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.

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.

Sunday, October 04, 2015


On the way home from our Time Travellers weekend we visited Snowshill which is definitely the most unusual National Trust property that I've ever been to. The house itself is a pleasant enough Tudor manor house but as soon as you step inside you are almost overwhelmed by the sight of the literally thousands of artefacts collected by a true English eccentric called Charles Padget Wade.

Photography is very difficult because of the very low light levels in the house. Until the National Trust took it over in 1951 there was no electricity in the house at all as Charles Wade preferred to use candles and oil lamps. The light levels are kept low so that the atmosphere is as it was during his ownership. In the photo above you can just about see the item that began Charles Wade's lifelong love of collecting - his grandmother's Cabinet of Curiosities.

The collection of Japanese Samurai armour is amazing, Charles Wade acquired 26 suits of armour from various parts of England between 1940 and 1945. They date from the 17th to the 19th centuries and Charles arranged them to give the impression of a party of warriors sitting round their campfire in the gloom of the evening. All the armour is set behind a perspex screen which explains the slanting line across the top of the photo. I must confess that I'm intrigued to know how so much Samurai armour came to be in this country at all and especially in a plumber's shop in Cheltenham which is where two of them came from!

I really love these pen drawings on old playing cards. They were done c1826 by an elderly gentleman called Eric Gill.  I hope that you can enlarge them enough to see more detail because they really are brilliant.

One of the rooms is devoted to all kinds of musical instruments, there is everything from Irish harps, clarinets and flutes to a 19th century coaching horn and three hurdy gurdys.

Of all the things we saw these were without doubt my favourite, they are a series of one eighth scale models of farm wagons from various areas of the country. This one is a Wiltshire wagon. They were commissioned by Charles Wade and were made by Mr H.R.Waiting between 1932 and 1938 from existing examples of the real thing. That's just a taste of what there is to see, I don't think I really liked it very much although I'm glad I've seen it. There was so much in every room that my senses were overwhelmed eventually. The garden on the other hand was exactly the kind of thing I like.

Walking up through the orchard the age of Snowshill is much more evident than it is from the classical style of the front of the house. The Manor of Snowshill (as opposed to the manor house which is a quite different thing) was owned by Winchcombe Abbey from 821AD until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The manor house was built around 1500 and was altered and extended about 1600. By the time that Charles Wade bought it in 1919 it had become a semi derelict farm. Charles completely restored the house preserving as much of the old panelling and stonework as possible. He then set about filling it, the house was never intended to be lived in but was bought purely to house his collections. He lived in The Priest's House, a cottage near to the main house.

Not only was Charles Wade a keen - or perhaps obsessive would be a better word! - collector he also loved gardening. When he arrived the house was surrounded by nettles, brambles, broken crocks and all manner of other debris but once the house was restored Charles set to work outside.

I really liked this water feature, it had a very tranquil feel to it.

In the little garden house - a former cow byre - is a apparently a Flemish chariot dating from 1839 though I must confess that I'm not entirely sure what a Flemish chariot is!

The garden was full of paths and steps and walls made of beautiful mellow Cotswold stone. It was a delight to wander round and I could have spent very much longer there if we'd had time.

Although it isn't immediately obvious from the outside this is a medieval dovecote. As well as old farm wagons I'm also greatly attracted by dovecotes:)

There are nestboxes for 380 birds inside, in medieval times doves and pigeons were an important food source especially in the winter months, they were kept for both their eggs and their meat. The little white blobs are a couple of the white pigeons that live there now.

Here are more of the residents of the dovecote in the Armillary Court. The stone column is topped by a gilded sundial.

Another hidden delight in the garden is Wolf's Cove an imaginary model Cornish fishing village made by Charles Wade. It originally included a working model railway and canal. It seems to have more or less disappeared over the years but has now been excavated by archaeologists and is being restored by volunteers. Charles Wade was a skilled carpenter and model maker and delighted in projects such as Wolf's Cove. I would love to see it when the restoration is finished.

A close up of some of the model buildings - my favourite bit is the little set of stone steps leading down to the quay.

Finally a view from the garden looking down over the orchard and onto the countryside beyond. The stone building on the right is the dovecote. I would really love to go back to Snowshill one day just to spend more time exploring the garden and also to look around the village which I believe is very pretty. I'm off to Berlin for a few days on Thursday - my first ever visit to Germany so I'm looking forward to it.