Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Berlin - A Food Tour, Some Street Art, A Light Show And The Berlin Wall - Part One

Here I am finally finishing the story of our trip to Berlin last October. It will be a long post but I've decided that it's better to get it done than start splitting it into two. Saturday morning was the day that we'd booked places on the Berlin Food Tour and the photo above shows the group with our guide Bastien who owns the Berlin Food Tour company. We were nicely international with an Israeli couple, three Americans, a Scottish couple and four of us from England. I'm right in the middle in case you're wondering:) All the photographs will enlarge if you click on them.

Our meeting place was Katjes Cafe Grun-Ohr on Rosenthaler Strasse. After introducing ourselves to each other we started our tasting with lovely freshly baked Brownies and also Katjes vegetarian bunny gummies both of which were delicious, in fact I bought packets of the gummies for my grandchildren. A little further down the street was Lindners where among other things we tried Berliner Frikadeller which was really tasty. These are a sort of flat patty made of ground pork and beef seasoned with crispy bread, eggs and onions. There was also a sample of Leberkase which translates as liver cheese, this was the only thing on the whole tour that I really didn't like. However the piece of butter cake that followed was fantastic. Bastien later sent me a recipe for butter cake though I confess I haven't tried it yet. Note to self - must find it and give it a go:)

At this point Bastien took us down a narrow alley to show us some of the street art that Berlin is famous for - this delighted my daughter as street art was something she had particularly wanted to see. More of this later as we returned after the food tour finished. The face on the wall is Anne Frank by the way.

Next on the list was Doner kebab at All in One which apparently does the best Doner kebabs in Berlin and quite possibly the best anywhere. I confess that I had never had this before as it never looks very appetizing when I've seen it in this country. I'm glad I was persuaded to try it though, it was fantastic. What looks like a large orange lamp at the back of the photo is actually a 60 kilo piece of beef which rotates on a spit all day. There was plenty of choice of nice fresh looking salad to go with it as well.
A bakery called Hopfisterei was our next port of call and here we tried German rye bread and some delicious fresh pressed organic apple juice. The bakery dates back to 1331 and once served the Bavarian Royal family

Hackescher Hofe, reached through an arched entrance on Rosenthaler Strasse, is a series of eight interconnecting courtyards dating from 1906. It was,and still is,a mixture of apartments, bars, shops,restaurants and businesses. It's a rare example of art nouveau architecture in Berlin and is both extremely pleasant and very interesting to walk through. Our foodie stop here was Eat Berlin which is a wonderful deli where I bought some pistachio honey for myself and a bottle of Berliner Senfsauce for my husband which was very warmly received indeed:) I could have filled a suitcase with goodies from this shop.

This was my favourite shop! Eisenbergs have the most fabulous pastries including wonderful macarons in all kinds of flavours. Other tastings on the tour were coffee - incredibly strong rather like Turkish coffee - a wine tasting, cheesecake at Barcomis which is famed for its American baked goods, curry wurst - in my case just wurst as I don't like curry at all but it was extremely good just on its own - and finally a refreshing beer at Brauhaus Lemke. This is a small micro brewery but they do food as well and as it happened Juliette and I had eaten there the previous evening and already knew how good the beer is:)  We really enjoyed this tour and we were with a very nice and friendly group of people which made it even better.

Along with food we learnt some history, I had no idea that Martin Luther King visited Berlin in 1964. Not only West Berlin but also East Berlin which is the part of Berlin where we were staying and where the food tour took place. This board outside the Marienkirche commemorates his visit to deliver the evening sermon to a packed church on September 13th 1964. I believe that the American Embassy had confiscated his passport to prevent him from visiting East Berlin but at Checkpoint Charlie the border guards recognised him as the famous Civil Rights leader and let him pass when he showed his American Express card as identification. How true this is I don't know of course but since he certainly was in East Berlin it sounds quite likely. I have a lot of time for Martin Luther King, his death was a sad loss to the world.

Grosse Hamburger Strasse was one of the main streets of Berlin's Jewish quarter and outside the city's oldest cemetery stands this little memorial representing a group of Jews being led to their deaths. The cemetery dates back to 1672 and looked very tranquil and beautiful. It would have been nice to have looked round it but there wasn't time nor are tour groups allowed inside though individuals can wander round quite freely.

