December Diary (part 2)

2 01 2011

The first half of December threw some interesting weather at us, with a week of snow, freezing temperatures, and with the thaw a dense fog which gave the place a very eerie look indeed.


The light still shining at the Wheatsheaf

The second half was really the busy half – it seemed to go in a blur.  There was the work Christmas meal followed swiftly by a night out with friends after which I visited my local pub which had a nasty fire back in November.  It’s still not open and at the beginning of the month they had been hoping to have it open by Christmas Eve but the snow put paid to the work starting on time.  I went in for a look around with my friend who runs it.  So sad to see all the damage, but she had a nice little setup with a couple of comfy chairs so we had a couple of drinks there before heading home.

The following weekend saw me out and about again for a pre-Christmas drink with a group of friends.  We visited several places in town and I do believe there is video footage of me singing karaoke but I believe it has been kept from the internet to protect the ears of the world.


What would your expectations be?

One disappointment that night was the 80s bar in town.  Well we thought it was an 80s bar.  It’s called 80s.  The sandwich board style sign outside read “Live Bands, 80s Music, Guest DJs” (though with apostrophes I am not prepared to reproduce here).  So we were surprised, on a Friday night, to find that there was no 80s music playing.  We asked the barman first, who said it would be on ‘later’ (it was already almost midnight).  I then cornered the owner/manager to say that we’d all paid to get in and had been expecting 80s music and he said “there’s nothing I can do about it, that’s just the name of the club”, before disappearing rapidly through the fire escape door.  Well if it’s your club then you CAN do something about it – a refund would have been nice.

Still, the Christmas spirit hadn’t been diminished and we went elsewhere.  A couple of days later my daughter and I went over to Portsmouth on a special hovercraft charter into Gunwharf Quays and did some serious shopping.  We were absolutely frozen by the time we got home but it was a good day and we managed to get most of the things we wanted.

a Day In the Life Of ...

The December DILO is always Christmassy for me.

The main photographic event of the second half of December was the quarterly a Day In the Life Of … (DILO) event.  Every solstice and equinox the members of this Flickr group take photos of their day and post them to the group.  Some collections really are of their day to day lives and that makes a fascinating snapshot of the world four times a year as there are members from every continent.

There is a theme set every time, but we try to keep it to a subject that is accessible to all – so a Christmas theme is definitely out.  However, this time the theme was ‘Celebrations’ which can encompass many things.  My friend Duncan and I headed out to see what festive things we could capture.  First of all we went to Cowes and were quite surprised to see that the decorations in the street and in the shops were quite subdued.  I’m not sure if it is because there has been, in recent years, this habit of throwing things out and buying new each year.  Perhaps everyone decided not to buy many decorations this year (although the domestic outdoor lights were still very much in evidence on the journey there).  With a few exceptions it certainly seemed a little lacklustre.


Mistletoe on a door near the floating bridge

After having made the trek from the seafront, through the main shopping street and up along to the floating bridge at the river’s mouth, we were really feeling the cold so paid a visit to Corrie’s Cabin – the best chip shop on the Isle of Wight in my opinion.  I don’t remember it having an indoor sit-down area before but perhaps I’d never wanted to sit down indoors for chips until that day.  A big plate of cheesy chips and a pot of tea and we felt human again.  By this time the light was going and as we walked back to the car, the town did seem a little more festive as the lights in shop windows and the large tree by the Vectis prettied up the place.

Phase two of the DILO day was spent in Newport.  Before we’d set off for Cowes we had a coffee in Newport and were trying to decide where to go.  I said “how about we go to Cowes while it’s daylight and then we can come back to Newport for the dark light”.  I knew what I meant!  When you are a photographer everything is light. Even the dark!


This is my favourite window every year. Click to see it in 2006.

I popped home quickly for my tripod and first of all wanted to photograph the tree that’s on top of the fire station every year.  Once again the photos weren’t good so I’ll have to give it another go next year.  It did make an eerie appearance in one of my fog photos earlier in the month however.

