On the window trail – Fri 16th April

22 04 2010

The continuing saga of our quest to photograph and document the stained glass windows of Lawrence Lee (LSL).

I was going up to London to meet some friends, one of whom was over from Paris, and Stephen and I thought it would be a good idea to visit some of his father’s windows while I was there.  Stephen was to be at his family’s home in Hastings and said that he would be able to get into London – Piccadilly – to meet me by 10.30.  However, as the date neared, his family’s plans changed and he would no longer be visiting them.  No problem, he would travel to London from the Isle of Wight.  I suggested that we meet a little later than planned – after a little discussion we settled on 10.45 instead.  Apparently it would have been more difficult to get out of the small town near Hastings early in the morning, than to get off the Isle of Wight.  I take back everything I have ever said about the place.  Well almost.

RSC

One of the magnificent abstract windows at the Royal Society of Chemistry

Back in the middle of February we had been contacted, via the Flickr site we have set up for the Lawrence Lee project, by David Allen of the Royal Society of Chemistry who is in the process of compiling a booklet on the society’s historical collection.  He was looking for more information on the windows.  We decided we had to visit.

So we met at Piccadilly at 10.45 – almost bumping into one another in the street as we both tried to locate Fortnum & Mason which I had thought was on the main street, but which is tucked behind – and headed to Burlington House where we walked past the huge queue for the Van Gogh exhibition to find the society in the corner of the courtyard.  We were both bowled over by the windows (click the image left to see the other) and the glorious sunlight flooding through the first one on the lower landing made it all the more stunning.

Unfortunately we were unable to tell David anything new about the windows as all we had from LSL’s collection were a couple of slides.  Stephen will ask his father about the designs when he next sees him, although he may not remember the concept behind them.  David said that none of the chemists thought that there was anything particularly related to chemistry in the windows, but we all agreed that there was a certain biological and cellular look about them, and also perhaps an astronomical aspect.  We also found favourite themes – Fire, Earth, Air and Water, the four elements – which often appear in LSL’s work.

lsl

Many kinds of glass make up these windows at the RSC

The pieces of glass are of many varieties – some being like that of patterned ‘bathroom window glass’ and the whole is held together with cement.  Stephen was concerned that there appeared to be no cement between some of the pieces of glass so we took a trip through the corridors of the building to be able to view the higher window from the outside.  This confirmed that the glass pieces were stuck onto plain glass.  Stephen commented that the adhesive would normally cloud over time, but these 1968 windows showed no sign of any deterioration.

Glaziers

The coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass

We grabbed a quick coffee and some cake before getting onto the tube (no imitation Sean Connery satnav this time) and heading off for Southwark and Glaziers’ Hall.  Lawrence Lee was elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers in 1974 and was instrumental in introducing practicing stained glass artists into the Company at an affordable rate, as most of the members had hitherto been wealthy businessmen.  I had been corresponding with the clerk of the company and there had been some confusion about the piece as it is not actually a window but a backlit piece in a hall without windows.  Also the slide photograph we had of the work in progress showed a whole lion on the shield whereas this piece has a demi-lion.  By the time we visted, Alex Galloway (the clerk) had looked into it more and it seems that this was the piece from the photograph but that LSL had had to revise the lion in order to make the coat of arms accurate.  Basically he got the lion wrong first time.

This piece is another where the glass has been stuck onto plain glass.  What can’t be seen in the image above is the very dark glass surrounding the roundel – the backlighting was not very helpful when it came to photographing the work, although I did manage to knock a lot of the yellow out of it in Photoshop.  Tungsten light can be a nightmare.  The glass around the outside is all chunky lumps of clear glass (click the image to see more).

southwark

Detail from one of the windows at Southwark Cathedral

Next it was literally around the corner to Southwark Cathedral where we found two windows.  The first, a large window with three main lights, was done in 1959 and depicts the Madonna and Child at the centre, with various religious figures in other roundels.  The Holy Spirit (one of LSL’s ubiquitous doves) tops the design.   What fascinated me was the detail as usual.  Within this window are a great number of images of craftsmen working.  Whether or not they were based on actual people is unclear but some have very clear faces which are not LSL’s usual style of ‘generic’ face.  The window is dedicated to Thomas Francis Rider who rebuilt the nave of the cathedral.  He died in 1922, long before the window was made.

