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:

 

Have Uke, will Travel

Portable music access while travelling has changed over the years. The Walkman replaced the tape player in the 1990s, and was in turn replaced by the ipod/mp3 player that has now been largely superseded by the mobile phone and tablet.

But, what if you crave the company of an instrument to play on your travels? Instruments haven’t generally been miniaturised, so the issue of size remains a problem.

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For my current long trip, I had hoped to pack a small guitar. However, the nice compact guitar that appealed – the Cordoba Mini – is 77.47 cm (30.5 inches) long, and too long for cabin baggage allowed by most airlines, usually 55-56cm (about 22 inches).

My mandolin, at 68.6 cm (27 inches) long, is also too long to take as cabin luggage, and I fear the hazards inflicted on checked luggage too much to endanger one of my favourites. So, a change of plan was needed.

Few sounds are more annoying than listening to someone learning a new musical instrument. I therefore avoided the temptation to pick a totally foreign instrument in recognition of the danger of antagonising neighbours in holiday accommodation, however much the bagpipes, tabla, violin, electronic keyboard and other momentarily appealing alternatives came to mind.

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This Kala soprano ukulele cost AU$86, and is better than a cheaper uke by keeping reasonably in tune, courtesy of the quality of its tuning pegs and strings. I chose it because of the price and good reviews. It’s 53.5cm (26.06 inches) in length, a little longer with its soft case, but qualifies as hand luggage. Ukulele phone apps make holiday playing easy as they include tuners, chord charts, how to play instructions, and song lyrics and chords (universal, of course, regardless of instrument).

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It’s time for a strum.

A note for later trips

A fellow hotel guest in Bali brought his tenor ukulele (longer than a soprano at around 66 cm) from Australia as oversized baggage. Jetstar allows any baggage including a musical instrument that exceeds 1 metre (39 inches) in length to be carried as oversized baggage at AU$25 per flight. This option (also used for sporting items like surfboards) looks like a good method for travelling with a musical instrument internationally, particularly as it seems that the item is given greater care than the rough and tumble of normal checked baggage.

 

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.

 

 

Return to Bali, 2017

Bali is a regular place of escape from southern Australia’s winter.

In Bali, I try to avoid the beach ghettos catering for foreign tourists, which at their worst, are venues for booze swilling excess by those seeking the title of cultural barbarian/worst ambassador; and equally avoid the cloistered resorts that insulate guests from the real Bali in a more costly ghetto.

In spite of more than half a century of mass tourism, my impression is that Bali, away from the artificially constructed tourist enclaves, remains culturally and historically strong.

Bali visits always remind me of the humility, respect, friendliness, humour and warmth of the people. Only the Balinese could name their band for an Irish theme night The Paddy Fields Band.

Ceremonies remain a fundamental part of Balinese Hindu culture. Here are some images from a Sanur beach purification ceremony, the final stage of the cremation process.

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In rural Bali, age-old sights and communities flourish; here are typical rice paddies near Pupuan.

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I often enjoy snorkelling when visiting Indonesia to coral reefs and islands in Lombok, Nusa Lembongan, and Flores, as well as Bali. On the latest trip, I returned to Pemuteran, in  north-west of Bali, and nearby Menjangan (Deer) Island.

The visit raised concerns about the significant amount of coral bleaching, more than I recall from two years ago. Locals attribute it to rising water temperatures – global warming – a fate endangering coral reefs throughout the world. It will be a monstrous tragedy if current generations fail to move quickly enough from our destructive fossil fuel stage of energy generation to deny our descendants the chance to glimpse this remarkable undersea world.

DSCN0643Snorkelling off Menjangan Island. In the background are several of East Java’s volcanoes, and the boat that brought us to the reef.

Underwater, the view is a visual feast: swarming schools of fish, lone barracuda, clams, delicate and colorful fronds waving in the currents, and shallow coral gardens dropping off into inky depths where larger fish cruise.

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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’.