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!


Mit freundliche Grüße!

Andie Gilmour

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1. Berliner Bär reist um Spanien!

My Teddybär has been off on his holidays ... to Spain! He has sent me back some selfies he took on his i-Phone. I hope you will share his enjoyment!

Here is Teddy at Tegel airport, Berlin, ready for his big adventure. Gute Reise Ted!

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

At Barcelona he shares an apartment with his new Spanish friend, Coco.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Bäääääärcelona! Teddy outside Gaudi's Casa Milà building.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Chilling out on Barcelona beach.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Pretending to be a living statue on La Rambla.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

After walking all the way up La Rambla, Teddy needs to soak his feet.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Relaxing in the evening with a glass of sangria.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Teddy goes climbing above the city of Xàtiva near Valencia.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

He finds an interesting old castle in the hills of Xàtiva and goes and explores.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Visiting the city of Valencia.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Back on the beach again, in the Parc Natural d'Albufera.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Now Teddy is in Madrid, outside the Royal Palace.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Teddy with the symbol of Madrid - a bear (of course!) eating from a strawberry tree.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Teddy takes a ride in a cable car into the Casa de Campo park.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Teddy poses with his favorite Spanish artist outside the Prado museum.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

All too soon, Teddy has to fly back home. Just time for one last go around the baggage carousel.

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

On the S-Bahn on the way home. Hope you had a good time in Spain, Ted! (He nods - yes he did!)

photos of Teddybär in Spain by Andie Gilmour

Posted on 23 April 2015 | 9:01 am

2. Deutsches Kino - Das Salz der Erde

I'm categorizing 'Das Salz der Erde' as 'Deutsches Kino' because its director is German film-maker Wim Wenders, famous for (amongst many others) the visual poem to Berlin 'Der Himmel über Berlin' ('Wings of Desire'). But 'Das Salz der Erde' is not a film in German, but in French, Portuguese, and English. And it isn't shot in Germany, but mostly in Brazil at the home of renowned photojournalist Sebastião Salgado. It is however an example of how New German Cinema (Neuer Deutscher Film) has evolved from its early beginnings in the art-house cinemas of Europe in the last century, under the direction of the likes of Herzog and Fassbender (and Wenders), into a truly international affair that touches everybody.

'Das Salz der Erde' is a documentary about the life and works of Sebastião Salgado, a photographer who's lens has recorded some of the worse excesses and tragedies of humanity across the globe: famine, war-zones, genocide, hell-hole life and work environments, the desperate migrations of thousands. It is a wonder he can close his eyes at night and not be haunted by what he has witnessed.

We as the film-goer witness for ourselves these events through the view-finder of his camera, with a succession of some of his stunning black and white photographs. Meanwhile Salgado's disembodied head explains the background to the images as if he is looking at the photo whilst also looking out at us.

The images in turn shock us, or make us gasp in awe, or bring us close to tears, or sometimes make us look away. The subject of most of them are humans displaying a common humanity we can empathise with, even if we cannot comprehend the difficulties they strive against.

Wim Wenders is such a consummate documentary maker (check out for example 'Buena Vista Social Club' and 'Pina') that you barely notice his presence guiding the film and Salgado's narrative as he (Salgado) leads us through his life. Wenders is also an amazing photographer himself, and his eye for the perfect image is at work selecting and displaying Salgado's photos for just the right amount of time.

But contrast Wenders' direction with the contributions by the film's co-billed director Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, who is Sebastião's son. I am sure that Wenders had a compassionate reason to create this film with Juliano, but to be honest, whilst the son did bring an insider's angle of Sebastião's family life that Wenders could not, Juliano's parts of the film seemed surplus to requirements.

I think that the film is titled 'Das Salz der Erde' because it focuses on the lives of plain, simple, good, honest people, all be that they are living in extreme situations. People like you and me, not international celebrities or leaders of nations. The vast number of people who make up the world, and have to suffer the consequences of the headline-makers. But I am also reminded of the ritual of spreading salt on conquered land to symbolically curse it's rehabilitation. Salgrado's photographs often seem to show humanity as a curse on the Earth, rather than a blessing.