We then wandered around town but again the street decorations were poor and there were still a lot of people bustling around doing their last minute shopping.  I was very glad I had only my fresh food left to buy.  I had a go at capturing some traffic trails with varying degrees of success and some of the better window displays. Eventually we ran out of town and lights and decided to call it a day.

And then, of course, came Christmas. My daughter and I spent a quiet day as planned and it was a little different this year as my brother and his family now live on the mainland so we didn’t have the morning visit to them.  Dinner was timed to coincide with Doctor Who as usual and all the rushing about had paid off.  The next day it was out for drinks with friends and then to the mainland to visit my brother (and IKEA!). My friend’s birthday (awkwardly on the 30th but this year a 1950s themed party which was great fun) was followed by a quiet but fun New Year’s Eve and December (and 2010) was done.

There are plans for another outing to photograph Lawrence Lee’s stained glass windows in January, so if you’ve been missing them your wait will soon be over.

I hope you all have a wonderful 2010, and thanks for reading.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

As posts aren’t always regular on this blog it’s definitely worth subscribing to the RSS feed so you don’t miss any updates.  You might also like to take a look at my other blog.

December Diary (part 1)

December Diary (part 1)

8 12 2010

It seems that I have neglected this blog for some time, but the main reason for this is that we haven’t been out photographing stained glass windows since the spring and I had kind of forgotten that I’d originally planned to keep this one going with photo outings of other kinds as well.  So in order to try to remedy the situation, I thought that maybe a monthly ‘diary’ entry would be useful.  A photographic diary that is.


Snow on the Isle of Wight - twice in one year!

December began rather startlingly with a downfall of snow.  “We don’t get snow on the Isle of Wight”.  Well that statement might need to be revised as we’ve had snow twice this year – a heavy fall which lasted over a week in early January, and now this, admittedly shorter-lived, covering – and before Christmas!

When I moved to the island in 1993 my daughter was just two years old and I was looking forward to us making our first snowman together that winter.  Everyone laughed at me when I mentioned this and I was told that it never snows here.  Well we did get a light dusting three times that winter and everyone blamed me!  We made our tiny snowman and that was that for several years.


Snow transforms everything - I love it!

There must have been another light snowfall after she started school because I remember taking her up the road in less than an inch of the stuff to be surprised at the school gate when I was told the school was shut!  I’d never heard anything like it and couldn’t understand it.  When I was a child we’d go to school in the snow, or if it was really bad we’d walk up there to get homework.  I suppose nowadays teachers don’t live nearby and of course the ‘Elf & Safety’ brigade probably have something to say about it all.  Still, considering the number of 4x4s that are apparently necessary to take children to school, a little snow shouldn’t be any trouble at all.

Anyway (before I descend into a rant) the snow this December was what we would call ‘wet snow’ as opposed to what my grandfather used to call ‘Continental snow’.  This wet stuff falls loosely and only sticks around because it freezes.  It usually provides an even layer and can disappear as quickly as it arrives.  ‘Continental snow’ is more ‘powdery’ and it drifts well.  The resulting layers are more compact and it stays for ages – this is what we had in January.


It was freezing!

So the snow of the night of December 1st surprised a few people as the previous settled-for-more-than-a-day snow here (if memory serves) had been in 1997.  It delighted many more people the next day.  The park was full of adults and children playing in it that Thursday, but it was not as good as January’s fall for snowballs and snowmen.  There was still some of it about on the Friday but that night the rain began and I could hear the icicles breaking off and landing outside my house.  The sound of running water and further dripping confirmed that the thaw had begun and by Saturday morning, barring a few patches on fields and on the hills, the snow had gone.


Fog hanging over Newport at midnight

It was still bitterly cold though and there were mutterings that it would snow again.  On Sunday afternoon I read reports online of fog in East Cowes, but the skies were clear in Newport.  However, by the time it was dark it had reached us and the air was icy.  By the end of Sunday night there was an eerie glow everywhere and combined with the very still water of the high tide (it was a new moon), Newport actually looked quite pretty.

