What with Manchester and London Bridge and elections, I’ve been tiptoeing around social media of late, in an attempt to avoid the slabs of pure venom which are scattered amid the good stuff. So, it was only this morning that I hit upon a post sharing the shattering news that one of my heroes – Tom Isaacs, president and co-founder of the Cure Parkinson’s Trust – died last week. His passing was, apparently, “unexpected and swift”. He was just forty nine.
Life can turn on a sixpence.
Ann from next door and I were chatting yesterday whilst sweeping leaves off the pavement. Ann has an uncle – we’ll call him Pat – in his mid-nineties. He’s been married for forty-seven years to his second wife. Let’s call her Jess. She’s about ten years younger than Uncle Pat, so mid-eighties. There are two sons, both abroad.
He was a bully, our History teacher; a sarcastic, nasty piece of work. If you were lucky, he’d throw chalk at you but he was just as likely to throw the blackboard rubber. “Do you need an extra chair?” he’d sneer at Michael, who was on the stout side. “Will you be in class tomorrow or are you taking the day off to celebrate Jewish Christmas?” he’d say to Rachel. And I probably didn’t see the worst of him; I suspect that was saved for when he took boys’ games.
I was honestly unsure what to expect from Germany. Having grown up in the Sixties, my image of Germans came from war films, prisoner of war stories and comedy stereotypes. As an adult, intellectually I learnt the difference between contemporary Germany and the Nazi party but until I saw it for myself, I’d not taken on board the incredible journey the German people have made.
This trip – and Nuremberg in particular – have been a real education.
The cottage on the left is where we are staying as guests of the lovely Fabien: a young man who works as a property developer. The building and the yellow house you can see to the right are more than five hundred years old. Inside, he’s done a smashing job on restoring a mad jumble of beams and levels.
All the other houses in the street are post-war.
On the night of 2nd of January 1945, over ninety per cent of Nuremberg was destroyed in bombing. All of the churches, the town-hall, more than two thousand preserved medieval houses as well as the residential area surrounding the centre were hit.
The restaurant where we ate last night had photos of how it looked before and then immediately after the bombing. Practically nowhere was intact.
This afternoon we went on a guided tour around the city and were able to see what a superb job the people of Nuremberg have done in its restoration. They really have recreated a beautiful place from the rubble and are justly proud of their home.
Yet again we were extremely lucky with our guide. Anya was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. She took us right through the history of the city from when it was part of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire to becoming a Protestant Centre after Martin Luther. Luther himself visited the city twice and stayed in this car-park; only in those days it was a monastery.
We learnt about the little bays which became a fashionable adornment to houses. Apparently, the city leaders wanted these forbidden on the grounds that a plain facade was more in keeping with the Protestant ideal. The householders responded by saying that these spaces were simply to give them more room to focus on prayer. Oh, that’s OK then, said the council. Go ahead.
These became known as Ladies Windows as ladies liked to sit there and watch what was going on outside. In between praying, of course.
Albrecht Dürer spent much of his life in Nuremburg, so there’s a statue of him, and a museum about him, and a house (above) which belonged to him and an airport named after him, and this statue which is quite recent but was inspired by one of his wood-prints.
Anya talked about the impact that the Nazi period had on the town. There is an archive and visitors’ centre documenting the history of that time; as in Heidleberg, we were aware that there is a determination to acknowledge what happened and learn from it.
There were many places left in ruins after 1945, of course. But I’d never really appreciated how the German people after the War and then – for some – the Soviet occupation, had not just to reconstruct their buildings but also to completely rebuild their society from the ground up. What a task!
We’ve loved our time here: the places we have visited all seem clean and cared-for; all the Germans we have met have been helpful and friendly. Their transport system works like a dream: the mix of modern trams and bikes must be a major reason why the cities are so clean and pleasant. It’s been a brilliant country to visit and I’ve learnt so much. Tomorrow, we head for France but we’re both keen to come back to Germany next time we go travelling.
Now, we’re going to back into the city for an evening stroll before packing up for the morning.
Concert tickets bought on a whim – cheapest available – from a street vendor dressed in C18th garb (think Amadeus) – are never going to be the best seats in the house. Before setting off in our glad rags, however, I do check online to discover with some relief that the opera house does indeed exist, that we have paid the going price and, moreover, the concert is almost a sell- out. Continue reading →
… for a quick waltz through today’s highlights.
- A visit to the Albertina Gallery to see their ‘From Monet to Picasso’ exhibition.
- ‘City highlights walk’ with our trusty Rick Steves audio guide.
- Purchase of tickets for concert tonight of Mozart and Strauss
- Packing up ready for tomorrow’s departure
and (drum roll)
- Figuring out how the dryer works in laundry down the road so we now have clean and dry socks.
Now need to get scrubbed up for tonight. Meanwhile, a taster from this morning:
We’ve come to an agreement, this apartment and I. I’m going to be grateful to it for providing a comfortable bed, reasonably priced, reasonably near the centre of Vienna. In its turn, the apartment will try hard to not resemble the set of a black and white cold war thriller starting Alan Bates and Richard Burton.
We’d promised ourselves some exploring in the Yorkshire Dales and, to that end, had picked up from the tourist centre a promising looking leaflet for a circular walk. As directed, we’d gone through the churchyard, and over a stile, and left at a gate. The next instruction read “turn right at the tethered goats.” Continue reading →
I’ve admitted before that I’m not an adventurous cove.
Exhibit 1 – domicile. Ten minutes walk from childhood home; five minutes from Aged P’s; two streets from previous house.
Exhibit 2 – employment. Teacher for twenty five years, twenty one of those in same school and, had PD not intervened, would probably be there still.
Exhibit 3 – holidays. Adverse to flying – conventional in extreme. Never been outside Europe, unless you count Yorkshire.
So this blog is being written at the start of what is, for me anyway, something of an adventure. I’m sitting in the dark on a balcony outside an apartment in Lille. ActorLaddie and I are inter-railing round Europe for nearly three weeks. Tomorrow we’re going to take the train to Cologne, then head off South to become RhineMaidens.
Tapping a blog out on mobile + added interest of tremor = bitesized, I’m afraid. So three things that have struck me about Lille:
1. Many scary looking police officers, particularly around the station, carrying bloody enormous machine guns.
2. The Bourse has become a market for second hand books, art, music and is utterly beautiful.
3. They still have a C&A’s, bringing back memories of my aunt taking me to the one in Clapham Junction to buy me a bikini for my twelfth birthday, which I insisted on trying on over my vest. Ah, those swinging Sixties.
And, in case you were worried, with the help of TunnelBear making my mobile think it’s still in Britain. I can still listen to the Archers. So that’s all good.