Thursday, 17 December 2015

When the snow lay round about ...


The view down our garden is decidedly Wintery today. I'm tempted to build a snowman, but that would spoil the pristine, virginal snow looking so white and untouched.

Back inside for some Glühwein instead then.


Sunday, 2 August 2015

Bamberg - Mediaeval Jewel of North Bavaria


The old town in Bamberg is the largest, preserved historic centre still in its intact state in Germany. For this reason it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1993, and in a Europe where so many Altstadts are anything but (having been mostly destroyed in WW2) Bamberg provides the visitor with an authentic feel of what a mediaeval German town was like.

It is not a day-trip destination for Berliners though. It is situated in northern Bavaria (Bayern), and even on a high-speed ICE train takes five hours to get there, via Fulda (though once a day direct) and changing onto a regional train at Würzburg for an hour.

The long journey is worth it for the architecture and history of the city. It has strong links with Slavic culture (particularly Polish and Hungarian) and with the German-speaking Franks, as well as being the seat of power of prince bishops of the Holy Roman Empire. Bamberg was also a centre for the flourishing of Enlightenment ideas in southern Germany, and philosophers and writers such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and E.T.A. Hoffmann lived here. Claus von Stauffenberg (the would-be Hitler assassin as played by Tom Cruise) has associations with the town as well; he began his military career with the local cavalry regiment, and married his wife Nina here in 1933.

Whether you are a great fan of the baroque or gothic, or are attracted by Bamberg's rich religious heritage, or are a beer connoisseur (Bamberg has nine historic breweries - try the local Rauchbier), or just like wandering around twisting mediaeval streets, Bamberg will not fail to please.

To further get a feel for Bamberg, please check out my gallery of photos of Bamberg.






Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Unter Dampf! Up the Brocken by Steam Train

I shouldn't really like steam trains. Noisy, dirty, fossil-fuelled monsters from a past age, with no place in an eco-considerate world. But I find a beauty in their precise engineering; how so many parts work together so skilfully and, using only the power of boiling water, can move a mass of many tonnes of metal and freight and passengers up a mountain.

So, when a short stay in Wernigerode in the Harz Mountains gave us the opportunity for a trip on the narrow-gauge Harzer Schmalspubahnen steam railway up to the top of the Brocken, how could I resist? I might be drummed out of Greenpeace for this traitorous action, but please allow me this guilty pleasure.

Here are a few photos from the trip. Unfortunately, none are from the top of the Brocken mountain, because the summit  was shrouded in rain and mist. They say there are lovely views from the top, but there could have been a coven of sky-clad witches dancing on the flat summit and we wouldn't have seen them for the descended cloud. Still, a lovely experience, and a nice shot of schnapps on the train to keep us warm.














Monday, 29 June 2015

Dark Monument to Dark Times


I can't decide if this is a cleverly original memorial, or is in rather bad taste.

It's located in the grounds of a former mental hospital in Buch, north Berlin. It is a memorial to the victims of operation T4, which the Nazis created to get rid of the mentally ill, physically disabled, sexually degenerate, and racially 'undesirable' members of German society. This sickening program took place with the coercion of doctors and nurses to identify and either forcibly sterilize or euthanize their victims.

Operation T4 went on to use vans with the interior connected to the exhaust in order to 'gas' the unfortunates: a pre-cursor to the gas chambers and the holocaust.

The hospital in Buch where this memorial now stands was a transit camp for Berlin patients who would be moved on to euthanasia centres elsewhere. As you can see, it is a giant stone pillow with the names of individuals, presumably children, who would be suffocated by it.

It is all very well to not play down or forget the horrors of the Nazi regime, but perhaps the design of this memorial is a bit disconcerting for the current patients at Berlin-Buch hospital who might wonder if they are going to make it through the night.