The second, much newer window (1987 – click for detail) is a memorial to Maurits & Maise Mulder Canter.  It seems he was a Glazier because the window also depicts the Glaziers’ coat of arms (with the demi-lion) and a figure holding a sheet of glass.  Also shown are two glass-blowing instruments and a sketch of a stained glass window.  The words “Oh God give us thy light” is the English translation of the Glaziers’ motto – Lucem tuam de nobis Deus.  Quite fitting.

type

Looking out through one of the doors of Southwark Cathedral, covered in a typographic map

It was by now time for lunch so we decided to eat at the Cathedral.  The food looked wonderful and was quite different from the usual fayre.  Quite a variety of foods too.  Stephen chose a stuffed pepper and I went for the stuffed aubergine.  We had two choices of salad with that – though all were more substantial than what usually passes for ‘salad’, mine being one with cous cous and another with chick peas.  The coffee was wonderful.  Sadly the aubergine was tough (but its topping was lovely and the salads were more than enough to make it a meal).  We paid 30p each to use the toilets – wouldn’t mind but it meant we had to go to the shop to buy tokens to put in the doors, which was a bit of a palaver – and set off for London Bridge.

I haven’t walked over London Bridge for many years and it was a lovely day.  No sign of the volcanic ash wafting over the us at great height from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which was stopping all flights to and from the UK.  I swear the underground staff were queuing up to make tannoy announcements just so they could say “volcanic ash from Iceland”.  It’s not every day you get to do that.

carpenters

Detail from the window at Carpenters' Hall

We walked up to Throgmorton Avenue by London Wall to visit the Carpenters’ Company where we met their archivist.  There we saw a very large window with many heraldic shields, connected by a simple Tree of Life design which also incorporated the four elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water (the sun, opposite, representing Fire).  It also includes “symbols of learning and medicine”.  The coats of arms in this 1970 window,  known as “Bernay’s Memorial Window” are believed to ‘belong’ to the one person.

carpenters

The Carpenters' Hall

We were also treated to a view of their main hall which is, as you might expect, completely decked out with wood.  It’s very dark in there, but the two huge stained glass windows bring a warm light into the room and really make it glow.  I can’t remember the exact details but I think we were told that the floor was a couple (or few) hundred years old.  These old halls were making a nice change from churches.

Often Lawrence Lee would write a little about his windows for the place where they would be installed.  Unfortunately this was not always the case – or at least, we are discovering that not all places have the information.  Many of his designs require no explanation, but some of the more abstract pieces would be enhanced by a few words from the artist.  Here at Carpenters’ Hall there is a key to the window and its elements.

painters

Painters' Hall

Our next stop was the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers at Little Trinity Lane.  We were greeted by the beadle (I have never met a real beadle before and I love that these designations are preserved) who showed us into a dark hall with an array of heraldic windows along one wall.  Lawrence Lee’s windows were at the far end – a group of three – and with some help the curtains were pulled aside to reveal even more heraldry.  LSL took quite a few secular commissions and I suppose it was inevitable that coats of arms and the like would be the norm – after all, they appear so frequently in his church windows too.  I find them a little dull though.  Stephen says they will have put food on the table and you can’t argue with that.

jewry

One of two windows at St Lawrence Jewry

Our final call was to be St Lawrence Jewry at Guildhall Yard and we had to dash to get there in time as it was due to close at 4pm.  I had contacted Canon David Parrott the previous week to find out if we could visit and by coincidence he was, when he received my mail, about to host a memorial service for the late Sir Charles Alexander, son of Sir Frank Alexander – and one of the windows was to be the centre of attention.

He asked if I might be able to photograph the other windows in the church while I was there, as they do not currently have any good images of them.  Of course I was happy to do this and spent some time capturing the huge windows in this lovely Christopher Wren building.  Worth a visit if you’re in the area and you can read more here.

We did try three more places – St Mary, Abchurch; St Mary, Aldermary; and St Magnus the Martyr – but they were all closed.  We have become used to rural churches staying open until sunset.  This is not the case in the city but at least here we did not need to find someone two miles down the road who had a church key under a flower pot, except on Wednesdays.  I exaggerate.