We came across many of these small brass plaques set into the pavement. They are called Stolpersteine - stumbling stones. They are set outside the homes of people who were victims of Nazi oppression and although most of them commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust there are also Stolpersteine commemorating Romani people, black people, homosexuals, mentally or physically disabled people all of whom were victimized by the Nazi regime.

Once the Food Tour was over Juliette and I returned to Rosenthaler Strasse so that she could have a proper look at the street art. This isn't really my thing so while she wandered round I went into a tiny museum which is also situated on this little alley. It tells the story of a man called Otto Weidt a visually impaired broom and brushmaker who employed many Jews at his workshop at 39 Rosenthaler during the 1930s. I believe that Otto Weidt is the man in the centre of the front row behind the lady who is sitting on the floor. The museum is in the building where Otto's workshop was and the rooms are preserved pretty much in their original state.

As tensions in the country grew, Weidt endeavoured to protect his mostly blind and deaf employees from persecution and deportation, bribing the Gestapo, falsifying documents, and eventually hiding a family behind a backless cupboard in one room of his shop. Otto survived the war  and established an orphanage for the survivors of the concentration camps but sadly he died of heart failure in 1947 aged 64.

This is a view from the window of 39 Rosenthaler in the 1930s.....

.....and the view from the same window today.

Outside they were preparing for Halloween.

There were three or four flights of stairs inside one of the buildings and every surface all the way up was covered with art. I gave in and was persuaded to go and look at it all, I was informed that I needed to broaden my horizons:) We also paid to go into a sort of show? experience? in a cellar. It was pitch dark and the floors were a soft rubbery material both of which affected my balance which is fine in daylight but rubbish in the dark so Juliette had to hold my hand to make sure I stayed upright:) It was actually great fun as it was filled with automatons that suddenly appeared out of the darkness and did all kinds of things. The artists who built them were undoubtedly very clever and much to my surprise I really enjoyed it .

By this time it was beginning to get dark so we decided to go back to the hotel to have a short rest before going out for the evening. Bastien had told us that was some sort of Festival of Lights on  so we thought we might as well have a look at it. Right, I've decided to give in and make this two posts! I shall go back to the title and add Part One to it:)

Thursday, May 19, 2016


It's a good while since my last post but recently one or two people have left comments on older posts and I've decided to try and get back into things again. I'm starting with this photo of a water vole seen last week when out walking on the moors with my friend P. The banks of this small moorland stream were full of holes which are the entrances to the homes of water voles. I was aware that they live in this area but never expected to actually see one. I was really close to him (or her!) and he certainly knew I was there but he seemed quite unconcerned and I was able to take several photos. If you enlarge this one you will be able to see his little paws holding what I think is a piece of reed that he is eating.

The water vole is of course Ratty from Kenneth Grahame's wonderful story 'The Wind In The Willows'. Here he is with his friends Mole, Badger and Mr Toad of Toad Hall. The illustration is by Inga Moore who is my favourite of all the artists who have illustrated this classic book.

I didn't take many photos on the walk as is often the case when I'm with someone else. This is cotton grass which is actually a sedge, it grows in the boggy hollows of the high open moors and is a very attractive sight in May and June in what is often a rather barren landscape.

Towards the end of our five mile walk we were looking down onto the Wyming Brook which is rather spectacular and beautiful, and there is a lovely three mile walk along its banks which we've done in the past.

I never did get the final post from my trip to Berlin done so I think I'll try and do it over the next few days. This is another of the chocolate sculptures from Fassbender and Rausch's wonderful shop. It will be rather fun to go back through the photographs and try and remember where they all were!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Walking Berlin

On Friday morning we made our way to Hackescher Markt where we were to meet our tour guide Jess for our walking tour of Berlin. Jess was a young man from the USA with a degree in ancient and classical history who is currently studying at Humboldt University in Berlin. The weather was cold but dry with the promise of some sunshine later in the day. I should say now that some of these photos show clear blue skies and this is because we went round many of the places a second time early on Sunday morning to spend more time looking at the various buildings and also to take better photographs of some of them. It isn't easy to take decent photos when you are constantly chasing after a tour group:) So here we are at our first stop on Museum Island which is a genuine island in the middle of the River Spree. It came as a surprise to learn that Berlin is built on a swamp and its origins are here on Museum Island where five of the major museums of Berlin now stand. The one in the photo is the the Neues Museum which was opened in 1855. It was very badly damaged during the bombing of Berlin in WW2 and after the war was left as an abandoned bombsite.

