Monday, 21 July 2014

Simmer down in diversity

Fascinating day in Handsworth Park, free festival of reggae music and a chance to enjoy one of Birmingham's generous landscape spaces.  Painted bandstand, sports field with some rather good cricket being played, but above all an absorbing and very rich mix of peoples, cultures and in a peaceful setting of an area of Birmingham that's had some bad press.
It's also been part of Birmingham's north-south divide: live south of the city centre, and you probably just don't go there.  Which bus do I have to get - after I've got to the centre? Where do I park? Yes, and will I be safe ...
I was, got there and back, and was richer for experiencing something beyond my usual comfort zones, with an international group which itself was a celebration of Birmingham's variety. The particular
heritage of the British Caribbean population, reggae music and Rastafarianism drew a range of visitors, followers, Summer day-outers, families, singles, couples and groups, young and old.  Laid-back but strong, intense but easy-going, fluid with a powerful beat.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Mostly Jazz Festival at Moseley Park July 2014

Lucky to be able to go to this, not everyone an afford these festivals.  Practically on the doorstep, or at least two short bus trips from home, and such an enjoyable time with the sun coming out for a while and lights beside the lake and the trees all around.
Lots of superb bands who together would cost rather more than the £40 day ticket although I know that's a lot for some people.
Ginger Baker and Jazz Confusion a real highlight, driving percussion and saxophone colour and bass to complete. 
"I need a p¥€s. I'll be back.". Exit left and back in a few minutes. 

Courtney Pine, a cut or several or above average players, the apparent effortlessness inr producing astounding solos around well-known tunes such as the classic Take Five.

Such an enjoyable event, wonderful music, beautiful location and relaxed atmosphere.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Berlin and Frankfurt (Oder)

Museums + , Berlin 2014

Deutsches Technikmuseum
A great excuse to look over some wonderful old steam trains and carriages, fitted out as in their glory days in a country as fond of steam as Britain.  Historical ships remembered in painstakingly worked models, some of course in bottles, and a full-sized rigging on the ship reaching up into the rafters of the four or five storey building.
On the roof, an example of the famous Rosinenbomber ("raisin bombers") which kept West Berlin supplied during the Stalinist blockade of 1948.  
Slightly away from the core locations of Berlin's museums, this was really rewarding to visit, a sideways step from ancient history or classic paintings, but technology is such a base of society and its development and I'm trying to pick up more on basic science and tech as I get a bit older ... 

Frankfurt an der Oder
An hour away from Berlin and right on the Polish border, a pleasantly sleepy, historic, university town in the holidays, people around but no-one in the 
local museum and gallery where the eager assistant proved very keen to explain some intriguing displays to us, a figure suspended in air or paintings matched by those standing opposite.
Only the two of us, plus the keen attendant and the ticket-seller on the entrance.
History of the town with changes of political rule.  
Just over the border-bridge, Slubice, sleepy twin and once part of the same town, cheap cigarettes, hairdressers, and a mix of German and Polish language on the street.  Collegium Polonicum mirroring the 16th (?) century Viadrina University on the German side, a bright new construction with the library too.
A relaxing alternative to the edgy dynamism of Berlin, and time out just to sit in a cafe undercover with the rain coming down again in a stormy Summer.
Seeing local life going by or taking it easy after the working week, a local feel more than a tourist destination, even if literary tourism is drawn here by the museum to Heinrich von Kleist (and his poet brother Ewald).
So much German history is in the east, and cultural centres went and go beyond arbitrary borders and blend with each other and offer a counter-weight to contemporary economic success and financial market centres.
Plenty of sparrows again too, they seem to be populous here whereas decimated in Britain.
Strolling over the border to Poland without even a cursory glance from a border guard as there is none.  I was here once before, in 2003, and some members of the group I was with had to stay in Germany, as they were from outside Europe and didn't have visas.  There was certainly a border control too.
Life would be so much easier without borders, controls, guards, terrorists and the fear of terrorists, political controls and national egos and agendas.
Will they ever disappear, properly, globally ?  Unlikely.

