Monthly Archives: February 2018

Federal Row – The Bundestag

The Federal Chancellery Building

Federal Row - The Bundestag

 

With the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the subsequent re-unification of Germany in 1990, an opportunity arose to bring the Federal government back to where it belonged in Central Berlin.

I don’t suppose it took much deliberation as to where to locate the new parliament. The Reichstag may have been battered and bruised from the events of the 20th century, but it was still standing, and the wasteland that was left surrounding it created a blank canvas for developers who could no doubt envisage a new dawn for a new Germany in the new millennium.

Politics isn’t an exciting subject for many people, but rarely has politics been boring in Germany, and if you venture into this part of the city, which is more than possible, then it’s worth knowing a bit about what you’re looking at.

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Unofficial Memorial to Victims of the Berlin Wall

Unofficial Memorial to Victims of the Berlin Wall

 

Anyone who walks between the Brandenburg Gate and The Reichstag can’t fail to notice 14 white crosses spread along a fence next to the Tiergarten. These crosses are obviously a memorial to those who died trying to get across the Berlin Wall, but they’re not supposed to be here – but why not?

It’s not because the authorities don’t want the events publicised because there’s an official memorial on the banks of the River Spree behind the Reichstag.

The reason that they’re not wanted is down to the man who has chosen to erect his own personal memorial here – a man by the name of Gustav Rust. It’s more than possible you’ll bump into Herr Rust if you walk along Ebertstrasse because he seems to be here most of the time.

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The Reichstag

The Reichstag

 

One of Berlin’s most famous landmarks is the Reichstag.

This iconic building has helped the German Bundestag become the most visited parliament in the world, partly because of its architecture, partly because of its accessibility, but mainly because of its history.

Kaiser Wilhelm II laid the final stone of this neoclassical building in 1894 and it has continued to play a pivotal role in German history ever since. Initially the parliament was really that in name only and the Kaiser was the man who dictated the terms, but in November 1918 Phillip Scheidemann announced from a window here at the Reichstag that the country was now to become a republic and the Weimar Republic was formed.

The republic was just fourteen years old when the Nazis came to power and the dubious Reichstag fire of 1933 helped change the course of history. The events that followed are obviously well documented elsewhere, but as World War II came to its final moments, one of the most memorable images of the conflict show the victorious Russian army raising the Soviet flag on top of the Reichstag. Even today it’s still possible to see bullet holes if you care to look for them.

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The Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate

 

Ever since the Brandenburg Gate was built it has become a symbol of the city.

It was constructed as a symbol of peace – but then became a Prussian symbol, a Nazi symbol, and then a symbol of the division between East and West. Since reunification it has once again become a symbol of peace, and so I can’t think of a more fitting place to start a tour of Berlin.

It was constructed between 1781 and 1791 for the Prussian monarchy that lived in the Crown Prince’s Palace in Unter den Linden. Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans the arch was modelled on the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens and topped by the Quadriga designed by Johann Gottfried Schadow.

In 1806 Napoleon defeated the European coalition which included Prussia and on entering Berlin he took the Quadriga back home to Paris as a souvenir.

After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 it was returned to the Brandenburg Gate and was declared a symbol of victory, and as if to reinforce the point, the Prussian eagle and iron cross inside a laurel wreath was added to the Goddess of Victory’s staff.

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A Wander through Victoria Embankment’s Main Garden

Lunchtime in Summer

A Wander through Victoria Embankment's Main Garden

 

Following the completion of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s Victoria Embankment in 1870, a series of gardens were designed to enhance the appearance of this stretch of the riverside between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges.

There are in fact four separate gardens, the main one being imaginatively called the ‘Main Garden’.

As you enter the Villiers St entrance next to Embankment underground station you’ll have a bandstand to your left which has a programme of events throughout the summer, and a grassy area which gets taken over by office workers during their lunch breaks.

You may well be tempted to head straight for the footpath that leads past the magnificent mixed borders through the garden, but if you would like to know where the bank of the Thames used to be before the Embankment was created then head up to the north-west corner and check out the York House Water Gate.

This gate was built in 1626 as an entrance to the Thames for the Duke of Buckingham but now stands a hundred metres away from the river, but still in its original position.

Nearby is Gordon’s Wine Bar which I can highly recommend, but if you’re anything like me, is probably best left until later.

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Cleopatra’s Needle

Cleopatra's Needle

One of the most prominent features along the Victoria Embankment is Cleopatra’s Needle.

This Ancient Egyptian obelisk is one of three that were re-erected during the 19th century. One can be found in Central Park, New York City, and the other in the Place de la Concorde, Paris.

The London and New York obelisks are a pair that were originally erected in the ancient city of Heliopolis, and the one in Paris was also one of a pair from Luxor where its twin still remains.

The London and New York ‘Needles’ were erected for Thutmose III around 1450 BC and remained in Heliopolis (now swallowed up by the city of Cairo) until the Romans carted them off to Alexandria. It couldn’t have been no mean feat as they each weigh over 200 tons.

Research seems to suggest that the obelisks didn’t arrive in Cleopatra’s home city until some 15 years after she committed suicide, but I suppose Cleopatra’s Needle has a better ring to it than Thutmose III’s Needle.

