13 April 2024

Mouse in the House

For many months now, I have seen the cutest little mouse come through from my neighbour's fence, scurry from one side of my patio to the other, where it nibbles on seeds dropped from the birdfeeder which hangs on my lilac tree. It is a tiny little thing and very cleverly hides behind plant tubs until it thinks it can safely negotiate the big open space it needs to traverse to get to the seeds. I have shown it to many a visitor to my house and we have all agreed how cute it is. Sometimes I have fancied I have seen two mice as as soon as one scurries next door, another appears almost instantly a bit further away in search of the seeds, so there is no way it could be the same mouse.

I keep bird seed and peanuts in my kitchen ready to throw out to the birds and squirrels. There is an injured pigeon that comes daily and  literally walks pigeon-toed, placing one foot on top of the other as it walks and seriously losing his balance. He spreads his wings in an attempt to steady himself and looks a sorry sight so I always throw seed and peanuts out to him. The antics of the birds and mice have kept me amused over the long winter months and I felt happy to feed them. Until now.

About 6 weeks ago, I was thoroughly cleaning out a corner of my kitchen that I confess I don't clean often enough. Behind a piece of furniture,  alongside where I keep the bags of seed and peanuts, I discovered what looked like lots of  tiny black seeds or black grains of rice.  Now I know the seeds I feed to the birds are not black, so I was a little clueless as to where these seeds had come from. I vacuumed them up and thought no more about it.

Last week, I was cleaning near the bags of seed and peanuts and found some discarded  peanut skins and another scattering of 'black rice grains'. Also there was a chewed hole in the plastic bag of peanuts. Suddenly the penny dropped! I have mice in the house! I have never felt so uneasy in all my life. I love the little critters outside, but sharing the inside of my home with them is definitely unacceptable. Unfortunately I have no idea how they are getting in or out, as there is no trail. The droppings seem to be clustered around where the seed and peanuts bags were and a few along the works surfaces and behind the microwave (ugh). But as my ground floor is entirely made of concrete and there are no floorboards, it is mystifying. It called for desperate measures.

One week on, I still have a problem, although I think I am winning. I have put down traps with poison in them. I checked this morning and the poisoned sachets have been chewed open and the contents obviously taken back to the nests, but that has not stopped the occasional dropping here and there, so they are still alive.  But the dropping are a lot less than they were. I have also bought peppermint oil as apparently mice do not like the smell of that, although last night's visitors did not seem perturbed by it. I gather it may take a week or two to see the results I want, so I persevere. A friend rather seemed horrified that I had used poison and suggested a more humane trap would be better, but if I catch them alive and put them outside, they will only return. Should I put them in my car with seatbelts on and drive a few miles away and dump the problem on someone else? If anyone has any further advice, it will be gratefully received. Meanwhile today I have thoroughly cleaned all kitchen work surfaces with bleach and disinfectant and await tomorrow's findings with interest.

Maybe I should get a cat, although, knowing my luck, it will be vegetarian.

26 March 2024

Wedding nerves

There's less than three months to Kay and her fiance's wedding. 

A year ago it seemed - well a year away - but too far away to panic. Rough hazy plans were made, deposits paid and it seemed way into the future. Suddenly with less than three months to go, it's panic stations as things start to get finalised, concrete decisions made on food, lighting, flowers, clothes, invitations etc. Suddenly it seems more real and VERY CLOSE!!!!

Kay's dress has been made and we have been having last-minute fittings and alterations. I too have been dress-hunting. As mother-of-the bride, I have to look the part, not least because I shall be accompanying Kay down the aisle in lieu of her father, and I shall be making the father-of-the-bride speech. I have written countless drafts and keep tweaking it over the months, trying to make it funny, succinct and not boring. Public speaking does not come naturally to me, but I want to make Kay proud, so do it I shall. I just hope Greg can send me some of his BBC journalistic skills through the cloud he sits on to help me through it.

