Saturday, 27 October 2012

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, designed by Christopher Wren, built between 1696 and 1712.    UNESCO records it as being of “outstanding universal value…..the finest and most dramatically sited architectural and landscape ensemble in the British Isles”.

Monday, 15 October 2012

London Skyline

London seen from Primrose Hill, 12:58 Sunday October 14th 2012
(double-click to see it enlarged)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

What to see and do in Berlin

Back in the Spring I decided that I would want to get away from London for a few days once the 2012 Games were over.  So, where to go?   For many years I’ve been hearing about Berlin, how it has regenerated and rejuvenated, about the new architecture, a place to which artists and young creatives have been drawn, and most of all a place loaded with 20th century history.  Here is my photo blog of a busy week in a most enjoyable city.  There are more photographs here.

Perhaps the best place to start a visit to Berlin is the viewing platform at the Fernsehturm, the tv tower. At 670 feet, you get great views out over the city and can quickly orientate yourself.  It’s popular, there are queues for the lifts, but once up top you can stay as long as you like, and there is a bar and café up there too.

The Reichstag is the German Parliament building, and a place of great significance in the city.  It was built in 1894, severly damaged by fire in 1933, damaged again during the war, and then stood unused for years. Partial repairs were made in the 1960’s, while Parliament met in Bonn.

After reunification in 1990, British architect Norman Foster won the commission to rebuild it as the home of the German Parliament. It opened in 1999, with an almost complete new-build inside the old facades.  It is now the second-most visited building in Germany, with most people drawn to the vast dome or cupola from which there are good views across this part of the city. Anybody is free to visit, but you must book online some days in advance to allow scurity checks. It is a fine piece of work, in both concept and execution, Foster at his best.  We forget now how ground-beaking his earlier work was.  

 'Dem Deutscher Volke' For the German People

Mural created by the the biggest German labour union as a symbol for a statutory minimum wage

Angela Merkel's office building

Contrary to rumour it isn’t possible to see into the parliamentary chamber from up on the roof.  TIP: When you go back down to reception to leave the building, try to linger for a moment and look through the several layers of thick security glass: you can see see into the chamber if it is in use

Seen around Berlin

School, Gitschiner Strasse

I had lunch here: Fräulein Wild, Dresdener Straße   

Dresdener Straße




Cafe am Neuen See, Tiergarten

Two Banhofs

Berlin Hauptbahnhof Central Station, opened in 2006 and is a fine space.  Even more impressive is that the tracks and platforms arrive into the building at second-storey level.


Just 500 metres south, is Hamburger Bahnhof, a former railway station which has gone through several incarnations since its construction in 1847.  It is now a splendid museum of contemporary art, part of the national gallery.

'Chairman Mao' by Andy Warhol 

Andy Warhol

Roy Lichtenstein

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, known as the Holocaust Memorial, is a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.  It is situated close to the Brandenburg Gate, right beside the US embassy.  Designed by American architect Peter Eisenman, it is a 4.7 acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or stelae, laid out in a grid pattern on a sloping field.

These stelae all have the same footprint but vary in height.  The architect intends that they produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.  It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II, and opened to the public two days later.

Holocaust Memorial. architect Peter Eisenman

The memorial is a 4.7 acre site, covered with 2,711 concrete slabs

Holocaust Memorial. architect Peter Eisenman

Museum Island is exactly that: a large island in the centre of Berlin lying in the river Spree, and home to five grand Museums.

One of those, the Neues Museum, is 150 years old, and suffered extensive damage during the war, which left it largely in ruins, with roofs and whole wings missing.  In the years that followed little effort was made to repair or even protect the remains. In 1997 British architect David Chipperfield, teamed with restoration specialist Julian Harrap, won the competition to rebuild.

Their approach was “restoration and repair” - to focus on restoring the buildings, respecting the original concept.  In places the damged plaster has been removed back to brickwork, which if sound, is left exposed.  Columns, walls, vaults, are repaired wherever possible, with new work seen as the last option. Where new rooms and galleries are constructed, they sit within the old spaces, and are built from prefabricated concrete mixed with stone and marble chips visible.  The major set-piece (as featured in all the architectural press) is the new grand staircase, made from the same concrete, sitting within a great hall, finished in bare brick, with scorch marks still showing on the columns.  

In almost every space, at every turn, one sees evidence of the original building’s structure and finishes, and of the war and weather damage. It sounds like an odd concept, but it works extremely well. I loved it.

The building reopened in 2009, but work continues outside the main building to create a new entrance.  David Chipperfield has now been commissioned to masterplan the whole of Museum Island.

Chancellor Angela Merkel deemed the completed project "one of the most important museum buildings in European cultural history."  Chipperfield was awarded a knighthood in 2010 for his services to architecture both in the UK and in Germany.

Interestingly, just across the water from the Neues Museum, on Am Kupfergraben, is another Chipperfield building, this time a new one - see below.  It is an art gallery, a private commission, completed in 2007.  The façade is of salvaged bricks pointed with slurry.

Seen around the city

Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbaum Bridge). In April 1945 the Wermacht blew up the middle section to stop the Red Army from crossing. After the war ended Berlin was divided into four sectors, and the bridge linked between the American and Soviet sectors; pedestrians and vehicles could cross without difficulty.  When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 the bridge became part of the east’s border with west Berlin.  After the opening of the Wall in 1989, and reunification the following year, the bridge was restored to its former appearance, with a new steel middle section by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

The German Resistance Memorial Centre, Stauffenbergstraße

The Berlin Wall.   There are several sites in the city where you can see some of the former Berlin Wall, the most famous (and most crowded) being Checkpoint Charlie.  To the north east, and away from the crowds, is a sizable area running along Bernauer Strasse, where large parts of the wall remain, other fortifications are in place, and some have been faithfully reconstructed.  It is a place loaded with recent history for all of us, and difficult memories for Germans.

Berlin Wall, east side, at Bernauer Strasse

Young people study the history of the wall (in the background). Some may not have been alive when the wall came down, only 23 years ago

Line of Berlin Wall marked by steel posts. The Reconciliation Chapel stands in the centre

Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse. Watchtower and no-man's land

The gable ends of houses formerly in the east now carry murals and historical photographs 

Seen around Berlin.   The Feuerwache (Fire Station), Wiener Straße, Berlin 

The Jewish Museum opened in 2001, in two buildings: the 18c courthouse Kollegienhaus, and a large new building of 15,000 sq metres, designed by Daniel Libeskind and opened in 2001.  Millions have visited it, and parts of the content I found illuminating and quite moving.  But the curators and exhibition designers have to struggle to tell their story against very dominant architecture, which makes few concessions to the displays.  I don’t like the building, but still pass three hours here engaged with the content. 


This wall plan gives some idea of the internal layout and flow through the new Libeskind building

"The Axis of the Holocaust slopes gently upward to an empty, 24-metre high space called the Holocaust Tower.  It is unheated and lit only by natural light falling through a diagonal opening in the wall.  Sounds can be heard from outside.  Daniel Libeskind called this room the “voided void”.  It was later interpreted as a commemorative space for the victims of the Holocaust.  Libeskind’s architecture continues to be open to entirely different, personal interpretations."

Of course, as the museum reflects many aspects of Jewish life, including the domestic, one comes across settings like this, which are a surprise to find in such a harsh and dominant building

Some views of Berlin street life

Ackerstrasse, Berlin 

TorStrasse, Berlin

NovalisStrasse, Berlin 

An American school bus (ex California) makes a good street-side diner on Friedrichstrasse

These brass blocks, set in the cobblestones, are called stolpersteines (stumbling stones). These are on Friedrichstrasse, laid in front of the house in which these five people lived, and there are now many thousands laid across Germany. They were created by artist Gunter Demnig, as ‘A project that preserves the memory of the expulsion and extermination of Jews, Gypsies, the politically persecuted, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and victims of euthanasia under National Socialism.’

Slow Travel Berlin has more background.
The Spree, Berlin, September 2012  

Heading back to my hotel I pass the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Kirche, on Breitscheidplatz. I’ve read about this and had intended to visit on my last morning, when I’ll have a couple of hours to spare before getting the plane, but hearing choral music, and seeing a notice about an open rehearsal, I wander in.  It is impressive. Designed in the late 1950’s by architect Egon Eiermann, it replaces a war-ruined former church on the same site. Only the tower of that remains, and it is currently clad in aluminium whilst repair work takes place.

The new building is octagonal, quite small, lit through 22,750 tiny windows of blue glass, a simple altar, and a raised (almost floating) choir and organ.  There is a rehearsal of Bach cantatas underway, which sound gorgeous. 

Disappointingly, the outside of the church is surrounded by market stalls and street traders. Given the wide pavements around here, there’s plenty of room in the area for them: what a shame they are set right up against the church. 

Market traders back onto the church

The 39th Berlin Marathon is one of the Big Four of world marathons, and a reported £1m prize fund attracts all the star runners.  Over 40,000 take part and several GB athletes I spoke to commented on how easy it is to apply, compared to London, how well organised, and what a fast course it is.  The east Africans dominate, with 9 out of 10 of the first men to cross the finish line coming from Kenya. 

Geoffrey Kipsang, Kenya, finished 3rd.

Eliud Kiptanui, Kenya, finished 8th

Aberu Kebede, centre, Ethiopia, the first woman to cross the finish line

I don't know who this is but I'm pleased with the photo

Richard Six, Austria, snaps himself. He finished 3,151st 

It is reported that 1 million people turn out to watch the marathon 

Andrew Green, Great Britain, finished 25,138

12592 is Robert Hawthorne, 35952 is Jim Semple, both GBR  

Mark Hitschmann, Chorlton Runners, GBR 

Alistair and Martina Jury, from Winchester.  They crossed the finish line together in 5 hours 37

10 Marathon runners show off their medals

Architecture around Berlin

British Embassy, Berlin. Architect: Michael Wilford 2000
DZ Bank, designed by Frank Gehry, possibly his most reserved building.  A great contrast with his famous Guggenheim in Bilbao, and concert hall in Los Angeles

Am Kupfergraben 10, private art gallery, by David Chipperfield

Interesting brickwork and pointing at Am Kupfergraben 10, by David Chipperfield
Neue Nationalgalerie,  designed by Mies van der Rohe 1968. It was recently announced that David Chipperfield Architects have been commissioned to renovate this building 

Neue Nationalgalerie, designed by Mies van der Rohe 1968.

St Matthäuskirche. Architect August Stüler 1846, reconstructed 1960

The skyline towards Potsdamer Platz, almost entirely new-build from the 1990's, to a masterplan by Hilmer & Sattler.  Individual zones were handled by such architects as Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Helmut Jahn, whose swooping roof is visible to the left

Berliner Philharmonie, 1963, designed by Hans Scharoun.  Musicians acclaim the acoustics, and architects, believing it to be the best concert hall in the world 
Berliner Philharmonie: The seating plan shows the asymetrical audirorium

Nordic Embassies: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden. Each used their own architect, but the whole mini-campus works well together.

Embassy of Mexico, Berlin. Architect Francisco Serrano with Teodoro González de León. 2001

Saudia Arabian Embassy Berlin. NF Architects / BCB Bartels Consult with Braun & Schlockermann und Partner

Japanese Embassy.  Orginally constructed during the Nazi era. Heavily damaged in WW11, reconstructed in 1980's. 

Badem-Wurttemberg. Architekturbüro Dietrich Bangert, 2000

Austrian Embassy. Architect Hans Hollein, 2001

Egyptian Embassy.  I wonder how they get daylight in as there are no windows apparent

Bauhaus Archive, Berlin 

Turkish Embassy, Berlin.  Nickol Schmidt Hillig Architects 2012 

Fat Tire Bike Tour
It is really easy to cycle in Berlin: there are no hills, plenty of cycleways, wide roads and considerate drivers.  I spent much of my last day on a tour of the city organised by Fat Tire Bike Tours   It's a great way to see the city, learn some of its history, and generally get your bearings. I should really have done it on my first day rather than my last. 

Guide Craig briefs us on what we'll be seeing over the next five and a half hours.  There are about twenty of us in this group.

And the children can join the ride too

Checkpoint Charlie

Riding through the Tiergarten
We took our lunch break in the beer garden in the Tiergarten.

The official residence of the German President 

The Culture House, formerly the Kongresshalle, a gift from the gift from the United States, architect Hugh Stubbins 1957.  Standing in the water is Henry Moore's  bronze sculpture, Large Divided Oval: Butterfly

A pause at the Reichstag

Our last stop is at the Brandenburg Gate

So that’s it: my six-day look at Berlin. I seem to have crammed in a lot, but at the time didn’t feel hectic or rushed.  The weather was good, everybody I met spoke English, I lived within my budget, the dark beer was a discovery, and I liked the fact I could get the Guardian each morning at the train stations.  At just 90 minutes flying time from London it’s a great alternative to Paris, Amsterdam or Bruges. If you want to see more photos, they are here.