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.
On another note, if you want any web-design or programming work done, I am always open to freelance offers!
© Andie Gilmour 2014
All rights reserved.
From a distance it looks like some Knights Templar Citadel defending the borders of the Holy Roman Empire.
As you get closer, the sheer enormity of the structure begins to impress upon you.
Twenty-four towers, each twenty-two metres high. Surely some relic of the Napoleonic wars?
In fact, the Biotürme Lauchhammer were only built in 1957, as part of a massive bown-coal (lignite) coking plant. They can be found in Lauchhammer, about 150km south of Berlin in the Oberspreewald-Lausitz region, a town which itself only came into existence at the same time to service the plant.
The Lauchhammer coking plant was the first of its kind in the world to be able to produce coke suitable for iron smelting from the brown-coal that was strip-mined from this region. Without it, the heavy industry of the GDR (DDR) would not have been possible, and at the time it was shut down in 1995, 15,000 workers were employed here.
The coke-extraction process produced a great volume of water poisoned with phenol. These towers were filled with the waste-water, where the water was dripped down over beds of bacteria which lived off of the phenol, destroyed it, and purified the water. Hence, these towers are called Biotürme (biological towers), though in the literature of the body set up to preserve the towers (since 1996 a protected monument) they are called the Lusatian area's 'Castel del Monte'.
It would have been nice to go in between the towers, and climbed up to the observation platform. But the man from del Monte, he say no! Or at least he would if he had been there; the site is only open for visitors on Sundays.
This was a bright, sunny, hot. hot, hot (over 30 degrees) Friday though, and we started at Lauchhammer on an enjoyable though heat-wearying cycle beside the Schwarzer Elster river to Bad Liebenwerde.
Along the way we saw a quaint little water mill at Plessa ...
... and a Fachwerk (timber-framed) church at Saathain.
A 42km cycle that was enjoyable enough, but showed us that cobble-stoned high-streets might look nice, but are hell to ride on a bike!
Posted on 18 July 2014 | 12:27 pm
Halberstadt is a small town in Sachsen-Anhalt in the Harz district, about 200km SW of Berlin. It is relatively easy to get there by train: take an RE to Magdeburg then a local HEX train to Halberstadt - an approximately three hours journey.
We visited it on a busy Saturday in mid-July. I am being ironic; above is how we found the town centre (the Fischmarkt) at noon. In fact, I don't think we have ever been to such a quiet town. Maybe it gets really busy during the week, or perhaps everyone was getting ready for the Weltmeisterschaft final tomorrow (Germany vs. Argentina)? I would say though that if you wanted to spend a day looking around impressive mediaeval churches and timber-framed buildings without the bustle of tourists that is Quedlinburg z.B., then Halberstadt, though smaller, is a good place to visit.
First of all, to get the explanation of the weird title out of the way, what on Earth is fishing for wolves? The answer lies in the Halberstadt coat of arms, which you will particularly see on many of the drain covers in the town:
The strange shape in the centre of the shield is called a Wolfangel. It is a flat, forged iron device about ten centimetres long with sharp, opposing barbs at each end. You can perhaps see it better if I show you the Halberstadt coat of arms in colour (taken from Wikipedia commons):
This lethal instrument has been used for centuries in the forests and mountains of Germany to ... wait for it ... angel (fish) for wolves! A long chain was attached to the middle of the bar, with a crescent shaped anchor at the other. The barbs would be baited with hunks of meat and thrown over a tree limb, with the anchor firmly embedded in the ground or tree trunk. The Wolfangel was suspended at such a height that a wolf would have to jump up to snap at the meat, whereupon the unfortunate wolf would find a sharp blade through its mouth holding it there above ground until it died. Gruesome!
The symbol was also unfortunately appropriated by the Nazis, and used by various SS divisions, the Hitlerjugend, and the Werwolf plan of resistance against allied occupation. As such, it has since been adopted by some far-right neo-Nazi organisations, and so the Wolfangel is prohibited by law to be used if a connection with such a group is apparent. I think I am safe using it here though.
If you are arriving at Halberstadt by train, then I would advise catching the tram that stops just outside the train-station, to the right of the quite impressive pyramid fountains (direction Friedhof, get off at Fischmarkt or Holzmarkt). Otherwise, follow Richard-Wagner-Straße up the slight hill and get your fill of East German -era Plattenbau high-rise blocks of flats. Halberstadt is not very large, so there is little danger of you getting lost.
The modern town centre dates back to just 1995 and follows the sense of the historic centre. Here is a photo of the Holzmarkt next to the Rathaus, which contains elements of the old town hall, including a Roland statue.