All in all it was a successful day with six sites visited and we are optimistic for the next foray into the area when we will try to complete the set.  After a well deserved coffee Stephen and I parted company at the Monument – he returned to the Isle of Wight via Waterloo and I headed north for a quick drink with my friend before going back to hers for the evening.

Some of the images link to larger versions of themselves, but others will take you to other views of the same window or to an image of another window in the same building.  Always worth clicking through. There are also some links in the text of this piece.

chemists

Detail from one of the windows at the Royal Society of Chemistry

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On the window trail – Wed 31 March

31 03 2010

The continuing saga of our quest to photograph and document the stained glass windows of Lawrence Lee (LSL).

St James, Milton

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, St James Church, Milton

It was only recently, thanks to a list of LSL’s windows shared with us by Peter Hart (who we met at St James, Milton, Hants), we discovered that there was a third church here on the Isle of Wight boasting a “Lawrence Lee”.  We had already visited Holy Cross in Binstead some years ago (the two gallery windows there were the first of LSL’s that I’d seen), and we visited All Saints, Ryde back in October last year.

The Ryde window is magnificent – depicting all the saints (as you might expect).  It’s worth taking a look at the photos (link above).

We headed off to Wroxall this morning in the icy cold rain and found a small window at St John’s which, if it had a title, I would be inclined to call The Lamb of God.  Stephen and I quickly came to the conclusion that this was not one of LSL’s finest pieces – fairly uninteresting overall, as were the other windows in this particular church.  It was done in 1953, so was one of his earlier works (although so was the Ryde window), and it is possible he had a fairly rigid brief as it looked very much in keeping with the others.

St John's Wroxall

St John's Wroxall

We found the colours to be a little duller than usual and there was nothing of his usual flair about it.  Interestingly the photos make the colours look brighter than they seemed to the eye.  Stephen recalled that at times his father was working flat out to fulfill commissions and inevitably some were done ‘to order’ and others allowed him some freedom of expression.  His style certainly developed over the years but it is in evidence in some of his earlier windows too.

After that we drove back to Ryde and picked up a friend, Jan, and went on to Holy Cross, Binstead to revisit the four windows there.  On our first visit Stephen and I had only been aware of the two gallery windows depicting the Peacock and the Phoenix, back in the days when I was using film exclusively.  On our second visit we were unable to access the gallery, although our main purpose then was to photograph the Holy Spirit and the Holy Cross windows that had since come to our attention.   On that occasion I was using a new digital camera and I had never been pleased with the results.

Holy Cross, Binstead

The Phoenix - a symbol of resurrection

The gallery windows had been installed in 1971 during restoration following a fire in 1969.  The Holy Cross window is also dated 1971 and the Holy Spirit the following year.  We chatted with the lady who kindly opened the gallery for us and she remembered the fire.  She told us that it could be seen from the ferry (a member of the clergy was coming to visit and obviously had no idea that the fire he could see was the church he was heading for).

This time I was much happier with the photographs – the colours weren’t washed out and the detail was sharper.

Our next planned visit will be to some windows in London – particularly one at the “Chemical Society”.   We haven’t yet decided on which other places we’ll see as it will, as always, involve emails, phonecalls and route planning.  We might also pay a return visit (for me at least) to St Marylebone so that Stephen can see the Madonna and Child window there, which I photographed when I was in London back in January.

As always, watch this space, and keep an eye on the Lawrence Lee Stained Glass Flickr group for the latest updates.

Most of the images link to larger versions of themselves, but some will take you to other views of the same window or to sources of more information.  Always worth clicking through. There are also quite a lot of links in the text of this piece.

Gallery Windows

The two gallery windows at Holy Cross, Binstead





On the Window Trail – Wed 27th Jan

13 02 2010

William of Occam, a Franciscan monk.

Pippa accompanied us on our final day and we went first to Ockham.  We had come across the village ‘by accident’ on our last trip to Surrey in September, but the church had been closed.  This time we had arranged for the vicar to open it for us and we met him there just after 10am.  Pippa had worked on this window with Lawrence Lee so was very pleased to see it again.  Unfortunately we didn’t have a great deal of time as the vicar had another appointment, but I was able to get all the photos I wanted.

