Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pretty as a picture - 18 May 2008

The focus of the day was the Chiltern Hills Vintage Vehicle Rally at a little place called Weston Turville, some 33 miles northwest of home.

Having had a look at the huge range of vintage and classic cars, military vehicles, commercial vehicles, motorcycles, tractors and a few traction engines, we left the hustle and bustle of the show and set out for a quiet walk in the countryside.

The Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal was only a mile or so due north of the place where the Show was held but we had to walk away from it for about a mile before we could pick up a footpath heading north.

We have often been amused by the fact that footpaths go right through farmyards but today’s footpath took us through the rear section of a private garden. It was clearly marked but, neverthless, one felt quite odd wandering through.

Just before the canal we passed through a Rare Breeds Park and then finally arrived on the towpath. There were 6 brick arch bridges over the canal along the 2 mile stretch, only one of them with a road over it, the rest, presumably, were just farm access points.

Leaving the canal, we headed south back to the Show area, having completed just over 7 miles past hedgerows and through fields ablaze with blossom and wild flowers.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kelmscott Manor - 11 May 2008

Our Saturday outing up through Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds did not quite go according to plan so we did not manage to visit the places on our intended itinerary. Nevertheless it was beautiful day to be out enjoying a lovely part of the UK countryside and quaint villages like Faringdon.
Sunday was another stunning spring day and we motored from Stratton to Kelmscott through a string of cute villages: Barnsley, Ampney Crucis, Ampney St Mary, Poulton, Down Ampney, Castle Eaton, Hannington, Fairford, Eastleach Martin and finally Kelmscott.

Kelmscott Manor is an Elizabethan farmhouse that became surplus to the owner’s requirements and was let on a long-term tenancy to William Morris of “Arts & Crafts Movement” fame.
Kelmscott ManorKelmscott Manor
It is now preserved as he left it with many of his prints, papers and fabrics on display.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Berlin sights - 5 May 2008

Reichstag Dome

Reichstag DomeThe guidebooks warn of long queues at the Reichstag, so we set off nice and early to get ourselves in place near the head of the queue. The wait was not too long and soon we were enjoying the walk up the double helix spiral ramp that takes visitors to the top of the new dome, designed by Norman Foster, for a panoramic view across Berlin.

Brandenburg GateLeaving the Reichstag we visited the Brandenburg Gate and the nearby Holocaust Memorial before strolling along Unter den Linten to Museum Island. From the end of Museum Island it is a short walk to the New Synagogue now with a restored dome

A guidebook told us that the 100 bus gave as good a tour of the Berlin sights as a tourist bus so we took the 200 bus to the zoo to catch the 100 bus and ride the route back to town. This afforded us a quick trip through Tiergarten and then back, through the centre, to Alexanderplatz.

East Side GalleryFrom there it was a two-stop train ride to the stop for the East Side Gallery. A 1300m long section of the Wall that is now covered, both sides, with graffiti, making it the longest canvas in the world.

Some of the original graffiti is quite good but unfortunately the graffiti has been graffitied and now the whole thing is quite tatty

Returning to Alexanderplatz we book a tram to the river to catch a 1-hour long boat cruise that gave quite a different perspective on the city and some of its striking new architecture.

New SynagogueWith the last of the beautiful afternoon still remaining we set off to find the Otto Weidt Museum. Here, in the actual building where Otto ran a brush factory employing blind and deaf Jews, is told the story of how he protected so many Jews from the Nazis for so long. The usual stories of betrayal by informers, lucky escapes, and tragic murders in the camps are related in the simple and bare rabbit warren of the old factory premises.

Then it was back to our neighbourhood riverside cafe for dinner - before heading for the airport.

Holocaust MemorialIt would be a very hardened tourist who could visit Berlin and not be moved by the reminders that exist in so many parts of the city: Checkpoint Charlie; random sections of the Wall; the line of the wall set into the roadways and footpaths; the Topography of Terrors; the Holocaust Memorial; the Jewish Museum; Otto’s factory and so on and although Berlin is a city that is clearly looking to the future, its past will always be present.

An interesting tale relates to the construction of the TV tower at Alexanderplatz. Intended as a symbol of Communist supremacy it remains the second tallest structure in Europe. The Chancellory BuildingAt a time when the atheistic leaders of the DDR were busy removing crosses from the domes and spires of churches in Eastern Germany, this tower (erected in 1969 with Swedish know-how) unintentionally became the tallest spire in the land. The tessellated surface of the sphere had the effect of creating a giant cross when the sun shone on it earning it the cynical title of The Pope’s Revenge.

Potsdam - 4 May 2008

Not far from Berlin is Potsdam, the area that the rulers retreated to in summer.

