It was in these quiet days between Christmas and New Year in 2011 that I started Under a Grey Sky, so as well as a look back on what has been going on over the past twelve months it is also something of a birthday. Although I haven’t been able to keep up the intensity of posting here over the last year or so, I remain very proud of the writing that I have published here in 2015 and remain incredibly pleased that so many people continue to read about my (and our) adventures beyond the front door.
At this point a year ago I had a couple of plans for the 2015. I had just finished work at The Circus after five years looking after their company communications and a decision to return to the world of freelance work. The first major plan was the launch of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place with my friend Julia. We published Elsewhere No.01 in June, followed by Elsewhere No.02 in September. Along the way we built a small team here in Berlin who helped us get the journal out there and put on a couple of events, as well as working with some excellent writers, photographers, musicians and illustrators from around the world. I am incredibly proud of Elsewhere and can’t wait to show everyone No’s 3 and 4 which will be published in 2016.
The other plan I conceived, as a challenge and to guarantee that I left the house most days in my work-from-home position, was to run 1000 miles in the year. I began running about a month before I launched Under a Grey Sky back in 2011 and over the past four years it has been incredibly important to me, not only from the physical side but the psychological one too. Along the way I have run some organised races but more importantly I have run in some fantastic places (not least Berlin). I don’t think I will ever forget my first run in Rhoscolyn with Sean and the gang, a place that means so much to me, or the time I ran around the Imperial Palace circuit in Tokyo with jetlag. This year I have run across the German/Polish and London/Essex borders, up a mountain in Thuringia, along the Mosel riverbank beneath the vineyards, in a Belgian valley, on different stretches of the Baltic coast, in Edinburgh and Belfast, and many other places in between. I passed 1000 miles in November and if I haven’t enjoyed every step of the way, I have enjoyed a lot of them. And I hope I have managed to keep my running entries on Facebook to a minimum so as not to annoy my friends too much.
The above list gives a hint of some of our travels this year, most of which I have written about here on Under a Grey Sky. Perhaps the greatest single travel experience was taking the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston to Fort William. The photograph at the top of this piece is from our journey across Rannoch Moor on a snowy, frosty April morning. The train staff told us they had never seen Ben Nevis so clear as we approached Fort William and I am convinced it will remain one of my favourite travel experiences for a long time to come. Closer to home I have continued to enjoy leading walks through Berlin for Slow Travel Berlin and I continue to learn something new about these familiar streets every time I leave our apartment.
Two pieces of writing that I am very proud of this year are The Idea of a River, a short book about a walk along the Panke in northern Berlin, written in 2014 but published in March by Readux Books, and my Shadows & Reflections piece for Caught by the River that was published earlier this month. The latter includes my thoughts on the refugee situation in Germany, the life and death of Günter Grass, and the Baltic coast. I have been travelling north from Berlin a lot this year, working on a book project that hopefully I can reveal more about in 2016.
But enough of this… although this is my personal blog I should probably also round out this review of the year with some of the stuff from others that I have loved. Needless to say, all the pieces I have published in Elsewhere are fantastic, if very different, works on place and I am not going to choose a favourite. You’ll just have to read the journals and decide for yourself – you can buy both copies for a special price from our online shop here. Beyond that, here are some bits and pieces I have enjoyed over the last twelve months – as it takes me a while to get around to things, some of them were released way, way before 2015:
Günter Grass – Crabwalk – German history, refugees and the right-wing, published over a decade ago and yet feels very relevant in this country today (reflected on in my Shadows & Reflections piece).
Darran Anderson – Imaginary Cities – The scale of the ambition of this book is mind-blowing, and it will give you enough to think about for years (reviewed for Elsewhere).
Malachy Tallack – 60 Degrees North – A personal journey that is everything you would want from writing on place, and Malachy is great company along the way (reviewed for Elsewhere).
I tend to discover something and listen to it to death, which means albums become forever linked to a certain time and place. So, for this year (and some of them, for every year):
Journeys to the Baltic – To the Lost by the Firepit Collective
Springtime in Berlin – The Take Off and Landing of Everything by Elbow
Summer Travels – Dauernd Jetzt by Herbert Grönemeyer
Soft-infested (late) summer – Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Autumn Days – Streetcore by Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
Christmas in Belfast – Nashville Obsolete by Dave Rawlings Machine
My favourite cinema experience this year was watching The Minions with Lotte. Raucously funny. Two German films that had a profound impact on me having watched them are the (new) Wir sind jung. Wir sind stark. and the older Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo. The first tells the story of the 1992 attacks in Rostock by a mob against refugee housing in the city, managing to convey the horror of the attacks with a sensitive (yet unforgiving) portrait of the disillusioned and nihilistic youth involved. With events over the past twelve months or so in Germany, the release of this film couldn’t have been more timely. The second is of course better known, and features David Bowie in a story of the 14 year-old Christiane F. as she falls into the West Berlin drugs scene of the 1970s. Powerful, shocking and moving. Both are available with English subtitles and are well worth checking out if you haven’t seen them before.
That’ll do. It has been an interesting year, and I am sure the next one will be too. We have a camera full of Katrin’s pictures from Belfast and a notebook full of scribbles, so there will be some new bits and bobs up on Under a Grey Sky in the coming weeks, but for this year at least we can – like the borders old and new I have been exploring up at the Baltic – draw a line in the sand. See you on the other side.
Photo by Katrin Schönig
Paul, you should be immensely proud of these achievements. You will probably remember that in the days when I ran regularly I had a notebook and pencil on the kitchen table to capture the thoughts and reflections (usually on my work) when I fell in, knackered, through the back door. Some of those meanderings made it into print. I’ve always believed that running (these days walking!) frees your mind, helps you to work through stuff that’s been milling around in your head and is (relatively) free from interruption. The Idea of a River is fine writing and, with Julia et al, Elsewhere is no mean achievement in a cold climate for print journals. It is excellent in content and illustration. Books … thanks for introducing us to Rebecca Solnit’s work – excellent; but a special mention for Nan Shepherd’s republished ‘The Living Mountain’ (1977 original) with an Intro by Robert Macfarlane – wonderful writing on her beloved Cairngorms by a fine mountaineer. Albums (yes, Dave Rawlings did have a lot of plays in Belfast!!!) but also Barry Kerr’s second album ‘Boy in a Boat’. His work as musician and Artist at the Duncairn Arts is a massive contribution to the North Belfast Commuinity. The Waterboys ‘Modern Blues’ (great gig in Belfast) and Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott ‘Wisdom. Laughter and Lines’ (also brill in Belfast). Left in quiet reflection by the film Still Alice and an astonishing, too-close-to-home performance by Julianne Moore. Talking of Bowie … a fine exhibition in Berlin … and so on. Here’s to 2016. PandDx