andie.org.uk

A UK domain abroad

Simbi

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.

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.

Cycling Through the Lusation Lake District

Untitled Document Continuing our exploration of Niederlausitz (SE Brandenburg) after our cycle from Lauchhammer along the Schwarze Elster, yesterday we took a train to Spremberg and cycled to Senftenberg. This took us through a region known as the Lusation Lake District, or Lausitzer Seenland. This is a totally unique landscape where the huge deep moonscape-like scars of lignite strip-mining (like here near Cottbus) have been flooded with natural water and 'terra-formed' into beautiful lakes where wildlife flourishes and people flock to sunbathe on the lake-side beaches or sail and wind-surf on the clear waters.

It was promising to be hot and sunny, with temperatures reaching over thirty degrees, and we had fifty kilometres peddling ahead of us. So we slapped on with the factor 30 sun-block, filled our water flasks to max, and caught a Reginal Express to Spremberg (1 hour 50 mins, change at Cottbus).

Spremberg is a typical former East German town. That is, it has a newly re-built market place and Rathaus, pristine streets lined with modern, bright new stores, and seemingly few people. Around its edges are the usual Plattenbau high-rise flats, and the crumbling remnants of the last century that haven't yet been rennovated to within an inch of their lives.

If you are ever in any doubt that you are in a former-DDR town, then watch out for the occasional Trabi still driving around. Here is the Marktplatz re-built in 2000, with, yes, a Trabi:


Spremberg is not your typical East German town though. For one thing, it used to have a claim between 1871 and 1920 to be the geographical centre of the German Empire. There is even a monument marking this fact in Spremberg. Now, with East Prussia and other bits of the former Deutsches Reich gone , Spremberg is only ~25km from the Polish border. (If you are the slightest bit interested, the geographical centre of modern Germany now is not far from Erfurt, which we visited two years ago).

For another thing, it is now the geographical centre of Lusatia (German Lausitz, Sorbian Lužyca) an area of Sorbian language and culture, where all the road-signs are bilingual and the people have their own (Slavic) language, churches, folk-art, cuisine, and traditional dress. It is a bit like being in a different country without leaving Germany. Yes, just like visiting Wales, but it's not raining all the time (mae'n ddrwg gennym i bobl Cymru!). The Sorbian name for Spremberg is Grodk, by the way.

There might be a bit more to Spremberg (indeed there is; a Schloss and a Bismarckturm for example) but we were eager to cycle on to a place called Schwarze Pumpe (literally, the 'black pump'). Not 'Oompa Loompa', which some daft idiot kept calling it (hi!).

We found that there isn't actually a black water-pump at Schwarze Pumpe (or Oompa Loompas), but there is a stone monument where it used to be:


Next to it there is also a memorial to the dead of the Red Army that had fallen here, another reminder that this used to be East Germany, and also that even this far south was in the path of the advancing Soviet Army, as they fought there way into Germany at the end of WWII.


Schwarze Pumpe is famous amongst environmentally concerned circles because it is the site of an advanced carbon-dioxide neutral coal-power station which claims to be emissions free. Whilst some Greens applaud this initiative (as do the locals, who have benefited from much-needed jobs and a large investment from giant power provider company Vattenfall), others criticize continuing with fossil-fuel technologies, and would have preferred the investment and research to have gone into sources of alternative energy. Whatever the pros and cons of the argument, the scale of the power station is certainly impressive, and Vattenfall have put a lot of work into landscaping the environment to be nature-friendly; here is my blog post about a nature reserve in the shadow of the cooling towers.

And here is a photo of the Schwarze Pumpe power station with a gorgeous meadow of knapweed beside it:


Cycling West from Schwarze Pumpe on the B156 we found our planned journey blocked by the closure of a bridge. We could have made a detour by going down the B97, but do you know what this road sign means?


No, we didn't know either, and it was clearly signed on the B97. White on blue, it looks like a motorway sign. But the B97 here is just one lane each way with no central reservation or hard shoulder. We also were at an traffic-light controlled intersection - not something you get often on the Autobahn.  Luckily we decided not to go down this road, as we learned later that it signifies a Kraftfahrstraße which is a bit like an American express-way. You can't go on one of these roads unless your vehicle can go faster than 60 km/h, and I can't pedal that fast!