Saturday, 12 July 2014


Any cafe has its regulars, in Berlin the sparrows are the Stammgaeste everywhere, it seems, and I liked that.  They'll sweep up any crumbs and encourage you with a visit to your table as well (and your plate in some cases if you let them).
They're part of the city-scape which would be poorer without them.

Our choice of cafes: local cafe corner of Markgrafenstrasse and Rudi Dutschke Strasse, just south of the old Checkpoint Charlie border control and where the Wall once blighted Europe.  Used by locals - builders having a second breakfast, office workers collecting coffees 'to go', regulars dropping by - and tourists like us looking for a start to the day more authentic and cheaper than the tourist cafes around the Gendarmenmarkt a short walk away.
Around the Hackescher Markt, past the tourist trap bars right by the bridge, we found a corner cafe Italian-run with noodle salad and cappuccino, all for about 5 Euros each, and as importantly with a genuine feel to it, a place it's great to stumble on.

Prenzlauer Berg has a relaxed if gentrified feel, and Cafe Sowohl als Auch and Anna Blume, opposite each other near Kaethe Kollwitz Platz, both serve good food and drink in a lovely spot, sheltered but close to the street to watch people go by. A bit higher-priced but worth it.  Tip: don't ask at Anna Blume for the Apfel Strudel - they don't have it and disappear when asked!  Nice place otherwise though.

Hops and Barley is in alternative Friedrichshain and does a small range of tasty beers.  Next to M13 tram to Warschauer Strasse (this from the guide book).

Lehmke is also near Hackescher Markt and was pricier but the beer and ambience are traditional and reliable, the food a liitle less so.  Just missed the World Cup 7-1 win over Brazil ...

Monday, 7 July 2014


History and names.

Near where we're staying, in Berlin not far from Checkpoint Charlie, two honoured figures of the GDR were remembered in street names I can see on the old map of my other half has from the 1970s, Berlin Capital of the GDR, an official GDR map.  
Wilhelm Külz was a political figure who had bravely stood up to the Nazis in pre-war Dresden, but after the war was compromised by his part in the Liberal Democratic Party in the GDR which helped rubber-stamp the dictatorship.  So perhaps not surprising, but sad given his previous history, that he has disappeared from the map, replaced by the Markgrafenstrasse, back' to Prussian history which has been rather in vogue since the Wall went. 

On the theme of the Wall, there's a piece, apparently, outside our smart block of hotel-suite-Appartments, near Kochstrasse and Checkpoint Charlie. This would have been eerily close to the Wall, maybe empty territory on the Western side, a cul-de-sac world by the hideous inhumanity of the Wall and the deadness it brought all around.
Reinhold Huhn was a border soldier for the East who stopped a man trying to cross in 1962 after the Wall went up. Huhn was shot, but his killer escaped to the West (many didn't survive the varied attempts to get over).
The GDR authorities tried to pursue the case, but this in fact happened, it seems, in the 1990s after the escapee-killer was tried again and although only nominally sentenced to a year's imprisonment, suspended, was eventually found guilty of murder due to the "heimtückisch"  count (a clause that somehow slipped through from the Nazi era).  History is never far away in Berlin, and this sad story has the Cold War, the Nazi era and the post-Wall era all in one. The escapee shot first to protect himself, allegedly, but afterwards blamed East German soldiers for killing Huhn: it also seems he shot the soldier in the back, according to a report, which is where the"heimtückisch" count comes in.
See:,10810590,9629864.html for instance.
Hard to say what's right and wrong, or what's more wrong, sometimes.  Today the Reinhold Huhn Strasse is named after Rudi Dutschke,  the student leader murdered in 1968 - .  Not a great peace-lover or moderate figure himself, however, so an interesting replacement for a soldier on the new "anti-fascist protection wall" as the Communist authorities euphemistically called this monument to state repression.

No telling where the border is now, except for an old map, and the Axel Springer publisher house building, formerly close to the Wall - they campaigned virulently against left-leaning protestors and shortly after Rudi Dutschke was shot (see above).

"What's in a name".  A great deal, in fact, the past, ideas and attitudes, history and live.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Walk Way

From Stirchley along the River Rea towards Cannon Hill but turning off early towards King's Heath's Highbury Park.

On towards Moseley and the Folk and Jazz Festivals' park venue.

