Sunday, 24 May 2009

Schwerin - Fairytale Castle, Lakes, and a Mischevious Spirit

A few weeks back (2nd May to be exact) we went with a group of friends to Schwerin, nearly three hours journey by Regional Express North-West of Berlin and just shy of being on the Baltic Coast.

Since unification, Schwerin has been state capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (that's the Land north of Brandenburg) and consequently a lot of Geld has been poured into it to restore its attractive, neo-classical and Gothic buildings, which were somewhat neglected during DDR days. Most impressive amongst the architecture is definitely Schweriner Schloss (Schwerin Castle), once the fortress residence of the Dukes of Mecklenburg, and now the seat of the Bundesland Parliament.

At the time we visited (and until October 2009) a lot of the Schloss gardens were given over to the very large BUGA 2009, which isn't a term of abuse but is a shortening of Bundesgartenschau, i.e. it is like the UK's Chelsea Garden Show, but is much larger, goes on for much longer, and is far less pretentious. Or so we imagine; at sixteen Euro to get in we didn't really want to spend the day going 'Ooh look, there's some nice flowers. And some more nice flowers. And some more. And some more ...'

Besides, there was plenty to see otherwise. Even getting off the train, the visitor is greeted with an impressive, pristine square dominated by a fountain.

The sculptures making up the fountain seem to depict a pair of naked figures, possibly of a sailor heaving a drowned woman off of the rocks, but who knows, meanwhile being squirted at by four sealions. The significance of this is lost on me, but the watery theme is apt for a small city built on a number of lakes and islands. Here is Schwerin Cathedral seen across the Pfaffenteich:

And here's a heron admiring the same scene:
This is the Innenministerium/Arsenal across the Pfaffenteich:

It is a short walk from the Pfaffenteich to the Market Place lying at the feet of the Gothic cathedral, with its elegent collonades and lion column:

Walking down the hill from Am Markt to Burgsee, you get your first glimpse of the castle:

This area of town, called Alter Garten, has some impressive buildings and sculpture, such as the Staatliches Museum Schwerin (State Art Museum):

Also the Staatstheater (State Theatre):

and some column or other (I really must get a guide book!): - edit: my Better Half tells me it is a Siegesäule (Victory Column), probably commemorating the Franco-Prussian war. If she says so; I'll bow to her superior knowledge!

But it is the Castle on its own island set in the beautiful Burgsee which steals the show:

Even the ducks agree!

Now I'd like to publish some sumptious photos of the gorgeous gardens and madly-baroque architect of the Schloss. I'd like to, but can't because the battery on my camera packed in. You never had this problem with Kodak Brownies! So much for progress. Personally I blame this little chap, who you see everywhere in Schwerin, not least because he lends his name to the Rundfahrt bus trips and line of sight-seeing boats on the lakes. He is called Petermännchen and is apparently the household spirit of the castle, protecting it from intruders and thieves, and waking night watchmen soldiers who fall asleep on duty. And messing up people's cameras!

Despite the time taken to travel there, the Schwerin day-trip was well worth it, and especially enjoyable when you are in a good company of friends (The TT Berlin Photographers Group), including husky dog!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover! - A Snippet of a Story

This isn't a true story, merely an exercise in writing in the past, narrative tense. Vorsicht! No guarantee is given for its grammatical accuracy! Please correct me if I've made mistakes.

Es war ein Sonntag im Mai etwa halb neun Uhr am Abend. Ich besuchte den Zoologischen Garten Berlin und war auf dem Heimweg mit der U-Bahn.

Ich stieg am Friedrichstraße Bahnhof aus, als ich eine kleine Bewegung in meiner Tasche spürte. Ich drehte mich um und sah einen Mann und eine Frau direkt hinter mir. Sie hielten an, und wir sahen einander an. 

Der Mann war sehr groß und ungepflegt. Er trug eine schwarze Lederjacke und eine Menge von Ketten. Er war ein typischer Berliner Punk und sein Anschein war beängstigend.

Im Gegensatz dazu, war die Frau zierlich. Ihr langes blondes Haar umrahmte ein auffallend hübsches Gesicht. Sie trug einen teuren Mantel aus Kaschmirwollen und roten spitze Absätze.

Sie lächelte süß. Er schnitt Grimassen. 

Sie trug goldene Ohrringe. Er trug einen Ring durch seine Nase.

Der Zug fuhr ab. Ich steckte die Hand in die Tasche, und ja, ich vermisste meine Brieftasche. 

Keine Polizei, keine Zugbegleiter, wir waren allein auf dem Bahnsteig.

Plötzlich sagte der Mann ,,Geben Sie ihm seine Brieftasche. Ich habe Sie sie stehlen gesehen.”

Die Frau gab mir die Brieftache, dann liefen sie weg. Der Punk knurrte und ging in die andere Richtung davon.

Und die Moral: Zieh keine voreiligen Schlüsse!

Synopisis in English: My wallet is stolen on the U-Bahn. Was it the pretty blonde woman or the scruffy punk guy who did the deed? Well, which do you think?

For the record, today in Germany was a public holiday, Himmelfahrt or Ascension Day, the fortieth day after Easter, when JC last appeared to his disciples before ascending to heaven. And also the title of the third album by German Industrial Metal band Megaherz. You can decide for yourself which is the most relevant to your life-script.

In Berlin/Brandenburg though, there were lots of strange happenings, such as twenty or so men in pairs dressed as Laurel and Hardy descending on the Bahnhofgaststätte in Basdorf, and a tradition of people of the male persuasion hassling women for beer. For tourists, it was a day of wandering around wondering why everywhere was shut on a Thursday.

