Berlin in Colour: The Festival of Lights and Autumn Falls

Art

The Bode Museum on Museum Island

It may be mid October, but Berlin has enjoyed a weekend of wonderful weather and colour. And we have made the most of it.

Last night we had front row seats to Berlin’s Festival of Lights. We were on a boat tour along the River Spree with our German friends, whom we met whilst living in Denmark. We  boarded the boat at 6pm from near Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (main station).

Uberbaum

Uberbaum (Two Towers Bridge)

We slowly motored up the Spree taking in some of the city’s most famous sights including the Reichstag (German Parliament), Museum Island, Berlin Cathedral, and the famous Oberbaum Bridge, which links the trendy areas of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg .

It was dark at around 7pm so it was on the way back that we really got our money’s worth. Among the highlights were the projections on the Bode Museum and the new Humboldt Forum. But I always enjoy sailing up through Friedrichshain and seeing the area around the East Side Gallery.  And as we motored, our boat was also projecting images of the Berlin Bear and the Brandenburg Gate. This made us very popular with passersby, who were watching from the tow paths and bridges.

Group photo

The photo postcard of our gang, made by the boat company

After our two hour boat trip was over, we walked back to our flat, taking in the spectacular Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral).

Berliner Dom

Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom)

Today our friends encouraged us to enjoy this warm October and join them on a walk. Officially we were still in the Berlin area, but we drove for an hour and finally ended up on Wansee (one of Berlin’s famous lakes) opposite Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island).

It was glorious – the sunshine, the water, the leaves in all their autumnal splendour and of course the company. It’s been wonderful to see and enjoy Berlin in full colour.

Exploring Berlin by Boat and by Bike

IMG_6456

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

IMG_6516

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

IMG_6462

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.

IMG_6451

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.

IMG_6458

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.

IMG_6460

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

berlin-cathedral

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.

passport

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.

sophienkirchen

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.

ml-king

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.”

bullets

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.

museum-island

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.

tv-tower-berlin

Berliner Fernsehturm – Berlin’s TV Tower

 

 

 

 

 

Bond Premiere: Spectre comes to Copenhagen

spectre

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.

us car

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.

vivien

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.

rufus

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.

lea

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.

us prem

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

women horse

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.

mandela arrives

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.

horse drawn

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.

procession

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!

wide choir

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.

me stage

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.

Siobhan

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!

Opera singers

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

selfie

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.

all the cast copy

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.

Mikkelsen

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.

sidse

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.