Saturday, 24 March 2012

Kloster Zinna

Kloster Zinna is a former Cistercian monastery founded in 1170 by Wichmann von Seeburg, the Archbishop of Magdeburg, after his troops had conquered the former Slavic territory. Monastic life came to an end here in 1553 - as it did at some many Brandenburg monsateries - with the Protestant Reformation. Frederick the Great tried to revive the fortunes of the area by founding a settlement of weavers here in 1764, and you can still see their cottages beside the monastic ruins together with a statue to the Prussian King.

We made a short visit to it as part of a bike ride from Luckenwalde to Juterbog, and it is well worth the slight detour, though only the abbey church and a brewhouse (now a museum) survive.

Here are a few impressions of the village:

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Megalithic Tomb - Großsteingrab - Mürow (near Angermünde)

We have spent many years hiking up and down the lonely hills of the Derbyshire Peak District, and often the only features with which to orientate ourselves have been prehistoric tombs, dolmens, and stone circles. It was a joy to discover whilst cycling in the countryside around Angermunde in NE Brandeburg that the same ancient remains of peoples past can be discovered in Germany as well.

On a hillock beside the L28 between Frauenhagen and Mürow, a megalithic tomb lies hidden amongst the wild rose bushes. An impromptu information board beside a small sandy pull-in for curious travellers says that this is the so-called  Großsteingrab Mürow. It goes on to detail the findings of an excavation by Horst Geisler of the 'Museum für Ur- und Frühgeschichte Potsdam' in 1965, including the skeletal remains of a man and a woman together with vessel shards, flint blades, whorl fragments, and vessels indicative of the 'Globular Amphora Culture' (Kugelamphoren-Kultur). These neolithic folk lived around 3400-2800 BC and were widespread across what is now Eastern Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, and Moldova. So, they were not likely to have been the same people who built the barrows in the Peak District, but their funerary constructions do look similar. (There were also evidence of modern-day pagan veneration at this burial mound, much as the Derbyshire hedge-witches and neo-druids perform).

Megalithic dolmen near Mürow

The massive stones of the grave have a thriving colony of lichen in wonderful shades of sulphur. Lichens live on the barest minimum of nutrition extracted from the stones, and can themselves live for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

These photos were taken in early October, and the wild rosebushes around the dolmen were bright with scarlet berries:

From the dolmen, looking north, you could see the small village of Frauenhagen:

The landscape around here was very reminiscent of the Peak District too, with rolling limestone glacial drumlins.

There were also some cute-looking deer too!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

German Words That Should Be Adopted Into English

The German language has already provided English with lots of useful words, such as rucksack, poltergeist, dachshund, blitzkrieg, delikatessen, kindergarten, ersatz, kitsch, glockenspiel, angst, mangelwurzel, pilsner, quartz, and a whole load more.

I am forever coming across other German words where I think that English could do with a word like that, or where the German word is so much better than the English one.

Here I present to you some of my favorites. If enough English speakers start peppering their sentences with some of these, maybe we could eventually get them adopted?

Augenstern (m)
This is a delightful term of endearment, and means 'star for the eyes'. In the UK (up until its last showing in 2006 thank God), having stars in your eyes is more likely to mean that this week Matthew, you will be Madonna.

Backpfeifengesicht (n)
Not a word I'd be happy using in polite society, but we have all known one of these - it is someone who has a face that is just asking to be slapped! Like Matthew Kelly (see previous entry).

blondes Gift
This expression literally means 'blonde poison' or 'venom'. 'Gift' here is nothing like the English 'gift' (Geschenk in German). It is a colourful way to describe a blonde bombshell / temptress / femme fatale!

Dudelsack (m)
From 'dudeln' to tootle, and 'sack' which is a bag; put them together and you get a tootling bag, or bagpipes!

Eierlegende Wollmilchsau (f)
Nowadays your mobile phone can do a lot more than just take and make calls; in fact it seems the aim of the iPhone et al is to become an Eierlegende Wollmilchsau - or egg-laying wool and milk providing pig. This is the humerous term given to an all-in-one device that tries to do everything, such as a top of the range Swiss Army knife.

Etepetete (adj)
This word just trips off the tongue: ay-tay-pay-tay-tay. In fact, it is the longest word in German that is formed from the spelling of individual letters (ETPTT). To be described as etepetete is not complimentary though: it means someone who is finicky, prim, spoiled, overly dainty, or generally pays too much attention to detail or to their appearance.

