A UK domain abroad


Herzlich willkommen!

This is the personal webpage of Andie Gilmour.

I am a seasoned IT professional who together with my partner and cats upped sticks from the UK in 2008 and moved to live just north of Berlin.

Why did we make such a momentous move? Surely we must have been crazy? As the traditional song goes: Du Bist Verrückt, mein Kind, du musst nach Berlin, wo die Verrückten sind!

Well yes, we were crazy - crazy about Berlin. There is no city like it, and Land Brandenburg around it is also a beautiful thing.

On this page I have incorporated the most recent posts from my blog, which has chronicalled our move to Berlin and our lives and discoveries since. I hope you read it and can share with us our love for this crazy place.

Alternatively, you can subscribe to the Best of das Blog newsletter and get a periodic digest of the best monthly posts sent direct to your email box!


Freundliche Grüße!

Andie Gilmour


das Blog

A blog by Andie Gilmour about two Brits & four cats moving to Berlin and living at the heart of Europe. With advice on surviving in Germany, and where to visit and especially photograph. Plus occasional blogs about music, food, and films.

Stendal, Capital of the Cradle of Prussia


Stendal was an important Hanseatic town and has a history stretching back a thousand years. It was the largest town in the 'Altmark', the region to the West of the Elbe that through German eastward expansion with the conquest of Slav-controlled land became the Margraviate of Brandenburg. The Ascanian dynasty of Brandenburgian Margraves gave way to the Hohenzollern dynasty, under whom Brandenburg expanded further to become the Prussian and thence German Empire. For this reason Otto von Bismarck, who was born in the region, near Stendal, called the Altmark 'the Cradle of Prussia'. Even today the red Brandenburg eagle takes up half the official town coat-of-arms, even though Stendal is now in Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) and not Brandenburg.

As a member of the Hanseatic league and with its own guild of sailors trading across the Baltic and North Seas, wealth poured into Stendal. This was expressed in the building of fortified city walls with elaborate gates, numerous large churches and a cathedral, progressive educational institutions, and elaborate town houses for the rich merchants around the market place. And all in the typical Backsteingotik which predominates wherever the Hansa merchants showed off their taste in architecture.

Stendal was also, from 1640 until the Soviets left in 1994, an important garrison town, The first Luftwaffe paratroopers were established in 1936 at nearby Stendal-Borstel airfield, to whom the famous boxer Max Schmeling was assigned for a period. The presence of troops here  attracted bombing during the Second World War. Stendal also happened to be on the direct route for Allied bombers heading for Berlin 120km East. The town mayor surrendered the city to American forces on 13th April 1945; a move that Joseph Goebbels denounced as ehrlos (dishonourable). Wenck's 12th Army surrendered his forces at the town hall on 4th May and the British army took over administration of Stendal until it was handed over to the Soviets on 1st of July 1945.

Lots of history then, but what's actually there for a visitor to see at Stendal? If you have visited other former-Hanseatic mediaeval German towns that then became part of East Germany and since re-unification have carried out major renovations, then you will know what to expect. Stendal does not disappoint, and so you will find:

Two former gates into the (now gone) city wall, both constructed in Backseteingotik.
Tangermünder Tor:

Tangermünder Tor

Uenglinger Tor:

Uenglinger Tor

Lots of old doorways:

A newly renovated shopping high street:

Monuments to former VIP's, in this case Johann Joachim Winckelmann (pioneering art historian and archaeologist):

A Marienkirche (St Mary's) with bridged twin towers:

Prussian eagles (here on the Schwarzer Adler hotel):

A Roland Statue on the Marktplatz - only this one has gone on a beauty treatment course. Oh yes, there are also lots of major renovation-works still going on in Stendal. It might all be finished in ten years time:

Pristine newly-cobbled streets and buildings that look sparklingly new:

The remains of an old village feel:

Impressive red-brick schools, like this which was the grammar school, established in 1338:

Lots of open parks adorned with graffitied ugly DDR-era statues:

A lot of buildings still in need of TLC:

Renovated Fachwerkhäuser (timber-framed buildings):

A cathedral:

Modern cutting-edge architecture cultural buildings, like the Theater der Altmark:

A rebuilt Pulverturm (where they used to store the town's gunpowder. Inevitably these were periodically blown up):

Elegant Gründerzeit town-houses:

And a large red-brick railway station:

By the way, we combined our visit to Stendal with a trip to Lüneberg. This is possible with a Schönes-Wochenende ticket, but it did mean getting up at 6am on a Saturday, and not making it back until nearly midnight.

Posted on 28 September 2014 | 6:57 am

Wot? No Nuts?!

Today a cute red squirrel appeared at the bird-feeder, looking in through our living-room window.

He looked reproachfully at us, as if to say 'where's the nuts?'.

I wonder if it is the same one that visited the bird-table in Spring last year? It is sad that Cassie isn't here any more to watch him. She would have been so excited at seeing the cheeky red-coated chappy.

There is a myth that Germans can't pronounce the word 'squirrel', and even that during WWII Policeman and the Home Guard were instructed to test suspected German spies by asking them to pronounce the word. I don't know about the veracity of this, but the test is reciprocal: can English speakers correctly pronounce the German word for squirrel das Eichhörnchen ? It is quite a tongue-twister!

Our squirrel is simply lovely. And I think I had better get me to the supermarket and buy him some nuts asap!

p.s. love the 'wilder Wein' in the background; that reminds me of a Rammstein song!

Posted on 25 September 2014 | 1:23 pm

Lecker! Lecker! Lecker! - Türkischer Markt in Berlin Neukölln

If you like Turkish or Near-Eastern food, or just love the bustle and variety of markets, then a Top-Tipp is to head down to the Maybachufer in Neuköln (nearest U-Bahns Kottbusser Tor and Schönleinstraße ) any Tuesday or Friday between 11:00 and 18:30 (6.30pm).

It is not a large market - just along both sides of one short road beside the canal - but crammed into this space are stalls selling everything imaginable for a market (and on the periphery, the unimaginable too!).

Colourful, noisy, with wafts of delicious and tempting smells, and the stall-holders calling out 'Lecker! Lecker! Lecker!' and offering you slices of produce to probieren.

Okay, some of the prices can be a bit steep, so don't get carried away. But the street-food is tasty and cheap enough. And as long as you keep your head and don't buy a 2 kilo bag of olives in the heat of the moment, you'll find it a most enjoyable experience.

Posted on 1 September 2014 | 6:53 am

Dr Who Scottish Shortbread

To celebrate the start of Series 8 of Dr Who with new twelfth doctor the Scottish Peter Capaldi, we baked some special Dr Who shortbread! In the form of Weeping Angels and TARDISes! Blink and they're gone!

Shortbread is so easy to bake, and is so moreish, that I am surprised that outside the British Isles it isn't more readily available in cafés or in packets on the supermarket shelves. In the popular mind it is indelibly associated with the Scottish Highlands, and doesn't feel like the genuine article unless it comes in packaging festooned with Royal Stuart tartan and thistles and a portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie or a Highland bagpiper. But why not Dr Who shortbread though? I you ask me, the BBC are missing a trick, and they could sell them for putting in the official BBC 'Doctor Who TARDIS Lights and Sounds Cookie Jar'.

The basic recipe is easy to remember: one part white caster sugar, two parts butter or margarine, and three parts plain white flour. You might then play around with textures by making the sugar component half-and-half granulated and caster sugar, or by using rice flour for a gluten-free recipe, but that's basically it.

