Chi mi a-rithist thu (I’ll see you again)

Our last day dawned – grey, breezy but dry… at first. Florence again decided to miss sunrise and take a walk around Tarbert instead. I took the minibus to Traigh Mhor beach. I’d visited it last year a couple of times, both times at low tide on a warm early summer evening. This morning was about as different as you could get. It was grey, misty, windy and cold. The rain had returned and was blowing off the sea into our faces. For the first twenty minutes my camera stayed in the bag. I stared at the sea, watching the waves, sometimes having to step back when a big wave came further up the beach. After a while the rain stopped and I set up my tripod for a few images then tried a few handheld shots low over the waves. Quite soon the rain returned and we decided to return to the hotel early for breakfast. Meanwhile Florence had wandered round downtown Tarbert and taken some shots of grey buildings and colourful front doors.

When we left for Stornoway Airport, the clouds were hanging low over the hills and little waterfalls had appeared alongside the road; the rain continued. The island still looks beautiful in these conditions, the colours of the gorse and heather become richer. There is water everywhere, lochs and streams, waterfalls and pools, occasional distant views to the sea.

We had about an hour to wait for the short flight to Glasgow then another few hours before the flight to Gatwick. The descent into Glasgow was a little bumpy in places. It’s clear from the air that the city ends quite suddenly and the hills and forests aren’t far away.

The week has been really enjoyable, the light and conditions have generally been good and Harris is one of the best locations for landscape photography anywhere; its a great place without a camera too. I certainly hope to be back here soon.

In Rainbows

Today was a day of rainbows.

I started with sunrise at Luskentyre beach looking towards the mountains of North Harris. There was a double rainbow over the sea; the light over the mountains was beautiful and two gannets wheeled over the waves.

Florence went for a walk around Tarbert, which was surprisingly busy for an early morning. People in town seemed blasé about the rainbows despite there  being a beautiful double one right over the distillery; rainbows happen here a lot!

The bulk of today was spent on the ‘Golden Road’ down the south east coast of Harris. The road was built in 1897 and needed a lot of money and engineering skill to complete. The landscape on the east side of the island is very different to the west – no big beaches, lots of little fishing harbours and desolate hills. At the first harbour we were told off by the grumpiest man on Harris, he didn’t like us taking pictures near his house even though we were on a public pier. We’d met him last year actually. He was the captain of our boat to St Kilda. He didn’t say a word for the whole trip – 3.5 hours each way – leaving all that to his crew, he had a bit too much to say today.

Today was a stop and start kind of day.  We stopped many times for views, abandoned crofts and harbours full of little details to photograph – and rainbows. Every time we stopped there was a rainbow about; we were lucky to get mainly sun and very few showers.

One highlight of the day was the Bay Café mid-afternoon. The elderly lady who served us was the sweetest person you could hope to meet. Funny, cheeky and friendly. She was born on the island and left for short while when she was young but has been living back here since 1971 and no longer leaves very often – ‘why would you when it’s the most beautiful place in the world?’

We passed a number of abandoned crofts today, some are just shells, some have collapsing roofs, some look like somebody just got up and walked out one day, never to return. It appears that its easier and cheaper to build new houses than renovate old ones.

The road ended at Leverburgh. We called in at the Atlantic Café for refreshments and facilities before heading back up to Seilebost for sunset. We didn’t get huge coloured skies but there was still more than enough to see.

The weather forecast is grey in the morning so we’re allowed a lie-in – hoorah!

Exposed to the Elements

This being a landscape photography trip we’re not allowed to take it easy; if there’s daylight we should be out photographing. In our favour the sunrise and sunset are at quite civilised times at this time of year so we found ourselves in the car park wrapped up and ready to go at 7:15.

Luskentyre beach has been voted one of the ten best in world, based on its beauty other than its climate. It faces to the west so the sun rose behind us, lighting the clouds and the island of Taransay across the water. The sun shone, it rained, we got sandblasted – this is going to be the story of our time on Harris. There was rainbow too.

An hour and a half flew by and we returned to the hotel for breakfast. Washed, refueled and ready to go again we headed for Horgabost beach. This is a broad sandy beach with rocks at both ends, lots of patterns in the sand and big waves –  plenty to keep us amused for a few hours.

