andie.org.uk

A UK domain abroad

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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.

Bautzen - a Very Typical Saxony Town

Bautzen and its skyline of mediaeval towers

Whilst overnighting in Dresden last weekend, we took a day-trip out to Bautzen in eastern Saxony. It is a historic hill-top town based around a fortress and complex of churches built high above the Spree on a rocky plateau. The old-town (Altstadt) still retains its mediaeval atmosphere and you half-expect to bump into a horse-and-cart bringing goods to market around each corner of the narrow, winding, cobbled streets.

Bautzen is also the administrative and cultural capital of the Sorbs living in the Lausitz region, which adds a further dimension of otherliness to its attraction. It is very Saxon in feel, with its mediaeval German architecture invigorated with a Slavic influence, and hence more eastern European than western.

The DDR era hardly seems to have touched it, except for instances like a social-realist frieze around the fountain in the market square; but in fact Bautzen was infamous in the times of East Germany for its brutal NKVD (Soviet secret Police) prison, which later became a notorious Stasi prison into which many political dissenters of the regime were disappeared.

I think it is a bit far from Berlin to merit a day-trip just to visit Bautzen, but if you happen to be staying in the area then for a taste of genuine Saxony (and a taste of genuine Bautz'ner Senf - mustard in a multitude of flavour varieties) Bautzen cannot be beat.

Here are some photos from the day. Shame the weather was a bit grey!

Bautzen

Bautzen

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Posted on 17 October 2014 | 10:47 am

Sonnenuntergang in Dresden

Last week we had a wonderful, long weekend in Dresden. We stayed at Ferienappartment LeMi, which is a clean, modern, well fitted-out self-catering apartment for one or two people. It is only a short walk to a tram-stop just one stop South of the Hauptbahnhof, and has supermarkets and other amenities nearby. I would definitely recommend it for visitors to Dresden who want a quiet location just a Katzensprung from the town centre. And I am not on a commission, honest!

One of the pleasures of over-nighting (übernachten) in a place is that you get to see it after all the day-trippers have gone home. Dresden is a beautiful city during the hours of daylight, but there is also something magical seeing the sun set over the river Elbe and making silhouettes of the buildings along the famous Brühl's Terrace.

Here are a few of my time-lapse photos taken over an hour as the sun went down:












Posted on 16 October 2014 | 11:39 am

The Peculiar Towers of Waldstadt Wünsdorf

There are strange towers in the forests between Wünsdorf and Zossen, around the former Overall HQ of the German Wehrmacht during WWII.

At first glance, they look like towers out of a fairy-tale, lost to the world for a hundred years, sleeping under a blanket of thorns and wild vines.

Wunsdorf Winkel Bunker

But there is no Dornröschen (sleeping beauty) inside these towers, no Rapunzel ready to let down her hair. In fact, there are no widows to let it down from. These towers are not in the least bit romantic, and are actually Second World War bunkers.

Wunsdorf Winkel Bunker

There used to be nineteen of them around Wünsdorf, and seven of them survive, some of them incongruously situated right beside modern housing estates.

They are called Winkeltürme, after their designer Leo Winkel, and over two hundred of them were built across Germany, They were mainly located at key railway yards of the Reichsbahn and were intended to protect railway employees.

The Spitzbunker design was intended so that any aerial bombs dropped on them would slide off and be deflected away from the tower. Inside, up to six hundred people would be sheltering on a number of levels behind thick reinforced concrete, tapering walls.

Their curious shape lent them their popular names of Betonzigarre (concrete cigar) or Zuckerhut (sugar loaf). To the Allied bombers who tried to land a bomb on them they were known as ant-hills. There is only one known hit that destroyed a Winkelturm (at the Focke-Wulf airplane factory in Bremen).