Schloss Sanssouci GardensA large area around the Schloss Sanssouci (Castle “without a care”) has been turned into a park that contains a number of historic attractions. There is the ‘New’ Palace with its grand servants’ quarters (now a university building); a historic windmill; the Chinese Teahouse; Schloss Charlottenhof; Roman Baths; the Orangerie; the ‘New’ Rooms; the Bildergalerie; the Belvedere; and Schloss Sanssouci itself.

As it might have beenA day-ticket affords entry to them all (except the university buildings) and as they are spread over 287 hectares, there is a fair bit of ground to cover to get the full ticket value.

Once again, we were warned about the queues so started the day with the main attraction, Schloss Sanssouci, the oldest building in the complex, started by Frederick the Great in 1747. As well as the main staterooms one gets to visit the kitchen and the Ladies Wing. Frederick was very The rebuilt Millkeen on the Rococo style so the entire place is entirely over-the-top Rococo ostentation.

One practical feature were wooden boards set into the tile floor alongside the kitchen worktops. Presumably to reduce the effect of standing on a hard, cold, floor all day: a nice touch.

From there, it was a quick trip up and down the mill which, whilst on the historic site, was entirely rebuilt in 1993 after destruction in 1945. Just The Orangerybelow the Mill is the Neue Kammern, an original orangery converted in to a guest wing: another feast for the eyes.

Climbing back up the hill there is the current orangery, the largest palace in the complex and while it is an orangery on one side, it is anything but on the other. The palace contains a room full of copies of Raphael paintings and the climb to the tower is worth it for the view over the park and environs.

Neue PalaisIn the northwest corner of the park is the partly restored Belvedere and from there we headed south to the Neue Palais, or New Palace. (it was ‘new’ in 1763) This ornate baroque building is one of Germany’s most beautiful palaces. Again, the interior is Rococo writ large.

The Roman BathsFurther south down one of the long avenues we found the turning to head east, across the hippodrome – which hasn’t seen horse in a long while – to the delightful little Schloss Charlottenhof, built in 1829 for the heir to the throne, later King Fredrick Wilhelm IV.
It is a intimate Roman villa with a most unusual Tent Room made of striped canvas to give the illusion of being in a tent.

Chinese TeahouseThe day was going quickly so it was a quick peek at the Roman Baths and the Chinese Teahouse before heading back up to the Bildergalerie, Germany’s oldest purpose built museum building. Once again Fredrick’s taste in baroque and rococo are stamped all over it and it would be worth visiting even if it had no paintings on the wall. Beautifully restored it simply gleams with gold leaf.

Potsdam Town GatesTired but satisfied, we collapsed into a bus for a short trip to Potsdam town centre. It was here, in 1945 that Germany was carved up by the Allies. At the far end of the pedestrianised main street we could see the spire of Peter and Paul Church. We have been into hundreds of chapels, churches, abbeys and cathedrals but this one was unique in the decoration.

Berlin and the Wall - 3 May 2008

Checkpoint CharlieBeing of the generation that lived through the period of the construction of the Iron Curtain; its evolution to its final form in the 3.6m high concrete Berlin Wall; and the oft repeated news stories of escapes to the West, successful or unsuccessful, we would have laughed at the thought that one day we would be sitting in an apartment in East Berlin overlooking alfresco diners at cafes on the banks of the River Spee; but, due to the momentous events in November 1989, that is exactly where we found ourselves this weekend.

As the day dawned overcast we decided that Checkpoint Charlie should be our first visit of the day so we set off for the 'border' and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum

The Berlin WallThe idea that those in power feel so threatened that they have to imprison their citizens seems so anachronistic to those of us fortunate enough to have always enjoyed democracy and freedom and the displays at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum highlight the grim reality for those who found them selves on the wrong side of a line drawn on a map following WWII.

From the Museum we followed the line of the Wall to the Topography of Terrors, the remains of The SS headquarters, besides which there is preserved a section of the Wall in the state it was in 1989 when the jubilant citizens were busily dismantling it with whatever tools came to hand.

Charlottenburg PalaceBy then we were close to Potsdamer Platz so visited the striking new Sony Centre, one of the many examples of stunning modern architecture that pepper Berlin today.

After lunch we set off to catch a bus to the Zoo only to find that we were, once again, victims of a bus strike so, instead, we took the train to Charlottenburg Palace and walked the formal gardens and park

Charlottenburg PalaceTo complete the day of remembering and reviewing recent history we visited the Jewish Museum. This jagged building is thoroughly confusing to walk through. Though you ‘know’ it is vaguely linear, with a large slashed void through the space, the exhibits are laid out in such a way that you soon lose any idea of where you are or the direction you may be facing.

Jewish MuseumApart from being an amazing piece of design and construction, it is extremely interesting and poignant. In the large ‘void’ there was a most moving art installation entitled Fallen Leaves and the public is encouraged to walk over this. It consisted of hundreds of stylised faces of all shapes and sizes, hand cut from various thicknesses of steel plate and these clanked against one another as people walked across them.