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. Frankfurter Skyscrapers

Frankfurt Skyline at Sunset

At the weekend we traveled to the financial hub of Germany in search of Manhattan skylines and Apfelwein.

Frankfurt am Main is not a recommended destination for a Berlin day-trip - it takes over four hours on the ICE Intercity Express and is a distance of about 550km - but we were over-nighting and we got our tickets through a '25th Anniversary of the Fall of The Wall' deal by Deutsche Bahn. They were offering return tickets to anywhere in Germany for just 25€. As the usual cost of a ticket to Frankfurt is currently 123€, that was a fair saving. We will probably have to wait until the 30th anniversary for them to repeat the offer.

Frankfurt is believed to get its name from 'ford of the Franks', where 'the Franks' were a Germanic tribe originating in Roman times around the Rhine region (though confusingly France - in German Frankreich - gets its name from them too).

The 'ford' (German: Furt) is a river-crossing, usually where it is shallow enough to at least wade across. Here it refers to the river Main (pronounced to rhyme with 'mine'), which runs East to West from the Bavarian Jura mountains 527km until it discharges into the Rhine.

Frankfurt am Main is famous nowadays not for its river crossing but for its skyline of skyscrapers, giving it the nickname 'Mainhattan'.

Here is a photo of a swan on the river Main with some of the famous skyscrapers in the background:

Frankfurt, River Main, skyline, and swan

The skyscrapers might not look all that tall, but that is because they are set a good distance back from the river. The tower on the right in the photo below is the 259m high Commerzbank Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Germany. That's not as tall as the Empire State Building in the real Manhattan (381m not including the tip), but pretty tall anyway. By comparison, the Berliner Fernsehturm is 368m high.Whoo-oo! Berlin wins!

Frankfurt skyline at dusk

Frankfurt Altstadt probably began as a Roman military settlement beside the ford, protecting the road from Mainz (castrum Mogontiacum) to the Roman town of Nida, which is now underneath the Frankfurter suburb of Heddernheim. The military fort was probably established in the last quarter of the 1st century BC, and was converted into a civilian villa in the 2nd century AD. This area, which was on a slight hill on an island in the Main and above the swampy ford, was probably permanently settled by the time of the Merovingians (a Frankish dynasty that conquered this area in about 500AD). Frankfurt's Gothic cathedral was constructed in the 14th and 15th century to replace a church dating back to Merovingian times.

Coincidentally the Domhügel (cathedral hill) of the early settlements became the location of the old town hall, which was a complex of nine houses purchased by the city council in 1405 from a wealthy merchant family with the surname Römer. The surname Römer means Roman. Today these houses are nown as the Römer, but this is nothing to do with them being on the original Roman settlement.

Here is a photo of the Römer. The City Hall is the middle building, with the Kaisersaal ("Emperor's Hall") taking up the first floor. From 1562 until 1792 the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned in Frankfurt Cathedral, and feasted afterwards in the Kaisersaal. Note that the town is just beginning to get ready for Christmas, and they were putting up the traditional tree (but it's only early November for goodness' sake!): 

The Frankfurter Römer building.

The rear of the Rathaus buildings is in the more typical 19th century 'Gothic gone bonkers' style, incongruously married with a 'Bridge of Sighs', but to be honest I like that kind of thing


Behind the Rathaus, Frankfurt

The square on which the Römer houses sits is the Römerberg, and situated on its Eastern edge are six picturesque timber-framed buildings which you will see on all postcards of Frankfurt that don't have the skyscraper skyline on:

Photo of the Römerberg, Frankfurt

These buildings date all the way back to their reconstruction of previous buildings in 1981-1984. Unfortunately, during World War II much of old Frankfurt was completely destroyed, particularly through a British bombing raid on the night of 22nd March 1944 when 1,001 people were killed.

This area is one of the few parts of old Frankfurt that has been reconstructed; the tourists might be missing out on picture-postcard buildings to photograph, but the Frankfurter residents have gained smart new shopping centres, and have wealthy banks and businesses setting up their headquarters here. I know which I would prefer, but then I don't work for the Frankfurter Fremdenverkehrsamt (Tourist Board).

Anyway, more photos of those six buildings, with added Buddhist monks.

Photo of the Römerberg, Frankfurt

Photo of the Römerberg, Frankfurt

Photo of the Römerberg, Frankfurt

Other buildings around the Römerberg have been reconstructed after the war.
And it still goes on.
I haven't got too many photos around here as most of them would be of building sites.