So how come one of these 21 metre high monuments ended up on London’s Embankment?

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The Hungerford Bridges

The Hungerford Bridges

 

The first Hungerford Bridge was opened in 1845. It was a suspension footbridge designed by the famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and named after the market which stood where the present day Charing Cross station is.

Competition from nearby Covent Garden saw the demise of the Hungerford market but the name has remained ever since. The same couldn’t be said for Brunel’s bridge however, because in 1859 the South Eastern Railway bought it and replaced it with a new railway bridge and station at Charing Cross. The resourceful Brunel took the chains from the old bridge and then re-used them in his construction of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

The railway bridge was opened in 1864 and has been here ever since. It’s had a succession of footbridges alongside it over the years, and the latest were introduced in 2002 in recognition of the Queen’s golden jubilee.

The Golden Jubilee Bridges, to give them their official name, connect the Victoria Embankment with the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. The two bridges afford some great views both up and downriver and have become the busiest in London, and in my opinion, are an attractive and practical addition to the rather nondescript, but functional, railway bridge.

Collectively they’re known as the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges, but apart from being a mouthful, I think it’s easier to just remember them as the Hungerford Bridges.

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Victoria Tower Gardens

The Burghers of Calais

Victoria Tower Gardens

 

London is blessed with so many well known parks and gardens that it’s easy to overlook some of the less obvious ones, even in the centre of the city.

In Westminster, next to the Houses of Parliament, are the Victoria Tower Gardens, and as the name suggests, are located at the Victoria Tower end of the building.

I think the word ‘gardens’ is a bit misleading because it has a large open grassy area more reminiscent of a park, but whatever you think this open space should be called, it’s a welcome respite from the area around Parliament Square with all its hustle and bustle.

The gardens were created during the 1870s, but not officially opened until 1914.

Apart from the fact that it has a great riverside location, there are some interesting monuments here as well.

Just inside the entrance gate is a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette leader. It was unveiled in 1930 and is a timely reminder that 2018 is the centenary of the ‘Representation of the People Act’ which granted votes to all women over the age of thirty and all men over the age of twenty one. (The difference in ages was supposed to ensure that men didn’t become minority voters after the huge loss of life during WWI).

Emmeline Pankhurst died on 14th June 1928, just weeks before the Representation of the People Act (1928) which also allowed women over the age of twenty one to vote.

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Londinium

The Amphitheatre at the Guildhall

Londinium

 

As I explained in my introduction to the City of London, it was the Romans who first laid the foundation stones for the metropolis that we call London today.

After the failed attempts by Julius Caesar to conquer Britain in 55 and 54 BC, Emperor Claudius brought a larger army and made a successful invasion in 43 AD. He landed on the Kent coast near Richborough and headed towards the River Thames, where, after another successful battle, he was able to cross the river somewhere near Westminster.

It wouldn’t have taken him long to realise the strategic location of a place just downstream at where the river narrowed. Not only could the river be bridged, but it was also navigable up to this point, and so near to where London Bridge stands today, he set up camp on the north side of the river.

The location was also suitable for expanding a road system that could spread out across the country, and it wasn’t long before Londinium became an important trading post, both by road and by river. As the town grew though, so did the opposition to the conquerors and a revolt led by Boudicca left Londinium practically in ruins. However, there were very few casualties and the town was soon re-built.

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Daniel Gumb’s Cave

Daniel Gumb's Cave

 

Cornwall is a land full of tales, myths and folklore – many of which are somewhat economical with the truth, but Daniel Gumb was a real man who became a legend in his own lifetime.

Born to a humble family in nearby Linkinhorne in 1703, he worked as a stonecutter up on the moor around Stowe’s Hill. I’m not sure whether he was paid much for what he did, but he was obviously pretty good at it because he decided to build himself a cave out of the raw material that was readily available.

The 10×4 metres stone dwelling suited Daniel for several reasons, but whether his wife and nine children appreciated it as much as he did, I wouldn’t like to say.

Apart from saving himself money in the building and running costs, the Flintstone type existence enabled him to follow his love of astronomy. He also had a passion for mathematics, and if he wasn’t following the stars from the roof of his cave at night, he was solving mathematical problems during the day.

He became known as the ‘Mountain Philosopher’, and even Willam Cookworthy, who discovered China Clay in Cornwall, came here to see him.

Daniel Gumb finally went to that great big cave in the sky in 1776 aged seventy three, and his home could have gone to the bottom of the quarry floor if somebody hadn’t had the foresight to move it to a safe location when the quarry was expanded. Although it doesn’t look quite the same as it did back then, there are still some of the original slabs of stone on which he made some mathematical carvings.

The cave can be found on the way from Minions to the Cheesewring next to the quarry. The easiest way to find it is to walk around the edge of the quarry towards The Cheesewring and then just before heading uphill you’ll hopefully be able to see four grassy humps on your right hand side. The cave is tucked in between them.

OS Ref – Map 201 SX258724

Latitude – 50° 31′ 29.3″ N

Longtitude –  4° 27′ 28.51″ W

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