Exploring Berlin by Boat and by Bike

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A section of the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery, Friedrichshain

I’ve enjoyed being a tourist this week. My family were here for a few days from the UK and what better way to see Berlin than by boat and bike.

Boat Tour

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The Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament

Our boat tour was an hour of sightseeing along the River Spree. I’d pre-booked our tickets with BWSG for around €12 per person. We boarded the river cruise late on Sunday morning from opposite Museum Island and enjoyed the splendid views of this historic city. There was no guide, just audio in both German and English. The English version wasn’t great but it gave us the basic information we needed. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Reichstag (German Parliament) from the water and the various groups of people enjoying the sunshine along the Spree. It almost felt like summer had arrived. (It has not!)

Bike Tour

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The family on our bike tour

Monday’s guided bike tour that was the highlight of the visit. I opted for a company called Alex Rent a Bike (the name probably had something to do with my choice!) We were a mixed age group, ranging from my six-year-old son to my parents who are seventy. Then there were my nephews aged eight and eleven plus my sister, brother-in-law and myself, all with varying degrees of cycling experience.

We set off from outside Kaffee Mitte and cycled along the edge of Alexander Platz, an area that I find pretty bleak. It’s that depressing communist architecture that feels soulless and suffocating. But of course it’s part of East Berlin’s history.

Soon the road began to widen and the grey blocks gave way to impressive large, eight-storey buildings. This is Karl-Marx-Allee, which is an example of Socialist Classicism, otherwise known as Stalinist architecture. (The road was originally called Stalinallee, but was renamed in 1961.)

Following German reunification, the boulevard was painstakingly repaired and is a monument to socialist ideology and building on a very grand scale. But even before it became a Stalinist building project, this street had played an important part in the Second World War. The Soviet Red Army entered Berlin along this road and who knows how many Soviets and Germans were killed. The stories this area could tell would fill numerous books.

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My son, Charlie, enjoying the chaos of RAW, Friedrichshain

Soon we had turned off Karl-Marx-Allee and were in the lively, cool keitz of Friedrichshain. Luca took us to a pretty crazy area covered in street art and graffiti called RAW, which seemed almost abandoned. But it’s far from empty and has become one of Berlin’s clubbing hotspots. There’s also a climbing wall, huge indoor skate park, weekend market and open air cinema. In many ways, it reminded me of Copenhagen’s Christiania. Berlin, it seems, is full of these places.

Next we were peddling past Warschauer Banhoff (Warsaw Station) and within a few minutes came face-to-face with the East Side Gallery – the longest section of what’s left of the original Berlin Wall. It’s on a very busy street and the wall itself is protected with railings. Although it’s hard to get an idea of what life was like for those living in the shadow of the wall, it was interesting to see what mark artists from across the globe have left here.

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Charlie with his cousins, George and Sam, where the Berlin Wall once stood.

And then just like that we had left the East and were in the very quirky area of Kreuzberg in the West. We met an old Turkish farmer who’d built a home on No Man’s Land (between the East and West); we saw the trailer hippies, who set up camp beside the western side of the wall and are still here; we visited a city farm run by families living in the trailers.

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A City Farm in Kreuzberg, run by the families living in the lorries and trailers you can see

I’m not sure we could have taken in much more, but it opened my eyes to this incredible city. And luckily for me, there’s so much more to explore.

Final Berlin

My photos include: Berliner Dom, Museum Island & the Victory Column

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello 2017 Berlin; Goodbye 2016 Copenhagen

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Strolling past Berlin Cathedral

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great New Year’s Eve and are looking forward to what 2017 will bring. For us, everything is new.

On 21st December 2016, after three and a half fabulous years of living in wonderful Copenhagen, we left Denmark for good. This was a very hard decision because we all fell in love with the country. Our daughter, Cecelia, was even born there so it will always have a very special place in my heart.

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We got our passports stamped with the date we arrived in Berlin

We spent Christmas back in the UK and arrived in our new home city on 28th December. We are now residents of Berlin, Germany.

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Sophienkirche, Mitte

It’s difficult to write much about this latest adventure as it’s hardly started. But I can tell you that we are living in an apartment in Mitte, a fascinating part of former East Berlin. From our bedroom window I can see the church steeple of Sophienkirche.

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The plaque outside the church, describing Martin Luther King’s sermon in 1964

It’s an historic church that also attracts tourists for another reason. In 1964, the civil rights campaigner, Martin Luther King, preached here. His words seem just as prophetic in 2017; “No man-made barrier can erase the fact that God’s children live on both sides of the Wall.”

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The bullet holes left in our apartment building from WW2. The graffiti is a probably more modern!

