Berlin


It was the height of June when 21 or so rogue youths set off for their destination of Luton Airport, pulling nothing but the heavy weight of expectation and a suitcase, all bound for Berlin, Germany.

Once the wheels of the plane had landed on the German tarmac of Berlin Schoenefeld, the party left EasyJet flight 2103 with eagerness to experience this new place. The scape of the city felt very much different from back home; the new ways and words around us were freshly revitalising. Luckily in visiting this new country we were shepherded by our tour guide Andrew Pennington who knew the ins and outs of the city. Our first destination was none other than the Anderson Hotel, which provided a comfy pillow to rest our head and our thoughts for the night, in preparation for the ever coming tomorrow.  The evenings were a time to relax and reflect, punctuated by the wit of our mentors.

The next morning we were instructed towards an empty station, filled only with the excited babble of adventuring youths. The air was brisk both with the crispness left by the departing night and with the fresh scent of thrill that always surrounds any trip.We were hustled on board the next train which felt destined for the day ahead. As the train purred it’s way out of the station the suburbs of Berlin disappeared into a blur leaving only our plans in focus. Upon arriving at our station, a solitary nod was given out amongst the group against the familiar voice of the train – ‘Ausgang auf dem linken seite’.

After guessing right and getting off on the left, we were thrown into the busy life of Berlin. Walking up the stairs of the subway, the blue sky offered a backdrop for iconic sites such as the Brandenburg Gate. The informative words of Pennington painted the picture of what once stood where the tourists were, and put a real perspective on the land which changed so much of Germany’s history. We rambled across German cobbles, every now and again bumping into a mortified soul – ‘es tut mir Leid!’ exclaimed Jamie in an effort to justify his sense of balance. Turning another corner we found ourselves face to face with the Reichstag, the former government building – an impressive sight to the eye and interesting to the ear.  Walking its streets revealed hidden secrets of history – a pavement corner was the site of Hitler’s bunker or a gap in the trees revealed a memorial to Socialist repression. It felt like Berlin had effortlessly weaved a lifelong history and culture into a place where one could buy coffee just across the square from the Brandenburg Gate – Backer Weidemann was this place in question; a friendly soul which did a good latte and bagel, as the American chap in front of us discovered. Frequent gaps in the tour allowed us to take time out to catch our breath or a bite to eat, or browse souvenir shops situated on Berlin pavements.

‘Into the subway!’ was the common cry from Pennington, it reminded us a new place was yet to be discovered. One of these was the Wannsee Conference House. The walls here revealed to us that this was the place where the most important members of the Nazi party decided the ‘Final Solution’- and all over breakfast. The deatched evil of it all seemed too distant to be true- yet the realisation that this monster of humanity occurred only 70 short years ago held heavy in our hearts as we set off towards Grunewald Bahnhof; an unvarnished reminder of the horror that the peoples the Nazis chose to persecute must have experienced. However, it made us think of how in 70 years people may look back on todays ongoings to see a similar monstrosity somewhere in the world. These thoughts were also triggered as we stood at Grunewald Bahnhof. We felt wary of what the train station had been when these 50,000 innocent lives had been transported off to concentration and labour camps; yet words and pictures now may do no justice on history. The facts indented into the metal platform gave a sharp insight into  when, how, what and who but not why.

Arbeit macht frei (work sets you free) the words on the gates to Sachsenhausen offer a stark reminder of what went on in the concentration camp – 30,000 prisoners died there from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition or pneumonia due to the poor living conditions as well as the many who died as a result of the brutal medical testing that went on there. The moment you walk through the gates and look upon the ground on which inspections were held or walking along the route that was used for death marches,it’s impossible not to get the deep, unsettling feeling that this is a place of deep, malicious, unnecessary evil.. The bright Berlin sunshine did not stop the shivers that inevitably ran down our spines as we toured the site where the tens of thousands of dead were cremated. Nor did it stop the icy feeling we felt as Pennington described how prisoners were forced to take sledge hammers to their own dead, as bone crushers were too expensive, nor even as we looked round the hut that had been torched by Neo-Nazis; this last artefact left as a reminder that there are those out there today that would repeat this genocide.

In Berlin following a tour of Sachsenhausen we visited the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, a very interesting piece of architecture that was created to offer an insight into how the Jews might have felt during the Holocaust. We heard how they had coated the two thousand concrete blocks, arranged so as to disorientate the visitor, in a special paint that makes graffiti simply wipe off, yet, stupidly, did not realise that the same company that made this chemical also made the gas for Auschwitz.  The memorial was disconcerting to say the least and left the group with the disconcerted feel that contrasted greatly with the barely suppressed excitement that had almost become symbolic of our trip. Once again we heard the all familiar call of “To the subway”  and off we went to the next site on an endless trail of exploration.