We moved on to Cranleigh, this time to see one of Pippa’s own windows – a large piece installed for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.  We had already seen a detailed photograph of the window the night before so it was lovely to see the real thing.   The trees outside meant that some areas were not as bright as they might have been – I have noticed that trees and bushes cause a lot of variations in how well a window looks – but it was still a magnificent piece.  It was also interesting to hear Pippa talk about all its elements and about the depth of research that went into each detail.

The only window I was able to photograph properly at Milford

We called into the nearby church cafe for a cuppa and some cake but by now Stephen was quite hungry so we popped over the road to a pub that said “Food Served”.  Sadly they didn’t serve food after all and we were on the road again.  We didn’t see another pub along the route I’d programmed in towards the next port of call – Milford – so we viewed that church too before eating.  Sadly, even though the vicar had responded to my email enquiry to say that the church would be open, and even though my email had explained what we wanted to view, the ‘church room’ which contained the main window by LSL was locked.  We did see two small lights in the ‘church passage’ although one had something propped up against it on the other side (in a locked room) so I only got good photographs of one small window.  We will have to visit there again.

Knowing that Guildford Cathedral (our final destination) had a restaurant, we decided to drive straight there and eat before viewing the windows.  A rather unusual combination of mushroom stroganoff with rice AND vegetables (including cauliflower cheese) was a little too much for me – and the mushrooms were too chewy – but the cup of tea was most welcome.  Inside the cathedral on one side were seven very tall windows each with between four and six ‘badges’.  Apart from the first of these, each contained at least one (and often more) badges completed by LSL.

Soroptimist International is a worldwide organization for women in management and professions, working through service projects to advance human rights and the status of women.

One or two Pippa recognised, and one was her own work.  LSL often ‘gave’ windows to his assistants to do on their own.  This experience must have been invaluable.  Having seen one of Pippa’s big windows only an hour or so before, it was hard to imagine her as the student, but she is full of praise for her teacher and feels he is somewhat overlooked.

These small panels raised some conundrums too.  Not all were signed – though it was easy to spot where LSL had signed only one of a pair – and we weren’t sure about a few of them.  The notes Stephen had helped quite a bit, but still some uncertainties remained.  Some of the queries were ironed out once the images were later studied, but we still have a few outstanding queries.  This is, of course, all part of the fun.

It looked as though the bars were part of the window but lightening the area shows the painting detail. The bars are external.

After viewing and photographing the nave windows we moved on to LSL’s large window over the gallery.  The guides who had been so pleased to greet us had arranged for us to be able to go up onto the gallery to view the window at close quarters.  Pippa noticed that heavy bars had been added (we learned later that these were external and had been added for reinforcement) which left ugly vertical lines through most of the faces on the six designs either side of the main image.  She said that Lawrence would never have allowed this and it was clear that the bars spoiled the window.  Is it worth doing this to ‘preserve’ a window?  Does it actually prevent damage anyway?

After taking a few shots of a smaller window over the crypt stairs, and viewing an extremely colourful and to my eyes incongruous window by Mark Angus, we headed off into the cold damp air.  We said our goodbyes to Pippa in the car park and rushed headlong into Guildford’s rush-hour.  Only went round the traffic system once too often – not bad for me!  Another successful journey – 12 churches and one school visited, and almost 20 windows (I think – counting each nave collection at Guildford as one).  Add that to the 17 we’d already done and the project is really taking shape.  Onwards and upwards.

Most of the images link to larger versions of themselves, but some will take you to other views of the same window or to sources of more information.  Always worth clicking through.

The large window over the gallery at Guildford Cathedral.





On the Window Trail – Tue 26th Jan

8 02 2010

Lawrence Lee, in front of his window at the church of St Mary & St Peter, Pett, Sussex

On the Tuesday morning we had arranged to take Lawrence to see one of his windows at Pett in Sussex.  Sean the SatNav managed to get us to a church in an adjoining village and via a very picturesque route through winding and very steep country lanes.  This was a little embarrassing as I had been trying to explain how the SatNav worked after Lawrence had aske me about it.  We weren’t far away from Pett though and with Stephen consulting the map we were soon at the Church of St Mary & St Peter.  Two local historians were there to meet with us and they were most keen to speak with Lawrence and ask him about his window.  He became animated in this conversation and was obviously in his element.

His signature was difficult to see on this window as it crossed over two different colours of glass, but I was able to show him a closeup on the back of my camera – which then involved a further explanation of how a digital camera worked.  I noted an intense curiosity in the old gentleman – I hope I’m as interested in ‘things’ when I get older, and I hope that people will take the time to talk to me about ‘things’ and not be dismissive as I know some can be.

It was a very cold day and we were soon ready to leave – again after having given email contact details.  We drove down to the local pub but unfortunately it was not going to be open for a while so we decided to take Lawrence home.  A quick coffee with Caroline and Jessica warmed us up before we set off to capture some more windows.

The window at All Saints, Heathfield

Our first port of call after leaving Brede was Heathfield.  We had initially planned to visit there on the Monday but time had run out so we decided to slot it in to this day’s journey.  The people who met with us to let us in to the church referred to this window as the ‘Pocahontas’ window.  It depicted the Rev Robert Hunt performing the first Holy Communion in Jamestown, Virginia.  Around him were North American Indians.  We were told that American visitors were particularly interested in this window and that the recent Disneyfication of the Pocahontas story had a lot to do with it.  I couldn’t quite see the connection with the two stories but could see that any link could be stretched sufficiently in order to please tourists.  I wasn’t keen on the window for a number of reasons.  The light in the church was lovely though, so I did manage a few ‘arty’ shots of a hymn book on a pew.

Sundridge

I loved the colours in this window. Blue and orange is always a winning combination.

Stephen and I were both hungry by now and found a pub in the newer part of Heathfield – the Prince of Wales – and stopped for some cheesy chips.  We then moved on to Sundridge and a very striking window depicting Christ with an orange robe set against a blue background.  I’m not religious in any way so I am drawn to these windows for purely visual reasons.  This time it was colour.  Surrounding the central figure were depictions of ‘good deeds’ XXX and the former church warden who gave us the keys (she still holds them) said that sermons are still preached using the window as a guide.  I gathered that this was common practice and was the purpose of stained-glass windows beyond that of ornamentation.  I have a lot to learn still about churches and windows.

Detail from the window at Brasted - Lawrence Lee's last big window.

We battled out of Sundridge through the thronging 4x4s of parents collecting their offspring from the nearby school (on a steep and narrow hill) and took off for our final church of that day at Brasted.  The window and another by John Hayward had been installed following a fire in the church in 1989.  LSL’s had been completed in 1992 and was his last large window.  It seemed as though he had crammed everything into it and it was quite something to see.  The photographs do not do it justice unfortunately.

Once again the light was beating us and we set off to Redhill where we were to stay the night with Pippa Martin – one of LSL’s former assistants (possibly his last) who we had met on our previous visit to Surrey back in September.  Another lovely relaxed evening and another early night.  I might just be getting old, but don’t tell anyone.

Most of the images link to larger versions of themselves, but some will take you to other views of the same window or to sources of more information.  Always worth clicking through.

Centenarian Lawrence Lee studying one of his many stained glass windows in January.





On the Window Trail – Mon 25th Jan

5 02 2010

Stephen and I had planned another trip to photograph his father’s windows and had been hoping to go to Kent before Christmas.  However, when searching for accommodation it became apparent that it wasn’t such a good idea so close to the festive season.  Everywhere would be heaving with last-minute shoppers and it was inevitably going to be a busy time for the clergy of the churches we had been hoping to visit.  We postponed the trip.

The first proper snow the Isle of Wight has seen for a couple of decades

This also gave me time to crack on with and finish my dissertation and enjoy a week’s grace to play in the snow that fell in early January.  The snowfall was exceptional for the Isle of Wight – it hardly ever settles here and I’ve not known it stick around for more than a day since I moved here in 1993.  The previous blog entry shows the first night of the snow, but it continued to fall the next day too and I managed to get my little camera wet by being too blasé about the snowflakes.  It started to turn itself on and wouldn’t let me turn it off so I had to take out the batteries.  It was a tense week forcing myself not to check it every five minutes and eventually it dried out and started behaving again.  Phew!  Even though I love my dSLR, my little Olympus SP510uz is an absolute gem of a camera.

