Sunday, 29 June 2014

Public Bookcase

Öffentliches Bücherregal - Celle
Öffentliches Bücherregal
I am a great lover of literature, and applaud initiatives for the free dissemination of the written word in all its forms, whether by public libraries, reading rooms and cafés, or over the internet with Project Gutenberg. I don't think I have ever come across a book-case on the pavement before, where people are invited to pick up a book they fancy and take it away then bring it back.

I spotted this example in Celle. Whilst I love the idea, I hope that it isn't the fore-runner of the way publicly provided libraries are going to look after spending cuts to library services! And where can I plug my e-reader in to download a book?

If you are interested, here are the rules for using the bookcase:

Rules for using the public bookcase in Celle
Rules for using the public bookcase

"This is the bookcase for Celle Neuenhäusen.

To ensure that all book-lovers in Celle have pleasure for a long time, there are a few - not many - rules:

  • You can use the bookcase at any time.
  • You can choose a book.
  • You can borrow it and return it.
  • You can keep it if you put another of your books in the cabinet.
  • If you like it so well that you want to keep it for a while, you may do that too. However, if it really is so good, it should also be read by others.
  • If you have at home quite a lot of books that you would like to bring, then please bring only as many as will fit in the cabinet.
  • If something is broken, then please phone .....
Books give pleasure! Books are friends!"

Another, though commercial, venture that I admire is the number of book vending machines in Hamburg: The Hamburger Automatenverlag. It's certainly a better use for old cigarette vending machines than supplying cigarettes!

Similarly I have noticed that some Bahnhof vending machines dispense little yellow books alongside the Kit-Kats, crisps and cans of cola. These are published by Reclam Verlag, who I find out were the first company to introduce book vending machines in Germany. More information in that article I linked above, and on Wikipedia here.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Potsdamer Stadtschloss - Ceci n'est pas une châteaux

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

The State Parliament of Brandenburg (Landtag Brandenburg) now has a new home in the reconstructed, rose-pink, neo-classical, Potsdamer Stadtschloss. The original Stadtschloss (town castle) had stood on the old market square in Potsdam for centuries, being originally a Winter palace for the margraves and electors of Brandenburg and then used by successive Hohenzollern kings of Prussia until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II when it became something of a tourist attraction, though a far second to Schloss Sanssouci.

Potsdam city centre was pretty much destroyed by an air-raid on the night of 14th April, 1945, but though the outer walls of the Stadtschloss were badly burnt, a building survey showed that 83 per cent of the building was still viable. Never-the-less, the East German ruling SED Party had the remains of the Schloss demolished in 1960, amidst much protesting from the citizens of Potsdam.

That sounds then a similar fate to the Berliner Stadtschloss, and like that former relic of an imperial past, post-reunification there were plans to rebuild the Potsdamer Stadtschloss. Unlike the Berlin castle though, the former Potsdam royal palace was to have a clear purpose as the parliament of the State of Brandenburg, which since its re-establishment in 1990 had been meeting in the former Military School building in the Brauhausberg, Potsdam.

Also unlike the Berliner Schloss, work has progressed pretty quickly on its rebuilding, and the State Parliament of Brandenburg is now in residence. Here are a few photos of the new building, though it must be emphasised, it is a functional parliament building and not a palace: Ceci n'est pas une châteaux! (though René Magritte may beg to differ).

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

Unfortunately there have been delays demolishing the ugly DDR-era Fachhochschule Potsdam next to the rebuilt Stadtschloss (the yellow monstrosity on the left in this photo). The plan is it will be demolished in early 2018.

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

Der Fliegende Holländer - Potsdam's Dutch Quarter

I think Potsdam is a gorgeous city, and anyone who visits Berlin would be well rewarded by spending at least a day exploring its delights. It might encourage them to return and spend more time there.

Of its many diverse attractions, one of my favorites is the Dutch quarter, or Holländisches Viertel, right at the town centre. Since I first visited here in the year 2000 when it was still run-down after DDR-era neglect, the quarter has been massively renovated and is now one of the most stylish areas of Potsdam with an assortment of elegant restaurants, chic boutiques, unique artist's workshops (Atelier), and antique and artisan food shops. A bit pricey, but strolling around and admiring the architecture (one of the largest ensembles of Dutch town-architecture outside the Netherlands) costs nothing.

