Skip to content

Discovering the ruins at twilight, Berlin

November 19, 2015


The subtitle of this blog includes the phrase “dispatches from beyond the front door” and what I was getting at when I came up with it was the idea that you don’t have to look far for adventure and discovery, and that to find something new among the familiar you just have to look up or down, stop for a second, and basically just open your eyes. I thought of this again this morning as I read this short but interesting article on the polis blog by Min Li Chan, that included a quote from the Australian writer Gail Jones:

I’m very interested in psychogeography, and the idea that we must walk around our own place with an active intelligence and a degree of radical attention to what is there. … We ought not be the flaneur who is idly and languidly consuming the sights of the city, we must look at its shapes, at its motions, attend to its sounds, corridors between spaces, the unexpected things looming up or falling away as we turn a corner. Read more…

Among the trees and above the ruins, Beelitz

October 31, 2015


The Beelitz Heilstätten stands in the forest some 35 minutes by train south of Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten station. This hospital and sanatorium complex opened in 1898 as one of the biggest tuberculosis clinics anywhere in the world, and by the outbreak of WW1 had developed to include its own power station, water tower, laundry and restaurant, farm and post office. Between the wars it developed even further to occupy over 200 hectares of the forest, and following its use as a military hospital during WW2 it was occupied by Soviet forces until their final withdrawal in 1994.

The Beelitz that we explored earlier this week under soft October sunshine is the crumbling ruins of an almighty complex abandoned with the Soviet retreat and pretty much left to nature and the attentions of (sub-)urban explorers and graffiti artists. The buildings are landmark protected, but the scale of the complex makes it hard to imagine what kind of project could bring life back to these structures in the woods. And so they are left, trees and plants growing on balconies and roof-tops, the buildings slowly being swallowed by the forest as people walk amongst them, for it seems that ruins – and not just of the antique variety – hold an endless fascination for many. Read more…

In the shadow of Schmitz… running Leipzig and the Battle of the Nations

October 14, 2015


It is strange to visit a place that has already appeared on your own website to which you have never seen with your own eyes before. Katrin visited Leipzig’s Monument to the Battle of the Nations (Völkerschlachtdenkmal in German) a couple of years ago and wrote this post for Under a Grey Sky. But even her pictures could not do justice to the looming scale of the thing, as we arrived to face it on Saturday afternoon as I registered for the Leipzig Half Marathon that was taking place the following morning.

Before we got there, I was wondering what my feelings would be when I came face to face with this looming presence. Monuments built to commemorate battles, especially when triumphalist in conception and execution, always make me a little uneasy. The monument was built in 1913, but the battle itself was 100 years earlier, when on the fields south of Leipzig the combined armies of Prussia, Russia and Austria gathered to defeat Napoleon’s army in what was the biggest mass battle of the 19th century. From Katrin’s blog: Read more…

On foot through Epping Forest

September 20, 2015


Buckhurst Hill

The underpass beneath the tracks at Buckhurst Hill tube station had that smell, that mix of urine and rain and absence of natural light, and so I quickened my step. I was running, not from anything in particular but because this is what I do most mornings and just because I was in Essex I saw no reason to change my habits. On the ramp up, back to fresh air, my footsteps startled an Arsenal fan, dressed for the match and on his way into town.

I had no real plan of where I was going to run, except a quick look at Google Maps offered up a green space on the other side of the railway from where we were staying. Lord’s Bushes and Knighton Wood. From the tube station I picked my way through residential streets until I came to a road called Forest Edge, and began to look for a way in. Forest Edge, because this collection of trees surrounded by the suburban streets of Buckhurst Hill and the north end of Woodford belong to Epping Forest, that ancient woodland that stretches from Forest Gate, not far from Stratford and the extravagant and impressive folly of the Olympic Park in the south, to Epping in the north. Read more…

Wild Swimming in the Duddon Valley

September 14, 2015

It has been a summer of swimming, as I mentioned in this post a few weeks ago. Perhaps inspired to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, regular contributor and friend of Under a Grey Sky Chris Hughes sent us this dispatch from a spot of swimming of his own…


This pool might look inviting to some… Read more…

On cities and a bridge across the river, Erfurt

September 3, 2015


The other day, as I was walking with a friend through the suburbs of Hamburg, I was telling her about two views of two particular cities that will live long with me. They are the two views that I see in my head whenever someone speaks of the anonymity of the metropolis, or a landscape that has been entirely shaped by human hands.

