The idea for the walk came from Patrick, who had sent me a copy of his map. It showed the route of the old customs wall of Berlin, a fifteen kilometre circle that until 1861 was the limit of the city. There is nearly nothing remaining of the old wall today – just a set of foundations not far from Anhalter Bahnhof and – of course – the Brandenburg Gate, but it lives on in other ways. The route of the U-Bahn line through Kreuzberg for instance and the stations along the way; Kottbusser Tor, Hallesches Tor, Schlesisches Tor… the gates are no more but they live on in these names.
Patrick had walked the route of the old customs wall before and invited me to join him as he did it again. Along the way we would see, as our footsteps followed the path of the invisible wall, how it shaped the development of the city and how you can still see its influence more than 150 years after the city broke through its limitations to become the Weltstadt of the early twentieth century, its population swelling to a number that the old wall could never have contained.
By Tom Salmon:
I don’t know when or why the opening lines of the punk classic Blitzkrieg Bop became the rallying cry for a day out with the kids. But the Ramones’ most famous lines are now a part of a soundtrack of the weekend for our three under-fives. ‘Hey ho, let’s go’ they chant as we put our boots on.
We leave home with the kids packed up with their bikes and wrapped up for the chill in the autumnal Yorkshire air. As they clamber over each other’s car seats into the back of the car they play to another Blitzkrieg Bop lyric, “They’re forming in straight line, they’re going through a tight one, the kids are losing their minds, Blitzkrieg Bop”.
We were supposed to go to the Saxon Switzerland, that dramatic landscape alongside the Elbe between Dresden and the Czech border. The visit had been a long time planned, because we had last visited in autumn 2004 – a Lotte-lifetime and then some – and we wanted to experience again the great colour-change of the leaves on the trees, the mist on the river, and the spectacular rock formations that make this place one of Germany’s natural wonders. And we would get some excellent photographs for Under a Grey Sky whilst we climbed a low mountain at the edge of the National Park. That was the plan.
On my first ever day in Berlin, roughly twelve years ago in October 2001, I walked across the Tiergarten. It wasn’t planned. I had started my day at Alexanderplatz before walking down Unter den Linden with the idea of seeing the Brandenburg Gate. I was almost through it, with the buses and cars, when I realised that it was completely covered in scaffolding. I remember thinking that it was a shame that I would not see it on my visit to Berlin, for who knew when I would return.
Julian Hoffman writes the wonderful blog Notes from Near and Far, and last week he celebrated the publication of his book, The Small Heart of Things:
The two Prespa Lakes are split by a flat isthmus, a spur of sand which pelicans glide across in summer as they swap one body of water for the other. Those two lakes, though, were once one, a single blue bowl encircled by steep slopes. Over thousands of years, silt and sediment from the mountains were sluiced down their gullies and creeks into the river that drains the valley. As the river emptied, spilling its mountain hoard into the lake – all the spoil of sand and silt that had been worn down by wind, rain and time – those tiny grains built up in a slow process of accumulation until they spread out across the water, building a bridge one particle at a time, turning one lake into two.
By Ian Hill
I cross the square, and the damp sand squeaks beneath my feet. Wet from rain, it seams the cobbles of the pavements, sifts into the gutters and drains. The sand smells of gunmetal and earth, with a scent of the sea, as though tides once lapped these ancient squares. It is a reminder of our proximity to water, the shifting base of rivers on which we build our monuments to progress.
Here, sand is like the innards of the city; its hidden viscera, its soft core beneath a carapace of buildings and roads. I pass a construction site where a vacant plot is being excavated for development, and I see a vast hole in the ground, foundations for a new building, which is layered with stacks of yellow and ochre sand, like the glass lighthouse-shaped paperweights I remember from beach holidays of my youth, filled with striped layers of coloured sediment, like a history of geological time. As the construction deepens, older and older layers are exposed, each one a slightly different colour to the last, each one telling a story of water, holding a memory of currents gently teasing the sand into ripples and banks.
I don’t tend to make New Year resolutions – perhaps because of football seasons and growing up surrounded by people who work in Higher Education, autumn always feels much more like a “new beginning” that the 1st January – but I have decided to hatch a plan for some point over the next twelve months: to climb what was the highest mountain in East Germany…
On December 25th 2006 our daughter Lotte was six months old. We were celebrating her first Christmas with some friends in a small town on the edge of the Harz Mountains, and decided on the day itself to drive into the National Park and go for a walk. The Harz straddle the border between the German states of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, which means that during the years of division the inner-German border. We were staying in the old West. We went for a walk in the old East.