One interesting building is the Steinernes Haus (stone house) built in 1464. It is notable because it was built as a trading house by merchants who had the temerity to build it out of stone. This at a time when only royal palaces or churches were built of stone. Its construction allowed its survival against the ravages of the centuries until that bombing raid in March 1944 when it was gutted. It was rebuilt in 1962, opening with an exhibition of paintings by Edvard Munch. Now it looks to be a quite nice restaurant (but a bit pricy and classy for the likes of us).

Steinernes Haus, Frankfurt

Here are a couple more photos from around the Römerberg:

Adam and Eve carving, Frankfurt

A Coffee House on the Römerberg, Frankfurt


There are other buildings in Frankfurt that haven't been built over with skyscrapers, but not many.
The photo below is a view down onto the plaza an der Hauptwache from the roof-top cafe of the Galeria Kaufhaus department store.

The building bottom left is the Hauptwache (Main Guardhouse) that gave the square its name. This baroque building was designed by Johann Jakob Samhaimer and first constructed in 1739 on the site of the previous, much smaller, guardhouse. This dates from the time when 'The Free Imperial City' of Frankfurt still had city walls and its own City Watch (Stadtwehr). In the cellars were dungeons and on the other floors offices for the City Watch Commander and Officers, rooms for the Privates, and an interrogation room and prison on the attic floor. As a Terry Pratchett fan, I can't help but imagine that Sir Sam Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch used to be housed there!



an der Hauptwache from the roof-top cafe of the Galeria Kaufhaus

The City Watch lost its role when Prussia annexed Frankfurt in 1866 (amidst much fighting, especially around the Hauptwache - those guys didn't want to go quietly), and then became just a Police Station for a while, then a café since 1905. Oh, and then it got bombed to smithereens in 1944. The present building is a rebuild, in a slightly modified position, above the newly built subway of the same name dating from 1967.

Also on an der Hauptwache is the baroque Katharinenkirche (St Catherine's Church):

Katharinenkirche, Frankfurt

It was in this church that the baby Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was baptised. Or maybe he was baptized privately at the Goethe family's house on Großer Hirschgraben where he was born on 28th August 1749. Whatever, the Goethe family certainly had reserved pews at the Katharinenkirche and was frequently visited by the church's Kapellmeister. The church was completely burnt down on 22 March 1944, reconstructed 1950-54, and the baroque interior renovated 2001-2005.

The Goethe family residence is now a museum dedicated to the great man's works and the time he was living in (the so-called Goethezeit, around 1770 to 1830)


Goethe Haus Museum

Nearby is another reconstructed building, first inaugerated in 1880, now known as the Alte Oper (old opera house). It was designed by the Berlin architect Richard Lucae.

Kaiser Wilhelm I came to the inaugeration (a perfomance of Mozart's Don Giovanni) and was evidently impressed: on stepping on the radiant staircase he declared to director Emil Claar 'Das könnte ich mir in Berlin nicht erlauben' (I couldn't permit myself this sort of thing in Berlin). I don't know why not: he was the Kaiser, and Berlin has had a State Opera on Unter den Linden since his predecessor Frederick II had commissioned it in 1742.

Many great works have been performed here, including the premiere of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana in 1937. Currently though they seem to be showing the Queen and Ben Elton opera 'We Will Rock You'.  
Das könnte ich mir in Berlin - oder irgendwo - nicht erlauben.


The opera house was destroyed by bombs in 1944. In 1965, Frankfurt's Town Mayor Rudi Arndt quipped that the remains of the building could be blown up with a little bit of dynamite. This earned him the nickname 'Dynamit-Rudi', though he later insisted that he was only joking. The opera house was gradually rebuilt during the 70's, and was re-opened in 1981

Here is the Alte Oper by night and day. By the way, the inscription about the entrance is "Dem Wahren, Schönen, Guten ", (To the true, the beautiful, the good ). That would be Ben Elton then.

Frankfurt old opera house at night

Frankfurt Alt Oper

A piece of old Frankfurt that looks sadly orphaned in the urban landscape is the 47m high Eschenheimer Turm, located on a traffic island surrounded by busy traffic. It was built between 1426-1428 and was one of about sixty towers that were set into the city walls. The defensive city walls were torn down between 1806 and 1812, but this tower was allowed to stand as a memorial. It is quite a handsome tower despite its location, and was the inspiration for the Flatowturm built in Schlosspark Babelsberg 1853-56.

Eschenheimer Turm

The Eschenheimer Turm is just north of the pedestrianized shopping precinct know as the Zeil. This is a surprisingly pleasant and interesting area as shopping precincts go.

Its name, dating back to the 14th century, derives from the German word Zeile, meaning a row as in a row of houses. It became a magnificent boulevard in the 18th century, gradually attracting smart shops until in the last quarter of the 19th century the new fashion for large department stores made it into a famous and popular shopping street. These grand shopping outlets were destroyed in WWII and were not replaced. Instead the Zeil was widened in the 1950's and over the next decades new department stores were built here.