Our own apartment building is still littered with the bullet holes from the Second World War.  We are just a stone’s throw away from Museum Island and Berlin Cathedral. This area is steeped in history and I can’t wait to explore it.

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Walking over the bridge to Museum Island, Berlin

Currently we are surrounded by boxes, have hardly any lights in our apartment (like Danes, Germans take the ceiling lights with them when they move), no curtains, no bank account and no wifi.  I can’t find anything and we have quickly realised that we have acquired too much stuff!

But there is a sense of excitement in our household as we enter 2017 and embrace another adventure. (I guess that means I’ll have to change the name of my blog.) So Happy 2017 everyone. I hope it brings us all good health and happiness.

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Berliner Fernsehturm – Berlin’s TV Tower

 

 

 

 

 

Bond Premiere: Spectre comes to Copenhagen

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Stars on stage before ‘Spectre’ began

Last night my husband and I were lucky enough to be at the Nordic premiere for the latest James Bond film, ‘Spectre’ which was held in Copenhagen. We were guests of the British Embassy, who put on a drinks reception at the Imperial Hotel, right next to the cinema.

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My husband and I pretending we own an Aston Martin, complete with 007 number plate!

Before we even entered the hotel lobby, we were able to grab a photo next to an Aston Martin, complete with 007 number plate.

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The British Ambassador, Vivien Life

Once inside we mingled with the great and the good including actors and politicians, while the British Ambassador, Vivien Life, reminded us Bond fans just how Great Britain is (we already know!). It was fun to finally meet the US Ambassador, Rufus Gifford, who’s yet again taking Denmark by storm with his latest TV show.

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Nick with the US Ambassador, Rufus Gifford

A short walk round the block and we were inside the cinema, watching as Scandinavian stars hit the red carpet (actually it was blue). I confess that I didn’t recognise many.

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Bond Girl, Lea Seydoux

 

But we all knew when the latest Bond Girl arrived, Lea Seydoux, who thankfully places a strong and intelligent woman. She was with the Danish actor Jesper Christensen who takes up his role as Mr White in the film. And there was plenty of drink and entertainment.

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Pretending we are stars!

It was, though, the movie that we’d all come to see and after the audience was introduced to the stars on stage, we sat back and watched. Right from the start the film is gripping with stunning cinematography. I’m still not sure whether it’s better than ‘Skyfall’, but if you like action-packed Bond films, you can’t miss ‘Spectre’. It was a night I won’t forget.

Royal Affair: Danish Queen welcomes Mandela’s daughter

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Members of the Guard Hussar Regiment Mounted Squadron

This morning at Fredensborg Slot, five new ambassadors to Denmark were officially welcomed by Her Majesty the Queen, Margrethe II.  Among them was South Africa’s Zindzi Mandela, the daughter of Nelson and Winnie, who arrived in Denmark in the summer.

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Zindzi Mandela, South Africa’s Ambassador to Denmark

Each ambassador was driven by horse-drawn carriage from Fredensborg station to the palace where they were received by HM the Queen.  Members of the Guard Hussar Regiment Mounted Squadron escorted the dignitaries on their short journey and it looked spectacular.  I was particularly pleased to see that women made up the majority of the squadron.

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A horse-drawn carriage leaves Fredensborg Slot

Despite the pomp and circumstance, this was a very Danish affair.  Few Danes gathered to watch this tradition – it was mostly tourists.  But we were able to get up very close to the procession, with no barriers in place.

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The procession accompanying Zindzi Mandela

I can’t tell you what was discussed inside the palace, but from each ambassador’s smiling face as he/she left, it was clearly a happy experience.  The Danes love their monarch and I expect these ambassadors were equally impressed.

Copenhagen: Joining a choir!

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The Suoni Ensemble, The Suoni Chorus and Copenhagen International Children’s Choir

Danes love to sing. From birthdays to saints days, it doesn’t take much to get this nation opening its windpipes.

It just so happens that I enjoy singing too. But until April, I hadn’t been a member of a choir since my university days. After talking about it for years and always finding a work or childcare excuse to put it off, I finally decided it was time to reclaim my voice. So despite being very out of practice I joined a new, small, international choir based here in Copenhagen.

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My son in the balcony and me on stage before the concert begins

It’s called the Suoni Chorus and is run by the extremely talented composer Siobhan Lamb. There are currently around 20 members and last Saturday we performed in our first concert.

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Siobhan Lamb conducting a rehearsal

It was in the impressive Rococo church, Christians Kirke, in Christianshavn, Copenhagen. Thankfully we weren’t alone because, along with Siobhan’s Copenhagen International Children’s Choir, we were supporting the Suoni Ensemble. Now these musicians aren’t amateurs like the rest of us, but professionals – they blew us away!

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The professional singers rehearsing!