The subway zoomed through the city carrying our cameras and thoughts, and stepping out into the Berlin sunlight allowed us to absorb the city feel. The Sunday afternoon gave us chance to stop by the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie. The guards which once might have stood were now replaced by stall owners who we enjoyed bartering with for the best price of a beret. We carried ourselves down great roads, occasionally stopping for the brief (although, in some cases not so brief) story of Berlin’s great sites, as told by Pennington. . We enjoyed seeing magnificent buildings such as the Berliner Fernsehturm or Dom through the viewfinder, as we walked past street performers and other interesting fellows. The restaurant and bowling in the evening was a nice social occasion to discuss the vibrancy of the last couple of days, before our minds set on the next and the returning flight home.

As Germany drifted lazily past the plane window, our minds turned to our trip and all the great sights we’d seen, and of the stories we’d carry with us for quite some time. It was thought-provoking to see the city that had been at the forefront of so much history we’d studied, finally, in the flesh, looking at both the historical landmarks that had signposted Europe, but also the untold Berlin; the modern, thriving capital of a united Germany.

Auf Wiedersehen!

We’d like to thank Commander Pennington, Elson, Brown and Tipper for their work in organising the expedition.

Jamie and  James

A special thanks to Andrew Wright for his excellent work editing this piece and adding many passages

Thanks as well to Stef Williams for proof reading and to Oliver O’Driscoll for the use of his portrait

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London – country mouse goes to the city

It was a bright Thursday morn enriched with our old friend winter as we hopped on the First Great Western, bound for the bright and excites of London Paddington – armed with nothing but an itinerary and a sense of adventure.

The country feel and fields soon morphed into a concreted cityscape where its people rushed about from place to place; the busybody minds encaptured the briefcased businessmen and women, and as we stepped off the platform we felt inclined to follow suit. We were propelled from tube station to tube station by our open minds and the hustle and bustle of those around us. Life in the country felt more relaxed and friendly upon return.

The message ‘please take ticket’ reminded us a new destination was on the horizon, for example, the Wellcome Collection. It offered an informative yet intuitive insight to medicine and the human body among other things. We were allowed to collect our thoughts over a drink before our cameras from the cloakroom and we set off, destined for  ‘The Real London’. Walking down lesser known streets provided the opportunity for Jamie to capture the quintessential life of college students, market owners, residents or ramblers like ourselves, that perhaps could not be found in the shadow of the London Eye or Buckingham Palace. Covent Garden was a funny old soul; live bands, street performers, Chelsea Pensioners and weird Spanish men who tried to mug James made for an interesting time. The food market was tasty – yet the Swedish meatball sandwich seemed to appeal more to Andrew’s nose and eyes than it did agree with his stomach.

As we were plunged into the underground and whizzed through, silence imprisoned the long metal tube full of people. It seemed nobody wanted to talk, although at times we felt initiating conversations with yet another man who came and sat next to us on the train. The Tube felt an odd place compared to the home turf of Cotswold Green, where even the bus drivers like to strike up a tune.

In between the noise on the London cobbles and silence of the underground we entered St Pauls Cathedral; a magnificent building flooded by the voice of the beautiful choir. After being given some funny looks for not having an adult or something, we began to climb one of the 528 or so steps which led to the pinnacle. On our way, we stopped by the Whispering Gallery, which was something entirely different anything we had ever experienced before. The voices of the choir sounded like they were coming from above rather than below. Although our legs told otherwise, our minds told us to keep walking onwards, which meant upwards. The staircases became taller, thinner and with every step, we questioned ‘why are we doing this’. The view from the top answered our questions on the matter – the view over life and London was spectacular. There’s got to be a metaphor in there about climbing the stairway to heaven if that’s what you believe in – for it was like looking from a place above. Albeit rather cramped and in no way suitable for families with a pushchair, the cathedral peak is something amazing to do in London; the photos were great and we definitely would recommend it.

The outskirts of London made for an entirely different approach. Instead of finding the light at the end of the tube tunnel, we found nothing but darkness – and old ladies asking us for spare change and a fag. After an off-the-rails youth came up to us asking for the best place to urinate, we were bundled into the car set for our accommodation for the night.

We woke up on Friday, ready to live the day ahead. Going through the gates at the tube station meant we were now in the enviable position of being able to zoom where ever our minds and the trains took us – whether that be Heathrow and the next flight to Asia – or most likely what the plans said  – next stop: South Kensington. After Jamie purchased some behind the counter double strength Paracetamol, we were all set for the Science Museum. We particularly enjoyed some of the hands-on exhibitions of LaunchPad, if you like that kind of thing.  The next escalator took us out into shadow of Big Ben, and we took a walk along the embankment past some important buildings. We crossed the Jubilee Bridge rather hastily after Jamie got chased away for filming a man playing the steel drums.