Just above the beach is the new West Harris community centre, this was recently completed with the help of EU finance – no need to guess which way the island voted! There is a restaurant, some artists studios, accommodation and a number of other facilities. The West Harris Pensioners Lunch was in full swing when we arrived. We spotted the couple who owned the cottage we stayed in last year and went over to say hello – they have some spaces over the winter so maybe we’ll be back soon!

After lunch, the forecast was for grey skies for the afternoon so we headed for a couple of more intimate sites – a salt marsh with a number of channels meandering through it and a small loch with some reed beds in the middle. There was a fisherman out on his boat on the loch, probably hoping for a quiet afternoon but he found himself featuring as a compositional feature of 12 photographers shots.

Last stop of the day was Rodel church on the far south east corner of the island. The church is no longer active, it was built in the 15th and 16th century and restored in the late 19th. The tower has two significant historical carvings on it; the Feileadh Mor (big covering) traditionally worn by men evolved in to today’s kilt and a Sheela na Gig, carving of a naked women – a warning against the evils of lust.

Back to the hotel, pre-dinner whisky (Florence had a G&T with a gin from the Isle of Skye) and another tasty meal. Everybody was a bit subdued after a long and full-on day. Same again tomorrow!

Show Me the Way to the Next Whisky Bar

We woke up quite early so I got some coffees from the hotel restaurant. We had a brunch reservation for 11:00 and Glasgow was doing its wet thing this morning, so we decided to have a slow start and watch a movie in bed. The in-house entertainment system had a reasonable selection so we made a start on La La Land – it’s been on our list for a while and seemed fluffy enough for a lazy Sunday.

We watched an hour or so then hit the rainy streets. Sauchiehall Street runs right through the city centre and is pedestrianised a lot of the way. We followed it back towards West End, taking a few detours around grand Victorian and Georgian crescents and terraces.

Stravaigin is a bar, restaurant, music venue and all round cosy place to be on a wet Sunday. They source as much as possible from local farms and producers and the menu has a wide variety of brunch dishes from around the world. We settled on Indonesian and Mexican eggs, both were very tasty – Florence’s was accompanied by a Bloody Maria – tequila not vodka.

The rain continued as we made our way through Kelvinside Park to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. A soggy looking rat scampered across our path. The River Kelvin got noisier as the water levels rose.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a huge Victorian edifice containing an eclectic mixture of art, sculpture, stuffed animals and a spitfire. The section on Scottish Life had a poster inviting people to emigrate to New Zealand – we’d seen the other end of this story in museums in Wellington and Dunedin not long ago. There is a feeling of trying to display everything they have without a lot of coherent themes, or so it seemed to us. Some rooms try to explain the works on show; the display about reading a picture was very good, but overall we left with the impression of a few highlights amongst a jumble of works. The highlights included a very calm Lowry seascape that seemed completely out of step with his usual work and some Signac landscapes.

The rain had reduced to heavy as google maps guided us on the 17 minute walk to the Riverside museum. The museum opened in 2011 to house the city’s history of transport collection. It was designed by Zaha Hadid and won the European Museum of the year award in 2013. It houses an extensive collection of cars, trams, buses, railway engines, model ships and transport related items. The largest exhibit is a locomotive built for South Africa in Glasgow in 1945. The explanation makes a point of explaining the impact of apartheid on the South African railways. Florence seemed particularly interested in my explanation of the wheel layout of the Caledonian Railways engine from 1880. It made me feel old to see some model railways that I’d once played with in a museum cabinet.

We stopped in the cafe for a tea and snack. As we sat down, the rain was lashing the windows. 10 minutes later the sun was out so we had a look round the outside of the building while we could.

It wouldn’t be right to come to Glasgow and not ride on the third oldest subway in the world – behind London and Budapest since you ask. There is only one circular route and the trains take about 30 minutes to complete a circuit. The trains are tiny compared with London and only four coaches long.