Detail from the St Andrew window at Fletching, Sussex

At the end of January I had a break from uni.  The inter-semester break seems an odd timetabling event – only two weeks after the Christmas break.  They are working towards establishing trimesters rather than semesters but that will be after my time there.  Anyway, this provided an opportunity to spend a few days away photographing Lawrence Lee’s (LSL) stained glass windows.  As with our previous trip, we had “Sean” the SatNav (an impersonation of Sean Connery) to guide us.  On the Monday we caught an early ferry and drove up to The Church of St Andrew & St Mary the Virgin at Fletching in Sussex – our first port of call.  Here we found two tall windows – one of St Andrew and the other of the Madonna and Child.  Both were fairly traditional windows made in the early-mid 1970s.  In the same church there was a window by one of LSL’s former assistants – Alan Younger.  We had seen one of his windows at Ewell on our previous trip and Lee’s influence on Younger’s work is very evident.  I preferred this window to the two earlier pieces by LSL.

Detail showing St Dorothy at Cowden

After that we dashed off to St Mary Magdalene at Cowden to see the St Dorothy window.  This one was a memorial window for a couple – he a doctor and she a keen gardener.  This information came from some notes that Stephen found in the booklet but the medical influence was clear, with a staff and serpent depicted.  I was puzzled but delighted by the bat at the top of the design but have no idea what it represented.  We may never know.  The other striking think about this window was that within his signature were the initials of Stephen’s mother – also Dorothy.  Stephen wasn’t sure if this was because his father had no assistant  for that window and that his mother helped, or if it had more to do with the fact that it was a window of St Dorothy.

Detail from the 'Ruth' window at Tunbridge Wells

We were aware that time was slipping away and Stephen had arranged to meet with someone at King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells before 3pm when they closed the church.  It was a bit of a mission but we made it there with a few minutes to spare and the gentleman on duty – a retired architect – was kind enough to stay open a little longer for me to be able to take some photos, and to tell us a little about the church.  The window here is apparently one of LSL’s favourites – of Ruth.  Stephen’s theory is that his father depicted female saints as often as possible because he favoured the female form.

The Du Buisson Memorial Window at Penshurst CE Primary School

Even though the light was going we managed to cram in two more windows.  We went to Penshurst CofE Primary School quickly to view a small window that had been installed in the 1970s as a memorial – the Du Buissonn Memorial window – and met with the head teacher there.  In 1978he children of the school had raised over £200 to help to pay for the window and had received a letter from Biddy Baxter – who many of you will know was the producer of Blue Peter for many many years.  The window was small, almost like a fanlight but over a wide archway – and very difficult to photograph because of the poor light.

Lawrence Lee's favourite window at Penshurst

We then hurried on to St John the Baptist at Penshurst (we were able to walk there from the school).  This was a large window in a somewhat gloomy corner of the church, near the entrance.  We met someone who was involved with the “Friends of …” for the church and spoke briefly (he was on his way to another appointment).  He was keen to hear about LSL’s involvement with the church (it had been his ‘local’ when he had his studio and lived in Penshurst – the reason this window was one of his favourites) and we agreed to get in touch by email.

By now the light was fading fast so we walked back to the car and headed off for Stephen’s brother’s home in Brede.  We arrived to a lovely welcome from Caroline and finally I met Lawrence Lee himself – a very fit looking 100 year-old gentleman who stood to greet me when I went in.  Soon Stephen’s brother Martin was home from work and his daughter Jessica also joined us.  We had a lovely relaxing evening chatting and I showed Lawrence a slideshow of the windows I had photographed on our previous ‘mission’ back in September.  He made so many windows it would be impossible to remember all of them but he did recall a few details and some particular windows, asking me to pause a few as we went along.  He also chatted about his favourite windows – the Ruth at Tunbridge Wells and his Penshurst window.

At dinner Lawrence didn’t say a great deal but was evidently following the conversation and chipped in from time to time with an observation or a story.  Very much ‘all there’ despite short-term memory losses.

A very successful first day, though I was very tired at the end of it.  Even though it was an evening of easy company, it is still tiring to be on one’s best behaviour after a long day.  I went to bed before midnight (unheard of!) and slept like a log.