I've just ordered 13 pairs of shoes - all different shapes and sizes to try on at home with my dress and get a perfect look. It's cost a bomb, but hopefully I can return the 12 pairs I don't want and get refunds. It's easier to do it that way, then drag my silky dress round various shoe shops and potentially damage it and in any case, I can't expect to try the dress on in the shoe shops. I've also arranged to hire a hat, as the shop where I bought my dress tried to sell me one for £295. Given that I would only probably be wearing a hat for about 3 hours (for the church and the meal, then ditch it for the dancing and never wear it ever again),  I thought that was a bit excessive. Once you mention the word "wedding" the extra noughts on the cost of things start appearing. 

Onwards and upwards. So much still to do.......

06 March 2024

Back to the Future

It is fourteen years since Greg died. In some ways, it doesn't seem that long. I can still remember vividly the weeks leading up to that, the last week in Intensive Care at the local hospital and the last hours of his life, as his blood pressure sank and his heartbeat flatlined on the monitors. I can vividly recall the conversation with the doctors afterwards and the journey home as the reality sank in.

In other ways, it seems an eternity. Days, turning into months, turning into years of coping without him, solitary confinement, climbing the stairs to bed each night and turning out the lights on my own, sleeping on one side of a huge bed with just emptiness the other side.  Waking the next morning with that emptiness still beside me. Sitting alone in the evenings all year round watching endless, mindless TV programmes to fill the silence. 

People have commented to me how much I do to occupy myself, considering I am retired and should be taking life gently. I go to three gym classes a week, two choirs, help out at the local food bank and charity shop, volunteer at the local park information centre to name a few. Not to mention single-handedly doing all the housework, gardening and house decoration.  People say it makes them dizzy just reading that list. But the alternative for me is sitting alone at home. I already watch far too much television and have lengthy discussions with the wall on a regular basis. There is only so much of that I can do without turning completely into a recluse or a zombie.

As the fourteenth anniversary comes up, I contemplate if this is what the future holds. The grief gets less painful and changes into something I can't quite put my finger on. A sort of faint longing for how things were, how things could be, a definite fear of missing out, an acceptance but not entirely accepting.  Many people have suggested dating websites as an answer. I don't know if I will ever be ready for that. Once bitten twice shy. Supposing I jump from the frying pan into the fire and that works out to be a disaster? Companionship would be lovely but at what cost, if he is an axe murderer or will rob me of my possessions or we simply fail to co-exist? I'm nervous to try. I really don't think that's an option. But what else is there other than what I am already doing?

At choir, we are singing a medley from the musical Jekyll and Hyde, getting ready for a concert at the end of the month.  This song in particular jumps out at me with the words being so relevant to my situation. I'm not depressed, in case anyone thinks otherwise, but just pensive.

I peer through windowsWatch life go byDream of tomorrow And wonder why
The past is holding meKeeping life at bayI wander lost in yesterdayWanting to flyBut scared to try

17 February 2024

Celebrity Cat

I do have Facebook as one of the apps on both my phone and laptop and have found it useful for many things. When Kay was younger and away at university, it was a way of keeping up with (or stalking) what she was up to, as she and her friends posted a lot on there. It was also a way of keeping up with what MY friends were doing or letting them know what I was up to. Often unrequested random things would pop up such as a recipe or craft pattern that interested me or a cute video of animals or people doing hilarious things. 

I also decided at some point to join the local Facebook group for my part of London. Again it was useful for all sorts of reasons. Somebody might ask for recommendations for a local plumber, electrician, washing machine repairer, gardener etc and I would save the replies in case I needed them myself in future. There might be a post about a traffic jam somewhere so best to avoid, if I were going out, or a post to tell us a new restaurant was opening or closing, there was a fire on a local road or what were the best schools. Sometimes the post would just be a joke or beautiful picture of something in the area, so I visit the group online everyday to keep up to date. 