The blue sky had returned when we left Cowcaddens station and walked back down to Sauchiehall Street to explore the Centre for Contemporary Arts. The main exhibition featured work by an Indian artist with wide-ranging themes around male-dominance and political protest, after a long day we found it hard to understand these works. The Centre also has a busy bar, cafe, music venue and a cinema which is currently hosting the Scottish Queer International Film Festival – SQIFF!

Although it was only 6:00 Florence was demanding food; Rumours Kopiliam is a Malaysian restaurant in the City Centre, not much to look at but the food was very tasty: mock chicken curry, chilli fried tofu and coconut rice.

Last activity of the night was another whisky bar. Òran Mór used to be a church, now it’s a bar, restaurant, music venue and theatre. Lunchtimes they offer ‘a play, a pie and a pint’ for £13.00. We tried a couple more whiskies, sticking to the island theme to fit with the theme of the forthcoming week. Florence had a Port Charlotte and a Bruichladdich and I had a Talisker Storm and a Caol Ila. After the bar, we walked down Byres Road and Ashton Lane – places we hadn’t managed to get to yet.

Finally back to the hotel to finish the film.

Mizzle

 

Another slow start after another late night. Very tasty avocado and fried egg brioche sandwiches.

We planned to take a walk roughly following the Water of Leith along the northern edge of the city centre towards Stockbridge. We started towards the river but soon got distracted by Rosebank Cemetery. The cemetery not surprisingly has many graves of ship owners, harbour pilots and others relating to the maritime history of Leith. One significant memorial is to the servicemen who died in the Quintinshill rail disaster in 1915. Four trains were involved; the busiest of which was taking soldiers to Liverpool to travel onwards to Gallipoli. 215 people were killed making it the worst crash in British railway history.

The Water of Leith flows 22 miles from the Pentland Hills before meeting the Firth of Forth in Leith. It can be followed in part on footpaths and by road. We walked along a muddy path by the Water for about a mile before heading up onto the road. At this point, we passed a coffee shop that I couldn’t resist – flat white time. We were now on the edge of Stockbridge. The architecture became more grand. Tall imposing houses and apartment blocks characterise the New Town.

I’d found an exhibition which had works from Morag Patterson, a photographer that I particularly like. We came across the gallery by accident so we had a quick look. It’s a group show by 12 artists based in the south west of Scotland. Some works were challenging, some beautiful. One of the artists was there, she was unwilling to explain much about her piece. I should just ‘read it as I like’. Next door was another gallery, and we particularly liked the work of Ron Lawson. He paints simple landscapes featuring a single small craft or bothy. The paintings had all sold so I had to be content with a card.

One of our destinations was the Stockbridge Sunday market. This is a small gathering of about 20 stalls – mainly food and drink with a few craft stalls as well. We bought a vegetarian scotch egg, some smoked mozzarella and a small print of some penguins.

Stockbridge has many characterful streets but none more so than Circus Lane. The street is a long semi-circle of pretty cottages that are beautifully kept with flowers and plants outside but without being too twee. A church tower looms over the eastern end to complete the scene.

We continued up towards the city to meet our friend for lunch but were distracted by a photographic gallery on the way. The owner showcased his own work, mainly from Greenland, along with pictures from five other photographers; a few of whom I knew and some that need more exploring.

Lunch was at El Cartel café. We just made it inside ahead of three others who were turned away because they were full. The food is simple Mexican street food – tacos, corn and guacamole. Florence had a Mexican Bloody Veera and I had a Mescal, Salted Pear and Lemon cocktail – both were delicious. The food was all really well prepared with lots of interesting flavours. They don’t however do puddings (apart from ice cream) so we crossed the road to Henderson’s. They have been serving vegan and vegetarian food since 1968 and are completely vegan since 2015.

After lunch, we carried on our exploration, heading back to the river and into Dean Village. In the late 19th century a Stockbridge newspaper magnate got tired of looking at the slums and riverside industries that his house overlooked and built some new housing in the form of a turreted red brick gothic castle (now a World Heritage site).

After criss-crossing the water a few more times we ended up at the modern art museum. This is split between two former stately homes that face each other across large gardens and a road. We only had 40 minutes to try and visit both. Not much grabbed us in the first one so that was done in ten minutes. The highlight of the second museum was ‘Lamp of Sacrifice’ by Nathan Coley. This consists of simplistic cardboard models of the 260 places of worship open in Edinburgh at the beginning of 2004. The models are all thrown together with no regard for their actual locations and the overall effect is one of seeing a city from a strange bird’s eye view. The museum also had a room of works by Ed Ruscha and we only had a couple of minutes to take this in, not really enough. The garden in front of this gallery has a large earthwork sculpture in it. Shapes in the ground are grassed over and two pools sit in front of them.

We’d been lucky with the weather so far but as we walked back towards Princes Street, heavy rain set in.

Our last site was the statue of Wotjek, a brown bear who served in the polish army in WW2. He was adopted as an orphaned cub by the soldiers but they weren’t allowed pets in battle so he was trained to carry heavy mortar rounds and given a rank and number. After the war, he ended up in Edinburgh zoo where he lived until 1963.

The rain continued so we took a bus back to our apartment. We’d been in for about 15 minutes before the sun was shiny again. Time for some tea and toast and putting our feet up for a bit before our sleeper back to London.

We’ve done a lot this weekend but it’s shown us there’s so much more to do so we hope to be back soon.

Sunshine on Leith

13:00. Train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh. It was pouring with rain in London when we rushed across the square from the tube exit to the station. Florence took a diversion via the Crosstown sourdough doughnuts stall; I’d declined the offer but she got me a peanut butter and blackberry jam one anyway so I couldn’t say no.

We were comfortably settled in our seats by the time we sped past the Emirates stadium. I hadn’t appreciated before how it’s designed to look impressive from the train. Counter-intuitively, the weather improves as we head north and by the team we stop at Peterborough the sun is shining.

I watched Trainspotting on the journey to get in the mood for our destination. We’d treated ourselves to first class so there was a regular trolley of food and drinks to help ourselves from.

The skies were very dramatic over the Northumberland coast. Showers of rain and a rainbow over the sea off Holy Island. Berwick looks a pleasant town; we made a note to look into a weekend there.

We arrived right on time at 17:21. Due to roadworks in the Princes Street area, the buses are diverted but we’re soon on a bus down Leith Walk towards our AirBnB.

It hasn’t always been like this but Leith Walk is now full of trendy bars, cafes and delis. We’re met outside the apartment by the owner. On the pavement, a few well-lubricated colourful characters are getting into their afternoon singing. The apartment is on the third floor of an old tenement. Climbing the stairs the impressions aren’t good but inside it’s lovely. The sun fills one side through the big windows. There are views over Leith, Arthur’s seat, distant hills. The décor is great too and Florence made plenty of notes of ideas to use.

We’ve both been to Edinburgh a number of times before so we knew what to expect but immediately we both enjoyed being back here and we’re planning what we could do next time if we had longer.

Leith has been a settlement for about 1000 years. Originally a separate town from the city of Edinburgh, over time the two have merged together. The docks have always played a large part in the towns history, along with related industries like ship-building, whaling and fishing. Roses Lime cordial was produced here as a way for sailors to get vitamin C.

There’s a welcome hamper with some wine and olives so we take full advantage of that before heading out for the evening. We’d arranged to meet a friend we haven’t seen for ages but who now lives here in a cocktail bar near the flat. On the way we stop to photograph a doorway, a local gentlemen is passing with his bag of Tenants for the evening, he roars at us about blocking the pavement, this was unexpected, I jumped about three feet in the air; he left me shaken but continued harmlessly muttering to himself.

Nobles is a big old Victorian pub with a maritime feel to the decor, its now a buzzing upmarket eating and drinking place. we had a couple of house favourite cocktails then took a cab up to the old town. David Bann is reputed to be one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the city. Its unusual for us to have so much choice. The items with a V on the end mean vegan in this case! The place is packed. A good Friday night atmosphere. The food was good without being outstanding but worth supporting anyway.

We finished the evening at the Whiski Rooms off the Royal Mile; we shared a flight of four Islay malts, starting with a mild sweetish one and building up to a crescendo with a Laphroaig. I’ve never tried adding a drop water but it significantly changed the smell and flavour of each one so it’s definitely worth experimenting with.

