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.


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)

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.

Berlin 2009 – Day 5 – Mon 9th Nov

15 11 2009

Another lazy morning with a decent lie-in.  Alice and I took a wander along to the local shops in search of a few bits and pieces to take home for others.  I just wanted a little something for my daughter which I found in a lovely little fair trade/world goods shop.  Also picked up some interesting drawer handles (both different) for an old chest of drawers I want to revamp (with mis-matching handles).  I was glad we weren’t going far as I wasn’t feeling too well – a bit dizzy and nauseous.  Not impressed at all.

Potsdamer Platz

Luckily that passed and at 4pm we and the other students set off for Potsdamer Platz.  We managed to lose the other students almost immediately!  It was already drizzling quite heavily and we were at least two hours early for the start of the celebrations so we thought we’d better keep moving as it was already quite cold.  Alice and I walked along the line of the dominoes on the west side of Ebertstraße towards the Brandenburg Gate.  When we neared that area there were security checks and glass was not permitted beyond that point, so we doubled back while we decided what to do with the schnapps Alice had brought along.  After dumping a glass soda bottle she decided that as they weren’t searching more than people’s bags, her back pocket would be a good place for the drink.

Crowds gathering for the celebrations

We took in the atmosphere as we walked along and stopped for some chips and a visit to the portaloos (much the same as the ones I’ve experienced at festivals though the first set had the pan in the corner which made the interior more roomy).  We also picked up a copy each of the souvenir book detailing most of the dominoes – only €5.  There were lots of stalls lining the way back to the Brandenburg Gate.

After passing through the security barriers we carried on through the thickening crowds until we reached an impasse.  Here the media was in full force with a high-rise stand festooned with wires and cables.  We could see the silhouettes of camera operators and their journalist subjects with their backs to the brightly lit Brandenburg Gate.  At this point we had to make a detour along Straße des 17 Juni to get to the other side of the line of dominoes and beyond.  The rain was quite heavy at this point but the view of the gate and the searchlights from a distance was worth the walk.

View of Brandenburg Gate from Straße des 17 Juni

We carried on, stopping under the cover of the magnificent Reichstag building for a little while, to get some respite from the rain which was now very heavy.  My boots had been soaked through for some time but my thick wool and fleece jacket was holding up well – my domino book tucked underneath it and my scarf covering my handbag and my camera.

Having walked to the other end of the line of dominoes, across the river, we moved over to the East side of the line of dominoes.  It was ironic that during this festival you could not cross the line of the Berlin Wall (apart from at the two ends of the dominoes).  Another detour brought us back to the dominoes via Dorotheenstraße.  This area was less crowded.  We had a good view of the dominoes and a screen.  We were standing directly opposite the Reichstag.  The crowds on the West side were much deeper than where we were.  I suppose the only disadvantage we had was that we weren’t surrounded by people to keep us warm.  My toes were frozen and we had to jiggle about quite a bit to keep warm.

The rain, highlighted by a floodlamp. Dominoes seen across the river.

Once the festivities began the rain eased a little, but never really stopped.  We watched a lot of talking on the screens, not understanding much of it at all.  The golden-locked presenter was great – like something out of the 1980s with a big cheesy grin.  Gordon Brown and Hillary Clinton spoke but we couldn’t catch all they said because of the voiceover by the translator.  There were rumblings of dissent from French people near us when their president spoke.  The highlight for me, even though I didn’t understand a word he or the translator said during the interview, was seeing Lech Walesa on the screen.  He pushed over the first domino which symbolised his early influence on the changes in Europe that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That first fall of dominoes went past where we stood and ended just before the Brandenburg Gate – at a big white piano.  There was more talking on screen (including an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev) before the dominoes were pushed from the other end – Potsdamer Platz – and then again the final stretch in front of the Brandenburg Gate.  If you didn’t see the coverage on TV, check out this YouTube video.

And then it was done.  The firework display started up in the light drizzle – we couldn’t see it too well from where we were – and the crowds cheered.  There was a wonderful atmosphere there and by this time I’d almost forgotten about my frozen toes.  There was no mad crush of the crowd as we left, though it was busy, and we decided to walk east to a station rather than try to get back to Potsdamer Platz where we knew it would be ridiculously congested.  We walked, toes warming all the time, to Oranienburger Tor u-bahn station and got on the train that took us straight ‘home’.

Back at the hotel it was time for a quick change of clothes and a couple of coffees laced with rum (just to warm me up you understand) while everyone appeared a few at a time to discuss the evening’s events.  Thoroughly enjoyed the evening and would not have missed it for the world.  Having watched the wall breached and removed (on TV) back in 1989 it was a thrilling experience for me to have been there for this anniversary.

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