By Marcel Krueger:
I turn away from the plastic people and plastic boutiques of the Belgian Quarter, and cross the Friesenplatz and its puke pancakes from the night before. On my way to the cathedral and the water I pass through Steinfeldergasse, a small lane where every one of the small colourful low-rise buildings on either side is owned by the Catholic Church or a Catholic association. The church is still a dominating presence in this town.
I arrive at the cathedral shortly afterwards, walking past Komödienstrasse and An den Dominikanern, where a cameraman of the US army filmed a tank battle in March 1945. A German Panther tank destroyed a Sherman, killing three of its crew, and was in return blown up by a Pershing tank destroyer in one of the last tank fights in the destroyed city. The dramatic manoeuvres and firefights amidst the rubble around the cathedral could have been scripted by Hollywood, but the dismembered dead were all too real, futures obliterated by high-explosive shells. Now, on the streets where they died, I could buy an ‘original German cuckoo clock’, or pause to eat a döner kebab.
By Julian Hoffman:
“Everything beckons us to perceive it,
murmurs at every turn…”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Hearing that a pair of eagle owls inhabited a rocky gorge on the plateau, we decided it was worth trying to see them hunting about the cliffs at dusk. First we explored the area in daylight, getting a feel for it before evening. The gorge began at the sea in a small cove where a few fishing boats were dragged up on to the beach and a handful of people swam in the shallows. Our friends couldn’t be tempted into the late September water and so they left us, trousers rolled up to our knees, walking the crystalline edge of the Black Sea. We’d only been in the surf a few minutes when they called us over, hushing us to come quietly to the pool of water they were standing by.
A squacco heron crouched on a stone at the edge of the pool. It was water lit, absorbing the mirrored light until it glowed. The bird’s back was draped in ochre and violet; its breast laced with lemon that bloomed towards the emerald edges of its eyes. It seemed to be the reflected emblem of the day, a distilled essence of light. The green and black lance of its bill was steady, and its eyes unwavering. It appeared to be lost in a trance but was peering for fish in the shallows, as still as the reflecting water. One of us must have shifted our weight, because suddenly it unfolded the white flags of its wings and glided away.
Next Sunday it is the 9th November, and the 25th anniversary of the night the “wall came down”. Of course, it didn’t, but the first checkpoints were opened and people streamed from one side to the other and danced atop the hated structure at the Brandenburg Gate in scenes that would become some of the most iconic, not only of the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe, but of the twentieth century as a whole.
As some Under a Grey Sky readers will know, the history of this city that I have called home for over a decade continues to fascinate me, and just over a year ago I began a project called Traces of a Border – a series of explorations of the Berlin Wall Trail as a means to not only understanding the history of the division of Berlin and what it meant for people on both sides, but also the legacy of that division and how it has shaped and continues to the shape the contemporary city.
By George McKinney
Number 200 was rather special, and not just because it was the target-number. The weather was hot and sticky as we were visiting the Delta de l’Ebre (Ebro Delta for non-Catalans). Not even the mosquitoes could spoil the view out over the browning rice fields and past the large-tired machines needed to harvest the crop. Come to think of it, number 190 was rather fine too as I swam on my back in the hotel pool and looked up into the skies above Rodalquilar in Almeria, Southern Spain. But, of course, number 1 was the reason I started this list as it acted as a trigger for this one-year experiment.
We all remember places we have visited in different ways. This year many of my memories have numbers associated with them; as you can see. By now you may have guessed that the bird, a Black Stork which had deviated from its more usual territory and flew over our cortijo in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Southern Spain on the 1st of January, inspired me to keep a list of all the bird species I identified throughout the year. That is why this year’s travel memories are associated with my progress towards listing 200 different species.
We have been to the Olympic Village before, a few kilometres outside of the city limits, built for the athletes and their entourage when they came to compete in the 1936 Olympic Games. It was supposed to be a triumph for Hitler and the National Socialists, who had come to power three years earlier, but it would be remembered for the exploits of a black man from across the ocean. Jesse Owens made the Games his own, with four gold medals, and a recreation of his bedroom stands at the heart of the exhibition – most of which is in the open air.
It is a strange place. Many of the buildings are peeling and crumbling, although some renovation work has been done. There are photographs and information boards to tell you what was once here, although not so many further into the complex, when you stumble across the ruins of some more recent buildings – the remains of the Soviet military base that occupied the site during the GDR years, when this whole area was off limits for anyone without special permission to be here.
Every year we watch the marathon in Berlin, heading down to Unter den Linden to stand in the shadow of the Russian Embassy to watch the runners as they turn the final corner and can see the Brandenburg Gate for the first time. They are about a kilometre from home, and it can be pretty emotional to watch their reactions. This year we had a friend running – Rebecca – who I have known since primary school when we used to go to their house once a week and they came to ours the other, and we played spy games in the garden and her older brother Ben stole my Cadbury’s Cream Egg. Not that I am still bitter about it… anyway, where was I?
Oh yes, Rebecca. It was thanks to Rebecca that I first stayed at the Circus Hostel when I visited Berlin in October 2001, and therefore it is thanks to her for pretty much all my friends in Berlin, Katrin and Lotte, and everything else that has happened to me since. So it seemed only fair that if she was returning to the city to run her first marathon that we spent the day dressed up in t-shirts with her bib number of the back and caught U-Bahn after U-Bahn to cheer her on around the course. She did remarkably well, and it was very inspiring to watch her run, and made me think about my own running… a process that begin about three years ago with a new pair of shoes and a first difficult walk-run three kilometres through my home neighbourhood of Berlin-Wedding.
Saarland passes by the car window in a blur of green hills and industrial buildings… it is always that way in my imagination, the red brick chimneys of the Völklinger Hütte standing tall against the backdrop of the forest beyond the motorway… and it is always raining against the window or snow is falling from the sky through a winter mist, which is strange as the first time I ever came to this corner of Germany pressed up against the French border it was May, the sun shone, and we drank beers in the cobbled square of Saarbrücken, and licked our ice creams down by the river in Mettlach.