Since then the sun has tried its best to peep through the clouds but it’s struggling and it still feels very icy.  Portsmouth had some glorious sunshine the other day but on my return I could see that there was still heavy cloud over the island (the fabled “own weather system” clearly visible).  However, I did manage to stop on the way back over the downs to take a few shots of the hazy valley below.  If we get a clear morning this week I think there are going to be some spectacular sun and mist shots to be had.  But probably not to be taken by me.  I don’t do mornings.

Hazy view

Hazy view across the Arreton Valley

Part 2

As posts aren’t always regular on this blog it’s definitely worth subscribing to the RSS feed so you don’t miss any updates.  You might also like to take a look at my other blog.

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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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' 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.


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.


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

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

Let it snow! – Tue 5th Jan

8 01 2010

I have lived on the Isle of Wight since 1993.  I remember the first winter – my daughter was two and a half years old and I was chatting to people about how she was now old enough to have a go at making a snowman.  People laughed and told me that it didn’t snow on the Isle of Wight.  It did that winter – three times.  The first and the third time it was wet slushy snow, and the second time it was the crisper “continental snow” (as my grandfather used to call it).  None of the falls lasted long, though we did manage a tiny tiny snowman in our front garden on one of the days.  A few years later, when she was of school age, I took her to school one morning after a very light fall of snow and was very surprised to hear that this was sufficient to close the school.

Since then it’s been a rather disappointing affair.  1997 saw a reasonable fall that lasted more than a day.  All I remember from that was that my daughter was staying with a friend and I was at my mother’s in Newport.  That morning I went to work and was amused to see the imprints of my boss’s stilletto heels in the virgin snow ahead of me.  We were the only ones in so took some work home that day.  Everything was back to normal the day after.

Tuesday evening rush-hour, and the snow began to fall.

So you can imagine my delight when on Tuesday evening the snow outside began to settle on the ground.  For over a week I had been reading of the snow that other people had – it was being announced everywhere on Facebook and Twitter, and my British Flickr contacts were adding their snowy photos to those of my contacts in north America.  I was jealous.  I still miss the snow every winter.

My friend phoned me to say that her teenage daughter and her friend had come into Newport for the cinema and that they were stuck.  After a few calls, and after she had waited for her friend to organise for her father to collect her, she came to our house for the night.  She and my daughter know each other well so no problems there.

By 9pm the snow had become quite thick on the ground.

The snow fell steadily for several hours and even though I was meant to be concentrating on finishing my dissertation for uni, I was too excited.  I had to go outside and get some more photos.  I got all togged up properly this time, wellies and all.  It wasn’t too cold outside either so I grabbed my old faithful Olympus SP510 and headed out – the girls came too.

Snowed Under - the Police were working hard to keep the traffic safe and moving

The Police were out helping motorists where necessary and directing them to places where they could park up.  They closed Snook’s Hill – a steep hill that leads on to the largest junction on the Isle of Wight – because it was becoming dangerous.  Already some vehicles had been abandoned and the Church on the Roundabout had its doors open and they were offering hot cups of tea to all who needed them – including the police officers who had been out in the weather for hours.  I popped my head in the door to see if they had enough teabags, and a rather proprietorial looking lady said that they did.  I moved on.

Vehicles were being abandoned

A car pulled up near me and I noticed inside was the mother of one of the girls who had worked with me up until very recently.  She was looking rather concerned and had stopped to use her phone having been stopped from going up Snook’s Hill.  She told me she had a friend in Newport but didn’t have her number so wanted to find somewhere with a phone book.  The Police were concerned that her car was blocking the carriageway so they asked her to move it along further.  They also told her that the Medina Centre – this includes a sports centre, swimming pool, theatre and a high school – had opened their doors and were offering shelter and cups of tea and coffee to those in need.  It is a fair walk from where we were though, and she didn’t look convinced.  I gave her my mobile number in case she was really stuck for somewhere to stay, and we said our goodbyes.

