It was on the 29th December 2011 that I launched this blog by looking back over the previous twelve months, which included trips to Spain and Anglesey, the Baltic coast and walks in and around Berlin. I am not really sure now, five years on and once more immersed in the not-unpleasant limbo of the Christmas-New Year period, what I was hoping to do with this website. Early on I searched for and encouraged others to contribute to the site, launching (and the quietly abandoning) ideas for different series of posts, before it settled down to being what it is now.
So what is it? It is a place where I can write about the things that interest me; the places I have visited, the ideas and reflections that are inspired by “adventures beyond the front door” – the original tagline for the site. It turned from a collaborative project to a personal one, for my words but also for the photography of my partner Katrin. We realised over the five years that Under a Grey Sky was becoming an inspiration to us as a family, to get us out that front door and down the river bank, up the hill or to a new neighbourhood of the city. “It’ll make a good blog,” became the rallying cry; reason enough to visit someplace new or head back for another look at a familiar haunt.
If I look back at the past five years, with regards my own work, I can see that Under a Grey Sky marked the turning point. From here I found Caught by the River, and that community of writers, musicians, artists and more that continues to inspire me to this day. From here I deepened my involvement with Slow Travel Berlin, exploring the neighbourhood and the city to inform first blog posts and then articles for the website, tours and eventually the Mauerweg: Stories from the Berlin Wall Trail book, co-written with STB founder Paul Sullivan.
The idea of “adventures beyond the front door” led me directly to the banks of the Panke river, which flows past our apartment in north Berlin and which you can see at the top of this post. My first article for Caught by the River was a letter from the Panke. My essay The Idea of a River was inspired by a walk along its entire length, and was published as a pocket book by Readux in 2015. My Slow Travel neighbourhood tour follows its embankment for a short period. But I wrote about if first here, and again the blog was the starting point for what came next.
Along the way, Under a Grey Sky has helped me understand myself as a writer, and the things that are important to me and what I want to say. I have always been interested in history and how we tell our stories, whether in fiction, non-fiction or something less easily defined. I have always loved the landscape and been fascinated by cities. Í like to take journeys, whether on foot or on the train, in the car or on a ferry. If I have to bring it down to two words, I think I would say I am most interested in exploring memory and place, and the links between them.
In turn, these explorations of place and writing here led me to co-found Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, launched with my friend Julia Stone last year, which has become the collaborative project that I once imagined Under a Grey Sky was going to be. Next year my first full length book will be published. Ghosts on the Shore (Influx Press) is an exploration of place and memory along Germany’s Baltic coast. Many of those places have featured here on the blog, and again, it is unlikely the book would have happened without Under a Grey Sky as a starting point.
So I have a lot to thank this little corner of the internet – my own (and Katrin’s) little corner of the internet – where I can explore not only places but ideas as well. The destinations may change but I think there are some common themes that anyone who has followed this journey for five years will recognise. The riverbanks, mountains, borders and marshlands. The city squares, suburbs, islands and edgelands. The stories of these places.
The last of that list – the edgelands – has been a fascination born out of and which has developed with the blog. An interest in those in-between places, neither truly urban or truly rural, that have plenty of stories of their own, if we choose not to ignore them. For the next few months I am working on a book project about the edgelands of Berlin. Five years ago it would have felt like a dream.
Often, the question I am most interested in a place is “how did we get from there to here.” For myself, when I look back to December 2011, the answer is all here, in over 400 posts, on Under a Grey Sky. Here’s to the next five years.
Words: Paul Scraton
Picture: The Panke River by Katrin Schönig