We performed a piece called ‘Through the Mirror’ which is composed by Siobhan and based on Aesop’s fables.  It was a great experience and it’s got me hooked. On top of that, it helps me feel a little more integrated into Danish life!

Danish TV Drama 1864 coming soon to the BBC

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Selfie with Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen

Last year I was lucky enough to go to the Danish premiere of ‘1864’ a new historical drama that was about to air in Denmark. When I say ‘premiere’ this was as far removed from a red carpet event as you can get. Think low key and relaxed – so relaxed that the film broke down several times as we watched episodes 1 and 2. Anyway, this coming weekend it airs in the UK on BBC 4.

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Some of the cast. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Scanpix

‘1864’ is based around the nineteenth century Schleswig-Holstein war that re-wrote Danish history. It resulted in the loss of 5,000 Danish lives and more than a third of the country’s territory.  But don’t think this is just a boring old history lesson – it’s a powerful, human drama.

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Lars Mikkelsen with two young male stars

This series has some of Denmark’s biggest stars of TV and film. I did rather embarrass myself by asking Sidse Babette Knudsen, who played Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg, in Borgen, for a selfie. But hey, you only live once. Then there’s Lars Mikkelsen from the Killing and House of Cards, Søren Malling from both The Killing and Borgen plus many more.

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Sidse Babett Knudsen with two young female stars

You can read much more about ‘1864’ in the articles I wrote for the Danish news site ‘The Local’ including an interview with my hero Sidse. But suffice to say that despite being the most expensive Danish drama ever made, it didn’t prove very popular here in Denmark. Let’s hope the Brits like it a little more.

http://www.thelocal.dk/20141002/denmarks-new-tv-drama-will-entertain-and-educate

http://www.thelocal.dk/20141012/tv-drama-1864-fights-to-win-over-the-danes

UPDATE: I was on BBC Radio Four’s ‘Front Row’ on Wednesday evening discussing 1864. You can listen to the show here and I am five minutes from the end.

Denmark: Why this small country thinks big when it comes to children’s creativity

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Charlie working hard on his collage

Denmark ‘gets’ children – and I don’t just mean childcare. Go to any museum or art gallery in this Scandinavian country and it’s geared up for kids. From exhibitions to children’s activities, little people matter here and it’s a joy to watch.

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This weekend, my husband, son and I visited Statens Museum for Kunst, the National Gallery of Denmark here in Copenhagen. It’s free to get in and is currently showing an exhibition which focuses on what home means to children. It includes a large instillation made up of packing boxes, behind which you find a video wall showing various moving images like bubbles.

Charlie's piece on the children's collage

Charlie’s piece on the children’s collage

But even before you get to this part, the gallery screams welcome. High ceilings, lots of space, no clutter. Charlie, aged 4, loves sitting in a caravan that’s on display (with a title that isn’t quite so child friendly: F**k the Danish Police). On Sunday he climbed down the marble steps and at the bottom found an open art class. We were given glue, hand painted paper and scissors and as the theme was collage, we were encouraged to give it a go. It’s creativity at its best and he loves it (as do we).

Charlie enjoying the home exhibition

Charlie enjoying the home exhibition

There’s also a children’s art centre here and on a previous occasion we paid a small fee to make a robot out of foam and wire and get covered in paint. Oh, and the food in the restaurant is delicious for all the family.

Charlie at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Charlie at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Travel north of Copenhagen and you come to one of my most favourite museums in the world – Louisiana. Adults have to pay an entrance fee but this museum of modern art is designed with family in mind. The art exhibitions are always a must, the restaurant serves great food and the area outside is perfect for a picnic, walk or hill rolling. As for the views, they’re simply spectacular.

Painting eggs at Louisiana

Painting eggs at Louisiana

But it’s the children’s wing at Louisiana that has encouraged us to buy annual membership. As soon as we walk in, Charlie is off to find the area that’s designed especially for him. Whether it’s sculpting from clay, painting, or playing with yellow lego bricks, this centre, spread over three floors, is a child’s paradise.

Lego at Louisiana

Lego at Louisiana

It’s not just here though. Take the Post & Tele Museum in the centre of Copenhagen. I love this place, and not only because it’s free! The exhibitions themselves are both fascinating for adults and interactive for children. My favourite part, however, is the area where you can design your own stamps and then take a sheet of them home – at no cost at all. Best of all there’s a play zone with four big slides for kids to enjoy. For those children who prefer a quieter atmosphere, the museum has built a little cardboard village in the same area, complete with shops and of course a post office. And as you’d expect there’s a wonderful restaurant located at the top of the building, complete with views of Copenhagen’s dreaming spires. So thank you Denmark for making it so easy for families to be creative. Other countries could learn a lot – I hope they will.