Wunsdorf Winkel Bunker

There are guided tours (in German only) of the bunkers, and also of the ruins of the nearby Wehrmacht HQ, starting at the so-called Bücherstadt (book town) created out of the former Soviet barracks in Waldstadt. But to be frank, unless you are really really interested in WWII bunker architecture then I wouldn't recommend the journey. For a start, it is quite a walk from Wünsdorf station alongside the busy B69 road (and turn left when you reach the B69 from the station - there are no signs for Waldstadt or Bücherstadt and we turned right and wasted a couple of rainy hours looking for the place). And then when you get there, well, Bücherstadt claims that it is based on the English book-town of Hay-on-Wye, but I wonder if the founders have ever really visited Hay-on-Wye, or even seen photos of it? Let's just say, Wünsdorf is not high on my top one hundred tourist attractions around Berlin, or even my top thousand.

I find it curious that this place isn't made more of. I mean, it was from here - right here! - that the entire German Army around the World was coordinated during WWII, right up until the fall of Berlin and the desperate attempts at re-grouping dispersed battalions routed by the Allied Armies. But, after the war it was taken over by the Soviet Army, who made their high command here and had no desire to preserve the Maibach buildings for future historians to pore over. Then with German Re-unification the Soviet Army slunked away and de-populated Wünsdorf as they took their families with them. Good luck with re-inventing themselves as a book town then, though I think they have a bit of a way to go before Wünsdorf gets onto the tourist maps.

If you do want to visit the Spitzbunkers, then Wünsdorf is about 45km directly south of Berlin, easily accessible by taking the S2 to the end of the line then getting on a regional train. But then there is the long walk along the B69. I recommend taking a bike along with you.

If you want to see a Spitzbunker / Winkelturm closer to home, then there is actually a smaller example in the Kulturzentrum RAW Temple, Friedrichshain, in Berlin. It is now a climbing tower where you can hone your mountain-climbing skills!

Posted on 26 September 2014 | 4:03 am

The Green Citadel of Magdeburg

The first thing that strikes you when you see Magdeburg's Green Citadel, or die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg is that, er, it isn't green. The colour that first comes to mind is pink. As pink as the mad acid dream of a fanatical collector of Barbie doll accessories.

In fact this housing association complex was designed by the Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who as far as I know didn't have a Barbie fixation. And it is called the 'green' citadel from its roof garden which has designated 'tree tenants' (Baummieter) designated to, and looked after by, the human tenants.

The whole building has a marvelous organic feel to it, as if it was the product of a coral reef raised up into the otherwise conventional and somewhat austere Magdeburg town centre.

It was Hundertwasser's last conceived project before his death in 2005, and is a fitting monument to a truly original architectural genius.

I'm not saying I'd personally like to live in a piece of giant pink confectionery - fitting laminated flooring on an undulating apartment floor with curved walls would be one nightmare, never mind all the tourists gawping in through the windows - but I greatly admire the vision and drive that created it.

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg. Barbie Castel?

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg

Posted on 4 October 2014 | 11:49 am

Lüneberg - City Built on Salt

Lüneberg Waterfront

Lüneberg in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) is a Hanseatic town, displaying all the usual elements of impressive merchants' houses, gothic churches, and a large market square. Like Halle in Saxony Anhalt it is also built above a dome of salt, from which its wealth derives.

We combined a visit here with a stopping-off at Stendal, yet another Hanseatic town, which made an interesting compare-and-contrast of otherwise cookie-cutter architecture between a mediaeval town that ended up in West Germany, with one that was in East Germany.

The most obvious difference is that Stendal looks like it was rebuilt yesterday (and is still being rebuilt), whereas Lüneberg is more settled in its post-war renovation and feels like there isn't a discontinuation between its modern incarnation and the middle ages Also Lüneberg is much more obvious about being a tourist town with many lively restaurants and bars and a bustling shopping centre and market. In Stendal meanwhile you get the feeling that commercialism and PR are recent introductions, and still considered a bit vulgar.

Both places are worth a visit, and within striking distance of Berlin, especially as Lüneberg is now on a speedy rail connection between Hamburg and Berlin on the cost-effective IRE (inter-regional express).

Here are some of my photos from Lüneberg to give you an idea what to expect:

Lüneberg

Lüneberg

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Posted on 28 September 2014 | 4:00 pm

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