Wender's film would be altogether too bleak an experience if it wasn't redeemed by an extraordinary later phase in Salgrado's life. At the depths of his own depression and disgust with what he had seen, he turned to wildlife and landscape photography. No less depressing you might think, given the impact of Man on destroying the environment, but this in turn led Salgrado to conceive - at the inspired suggestion of his wife Lélia Wanick Salgrado - in turning the land his family had owned and see die in Brazil back into rainforest. This remarkable project has succeeded in creating in just 15 years an amazing sustainable eco-system where once there was dry, barren earth. Sebastião and Lélia have founded the Instituto Terra to continue the project and to pass on the knowledge, and hope, that they have discovered.

A breath-taking film, then, full of emotion and poetry as well as a journey through the life of a remarkable photographer. A must-see for anyone interested in photography, or in humanity. Which must surely be most of us.

By the way, we watched 'Das Salz der Erde' at the Neues Off Kino in Neukölln, Berlin; a marvellous jewel of an independent cinema, well-maintained and just large enough to feel like a real cinema whilst small enough to make you feel part of a film-lover's community.

Posted on 8 April 2015 | 9:41 am

3. Easter Peace March in Berlin

It was heart-warming to discover that the tradition of an annual peace march is still being kept up. I fondly remember going on Easter CND peace marches in England in my youth, and the camaraderie of linking hands  at Aldermaston and Greenham Common.

This year around a thousand people marched through Berlin under the motto Die Waffen nieder (Lay down your weapons) and was particularly focused on the escalating crisis in Ukraine.

A great event, though not sure about the giant model of a dove on a car-roof heading-up the parade - it was rather naff!

More about the march on RBB (in German).

Posted on 4 April 2015 | 2:02 am

4. bester Freund des Menschen

Apartment dog is watching you!

It is true to say that German folk certainly love dogs. The British do as well, of course, but whereas you might occasionally see a faithful collie asleep under the inglenook table of an English pub, it is only in Germany that I have regularly seen dogs in cafes and restaurants or trotting behind their mistress in department stores. Dogs are more than just indulged here; they are pampered and pedicured, and dressed in fashionable jackets - with witty slogans like 'Floh Taxi' ('flea taxi') - and even have their own little doggy shoes (Hundeschuhe),

Most German gate-posts have signs with pictures of dogs declaring 'Hier wache ich' ('I am on guard here'), or the scarier 'Vorsicht, bissiger Hund' ('beware, vicious dog' - though often ironically with a picture of a little toy Yorkshire terrier). It seems like everyone owns a dog, even those who also keep cats.

You might not have thought about it, but many dog breeds actually have German origins and names. The German Shepherd is probably the first that comes to mind. The German name for the breed translates as 'German Sheepdog': Deutscher Schäferhund. In the UK dogs of this breed are also sometimes called Alsations. This goes back to the First World War when Germany was Britain's enemy and anti-German sentiments were high. The name 'Alsatian' comes from the Alsace-Lorraine region on the French-German border, and was considered less Teutonic sounding.

Another dog that was renamed during the First World War is the breed that came to be associated with the German people through caricature - the Dachshund. They became known as 'liberty hounds', in the same way that Sauerkraut was renamed 'liberty cabbage' and in more recent history 'french fries' became 'liberty fries'. The name 'Dachshund' comes from 'Dachs', which is the German word for a badger, and indeed these pipe-cleaner dogs were bred to worm their way down into badger sets and kill the unfortunate occupants.

The Rottweiler dog is named after the SW-German town of Rottweil. This town was founded by the Romans, who used mastiff-type dogs for herding cattle and even pulling carts of butcher's meat over the Alps. The Romans left, but their drover dogs remained and were continued to be used by the Swabians as protection and to herd and drive cattle to market. Modern-day Rottweilers are descendants of those Roman dogs and are surely the originators of the phrase 'fitter than a butcher's dog'.

The Pomeranian is also named after a German place-name, the Prussian  region of Pomerania which is now Northern Poland and the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. These cute little lap dogs are related to the German Spitz breed, spitz being the German word for 'pointed' and referring to their pointed ears and muzzle. Pomeranians were popularised in Great Britain in the eighteenth century by Queen Charlotte (of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), consort of King George III. Queen Victoria was also a big fan, and judging by the number of young women who carry them in their hand-bags on the S-Bahn todayy, they are still a fashionable dog.