Evolutionsbremse (f)
If you call someone one of these, then what you are saying is that they are a brake (eine Bremse) on the process of evolution, i.e. someone who is not contributing to the gene pool in a progressive way. Someone who by their stupidity or primitive behaviour is holding back the rest of us. No, I'm not looking at you.

Fingerhut (m)
What can be sweeter and simpler than this word; a Fingerhut is a hat for your fingers - a thimble! It is also the German word for the wildflower foxglove, but I prefer the idea of foxes wearing the flowers as gloves.

Geheimratsecken (pl)
This describes the kind of baldness men get where each temple is balding, leaving a 'widows peak' in the middle. It is a distinguished look and not at all derogatory, hence its literal meaning 'High-State official's corners'.

Geisterfahrer (m)
What do you call in English somebody who drives on the wrong side of the road? Except 'effing idiot!' of course. The German's have a word for them though - Geisterfahrer, which literally means a ghost-rider. Or 'Blödes Arschloch!'

Glückspilz (m)
Literally, a lucky mushroom! For some reason, Germans have decided that the fly agaric with its red cap and white spots is lucky. It is why garden gnomes (Gartenzwerge - another German cultural export to the world) are so often seen sitting on them. But not only that, don't be surprised if you get a birthday card with fungi on wishing you luck (or four-leaved clover, or a chimney sweep, or a pig - a Glücksschwein). Of course, you wouldn't be so lucky if you accidently ate too many fly agarics, but to be a Glückspilz is to be a lucky sod/devil/bastard, or a lucky mascot that others might want around them for football matches etc.

Glühwein (m)
Sure, English has the term 'mulled wine' to describe wine that has been heated up and infused with spices, but it doesn't quite convey the warmth of wine (Wein) that makes your whole body glow (glühen) on a freezing cold Winter's evening at the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market).

Katzensprung (m)
Instead of throwing stones around to describe something a short distance away, I think English speakers should adopt Katzensprung. It means a 'cat's leap'. 

Katzentisch (m)
This word means 'cat's table' and is a small side-table or where the children sit down to eat. Also a table that is by the toilets or the doors to the kitchens that you might get if you don't make a reservation. It harks back to the time when pampered household cats (and lap-dogs) were fed in wealthy households at their own miniature table. Hopefully our cat Cassie won't read this and get ideas above her station.

Kuddelmuddel (m)
The English language already has a number of words basically meaning a confused mixup: muddle, jumble, hodgepodge etc. There is surely room enough to add Kuddelmuddel too though, or would that be a bit too messy?

Morgenmuffel (m)
A Morgenmuffel is somebody who is just not a morning person. They are grumpy and grouchy, and don't function properly until they have their first caffeine fix. I am a bit of a Morgenmuffel myself, especially during the Winter months when it is hard to get out of the bed on a dark, cold morning.

Muckefuck (m)
This isn't as rude as you think. It's the name for coffee substitute, made out of malt or chicory or dandelion root. It's all you could get back in the day in the DDR, but doesn't it sound great? "Do you want some muckefuck, or do you want some real coffee?"

Naschkatze (f)
Naschen is to nibble and Katze is a cat. Put them together and you have a term to describe someone who is always nibbling away at a chocolate bar, or has their hand in a bag of sweets, or keeps helping themselves to the cookie-jar. Actually, we have a real nibble-cat: Cassie is always pestering us for her favorite cat-nip sweets!

Rabenmutter (f)
In German folk-lore, ravens are supposed to throw their fledglings out of the nest before they are able to fly, and expect them to fend for themselves (see the Grimm's story The White Snake' for example). By analogy a Rabenmutter is a selfish or uncaring mother who doesn't look after her children properly. Though both raven parents are supposed to be cold-hearted, I don't think there is a similar term Rabenvater. Typical!

Schneebesen (m)
English has a word for the thing you beat up a merangue from an egg white with; it is an egg whisk of course. The German word is rather more colourful - it means a snow broom!

Schnickschnack (m)
English has knick-knack and bric-a-brac, so let it also have Schnickschnack!

Sehnsucht (f)
I think this is a romantic but sad word: it means an intensely emotional longing, yearning, or craving for something, bordering on addiction. There isn't an equivalent word in English. It is also the name of the second album by German industrial metal giants Rammstein, which was released in 1997.

Sitzriese (m)
You know when you go to the cinema, and somebody just has to go and sit down in front of you and all you see for the whole of the film is the back of his head? Then he gets up at the end of the film, and he isn't all that tall at all really, he just has short legs and a long torso. The German's have a word for him - a Sitzreise, or someone who is a giant only when he is sitting down. Now why doesn't English have a word for that? 

