Back on the Lleyn: landscape and memory

Back on the Lleyn: landscape and memory

We’re back home after a week spent walking stretches of the newly-designated Wales Coast Path on the Lleyn Peninsula. We returned just as the extended spell of high pressure began, bringing beautiful sunny days and clear blue skies we’ve waited for all summer.  Nonetheless, the week we were on the Lleyn was predominantly dry, though very breezy.

We had arrived on a glorious sunny afternoon that extended into a warm evening as we walked out from our holiday cottage, sheltered beneath Anelog Mynydd, the last outcrop of the range of mountains – some of them extinct volcanoes – that stretch down through the Lleyn. Continue reading “Back on the Lleyn: landscape and memory”

Rising Ground: searching for the spirit of place

Rising Ground: searching for the spirit of place

The genesis of Philip Marsden’s latest book, Rising Ground, was his acquisition of an old, decaying and overgrown Cornish farmhouse. It is subtitled ‘A Search for the Spirit of Place’, and a few pages in, Marsden explains how, after writing a series of books cataloguing journeys he had made to distant lands he came to write one which follows him as he sets out on foot from his new home. Continue reading “Rising Ground: searching for the spirit of place”

In pursuit of Bruegel: Berlin and Two Monkeys in chains

In pursuit of Bruegel: Berlin and Two Monkeys in chains

It’s only a small painting – barely seven inches by nine – yet (though I know such comparisons are invidious) if I were asked to list my ten favourite artworks this would be one of them. Pieter Bruegel’s Two Monkeys is haunting, mysterious and profound.

Two Monkeys is one of two Bruegel paintings that we found in Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie – another way-station in our pursuit of Bruegel through the museums of Europe. The other couldn’t be more different: Netherlandish Proverbs is large (4 feet by 5), populated by a vast crowd of people engaged in all kinds of activities and social interactions. One is deeply meditative, even pessimistic, while the other’s vast canvas celebrates the complexity and richness of  urban life. Continue reading “In pursuit of Bruegel: Berlin and Two Monkeys in chains”

Walking Offa’s Dyke path: a group lacking a credible leader

Walking Offa’s Dyke path: a group lacking a credible leader

It will seem like a false omen to those who have sworn allegiance to him, but he will remind them of their guilt and take them captive.
Ezekial, 21:23

This is a walking story that may have a political message – or it just be a load of twaddle in which four guys well past the age of consent lose their way in the wild before common sense puts them on the right path. Continue reading “Walking Offa’s Dyke path: a group lacking a credible leader”

Walking the canal: the road to Wigan Pier

Walking the canal: the road to Wigan Pier

It had been six years since I last walked this stretch of the Leeds-Liverpool canal, at the start of a plan to walk the length of the canal in stages – a project completed in July the following year. Now I was reprising one of the most attractive stretches of the canal – between the small town of Burscough Bridge and Wigan – this time in the company of two friends, Bernie and Tommy. Continue reading “Walking the canal: the road to Wigan Pier”

The enigma of Frederick the Great

The enigma of Frederick the Great

Berlin again. A little over a week after our return from Berlin, another coincidence: this time it’s a discussion about the life and significance of Frederick the Great on In Our Time this morning. Continue reading “The enigma of Frederick the Great”

When Springsteen played East Berlin

When Springsteen played East Berlin

In one of those curious coincidences that seems to happen to me frequently, the morning after we returned from our short break in Berlin BBC Radio 4 broadcast a drama based on the moment in July 1988 when, improbably, Bruce Springsteen performed before an audience of 300,000 people from all over the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in East Berlin in a concert watched live on state television by millions more. Continue reading “When Springsteen played East Berlin”

Expressionists in Berlin (Impressionists, too)

Expressionists in Berlin (Impressionists, too)