With that, we were done and took a cab home.

Another Town, Another Train

Stockholm has a remarkable metro system. It feels like the stations have been hewn out of solid rock, which they probably have, but the tunnels are left bare stone everywhere, painted in lots of colours and designs.

We took our usual bus and  train towards the city but changed onto the metro at the first interchange. Our tickets were valid for a 75 minute journey so we hopped on and off of trains and tried to see all of each station in the few minutes between them. We made it to the end of the line a couple of minutes over time but you don’t need to show a ticket to get out of the station so we were okay.

Stockholm has an ABBA museum – unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit – but there are posters for it everywhere. Each one has the name of a song on it so you spend most of your time walking round with an ABBA song in your head without really knowing why.

We walked across a couple of bridges – it’s hard not to – and headed for Moderna Museet. This gallery has an extensive collection of 20th and 21st Century Art from  Sweden, Scandinavia and beyond. It also has a good cafe and restaurant so we started with Fika – coffee and buns of course. Refreshed and ready for art we headed for the galleries. There is an overwhelming amount to see; each room has a broad theme but the works within them range from sculptures to paintings to designer houseware.

After a few hours we needed more refreshments. The restaurant had some good cheese sandwiches – no buns this time. We went back to see a few favourite works again then exited via the gift shop.

We retraced our steps back towards the main station and onto the train for the airport. Time for one last Fika, we shared the bun this time!

We enjoyed Stockholm a lot but it’s a small city and I think we’ve seen a lot of it; but if Radiohead play there again…

Electioneering

Friday 9 June 2017

Very early start, the taxi arrived to take us to Heathrow at 4:30. The driver had the election news on the radio; a fascinating morning to be up early.  The sun was coming up over the river as we drove past Battersea Power Station. We were quickly through security and into Pret for breakfast.

Stockholm airport is of course very efficient and within a few minutes of leaving the plane we were on the platform waiting for the express to Central Station. It’s a 30 minute journey into the city. We were staying out of the city centre so we left our bags in a locker and went to explore.

The city is built on a number of islands; there is water everywhere. It’s a short walk from the station to the bridge to Gamla Stan Island. This island holds the oldest parts of the city. The majority of the buildings are old and ornate, painted in warm reds, oranges and yellows. We planned to explore this area on the next day so headed across the island and onto the larger Södermalm island. This island is home to residential and shopping streets and a number of highly recommended bun shops and cafes.  Our first stop was Fabrique bakery, this chain has a number of outlets in the city as well as one in Hoxton. The Swedish concept of Fika involves coffee, usually accompanied with buns, pastries or pie, traditionally this would be cinnamon buns – who are we to argue with tradition.

Next stop was Coffice coffee shop, recommended but a bit disappointing.

Lunch was a treat. Herman’s has a large buffet with many hot and cold vegetarian dishes. The garden rambles along the edge of the island with great views back over the old town. The food was very tasty, lots of variety of colours and flavours.

We walked back through the old town to retrieve our bags and get a metro and bus out to our AirBnB. We’d chosen somewhere about half an hour from the city centre; it felt much more. Behind the house there’s a Nature reserve with a large lake in the centre. This has a path right round that was well used by walkers, joggers and cyclists.

Not surprisingly the apartment looks like something from an IKEA brochure, but everything was comfortable and worked well.

No need for dinner after our large lunch so after a bit of a walk around the lake, I headed back into town for the reason we were here – Radiohead at the Ericcson Globe.  The globe is the largest spherical building in the world, as well as being an event venue, it forms the centre of a huge model of the solar system.  Each body is to scale and, the Earth (65cm diameter) is at the Natural History Museum 7.6km away. Jupiter (7.3m diameter) is at the airport 40km away and Pluto (12cm diameter) is 300km to the north.

We’d seen a surprisingly large number of French people around the city centre earlier, the sign outside a bar explained why – Sweden v France in a world cup qualifying game close to our apartment – Sweden won 2-1 with a controversial 93rd minute winner.

I’d been looking forward to the gig for a long, long time and although expectations were high, it exceeded them all.