Saturday, 13 June 2015

Berliner Schloss-Humboltforum 'Tag der offenen Baustelle'

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

The re-building of the Berliner Stadtschloss is coming along marvellously. Usually you only get to judge progress from the building work and cranes towering up over the tops of the hoardings enclosing the site, but over the weekend the building site was open to anyone to come in and see how things were going. And the answer is 'pretty good'. If only the nearby Berliner Staatsoper (State Opera) on Unter den Linden was doing so well. Or dare I mention it, the ill-fated Berlin Brandenburg Airport.

The new Schloss does still look a bit like the shell for a multi-storey car-park, but the dome has just this week had its topping-off ceremony and once they get around to adding the baroque plaster twiddly-bits it should look quite impressive.

It is in fact a bit down-beat to see the concrete skeleton of any building before it has had its façade applied, like seeing a drag queen before the make-up is slapped on, or a sponge wedding cake before the icing, frosting, and fluting. Better I think if the building consortium hadn't shed light on the magic, and kept the Stadtschloss under wraps - Christo and Jean-Claude style - until it was ready for its appearance on the Berlin stage: Taaa-daa! Of course this kind of architecture is nothing new; if you've visited the Colosseum in Rome you will have seen how the Romans were adept back then at building in brick and concrete then adding the Corinthian columns and pilasters as a final adornment.

The open day featured all the usual German accoutrements to entertain the curious: Bratwurst, Bier, and a military brass band. But also live music, songs and food from other cultures, anticipating the palace's future role as a forum for dialogue between the cultures of the world and setting for the World Art and Culture museums from Dahlem.

The open day featured a lot of fund-raising from the visitors to keep the project going. And why not? Maybe the Berlin Brandenburg Airport could have been funded this way instead of throwing public money into the bottomless coffers of greedy speculators and out and out crooks? I did think of setting up a stall and mischievously organising a petition to have the DDR-era Palast der Republik rebuilt instead. Or, God forbid, a completely new 21st Century building as befits a modern World Capital instead of a Disney-esque Höhenzollern Kaiserland theme park.

A fun day out for all the family then, though perhaps a cause of puzzlement for foreign tourists. I mean, you came to Berlin and you're looking around a building site? What's that all about then? Anyway, the multi-culti musical entertainment and the fast-food was great, and it was entertaining as a Brit that the German military band played 'Colonel Bogey' (my inner voice singing 'Hitler, has only got one ball ...) followed by 'Land of Hope and Glory'. It felt just like Last Night of the Proms; if we'd have stayed longer they might have broken out into 'Jerusalem'!

Here are some of my snaps of the Stadtschloss Baustelle. It will be interesting to return when the palace is completed and do a before-and-after comparison.

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

photos of the Stadtschloss under construction by Andie Gilmour

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Museumsinsel by Night

Museum Island is a popular place to wander around any time of day, but it is especially precious after the sun has just set, the tourists have left, and the loving couples come out. Usually there is at least one busker left to fill the evening with music, and the bars and restaurants of Mitte are only a short walk away.

photos of Museum Island, Berlin, after sunset by Andie Gilmour

photos of Museum Island, Berlin, after sunset by Andie Gilmour

photos of Museum Island, Berlin, after sunset by Andie Gilmour

photos of Museum Island, Berlin, after sunset by Andie Gilmour

photos of Museum Island, Berlin, after sunset by Andie Gilmour

photos of Museum Island, Berlin, after sunset by Andie Gilmour

photos of Museum Island, Berlin, after sunset by Andie Gilmour

photos of Museum Island, Berlin, after sunset by Andie Gilmour

Friday, 15 May 2015

Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour

Coal-fired power stations shouldn't look beautiful. They should be photographed with billowing sulphurous smoke and dark thunderous clouds, with lightning bolts and a storm of acid rain. But on a sunny Spring day, the Jähnschwalde power station can't quite pull the satanic role off.

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour

This area NE of Cottbus, known as Teichland, is a joy to cycle around. Just watch out for midges and mosquitoes! It is hard to realise that these lakes are flooded open-cast mines.

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour

Shouldn't that sign say 'Kraftwerk Autobahn' though, not Straße? (German musical joke there)

photos of  Kraftwerk Jähnschwalde by Andie Gilmour