We had seen it from afar, across the water. From the lookout point on Lindesfarne, and later from further out to see, on the Farne Islands, the castle standing solid and proud on the crags, beneath a turbulent sky and above a rocky sea. This has been the site of a fort since the 6th Century, from the Iron Age through the crowning of Northumbrian kings, brought to heel by Vikings and Normans and then rebuilt to apparent indestructability until the War of the Roses, the arrival of artillery fire, and the creation of a ruin for the ages.
And then came the Industrial Revolution, and Bamburgh Castle got a second (or is it third, fourth, or fifth…?) life thanks to the arrival of one Lord Armstrong who had enough loose change in his Victorian pant pockets that he could restore the castle to its former glory, and give visitors a glimpse a hundred years later of something that we – on first glance at least – imagine to be much older than it is.
The captain of the boat is sceptical.
“Are you sure you want to go out?”
There only about eight of us hanging around on the jetty, hands stuffed in pockets against the cold. We nod, perhaps as much in order to get aboard and indoors. He sighs.
“OK then. But you won’t see much…”
And it is true. We arrived in the town of Waren at the north end of the Müritz lake about three hours ago, with fog engulfing the town and visibility at about fifty metres. We hoped that by waiting until later in the afternoon it would have the chance to clear. And it had, a little, but as the boat made its slow progress out from the harbour it was hard to make out the opposite bank.
I arrive in Berlin at Ostbahnhof, from where I catch the train to Alexanderplatz. They are ready for Christmas in the heart of the square, the wooden market stalls clustered on the wide expanse of concrete. Smoke and steam rises and the crowds stream and warm along the paths of an imagined village attempting to return the visitors to some mythological past on the very site where the leaders of a regime attempted to create a new mythology for the future. Is that what I think, looking down on the scene? Not really. Instead I think, like the people do, of a sausage and some glühwein, distracted by the bright lights of the department store, ushering in those of us who are searching for the perfect gift.
No shopping today – I am not sure who I would buy for – and so I walk away, towards Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße. It is darker here, just the street lights and their reflection in the damp pavement. Soon, at some point in the future, there will be fashion stores and burritos that will be exported to Wittenbergplatz, but not yet. Just the old Kneipe with the wooden benches outside and a cavernous kebab shop built by an investor who was ahead of his time. I wonder if, in years from now, he walks the Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße and regrets calling it quits. If he had only hung on a year or so longer…
On Thursday afternoon I took a walk through Berlin. I had decided to follow the Berlin Wall Trail from Potsdamer Platz to Ostbahnhof for my project Traces of Border, a walk of five kilometres through the south of the city centre along the boundary between the districts of Mitte and Kreuzberg. As always with these walks it was a combination of the familiar and new discoveries, but for the first time I was walking as darkness encroached on the city which gave it a very different feel.
It was my own fault, only starting to walk at about half past three, and at this time of year the streetlights have already flickered into action and the main roads are a stream of white lights approaching and red lights retreating by the middle of the afternoon. Through the half-light I followed the line of cobblestones that marks the route of the wall past the Topography of Terror and through Checkpoint Charlie and its collection of memorials, exhibitions, souvenir shops and fast food joints, and then the site where Peter Fechter died and the enormous Axel-Springer building that houses publishing company of the same name.
The sound of an alpaca’s hooves on tarmac, a muted cricket appeal and a group warming up on a band stand set against a backdrop of giant Victorian industrial architecture. By Tom Salmon:
A walk around Roberts Park in Saltaire, a world heritage site near Bradford in the north of England, earlier this year gave us an opportunity to reflect on the impact that the industrial revolution still has on the way that we organise our lives. It’s August, the Sunday after the bank holiday – a Victorian invention created in 1871 – and families are walking around the park enjoying weekend time together – the weekend-off-work concept started for most people in the 1890s.
As regular readers of Under a Grey Sky will know, I am closely involved with the Slow Travel Berlin project. What began as a website that “encourages us to slacken our pace, re-consider our motivations and embrace a “less is more” instead of a “fast is better” ethos,” has developed to become not only one of the best English-language resources about the city for travellers and Berliners alike, but also offers a wide selection of tours and workshops to help people engage directly with the city. I have been running a number of different tours for Slow Travel Berlin over the past year, including a neighbourhood stroll through my home kiez of Wedding and some walks along the Berlin Wall Trail, which also tie into my new project at Traces of a Border.
Whilst we were developing the tours, creating a weekly what’s on guide to the city, and the team of over twenty writers and photographers were keeping the website full of fascinating articles about the city, Paul, Marian, and Giulia were working with a good number of contributors to put together Slow Travel Berlin’s first book – 100 Favourite Places – which is available in print and e-versions and will be launched with a party in the city next week. From the outside looking in I have watched the three editors and the team work incredibly hard to pull the book together, and from the sample pages (follow the book link above) it is obvious that this is not only “not your normal guidebook” but something that should be on the shelves of anyone with an interest in the city, whether they live here or not!
The Slow Travel Berlin project is a wonderful thing. Not only is it a great resource, but it is a great community, from designers to illustrators, writers to photographers, and of course the readers and those who join us on the tours. There are so many website and projects that are based in Berlin, and in particular in English, that do not truly engage with the city, or if they do only within a very small, expat-dominated bubble, and I think it is to Paul and the rest of the team’s credit that Slow Travel Berlin covers such a wide variety of topics about life in the city and has, when you look at all the facebook fans and other commentators, a large amount of local readers, whether German or otherwise.
I will leave you with the encouragement to buy the book – especially if you are in or coming to Berlin – and that you should be safe in the knowledge that it is not only a beautifully designed object, well-researched, written and edited, but that you will be also supporting a truly marvellous project. And here are some of my favourite recent articles from the website including, if you will forgive me, one of my own…
At Seahouses we found a pay and display parking space amongst the bucket-and-spade shops and award winning fish and chip restaurants, and made our way through the ice cream slurping crowds towards the collection of ticket shacks down by the harbour. We wanted to go to the Farne Islands – that scattered collection a couple of miles off the Northumberland coast – but other than that we had no preference for which of the companies competing for our custom would take us across the water, so we picked based on size of queue and the picture of the boat on the side of the ticket shack.