Every Breath You Take

All too soon it was our last morning in Berlin.

We continued our exploration of the East, taking a metro, a train and a bus to Hohenschönhause Prison. The prison was the main Stasi centre for internment, interrogation and research into surveillance methods. It used to be a factory away from the city centre; it had road and rail links. The area was left completely blank on maps of the city at the time; no one knew it was there.

We arrived around 10:00. We had a bit of time to look round the courtyard before our guided tour – in English – began at 10:30. Our guide was a historian who had studied human rights and became interested in what had happened in the prison. She was extremely knowledgeable and informative.

We began with a short film that explained a bit of background to the prison. The tour proper began with the oldest parts – here the cells were very basic; below ground level and the only light was from small windows at the top of the walls, which had frosted glass bricks so nothing could be seen. The basement had a couple of cells that were no more than cupboards where a person could just stand up. People were put in there for days. There were also water torture cells, the same as we’d seen used by the KGB in the Baltic Republics a few years ago. A prisoner would be left to stand in ice-cold water in a freezing, damp cell for days on end. As the DDR became more paranoid, the number of prisoners grew, the level of surveillance and the amount of interrogation increased. The newer cellblocks were a little more pleasant, but not much. We saw a delivery lorry, marked as a bakery delivery but used to carry prisoners. Those inside couldn’t see out, long circuitous routes would be taken to ensure no one knew where they were taken. There was a hospital on the site, prisoners would be driven there from their cells, taking an hour long drive around the city so they thought they were elsewhere.

As well as the usual catalogue of physical tortures, the Stasi put a lot of effort into perfecting techniques to unsettle prisoners mentally. Favourites included choosing a room with décor as close as possible to that in the home of the prisoner (same wallpaper) and offering the prisoner a drink and ensuring that their favourite brand was on hand without asking them what that was… just to show that they knew a lot about you. Even the layout of the interrogation rooms was carefully considered. The interrogator would always have their back to the window and sit higher than the prisoner. The prisoner could see a little of the outside world to remind them what they were missing. Furniture was always angled diagonally to unsettle the prisoner. They were forced to sit on their hands – this allowed a good sweat sample to be collected from their chairs which could be used as a scent for dogs in the case of escapes. When the prison finally closed in 1991, a lot of files were opened to the public. You could find out who had denounced you to the Stasi. The guide asked us if we would have wanted to know. ‘Consider’, she said, ‘that one woman found out it was her husband – and divorced him immediately’. A young man was betrayed by his late father who would never be able to explain himself.

After a fascinating couple of hours, the tour finished with the guide reminding us that although the prison closed 25 years ago, there are still many places in the world where similar activities – and worse – are still going on and that we shouldn’t forget that.

The ‘reunion’ of Germany was seen as a very important political and social priority. The former East is still much poorer than the West. Billions of Euros are spent every year in trying to close this gap. Despite all the changes since 1989, there is nostalgia among some people – particularly the older generation – for the DDR, known as Ostalgie. The reasons include ideology, nationalism and a lost sense of social status and stability.

Our final destination was the Russian War Memorial in Treptower Park in the south east of the city. We retraced our steps to the bus and train, carrying on a few stops further to the south of the river.

Russian war memorials are never subtle but this one is larger than most. There are three in the city; this one commemorates 7,000 of the 80,000 Soviet troops that died in the Battle of Berlin. The entrance is through two huge dark marble portals. Beyond this, two lines of stone panels depict scenes of Soviet servicemen, peasants, heroes and leaders. At the end, there is a massive statue of a soldier on top of a small mound overlooking the whole site. He holds a sword and a German child, at his feet is a broken Swastika. It was a grey morning, a few people wandered around, some Russian, had they lost relatives here? Maybe just interested in their country’s history.

Against the clock, we hurried back to the apartment to collect our bags.

The journey home was quick and easy. The change in time zone and flying to City airport got us home at a good time – we’ll be doing this again, soon.

Just for one day…

Friday 23 June 2017

Quick breakfast in our apartment… going back to an old theme – breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs and avocado.