Plenty of cafés and bars for a break (Caféphilia is a newish addition).

Down leafy Salisbury Road (not Skid Row here ... ) to rejoin the River Rea route towards town past some park and terraced urban areas, a very Birmingham mix of housing, leaves and populations.

An urb- and suburban walk of enough miles or kilometres to make a difference.

Location:Birmingham (south)

Monday, 21 April 2014

Park life contin.

Location:Sutton Park

A bit more German culture

Via cinema, Midland Arts Centre (thanks to ARTE ) TV company from the Easter Music Festival in Baden Baden, with the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle with a wonderfully moving Elgar Cella Concerto, young soloist (they so often are these days ...) Sol Gabetta, and the Rite of Spring, powerful and clear, as well as a cleverly interwoven Ligeti piece and Wagner Overture (Lohengrin Act 1).
There were no problems with the transmission, sound and picture quality excellent, even too effective as all the coughing was broadcast too (and there seemed to be an outbreak of something in Baden Baden, perhaps the audience should have taken the waters beforehand ... ).
Rather more downbeat, Downfall (Der Untergang), the film, on TV: I caught the last half which proved grimly fascinating in its portrayal of the last throes of Hitler and his inner circle, denying the reality of defeat till almost the last, and unrepentant of the terrible acts it instigated (even ordering the execution of disloyal officers hours before the arrival of the Russians). Perhaps most disturbing was the devotion inspired in Hitler's followers, genuinely prepared to follow him to the grave rather than trying to escape.
Bruno Ganz played a weary, angry, obsessed and socio- or psychopathic all-too-real monster with no time for feelings other than his own, no time for the millions who died due to his raging notions, his savage prejudice and resentment. Hardly an easy role ...


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Class Societies: Japan and Britain at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Japan in the era of the Samurai: not just the forbidding Samurai swordsmen, of whom there are reconstructions here, but the wonderful Netsukes and other accoutrements and paintings or tapestries.  High sophistication and skilful art, underpinned by a society of strict order, where said Samurai really could chop off your head if you were a member of the lower orders and didn't show appropriate respect.
Even the Tories aren't that bad.
On to Grayson Perry, a genial character with an edge to his satire that's as sharp as a Samurai sword in the series of tapestries researched and designed by him and combining a Madonna-and-child Jesus narrative with the Hogarth Rake's Progress.  The rise and fall of a character in modern Britain.
Both in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery at the moment - and free entry!

Incidentally, the Museum building dates from the great era of civic endeavour under Tory Joseph Chamberlain, and free entry to many museums in the UK is thanks to much-maligned former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown (as is the Gift Aid initiative for adding extra money to charitable donations.  That's one that would never be thought of by George Osborne).


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Over the Thames

On the bus crossing the Thames, South Bank area.


German Art in London

Royal Academy- "Renaissance Impressions", chiaroscuro woodcuts from the collections of Georg Baselitz: see RA website.

British Museum - "Germany Divided", works by Baselitz and his generation from the postwar Germanies.

National Gallery - "Strange Beauty", German Renaissance art at the National Gallery.

German art has perhaps enjoyed a, er, Renaissance in Britain, as shown by a fine survey of nineteenth century works from the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin on loan to the London National Gallery in the 1990s (?). (I remember visiting this with a friend after returning from Berlin where the Gallery was under renovation).

The fact of three parallel exhibitions of works, from Renaissance times through to the post-World War Two Germanies, must be a sign of increasing awareness of specifically German contributions to Western Art across the centuries.
German artists at one point apparently took their lead from the more popular Dutch.
Altdorfer, Grünewald produced fascinating individual work sometimes criticised for "ugliness", and Albrecht Dürer of course is a major figure from any viewpoint with superb detail and precision of anatomy and nature.
Holbein was adopted by Britain in the same way we took on Handel / Händel in music two centuries later. His painting of fabrics in his portraits really is stunning, how can this not be "beautiful".

The double billing for modern artist Georg Baselitz involves woodcuts and prints he collected with those he produced himself alongside works by contemporaries from the 1960s on. The British Museum has the latter, with an enjoyable contrast of earlier Chinese landscapes in a neighbouring room. Edgy, anxious drawings of strange figures and and not comfortable viewing but they do give a feel for a kind of state of mind of that generation of artists.

