Monthly Archives: March 2018

Berlin Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral

Berlin’s protestant cathedral was only forty years old when it was bombed by the allies in 1944, and it wasn’t completely restored until 2002. It’s never even had a Bishop’s chair – or even a Bishop – and yet it should be on every visitor’s list of things to see in Berlin.

Situated in the oldest part of the city opposite the Lustgarten, this neo-renaissance building was built by the young Emperor Wilhelm II as his private church to compliment his family’s city palace across the road. It immediately had its critics when the building’s religious significance appeared to take second place to the importance of the Emperor and the Hohenzollern dynasty, but somehow, it’s this connection with the German Empire that makes it especially interesting.

From the outside it almost looks as though the intention was to create a church on the lines of St. Peter’s in Rome but being a protestant church, I suppose it was more likely to have been influenced by somewhere like St. Paul’s in London.

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German History Museum

The Armoury Building from the Lustgarten

German History Museum

 

The German Historical Museum’s permanent exhibition is located in the early 18th cent Armoury building on Unter den Linden, with a modern extension housing temporary exhibitions in the Exhibition Hall at the rear.

The collection of Germany’s important historical artefacts has taken a few twists and turns along the way, but with reunification came the opportunity to present them all under one roof, and in 2006 after five years of renovation, the doors opened to the Armoury giving Germany a historical museum that it could be proud of.

As its name suggests, this baroque building was originally built to house the Prussian arsenal before being turned into an army museum. During the Nazi period, this museum was the location for an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler.

Rudolph Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, an officer in the German army, intended a suicide bombing when he was giving a tour of the Armoury to Hitler, Goering, Himmler, and other top officials. He set the device to blow up ten minutes into the tour, but the plan failed because Hitler rushed through the museum in less than ten minutes! Apparently, Gersdorff only had seconds to spare before being able to diffuse the bomb and save his own skin. His attempt was kept secret and he carried on living until the age of 74 and died in 1980.

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Humboldt University and Bebelplatz

Humboldt University

Humboldt University and Bebelplatz

 

This famous university isn’t a visitor attraction in the true sense of the word, but its historical background makes it more than worthy of a review.

The main building is situated in Unter den Linden opposite Bebelplatz where the Old Library faces the Berlin State Opera House.

Outside the main building are two statues. One is of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the university in 1810, and the other one is of an explorer and natural scientist, Alexander von Humboldt, Wilhelm’s brother, who also happened to work at the university.

Along with his accomplices, Wilhelm adopted four classical faculties for Berlin University (as it was then called) – Law, theology, medicine, and philosophy. It was so successful that a total of 29 Nobel Prize winners passed through its doors, including Max Planck and Albert Einstein. Other historical figures who studied here were Otto von Bismarck and founders of the Marxist Theory Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

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The Royal Mile

The Lawnmarket

The Royal Mile

First impressions of the Royal Mile might lead you to the conclusion that the most famous thoroughfare in Scotland is just one long street encouraging swarms of tourists to part with their hard-earned money on buying ‘Tartan Tat’, but scratch below the surface and it will soon become apparent why this spinal cord that joins Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood has played such an important part in Edinburgh’s – and Scotland’s –  history.

The history goes back a long way too – about 340 million years in fact. This was around the time when volcanic activity, followed by glaciers during the ice age, helped to form a classic example of what geologists call a ‘Crag and Tail’. Obviously, the crag is where the castle sits, and the tail is the ridge that has become known as the Royal Mile.

This famous artery is not just one street but five – Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand, and if you’ve not been here before it helps to know where each one is and what it has to offer.

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Bankside

Shakespeare's Globe

Bankside

The Bankside area of Southwark roughly equates with the riverside between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.

The distance between the two bridges is about a mile and there are not only plenty of things to see, but also a fair number of pubs to hold you up along the way, and if you stop at all of them you’ll need holding up yourself.

Next to Blackfriars Railway Bridge is the Founders Arms, which although modern is in a great location overlooking the river, but as this isn’t a pub crawl I’ll assume that you’ll want to move straight on to the first real point of interest which is the Tate Modern.

Housed inside the former Bankside Power Station, this gallery of modern art won’t appeal to everyone, and depending on your taste in art you can either spend the best part of a day in here or hardly any time at all. Either way, you should go in and take a look, not just because it’s free, but you can always take the lift up to the viewing level of the Blavatnik Building for great views over the City of London and beyond.

Outside the river entrance to the Tate Modern is the Millennium Bridge. No prizes for guessing where it got its name from, but you may be tempted across it because on the other side of the river is St Paul’s Cathedral, but as tempting as it may be, it’s best left for another time.

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The Strand

The Royal Courts of Justice

Let's all go down the Strand

Originally part of the Roman road to Silchester, the Strand has always been one of London’s most important roads as it connects the City of Westminster with the City of London, and as its name suggests, originally ran alongside the Thames, but nowadays runs slightly inland for about ¾ mile between Charing Cross and Temple Bar.

