Snapshots of Berlin

Berlin is large, cosmopolitan, busy, and spread out, with a broad diversity of offerings for a visitor. Getting lost in a new locale is always high on my agenda, as is finding somewhere to eat, and trying out local public transport. After that, it’s time to visit some major sights and enjoy a few cultural pursuits.

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The Reichstag (Parliament) played an important role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933.

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Between the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate lies a memorial to the Sinti and Roma (Gypsies) who were murdered by the Nazis, estimated at between 220,000 and 1.5 million. Separate memorials nearby commemorate 6 million murdered Jews, and the many gay people who were also Nazi victims.

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The Brandenburg Gate has a long and varied history. Sometimes it has featured as a celebration of military power and victories, having been used by Napoleon and his victorious army as a triumphal arch in 1806, and adopted as an important party symbol by the Nazis. More recently, the gate has become a symbol of peace, freedom and unification, when its function as part of the Berlin Wall that divided East and West Berlin between 1961 and 1989 ended.

Berlin’s many buskers entertain.

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The organ grinder salutes a donor outside the Brandenburg Gate.

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Musical harmonies echo at the Samariterst U-bahn station (underground/metro) in Friedrichschain, East Berlin: a gritty, vibrant, young and politically aware kiez (Berlin lingo for immediate neighbourhood). It’s my favourite kiez, about which I’ve written more here.

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This sign in Friedrichschain roughly translates to: ‘No cops or Nazis in our neighbourhood.’

A wish to see some art in Berlin involves a difficult choice given the vast number of alternatives. The East Side Gallery focused on the Berlin Wall era had already proved fascinating.  The Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery) goes almost unheralded in much tourist information, yet has an extraordinary collection of European art from the 13th to 18th Centuries; rooms full of mediaeval sacred paintings, and numerous examples of major artists such as Durer, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Holbein, Cranach, Rubens, Caneletto, Tiepolo, Corregi, Caravaggio…and here, a Boticelli selected from so many of his paintings displayed at the Gemäldegalerie.

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Finally, Berlin fusion food: Currywurst (sliced sausage in a curry sauce).

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A Walk in East Berlin

On Sundays in Freidrichshain, East Berlin, the flea market at Boxhagenerplatz is a crowded, entertaining and eclectic experience. In addition to the widely diverse items for sale, buskers entertain, and nearby restaurants, cafes and bars beckon.

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Everywhere, outside dining, strolling, bike riding.

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Politics remains an issue. (But, why in English?)

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Buildings become a canvas.

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What remains of the Berlin wall that divided the city into east and west until 1989 is another canvas.

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An escapee from East Berlin crossing the wall. Many in the crowd wave goodbye.

Détente.

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Should a visitor go west of the wall?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcards from Skye : Homage to Skye

Returning to the Isle of Skye after 17 years has proved that memories of sublime scenery and a sense of connection are sometimes just feeble recollections.

Everything on Skye is in constant change; weather, light, temperature, hills, cliffs, burns, lochs and lochans, tides …

Except for the continuity of the white houses. Everywhere in their crofts, villages and isolation, they remain constant and beautiful.

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The Sleat Peninsula

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A view of the Cuillans, Skye’s main mountain range, from the Sleat Peninsula.

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According to legend, warrior queen Sgathaich lived in Dun Scaith Castle, now ruined, and taught Chu Chulainn, an Irish folk hero from the 9th Century, the martial arts of war when he first arrived in Skye from Ireland.

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Portree, Skye’s main village

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My great-great grandparents and their children, including their 4 year old daughter, my great-grandmother, left Skye in 1837 as part of the exodus of Scottish Highlanders displaced from their lands by the Clearances, when sheep took priority over people.

In a world history of bad landlords, many Scottish landowners from the 19th Century deserve a major prize for being near the bottom of the cesspool of the worst.

In and around the village of Breakish (Breacais Àrd – Upper Breakish, Breacais Ìosal – Lower Breakish) are Neolithic finds from 3000BC, and a Holy Well from the 7th Century attributed to MaolRubha, who brought Christianity from Ireland to the Druid Picts of the Western Highlands and Islands. That era was followed by 400 years of rule by the Vikings, whose relics and shipbuilding sites have been found nearby.

One of my favourite Scottish bands – Capercaillie – sings about Scotland, its history and hope.

 

Karen Mathieson’s gorgeous vocals soar in Gaelic here:

 

Chiang Mai for Mannequins

After a couple of days back in Chiang Mai, I checked my photos and noticed that I may be exhibiting an interest in mannequins.

The Sunday walking market was in the early stages of setup when the first mannequin focus began.

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A lonely mannequin waits.

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Undignified, but the market is still hours away.

A visit to the Warorot market the next day revealed mannequins in more modest attire.

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This outlet apparently caters for giants.

 

 

Yangon Yarns

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Yangon in Myanmar has many faces: poor people quarantined from the outside world for decades, Buddhist pagodas, grand colonial architecture from the time of British rule, palatial mansions – replete with a bevy of expensive cars – built by corrupt members of the repressive military regime that ruled until 2015, when somehow, and peacefully, a form of democracy emerged.

These young monks were photographed at Yangon’s sublime Shwedagon Pagoda.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter ‘Y’.

Xi’an, China: 1993

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China’s Communist Party decided to open the country to the outside world in 1978. By the early 1990s, there were only very limited observable results for a foreign visitor. To my Australian eyes, even as a reasonably seasoned Asian traveller, the country was resoundingly exotic.

I visited China in 1993 as a member of an Australian university delegation hosted by the All-China Youth Federation (the young Communist Party).  My friend and fellow delegate, Peter Snowdon, took the photo of street sweepers in Xi’an, and kindly agreed to allow me to use it in this post.

Xi’an was once the capital of China, and is now most famous for the Terracotta Warriors, constructed around 246–206 BC as a memorial for First Emperor Qin so as he could be represented in the afterlife in the same way as in life.

Of many memorable events I recollect from that first visit to China, one particularly astonished me. In Guangzhou, our delegation was hosted to yet another banquet, at a restaurant tucked away in the suburbs, and away from areas frequented by foreigners. The restaurant band provided backing for local patrons who wished to sing. As their consumption of Maotai (China’s famous hard liquor) increased into early afternoon, the accompanying toasts of ‘Maotai’ became louder, as did their singing.

Eventually, one of my fellow delegates decided to ask the band whether they knew a particular song, to which the band leader replied, in effect, ‘of course’. The band then played an excellent and note perfect version of the old Australian bush ballad Click go the Shears, a song about shearing sheep, accompanied less well by my colleague’s vocals.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook this month starting with the letter ‘X’.

TIFFIN - bite sized food adventures -

Way out West, the Golden West: Wimmera Silos

Four or five hours drive west of Melbourne, on the margins where wheat country merges into desert, many small towns that once flourished teeter on the edge of survival.

Wheat silos are the dominant human sign of continuity in the landscape. Their transformation into works of art may enhance their longevity. I wonder whether Michelangelo might have flourished in this environment.

Brim grain silos

 

This is my contribution to

A-Z Guidebook Badge

this month beginning with the letter ‘W’.

I have written a little more about the Wimmera here.