Restoration work didn't begin until 2003 and was done by an English architect called David Chipperfield. He used as much of the original building as possible and the scars left by shrapnel and bullet holes were left visible rather than being patched over. The parts that needed to be completely rebuilt were done in modern brick so that the difference between old and new is very obvious. This in itself tells the story of the building. It must have been a very difficult engineering feat as the Museum is built on thousands of wooden foundation piles because of the swampy ground that it stands on. Although I knew that the Museum houses a collection of Egyptian art I didn't realise until too late that the collection includes the beautiful head of Nefertiti. I can't believe that I  missed a chance of seeing that!

The Berliner Dom also stands on Museum Island and contains the tombs of the Hohenzollern family who ruled the kingdom of Prussia from 1701 and then the whole of Germany between 1871 and 1918. Like so many other buildings in Berlin it suffered severe damage during WW2 and it remained closed until 1993. It has now been fully restored and is in use both as a church and a venue for concerts.It is apparently well worth seeing the inside but sadly we didn't have time on this visit.

The Altes Museum, built in 1830, stands at right angles to the Berliner Dom overlooking the Lustgarten which started life in the 16th century as the kitchen gardens of the Berliner Stadtschloss or Palace. It was on the central steps leading up to the Altes Museum that a platform was built and from here Adolf Hitler addressed mass rallies of up to a million people. It's almost impossible to imagine those dark events in today's peaceful surroundings.

The row of black blobs above the Doric columns are actually eighteen Prussian eagles. The Black Eagle was the coat of arms of Prussia from 1229 until 1947.

From Museum Island we moved on to Unter Den Linden probably the best known and most elegant street in Berlin. It began life in the mid 1500s as a bridle path leading from the Royal Palace to the hunting grounds in what is now the Tiergarten. Its name comes from the double row of lime trees planted in 1647 by the Grand Elector Frederick William. The original trees had all gone by the end of WW2 and the ones that are there today were planted in the 1950s. The rather splendid equestrian statue is of Frederick the Great who was King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786.

This is a 20th century sculpture called Mother With Her Dead Son by Berlin artist Kathe Kollwitz who lost her own son in WW1. It stands inside a building on Unter Den Linden called Neue Wache which was originally built as a royal guardhouse between 1816 and 1818 but in 1931 it was turned into a memorial to the fallen of WW1. After the reunification of Germany it became a memorial to all victims of war and tyranny. Under the granite slab that the sculpture stands on are the ashes of an unknown soldier, a resistance fighter, a concentration camp prisoner and soil from battlefields and concentration camps. It's a very compelling memorial standing in the centre of a large empty stone lined chamber and above it is a circular skylight open to the elements.

Just off Unter Den Linden is Bebelplatz which contains The Staatsoper, Berlin's Opera House, St Hedwig's Cathedral and the lovely Baroque building in the photograph which is the Altes Bibliothek or Old Library which was built about 1775. It's now part of Humboldt University.

Bebelplatz is a very attractive place especially in the early morning sunshine but this too has a dark history. On May 10th 1933 the centre of this pleasant square was the scene of the burning of over 20,000 books by authors deemed to be enemies of the Third Reich. These included works by Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway and Erich Maria Remarque (who wrote All Quiet On The Western Front), Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein and Leo Tolstoy. The photo shows the monument created in 1995 which commemorates this event, it's a window set into the cobbled surface of the square and to begin with you can see nothing then you realise that below are rows and rows of empty bookshelves - enough to hold the 20,000 books that were burned.

The Hotel Adlon - the most luxurious hotel in Berlin. This is where Queen Elizabeth stayed during her State visit to Germany earlier this year. The original Hotel Adlon was built in 1907 and became the social centre of Berlin, famous people who stayed there include Czar Nicholas II, Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich.It survived WW2 virtually undamaged but was destroyed in 1945 by a fire started by drunken Red Army soldiers! The current Hotel Adlon was re-opened in 1997.

Right at the end of Unter Den Linden stands what is probably Berlin's most famous landmark - the Brandenburg Gate. It was built in the late 18th century and stands on the site of one of Berlin's old city gates.