Here is detail from the fountain:
And here is a closer look at the Roland statue:
The new Rathaus building has a good balance of modern architecture and a façade from the war-destroyed Rathaus:
Here is a closer look at the façade, and you can tell in the different colours of stone which parts have been remade, and which were original:
Much of Halberstadt was demolished during World War II. In particular on April 8 1945 around 82 percent of the town was destroyed, and 2,500 people killed, during an RAF bombing raid. The reason for the heavy bombing was the presence in Halberstadt of a factory that made wings for the Junker JU 88 long-range bomber plane. Halberstadt also has a long history as a garrison town, from 1623 until the Red Army left in 1995. In fact, from 1815 to 1919 Halberstadt was the garrison of the Halberstadt Cuirassiers (mounted cavalry soldiers). One of the more prominent members of the regiment was the later Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and if you can recall any paintings of him they would probably depict him in this unit's uniform.
After the Second World War the Soviet-controlled East German government moved in, cleared out the 1.5 million cubic metres of rubble, and built cheap and quick to assemble Russian style apartment blocks to house the population. The churches and the timber-framed buildings of the Altstadt were unoccupied and left to decay, and it was not until reunification in 1991 that anyone gave a thought to restoring them.
There are a number of churches, ecclesiastical buildings, and a cathedral in Halberstadt, dating back to the turn of the first millenium (for example, construction began on the former Bishop's palace, the Peterhof, in 1059). The first church you can't miss, because its twin towers loom over the modern town centre, is the Martinikirche (church of St Martin):
You can tell it is a church dedicated to St. Martin of Tours because of the depiction of him over one of the entrances:
There he is with his cloak cut in two. The legend is that he was a Roman soldier who cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar in a snowstorm to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me." St Martin's feast day of November 11th is known as Martinstag in Germany, and on the evening before, processions of children go from door to door with lanterns they made in school, asking for sweets. What lanterns have to do with St.Martin is unclear, but bonfires are also lit, and it would seem to be yet another remnant of an autumnal pagan festival of light marking the end of the harvest and the burning of the field stubble (same as bonfire night in the UK. 11th of November is of course the Festival of Remembrance there).
The outside of the gothic building of Martinikirche, which dates back to 1250-1350, looks a bit knocked about:
The inside doesn't look much better, but the scaffolding shows that restoration work is being carried out.
Behind the lovely pulpit there at the back of the gothic hall is the façade of a famous organ built by David Beck in 1592 for the chapel of Gröningen Castle (which was about 10km from Halberstadt). It was removed to the Martinikirche in 1770 when the castle was dismantled, and hopefully it may be restored. However, this is only the façade because all of the internal workings and pipes have not survived. At the moment you can't get close to it because of the building work.
Other things you can see in the church are an elaborate mediaeval font, a very baroque altar, and fragments of carvings:
The Martinikirche is interesting from the outside in that it has one tall steeple, and one smaller steeple, joined by a bridge. The reason that one tower is shorter is because the taller tower was the main look-out tower for the town, and it needed 360 degrees line of sight.
If you thought the Martinikirche was quite large, then a short walk across towards the Altstadt brings you to a much bigger one, the Dom St Stephanus und St Sixtus (cathedral of Saints Stephen and Sixtus), one of the largest Romanesque churches in Germany.
In front of it stands an intriguing stone called the Teufelstisch (Devil's table) or Teufelstein (Devil's stone) or Lügenstein (lying stone). Legend has it that once upon a time there was a guy called Hildegrim who was the first bishop of Halberstadt, and he laid the foundation stone for a great cathedral. Then he summoned a load of skilful craftsmen who quickly progressed the construction of the cathedral. Now the Devil saw the walls going up and assumed that they were building an enormous pub. This pleased him immensely, and so he decided to help the artisans by each night secretly dragging masses of stone to the building site.
The head builder and his companions were greatly surprised about how fast the work was going, but none of them could have guessed the true reason. Anyway, when the building work was already quite advanced, the Devil crept in to have a look at the interior of this wonderful new inn. When he realised that they weren't building a pub but in fact a church, he had a face-palm moment and was both scared at the prospect of a church going up, and angry at himself as being so stupid and helping with it being built.
The next day the craftsmen turned up for work and were horrified to find a furious Devil high up on the wall holding a huge boulder in his hands. The Devil cried down at them "Look, I believed you were building a pub and so I secretly helped you, but now I realize that my hard work was for nothing I am going to smash it into rubble and bring the walls down on you and kill you!" A brave craftsman came forward and cried back "Hang on a moment. If you wanted a pub, then how about we build one next to it, and you can have your pub and we can have our cathedral and our lives? Would that make you happy?" The Devil thought for a moment, then agreed and threw the boulder not at the cathedral but onto the ground next to it, as a reminder to the builders of their promise. And that is why to this day there is a large inn with well-stocked cellars (the Domkeller) next to the cathedral on Domplatz.
In fact, the Teufelstisch probably pre-dates the church as it is more than likely the cap-stone of a megalithic chambered tomb or dolmen. Other myths attached to it are that it was the meeting stone for an ancient Saxon Thing (parliament), or that it was a sacrificial stone for pagan Saxon shamans. I think I'll go for the megalith explanation, which by the way shows that this area has been inhabited for many millennia.