Impressionism is usually seen as the antithesis of Expressionism, but while we were in Berlin we queued for over an hour to see a stunning exhibition at the the Alte Nationalgalerie, on Museum Island – snappily titled on the banners, ImEx – which brings together a lavish helping of paintings from both movements, presenting them in such a way as to emphasise the similarities as well as the differences between them. Near contemporaries at a time of social upheaval, the exhibition explores common concerns: urban life, cafes, cabaret and dancers, the countryside and nature, and new relationships between the sexes. Continue reading “Expressionists in Berlin (Impressionists, too)”

Brief glimpses of art and music in Berlin

Brief glimpses of art and music in Berlin

Guide books aren’t much use in Berlin at the moment if you’re trying to work out where to see what in the city’s main museums and art galleries. Everything is being reorganised: some galleries like the Neue Nationalgalerie – the main gallery for modern art – are closed for refurbishment, while the extensive programme renovation and reorganisation of the five monumental buildings on Museum Island and the massive project to rebuild the Berlin Schloss as the Humboldt Forum  continues.

Only in Berlin for four days, we had to make some hard choices about what to see, a task made more difficult since even the most recently-published guide book couldn’t keep up with developments. We decided to make a quick visit to the Gemäldegalerie (Paintings Gallery) since it’s just a stone’s throw from the Berlin Philharmonie, where we intended to attend oner of the free Tuesday lunchtime concerts of chamber music – and because it houses treasures by favourite artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Vermeer, Holbein and Rembrandt. Continue reading “Brief glimpses of art and music in Berlin”

A walk in Berlin’s Green Forest

A walk in Berlin’s Green Forest

If you follow Berlin’s fashionable Kurfurstendamm to its western end you will arrive at the elegant suburb of Grunewald that lies on the edge of the Grunewald, twelve square miles of woodland and lakes where, in 1542, the Brandenburg Elector Joachim II built a hunting lodge at the heart of the royal reserve he named Zum gruenen Wald – the Green Forest.

One day, during our visit to Berlin this month, we set off from the small museum dedicated to the Expressionists of Die Brucke to walk for an hour so through the forest to the Grunewald S-bahn station where we wanted to visit the Gleis 17 memorial to Berlin’s Jews deported to their deaths inn the east from the station’s platform 17. Continue reading “A walk in Berlin’s Green Forest”

Kathe Kollwitz in Berlin: the moral conscience of Germany

Kathe Kollwitz in Berlin: the moral conscience of Germany

Did any German artist confront the suffering of the first half of the twentieth century as directly as Käthe Kollwitz did? Through the years of war, political turbulence and social strife that defined her life, Kollwitz kept alive the moral conscience of Germany.

For fifty years Kollwitz lived and worked in working class Prenzlauer Berg, in the family home that also served as her studio and doctor husband’s surgery. The building was destroyed during the Allied bombing of the Berlin in 1943.  Today, the Käthe Kollwitz Museum can be found a world away, on elegant Fasenstrasse. Continue reading “Kathe Kollwitz in Berlin: the moral conscience of Germany”

Visiting the Reichstag: the ghosts of history

Visiting the Reichstag: the ghosts of history

Why does Berlin fascinate and thrill me more than any city I know? I think Alexandra Richie puts her finger on the answer in her monumental history of the city, Faust’s Metropolis:

Like Faust, Berlin can be said to have two spirits in the same breast; it is both a terrible and a wonderful city, a place which has created and destroyed and whose name is both acclaimed and blackened. […] Above all, it is a place where history could not and still cannot be hidden away.

Nowhere in Berlin can you escape the ghosts of history, and especially the terrors of 20th century politics when Europe, in Mark Mazower’s words, was ‘the dark continent’. There are many places in Berlin where any European – German or otherwise – might reflect upon words written by Joseph Roth in 1937:

Why do the European states claim for themselves the right to spread civilization and manners to different continents? Why not to Europe itself?

One such place is the Reichstag. Continue reading “Visiting the Reichstag: the ghosts of history”