Spaßvogel (m)
Do you know the type of person who tries to ingratiate themselves into a group by trying to get them to laugh at their jokes or antics? Kind of pathetic really, and made for the term 'we're laughing at you, not with you'. That's what a Spaßvogel is in German (literally a fun bird). Always acting the fool or cracking bad jokes, and not like me at all.

Speckgürtel (m)
It is often the case that many city-centres tend to become inhabited by the poor, whilst those who can afford it move out to the suburbs on the edge of town. In German this affluent area is called, literally, the bacon belt. I don't know what rich vegetarian suburbianites think of living in the bacon belt.

Stollen (m)
This isn't just a word that needs to be in common English useage, it needs to be on all the UK supermarket shelves at Christmas. It describes a wonderful cake rich in marzipan, raisins and almonds, but without all the dense candied fruit and nut nonsense of a British Christmas cake. If like me your favorite part of Christmas was eating the icing and marzipan bit and feeding the heavy slab of dark brown stuff to the budgie, then Stollen is for you! 

Streicheleinheiten (pl)
Streicheln is to stroke, pet, caress. Einheit is oneness, unity. Together it means intimate caressing and tenderness that brings two people together. Or, as it is used in the plural, a prolonged administration of tender loving care.

Trennungswehe (f)
This is that woefully painful feeling that you get when you part with someone you dearly love. Similar in construction is Heimweh - homesickness, and Fernweh - an aching to visit far-away places.

Zaungast (m)
If you have ever been prevented from getting into an open-air concert or football match because you didn't have a ticket, but instead managed to climb the fence or wall on the outside of the venue and thereby got a free peek, then you have been a Zaungast (literally, a fence guest). It is an onlooker who shouldn't really be there, or are so on the periphery of a meeting or event that they don't take part.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Die Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

If you have been historied-out by the Pergamon Museum, the nearby Alte Nationalgalerie provides a relaxing contrast, with its fine collection of Classical, Romantic, French Impressionist, and early German Modern, oil paintings and sculptures.

Here are a few photos I took on a quiet Sunday in March (all copyright me, click for bigger):

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Gransee - Walls, Waldemar, and Queen Louise

Kirchplatz, the centre of Gransee

Gransee is a historic walled town in Brandenburg about 55km NW of Berlin, and takes about three quarters of an hour to get there on the RE4362 (the Wittenberg to Rostock train). On 4th September 2011 we took our bikes on the train to Gransee with the plan of cycling from there to Neuruppin (about 25km SW).

The settlement here grew up on the cross-roads of important trade-routes, and in 1226 was given city status and the right to impose duty on goods entering its walls. In 1319 it pledged allegiance to the Grafen (counts) of Lindow-Ruppin and had its first town council.

It was a heavily fortified frontier town, with Mecklenburg just to the north and the much disputed Uckermark to the NE. In 1316 it had been the venue for the Battle of Gransee, when the forces of Brandenburg under Margrave Waldemar clashed with those of Mecklenburg and Denmark during the so-called North German Margrave War. It was something about Waldemar supporting the town of Stralsund's independence from Denmark, and ended up with him being on the wrong side of a coalition of Mecklenburg, Denmark, Poland, Sweden, and the Welfs (the House of Welf eventually gave Great Britain its King George I). The result of the Battle of Gransee was 1:0 to the Meck-Danes captained by Henry II. Stralsund went on to be mostly under Swedish control and only became part of Prussia in 1815. Waldemar was the last of his line (the Brandenburg Ascanians) and died in 1320. Or did he? More to come soon.

Part of the Town Wall, Gransee
Theodor Fontane (1819-98) wrote that Gransee was "die festeste Stadt der Grafschaft Ruppin" - 'the most fast (as in locked-up / closed / secure) town in the county of Ruppin'. Of the 2000m long walls that encircled it, 1750m still survive.
Whenever I see town walls still standing, I usually take it as a sign that nothing much has gone on there over the past few hundred years. After all, if it had prospered then the town would have outgrown its walls, which would have been used for building new houses, churches, hospitals and factories. In the case of Gransee I would be pretty much correct. The town was severely damaged during the Thirty Years War 1618-1648 and its population destroyed, fled, or ravaged by plague and hunger. It barely recovered until the main trainline north of Berlin to the coast came through and revived its fortunes. This is a dispiriting pattern that you see repeated across Brandenburg, if not most of Europe. Great Britain was lucky to be too busy having a civil war than to get involved.