The first was in Beirut, standing on the balcony of a friend’s apartment to talk to another friend on a fuzzy and expensive mobile phone connection about the birth of his first child. As we talked I looked out across the rooftops, a jumble of buildings, of balconies and air-conditioning units, the streets invisible between them and the sea a hazy, unreal blue, seemingly miles in the distance. The second was from a hotel room in Tokyo and also high up, with high rise office blocks and hotels and a sense, even more so than in Beirut, of a city where every space was built upon and where nothing was more than a couple of decades old. The only trees I could see from that Tokyo hotel room surrounded nearby shrines, tiny green splodges of colour on a canvas otherwise painted in concrete and glass.

It is not that there is anything particularly wrong with this, and in any case it would be unfair to characterise Beirut in this way as during my time there we moved quickly between the city, the sea and the mountains. I found both cities fascinating and I have a strong desire to return. It is just that these views are what I think about when I imagine the cityscape that I love to visit but have no desire to live in, views that fascinated and repelled me at the same time.And I still find it a little odd that although I never really thought of myself as someone who would live long-term in a city, I have done so ever since I was eighteen (which, as suddenly occurs to me as I write this, is half of my life). Read more…

Summer swimming and the Wedding Riviera

August 28, 2015


This morning, as I walked with Lotte down the street towards the U-Bahn on her way to the second day of the school year, we noticed that we could see our breath in the morning air. Is the summer over already in August? It certainly feels that way, with school returning and the football season long begun. So it seems like a good time to reflect on the summer and to return to the grey skies of this website.

Our main trip this summer was to the Thuringian forest and then on to the Ardennes, with more trees and plenty of Trappist beer. There will be more on that journey in the coming weeks, but in some ways it was an unrepresentative fortnight when it comes to this particular summer as, if there was a theme of the last few months, it was finding some lake or other in which to jump in.

Almost all of our swimming (we could call it ‘wild swimming’ but then, how wild is it when a little further down the shore a couple of retired women are preparing for the morning swim, even the smallest lake has a Badestelle and every Berliner or Brandenburger has their own favourite lake?) took place in the waters around Berlin. There are hundreds, if not thousands of lakes in Brandenburg, and we found some pretty special ones. The Gamensee near Werneuchen. The Steckelsdorfer See near Rathenow. Both were connected to nearby campsites, but it felt like we had the lake, the water, the reeds and the big skies all to ourselves. Read more…

Of Field and Forest

A doctoral study of Hampstead Heath

Practising Place

Conversations about art practice & place


Where literature and art intersect, with an emphasis on W.G. Sebald and literature with embedded photographs

Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Writing, Teaching, Language, Landscape, Life

Exploring the Baltic worlds

Blacktop Rain

...and other secret joys

It's brightening up a bit

Adventures in the British Countryside

Down in The Effra

Andrew Rumsey writes

The New English Landscape

For nearly a decade we – photographer Jason Orton and writer Ken Worpole – have documented the changing landscape and coastline of Essex and East Anglia, particularly its estuaries, islands and urban edgelands. We continue to explore many aspects of contemporary landscape topography, architecture and aesthetics, and last year published our second book, The New English Landscape (Field Station | London, 2013), already into its second edition.

Hatful of History

There's more to life than books you know, but not much more.


Sports and pop culture from our rotating cast of writers

Longreads Blog

The best longform stories on the web

Rising to gale

wellington / melbourne

The Lost Promenade

Starting with the pieces around the edges...

Reading the Arcades / Reading the Promenades

Reading Britain's promenades through Walter Benjamin's Arcades

Mapping the Marvellous

Itineraries of curious objects and collections.


Landscape, Place, Memory

Paul Dobraszczyk

rag-picking history

The View East

Central and Eastern Europe, Past and Present.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 296 other followers