After breakfast, we headed for one of the things I’m looking forward to most in Berlin, a tour of the Hansa recording studios where David Bowie recorded Heroes.

We took a train to Potsdamer Platz metro station, with just enough time for a very nice flat white from ‘The Coffee Shop’. I managed to order in German, at least until she asked whether we wanted it to go.

The building housing the studio used to be a tradesman guild hall and dance hall. It somehow survived the wartime bombardment that flattened almost everything in the surrounding area. When David Bowie was there in 1977, the Wall was visible at the end of the street from the studio control room, inspiring the lyrics about producer Tony Visconti’s affair with a backing singer.

And the guns shot above our heads,
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall

The tour started outside with the history of the building. We then went inside to the large room on the first floor where among others, Bowie, U2, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, R.E.M. and Depeche Mode have recorded. The tour was biased towards Depeche Mode because of the concert the previous night but we still got to hear a bit of Heroes in the room where it was created which was an emotional moment for me.

After the main room, we visited the more modern control room on the top floor which was added after Bowie was here but was used a number of times by Depeche Mode. Hearing some of the music through the studio desk at high volume was quite an experience. We also got to play a few notes on a piano used by Bowie and DM.

Our guide, Thilo, from Berlin Music Tours was very knowledgable about the studios, their history and all the bands that played there. He grew up in East Berlin and saw Depeche Mode when he was 14 when they were one of the rare western bands allowed to play in the East of the city.

After the studios we walked to the WestBerlin Cafe for lunch. Very tasty sandwiches and salads, coffee and juices and lots of books and magazines to read.

Berlin is obviously full of recent history and our next few hours were devoted to two of the major aspects of it.

Checkpoint Charlie was one of the main crossing points between East and West Berlin. On the American side, there’s a small wooden sentry hut and some sandbags – you can have your photo taken with a fake GI. On the Eastern side, there were observation towers, two sections of wall and a 50m strip – snipers alley – between them. A small exhibition explains the significance of the checkpoint and tells the story of attempted crossings, successful and otherwise. Here in October 1961, the East and West came about as close to war as ever happened, both sides had tanks pointing at each other down Friedrichstrasse, fortunately neither side really wanted it and found a way to back down.

A few hundred yards down the street, a long section of the wall remains in place but here an earlier episode of the city’s history is documented. The area housed the majority of the Third Reich government ministries, The ‘Topography of Terror’ exhibition explains the Nazis rise to power, their ways of controlling and suppressing the population and their ultimate defeat. The enormity of what happened is too large to convey in one exhibition but it does a good job of giving an overview of major events. One image of particular interest showed how the Nazis had used the 1936 Olympics for propaganda purposes; it was taken in the stadium we had been in the previous evening, apart from a new roof it remains almost as it was then.

We walked along the side of Hermann Göring’s Air Ministry building (a minimal 1940s construction) and up towards Unter Den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate. The city is very good at explaining the history everywhere and doesn’t shy away from the worst of it. We passed the location of the Nazi Reichstag opposite which was Hitler’s bunker where he shot himself in 1945. Traces of the bunker remained for a long time after the war but it has now been completely obliterated. Unter den Linden is one of the main arteries of the city, a broad multi-lane street with large grand building along its length. At the western end is the Brandenberg gate completed in 1791. The gate was just inside the Russian sector, the wall passed right behind it.

Paris Platz, immediately to the east of the gate was largely destroyed by allied bombing during World War Two. It has recently been rebuilt and is home to the French and US Embassies, a luxury hotel and a Starbucks.

We took a bus and metro back to our apartment for a quick shower before dinner. It seems that everywhere we want go in Berlin – in any direction – is about 30 minutes away.

We took a metro back to the Kreuzberg area and walked through Checkpoint Charlie again to our restaurant. Tim Raue trained at Noma which is a good enough recommendation for us. His restaurant is one of the best in the city. We chose the 6 course vegetarian tasting menu with a few German wines to help us along the way. The food was very very good – lots of interesting colours, flavours and textures, all beautifully cooked. My highlight was a desert of smoked banana, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

After an enjoyable three hours we walked back into the former Soviet sector and took a thirty minute metro ride home.