Monday, 22 July 2013

Andrea turns 60 in London


Banjo and backyard

Jo in the kitchen

Mel and Andrea

Sara and Jo

andrea and George

Steve and Richard - Bob Dylan tribute band

Andrea and Helen and Arnold
Andrea and George show their moves
Steve and Dom and Sarah's joke

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Berlin Walls

Jewish Museum - image of Polish concentration camp

Berlin Wall - East Gallery

Lisa Smith's lobby

East German idealisesd workers art

AlexanderPlatz - Commercial centre of former East Berlin


Berlin Wall East Gallery - image of Palestine wall

Berlin Wall - image of Iraq Wall

Intact Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall - No Man's Land (The death zone) preserved

Berlin Wall - East Gallery

Yellow Berlin

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Ich bin ein Berliner

'What is this?'
'It's a svimming pool. Do you vant to go svimming?'

I am standing in front of a ten foot high wire fence talking to a security guard. I am surrounded by disused factories and warehouse. One carries the name it has always carried - the Glashaus. To get here I have walked through possibly the most graffitied urban area I've ever seen. Not artist grafitti as featured on the nearby Berlin Wall East Gallery, but old fashioned untidy overtagged urban grunge.

'How much to svim?'

'Fife Euro' the guard tells me.

I look beyond his imposing presence and can see an open area covered in imported sand. I offer him five euros telling him that I've come from the other side of the planet to svim in unusual places so I can't resist. Five euros is twice what I'd pay in Brisbane but this is Berlin and this is the River Spree. Berliners were keen on swimming in the prewar years. There were numerous swimming clubs and enclosures along these reaches. This is an attempt to reinvent the swimming culture.

The guard declines to take my money and directs me to the bar inside the compound. There i find myself in the company of a half a dozen drinkers. Certainly not swimmers. A young woman behind the counter takes my cash and directs me to the change rooms. For an extra Euro I can rent a locker but I must also surrender some form of photo ID. It all seems a bit much but I offer her my Seniors Card, partly by way of a joke and partly because i don't have any photo ID and don't want to hand over a credit card. She smiles, but not at my little joke. She just smiles in what i think is a shated acknowledgemwent that perhaps the high security is a little bit beyond the absolutely necessary.

The change room is a sandy space with a curtain for privacy. The Germans are quite formal about many things. Rules are to be followed but when it comes to disrobing they are relaxed and informal. A group of teenage boys have arrived on their bikes and they are in the water when I emerge in my DTs, my Speedos, my racing trunks. I carry nothing else but my tiny travelling towel and the key to my locker.

The pool is a former canal barge modified and lined with fibreglas and tethered in the river. It floats. It's filled with treated water so it's bright blue alongside the dirty Spree. Rules: No photos. No glass. No sandy feet. The three boys are in giant board shorts. They frolic. I swim lengths. It's a 25 metre pool and heated. The only other people around the pool are a young couple intent on a form of leisure not exactly connected with water - more an exchange of saliva.

My swim is accompanied by a techno beat that broadcasts across the sand. Upstream from the pool is a sad old river boat moored to the bank. There's no one in sight but I'm sure there is another techno beat pulsing from its guts. The river is alive with passing tourist cruise boats built to resemble horizontal missiles. A man in a small cruiser moored at the mouth of a canal waits for non-existent customers to hire his fleet of faded orange canoes.

I do my twenty laps. I collect my towel and exchange my key for my card. I am momentarily tempted to have a drink at the bar but quickly make the decision to continue my journey into Berlin subculture. I am in old East Berlin by a matter of a hundred metres. This is the hiden quarter.

I have swum in, or to be more precise, on the Spree. I have immersed myself in one of the more obscure aspects of Berlin culture.

Like JFK before me I am now in a position to make my claim "Ich bin ein Berliner".

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Hitier's Nightmare

Karl Marx Strasse in the immigrant quarter of Kreuzberg

Muslim women, black Africans and gays on Karl Marx Strabe. Hitler and his henchmen set out to eliminate all of these, and particularly the Jews, from German society. I knew some of this but the details were harrowing.. I didn't realise, for instanc,e how deep-seated and historical was the hatred of the Jews in Europe. It preceded Hitler. He became it's ultimate expression.

I spent three hours today at what is known as the Topography of Terror site. An area based around the massive Third Reich central administrative complex. In a wall of information and in a specifically dssigned building, the story of the rise to power of Hitler's National Socialists was told in unforgiving detail.

Topography of Terror - Luftwaffe building in the background
Ironically only Goring's Luftwaffe headquarters survived the allied bombing and stands today as a reminder of the excesses and the ambitions of Hitler. He and his architect,Speer, had designed a new Berlin as the capital of the new German dominated world. It was to be named Germania and the central building was to be a closed, covered arena which could hold 200,000 people.  The scale of the vision was monstrous.
Karl; Marx Tube station

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Berlin - AMAZING

Memorial to Johann Elser, an anti nazi carpenter who attempted to kill Hitler in 1939 and who was subsequently caught and excuted
Exhilarating, confronting, confusing, surprising, appalling.

There's not many cities that can do that to you in the space of a few hours. !2 houris ago i would have said that I was underwhelmed by Berlin. Our apartment is in a five story 1980s block of east Berlin apartments. Our view is of the largest construction sight I have seen in my life - think three whole blocks of a major city. The walk I took introduced me to a bland landscape of shop fronts including Starbucks, MacDonald's and Pizza Hut. And, where a day ago there were baguettes and boulangeries on every corner, there was pumpernickel bread and supermarkets.
Twenty four hours is a long time in the life of a tourist. I am gobsmacked. I'll try and be brief but i could fill pages.

