Author Archives: Malcolm

The Berlin Festival of Lights

The Berlin Festival of Lights

This week I’ve been sifting through a load of old pictures which is a great exercise in procrastination if ever there was one.

Most of them will never see the light of day outside of our own four walls because they were taken in pre-digital days in the form of prints or transparencies, but here are some that were taken digitally in 2015.

Each October since 2004 Berlin brightens up the Autumn evenings by staging the Festival of Lights.

Landmark buildings and monuments are turned into an amazing light art festival, and although there’s not much to say about them, I’ve decided to include a selection as a gallery for posterity.

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Thatcher Point to Anstey’s Cove

Thatcher Point to Anstey's Cove

It’s possible to walk the whole of this route, but it’s not a circular trail and includes a certain amount of road walking, so driving to each point of interest is an option definitely worth considering.

Between Meadfoot Beach and Babbacombe is one of Torquay’s most exclusive areas. Centred on Thatcher Avenue, the area is known locally as Millionaire’s Row, but you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy what is arguably the most interesting part of the Torquay coastline.

This area of Torbay is as good as anywhere to understand why the English Riviera was given status as a UNESCO Global Geopark, one of only seven locations in the UK.

The best place to begin discovering what all this means is Kent’s Cavern, but as I’ll be writing a separate post about it, I’ll just give a brief explanation as to why the area was deemed important enough to be added to the list.

Anyone who read my post Golden Cap and Fossil Hunting at Charmouth will be well aware that the Jurassic Coast is a great place to study geology and early life on earth, but the rocks around Torbay are much older.

The Jurassic Coast covers rocks formed over a period from 65 to 250 million years ago, but the geology around Torbay covers a period from 360 to 419 million years ago – give or take a few million years.

This different time period was discovered by geologists Adam Sedgwick and Roderick Murchison and endorsed by William Lonsdale, another geologist, who recognised that coral fossils found along the Torquay coastline were from the same era.

Although there was a lot of debate at the time, by 1840 it was generally agreed that there was indeed a new geological era between the already recognised Carboniferous and Silurian periods. Due to the studies made here this new era became known as the Devonian Period.

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Golden Cap and Fossil Hunting at Charmouth

Golden Cap from Charmouth's East Beach

Golden Cap and Fossil Hunting at Charmouth

How do you drag kids away from their social media lives without annoying them? That’s a question that lots of parents must wrestle with these days, but thankfully it’s one I don’t have to, but if I did, I think that I would take them for a day out to somewhere like Charmouth.

As a kid, I always enjoyed rummaging around in rockpools seeing what I could find, and I also remember my first project at school was about dinosaurs and early life on earth; here at Charmouth, you can have the best of both worlds because there’s no better place in the country to go fossil hunting, and judging from the number of families who come here, it seems like I’m not the only one who finds this an enjoyable and stimulating day out.

The Dorset and East Devon coastline has been given World Heritage Status by UNESCO and is widely known as the Jurassic Coast. In actual fact, the 95 miles of coastline between Exmouth and Old Harry Rocks in Purbeck covers three different periods of Earth’s history – from the Triassic Period (250-200 million years ago) through the Jurassic Period (200-140m) to the Cretacious Period (140-65m) – a total of 185 million years.

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Picturesque Polperro

Picturesque Polperro

If someone unfamiliar with Cornwall were to ask me to take them to a picturesque Cornish fishing village, I would have to take them to Polperro. It has everything you would expect – from a lovely harbour, narrow streets with quaint cottages, coastal walks and some great pubs to finish off with; what more could you ask for?

The only problem is that I’m not the only one who thinks it has everything, and so if you choose to come at the same time as everyone else then Polperro might not live up to expectations. I know this applies to any popular destination, but if you can come on a pleasant day out of season (preferably with an overnight stop) then you will be rewarded with a much better experience.