Tower on the town walls, Gransee
One thing you often find with these town walls, are that there are usually allotments or gardens close up against them on the outside facing wall. I guess that at one time the walls were also surrounded by a moat, or at the very least all the rubbish and effluence from the town would be thrown outside over the wall. This of course made the soil rich for horticulture.

The Pulverturm
Another relic you often see of the city fortifications is a Pulverturm, or tower where they kept all the gunpowder. Gransee doesn't disappoint. However, as Gransee has had many devastating fires in its history - the last major one on 19 June 1711 razed the town completely - I would bet that only the lower part of the tower is anything like original, and the rest of it in brick is to replace what went shooting off like a sky-rocket.

City walls also usually have gates, which are there mainly to impose a tax on any goods coming into the city to be sold at market. That and to keep out anybody with a Mecklenburgian / Danish / Swedish accent. Berlin's wall was perhaps unique in that it also served to keep deserting soldiers IN. Gransee's main gate, the Ruppiner Tor, survives to this day. Here it is hoving into view when approached from the Mauerweg (wall walk):

Ruppiner Tor and town walls, Gransee
The Ruppiner Tor still straddles the road to Neuruppin and is constructed in the Backsteinbau style common to northern Europe. It was once known as the Waldemar Tor.

Ruppiner Tor, Gransee
The arch on the right looks like it was built to allow modern two-way traffic. Not so, and hereby hangs a tale. I said before that Waldemar, the last of the Brandenburgian dynasty of House Ascania, was dead and buried in 1320. Brandenburg went back to being part of the Holy Roman Empire, under the rule of the House of Wittelsbach from Bavaria. However, twenty-five or so years after his supposed death, Waldemar turned up again before the Bishop of Magdeburg claiming that his burial had been staged and that he had meantime been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Within months he gained gullible supporters who backed his claim, especially amongst those Brandenburgers who objected to being ruled by Bavarians, and many towns switched allegiance. Being such an important stronghold in those days, the Falscher Waldemar (False Waldemar) set his sights on capturing Gransee. As a result the Waldemar Tor was ordered to be bricked up to stop invading supporters, and the smaller gate on the side (since widened) created to control entry to one person at a time. It was not until 1818 that the King of Prussia allowed the Waldemar Tor (now renamed Ruppiner Tor) to be re-opened, by which time the threat had probably passed. Nobody is really sure who the False Waldemar really was, but he was given rule of Brandenburg for two years by Emporer Charles IV until he was exposed as a cheat in 1350. He spent the last years of his life, until dying of natural causes in 1356, with an 'Ascanian' court in the pricipality of Anhalt-Deassau. The House of Ascania thrived elsewhere in Europe by the way, later producing Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.

Close by the gate, within the town walls, is the Spitalkapelle.The 'spital' part is nothing to do with fluids emanating from one's mouth, but is a contraction of 'hospital' (same as in Spitalfields in London). 'Kapelle' is chapel, so this is a 'hospital chapel' though here 'hospital' is used in its original meaning of a place where you would receive hospitality. I said Gransee was built on a crossroads, but not just trade flowed along those routes but also pilgrims. The first thing they would do on reaching a new town on their pilgrimage, is check in at the local hospital for the chance of food and lodgings, and offer prayers for a safe journey at the chapel. As with many of these institutions, it did become a charitable hospital in the sense of an infirmary, and also a poorhouse. The remaining buildings were used as a retirement home and chapel right up until 1990.

Spitalkapelle, Gransee
Close by here is now the local history museum and tourist information centre. It was closed when we visited.

Heimatsmuseum, Gransee. The Spitalkapelle is to the right.
Predating anything else in Gransee are the remains of a former Franciscan Monestry, founded in 1280 and operational until being dissolved by the Reformation in 1541.

Franziskanerkloster, Gransee
Whilst little but the massive brick walls of the roofless hall survives of the monastery, the no-less massive church attached to it has survived, much altered, as the protestant St Mary's Church on Kirchplatz.

Marienkirche, Gransee
Here is a photo of detail of the elaborate Backsteingotic on the church:

Marienkirche, Gransee (detail)
Close-by on Schinkelplatz is a heavily gothicised, cast-iron memorial to Queen Louise (Luise) of Prussia, Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1776-1810).