I love the way snow transforms any scene and makes it beautiful

By now the girls had met up with some friends of my daughter’s and were doing their own thing (standing around and talking from what I could see!).  I took a wander up to the car park behind the cinema which gave me a lovely view down onto the junction.  It really did look like a different place and it was so quiet, apart from the occasional sound of a car and people’s voices carrying from further away.  There were a few people out walking and just looking around as I was.  One group were carrying flasks of hot tea just in case anyone needed a cuppa.  Almost everyone was smiling and enjoying it.

Normally taking photos at night like this would have been very difficult but the snow lit everything up and with the glare of the street lights on it, there was enough light to get quite a lot of shots.  I even made a short video.

Berlin 2009 – Day 7 – Wed 11th Nov

1 12 2009

The last full day in Berlin – where had the time gone?  Lots of the photography students, and all of the 2nd year Graphics students had gone to visit the Bauhaus in Dessau.  Originally the visit had been planned for the Sunday and I would have gone if that had continued to be the case, but I really wanted to spend my last day actually in Berlin.

Tram at Alexanderplatz

Alice, Alberto and I headed east to meet our fellow student, Maria, who is from Berlin and was home visiting her family while we were there.  From Alexanderplatz we took the tram (first time I’ve ever been on one) to Genslerstraße where Maria was waiting for us.  We were going to visit the Gedenkstätte prison which is now a museum.

The website had indicated that there was a tour in English available at noon but when we arrived Maria discovered that this was not the case and that we would have to wait until 2pm.  We decided that we would join the German language tour at noon and that Maria would explain to us what the guide was saying.

This prison had not appeared on any maps while it was in operation and nobody knew it was there.  Prisoners were brought in blindfolded and by very circuitous routes.  All the tour guides at the prison are what are known as ‘eyewitnesses’ – they had all been imprisoned during the communist regime, though not all at this particular prison.  Our guide was very dour and serious.  I appreciated that his story was not a cheerful one, but even without understanding the words he was saying, I could tell he wasn’t very engaging.  Maria agreed.

"Chinese" Water Torture - no evidence that it originated in China

We were shown various cells along the first corridor.  The guide explained how people were placed in the rooms which were then flooded, or how various other methods of torture were carried out, such as ‘Chinese’ water torture.  The photo on the right is of a mock-up of the apparatus used in that prison.  Water is dripped onto the prisoner’s head for hours on end.  the guide told us that this form of torture (and others) continues in other parts of the world and that Amnesty International are continually working to stop this illegal activity.  He said that its continuing practice in Turkey is preventing that country from being allowed into the European Union.  It is easy to hear these things via television or in newspapers, and to appreciate that such acts are terrible, yet on an intellectual level.  Seeing these cells and the buckets, etc made it seem a little more real, but I don’t think any of us can begin to imagine what horrors people have suffered at the hands of others.  We have overused words such as ‘horrific’ and ‘dreadful’ and lost their meanings.

Alice, Maria and I admire the 1970s floor covering

One thing that struck me was some of the decor.  On another floor we were shown office after office along a corridor – each almost identical to the other.  These were ‘writing rooms’ and officers would interview/interrogate prisoners and non-prisoners here.  They would write down everything possible about the person, thereby totally removing any privacy or (in some cases) sense of self from them.  Another form of torture and an effective means of control.  Within these rooms, vacant for around 20 years, were desks, cabinets and chairs – very simple furniture.  However, the chair fabric, the curtains and the wallpapers were so typical of the 1970s style that I remember from my childhood that they seemed benign even in this setting.  The linoelum floors had a similar effect.  They appeared to me to be incongruous.  I was surprised that the same fashions had prevailed in the Eastern Bloc – simply because I had always been led to believe that beyond the Iron Curtain, life was so very different from our own lives in the West.  I knew, of course, that the ordinary people there were the same as ordinary people everywhere, but for some reason the notion of ‘fashion’ didn’t fit the concept of isolation from the West that we had been taught about in school.  Although I suppose that these 1970s style furnishings would have been very dated to us by 1989 – perhaps not so vividly to those who did not care about them, and who only wanted their freedom.  My thoughts felt utterly trivial.