Lawrence Lee's signature incorporating that of his wife, Dorothy, at Cowden - complete with dead fly (of which I now have quite a collection of photographs, along with cobwebs)





Berlin 2009 – Day 4 – Sun 8th Nov

14 11 2009

We’d had quite a bit of death and destruction on Saturday so Alice and I decided to pay a visit to Berlin Zoo.  We took the S-Bahn out to the Zoologischer Garten station where we’d gone on the Friday to go to the Helmut Newton exhibition.  On that day we’d spotted a ruined church and of course I’d wanted to go and photograph it.

The visitor centre in the ruined old church

The Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche was badly damaged by bombing during WW2 and the tower now stands as a memorial and a visitor centre.  The mosaics on the ceilings and walls were truly fabulous.  They shimmered and sparkeld, with lots of gold and the detail was very intricate.  So much to look at in what was a very small space.  The floors too were highly decorative and this provided strong contrast to the bare stone walls, stairways and plain windows.  The modern ‘furniture’ sat well with the older style and the only real problem in this free to enter exhibition was a lack of space.

I can only imagine what impact the place would have had when it was intact.

The Christ figure made from tombac

The new church alongside this one was built in the early 1960s and from the outside is a rather ugly concrete octagonal tower with small ‘blobs’ of blue glass embedded in the walls.  Inside was quite a different picture.  The blue stained-glass is everywhere and such vivid blues at that.  Over 20,000 small ‘windows’.  Above the altar is a huge gold Christ figure (with no cross) that dominates the view and provides a stunning colour contrast to the windows.

Both buildings were fascinating in such different ways.  We saw another, much  smaller building built in the same style as the new church and headed over to investigate.  We found inside it a small gift shop which seemed to have no connection with either church apart from its architecture.  The shop sold fair trade and ‘world’ goods including the inevitable incense sticks, astrology books, ornaments, bags, hats, etc.  A lovely little shop – perhaps the proceeds went to the church, perhaps it was only the rent they collected.  There was nothing to say one way or the other.  I bought two little stars for my collection (I don’t do Christmas decorations but I buy one or two stars every year to add to the curly ironwork on the side of my stairs at home – they remain in place all year round).

Knut, the famous polar bear.

Next it was zoo time.  We were too late in the day to fit in the aquarium but were told that we could pay for that separately if we felt we wanted to visit that too.  I only have London Zoo to compare it with (in recent years anyway) and it seemed a little more tatty around the edges, but for that it was actually nicer.  It was good to see some areas just left to ‘be’, rather than being subject to this need to manicure every available space.  There also wasn’t the constant demands to purchase from attention-grabbing signs and shops.  The only real exception to this was the little kiosk next to the polar bear enclosure.  Their young polar bear, Knut, is a bit of a celebrity, being the first polar bear to be born at the zoo in more than 30 years.  He was rejected by his mother and was hand reared at the zoo amidst great controversy.  The kiosk sells Knut merchandise, mostly focusing on images of him when he was a cub.

Feeding time for the big cats

Time passes differently in a zoo.  We wandered through the labrynth taking in all manner of creatures along the way.  As we passed through the big cat area it was feeding time.  Lots of crowds and people moving from one viewpoint to another as the keepers threw in the raw meat.  I stuck around by the tiger and was rewarded when this beauty looked straight at my camera.

Soon it was closing time so Alice and I went off in search of something to eat.  We spotted a pasta & pizza place on the corner of a very busy crossroads.  Initially it looked a little out of our price range but a glance at the menu told us we could afford to eat there after all.  Vapiano is a little different.  We were each given a plastic swipe card as we went in and were told that we should hand this in at each ‘station’ when we ordered food.  We went to the pasta station and watched our chosen meal being prepared in front of us – the fresh pasta was cooked in a little basket into boiling water, and the sauce was prepared in a big wok.  Both were soon combined and served with a few chunks of fresh bread.  There were stations for pizza, salad and desserts, as well as a bar, but we were able to get our soft drinks from our chefs.  The food was delicious and we just loved everything about the place.  When it came to paying we just handed in our swipe cards and paid.  No fuss, no sorting out who’d had what and how much each thing was.  Brilliant.