Luisendenkmal am Schinkelplatz
This so-called Luisendenkmal was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1811 and marks the spot where the body of Queen Louise (or Luise Auguste Wilhelmine Amalie Herzogin zu Mecklenburg, to give her her full name) stopped off on the funeral procession (Trauerzug) from Neustrelitz (where she died 19.07.1810) to Berlin. This is somewhat reminiscent of the 12 Eleanor Crosses to be found in England - the most well-known probably being Charing Cross in London - that marked the funeral procession for the body of Eleanor of Castille, Queen to King Edward I, in the late thirteenth century. The Lusiendankmal also echos the original gothic architecture of the Eleanor crosses, and this was a time when Schenkel was re-inventing the mediaeval Gothik as an authentically 'German' style in contrast to the French Neoclassical one.

In Berlin the Queen's body was laid out for three days in the Berliner Stadtschloss, then buried in the Berliner Dom (the cathedral) on 30th July. Five months later Louise found her final resting place in the Doric-columned mausoleum built for her (by Schenkel again) in the grounds of Schloss Charlottenburg. Her body was joined by that of her husband King Friedrich III in 1840.

Queen Luise died aged only 34, and was apparently a very beautiful, charming, fun-loving, and yet down-to-earth consort to the Prussian King. A Princess of the People, you might say; the Princess Di of her day. Luise lived in a time when Napolean was over-running Europe, and she is credited with persuading her appeasement-minded husband to make a stand against Napolean, an initiative that resulted in an alliance between Prussia and Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The defeat of the Russian and Austrian armies at Austerlitz by the French in December 1805 put an end to that idea, and on 27th October 1806 Napolean marched triumphantly through the Brandeburg Gate in Berlin. During the peace negotiations at Tilset in 1807 Luise ebcountered Napolean first-hand, and actually the two got on well together. Whatever, she was not allowed by Napolean to return to her palace in Berlin until December 1809. Napolean, you may remember, eventually met his Waterloo on 18 June 1815; Marshall Blücher is supposed to have remarked after the battle 'Jetzt endlich ist Luise gerächt!' (Now, finally, Luise is avenged!').

After her death, there arose a cult around the memory of Luise, as if she represented German (or at least Prussian) defiance against France and a rallying-flag for German nationalism. The famous Iron Cross military decoration was inaugurated by Friedrich III and was first presented on 10 March 1813, which would have been Luise's birthday. On the same anniversary a year later Friedrich instituted the Order of Louise (Luisenorden), a complementary decoration to the Iron Cross, for women who had made a significant contribution to the war effort against Napolean. Both decorations were designed by Schenkel, and made of iron from the foundries of Berlin - just like the Gransee Luisendenkmal.


That's about it for Gransee. Our impressions were that it is a quiet, clean, charming town set in beautiful coutryside. A little bit sleepy perhaps, with nostalgic DDR-style shop-frontages, splashes of brightly coloured flowers in the gardens, interesting history, and well-manicured parkland surrounding it. If it wasn't for the coming of the railway line, I think it would have just dissolved away. As it is, it is situated with the large lake Gehron See to the north (which we didn't visit but from the train looks like a haven for weekend boating enthusiasts and nature lovers), and does have a small industrial estate and leisure airport nearby.

I can't leave talking about Gransee without mentioning the events of the afternoon of 14th August 1977 at Dannenwalde, just north of the town. This former Luftwaffe ammunition dump had been taken over and expanded by the Soviet 2nd Guards Tank Army after WWII, who made it their top-secret base and built further large ammunition bunkers and rocket storage facilities.

At 14:00 hours on 14th August at Dannewalde, lightning struck  a stack of 122mm Katyusha rockets causing them to catch fire and explode. Their solid-fuel motors ignited and sent them propelling off over a radius of 20km. It is not known how many launched themselves, but probably at least a thousand went streaming off wildly into the forest and over Gransee and surrounding villages.

Trees are torn up, raging fires are started, buildings were destroyed. In the midst of the inferno, frentic Soviet soldiers tried to push burning ammunitions dumps apart. Other grenades caught alight and exploded, craters rip up the earth. People fled in panic - but where to when all hell seemed to be breaking out all around. It wasn't until 19:45 that no more explosions were heard.

There were no reported civilian casualties, but it is estimated that between 50 and 300 Soviet soldiers were killed in the incident. Since the Russian armed forces have imposed a forty-year secrecy on their activities after withdrawing from the former DDR, no-one will have access to their records until 2017, and even then it is unlikely that records about Dannerwalde will be declassified.

It is not known how much ammunition was left buried here by the Soviets, but in a clean-up operation in 2002, 207 Katyusha rockets were discovered. It's not even known if nuclear warheads were stored there, though it is probable that they were, along with chemical weapons.

And all that is awaiting discovery in the woods just a few kilometres north of  sleepy Gransee.

After Gransee we cycled off to Schloss Mesesberg en route to Neuruppin.