Here are a few photos I took of the area to give you an impression of it on a Spring day:

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Cute German Bubble Car

Bubble Car
German Bubble Car, Celle, Germany
One of the delights of wandering around German towns is that you are always coming across the unexpected. We visited Celle in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) earlier this month primarily to look at the 400 or so timber-framed buildings (Fachwerkhäuser). Whilst admiring the enduring design of renovated houses dating back many centuries, it was a surprise to come across a classic car-design from the twentieth century - this cute little blue bubble car.

An original Heinkel Kabine 153
An original Heinkel Kabine 153
It is in fact a Heinkel Kabine 153, built between 1956 and 1958 by Heinkel Flugzeugwerke (which had previously been most successful designing and building heavy bomber planes for the Luftwaffe during the war). 5,537 of these little cars were made, and it is reckoned that only twenty of them are around today.

Production of them recommenced in 1960, under licence from Heinkel and with the name Trojan 2000, by Trojan Cars Ltd. in the UK, and continued until 1966: it is this version you are most likely to spot in 1960's British films from the period (or even remember) where the bubble-car became synonymous with Swinging London and Carnaby Street.

Another view of the German bubble car in Celle
Another view of the German bubble car in Celle
Totally impractical to drive, of course, but a lovely little thing to come across.

Tank Road-sign - a Relic of the Former British Army Base at Station Celle

Military Vehicles road-sign
Military vehicles road-sign spotted in Celle, Germany
When I saw this road-sign on the busy Bundesstraße 214 in Celle I at first thought that it was showing the speed-limits for troop-carriers and tanks. After a second-thought, whilst 50 kmph is a fast but not unreasonable speed for a tank (the for many years standard Leopard 1, produced and deployed in former West Germany, has a top speed of 65 kmph), trucks for transporting troops and supplies whizzing through Celle's Altstadt  at 150 kmph seemed rather improbable.

In fact the sign refers to the NATO designated Military Load Classification (MLC or Militärische Lastenklasse) for wheeled and caterpillar-tracked vehicles that it is safe for a bridge or road to carry.

Here we have a top classification of 150 for wheeled vehicles - so basically no restriction - and an MLC of 50 for tracked vehicles, which means a maximum of 45.4 tonnes. The Leopard 1 has a weight of 42.2 tonnes so that would have been allowed.

These road-signs are gradually being phased out since Germany's re-unification and the consequent withdrawal of NATO troops after the Cold War. Similar signs can still be seen in other areas where NATO forces were deployed, such as in Kosovo, but thankfully they are increasingly not needed any more in Europe.

This sign is a relic of the British Army Base Celle Station and RAF Celle airfield. Trenchard Barracks, on the northern edge of Celle town centre on Hohe Wende, had been a British base since the end of the war until it began closing down in August 2012. Here is a British Forces News item from 26.06.11 about the closure:

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Return to Rakotsbrücke in Park Kromlau

August last year we vowed to return to the Rhododendron Park Kromlau and see it when the rhododendrons were actually in flower. This we did in early June, but still we are (just a little bit) too late. Spring came early this year after a mild Winter, and most of the rhododendrons and azaleas had finished blooming. But there were still a few flowers around in the park, and our mild dissapointment was more than made up for by seeing the crazy Rakotsbrücke again:

Die Rakotsbrücke im Park vom Kromlau
Die Rakotsbrücke im Park vom Kromlau
It is like something out of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, and we adore it to pieces!

Die Rakotsbrücke im Park vom Kromlau

Die Rakotsbrücke im Park vom Kromlau

Many people ask if it is for real. It is! And this is where it is on Google maps.

A photo of Rakotzbrücke, Kromlau, on , and another photo of Rakotzbrücke on

The Cornflower : die Kornblume

It is early June, and many cornfields now are full of the colourful flowers of poppies, buttercups, ox-eye daisies, chamomile, and of course cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus).

It seems that cornflowers are native only to the eastern Mediterranean, but since neolithic times, wherever humans have grown corn, cornflower seeds have travelled with them.

