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. 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

2. 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

3. 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

4. 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

5. A 'Secret' Cafe in the Sony Center


The Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz is an amazing space. Besides being a great place to chill out and admire Helmut Jahn's circus tent-like roof, it also houses one of the best cinemas in Berlin for original language films (mostly English) at the Cine Star. Add to that the awesome Imax 3D screen and the extremely interesting Museum für Film und Fernsehen, then you have a great film-fantastic day out. That's especially if you go on a Thursday when the Museum is free from 4pm to 8pm. If you like Lego or trying out the latest Sony devices then you might feel like you are in heaven.

Disappointingly though, the food and drink on offer is not cheap. Here is a tolle Tipp for you then. Shhh, don't tell everyone, but there is a cafe on the ninth floor that not only has the most fantastic views of the Sony Center but is perfect for popping up to for a light lunch or afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen.

The cafe is called PS-ZWO and is primarily for the use of students and lecturers at the DFFB (the German film and Television Academy), but it is open to the public too. Get to it by taking the lift as if you were going to the entrance of the Museum für Film und Fernsehen, but go all the way up to the top floor. Prices are cheap enough, especially for the location, though don't expect anything too fancy.

You didn't read about it here. You didn't see these photos I took from the cafe balcony. And for goodness' sake behalt es für dich! (Keep schtum!). We don't want all the tourists crowding the place do we?




Posted on 12 May 2015 | 9:51 am

6. Perkeo, the small man of Heidelberg with a big thirst

As you wander around Heidelberg, it is possible that you may keep seeing references to a chap named 'Perkeo'. If you visit Heidelberg Castle and the Großes Fass, or Great Heidelberg Tun (the largest wine barrel in the world!), you will even see a carved wooden figure of this diminutive chap.

But who was 'Perkeo', and why does his name keep cropping up in Heidelberg as, for example, the name of a restaurant?


It seems that 'Perkeo' was a real person, born in 1702 in Salorno in South Tyrol, Italy, and originally worked there as a Knopfmacher or button-maker. He possibly had dwarfism, or at least legend has it that he measured just 3ft 6". Through his ready wit and heroic drinking ability he came to the attention of Charles III Philip, Elector Palatine, who took him back to Heidelberg Castle and appointed him court jester.

Perkeo's real name was Clemens Pankert (or other sources say Giovanni Clementi). He acquired his nickname because whenever he was offered a drink, he would say in Italian 'perché no?' meaning 'why not?' As catch-phrases go, that probably got a bit tiring after a while.

According to Victor Hugo, writing in 1840 after a visit to Heidelberg Castle, Perkeo got through fifteen double-bottles of Rhine wine each and every day. Even for the time, when wine was healthier to drink than water, and also had less alcoholic content than now, that is a lot! It is possible that actually he suffered from ADH deficiency due to diabetes insipidus, which caused him to have a great thirst. He is said to have never been ill until into his eighties, when his doctor advised him to cut down on the wine. According to folklore, a few days after drinking his first taste of water, he died!

Prince Philip put Perkeo in charge of the Great Heidelberg Tun, which is a vast barrel used to collect taxes paid in wine to the Elector. It was obviously a big joke in those days to have the smallest fellow with the biggest thirst look after the largest wine barrel in the world. Depictions of Perkeo show him with an enormous key attached to his waist, which gave access to the barrel room.


There are many tales about Perkeo, about his wit and pranks, and that is why he has stayed in popular memory amongst the folk of Heidelberg. So now you know!

Posted on 5 May 2015 | 7:36 am