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.