Instead we diverted through the small village of Terpe.On the edge of the Dorf we came across a piece of land with eleven trees each with a Deutscher Fussballbund sign tied to them, and an information board. Intriguing.


The information board tells you that this is a Weltmeister-Park celebrating the Weltmeisterschaft. (football World Cup). A local football team was set up in Terpe, inspired by Germany's success in the 1974 World Cup, and here used to be their club-house and football pitch. Sadly, the last game was played here on Sunday, 20.09.2004. But, with help from funding from the the states of Saxony and Brandenburg, an orchard was set up here to commemorate the football World Cup champions of 1954, 1974 and 1990. No prizes for guessing who they were, but no mention yet of the champions of 2014. Eleven trees = eleven football players in a team, of course. You see, if you did't have to take these serendipitous diversions then you wouldn't come across an orchard dedicated to the World Cup, would you?

Next village along, and across the Brandenburg border into Saxony, is the even smaller village of Sabrodt (Zabrod in Sorbian). Here was another unexpected curiosity, an Easter egg museum (Ostereimuseum)!


This isn't as crazy as it first sounds, because there is a strong Sorbian folk-art tradition for painting really intricate and gorgeous-looking eggs. At this museum there are Easter eggs from all around the world, but mostly Sorbian decorated eggs including the winners of the annual Bautzen Sorbian Easter Egg competition.

Sadly, the museum was closed, so we couldn't learn about Sorbian egg-painting techniques. Neither were they open for refreshments, which we were desperately in need of in the heat, unlike these two travellers sitting outside enjoying a drink:


Next village along was Bluno, which rather strangely has an English Quarter (Englisch Vierteil - note that it says it in Sorbian underneath as well: Jendźelska štwórć. The first word is Sorbian for 'England', and the second is Polish (which is similar to Lower Sorbian) for 'Creator'):


We looked for a tea-room serving Earl Grey and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, but no luck. Not even a pub. They do have a rather charming village church though. It's even in Elizabethan Tudor style; it just needs a thatched roof and it could stand beside the Globe Theatre:



Bluno also has a row of three rather neglected-looking war memorials. A Soviet one:


One to the fallen from the village in the First World War:


And one to mark the graves of 44 German soldiers who fell in the Second World War:


I am posting them here in case military reasearchers happen upon them and they might be useful. Bluno seems quite a small village to have so many lives lost from here, and I have not read about a notable battle in the area.

So far we had cycled for hours around the so-called 'Lake District' and not actually seen a lake. Soon we would come across lots, as we eventually came across the Partwitzer See where there was also an Information Centre and a refreshment wagon selling ice-cold Himbeerlimonade (raspberry soda) under shade.

The Partwitzer See is a magnet to sun worshippers, jet-skiers, sail- and paddle-boarders, and in-line skaters and cyclists careering along the well-tarmacked bike path. But not so much of a magnet that you couldn't easily find a spot on the beach.


It is amazing to realise that here used to be an enormous open-cast mine - the Tagebau Skado - which before its closure in 1978 had dug out 240 million tonnes of 'brown coal' (lignite). Flooding began here in 2004 with water from the Schwarze Elster river, and it is now complete, with 133 million cubic metres of clear water.

There are a large number of lakes just like this in the Lausitzer Seenland, all former mining pits that have been flooded (by the way, the mascot for the region is called 'Pit', from the English word for a mine). Some of the pits are in the process of being flooded, whilst some are still being mined. The central lakes are planned to be connected by canals to make a navigable 'lake chain' ( die Lausitzer Seenkette ) and by 2018 the area is going to be the largest artificial lake-district in Europe.

Here is a photo of one of the channels between lakes which are currently used for regulating water levels as they are gradually filled up with fresh-water. When the levels equalise, the channels will become canals and boats will use them.