You might think that the Great Dane is also geographically named and that it is Danish. However you would be misled. It originated in Germany, and is called the Deutsche Dogge, where 'dogge' means a mastiff type of dog. Originally all dogs were called hounds, which has the same root etymology as the German Hund. Dogge was just a breed of hound, the mastiff, but because they were the main, powerful, breed used by nobility in hunting bears, boars and stags (and only nobility could hunt those kinds of prey), in English all hounds came to be known as dogs. In the reverse direction, the German word Tiere means all kinds of animals, but came to only mean 'deer' in English because that's the only kind of animal the hunting nobility were interested in. It's a funny old thing, language! Anyway, the English call the breed a Great Dane (and most other languages instead call it a German Mastiff) following the French naturalist Count Buffon's coining of the name for the breed as 'Grand Danois'. No-one is sure why the count called them that though.

Now you are beginning to appreciate that there are quite a few other breeds of dogs that originated in Germany. Some are obvious: Doberman Pinschers were first bred by a German called Dobermann; Schnauzers look like they have bushy German moustaches (Schnauz). Less obviously, Boxers were first bred around München and are named for the head-butting of Biergarten amateur boxers (same word as in English).

But what about the Poodle? Surely that has an elegant French derivation? But no, Poodles, with their thick, tightly-curled coats were bred to be water dogs, retrieving shot-down ducks and other water fowl. And there you have it: the German verb for 'to splash' is puddeln (related to English 'puddle') and a poodle in a puddle can certainly splash!

I'll finish off this doggy post with a list of the Top 10 Best-loved Dogs in Germany (according to TV Channel RTL):

20. Malteser
19. Hovawart
18. Doberman
17. Rauhaardackel / Wire-haired Dachshund
16. Cocker-spaniel
15. Siberian Husky
14. Border Collie
13. Rottweiler
12. Boxer
11. Australian Shepherd
10. Chihuahua
9. West Highland-Terrier
8. Beagle
7. Berner Sennenhund
6. Yorkshire Terrier
5. Jack Russell Terrier
4. Deutscher Schäferhund / German Sheepdog
3. Golden Retriever
2. Labrador Retriever
1. Mischlingshunde / mongrel!

Posted on 30 March 2015 | 11:49 am

5. Sonnenfinsternis! (Solar Eclipse)

Today is the first day of Spring!

There also happened to be a Solar Eclipse, which at our location started at 09:38, was at a maximum of about 75% occultation at 10:47, and ended at 11:58 (Central European Time).

Die Basdorfer Sonnenwarte was set-up (in our back garden) and ready to go!

photos of the Solar Eclipse 20.05.2015  by Andie Gilmour

Note that of course you MUST have a solar filter on your telescope before looking at the sun through it! Never-the-less I still ended up with quite a few after-images dancing on my retina after trying to point the telescope in the right direction.

Luckily there were clear skies, and the sun was just above the trees so I could get a clear view.

photos of the Solar Eclipse 20.05.2015  by Andie Gilmour

The light was perceptibly dimmed during the eclipse, and birds in the garden were clearly puzzled, but otherwise it seemed just like an overcast day. There weren't any power outages caused by disruption to German solar energy farms like some scaremongers in the press were predicting.

We saw a sunspot whilst we were observing the eclipse, and you could make out the corona. It would have been great to have shared what it looked like, but the best I could do was try and point my camera down the telescope eyepiece. Not so brilliant, but here it is:

photos of the Solar Eclipse 20.05.2015  by Andie Gilmour

Because we are now educated, civilised people we didn't bang drums and shout at the dragon-wolf monster gobbling the sun, but I did play a blast of Rammstein and that seemed to do the trick of scaring it off!

An auspicious start to the beginning of Spring; let's hope that it all gets better for the World from here in!

Posted on 20 March 2015 | 6:06 am

6. Woolly Pigs

Yes, woolly pigs. Or more particularly, Hungarian Mangalitza pigs. And even more particularly, blonde, swallow-bellied, and red Mangalitza.

More photos from Wildpark Schorfheide, but I make no excuses because I just have never seen anything like the rare breeds they have there before. The Wildpark do seem to be going off-message here though. They say that they are breeding animals like ones that once roamed this region after the ice-age, but woolly pigs, though rare, were developed as a breed in Austro-Hungary during the nineteenth century. But I will forgive the Wildpark because these pigs are so damn cute!

There is a German expression for the Swiss Army knife: eierlegende Wollmilchsau, which translates roughly as an 'egg-laying wool and milk-producing pig', i.e. a fit-for-all-purpose farm animal. These pigs seem to be a step in that direction!

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

photos of woolly pigs by Andie Gilmour

Posted on 13 March 2015 | 4:48 pm