One of the most arresting buildings here is the MyZeil shopping mall, designed with much imagination by Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas and opened in February 2009. I will not spoil the surprise of seeing it for the first time by posting loads of photos here, but this is a peak inside:

MyZeil shopping arcade Frankfurt

The MyZeil mall looks inside and out like it has been the victim of a space distorting cosmic wormhole suddenly opening up inside it. Even if you don't like shopping, you must go in and have a look, so long as your rational mind doesn't rebel at having to make sense of what you are seeing.

Nowadays the modern architecture, and especially the skyscrapers, define Frankfurt in the popular imagining. The quaint medieval tweeness of the half-timbered buildings around the Römer seem a different city away. Manhattan is often invoked by way of comparison, but to me Frankfurt's smaller scale remind me more of Birmingham, particularly as Birmingham's modern city centre also emerged from the devastation caused by aerial bombing (this time by the Luftwaffe between 1940 and 1943 - the so-called Birmingham Blitz).

Here are a few photos of skyscrapers for all you tall-building fans:

The yellow Commerzbank Tower (259m, 56 floors) at night:

Commerzbank Tower at night

The Deutsch Bank Twin Towers (155m, 38 and 40 floors):


Memorial to Beethoven in front of Main Tower (200m, 55 floors)


Those Twin Towers of the Deutsche Bank again:


A glimpse of the newly-built (by which I mean 2014) Taunusanlage 11 (a mere 75m) through the autumn leaves:


Finally, here is the big Euro symbol in front of the Eurotower (148m, 39 floors), HQ of the European Central Bank (ECB). Though they might have moved into their new headquarters by the time you read this.


We waited around until sunset to see if the Big E was lit up at night, and were pleased to find that it does:


It seems to have a permanent Polizei presence, maybe in case Greek or Spanish protestors turn up complaining about the austerity measures demanded by the bank for getting a loan.


I said at the start that we had come to Frankfurt in search of Apfelwein, or zoider as they call it in Zummerset. Well, we never got around to drinking it though we saw it on sale everywhere. They even seem to prefer it hot! Weirdos. We did however see the Ebbelwei-Express, which looks a fun way to site-see the city ( 8€ with a bottle of apple-wine / cider and a bag of biscuits thrown in). 'Ebbelwei' is the way that the locals pronounce 'Apfelwein' you see. Especially after they have had a few of them.

Ebbelwei-Express

Travel Advice:
We stayed at the Hotel Primus in the Sachsenhausen area of Frankfurt South of the river. It was adequate. Not splendid, but fitted our needs and small budget. You can read my TripAdvisor review of the Primus Hotel Frankfurt here.

The best meal we had in Frankfurt (and probably the best curry I've had in Germany for a while) was at the Saravanaa Bhavan on Kaiserstr. near the Hauptbahnhof. Read my TripAdvisor review of the Saravanaa Bhavan here.

Unless you are flying into Frankfurt International Airport, take a good book and stock up your mp3-player for the probably very long journey.

Posted on 18 November 2014 | 8:21 am

2. A Book for the U-Bahn

There has been a Mega-Bahnstreik (mega rail strike) by the Lokführergewerkschaft GDL (train-driver's union) which was to have lasted from Wednesday 5th November until Monday 10th. The Wednesday was freight trains only, but the other days affected passengers on Deutsch-Bahn RE and S-Bahn trains as well.

Thankfully the strike ended 6pm Saturday, so the commemorations for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall weren't affected too much. A bit of an irony there; that one of the main complaints from former East Germans about the fall of the Wall is that it exposed them to exactly the same market forces that have forced the train-drivers union to strike in the face of privatisation of the railways.

Anyway, if you are faced with long delays getting around on the Berlin rail network, one solution to pass your time is to read a good book. I spotted this paperback-book vending machine on the platform of the U8 at Alexanderplatz which would fit your needs perfectly! What a great idea!


book vending machine on U8 at Alexanderplatz

Posted on 9 November 2014 | 2:24 am

3. Autumn in Liepnitzsee

I can't believe it is well into November and yet the weather is remaining so mild! It feels more like early Autumn, and the trees are still hanging onto their leaves and colour.