I had a trip through the Mauerpark and saw lots of folk having impromptu barbeques in advance of a thunderstorm and downpour. When I returned home, we were involved in our own Mauerfall, with the destruction of a wall in our living room inexplicably built in front of a double-glazed window by the previous occupants. Now the cats, and us, can see out into the garden properly!  

Friday, 8 May 2009

Somewhere, over the etc.

A lovely 'Regenbogen' hung in the showery heavens opposite our house today.

I wondered if there is a German mnemonic to remember the order of the colours of a rainbow, but all I could come up with on the net is the acronym 'roggbiv'. This stands for: rot, orange, gelb, grün, blau, indigo und violett.

Not quite the same as 'Richard of York gave battle in vain', though I also found this little rhyme: 'Rote Orangen, Gelbes Gras, im Blauen Dunkel Viola saß' which is quite sweet (here indigo is replaced by dunkelbalu - dark blue).

Whilst looking for German mnemonics, I also found this one for remembering the order of the planets in das Sonnensystem:

'Mein Vater Erklärt Mir Jeden Samstag Unsere Neun Planeten' = Merkur, Venus, Erde, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptun, Pluto.

In translation: Every Saturday my father explained to me about our nine planets.

Shame that Pluto isn't classified as a planet any more!

By the way, I note that the German word for a mnemonic is 'eine Eselsbrücke', literally a bridge for leading donkeys over, where 'Esel' also means an ass or a blockhead!

Friday, 1 May 2009

May Day, Kreuzberg 2009

May Day is celebrated in Ye Olde Merrie England™ with Morris Dancers, Maypoles, neo-druids prancing around stone circles, and lots of Real Ale or Zummerset Zoider with twigs and birds nests stirred in.

May Day elsewhere in many parts of the world is a traditional celebration of the Struggle of the Working Class to shake off the Shackles of Capitulismus Slavery, Take-over the Means of Production, and Stamp Down on the Bourgeoisee Running-dog Traitors. Or something like that.

In East Berlin, May Day was formerly a celebration of the military might of the DDR and the SED, or more correctly the might of the Soviet military machines of occupation, with Red Army parades down Karl-Marx Allee and displays of Soviet tanks, MIG aircraft, and ICBM's.

In West Berlin, and particularly in Kreuzberg, May Day has traditonally been the day for anarchists, eco-warriors, and anti-militarists to party. If there aren't a dozen or so Mercs and Beamers fire-bombed by the evening's out, then it hasn't been a success.

During the time of the partition, it should be noted, West Berlin was a magnet for anti-authoritarians; mainly because as an occupied city, its youth didn't have to do the military service mandatory elsewhere. And also because Young Upwardly Mobile Professional types weren't making a good career-move to set up business in a city that lay in the centre of a Communist dictatorship and might have its borders permanently closed off to the West at any time. Kreuzberg was the Postleitzahl of choice for dissidents because it was a poor neighbourhood next to the wall.

But before we dismiss the area as a hot-bed of work-shy layabouts, hippies, punks, and scroungers-off-the-state, you must take into account that a lot of the old architectural buildings in the area wouldn't have been preserved if said layabouts, hippies, punks etc hadn't squatted in the abandoned bombed-out shells and prevented the demolition of rows of apartment blocks which West Germany wanted to sweep away and replace with modern seventies architecture - lovely that it is. And, to continue banging on the drum, Berlin wouldn't have become the vibrant, creative, dynamic, buzzing place it is today without the undercurrent of dissidence, free-expression, and sheer bloody-mindedness of would-be painters, musicians, and performance artists living in the shadow of the wall. As so often is the case, fresh new ideas spring from the techtonic stress-points of cultures in conflict.

But enough of the polemics. Here are some photos from Kreuzberg, Berlin, am Mai 2009 (as usual on this blog, click on the photo to biggify).

Now here are your traditional red-and-black flag anarcho-socialist protestors. The banner translates from the German and Turkish as "International crusade against exploitation, oppression, and imperialistic war! No liberation without revolution!". Ah bless, sweet!  

Why they prompted onlookers to imitate Hitler moustaches and do the Nazi Salute (or Hitlergruss, illegal in Germany BTW), I'm not so sure:

The protest march lasted about five minutes, and then the main purposes of the May Day celebrations resumed, such as eating lots and lots of yummy food ...

Most of the food was typical Turkish street food, but some of the vendors caught the spirit of the day. Che Guevara pretzels anyone?

Of course, there was lots of drink available to wash it all down with on this sunny, baking-hot day. I love how this stall has made the 'A' in kaltes Fassbier into an anarchy symbol. Cute! (and politically correct apparently).
And if alcohol isn't your relaxant of choice, why not kiffen at the hemp house?

Everywhere you went there was loud music, from ranting punk rock to freestyle jazz drummers:

But the main spectacle was the people watching; from the punks ...

... to the poseurs ...

From The tattooed ...

... to the exhibitionist:

Then there were the downright WTF weird ...

Overall it was a day for chilling out, eating, drinking, mingling, relaxing, and reclaiming the streets:

Of course the Polizei kept a strong force on hand, but they mostly left the people to do their own thing unhindred.

And yes, later on that night a bunch of 'radicals', who were more likely doing it to get their mobile phone video onto YouTube to show how well-hard and anarchistic they were, set some bins alight and maybe a car or two - pricks, like that will bring down capitalism (the Bankers seem to be doing it well enough by themselves at the moment). But which images did you see on the TV or in the papers the next day? Everyone having a fun day out in the Spring sunshine, or a bunch of twats with black face masks throwing stones at Polizei vans? (that was a rhetorical question by the way).

But most importantly of all, there were no bleeding Morris Dancers!