We cycled around Partwitzer See and down along the coast of Sedlitzer See, where we came upon the Rostige Nagel ('rusty nail'):


This look-out tower is 30 metres high, is made out of 11 tonnes of COR-TEN (weathering) steel, took seventy days to construct, and opened in October 2008. 162 steps lead to the observation deck on the top of the tower. Acoustically you can hear every step of the climbers rumble out across to the nearby refreshments hut. We didn't climb it. We stayed by the refreshment hut. Very impressive though, and from a distance looking like a dark slab from Kübrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.'


Pushing on, we cycled down to the Senftenberger See and along the North bank to Senftenberg itself.

Here are wonderful, tantalising views across the lake, which was again a former open-cast mine and was flooded between 1968 (when the mine closed) and 1972. In 1973 the bathers and water-sport fanatics flocked from across East Germany. From heavy-industry mining-town to seaside resort - The Lausitzer Ostsee - in only five years!


I was also amazed to see olive trees flourishing on the lake-side, all adding to the feeling that we were beside some Mediterranean or Italian lake (Lago di Garda for example).


And so finally we made it to Senftenberg, which is exactly like a seaside holiday resort with a marina, and FKK beaches, and ice-cream, and buckets and spades, and EVERYTHING! Hang about, did someone mention ice cream? Oh yes, we had some delicious double-scoop ice creams resting beside the marina gazing across the blue lagoon with only a spoil heap and mining towers on the far horizon to remind us of what a strange transformation the area has had.


Senftenberg is a large town with lots to occupy a visitor's time, but we had an aged cat back at home to look after, and we hurried past the Tierpark, museums, theatre, Schloss, fortress and so on to catch a train back home after a wonderful day's cycling in the Lusation Lake District.

Note for travellers: there is a direct train from Senftenberg to Berlin, Gesundbrunnen, but it is much quicker if you go via Cottbus and change there. However, you only get five minutes at Cottbus, and there are no lifts to the platforms if you have bikes. We decided better to travel on the slower, but less crowded and more hassle-free train.


Posted on 27 July 2014 | 1:04 pm

Summertime Wildflowers and Butterflies in Niederlausitz

Here are some photos I took in a nature reserve (in German Naturshutzgebiet) whilst cycling from Spremberg around the Niederlausitz region SE of Berlin.

Here is a peacock butterfly (in German, Tagpfauenauge) sipping on nectar from a common knapweed flower (L. Centaurea nigra), one of its favorites.

Lausitz meadow

Lausitz meadow

Lausitz meadow

The peacock must have though it was in butterfly heaven here, because the grassland was filled with a sea of waving, mauve coloured knapweed blooms (in German, Schwarze Flockenblume).

Lausitz meadow

Also amongst the knapweed, there were an abundance of wild carrot flowers (L. Daucus carota, in German wilde Möhre). In North America these are known as Queen Anne's Lace, either because of some tenuous relationship to Queen Anne of England (of whom if she had brought forth a male heir, there wouldn't have been a replacement German dynasty on the British throne) or her great grandmother Anne of Denmark. It might also be noted that St. Anne (the mother of the Virgin Mary) is patron saint of lacemakers. Either way, their domes of white flowers do look pretty lacey.   

Lausitz meadow

There are lots of similar-looking Umbelliferae in the hedge-rows and beside country roads in Summer, but you can immediately tell the wild carrot at this part of the year when it produces a sphere of seeds. Correctly identifying this plant is quite important, because until the seed-head appears you could easily mistake it with the similar-looking deadly hemlock! By the way, yes, the wild carrot is an ancestor of the orange-rooted carrots you get at the greengrocers, but only by way of a lot of cross- and selective- breeding with other carrot species. Though the root is edible, you would have to be on the edge of starvation before you resorted to it for nutrition.

Lausitz meadow

What is most amazing is that this small nature reserve is in the grounds of a coal-fired power station, Kraftwerk Schwarze Pumpe. However, this is no ordinary power-station; it was built to be the World's first CO2 neutral coal-fired power station, and any carbon-dioxide it produces is pressurised, liquefied, and stored back underground in geological formation. Some environmentalists disagree with its green credentials, and think the money should have been spent not on fossil fuels use but on alternative energy technologies. I don't know enough to judge, but the butterflies in its environs are certainly benefiting, as are the local (human) communities employed here.