Between the 12th and 17th centuries some of the most influential people in London owned mansions along the southern side of the road with gardens that swept down to the riverside, but apart from the re-designed Somerset House, they have all but disappeared.

As the aristocracy left for the West End, the Strand became a popular hangout for people who preferred a pint, a coffee, or even a cup of tea and at no. 216 you can still visit Twinings which has been here since 1706. These days it’s more like a small museum, and somewhere to sample their different blends. The samples are free, but the idea of course is that you’ll be tempted to buy one or two of them before you leave.

During the 19th century Joseph Bazalgette’s plans to improve London’s sewage system led to the demolition of many of the fine houses that were still left along the Strand. The river was narrowed, the shoreline raised, and a road built to form an Embankment.

Not only did the engineering works improve the health of Londoners, it also improved transport links between Westminster and the City. Apart from the road, an underground railway line was constructed underneath it, all of which helped to relieve congestion along the Strand.

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The London Mithraeum

The Temple of Mithras

The London Mithraeum

 

If you catch the Tube to Bank and walk down Walbrook towards Bloomberg’s Mithraeum it might be worth casting your mind back almost 2,000 years to when the Romans arrived.

Under your feet is the River Walbrook, which was the limit of the first Roman settlement, but as the swampy land around it was reclaimed, then so it expanded. A map of Roman London shows that the brook eventually dissected Londinium into two and played an important part in Roman life. It brought fresh water downstream and discharged waste into the Thames. It was also navigable up to a point near to where the Mansion House now stands.

Around 200 years after the Romans arrived, the Temple to Mithras was built on the east bank of the brook, possibly by an army veteran called Ulpius Silvanus. The question has to be asked who was Mithras, and why build a temple to him here? The answers can be found in a visit to the London Mithraeum.

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Salisbury Cathedral Pt 3 – The Highlights

Bishop de Bridport's Tomb

Salisbury Cathedral Pt 3 - The Highlights

 

In Salisbury Cathedral Pt 2 I described the different parts of the church, and so for this final part I’m going to explain what there is to see inside – or at least some of the highlights.

Throughout the church there’s a good collection of tombs for anyone who’s interested in this sort of thing. The first person to be buried here was William Longespee Earl of Salisbury, illegitimate son of King Henry II, and half-brother of King John. He died in 1226 and next to his wooden tomb is a plaque stating that he was present at the laying of the foundation stones of the Cathedral in 1220.

The tomb of Bishop Giles de Bridport, who was at the consecration of the Cathedral in 1258 is considered to be one of the finest 13th cent tombs in Britain, but probably the most majestic is the Hertford tomb. The Earl of Hertford (1539-1621) was the nephew of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and lying above him is the effigy of his wife Lady Catherine Grey, the sister of Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England for 9 days in 1553.

I should also mention that former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who lived at Arundells in The Close opposite the Cathedral was buried here in 2005 in a much simpler grave.

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Salisbury Cathedral Pt 2 – The New Cathedral

The Nave

Salisbury Cathedral Pt 2 - The New Cathedral

 

Having explained how the new Cathedral came about in Salisbury Cathedral Pt 1, I’d like to talk a bit more about the building itself.

To start with I don’t suppose any building that’s been around for almost 800 years would have been untouched in any way, and of course Salisbury Cathedral is no exception, but the good news is that this remarkable church is still essentially the same as when it was built.

There have been a few hiccups along the way mind you including the removal of many of the stained-glass windows during the Reformation, and even some damage during the Civil War, but as was often the case, well-meaning restorers probably did the most amount of damage.

According to the official Salisbury Cathedral guidebook, the late 18th century saw James Wyatt clear the churchyard, demolish the Bell Tower, lime-wash the vaulting, cover medieval paintings, and remove even more medieval glass.

It wasn’t all bad news though. If you take a look at the West Front, you’ll find that there are 79 statues adorning the façade, and 72 of them have been added since the 19th century. George Gilbert Scott was responsible for most of them during his period of restoration between 1860 and 1876, and I reckon the West Front looks fantastic.

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Salisbury Cathedral Pt 1 – New for Old

Salisbury Cathedral Pt 1 - New for Old

 

My favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, said in his book ‘Notes from a Small Island’, that “There is no doubt in my mind that Salisbury Cathedral is the single most beautiful structure in England and the Close around it the most beautiful space”, and who am I to argue with Bill Bryson? It’s only his opinion of course, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who would agree with him.

If you’ve been to Old Sarum, you would have seen the Iron Age Hillfort where William the Conqueror built a castle, and successive Bishops built the first Salisbury Cathedral, but conditions were less than ideal for the clergy who lived here. It was windswept and cramped, and they didn’t get on too well with their neighbours in the castle either, and so early in the 13th century they decided to relocate down to the valley below.

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