One thing that has been impossible to avoid are numerous comments about a cat whose name I shall change for its privacy. Let's call her Snowy. She is a predominantly white cat but with tabby patches and tabby tail. The most remarkable thing about her is that she has become a local celebrity. She obviously has a home and an owner in our local community, but loves to wander about in a mile or so radius visiting all sorts of places. Her beat often takes her down our local High Street, so shops will post pictures of her in their showrooms. She seems to like most our local library and gym, as well as the local hospital, but she often frequents chemists, opticians, charity shops and hangs around outside Sainsbury's supermarket.  About a year ago, despite being electronically tagged, she completely disappeared for 3 months and the local Facebook group were in uproar. We looked out for her- but to no avail- and eventually she was feared dead, as the tag was not reporting back her whereabouts to her owner. An article about her disappearance even appeared in our local paper. Then three months later in May 2023 she turned up again, minus her tag, somewhat thinner, but none the worse for her adventure. If only she could talk about where she had been.  The locality was beside itself with joy. 

Since then she sports a new electronic tag and continues her daily wanderings sighted by the community. Someone with strong media links has also suggested making a film about her. Here are some of the pictures of her in the places she has visited in recent months.....

At the library

Buying a house

A quick half pint at the pub

The books in the chemist are boring

Playing peek-a-boo in the library again

A quick nap in the charity shop.....
......and another nap in the chemist shop

A stroll round the churchyard

Waiting for a blood test at the local hospital

a check-up at the dentist

Another day, another charity shop

Going to the bank is exhausting

Popping into Marks and Spencer for a bit of cod
Needed a hammer at the DIY shop

I have been lucky enough to see her once personally at the  gym, but didn't have a camera on me at the time. I'm sure I'll see her again one day, but meanwhile I'll have to make do with the almost daily photographs and sightings on Facebook.

UPDATE - She is now a television star! She appeared on primetime breakfast TV  this week, shortly after I posted this,  as an example why all cats in the UK must be microchipped from June 2024. 

30 January 2024

Technology - improvement or hindrance?

I sometimes think modern technology, such as computers and the internet can be a double-edged sword. I am all for progress, after all, without it, we'd all still be wearing sabre-tooth tiger cloaks and be killing woolly mammoths for our supper. But I guess through every generation of progress there have been pros and cons. Take the industrial revolution. It took production output to the next level for factory and mill owners, but at the cost of exploiting their workers. I feel today with the internet we face advantages and disadvantages of different kinds.

Computers, mobile phones and the internet have drastically changed the world we live in. At the touch of keypad we can look up answers to any of our questions in a heartbeat (assuming we have good broadband connections). We can instantly convert dollars to pounds, look up US presidents at the time of Queen Victoria, the next train from London to Edinburgh, the best hotels in Sydney, the weather in Guatemala or get a supermarket delivery. We can send emails, attend meetings from home, glance at our bank accounts or arrange bank transfers. We can reduce the wastage of paper (and thus save the planet) by having online accounts for utilities and other companies we deal with, rather than get hard paper copies sent to us through the post. We can "visit a street" on the other side of the world and see what it looks like.  There are so many more advantages.

BUT. There has to be a but. There is a lot to be said against it. For starters what happens when there is poor or no broadband connection and you cannot research something online or send an email? What happens when you have no mobile phone signal and cannot contact someone urgently to tell them you are going to be late or not show for a meeting with them? What happens if your computer dies or your mobile smashes on the ground and you cannot transfer money or receive online paperwork until you can fork out for another computer or mobile? What if you mis-type an email address and the person you are targeting doesn't even get your message or some stranger finds out things about you?

I have noticed with the younger generation (I am not naming names, dear daughter of mine), that they tend to religiously contact colleagues by email and then wonder why they get no reply for days or weeks on end. Where as I would pick up the phone, dial and get my answer there and then. I am advised that NOBODY does phone calls these days. It's all done by email. Similarly, when seeking a quote for work to be done or goods to be provided, an online request form is de rigeur. Again, I would pick up the phone, dial and ask what they charge!!