The light-and-shade chiaroscuro wood blocks in the Royal Academy show Baselitz's interests, and while quite grim in some cases - Hercules clubbing a hapless figure to death - the detail and skill is striking.

Location:London, UK

Friday, 18 April 2014


To "In the Navy", Village People.

"With the Vikings,
We will always be at sea,
With the Vikings,
Helmets there for you and me,
With the Vikings,
Shields and swords at the rea-dy,
With the Vikings ... !"

Sunday, 16 February 2014


Fun and expert paintings (and some carvings and other pieces ) of modern Birmingham in the local art society's HQ near St Paul's Square.
Website for details.

Location:Brook Street, Jewellery Quarter

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Birmingham skyline

Location:Library of Birmingham, Broad Street

Discovering Birmingham

I tried Geocaching twice today and found nothing including the point, but enjoyed reading about the buildings near where the deposits where supposedly placed, which to be fair perhaps is the point. I can't see why I should traipse around looking for an old camera film tube someone's jammed by the roadside and which has probably been swept up by council refuse. (Sorry, grumble over now).
Better however, and where you can be sure of the information's authenticity, is the "Dozens and Trails" App from the new Library of Birmingham (I hope not so called because of any plan to close the others) or Central Library to older Brummies.
Plenty of archival photographs of sights and documents, and information on local landmarks and history. Writers include historian Dr Chris Upton who used to work for the library and knows his material, having conducted tours, written books and articles and newspaper columns for some years now.
The trails section has four themed tours such as public statues and Birmingham on sixpence a day, the latter taking you though the associations woth poverty many experienced here, as embodied by the old workhouses (now City Hospital, for example). Great advantages over Geocaching: you can see the objects and you know there'll be there ... and they're worth investigating. You'll find new things if you're an old Brummie, and a valuable introduction to the city if you're new here but interested in more than just sleeping or going for a drink.
"Dozens" has the archive material, on all sorts of topics from
community libraries to James Watt and family and World War 2 propaganda.

Downloadable from App Stores.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

A wet walk near Birmingham

Shows how you can still discover places of beauty and interest on your own back door, however long you've lived somewhere.

Partly covers the route of the old Lapal canal and tunnel, which a conservation group is trying to have restored and re-opened.

We walked along the old canalside and into Leasowes Park, which is under the aegis of Dudley Canal.

En route are the ruins of Halesowen Priory, more hidden history of the Midlands.

We started the walk from the Black Horse pub on Manor Lane, B62 8RJ, there's a walkway from the other side of the road.

Location:Leasowes, Halesowen

London Times 3

Location:Hampstead Heath

London times 2

George I and his sheep outside the British Library, smart hotel in an old Georgian house on Montague Street (very) near the British Museum, and a view from the hill - Hampstead Heath and (I think) Parliament Hill zooming in to a London skyscape.

Location:Parade,Birmingham,United Kingdom

London town

Managed two and a bit days in London between Christmas and New Year, with requisite museum and gallery visits, this time the wonderful exhibition of Columbian gold and other artefacts at the British Museum - El Dorado - - see museum web pages for details -.
The smaller upstairs exhibitions at the BM I personally prefer to those in the larger space downstairs, more personal and less threadbare at the edges than the boarding tends to be on the ground floor.

The British Library has another well-presented, informative but not overwhelming presentation - they always seem to get just the right balance of education, challenge and attractive layout, using extensive, developing a theme of how a period in history is relevant to the modern day - commerce and inequality, coffee, politics and satire, and Birmingham at the centre of the canal network and manufacturing (honest, though perhaps the manufacturing isn't so true any more, sadly ... ).
British Library - Georgians Revealed, on till March 2014.

Finally, on to the Royal Academy and the posh new members' cafe ;-) , now extended, with entertainment from the members and always enjoyable exhibitions, this time Honore Daumier works in 'Visions of Paris". Social realism and technical quality which apparently influenced many other better-known artists.

Location:London from Birmingham

New tech?

Trying out a new keyboard on bluetooth to smartphone.

Location:Library of Birmingham