Okay lets start with accolades for a young orange bearded Belfast born guide with a PhD in German folklore. Thank you Finn. In a five hour walk he turned my head around. What history, what turmoil, what a city of contrasts, contradictions and devastation. 

Built on a swamp with a constant need to pump water from beneath the city, Berlin has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over. I knew it had a Nazi German third Reich history and a East West Berlin Wall Cold War history but nothing prepares you for the evidence of that.Even the evidence of that which is invisible is compelling. 

The building we are staying in, for instance, turns out to be one of the last East German apartment blocks built before the wall came down in 1989. That's gives it some redeeming qualities. some historical significance but wait - it's built on the land that once housed the Albert Speer designed house built for Adolf Hitler - a house the size of the shopping complex I referred to earlier being built outside our window. The bunker in which Hitler suicided sits 100 metres away.  

CSo what is Berlin after one day? All of those words I began with. A sense of exhilaration that a nation could survive such turmoil and be committed to confronting its own history. Everything is acknowledged  - the tragedy and madness of Hitler's regime, the folly and pain of the Cold War era, the Jewish legacy, the horrors of war and the indulgence of capitalism. Only one element is not spoken about or signed, and believe me there are stories on walls and monuments and street fronts everywhere. The German people still struggle with a horrible fear that it could all happen again. As a result, all physical evidence of Hitler - his home, his bunker, his life have been eliminated. There is not even signage to indicate where these might have been.There remains a fear that he could still become a hero to the far right in this country. That these sights might become pilgrimage or worship sites. Even now it is illegal to stock or sell copies of his book 'Mein Kemp' in Germany. Some say it should be studied in schools to understand how this madman came to power; others fear it might ignite a new madness.

And the appalling and confronting. The, to my eyes, crass rush to commercialise the city, the bizarre way the history is turned into an amusement park, the experience of seeing and hearing the squeals of teenagers playing in the maze at the memorial to the Jewish victims of the holocaust. All this beside some of the most honest and moving tributes to humanity I have exer experienced.
And it's only day one! 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Au revoir France

The boys in the kitchen opposite one floor up.

The pine cone, sy
The pine cone, symbol of Aix. Out our window

Our local square. A vino each evening.

Romance in Aix. At the end of our street.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Arles - Caravans and Clouds

 Arles. I didn't expect it to be more than a city surviving on its connections with Van Gogh and the Romans. What a surprise. Yes it has the places Van Gogh painted. The yellow cafe surrounded by Japanese tourists taking photost.The hospital and its garden where he spent time when he was having his mental health troubles

There's an impressive Roman arena and a Roman Theatre but I didn't expect a Museum of contemporary art in an ancient building donated to the city by Picasso. It featurred an exhibition themed around clouds. What artists see and do with clouds is quite amazing.
Finally, as part of the Marseille and Provence European Capital of Culture it is hosting a maze of  photography exhibitions - over 50 individual exhibitions paying homage to past and contemporary black and white photography. I saw two which excited me. The first was a collaborative showing in a series of shopfronts and basements aroound the theme of caravans and caravan holidays. It was familiar, whimsical and both innocent and savvy (complete with a caravan in the square nearby).

The second was a South American, Sergio Larrain, who documented the lives of people across the nations of S America in the 50s and 60s. He has such a good eye and a wonderful sense of composition. It made me realise what is missing from most of my photos - light, composition, form, and soething intangible, a story element which he captures every time. Check him out.

Oh, and Arles is a beautiful town on the Rhone by the way.

Aix - La Rotunde. Porquois Deux

 Aix has a beautiful fountain as its centre piece.
Oops. if you could see it!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Cezanne and Lorenzo

St Victoire - the motif ocurring throughout the work of Cezanne.
 I might be pushing it a bit but Cezanne was born in Aix in 1939 just two years after Lorenzo was born in Brugnera, Italy.

It was an era of transition. Cezanne and his artist colleagues were seeking new forms and new visions. They (Van Gough, Matisse, Gauguin, Bonnard and later Picasso and others) gathered in the south of France, inspired by its light, its beauty and its hisory to paint and experiment as artists had never done before.. Foe them it was an 'arcadia', a golden vision of romantic perfection.

Cezanne is regarded as the father of modern art as it evolved from classic representational art through the impressionists and finally to cubism and abstract art. He is said (by his contemporaries) to  have begun the journey. It's been great to follow this story through the streets of Aix and through two excellent exhibitions - one in Aix and the other in Marseille.

Now, Lorenzo and the italians were travelling this part of the world as these new ideas were emerging and I suspect that, though they would not have been aware of any of these artists, they were nevertheless infected by the romantic stories and arcadian visions of the South Pacific and the utopian dreams of Europe when it came to imagining this distant idyll. In a very weird way Lorenzo and his family and friends were caught up in, not only their struggle to escape poverty, but also a quest for a dream of something new and different. Their utopia. their arcadia.

Friday, 5 July 2013


The fountain of the four dolphin.
  I've noticed I have been studiously avoiding taking photos of the unattractive aspects of the cities and towns I visit. I ask myself why is this? Am I intent on only rembering this trip as a positive experience? Is one hard-wired to seek out the pleasing and the beautiful and to supress or ignore the balnd and ugly?

Church of La Madeleine
 A good photograph is not always of a pleasant subject. War photographers produce some arresting but beautifully composed images. Anyway I decided to "notice" some of the less attractive elements of Aix, having chosen not to document the vast industrial developments which occupy large tracts of land in the north of Italy on the fringes of the small and mostly attractive villages.

17th Century  Mansion (detail)

The medieval section of the Aix Cathedral

Aixathedral + Tour de France