Nearby is a modern building, the Domschatz, that houses the cathedral's treasury.
Here you can see (for 8€) 650 items that make up what is considered to be one of the largest mediaeval religious treasure collections in the world. Personally, I think if you've seen one jewel-encrusted golden saint's hand relic then you've seen them all. One for a rainy day in Halberstadt, but today was sunny (though it did keep clouding over) and the rest of Halberstadt's (free) treasures beckoned.
The cathedral is pretty impressive from the outside with many interesting Romanesque and neo-gothic elements, though it's a bit gloomy and sparse on the inside. Apparently you can climb up the towers, but we weren't enticed by that idea. Here are a few photos of the Dom:
The cathedral is situated at one end of the long open space of Domplatz, around which are many interesting buildings from various eras. At the other end is the Liebfrauenkirche, which was founded in 1005:
Beside the cathedral there is a poignant monument by the sculptor Daniel Priese to the murdered Jews of Halberstadt, the Steine der Erinnerung or 'stones of remembrance'. Halberstadt once had one of the largest Jewish communities in central Europe. This is a roll-call of the last Jews of Halberstadt to be deported to concentration camps and their deaths in 1942.
And there, dear reader, I will have to leave it. The batteries on my camera ran out, so I am unable to bring you photos of the 450 restored timber-framed buildings of the Altstadt, the other church buildings such as the Peterhof, or even of the organ in the Sankt-Burchardi-Kirche which is engaged in playing John Cage's musical piece 'As Slow As Possible' which it began in 2001 and will complete in 2640. Let your imagine do the rest, or better still, go and visit Halberstadt yourself!
Posted on 13 July 2014 | 12:29 pm
Whilst wandering around German towns I am often impressed that the town-planners have added interest to the urban street-scene by installing visually arresting sculptures. Sometimes the sculptures don't hit the mark, and sometimes they are just sad remnants of Social Realism from the days of the East German regime, but at least the local Burghers have made an effort.
Sculptures are the art-form most suited to be seen at street-level: they can be viewed from any angle and are made of durable material that can stand the assaults from the weather and scrubbing brushes trying to remove the inevitable patina of graffiti.
As an example, here is the bronze sculpture 'Homme passant la porte' (1966) - Ein Mann durchstößt die Pforte - by the amazingly original French sculpture Jean Ipoustéguy, which I came across at the corner of Poststraße and Stechbahn in Celle on a busy mid-week market day.
Coming to it from behind I at first thought it was of a man walking into a giant cheese-grater or something. Perhaps the co-incidentally positioned bucket from the adjacent stall would be filled with minced (man) meat?! Looking at it from the front though, you see he is passing through an unsubstantial louvre door. 'Homme passant la porte' of course means just that: 'man walking though a door'. In fact it reminds me of a cowboy-western-style saloon door, and could be the set-up for a joke: 'a man walks into a bar ... '
What I particularly like about this sculpture is the sense of movement created by the front and back positioning of the man's arms- if you look, he actually has three arms, as if he has moved one through the door in the time it took you to walk around to the front of the statue. And that leg sticking out gives it forward motion, propelled by those well-delineated muscles in the back and shoulders.
What it is supposed to depict is anyone's guess. For me, that is the kind of art that moves me most. The clue seems to be in the circular disc he is holding in his right hand; I am thinking of a portal between two worlds, and I am thinking of Charon's obol - the obolus coin given to the ferryman to transport souls across the river Acheron to Hades. Therefore it is the passage between life and death, which at first seems to be a closed door, but in fact is an illusion. The serene, almost comical, face shows no horror at the transition, though he does look like he has had an accident with a bike helmet.
Amazingly, Celle actually has two sculptures by Ipoustéguy. The other is 'Lecture', in front of the Stadtbibliothek on Arno-Schmidt-Platz. I've only just found out about it, so no photos, but you can see one of it here.
You might think that Celle has enough at street-level to keep the optical nerves tingling - it does have nearly 500 half-timbered houses after all - but I think it is this frisson between the old and the new that prevents the German Altstädte from becoming static museum pieces and instead be vibrant centres of German life.
Posted on 1 July 2014 | 6:58 am
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|
"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
Posted on 29 June 2014 | 4:17 am
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).
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.
Posted on 27 June 2014 | 8:47 am
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.
|German Bubble Car, Celle, Germany|
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.
|An original Heinkel Kabine 153|
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.
Totally impractical to drive, of course, but a lovely little thing to come across.
|Another view of the German bubble car in Celle|
Posted on 22 June 2014 | 5:42 am
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.
|Military vehicles road-sign spotted in Celle, Germany|
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:
Posted on 22 June 2014 | 2:33 am
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:
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|
Many people ask if it is for real. It is! And this is where it is on Google maps.
Posted on 7 June 2014 | 11:05 am
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.
Posted on 7 June 2014 | 8:53 am
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