Tag: travel

Berlin. Blame society?


Berlin is a gritty black and white city that throws bright colours at you when you least expect it. It shouts at you from street corners.

How  long is now
“How long is now?”

“Occupy everything”

It’s not pretty but it is a visual feast. Street art flows in its veins. History stares at you. Endless gaping holes between buildings dares you to look away. Europe’s recent history, those never forgotten school lessons of recent wars are being challenged.

It was our bombs that created piles of rubble, our guns that left the scars we see in the buildings, and the ones we do not see in Germans’ minds.

Lest we forget.


This is 2014, 100 years after Franz Ferdinand, not the musicians although Berlin is music mad, but the Archduke. You know the one, they keep talking about him.

The start of that war to end all wars.
Oh and Sophie too, the wife, a forgotten name like millions of others.
It may be the following war that has stuck in most people’s conciousness, remembered in blocks of concrete near the Brandenburg Gate, a maze for children to play in, as children should always be able to do.

Jewish Memorial Berlin, children should always play

I was born 50 years ago.
25 years ago the Berlin wall came down.
I don’t like numbers but I like this series.
100, 50, 25, a perfect year to visit Berlin.

The most memorable birthday present from artist photographer and sister in law Lou, two friends and their cameras in search of inspiration.


What would we find, what would inspire us in the Berlin of now, where the war is remembered in vertical and horizontal lines, with all shades of grey?


Where East and West no longer have a wall to represent divide?
You can’t visit Berlin and ignore politics.

“What side of The Wall are we on?”
Asked an Indian woman standing on the river side.
We’re standing on the West Side.
“So which side did people want to escape?”.
East Side, the other side.
“Oh. thank you very much”
She smiled an absent smile, her eyes deep in thought and walked on along the wall, as if peering on the other side. I wonder what the woman’s history is made of.

Why each person wants to see the wall.


How does a city move on after almost constant war of some kind for near enough a century? Cranes are omnipresent, big L shapes turned on their head, moving metal lines in the skyline, scars of renewal on the horizon. Regeneration is everywhere and everything seems a fair canvas for street art. Graffitis are equally at home on derelict buildings as on new blocks of flats in what used to be East Berlin. German words I wish I could understand here and there on blocks of concrete.


What is the full story?

We know the story behind ‘The Kiss’ on The Wall.
You know, Brejnev and Honecker.

It was painted (twice) by Russian street artist Dmitri Vrubel. Less known is that the original image is a black and white photograph from French photographer Régis Bossu taken in 1979 during the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Democratic German Republic.
A moment in time perfectly caught on film, faces skilfully painted on a wall, a free gift of visual stimulation that questions, the dexterity of street artists and photojournalists offered in one fell sweep. Cooperation between a Westerner and an Easterner.

How ironic that it was being captured via a red phone at the end of a contraption made specifically for selfies. We looked on, with slight disbelief.

Another two women visiting Berlin, also recording time and place.

Each to their own, it’s a free world.


Memories can be wide angle or macro,

portraits of locals


in 2014, selfies.


Images keep popping up.

Columns with dark bullet holes at the Neue Museum in the foreground are next door to a crane seen through a tall window against a white winter sky.

A perfect frame in my head, past and present in one shot.


More images still are handed on a plate by street artists.

A small cut out of Dali is stuck under a bridge, a painting of the Queen (the British one) is hidden by colourful deckchairs stacked against a wall, waiting for a Berliner to take a rest from the hustle of the city in Monbijou park.

Yellow fists appear in improbable places, at the top of tall new buildings that can be seen from the U-Bahn, under bridges, as many up yours from East German street artist Matthias Wermke (Kripoe). A touch of anarchy in a city that only 26 years ago was half an occupied island in a Communist country, half a capital city of a Democratic Republic. What do you expect?


And now it is one, the capital of one of the richest country in the world.

In time, will Berlin’s history, our current European history, disappear forever to remain only in museums and galleries with Greek columns and concrete structures for parents to take their children and learn from the past?


If the atrocities that Hitler imposed on German artists and homosexuals -among others more widely remembered- are the back bone of how I see this city in 2014, the mind boggling divide imposed by the Allies after the war is the flesh that paints the Berlin that I feel.

When The Wall fell in 1989, artists flocked to East Berlin, occupying buildings that East Germany had ignored since 1945. Imagine 44 years of neglect, buildings gashed open, from humble homes to grand residences. Imagine being an artist at that time.


