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The Strange Beauty of the Anklamer Stadtbruch

December 12, 2014

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The strangeness began on the approach to Anklam, a massive collection of dead trees swamped at their base with water and surrounded by reeds, like something out of an apocalypse movie. It looked spooky and brutal, as if some cataclysmic event had taken place here, and so of course we stopped for a photograph.

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Half an hour later we were sitting in a minibus being driven through the streets of Anklam. We did not spend any time in the town, so we have to be careful not to rush to judgement, but it looked like a place that had seen better days. Many of the old Wilhelmine buildings were crumbling, but they looked more solid than the GDR-era plattenbau that looked ready to fall down at any moment. We were being taken by a guide from the city out into the Stadtbruch, a marshland and peat bog area on the edge of the inland sea that divides the mainland of Germany with the Baltic island of Usedom.

The walk was between two peat bog areas that had been drained for farmland but over the last twenty years allowed to return to something approaching a natural state. This is the case for a lot of the land between Anklam and the inland sea, and along the banks of the Peene river, which explained those dead trees we had come across earlier. We would see a lot more of them over the next couple of hours.

But first, before dealing with natural ruins, we started with some man-made ones. With a white-tailed eagle soaring overhead, we were looking across the water towards Usedom and the remnants of the old railway bridge that once transported the Berlin trains to and from the island, and which helped transform the fishing and farming communities into the seaside resorts I have written about on Under a Grey Sky over the past year. In 1945, with the end of the war approaching, the SS destroyed the bridge to prevent the approaching Red Army from making use of it, and ever since this particular line has been out of action. To get to Usedom now by train requires a more circular route, north and through the harbour town of Wolgast.

The long absence of the trains does have a benefit for the walkers and the birdwatchers who have discovered this strangely beautiful corner of Germany, for the raised embankment is high enough above the reclaimed bog to allow you to walk right through the middle of it without even getting the soles of your shoes wet. And so we walked, stopping to look and identify the wealth of birdlife that call this place home, as well as the traces of otters, dancing butterflies and one of the last remaining elm trees in Germany. Apparently the disease that wiped out the elm in Germany began a few kilometres to the south, and so this one survived… a remarkable story from a remarkable place.

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Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

The Gnitz Peninsula, Usedom

November 28, 2014

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When most people travel to the Baltic island of Usedom, the attention is taken – understandably – by the sea. Most of the island is in Germany – with only the town of Świnoujście at the eastern end in Poland – and from north to south it is a line of holiday resorts that date back to the nineteenth century, the coming of the railway, and the development of seaside rest cures and vacations for the growing populace of the cities of northern Germany.

But the island is not only built on tourism. Before the first bathers arrived, the main economic activities on Usedom were agriculture and fishing, and that continues to this day. But whilst some of the fish would be and are pulled from the Baltic, a good proportion of the industry is focused on the inland sea that separates the island from the mainland. The communities that face the Achterwasser as it is known still target the tourists, with campsites and signs advertising rooms and apartments for rent, marinas offering boat trips and kayak tours, but it feels less developed than those resorts along the coast, and that these are still places where people live and work, even in the off season.

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Autumn leaves

November 26, 2014

Winter is almost upon us, but it has been a beautiful autumn… here Chris Hughes reflects on the conditions of autumn that so fascinate photographers:

Autumn provides the colour and the clear air that inspires landscape photographers to get up before dawn and also to wait through many chilly dusks hoping to capture dramatic and frequently very beautiful pictures. Given that perfect combination of an indigo sky and a low, searchlight-like sun that follows a sharp autumn shower and many an inspiring photograph can result.

All too often these brilliant conditions occur when you are driving on the motorway, have no chance to stop and probably do not have the camera with you anyway.

So it is that you must seek out opportunities to photograph the colours of autumn even when the sky really is grey and the sun hidden from view with rain close by. You must be cunning and look for the details and the miniature rather than the vast, dramatic vistas and where better to look than on the ground, around your feet and among the most common of autumn features. Let’s look at the leaves.

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There is great beauty in the mass of leaves but sort through the jumble and find the individuals, seek out the colour variations and revel in the variety of shapes and size. Reds, browns, yellows, vivid green all gleaming wet with dew or rain, leaves are landscapes in miniature.

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Perhaps it’s just me, but I am fascinated by these jewels of autumn and take far too many photographs of them. These tiny autumn landscapes can be found in every street, park, garden, allotment and .. well everywhere there are trees. But, like the autumn light that creates such transient drama, these leaves quickly fade and disappear, turn brown and return to the earth. So you must act quickly and not miss your chance.

Fortunately, come the spring the leaves return, passing through the many shades of green before once again the miracle of autumn comes round one more and the leaves produce their rainbow of colour and I will be looking down to find them once again. I will be taking more photographs of leaves.

But I will also be looking for those brilliant moments when the low sun shines intensely from under a dark sky and lights up the bright yellows and oranges across the dark brown fields.

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Words & Pictures: Chris Hughes

Water and Concrete: Walking Cologne and the Rhine

November 21, 2014

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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.

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An Accumulation of Light

November 14, 2014

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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.

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25 Years since the fall of the Berlin Wall

November 2, 2014

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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.

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Travelling by numbers

October 24, 2014

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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.

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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.

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