Here is our recipe, in English and Deutsch 

Ingredients / Zutaten:

150 grams plain flour / Weizenmehl (Type 405)
100 grams soft, slightly salted butter / Butter (weich, leicht gesalzen)
50 grams caster sugar / Streuzucker (fein)

Preparation / Zubereitung:

1. Pre-heat oven to 170° (150° fan) / Ofen vorheizen auf 170 Grad (150 Grad Umluft).
    2. Cream together the butter and sugar in a bowl / Butter und Zucker in einer Schüssel schaumig schlagen.

    3. Add secret ingredient! We often add lemon zest, or you could add a splash of rose-water or cherry pieces / Fügen Sie die geheime Zutat! wir fügen häufig Zitronenschale dazu, aber man konnte einen Spritzer Rosenwasser oder Stücke von Kirsche hinzufügen.

    4. Sieve in the flour and blend together until smoothly combined / Das Mehl in die Schüssel sieben und vermischen, bis reibungslos zusammen.

    5. Lightly flour your working surface, tip out the dough, and kneed it well / Die Arbeitsfläche mit Mehl bestäuben und den Teig darauf gut durchkneten.
    6. Roll out the dough between two pieces of baking parchment to a thickness of about 1cm then lightly prick all over with a fork/ Den Teig ausrollen zwischen 2 Stück Backpapier zu einer Dicke von etwa 1 cm, und mit einer Gabel leicht einstechen.

    7. Cut into triangles or fingers or use a biscuit cutter. We used TARDIS and angel cookie cutters from Lakeland / In Dreiecke geschnitten oder in den Fingern oder mit einem Ausstechform. Wir verwendeten TARDIS und Engel-Ausstechformen von 'Lakeland'.

    8. Lay the shortbread onto a baking-tray and bake for about twenty minutes until golden-brown at the edges / Legen Sie das Shortbread auf einem Fach und im Ofen backen für etwa zwanzig Minuten, bis sie goldbraun an den Rändern.

    9. Take the shortbread out of the oven, sprinkle with a little caster sugar, then let them cool on a wire-rack / Das Shortbread aus dem Ofen nehmen, mit Zucker bestreuen und auf einem Kuchengitter auskühlen lassen.

    10. Eat with a cup of tea or a glass of Scotch whisky! / Essen zusammen mit einer Tasse Tee oder einem Glas Scotch Whisky!

    Posted on 23 August 2014 | 10:46 am

    The F60 Abraumförderbrücke Revisited

    Whilst cycling around Niederlausitz on the way to Finsterwalde, we called in at the Besucherwerk (visitor's mine) Lichterfeld to see again the awesomely gigantic Abraumförderbrücke (overburden conveyor bridge) F60.

    I have blogged about this titanic brown-coal digging machine previously, but as we were passing, we thought we'd call in again. Entrance for just the visitor exhibition and cafe and a good view of the F60 (but not the guided tour) is 2€ by the way, plus they let us take our cycles into the area.

    The F60 is a machine that excavates open-cast lignite or brown coal  (in German die Braunkohle) mines. There are two multi-bucket excavators on one end of the 'bridge' (see photo below), one cutting up, the other cutting down. They are removing layer by layer the earth that is covering up the seam of lignite underlying the land. The excavated waste or overburden (Abraum) is conveyed (Förder) on a bridge (Brücke) over the wide trench of earth already excavated, and deposited on the other side of the trench where the lignite has been extracted.

    In the photo below, the bridge moves left to right shaving away at an earth-bank (imagine it), then inching forward (away from you) and shaving a bit more off. Though this 'shave' is the equivalent volume of a football pitch covered with soil to the depth of 7-8 metres per hour.

    This beast of East German engineering is 502m long, 80m to the highest point, and 240m wide. It is named the F60 because it has a cutting height of 60m. The Eiffel Tower is 301m high, so even the F60's nickname of Der liegende Eiffelturm der Lausitz (the horizontal Eiffel Tower of Lusatia) does it a disservice.


    The above photo shows the arms from which the soil is dumped, whilst the photo below shows the main conveyor belt which carries all the earth. If you go on the guided tour, you get to walk along there, which is great fun unless you don't have a head for heights like me.