Here are a few photos I took around Liepnitzsee, one of my favorite lakes and conveniently located just north of our village near to Wandlitzsee.

photo of Liepnitzsee in Autumn by Andie Gilmour

photo of Liepnitzsee in Autumn by Andie Gilmour

photo of Liepnitzsee in Autumn by Andie Gilmour

photo of Liepnitzsee in Autumn by Andie Gilmour

photo of Liepnitzsee in Autumn by Andie Gilmour

photo of Liepnitzsee in Autumn by Andie Gilmour

Posted on 9 November 2014 | 2:08 am

4. Lichtgrenze - The Fall of the Wall

It is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as part of the celebrations, from 7th of November to 9th November an installation of 8,000 illuminated balloons is marking part of the path of the former boundary between East and West Berlin. The Lichtgrenze website explains further.


We went down to the opening of the event, beginning at a concert with Udo Lindenberg and Daniel Barendboim in front of the Brandenburger Tor, and took some photos.

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

That's a giant Udo Lindenburg projected on the Brandenburg Gate behind the stage. The guitarist isn't Udo, but the guy who played him in the popular musical about love across the East/West Berlin border Hinterm Horizont. Anybody outside Germany would be forgiven for not knowing who Udo is, but believe me, he is very big here and intrinsically linked with the struggle between East and West Berlin.

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

I spotted Klaus Wowereit talking about the event to the ARD cameras. Though he resigned from the position in August, he is still Mayor of Berlin until 11th December 2014.

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Lichtgrenze - 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The ribbon of light evokes for me the illuminated 'death strip' that used to run along this border, and also the transience of the barrier: on 9th November (anniversary of the actual day the borders were reopened) the ballons will be released and fly off into the sky.

There is a poignancy I feel that in the UK they are simultaneously marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I on Remembrance Sunday 9th November. There is a similarly remarkable installation with a field of ceramic red poppies for that at the Tower of London, also transitory.

All this year, when we tuned into the UK news there seemed to be something about the First World War, whereas on the German news channels there was something about living under Soviet oppression. One nation is marking the sad deaths of thousands of soldiers in a horrific war, whilst another nation is marking the joy of the sudden, peaceful, freedom of movement and thought. Two very different and moving events.

Posted on 8 November 2014 | 2:35 am

5. Berlin - Mitte

As I have been posting lots of photos from Wroclaw in Poland recently, here are some from Berlin Mitte, just as the Autumn sun was beginning to set, to redress the balance. Wroclaw might be a wonderful city to visit, but Berlin stays in the kernel of our hearts!

We start off in the Nikolai Viertal, and the bronze sculpture of  'St. Georg im Kampf mit dem Drachen' (1853) by August Kiss. This was originally situated in the courtyard of the Berliner Stadtschloss, where we'll be heading towards next.

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

The rebuilding of the Stadtschloss is coming along steadily, but isn't finished yet. But here are some of the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) and the Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden) instead.

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

You can see the building-site of the Stadtschloss in this next photo. It is on the right-hand side, where all the cranes are (big clue!).

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

This is the Berliner Dom reflected in the glass of Karl Friedrich Schinkel's Altes Museum, completed in 1830.

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

A look towards the Fernsehturm and we can see the infamous cross blazing from the TV Tower's globe. The tour guides will tell you that Berliners used to call this die Rache des Papstes (the Pope's revenge) because East Germany was a God-less state, and that the East German Government declared that no, it is in fact a positive plus sign (+) for Communism.

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

Next we came to the Reichstag Building, home of the Bundestag or German Parliament, and the sun is now setting and giving a golden glow to the sandstone.

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

By the time we had got to das Brandenburger Tor the sun was nearly set and Pariser Platzy was in shade. Still, the Quadriga (four horses and chariot of the goddess Nike / Victoria - originally Eirene the goddess of Peace) was nicely lit up.

photos of Berlin Mitte by Andie Gilmour

By the way, this isn't the original Quadriga sculpted by Johann Gottfried Schadow, taken as war bounty by Napoleon, to be recaptured at the end of the Franco-Prussian War and then redesigned with an Iron Cross by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. That Quadriga was just about destroyed during the end-phases of the Battle of Berlin. This is a reproduction, which itself was damaged by revellers during the celebration of the Mauerfall - the Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th November 1989 - which will be celebrated this coming weekend. Hopefully the 25th anniversary celebrations won't end up with more damage to the Quadriga! Poor Victoria has seen enough already.

Footnote: The only surviving part of the original Quadriga is the head of one of the horses, which can be seen at the Märkisches Museum.


Posted on 6 November 2014 | 8:04 am

6. Wrocław: Around the Rynek

Here are some random snap-shots of the buildings and life around the Rynek (Market Square) in Wroclaw (in German, Breslau), Poland, that I took during our visit last week.

Ciesz sie!

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

photos of Wroclaw: Around the Rynek  by Andie Gilmour

Posted on 2 November 2014 | 11:40 am