves around for a very enjoyable hour. Here's a typical thatched cottage backing up onto the canal which we slid past on the still water:

Afterwards we revived ourselves in a Biergarten by the waterside, where the main items on the menu were all the various dishes you could concoct out of pickled gherkins, cucumbers, and boiled potatoes with linseed oil. Indeed, my Beloved had a gherkin platter with six different kinds of gherkin, and was still tasting them two days later! I settled for the safe option of pommes (french fries), which could be either 'rot' (red) or ' weiß' (white). I wondered if this referred to the type of potato, but oh silly me, it just meant whether you wanted them with (tomato) ketchup or mayo! Anyway, washed down with a delicious schwartzbier we were ready to explore Lübbenau and the curious village of Lehde.

Everywhere in Lübbenau seemed to be selling pickled gherkins. Senfgurke (mustard gherkins), Gewürzgurke (dill pickles), Salzgurke (pickled cucumbers), Pfeffergurken (pepper gherkins), Knoblauchgurken (garlic gherkins) . . . anything gherkin-related in fact. There was even a Gurken-Radweg cycle path, sign-posted with a gherkin riding a bike. We were heading for Lehde and, joy of joys!, we noted that they had a gherkin museum:

(the sign on the stall of this 'king of gherkins' says 'visit our gherkin museum in Lehde'. Wow, can't wait!).

Lehde (Sorb: Ledy) turned out to be a most intriguing village of many islands amongst the water channels, connected by high-backed bridges which reminded me of Venice. Unlike Venice, there is an unsophistication, a living with nature, a simplicity that is pure German Romanticism.

The wooden houses were very distinctive, and with the lack of cars in the village, you almost expected to come across a horse-drawn buggy carrying an Amish family. 

Actually, we didn't find the gherkin museum, but there was a Freilandmuseum Lehde:

The flood meadows between Lehde and Lübbenau were full of golden-headed marsh marigolds and the distinctive hay-stacks of the region. It was all really idyllic and other-worldly:

It was so strange, that you could expect anything. Even a giant nest of Easter eggs!

Another excellent excursion, made all the more enjoyable by the company of our fellow explorers, and like the pickled gherkins, I think we will be returning again and again.