The cornflower is particularly associated with Prussia, not least because its colour is the same as the 'Prussian blue' of the Prussian army's infantry and artillery uniforms since 1701. There is also a tale that Kaiser Wilhelm I used to relate about when he was ten years old and with his mother Queen Luise and his siblings fleeing Berlin ahead of Napoleon's army. One of the wheels on the carriage broke whilst they were in open fields. They sat on the bank of a ditch whilst the wheel was being repaired, and Wilhelm recalls that he in particular was giving his mother grief with his petty complaints. To divert her children, Queen Luise pointed to quantities of blue cornflowers growing in the field and had them collect them and bring them to her. She then niftily weaved them into floral wreaths. Wilhelm I related:

"As she worked, overcome with thoughts of her country's sorrowful plight and her own danger and anxiety for the future of her sons, the tears began to drop slowly from her beautiful eyes upon the cornflower wreaths. Smitten to the heart by her distress and completely forgetting my own childish troubles, I flung my arms about her neck and tried to comfort her, till she smiled and placed the wreath upon my head. ... after all these years I can still see those blossoms all sparkling with my mother's tears, and that is why I love the cornflower better than any other flower."

The cornflower was also of importance to the early German Romanticists. They associated it with Sehnsucht. With desire, love, and the metaphysical striving for the infinite and unreachable.

One influential Romantik poem is die Blaue Blume by Joseph von Eichendorf (1818):

Die blaue Blume

Ich suche die blaue Blume,
Ich suche und finde sie nie,
Mir träumt, dass in der Blume
Mein gutes Glück mir blüh.

Ich wandre mit meiner Harfe
Durch Länder, Städt und Au'n,
Ob nirgends in der Runde
Die blaue Blume zu schaun.

Ich wandre schon seit lange,
Hab lang gehofft, vertraut,
Doch ach, noch nirgends hab ich
Die blaue Blum geschaut.

My attempt at translation is:

The Blue Flower

I am searching for the blue flower,
I search and find it not,
I dreamt that by the flower,
My good luck would bloom for me.

I roam with my harp
Through nations, towns and meadows,
Where nowhere all around
Is the blue flower to behold.

I roam for a long time,
Had long hoped, trusted,
But still alas, still nowhere
Have I the blue flower beheld.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Fürst-Pückler-Park Bad Muskau - A Capability Brown Legacy

Bad Muskau

The 300th birthday of genius landscape designer Lancelot 'Capability' Brown is coming up in 2016 and already preparations are under-way to celebrate his legacy. That he revolutionised the idea of how stately homes and palaces are set in their grounds is undeniable; just visit any ducal residence or lordly estate in England and Wales and observe his direct hand or obvious influence. The irony is that his concept was to set off the richly architectural buildings of the landed gentry in surroundings that appeared harmonious and natural, when in fact the positioning of every tree and the meander of the paths and rivers was scrupulously planned and artificial.

His vision of the ideal English garden was taken up not just amongst the rich and mighty of his homeland, but spread across mainland Europe and to the American colonies, and eventually to Australia and New Zealand on the other side of the world. In Germany one of his most enthusiastic advocates was the colourful individualist Hermann Ludwig Heinrich, Fürst von Pückler-Muskau (b.1785 d.1871)

Prince Hermann was a Prussian nobleman who embraced the European Enlightenment for innovation whilst also being a proto-type Romantik who travelled extensively in exotic far-flung regions of the world, whilst woo-ing any female who came across his path. His experiments in landscape gardening in the English fashion can be appreciated at Branitzer Park, Cottbus, as well as a collaborations with that other giant of landscape gardening Peter Joseph Lenné at Babelsberg park.

But today we visited his first home at Bad Muskau, which he inherited along with a Standesherrschaft (barony) from his father in 1811. He sold the estate in 1845 and moved to Cottbus, but in that time he created a marvellous English landscape park beside the river Oder, which is today on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

We had previously visited the park in August 2013, but this time we wanted to explore it a bit more. Here are some of my photos which I hope will give you a feeling for the park and Schloss:

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

Bad Muskau

By the way, the park is half and half in Germany and Poland. Like every other border crossing, a 'shanty town' of traders greets you as you cross over into Poland. There you can get everything from cheap cigarettes, booze, petrol to haircuts and fireworks. It is always a strange, but exciting, feeling for me to cross a bridge and know instantly that you are in a different country. And up until a couple of decades or so ago, it would have been almost impossible to make that crossing and leave East Germany, which is a sobering thought.

Bad Muskau - over the bridge in Poland