If experimentation was your muse and creativity rather than money was your driver, the possibilities were endless. Imagine being an artist now and living in Berlin, or visiting Berlin. It is visually stimulating, it is constantly changing, it still has areas where rent is cheap, it is forever reinventing itself. Kreuzberg and Schöneberg are the new go to places for creatives that think Mitte has moved on and sold to the tourists. Maybe. It’s still incredibly cheaper than London or Paris.

Berlin is fighting to keep the past alive and striving for a better future.


Whatever that may mean to a Berliner.
Whoever the real Berliners are.

Mitte is a place tourists head to for a slice of what used to be East Berlin. In 1989 artists headed East the minute they heard The Wall had fallen. They squatted empty buildings, made homes out of nothing, created art out of everything including Russian tanks and missiles, used the streets as perfect backdrops to extravagant live performances.

A new era was starting.

Tacheles on Oranienburger Strasse was originally built in 1909, a huge extravagant shopping complex in the Jewish quarter.
Eighty years later it was taken over by artists with much history in between.
In September 2014 Tacheles was sold for 150 million euros to Perella Weinberg Partners, a New York-based asset management company.

What happened in between?
When the original shopping complex went bankrupt, AEG took it over (and broadcasted the Berlin Olympics live in 1936, a first). It served as a central office for the SS, a prison for the Nazis, French prisoners hoarded in the attic. Most of it got bombed, Russian soldiers used the statues for target practice and tore down large chunks of what was left in the 1980’s. When artists took over the building in February 1990 they quickly founded an association and succeeded in getting Tacheles protected by the Historic Buildings Authority. The ruined statues are still there, for now.

It seems to matter not it was listed, 25,000 square-metres of apartments, shops and hotel rooms will follow.

Tacheles is no longer.


The other side of the gentrification coin.

A city divided still. Restaurants open up in courtyards and brand new hotels offer luxury at a price London could not even dream of, for now. Friedrichstrasse has a mixture of cheap eateries where workers lunch for around a fiver and upmarket restaurants where you won’t get a table on a Friday night unless you have booked.

You’d think posh Berlin eateries are the same as anywhere else. Not quite.

For a start, many restaurants only take cash.

Weird in our card and credit Western society huh?

Take The Pantry, in Mitte. Big art pieces on the walls, huge leather sofas, Asian European fusion cuisine that sounds pompous but is spot on, fun and fine dining in equal measures, impeccable service most restaurants could learn from, it is a place you sink in and don’t want to leave.
As I went to get more euros from the cash point, the waiter explained to my friend:
“The banks did not want to lend to us when we set The Pantry up. So when they asked for 8% commission we said F off”.
Right on.
Cash is fine.
“Oh no, I am so sorry your friend went to get cash, we could have given you a bill and you could have done a transfer”.

Trust people and fuck the banks.
Pardon my French, says the French woman, it was a German waiter that said it, in English, to my half Dutch British friend.
Europe in 2014.


We happened to visit Berlin during European Month of Photography, not planned, just lucky. With 150 exhibition spaces we were never going to see everything in one visit. So we scratched the surface and headed for Mitte and its concentration of galleries.

Walking along Tucholskystrasse Andy Warhol stared at us from behind his shades and the back wall of Galerie Hiltawsky. Pin sharp white hair up in the air and half of the face pointedly lit from the right, only the grey top of the rim of the glasses a thin line on the left. Greg Norman’s blacks drew me in like deep holes of emptiness, his whites made me stand back and open my eyes wider. Stunning portraits.

It was interesting to check the prices, from 3,000 euros for limited editions of 25, which having just popped into a snotty gallery where five abstract prints that woke nothing in my heart or stomach were on sale for 25,000 euros put things in perspective.


Mitte, 2014.

My favourite show was Berlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited, 1990-1996. Just outside, there were sleek galleries and inviting courtyard cafes. Inside was a room filled with gorgeous books published by Gestalten, beautiful and expensive designers’ objects, a long table and chairs where you could sit and read, a jug of fresh tap water with lemon slices a simple welcoming thought for the thirsty visitor.

At the back, the exhibition. Views of Mitte in the early years of reunification by artist photographers who lived in East Berlin at the time.

De Biel, Rauch, Recklinghause, Schilling, Schmundt, Trogish, Zöllner.