I am afraid I still insist on bills being sent to me, rather than having online copies, as I always worry, if my computer goes down or dies, I won't have anything to rely on.  I am sure recycling paper will still save the planet, given that we have already chopped down millions of trees and already have a load of paper hanging around waiting to be recycled. I do have an online bank account - it seems almost impossible not to these days, but I have to have 100% of my wits about me not to be scammed in a moment of sleepy lack of concentration, when I receive a phone call from a stranger purporting to be from Amazon telling me I have just paid £4,000 and do I want to stop this purchase and hand over my bank details.

Another disadvantage of the internet is social media and the way it can put stress on children's lives. Once kids were bullied at school but it stopped at the school gates. Now, with mobile phones, kids are getting bullied round the clock, even as they're turning out the bedside light at night. On the plus side, CCTV cameras,  Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and Face Recognition cameras can fight crime and solve complex cases in much shorter times.

I sit on the fence on this one. There are good points and bad points. What say you?

19 January 2024

Winter blues

It's already the 19th of January and I have just realised I have not posted anything at all since December. Life seems to get in the way sometimes, although I cannot really boast of anything exciting. 

It seems as one gets older, there's a lot of bad news flying around and stuff to deal with. There have been two deaths in recent weeks - one the sister of my best friend and the other an old friend/neighbour of my parents whom I have known for nearly 40 years. The first had specifically requested no funeral. I attended the funeral of the second last week. 

I have also been following up appointments on my own health and saw my gastric consultant on 4 January. She wants to do another gastroscopy to stretch a stomach valve which should help with the acid reflux I get from time to time. I last had this procedure back in September, but it needs doing again as it did not do the trick last time. The gastroscopy was due to be done today, but because of a mix-up with the appointment's department, it never got registered, so has been delayed until 2 February.  It's probably just as well there was a mix-up, as I have gone down with a dreadful cold - I haven't had one in years - and am feeling sorry for myself. I've lost count of the number of times I sneezed yesterday (probably well over a hundred) and I feel as if someone has attached a permanently running tap to my nose. I know I'll survive, but together with this cold snap in the weather, it is making me listless. 

To cheer up a rather depressing post, I got the train up to the Midlands to visit my niece and six-week-old grand niece at the beginning of the week, thankfully before any of my cold symptoms appeared. She got lots of cuddles from Great Aunt Addy. She is such a poppet and has an amazing head of hair. See what you think....

27 December 2023

Christmas Tidings

It's been a funny old Christmas this year. To kick off with, I went down with a virus - the second year running - and I reckon I have a choir concert on 13 December to blame. A soprano directly in front of me was coughing her head off, despite us all being told not to turn up to rehearsals or concerts if we have colds or covid. Lo and behold, three days later I went down at first with a sore throat, then several days later I completely lost my voice and ended up over Christmas with a tickly cough which was worse when I lay down in bed. Last year at the same concert I picked up covid (probably from the same woman, as she always stands in front of me.) Next year, I'll trip her up at the rehearsal the week before and save myself the bother of being third Christmas unlucky!!

The second problem was that Kay was working nightshifts over the Christmas period. So she was working  the nightshift on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day at a very busy central London Intensive Care Unit. Her fiance had gone home to his parents for the festive break, so as to avoid being home alone. Fortunately Kay came home (very exhausted) to me on Christmas morning and went straight to bed. We arranged I would wake her at 2pm to give her a bit of rest and at the same time help her flip back to daytime hours again. We therefore managed to have a nice Christmas meal in the late afternoon, wonderfully prepared by me while she was asleep. With the meal and a prosecco or two or three, we were both dozing on and off during the rest of the evening.

On Boxing Day, Kay left to drive down to join her fiance and his parents in deepest Kent for two days. I'll see her again on the 28th when they both return to celebrate a proper Christmas with me. After that it will soon be the end of another year and a very exciting 2024 ahead. Happy New Year in advance.  May we all get peace in the world and health and happiness.

20 December 2023

Germany - Part 4 - Hamburg again

Apart from the day on my birthday reminiscing and revisiting all the old haunts, as I described in my last post, we also did the usual tourist things and went on two walking tours to see the main sights of Hamburg. The weather was still very cold and, despite wearing five layers of clothing under our coats, we were still shivering, as we stopped at various points to listen to the tour guide. I knew a lot of the sights from having lived there, but of course Kay and her fiance had never been there before, so it was all new to them and there were one or two surprises for me too.