Lausitz meadow

Posted on 27 July 2014 | 8:21 am

German Cricket

Germany isn't often associated with cricket, though in fact a German cricket club was founded in Berlin in 1850 (by English ex-pats natch) and there are a number of regional leagues. With the great reduction in British troop numbers since re-unification, interest in cricket in Germany has dwindled somewhat. Here is a link to the Berlin Cricket Club website, just in case you landed here from Google and you are disappointed not to find elegies to the crack of leather on willow.


But I ain't here to talk about some boring Middle-England village green pastime, I am here to show you photos of a visitor to our living room last night.

We have been having a bit of a Hitzewelle in Berlin these past few weeks, with temperatures in the high twenties and thirty plus, so to cool off on an evening we have had the patio door from the living room to the terrace wide open. That and because poor Cassie (our aged cat) is just about blind and if she tries to get out into the garden and the door isn't open she bumps her head against the glass. With the lights on in the lounge, this tends to attract a large amount of insects, especially moths. Sometimes though we get more exotic visitors, like this strange lady:

great green bush cricket

At first we thought it was a grasshopper. But actually it is a cricket, probably Tettigonia viridissima or the great green bush-cricket. You can tell crickets from grasshoppers because crickets have long antennae whereas grasshoppers have stubby ones, and this girl has a lovely long pair of them. You can tell that she is female by the long ovipositor - the spike on the end of her abdomen with which she deposits her eggs in the soil.

In German, they are called Grüne Heupferd (green hay horse) or Grüne Laubheuschrecke (green foliage hay shocker!). Note that a Schreck is variously a shock, fear, scariness and terror, so the Green Shrek in the film series is aptly named.

great green bush cricket

Bush crickets are common across Europe, but it's not often you get them in your Wohnzimmer. This one is about 2 inches long so we soon knew about her when she flew in. Bush crickets might be a bit scary-looking (schrecklich), but they are harmless, and I picked her up without fear and released her back into the night.

My partner has a professional photo of a bush cricket (Tettigonia viridissima) that she photographed on a laburnum flower last year which you might be interested in if you want to buy the publication rights. Plug, plug.



Posted on 27 July 2014 | 2:36 am

Lauchhammer and the Lusatian 'Castel del Monte'

From a distance it looks like some Knights Templar Citadel defending the borders of the Holy Roman Empire.

photo of  Lauchhammer Biotürme by Andie Gilmour

As you get closer, the sheer enormity of the structure begins to impress upon you.

photo of  Lauchhammer Biotürme by Andie Gilmour

Twenty-four towers, each twenty-two metres high. Surely some relic of the Napoleonic wars?

photo of  Lauchhammer Biotürme by Andie Gilmour

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.

photo of  Lauchhammer Biotürme by Andie Gilmour

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.

photo of  Lauchhammer Biotürme by Andie Gilmour

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'.

photo of  Lauchhammer Biotürme by Andie Gilmour

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 ...

photo of  Lauchhammer Biotürme by Andie Gilmour

... and a Fachwerk (timber-framed) church at Saathain.

photo of  Lauchhammer Biotürme by Andie Gilmour

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

Fishing for Wolves in Halberstadt


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:

Drain cover in Halberstadt showing the coat of arms

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.


Teufelstein (Devils' Stone) at Halberstadt. Or more probably a paleolithic chambered tomb.

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!

p.s. you can see a few more photos of Halberstadt at jwoodhouse.com.

Posted on 13 July 2014 | 12:29 pm

'Homme passant la porte' by Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy

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.

'Homme passant la porte' by Jean Ipoustéguy

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 ... '

'Homme passant la porte' by Jean Ipoustéguy

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.

'Homme passant la porte' by Jean Ipoustéguy

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.

'Homme passant la porte' by Jean Ipoustéguy

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.

If you are looking for a professional photo of this sculpture, check out Statue Homme Passant La Porte at jwoodhouse.com.

Posted on 1 July 2014 | 6:58 am

Potsdamer Stadtschloss - Ceci n'est pas une châteaux

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour


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).

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

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.

photo of the Landtag Potsdam by Andie Gilmour

Posted on 27 June 2014 | 8:47 am

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