Cell after cell after cell

Much of the tour was spent standing and listening in this cell or that.  We wandered along the corridors finding empty cells to photograph and in some of them were information boards with English descriptions that we were able to read for ourselves.  I was becoming restless standing and listening to a language I couldn’t understand (and I might have been a little restless even if it had been in English, so monotonous was the guide’s delivery), so this was a welcome diversion.  As we looked around and discussed things amongst ourselves, Maria told us part of her mother’s story during the time when the Berlin Wall was still standing and what daily life had been like for her.  Maria was three years old when the wall fell, but it was obvious, not only from her stories but also from other things we had learned that week, that its effects still haunt the city.  All I could do was listen – none of us have any words for these things we can’t hope to understand, and what is sadder than anything is that the world still has not learned from this or any other tragedy.  We still let it happen.

Eastgate shopping centre - the largest in the east.

The only remedy for such sobering thoughts was lunch and a little retail therapy.  We jumped on another tram and went out to the huge Eastgate shopping centre.  We had lunch in the big food hall – Pizza Hut was like a magnet to me – and watched the shoppers while we chatted for a while about Berlin, our course, and everything else.  Lots of the shops in the centre we recognised, and those that we didn’t looked much like the various chain stores we have at home.  And as at home, Christmas had come early – the shops and the whole mall were festooned with decorations and seasonal items in the windows.  You just can’t get away from it.  I gave in and photographed the massive tree in the centre but vowed not to post it anywhere until December.  Humbug.

Soon it was time for us to leave Maria and head back to the hotel.  It had been a very tiring day but I’m so glad we went there.  We can only ever skim the surface of history but that is better than burying it and pretending things didn’t happen.  We must never forget.

Kurt W Hamann and Stephen Bull at Vapiano, Potsdamer Platz

After a short nap, Alice, Alberto and I joined Stuart, Sam and Martin for one last trip to Vapiano to sample yet another variety of pasta dish – again at the Potsdamer Platz restaurant.  As we finished our meal and prepared to leave, Daniel and Stephen (photography tutors) emerged from upstairs and on our way out Stephen got chatting to a guy sat near the door.  He was Kurt W Hamann – a photographer.  He’d been at Potsdamer Platz the night they had removed the first section of the Berlin Wall on 11th Novemeber 1989, and photographed events.  Since then he has taken photographs on 11th November every night for 20 years (including this night).  He had some of his photographs with him – he plans to publish a book.

And so ended the final full day of our visit to Berlin – half an hour in the hotel restaurant chatting about our days and then bed.

Christmas tree at the Eastgate shopping centre


Berlin 2009 – Day 6 – Tue 10th Nov

16 11 2009

Today Alice had planned to visit the huge department store for some research for her self-elected project.  I wanted to go to the Jewish Museum.  I had a late breakfast with Lauren who was suffering from a late night combined with a nasty chesty cough, then headed out on foot.  The Jewish Museum isn’t that far away from the hotel so I thought I’d take in some of the local area and get some photos along the way.

Hotel Transit - basic but good

The Hotel Transit, where we were staying, looked dreadful from the outside, especially as we arrived at night when the grille was down between the road and the main entrance.  However, inside was a different matter.  The dining/communal area was bright and clean with friendly staff, and the rooms were basic but very clean and comfortable.  Most rooms were for five sharing but there were only three of us in our room.  It was also in a great location for transport and there were lots of shops nearby and places like Checkpoint Charlie are in reasonable walking distance if you fancy it.  I would certainly recommend it if you’re travelling to Berlin in a group.  Single rooms are also available I believe (the staff who came with us must have paid extra for these!).  Breakfast comes with the package and they’re quite happy for you to bring takeaways in and eat at the tables.  They do drinks and coffees etc 24 hours a day and you can get soup and other light meals too.