The Quadriga stands on top of the Gate but it hasn't spent all its life here nor has the goddess Victory always carried the staff bearing the Prussian Eagle and the Iron cross . During the Napoleonic Wars Berlin was occupied by the French for a few years and Napoleon took a fancy to the Quadriga and had it taken to Paris. It remained there until 1814 when it was returned to Berlin after Prussian, Austrian and Russian troops occupied Paris. It was on its return to Berlin that the Prussian Eagle and Iron Cross were added.

If you pass through the Brandenburg Gate and then turn left onto Eberstrasse you will come to the Holocaust Memorial which has only been there since 2005. It commemorates all the Jews killed by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 and consists of 2711 concrete slabs of differing heights - the Field of Stelae. It is a daunting and to me a very claustrophobic place when you walk into it. An underground information centre holds the names of all known holocaust victims. By a rather grim coincidence I received a text from my eldest son who was in Poland that day visiting Auschwitz which he described as 'a challenging experience'.
From there we were then taken to see the site of Hitler's Bunker which is now a car park, had a brief look at the Berlin Wall and were marched smartly past Checkpoint Charlie with the scathing remark that the whole thing was a complete sham and not even in quite the right place but how accurate that statement is I've no idea:)

Our tour ended in Gendarmenmarkt outside the Konzerthaus, it was interesting and we learned a lot but there was no time to linger or actually go inside places. These tours do give you an idea of what there is to see and the layout of the main part of the city though. By this time it was nearly 2pm and we'd been walking since 10.30 with just a 15 minute break which gave time to either have a quick bite to eat or visit the restroom and buy a quick drink. We chose the second option!  By now we were ready to eat and ready to sit down for a while and we knew the perfect place to do both just a stone's throw away. Fassbender and Rausch was on out list of must visit places anyway so we decided to have a leisurely and rather belated lunch there.

A little appetizer on the house while we waited for the main course - we were halfway through it before I thought of taking a photo. Cream cheese with chocolate - delicious! Everything in the cafe involves chocolate in one way or another.

A nice healthy salad of wild herbs with goat's cheese pralines - except that the salad is served in a basket made of chocolate:)

Dessert - an orange brittle mini torte that was incredibly rich. My daughter had a Mozart Symphony. All washed down with a glass of Prosecco. By the time I'd finished I felt that I never wanted to eat again:)

When we eventually got back downstairs we saw the Brandenburg Gate again - Fassbender and Rausch are famous for their chocolate sculptures. I regret to say that we spent rather a lot of euros in the shop and, even worse, I've discovered that they have an online shop that ships to all countries in the EU. I see lots of pralines and truffles in my future!

I'm off to Suffolk for a few days on Thursday but when I get back I'll post about out Food Tour of Berlin and more about the Berlin Wall which we revisited on the Sunday. By the way have you noticed that many of the outdoor photos have a crane in them? There is still much rebuilding going on in East Berlin.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Trip To Berlin

My daughter and I arrived in Berlin on a grey, wet and rather cool Thursday morning and after leaving our luggage at our hotel - the Adina Apartment Hotel - we went for a wander round and a spot of lunch. Check in time was 2pm so we had a couple of hours to fill. The hotel is in East Berlin and close to Hackesher Markt and the River Spree which runs through the centre of Berlin eventually joining the River Elbe and then flowing into the North Sea at Hamburg. The building in the centre is the Berliner Dom.

This is Hackescher Markt, the market square was originally laid out in 1750 and the area around here is absolutely awash with places to eat and small independent shops and is apparently a pretty 'in place' these days. On the right you can see the entrance to the railway station and the railway itself runs behind the top of the ornate brick facade which I found rather attractive.

The one place I really wanted to visit was the Pergamon Museum so after settling in to our hotel off we went. The Museum was only a few minutes walk and I had booked tickets in advance for the 4pm entry so we were able to go straight in. The Pergamon houses antiquities from the Classical world and the Ancient Near East and also the Museum of Islamic Art. My objective was to see the Ishtar Gate and I'm afraid that this is a really bad photograph of it, I couldn't stand square on or far enough back because of the number of other people who were also taking photos but you get the general idea:) The Ishtar Gate was the main entrance to the city of Babylon (in what is now Iraq) and was built by King Nebuchadnezzar around 575BC - or perhaps I should say was built for him, I rather doubt that he had anything to do with the actual construction:) It was excavated by the German archaeologist Robert Koldewey between 1902 and 1914 and the material was brought back to Germany and used to make a partial reconstruction. It was originally a double gate but it was so enormous (over 38 feet high) that only the smaller frontal part is on display, the second gate is in storage. The Pergamon is undergoing extensive refurbishment at the moment so parts of it were closed and there was a lot of background scaffolding etc visible that wouldn't normally be seen.

The Gate was dedicated to Ishtar the Babylonian goddess of love and war whose symbol was the lion.  One hundred and twenty of these lined the Processional Way which led from the inner city through the Ishtar Gate to the Bit Akitu or 'House of the New Year's Festival'. The festival lasted for twelve days and began after the first new moon following the Spring Equinox. The lions were there as a symbol of protection.The corridor in the Museum which leads to the Gate is lined on both sides with these striding lions in a recreation of the Processional Way

The Gate itself was decorated with alternating rows of bulls and dragons symbols of the weather god Adad and the most important Babylonian god Marduk. The animals were made with brown and yellow glazed tiles surrounded by blue tiles made of lapis lazuli which was highly prized in the ancient world for its intense colour. The only source at that period was Afghanistan so it was both rare and expensive. The 'dragon' has the head and forked tongue of a snake and the hind feet of a bird.

Here we have the reconstructed Market Gate from Miletus a wealthy Greek trading city in what is now Turkey. It's absolutely enormous - over 98 feet wide (c30metres) and 54 feet high(c16 metres) so the photo shows only the central portion. It was built in the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian - he of Hadrian's Wall fame - as Greece was of course a part of the Roman Empire at this time.

The relief above is carved on basalt and depicts a lion hunt. It dates from about 750BC and comes from the palace of Kapara in Tell Halaf , north east Syria. By the 9th century BC this area had become part of the Assyrian Empire. Does anyone else remember learning the lines from Lord Byron's poem?

 The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold
 And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea
When the blue waves roll nightly on deep Galilee

 I must have learned that when I was about 9 or 10 years old and I've never forgotten it.

This enormous 9th century BC statue of a bird, probably a griffin, is also from the palace at Tell Halaf

I think this was probably my favourite of all the exhibits. The jewellery, made of gold, carnelian and lapis lazuli, was found in the Royal Graves of the ancient city of Ur and dates from about 2600BC. It was worn by the female attendants of Queen Puabi with whom they were buried. When the Queen died her attendants died with her and I don't think they asked for volunteers! The Royal Graves were excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s and the jewellery that the Queen herself was buried with is even more stunning but I believe that you will have to visit the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology to see it. Ur was a city in ancient Mesopotamia which is now southern Iraq. I would really love to travel in Iraq and Syria and visit some of the wonderful archaeological sites that are there though there isn't much chance of that at present.

Finally we moved into the section of the Museum devoted to Islamic Art. This is part of the Aleppo Room and it is apparently the oldest surviving and most valuable painted wall panelling from the Ottoman Empire. It was made about 1600AD for the reception room of a house in the Syrian city of Aleppo. There are glass screens in front of it hence the reflections.

A detail of one of the panels showing a little picture of courtly life, a lovely bird and some of the intricate floral designs.

These are really beautiful, a carved ivory casket from 11th-12th century Sicily and an equally beautiful carved ivory drinking horn - at least I think it's a drinking horn.

This was just stunning - a prayer niche from the Maidan Mosque in Iran dating from 1226. A prayer niche is the focal point of the interior of a mosque and would be oriented towards Mecca.

I have no idea how old this is or where it came from but I love the shape and simplicity of it. My daughter was getting a little restive by this stage so I didn't linger long enough to read the explanatory label. She was doing the Pergamon in exchange for me going with her to look for street art later on:) This was a really good day to spend time here as the Museum is open until 8pm on Thursdays so even though we didn't go in until 4pm we had plenty of time to look round and it was also a very good way of staying out of the rain which was pretty heavy. After a brief return to the hotel we went out for dinner and then had an early night - we'd been up since 3.30am as our flight from Manchester left at 7am so exhaustion was definitely setting in by this time and a lot of walking lay ahead of us over the next couple of days.