Monthly Archives: November 2018

Wilhelmstrasse

The Former Air Ministry Building

Wilhelmstrasse

If the outcome of WWII had been different, and London had been beaten into submission instead of Berlin, then imagine if you can, what Whitehall would look like now: Wilhelmstrasse is (or was) Berlin’s ‘Whitehall’.

The road runs for one and a half miles between the Marschallbrucke on the River Spree down to Hallesches Tor in Kreuzberg, but the most interesting part from a historical point of view, is the section between the bridge and Niederkirchnerstrasse where the Berlin Wall split the city into two.

Originating from the time of King Frederick William I, this once wealthy residential thoroughfare, developed into Prussia’s main government district with many of the buildings being taken over by the state, including the Palais Schulenburg for Otto von Bismarck’s Chancellery.

At the end of WWI, the area came under the control of the Weimar Republic, but on 30th January 1933 there was a new Chancellor – Adolf Hitler, who immediately set about building a new chancellery for the Third Reich at the junction of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss Strasse.

After Hitler’s suicide in the Chancellery bunker and the subsequent defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the street found itself within the Russian sector as far as Prinz Albrecht Strasse (now Niederkirchnerstrasse). Bomb damage and the Battle for Berlin had left the area in tatters, and as neither the Russians nor East Germans had any reason to save whatever was left, the land where Prussian palaces once stood, was now either part of No-Man’s Land separating East and West Berlin or built upon with Eastern Bloc architecture.

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Edinburgh at Christmastime

Edinburgh at Christmastime

Hogmanay in Edinburgh is world renowned, but Christmastime is pretty good too, and what’s more, by booking in advance, travel and accommodation costs are a fraction of the price that they are for the New Year celebrations.

The main Christmas market centres around East Princes Street Gardens and has everything you would expect – and more.

We enjoyed our visit here in 2015 so much that we’ve decided to come back again this year (2018).

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The Heart of Midlothian

The Heart of Midlothian

Edinburgh has two football teams – Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian (Hearts for short) and outside St. Giles’ Cathedral there is a heart of stone set into the pavement known as the Heart of Midlothian.

If you happen to be walking past and catch somebody spitting on it don’t assume that it’s a Hibernian (Hibs) fan venting his feelings because the custom of spitting on this spot goes back a long time.

Not to be confused with today’s council area of the same name, Edinburgh used to be at the heart of the old historic county of Midlothian, and the area around St. Giles was where the Scottish parliament and administrative offices were located. The original Tolbooth was also situated here which during its time was a court house, prison and place of execution. It was demolished in 1817 but had stood for over 400 years.

The position of the heart is where the entrance to the prison would have been and where the executions took place, and so it’s not difficult to see where the connection between the heart and the custom of spitting on it comes from.

These days it’s said that the tradition continues more for good luck than anything else. Whether that would apply to a Glasgow Rangers or Celtic fan I’m not so sure.

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St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral

Hovering over the top half of the High Street is the crown shaped steeple of St. Giles’ Cathedral.

Technically speaking it’s not a Cathedral at all as there is no Bishop, so officially it’s known as the High Kirk.

Architecturally, it’s not one of Europe’s outstanding ecclesiastical gems even though it’s been here since 1124. The main reason for that is because what we mostly see today is just a couple of hundred years old after some major restoration in the 19th century.

That’s not to say that it’s not worth visiting because this is the church where John Knox was minister when he helped bring about the Scottish Reformation during the 16th century.

It’s also the church where King Charles I decided to introduce the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to the Scots in 1637. Fury erupted and the following year the National Covenant was signed which reminded the King that he may have been the King of Scotland but he was definitely not the head of the Scottish Church. The outcome of his interference led to the English Civil War and ultimately his life when he was executed in Whitehall in 1649.

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Edinburgh’s Closes

White Horse Close

Edinburgh's Closes

As Edinburgh started to spread out from the Royal Mile a rabbit warren of Closes, Wynds and Courts developed to house the expanding population. Generally speaking Wynds were open alleyways with a public right of way whereas Closes were private and closed at one end. Collectively, I believe that they’re all often referred to as Closes.

Characteristically, the buildings were (and still are) tenements with multiple occupancy. People from all walks of life lived in the same block but needless to say some apartments were much better than others. I read somewhere that there were as many as 300 Closes, but I think the figure is much nearer to 60 these days. Even so you can’t fail to notice them and it has to be said that most of them are not that enticing to wander into – if you can that is.