And abracadabra, we arrived in rather a trendy part of London; in and around the Southbank Centre. We visited the Real Food Market which was ‘the only place I go on a Friday’ according to a group of young businessmen with very pointy shoes. We mingled with the sights and smells the area had to offer – ranging from Turkish Delight to Kenyan Coffee Beans; Crepes to Jamaican pies. We ventured towards Jubilee Gardens and the London Eye where the paving was rife with tourists and performers. We watched a man called Tom entertain the audience with some slick tricks on a unicycle.

In true London fashion, we rushed in the direction of the nearest Tube station, bound again for London Paddington and the country air. Adopting our seats around a table on the familiar feel of a First Great Western, we shared a Percy Pig or two as we left London and all its merits behind.

In our wake, we left our thoughts of what ‘The Real London’ really was; as James must have said we’d found at  least seven times. Rightly so, it is a different place for wherever you take your camera and thoughts. It may be the trendy, arty sites of the Southbank; the regal, iconic banks of the Northbank; the roads which fed us down across various ongoings or even the dark and dingy places of out of town tube stations, where where we spent our time evading odd people.

Although the buses may only come every five hours as supposed to every five minutes, life in the country feels so much more relaxed and calm. It may be boring to the eye that resides there, but it is in fact just as diverse and interesting as the capital.

Thanks for reading

James

 

Blists Hill

When I decided to visit the Blists Hill museum on a trip to Ironbridge I was hoping for a place that would offer an interesting example of past lives.  These were my thoughts as the car gradually trundled it’s way along the M5 gradually drawing me closer to my fate.
Eventually I came to a small visitor entrance guarding what appeared to be just a gift shop and a flight of stairs. I bought a ticket and ascended to a small photo exhibition, it looked good but seemed to be just an opener exhibition. Sure enough there was a second stairway at the back. Again there was a little exhibition, this time about mining in the area – interesting but hardly as inspirational as TripAdvisor would have me believe. Again there was a door at the end of the exhibit, only this one led to the outside.
I opened the door to be greeted by a Victorian town complete with fully costumed townsfolk. I strolled, well you must in a Victorian town, to the bank to exchange my new money into Victorian farthings, pennies and shillings. The town was complete with everything from blacksmiths to bakers and from fish and chips to fairgrounds. It was detailed down to the local stone in the stone masons or the steamy clinking engines lowering a mine lift – all accompanied by a passionate, Victorian proletariat each describing their own jobs and roles inside the world that flourishes within Blists Hill.

With an endlessly modernising society, visiting the era without instantaneous communication is a great experience and one I’d recommend to anyone within three hours of Ironbridge.

Jamie

The Last of the Summer Life

As I walked the Five Valleys Trail, there seemed to be a sudden burst of life. The previously damp and autumnal countryside was lit up into brilliant greens. This  was also reflected in the animals that I met on the way. At one point I walked past a lake full of ducks and geese of various breeds. They all seemed to be babbling and quacking in a way not unlike an old stock exchange with shouting stockbrokers. Although that was interesting, it was the tenacity of one particular Pekin Duck that caught my eye. Without any fear s/he walked right out into the path and started wandering round my feet. I tried to capture him/her as best I could, but I don’t think that it’s pure nerve was fairly represented.
There were also some fairly spectacular landscapes at one point because you could see straight down the valley and into town but at the time it was slightly fogged which means that the view could have been better. However there were some other great points that were less open. The trail spent some time in the woods in fantastic almost tunnel like walkways which offered an almost corridor feeling. I thought it was a great walk overall and it’s all for a good cause. Thanks for reading and you can see the photo gallery below.

Jamie

The Farmers Market

Hello reader. This post is about the farmers market. If this is a topic that doesn’t interest you, please comment and tell me. If it does interest you then just carry on reading.

Part of living in the countryside is the local produce, whether it’s in the form of local health shops or village fêtes – food is crucial to the social nature of rural life. A big part of this is the farmers market in Stroud.

On any given Saturday the streets of Stroud are full of shoppers browsing through the various stalls, whose products vary from sausages to soap and from garlic to olive wood. They all come together to create a market street that is packed full of life, vibrance and aromas. As I wandered round with my camera and thoughts I came across skaters and garlic sellers, all of whom added a different dimension to the particular atmosphere of the time.

There were masses of great stalls so I can only comment on a few. There was a barbecue that offered a good burger and an even better photo opportunity. It was good for me to be able to put some of the tips I’d learned about eating burgers  ( http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/08/29/the-best-way-to-hold-a-burger-according-to-science/ )  which was nice.

I think part of the fun of a market is that everyone is just generally pretty cheery and polite, which is something that we tend to take just for granted. I give you Graham Solari, the garlic seller who in exchange for a photo offered me a free clove of garlic (see previous post about Stroud ). Basic kind things like that make life in the country what it is.