You can reach Polperro from Looe by a bus service that suits the company more than it does the passengers (remember everything down here operates on Cornish Mean Time), but if you have your own transport you will have to park at the top of the village near the Crumplehorn Inn where the local highwayman used to masquerade as the car park attendant. These days he’s been replaced by his metal mickey equivalent whose advanced technology doesn’t seem to stretch as far as being able to dish out any change.

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Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

Between October 22nd – 28th 1961 the eyes of the world were focused on Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East and West Berlin during the years of the Cold War. A stand-off between American and Soviet tanks could have resulted in quite possibly, WWIII, but both sides had the sense to realise the consequences and serious conflict was avoided.

I’m sure that many of you will know how all this came about, but I think it’s worth repeating anyway.

The background to the drama goes back to the end of WWII when Germany was divided up by the four main countries responsible for its defeat – Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. Although they were united in defeating Nazi Germany, the differences in ideology between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union had been obvious for quite some time. Really, it was just a case of agreeing to disagree while they defeated the common enemy of Nazi Germany.

At the end of the war Germany was divided up into West Germany, (controlled by the Western alliance), and East Germany (controlled by the Soviet Union). Berlin, which was situated deep inside the Soviet sector, was also divided up by the victors into West and East Berlin.

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The Topography of Terror

The Outdoor Gallery, Berlin Wall and Air Ministry Building

The Topography of Terror

The Topography of Terror is both an outdoor and indoor museum on the site of the former Nazi headquarters for the Gestapo and SS.

It lies at the intersection of Wilhelmstrasse and Niederkirchnerstrasse, and covers the area once occupied by the Prinz-Albrecht Palais.

The area around Wilhelmstrasse was the main centre for the Nazi administration, and although Hermann Goering’s former Reich Air Ministry building (now German Finance Ministry) still towers over the Topography of Terror, most of these buildings have long gone.

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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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The Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial

The Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial

There are three Soviet War Memorials in Berlin, one in Treptower Park, another in Pankow, and this one in the Tiergarten, which is probably the most well-known of the three, and unveiled just two months after the fall of Berlin to the Soviet army in May 1945.

The Battle for Berlin cost 80,000 Soviet lives and over 2,000 of them are buried here at this large memorial not far from the Brandenburg Gate. Ironically, after the partition of the city into 4 zones, the monument fell inside the British sector.

All parties agreed to allow it to be guarded by two Soviet soldiers, which it did until 1993.

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The Siegessaule

The Siegesaulle

In the middle of The Tiergarten at Grosser Stern, stands the Siegessaule, or Victory Column, and if you’ve got €3 – and the energy – it’s possible to climb the 285 steps to the viewing gallery that sits just under Victoria, the Roman goddess of Victory.

The monument was designed by Johann Heinrich Strack, and the 8.3m golden statue on top of the column was added by Friedrich Drake and represents both the Goddess of Victory and Borussia, the Latin name for Prussia. Her face is supposedly based on Drake’s daughter and known as the Goldelse (Golden Else), or roughly translated as ‘Golden Lizzie’.

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The Tiergarten

Schloss Bellevue

The Tiergarten

The official German name for the park known as The Tiergarten is Grosser Tiergarten, which helps to distinguish it from the district of the same name.

This huge park in central Berlin covers an area of some 520 acres roughly enclosed by the River Spree on its northern edge to the Tiergarten Strasse in the south, and from the Brandenburg Gate in the east to the zoo in the west.

The Strasse des 17 Juni runs through the centre of the park from east to west, and where it meets the Großer Stern (Great Star) the Siegessaule (Victory Column) stands sentinel over the whole park around it.

Only Templehofer Park (the former Templehof Airport) and the English Garden in Munich are larger so it’s best not to underestimate its size before deciding on where to go.

The name Grosser Tiergarten literally means ‘Large Game Park’ and gives a clue to its original use.

In the 16th century the Great Elector, Friedrich Wilhelm, turned this marshy ground into a hunting enclosure, but during the 17th and 18th centuries the area was gradually turned into more formal pleasure grounds for the people of Berlin – wide avenues were constructed, trees planted, and monuments erected.

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