    The whole machine is moved along, parallel to the earth-face being cut out, on railtracks. The photo below shows the locomotive 'foot' that the 'earth sprayer' sits on. At the other end, where two multi-bucket diggers carve into the land, there are two railway tracks and multiple 'feet'. The machine edges forwards on the tracks at a breath-taking speed of 13 metres per minute. But as the machine weighs 13,600 tonnes that's not surprising.


    Below is a snap-shot of a clump of birdsfoot trefoil (in German, Gewöhnlicher Hornklee in Latin, Lotus corniculatus) with the F60 in the background. This grows abundantly on the wasteland around here, suggesting that at one time the land was farmed before it was given over to mining. In fact, numerous villages have disappeared from the map as the inhabitants were moved out and the F60's moved in. It's nice to see that at least the flowers are reclaiming their land.


    There are five F60's in the world, and the other four are still in operation. The F60's are said to be the largest movable technical industrial machines in the world. I think that they also work as stunning industrial sculptures, like they are representations of wire-frame dinosaurs or the framework for alien spacecraft.

    There is a small visitor's centre, and a cafe of sorts, in the grey metal building where the miners used to change into their work gear and take their breaks. On the side of the building is written Glück Auf! which is the German miners' greeting, meaning something like 'good luck!'. It is a greeting that dates back to at least the 16th century, and is said to derive from the phrase 'Ich wünsche Dir Glück, tu einen neuen Gang auf!' (I wish you good luck in opening a new lode of ore).


    An information board shows you how the F60 operates. Click the photo to see it at a readable size.

    Key words are:

    die Gleisanlage  - rail track
    der Eimerkettenbagger - chain-and-bucket excavator
    der Abraumbagger - overburden excavator
    der Kohlebagger -  coal excavator
    der Schaufelradbagger - bucket-wheel excavator
    die Kippe - disposal area
    die Abbaurichtung - direction of mining
    der Tagebau - opencast pit or strip mine
    der Hochschnitt - the cut above ground level
    der Tiefschnitt - the cut below ground level
    das Kohleflöz - coal seam
    die Kohlebandanlage - coal conveyor belt
    and of course die Abraumförderbrücke - the excavated mine waste conveyor bridge

    If you memorise that list, I think you could come up with an interesting conversation for your GCSE German Oral Exam.


    We came across the kind of devastation these machines cause at Tagebau Cottbus-Nord. This 'moonscape' was created with a type F34 Abraumförderbrücke, a mere baby beside the F60 with a cutting height of only 34m. Below is a photo I took of the opencast pit:

    On the one hand, this is clearly environmentally catastrophic. You couldn't come up with a better illustration of mankind raping the Earth in the greedy pursuit of fossil fuels. Apart from the devastation to the plant and wildlife, you have to remember that villages and farms and their inhabitants have been forceably removed to make way for the opencast mines. This in an area with a high Sorbian residency, and the Sorb people have always had a bad deal from their German neighbours.

    On the other hand, lignite (brown coal) accounts for around 25% of Germany's energy usage. Germany has a policy of phasing out nuclear power, and also gets most of its liquid gas from Russia, so until renewables can fill the energy gap, lignite is going to have to be mined to keep the lights on. Plus, after cycling around 'The Lusatian Lake District' (die Lausitzer Seenlandschaft) - an area that was once opencast mining pits, now transformed into an environmentally diverse and beautiful landscape - you can't but admire what a good job Germans have done at cleaning up the mess. In terms of the timescale of the land, the disruption caused by opencast mining is a mere blink of the eyelids.

    I don't know where the balance lies, but I do know that the F60 machines sure are impressive; awesome, strangely scarey, able to make you feel small and insignificant, and a testament to humanity's technological power over Nature. Well worth the detour on our cycle around Niederlausitz.

    Posted on 21 August 2014 | 2:03 am

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