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Christmas at Kew

Christmas at Kew

I intimated in my Introduction to Kew Gardens that I was intending to follow it up with some more detailed posts about other aspects of the park, and as Christmas is on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to show people what Christmas at Kew is like.

2018 will be the sixth year it’s been running and has already established itself as a firm favourite with everyone.

Basically, it involves a trail that is festooned with illuminations of all descriptions, but rather than explaining what it’s all about I’ll leave you with a link to the website and some pictures from 2017 that will give you a taste of what to expect.

https://www.kew.org/kew-gardens/whats-on/christmas-at-kew

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Kew Gardens – An Introduction

Kew Gardens - An Introduction

Just as it’s impossible to see the whole of Kew Gardens in one visit, the same thing applies to writing about it, and so I’ve decided to begin with an overview of how the gardens evolved and the main areas of interest.

To give you an indication of the magnitude of the place, it boasts that it has the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological (fungi) collections in the world” with more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, an Herbarium with over 7 million specimens, a library with 750,000 books, and more than 175,000 prints and drawings. To that you can add five Grade I listed buildings, and (including its sister botanical garden at Wakehurst in West Sussex) currently employs around 800 staff. It even has its own police force. No wonder it’s on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

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The Southbank

The Queen's Walk near the National Theatre

The Southbank

The Southbank is not a defined area, but for this review it refers to the riverside area south of the river between Westminster Bridge and Lambeth’s border with Southwark at Bankside.

It may be difficult to imagine now, but this area known as Lambeth Marsh, was virtually undeveloped before the 19th century. The wet terrain was hardly a prime location for the type of development that had taken place across the other side of the river, but during the Victorian era, the shallow bank and mudflats became an asset for industries such as printing works, coal wharves, dye works and breweries, to name just a few.

The first half of the 20th century wasn’t kind to Lambeth with factories either in decline or being destroyed by WWII bombs, and so when it was suggested that a Festival of Britain would have its centrepiece here, things started to take a different direction.

The festival was supposed to be a national exhibition celebrating British achievements, but it was to become more than that. The ravages of WWII had left the country in need of a lift from austerity, and so entertainment and culture were deemed just as important as science and technology, and so various forms of entertainment were included when the festival opened on 4th May 1951.

The Southbank site was only ever going to be temporary and most of it was demolished after the festival was over five months later, but the Royal Festival Hall remained.

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Iddesleigh and the War Horse Story

Iddesleigh

Iddesleigh and the War Horse Story

Iddesleigh is one of those delightful little cob and thatch villages that lies hidden amongst the rolling hills of the West Devon countryside.

It’s not somewhere that you just stumble across, and even in this modern age where everywhere is near somewhere, thanks to the ever-increasing ability of motorists to seek out the most obscure places, it still takes a bit of finding – but it’s worth the effort.

The home of less than 200 people, Iddesleigh has a church and a pub but not much else, and were it not for a nearby farm I don’t suppose too many people would bother to seek it out at all.

Between 1830 and 1836 Parsonage Farm was the home of the Reverend ‘Jack’ Russell, the curate of St James’ Church. He was the first breeder of the terriers to which he gave his name, but this isn’t the reason why people come to take a look around the farm. They come here to find out more about another animal – Joey the War Horse.

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Exeter Quayside

Exeter Quayside

The Roman and medieval city of Exeter grew up on a hill overlooking the River Exe, which means that the river runs below the city rather than through it.

This also means that it requires an inconvenient 15-minute walk downhill from the city centre (unless you follow the nicer walk alongside the City Wall), or an even more inconvenient bus service to get here. That said, get here you must, because it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the city.

In my Brief History of Exeter, I mentioned that a Celtic tribe called the Dumnonii were the first people to settle here, and although there doesn’t appear to be any hard evidence, it seems likely that they were trading at the Quayside before the Romans arrived.

You might have expected the Romans to be trading here themselves, and although they probably did, their main port was at Topsham, some 4 miles downstream.

Even so, by the Middle Ages, trade was flourishing on the Quayside – or at least it was until Countess Isabella de Fortibus built a weir across the river above Topsham to run her mills. To bypass the problem a canal was built from the opposite side of the river down to a point just below Topsham.

Exeter’s influence was restored, and by the mid-18th century trade reached its peak when woollen cloth became the chief export. This cloth was stored in warehouses along with imported olive oil, wine and salt cod.

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