Curry 36 - always doing a roaring trade

Just along the road (which I think is called Mehringdamm, as is the u-bahn station) is Curry 36.  We saw this as soon as we came off the u-bahn on the first night and it was packed.  They do all sorts of fast food, but mostly of the sausage variety.  Apparently their currywursts are ‘legendary’.  They must be because I never saw it without at least a small queue of people – day and night.  I was only able to sample their chips (I might have tried a bit of currywurst but I’d had a dodgy stomach for a few days so wasn’t going to risk it with alien food, being a vegetarian and all) which were very tasty, dusted with curry powder and lavished with fresh tomato sauce.  A great snack.  They also sold their own merchandise!

Exterior wall of Begraebnissplatz der Jerusalems und Neuen Kirche

After passing both Mehringdahm u-ban station exits I turned right into Baruther Straße and walked along the outside wall of a large cemetery.  Tempted though I was to go in and have a look around, I knew this would take up a lot of time and I’d not get to the Jewish Museum at a reasonable time, so I contented myself with photographing the extensive graffiti along the walls.  I was struck by the large rooftops and structures I could see that were attached to the fabric of this wall.  They looked as though they might have been large tombs – but so many of them and such sizes.  I decided I’d have to go inside another day.  Click the photo for a closeup of some graffiti.

Jüdusches Museum - Libeskind Building

Finally, after a little detour towards Gneisenaustraße for a look around, I got to the Jewish Museum.  I’d heard about the amazing building and seen a few photos but it was quite something to see for real.  However, inside was even more interesting.  After going through a lot of security once again, I first visited the permanent exhibition down a large staircase.  Here the floors, walls and ceilings were distorted and I felt a bit like Alice after the mushroom walking up one long corridor and getting taller by the moment.  Along the walls were everyday items – photographs, crockery, suitcases, parcels, letters, etc – belonging to people who had either fled Germany during the Nazi regime, or who had died because of it.  These items and the stories that went with them had been donated to the museum by the people themselves, or their relatives.  I find such personal histories much more interesting than the big political stories.  It was the best part of the whole museum for me.  The rest of the exhibitions on the other floors explored a few individual stories alongside national and international contexts and once again there was a lot of reading to do.  The unusal shape of the building and the layout of the spaces meant I had to check that I’d not missed anything before ascending to the next floor up the huge staircase.  There were also areas put in by the architect to allow for reflection and to experience a profound sense of something or another.  Art’s like that.

The Brandenburg Gate

I got back to the hotel and gradually we graphics students found one another.  We decided to pay a night-time visit to the Reichstag.  We got the u-bahn to Potsdamer Platz and walked along the route where the dominoes had been the previous night – stacks of barriers still lingering, along with various vehicles.  This time we were able to get up close to the Brandenburg Gate which seemed very peaceful this night, in comparison to the night before.  We needed to get to the Reichstag before the 10pm cutoff for visits and did so, standing in the cold queuing for some time before being let in.  Once again much security before being taken up into the magnificent dome with audio tour headphones attached.

Inside the dome of the Reichstag

It’s difficult to describe the impact of entering the glass dome which sits atop the 19th century building of the German Empire.  The building was heavily damaged before and during the Second World War and this modern construction was added in the 1990s.  The dome sits above the Plenary Hall where government doings take place.  The view is of all of Berlin – described by our audio tour guides as we walked up the spiral towards the top of the dome.  I would love to visit again in the daytime for a different perspective.



Finally, very hungry and a little cold, we headed back along Ebertstraße to Potsdamer Platz and the Vapiano restaurant there.  Having had such a good experience in the outlet near the Zoo on Sunday we were keen to visit again and we weren’t disappointed.  Different layout in this one, and smaller, but the food was just as good.  I have since discovered that there is one Vapiano restaurant in the UK – in London – so I’m determined to go there when I’m next in the city.

Looking down at the Bundestag Eagle and the Plenary Chamber from the Reichstag dome.

%d bloggers like this: