Category Archives: We like…

A Favourite Place: Britzer Garten, Berlin


My friends at Slow Travel Berlin have just released the second print run of their most excellent 100 Favourite Places book… it is a collection of, well, a hundred of the Slow Travel Berlin writers favourite places in the city, from museums and bars to shops, parks, architecture… and more. Everyone I know who owns a copy – including Berliners such as Katrin – are impressed by the choices, the writing and the photography, so if you are coming to Berlin at any time soon it is the only guide you need.

I asked the founder of Slow Travel Berlin, Paul Sullivan, to select an extract from the book that he thought would suit Under a Grey Sky, and he choose one of his own favourite places, the Britzer Garten in Neukölln:

Given its reputation for industry, war and high-rise buildings, visitors are often surprised at how pleasantly green Berlin is. With almost a fifth of the city covered in trees, it’s quite possible to be diverted regularly from the city’s turbulent past by at least one of the city’s 2,500 parks and gardens. One of the loveliest is the Britzer Garten, which laps at the southern fringes of Neukölln.
Built in 1985 for the Federal Garden Show, the garden was originally designed to provide a green escape for local residents whose excursions into the countryside were, at the time, impeded by the Berlin Wall.

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Slow Travel Berlin’s 100 Favourite Places

Cover_Front_Hi-ResAs 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 book100 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…

A Short History of Turkish Berlin
Witnessing the Battle of Berlin
Tracing the Invisible Wall
Shakespeare and Sons Bookshop
Berlin’s Best Ice Cream

Physicality and Art by Mark Tweedie


(above: Steps by Mark Tweedie)

The pinhole photography of Mark Tweedie is stunning… I cannot be the only person that finds the images of places, and indeed the series of self portraits, atmospheric and haunting. I have never been to Dartmoor, but I have an imagination of the landscape shaped by things that I have read or perhaps even seen. The photographs in this series are fairly close to what I see in my own imagination.

On Mark’s website he also has a blog, and the articles are well worth a read. It was the most recent piece that drew me there in the first place, and one which – when I think about my own feelings about walking and the creative process – resonates in such a way that I really wanted to share it here…

A good day’s walk makes you feel like your heart has overflowed, that it cannot be contained by the physical confines of the body. It spills out into the trees and hills, it is carried in the wind, winds its way through the air-blown grass like a serpent, runs at your heels like a happy dog. Joy is impossible to describe, for what lifts me may not have any kind of effect on you. But when I walk I feel a part of the world and not apart from it. This sense mixes with everything, I mix with it and, quite literally, en-joy.

Walking, when done in the right spirit, is creative, or at least fills me with the same ineffable sense that something essential, something visceral is happening. It is a feeling that anyone who has created something satisfying will recognise. Moving across the world slowly – from a distance little appears to change, just as an artist’s pencil second by second alters the paper insignificantly – it feels like the landscape and the walker have at the day’s end become a manifestation of more than the sum of themselves.

Travelling on foot gives so much time for mental release thanks to its basic slowness. It creates a psychic momentum which carries one’s thoughts and emotions onward long after the stepping out is finished. It gives a mental space, an openness, which is ripe for fledging ideas and firming up reflections. There is so much in its inherent, rhythmical slowness which is essential to the emotive understanding of all kinds of issues, problems and inspirations. Much of this is also down to the being there, wind on face, earth under foot, straining, feeling muscle and sinew as they negotiate a passage through the elements. The physical engagement transforms everything, makes our sometimes leaden lives golden once more – the philosopher’s stone for those of us who by necessity live our modern lives once removed from the elemental.

Read the rest of Physicality and Art on Mark’s website here

A cultural historical stroll through Neukölln, Berlin


Attentive readers will know that over the past few months I have been involved with Slow Travel Berlin in organising a series of walks and strolls through different corners of Berlin. Only this week I took a small group through my home neighbourhood of Wedding and it was once again a really brilliant experience to share my much-maligned corner of the city with others, as well as the different stories that make up its history. If you go here you can get an overview of the other tours that are offered, but I wanted to give a heads up for the newest tour that is being launched this weekend, with a second date on Tuesday 30th April. This tour is through the neighbourhood of Neukölln, and is being led by Anna Sprang of the absolutely fascinating Strollology Berlin website. I would urge anyone with an interest in Berlin to take a browse through those pages, and if you at all have the chance, join Anna on her tour which promises to be excellent:

Rixdorf & Rollberge – a cultural-historical stroll through Neukölln

Berlin‘s gritty, working-class Neukölln district is widely known as a problem-gone-hip, now home to a colourful mix of people from all around the world. On this tour through the northern part of the borough, we‘ll uncover many different layers of its changing and often surprising history, some of which are still visible, with others  concealed in old photos, literature, eye witness reports and personal memories.

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The art and craft of Jonathan Newdick

The Wylye
Graphite on paper
790 x 1140 mm

We discovered the work of Jonathan Newdick through good friends, and then spent a happy hour or two exploring his website, not only the beautiful drawings and prints (such as the example above) but also the writings collected there. Jonathan kindly agreed to let us re-produce some of his work on Under a Grey Sky, and there are some more drawings below and a biography from his website. I think they are wonderfully atmospheric, and we hope that you enjoy them too. Continue reading

Steam bending by Tom Raffield

Tom Raffield makes furniture and lightening at his workshop in Redruth, Cornwall, using a technique called steam bending, drawing inspiration for his designs from the wilderness, tranquility and natural beauty of his surroundings. Despite being extremely busy, he was kind enough to answer some questions about his work and process.

Can you expand a little on how your surroundings have influenced your work?

I really learnt to appreciate my surroundings. We lived in quite an isolated area growing up and as I grew older I started to see the beauty within the nature surrounding me. I always loved drawing and making things and these abstract shapes and forms I drew or made were either directly or indirectly influenced by what I saw. I am very happy in this kind of environment and this helps me be more creative. Continue reading

St. Jude’s Fabric and Prints

(above: Doveflight by Mark Hearld, with permission from St. Jude’s)

I discovered St. Jude’s through their lovely blog All Things Considered, and was immediately struck by the designs that come from a wide range of artists and are available as fabrics or as prints. Many of the designs and prints take inspiration from landscape and the natural world, and there is something about them that gives me a feeling of certain places I have known. Maybe it is just the style of some of the artists, and I cannot put my finger on it, but this feeling is certainly there and I have to admit that just flicking through the website left me a little homesick. Continue reading

Letter from (Hidden) Europe

Yesterday the new Letter from Europe from Nicky and Susanne of Hidden Europe landed in my inbox, titled “Frisian waves”. As well as their wonderful magazine that explores the nooks and crannies of our fascinating continent, they send out these letters three times a month and they are always a treat. Subscribe to the magazine and sign up for the newsletter. You won’t regret it…

Dear fellow travellers

We map our way around Europe using antique guidebooks, just as we map our way through the year using long-obsolete ecclesiastical calendars. So we are in a small minority of Europeans who happen to know that today, 16 January, was long observed as the Feast of St Marcellus. Quite what happened to St Marcellus we don’t know, but it seems he was ousted from his January perch by this or that papal reform sometime in the last century.

We have been staying for a spell on the North Frisian Islands, a part of Europe where locals have good cause to remember St Marcellus Day. For it was on this day in 1362 that North Sea coastal geography was reshaped by the most terrible flooding. A fierce Atlantic storm caused inundations in the Low Countries, throughout the Frisian Islands and north along the coast of Jutland.

Read the rest of “Frisian waves” at Hidden Europe

The Things Around Me – Malachy Tallack


Wounded Man by Malachy Tallack with Steven Laurenson, from the album from the thorn (buy here)

I discovered the music of Malachy Tallack through another project, The Things Around Me. Last year Malachy moved to a house in the village of Vidlin, on the north east coast of the Shetland mainland. After six months, and still feeling like a stranger, he began to write a series of essays in an attempt to come to some understanding with his surroundings, and these essays are wonderfully evocative of the animals, birds and plants all around him. They are also beautifully illustrated by Will Miles, and artist and ornithologist who lives and works in Fair Isle. Continue reading