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 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

Posted on 13 June 2015 | 10:55 am

2. 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

Posted on 11 June 2015 | 4:07 pm

3. 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

Posted on 15 May 2015 | 1:00 pm

4. High Up With the Slavic Gods

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Cycling around the Teichland  NE of Cottbus we unexpectedly came to a steep hill. This was unexpected because Brandenburg is everywhere else as flat as a pancake. That makes for great and easy cycling, but it does get a bit boring not being able to get some perspective on the landscape. This hill was so steep that we even had to change down to first gear. Oh, and get off and push half-way up.

The hill turned out to be a visitor attraction called Erlebnispark Teichland, a kind of theme park with exciting things such as a mini-golf, bungee trampoline, wooden roller-coaster, and a labyrinth. What it is doing here I have no idea, though I suspect it was created by Vattenfall (the owners of the nearby massive brown-coal mining operations and Jänschwalde power station) to 'beautify' what they had previously made into an open-cast mine and slag-heap.

We weren't very interested in bungee trampolining, but our eyes were caught by a tall, white tower on the top of the hill, beside a strange collection of brown statues signed as a Slawischer Götterhain (grove of Slavic gods. Or 'Slavonic' gods as the as-usual-misspelled English translation had it).

The tower was an Aussichtsturm (look-out tower) and we found that entrance to it was 2€ per person, with coins put into a turnstile. A warning here though: the tower is 50 metres high and has 272 steps. There is no lift so you are buggered if you happen to be disabled or not very fit. This despite there being a disabled parking bay outside the tower.

The Aussichtsturm does have quite spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, albeit that most of what you can see are acres and acres of forest and large terra-formed fields. It isn't too far from the Polish border, so I imagine that some of what you are seeing is Poland.

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

From the tower you get a good idea of the shape of the 'Slavic Grove':

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

You also get a good view into the labyrinth, and there is an urge to shout down directions for the people wandering around it!

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

The Grove of Slavic Gods is a peculiar affair. As works of art they are not at all impressive, and if there is any spirit of the old gods and goddesses inhabiting the place, I think they would be rather offended. The deities on show are rather a mish-mash of gods and folklore too. It's rather as if a Chinese theme-park had put up plastic statues of the Madonna, Jesus on a crucifix, Robin Hood, The Morrighan, and Micky Mouse inside a small-scale concrete Stonehenge. What's it for? I don't know. The Slavs were almost eradicated by German tribes here centuries ago, and the ones who clung on, the Sorbians, are devoutly Christian. Anyway, it made for an amusing break before we cycled on into the Lausitz countryside and thence for a train back to Berlin.

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Teichland by Andie Gilmour

Posted on 15 May 2015 | 11:48 am

5. Coal Mining in Cottbus

Tagebau Cottbus-Nord by Andie Gilmour

Tagebau Cottbus-Nord is the name of a vast brown coal (lignite) open-cast mine NE of Cottbus in the Lausitz region of eastern Germany. It has been in operation since 1981 and has an output of between 4 and 7 million tonnes of lignite per year. It is winding down operations and is due to close at the end of this year (2015). Then it will be landscaped and flooded to make an enormous lake, due to be completed in 2030.

The area is environmentally nightmarish, with enormous mining machines digging into the ground and turning the countryside into a moonscape of barren sand. Hopefully this scar will eventually heal over, and nature return in all its vivid variety, but for now it is a desert with precious few plants managing to cling on to life here.

Tagebau Cottbus-Nord by Andie Gilmour

Tagebau Cottbus-Nord by Andie Gilmour

Tagebau Cottbus-Nord by Andie Gilmour

Tagebau Cottbus-Nord by Andie Gilmour

Tagebau Cottbus-Nord by Andie Gilmour

Tagebau Cottbus-Nord by Andie Gilmour

Posted on 15 May 2015 | 9:00 am

6. Hemlock - Achtung! Sehr sehr giftig!

A sunny Springtime and an ideal time for us to get on our bikes and explore Brandenburg. We had an enjoyable 43 km cycle around Cottbus SE of Berlin and the artificial lakes around Peitz (the so-called Teichland). There might be another post about that journey, but for the moment I want to reflect on how beautiful and yet how dangerous the flora of the countryside is. In particular, the banks of the lakes were festooned in young green plants displaying frothy white umbels of flowers.


They evoke a warming feeling that Spring has at last arrived, and yet how many people wandering or cycling past them know what plant these are?


These joyful flowers actually belong to the deadly hemlock plant (conium maculatum), one of Europe's most poisonous plants. You may recall that the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to death by drinking a deconcotion of hemlock root, a deadly meal called 'Devil's porridge'. It is a plant associated with witchcraft, Hecate, and evil. In Shakespeare's Macbeth it is referred to as the insane root (Banquo, after he and Macbeth met the three witches for the first time: 'Have we bitten on the insane root?).

In German hemlock is called Gefleckter Schierling (spotted hemlock, due to the purple-spotted stems on mature plants), and colloquially as Giftpetersilie and Krottenpetersilie (poisonous and rotten parsley respectively, due to the similarity of the leaves to that culinary herb), Mäuseschierling and Stinkender Schierling (mice and fetid hemlock, due to its smell), and most pertinently Tollkerbel and Tollkraut (mad chervil and mad herb - toll might be an adjective used to mean 'amazing', but its past use is as 'insane' or 'stunning').


So, the moral is to enjoy the countryside by all means, but don't mess with the flora or it may mess with you - permanently!


Posted on 15 May 2015 | 8:31 am