I think that to let people truly appreciate the small town feel  that is Stroud we would have to get rid of all the basic humanities that make it tolerable to go into a market space that was most likely built for an era when the population size didn’t extend beyond you and your neighbours family and cattle. But at least we’re not stuck in a poverty stricken slum.

And with that happy note I leave you til the next blog post.

Jamie

Stroud

Stroud. A microcosm for life. Well, it’s not actually but apparently I’m meant to capture your attention within the first few words. Saying that, I still think Stroud has a lot of interesting things in it, a few of which I tried to capture yesterday.

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My first interesting thing is about the people that inhabit the town. It’s nice how you can turn a corner and go from market stalls with sellers shouting their wares to teenagers practising skateboard tricks outside the Subscription rooms. It might be because diversity in a village means meeting someone below the age of 40 but I think it’s good how different everything is in Stroud

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However with that said I think it would be ridiculous not to recognise the Stroud personality. The eco-friendly, organic vegan who would most likely be incorporated under the overarching term of Stroudie. I tried to find the shops today that would help reflect that and, of the ones my travels brought me upon, I ended up with three (seeing as a picture tells a thousand words I thought I would let the photos tell you of the places)

Made In Stroud www.madeinstroud.org

 

Cornflower and Calico www.cornflowerandcalico.co.u

Intrigue of Stroud www.intrigueofstroud.co.uk/ 

Thanks to all the shops for letting me photo them and thanks to Max as well for being an assistant. Next post will be on Wednesday at 5pm

Jamie

Dear reader

Dear reader, for some unknown reason your journey through the internet has taken you to my blog.

For all of you the story behind your visit today will be different. You probably clicked through a Facebook link or perhaps a WordPresss tag, but whatever the reason is you’re here now.

I assume by this point that you think there will be something interesting or enlightening – maybe a recap of a place I’ve been or some witty anecdote that might make you laugh or at the very least smile. This could be something about how ‘I just read that 4,153,237 people got married last year, not to cause any trouble but shouldn’t that be an even number?’ or something like that. Or I could quote Spike Milligan with the famous ‘Chopsticks are one of the reasons the Chinese never invented custard.’ But in reality, none of those would cause you to follow the blog or share it on social media.

Maybe you’re looking for an explanation as to why humans are special as opposed to an ant. Perhaps you want me to pose a thought provoking essay about whether a God would let us suffer, with reference to the free will defence. Maybe I could influence your religious decisions about whether there’s any deity or God out there with various philosophical arguments.

For all I know you expected this post to follow the same themes as the other ones. Whatever your plan was in visiting my site today I have no doubt that this blog post didn’t help – but then at least you can make some witty remarks about chopsticks sometime in the future. Please comment, like and follow.

Jamie

An ant's perspective on a road
An ant’s perspective on a road

p.s if you’re going to comb through this for grammar mistakes remember to share the post when you find some errors

Bath

So today I went for a day out in Bath , one of my favourite cities. It seems to blend a historic background effortlessly with a modern city’s character.

I spent the day browsing shops and enjoying the atmosphere. It seems weird to be walking with the ancient Roman Baths on one side and a Superdry store on the other with only a pavement and a busker to separate the two. But then that’s part of what I love; the urban city life bonding with its roots. There was one point where you could see the Roman Baths Pump room reflected in the window of a shop opposite (I tried to get a photo but I’m dubious as to whether it came out right) and then to have shoppers walking between it all was pretty cool.

I had lunch at a buffet called Jimmy’s where the food quality varied from dish to dish, although I suppose that must be forgiven of a buffet that has to serve 30 odd dishes. The drinks were good though, I had a mango lassi which was nice. All in all I think I would recommend it.

I headed back and passed a street performer who was doing an amazing act involving unicycles, juggling and fire which was pretty spectacular and inspired me to turn to uni-cycling juggling and fire should I ever yearn to become a street performer. It also seemed to be a Jane Austen day, the kind of typical Bath thing that goes on. The next post won’t be til next weekend or later.

I’ve included the best photos in a gallery.

Jamie

Rural Nature

Hi,

This is my first blog of what I hope will be many following a rough style of life in the country or wherever I take my camera and thoughts.

I walked out with the bushes ripe with blackberries which was a nice reminder that the summers over and we’re now into the lands of the crisp autumn days.  I’ve done some shots of the blackberries but the camera doesn’t quite do the berries justice. Ah, I look to the days when it will be as easy to capture tastes and smells as it is pictures.

As I strolled through the lanes the sun began to set which cast the sky in beautiful blues and oranges, which was nice considering it had seemed to be infected with the Autumnal infections that plagues Septembers; overcast and foggy. Then my ambling took me to a bench that overlooks the valley where I pondered life and its relative merits. On my route back the streetlights were all lit so I’ve tried to capture the orange glow that lit up the road. Thanks for reading.

Jamie