The images were not polished, the shots not always pin sharp. They were so much more. They informed of a time of change, they questioned, they inspired. They were beautifully printed on Baryta paper, in limited editions of 30. Starting at 300 euros for a 30×40 cm print, they portrayed a brief if intense history that shouldn’t be forgotten yet so few of us know anything about. Short lived movements can have a big impact in society. Bauhaus only lasted 14 years yet its influence on architecture, design and typography was substantial.


In Mitte, artists told me their story via black and white photography of a time that could not last.
This is where I learnt about the squatters, discovered Tacheles before stumbling upon the building on my way back home.
I’ll never know inside that alternative art space but at least I’ve captured the outside before it disappears forever.


Photographer friends,
Berlin is waiting for you now,
how will you see Marlene’s city?







Berlin Wonderland: Wild years revisited, bobs airport, published by Gestalten

Gourmets, artistes et éco-guerriers adorent Bridport, West Dorset

traduction de mon article sur Bridport a simonseeks.com:


Bridport est devenu connu en Angleterre grâce au chef Hugh Fearley-Whittinstall (et son programme télé River Cottage). Provenance et produit du terroir sont des mots qui chantent dans sa bouche et font rêver les gourmets britanniques qui se réveillent d’une longue hibernation culinaire.

Qui aime bien manger aimera le West Dorset

Je ne vous dirai pas qu’il faut aussi beau dans le West Dorset que sur la Côte d’Azur mais si temps Anglais il y a, la région est une des plus clémentes. Donc, les produits du terroir sont superbes et les locaux n’ont pas attendu nos chefs ‘people’ pour cuisiner avec. Prenez le restaurant Riverside à West Bay, le port de Bridport. Imaginez un chalet en bois planté au milieu d’un port sans prétention sur la rive du petit fleuve Brit. Difficile de trouver un meilleur poisson. On ne peut plus frais, direct de la baie de Lyme. Si le restaurant attire les gens du coin depuis 45 ans sans faille, il doit bien y avoir une bonne raison.

A quelques kilomètres se trouve un autre restaurant sans prétention -sinon de vous servir un poisson excellent ou des crèmes glacées bien crémeuses. Sur la plage de Burton Bradstock, le Hive Beach Café et son auvent vert ne paye pas de mine. Ne vous fiez pas aux apparences, les patrons sont très engagés sur le nouvel engouement anglais pour les produits du terroirs viables. De leur ‘Fish and chips’ poisson du jour à leurs sandwichs, tous les budgets trouvent leur bonheur. Quant à la plage avec ses falaises rouges, elle a une vue superbe vers la presqu’île de Portland (où seront les Jeux Olympiques de voile en 2012).

La Côte Jurassique

Bien que la France ait le pendant avec la côte aux dinosaures vers Villers sur Mer, la côte du Dorset est listée par l’Unesco comme Héritage Naturel Mondial. Tout comme le Grand Canyon ou le Golfe de Porto, la côte est reconnue d’intérêt mondial et doit être préservée pour les générations futures. Tout comme en Normandie, les chercheurs d’os de dinosaures et autres vestiges préhistoriques ont de quoi faire, bien qu’il soit bien sur interdit d’attaquer les falaises au risque de se retrouver avec un trou dans la tête…

Où d’autre peut on manger à Bridport?

Bridport ce n’est pas que la plage, au contraire. La ville est un mix intéressant d’artistes dans des vieilles usines à corde (St Michael’s Trading Estate), de classes sociales mélangées se retrouvant sur le marché hebdomadaire, de magasins un peu vieillots et un bon choix d’endroits où on peut manger à prix raisonnable. Bref, un endroit où il fait bon vivre et passer un moment. Pour ma tasse de thé -OK, café – avec une copine, j’aime bien le Beach and Barnicott. Pour des pizzas et une atmosphère sympa -grandes tables où on peut parler aux voisins- le Stables Bar -derrière l’Hôtel Bull dans la rue principale est super pour les petits budgets et les amateurs de cidre. Pour un défi exotique tout en restant régional, le restaurant Taj Mahal propose un curry avec un piment qui est si fort que l’échelle de Scoville (qui mesure la capsaïcine) ne peut le mesurer. Le piment Naga du Dorset est en fait cultivé à West Bexington, près de la plage de Chesil à quelques kilomètres à peine. Sinon, on peut tenter un curry de lapin, chose extrêmement rare chez les Anglais -et les Indiens qui proposent leur cuisine aux Anglais.

Où dormir?

Pour dormir, ce n’est pas le choix qui manque. Pour un hôtel plutôt classique avec des chambres confortables, je peux recommander le Bridge House (chambres doubles à partir de £98) des amis y ont passé un weekend et ont apprécié l’atmosphère sympa et le personnel bienveillant. La brasserie et le restaurant offrent des repas simples et bien anglais. Si vous êtes plutôt du genre papiers peints à gros motifs et baignoires sur pied, l’Hôtel Bull (double avec douche à partir de £70, avec bain £120) vous ira comme un gant. Pour une expérience du vrai Dorset plus campagne, les chambres d’hôte chez Pauline à Highway Farm ne manqueront pas de vous plaire. Pauline connait la région dans tous ses recoins, l’adore et sait faire passer sa passion. Elle organise également des cours d’artisanat d’art à prix très raisonnables, un excellent moyen de rencontrer des gens et parler anglais dans une atmosphère sympa. La ferme a également un cottage pour 4 personnes (à partir de £350 par semaine).

Et quoi d’autre autour de Bridport?

Les randonneurs adorent la région. Le GR South West Coastal Path qui longe la côte leur est bien connu pour ses grimpées et descentes le long des falaises et des plages. Panoramas superbes, notamment au cap doré (Golden Cap) qui tient son nom de son ‘chapeau’ couleur rouge or et qui est le point culminant de la côte du Dorset; excellent point de vue vers la presqu’île de Portland et l’immense plage de sable de Chesil. A l’intérieur des terres, les vues imprenables du bocage anglais et de la Manche ne manquent pas avec entre autres les collines de Lewisdon et Pilsdon Pen.

Si on se veut un peu éco-guerrier et laisser sa voiture, on peut prendre un bateau de West Bay pour admirer les falaises vieilles de 180 millions d’années, particulièrement belles au coucher du soleil. On peut également prendre le car, une expérience pas si traumatisante que ça, même pour ceux qui n’aiment pas les transports en commun. On trouve toujours à s’assoir et on peut admirer la vue au lieu de regarder la route…

Pour les artistes en herbe, pourquoi ne pas sculpter un totem ou plus simplement un bol avec Guy Mallinson? N’oubliez pas d’apporter vos bottes en caoutchouc car la pluie ne l’arrêtera pas. Les cours de Guy sont très en vogue et vont le devenir encore plus car la BBC a fait un programme basé sur l’expérience de passer une semaine dans la forêt. Le retour aux sources est très prisé et Monkton Wyld Court offre d’autres expériences dans la même veine. Le ‘bushcraft’ est à la mode même s’il est difficile a traduire (artisanat de la vie en plein air?). Une bonne façon d’améliorer son anglais tout en acquérant des connaissances dans une atmosphère sympa et constructive, good idea non?







Pay as you book, check-in and board: travel Ryanair

The best joke I’ve heard in ages is this bloke serves a beer to Ryanair’s boss “That’ll be £1″. Seems cheap hmm??” Well, if you want that in a glass it will be £2.00.

Now you can add a third caveat. “Si tu veux que je te la donne maintenant, ça va te couter une livre de plus”. Oh you don’t understand, well I am sorry, I thought everybody spoke French. Oh no, I forgot the world has changed and everybody speaks English now. Or so does Ryanair’s boss O’Leary thinks.

My Dad gets this email in English a few days before travelling between Toulon and Bristol:


So, not only is this in English but it says that if you want to check in you need to pay extra. How are you going to travel if you don’t check in? Was this made clear to the client when he booked? I think not.

The old man paid, travelled with them as I was waiting at the other end but refuses to travel with them again. Can’t blame him.

How do they get away with it? I know that they’re cheap but they have a website that still does not give you a full price until you’re almost at the end of the booking process, they undoubtedly pay their staff a pitance -considering their sorry faces- and now they charge you extra when you turn up at the airport. How much longer do we keep giving our hard earned cash to companies like that?

Fossiles et ciel bleu à Lyme Regis

Il est difficile de faire mieux qu’une journee ensoleillée dans le Dorset. Il fait une chaleur qui fait du bien aux os sans ramollir la cervelle, le ciel est bleu sans tout rendre délavé, une petite brise permet de se balader sans transpirer et mourir de soif.

Aujourd’hui, mon père avait lu un article dans un magazine français à propos d’une table à thé faite par un excentrique Anglais avec des fossiles. Nous voila donc partis avec une bonne excuse à Lyme Regis, direction le musée et le port. Nous commençons par une balade en ville où nombre de fossiles et autres pierres plus ou moins précieuses ont trouvé résidence dans des magasins de souvenirs. Même si certains fossiles viennent d’Afrique du Nord, beaucoup sont quand même de la région et il n’y a pas de tonnes de jouets en plastiques prêts à la poubelle avant même leur achat . Quant aux pierres précieuses et semi-précieuses on trouve de tout, un peu comme à Glastonbury mais un peu moins hippie.

Mais revenons à nos fossiles. La côte du Dorset de Lyme Regis jusqu’à Weymouth est classée par l’ Unesco comme “héritage naturel mondial” car elle est une des seules côtes au monde à préserver gentillement des fossiles de l’ère Jurassique. (Nous avons le pendant en Normandie autour de Villers). Et j’avoue que la quête de notre table d’excentrique nous avons mené vers des os et autres vestiges plutot impressionants. Pas avec un marteau mais avec une entrée de £3 (trois livres au 12 septembre 2009). Le musée de Lyme Regis est un bon musée vieille école avec un amalgame de choses trouvées, léguées et achetées représentant la région. La table est amusante, l’escalier en colimaçon un petit peu glissant, les fossiles bien interessants et les habituels piéces de monnaie (dont des sous français), sextant, cartes postables et autres donnent une vue de la ville comme elle a été.

Maintenant, c’est une station balnéaire plutot pleine en Septembre surtout par un beau week-end ensoleillé comme aujourd’hui. La plage de sable (importé de France) est une joie pour les enfants, le port est mignon et nombre bateaux offrent des voyages en haute mer, péche aux maquereaux ou simple balade. Longer la côte et ses falaises qui tombent dans la mer est sur ma longue liste de choses à faire. Comme de chercher des fossiles de ce côté de la Manche. En fait, si vous voulez ‘creuser’ vous pouvez acheter des marteaux en ville. N’attaquez pas la falaise par contre à moins que vous ne vouliez vous recevoir des cailloux sur la tête et toute la falaise avec. Les falaises tombent toute seule de toute façon et lorsqu’elles se détachent les pros de paléonto et autres se retrouvent par ici pour chercher un autre dynosaure au nom imprononçable. Mais ils restent sur la plage. Il est interdit de grimper la falaise, ce qui me parait plutot logique. Mon fils se baladait au bas d’une falaise il y a quelques mois et une pierre lui est tombée sur la tête. Beau trou dans le crane, Samu, points de suture. Donc les falaises, c’est dangereux. Elles veulent bien nous donner des fossiles de temps en temps, mais c’est quand elles veulent… A bon entendeur, salut!

La Grande-Provence?

Imagine an area where there is sunshine, warm seas, hills covered with vineyards, olive trees, the third largest city in the country (or is it the second?), the tallest mountains on the continent, sandy beaches, the only under water National Park in the country, the birthplace of real rosé wine, Roman theatres, world famous festivals… Courchevel, St Tropez, Cannes, the promenade des Anglais, the Count of Monte Cristo, the Mont Blanc:

Yep you’ve got it, that’s the South of France. Thing is though, which South? You see the region has so much to offer that they are now struggling to find a name for themselves.

Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur makes ‘PACA’ in French. Whilst most French people will know what PACA means by now, nobody else does and if it’s no good in English then it’s no good in business. And business in the Sud Est is tourism. What a quandary.

Problem is, the South West has already taken the ‘Sud de France’ name. Beaten at the post by the newcomers. It makes no grammatical sense in French but sure works for the English speaking clientele surfing the net. To my mind “Le Sud” is the South East. Probably because I come from there so I’m definitely biased… Possibly because historically that south was the holiday south, until they took the tourists for granted and started getting competition. I hate to admit.

So now the Beautiful and Bountiful South is fighting back. Finally. Why not Le Sud? Tout simplement… The domain name has been snapped up.

Mmm, why change at all? So taxpayers money can be spent on marketing a new name that will inevitably make a third of the region angry at the choice: Provençaux, Alpins or Azuréens? I’m a Varoise, so none of the above, therefore I don’t care. I’d love to design the new logo though, should be good fun!

I read they’re thinking of Grande-Provence. I’d love it now I live in Grande-Bretagne!