After that we headed back to the hotel and went to a local bar with the other Graphics students.  Table service and a bill just for drinks seemed a little odd and caused the above mentioned hassle when it came to pay and I think a combination of tiredness and the lack of a pub atmosphere drove us back to the hotel with some bottles bought in an off licence to finish off the night.  A good and busy day

Window detail at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church





Berlin 2009 – Day 2 – Fri 6th Nov

8 11 2009

We were meant to meet at 9.30am for info on the day’s planned activities but … well, we didn’t quite make it. However, I was still keen to see the Photography Museum and we were able to find out where to go and set out about half an hour after the others.

I was impressed with the information people at the station (the Zoo station) – when we asked how to get to the musem (which wasn’t far away), they didn’t just give us directions, one of the women took us through the station as far as a place where she could actually point to the building. Brilliant!

Outside the Helmut Newton Foundation

What I hadn’t realised was that the museum was the Helmut Newton Foundation museum and there was a permanent exhibition of his “private property” (as billed) – notebooks, letters, a car, clothes on mannequins, lock of his hair, all sorts of things. Most fascinating. The main exhibition was also of his work – all the images from his Sumo book. What a treat! I love Helmut Newton.

We had to check in our coats and bags before we went in, and put our stuff into lockers. A bit odd, but it was nice not to have to lug my bags around as I was not going to be able to take photos anyway.

Thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition but it was tiring walking around in the quiet. I was struck by the number of ‘security guards’ around the place. We’re somewhat used to seeing a few people dotted around, maybe seated or standing near doorways in museums, but here they were ‘patrolling’ and looked rather stern. Not sure what they thought we were going to do.

After the exhibition we headed over to Hackescher Markt for some browsing through the shops. This was near(ish) to the TV Tower. You could certainly see it from almost everywhere in that area. There had been a trip planned to go up it but I would prefer to view a city from up high when I am familiar with it, not before I’ve had a chance to explore. Otherwise it would be like looking at a map.

The TV Tower - a huge landmark in the East

We had a good look at the shops along the way. Lots of designerish/arty shops but the prices were quite high compared with the UK – particularly as we’d not got a very good exchange rate on the Euro (almost one for one).
On the way there we popped in to a little alleyway that Alberto had visited when he’d been to Berlin before. The delapidated walls were covered in fly posters, stickers, graffiti, paste-ups and anything else they could cram on there. There were a few proper murals and brightly painted ‘street furniture’. Walking further in we came to a courtyard area with a dimly lit bar and a huge metal sculpture. The whole place looked both like a work in progress and an established artist’s commune. At the end of the courtyard was a stairway plastered in posters, stickers and graffiti, which led to a wonderful little bookshop.

Part of the stairway to the bookshop

Luckily most of the books were in German – otherwise I’d have bought loads and spent too much money. I settled for a handful of postcards to send home. Needless to say there are a lot of photographs of this place.
After this and the shops, Alice, Alberto, Martin and I went in search of food and found a little Italian restaurant, run by Germans, playing Spanish music (which Alberto – who is Spanish – said was very cheesy and something his grandparents might have liked). The food was good though. My pasta was unusual (gorgonzola cheese sauce with broccoli – quite a strong flavour) but tasty, and we got free starters of a noodle soup.
We’d been tired before heading out so we headed back to the hotel for a half-hour nap then set off to the Supalife Kiosk for a launch of a book. The book was ‘Graphic Europe’ and I’d wanted to see it because I’m doing mapping for my self-elected project. I ended up buying a copy and got it signed by the women who designed the Berlin and London pages, and by the publisher.
It was quite odd in the little bookshop – occasionally it felt as though the floor was moving, as if you were on a boat. We decided that it must have been because of vibrations from the trams or the U-Bahn below. A little disconcerting all the same.
We were entertained on the way home by a drunken Polish guy who wouldn’t stop talking to us and tried to follow us ‘home’ after we left the train. Despite being a little annoying, he was quite amiable. Drunks are drunks, wherever you go. Back at the hotel we sat and had a drink and a chat with everyone before crashing out. A long but very enjoyable day.

I added one of my Moo stickers to the many covering the walls in the alleyway








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