We started off at the Rathaus or City Hall which is a magnificent building in the heart of Hamburg. It was also the site of the main Christmas market, so we ended up there quite a lot during the few days we were there and because it was not far from our hotel.

Inside is even more impressive.

Not many people know that Hamburg, although known for its docks, has a massive lake in the centre of the city known as the Alster.  It is so big, that ferries operate to take commuters from one end to the other.  It is cut in two by a road bridge so the smaller bit of it is known as the inner Alster (Binnenalster) and the larger part known as the Outer Alster (Aussenalster). I always found it amusing that a shandy (half beer and half lemonade) is known there as Alsterwasser (Alster water). The smaller Binnenalster is close to the Rathaus, making the whole area very attractive and home to many 5-star hotels and embassies.

In winter this huge lake freezes over and people go skating on it. You can already make out the ice forming and it's not mid-winter yet.

The walk took us past two famous Hamburg churches - St Michael and St Nicholas - the latter having been left a ruin since it was bombed.

St Michael

St Nicholas

We then moved on to the Dockland area. There are many sights to see in that area. The newest (and one I had not seen before) was the Elbphilharmonie, a concert hall finished in January 2017 to a cost of 870 million euros.  The glass construction resembles a hoisted sail, water wave, iceberg or quartz crystal resting on top of an old brick warehouse. Inside is quite impressive and you can get on a long escalator to the top with amazing 360-degree views of the dockland and city.

The escalator to the viewing platform at the top

The views of the docks are magnificent. Germany does not have much coastline and Hamburg (although not exactly on the coast but downstream on the very long river Elbe) is the main shipping port for the entire country. In the past, it built U-boats and navy destroyers, as well as being a major import/export hub. We were told it is now a favourite place for Russian oligarchs to have their yachts built - for the same price as the cost of the Elbphilharmonie mentioned above!

The area houses a lot of warehouses which, like many in the UK, have been turned into expensive flats and shops.

The walk ended up in the area where I had not spent my student life - The Reeperbahn. It is Hamburg's infamous night club and red-light area close to the docks. (I had visited it once with a gang of students on a rowdy night out but never seen it during the day.) It is still a red-light area but women visitors are not allowed in certain streets or the ladies of the night will throw vile things at them. It is also home to where the Beatles first started out and this has been acknowledged in various monuments  and street names.

Beatles monument

Poster still in the club where the Beatles used to play

Can you believe,  I took over 300 photos of my nine days in Germany and these are but a few. There was so much to see and so much to reminisce in. I leave you with a couple of pictures of the Christmas market to get you in the mood for Christmas.

mulled wine and hot eggnog

We left Hamburg in driving snow and -6 degrees. As we sat on the plane, waiting for them to de-ice the wings and clear the runway, I was sad to leave. It had been the most wonderful return to Germany after so many years. I can't wait to return.

14 December 2023

Germany - Part 3 - Hamburg

Our train journey from Berlin to Hamburg took us through the former East Germany or the Russian sector. My first train journey the other way from Hamburg to Berlin back in 1972, had involved stopping at the border between East and West Germany where East German guards boarded the train with ferocious looking German Shepherd dogs to examine our passports and look under the trains with mirrors to ensure there were no stowaways. There was none of that this time and our train left Berlin main station dead on time and sped through the countryside towards Hamburg. Apart from an occasional farm and huge stretches of forest, there was little to see until we got closer to what was originally the border with the West, when villages and towns sprung up wearing their brightest colours. 

As the train pulled into Hamburg main station, I felt very emotional. I had spent the academic year of 1971-1972 there as part of my university course studying German Language and literature and had been assigned to a grammar school in Hamburg to teach English. I had not been back since.  Hamburg had not changed a lot, as it was already back in 1972 enjoying the freedom and successful economics of a Western democratic country. It was also one of the six founder members of the European Union or Common Market as it was known in those days. If anything, today, it has become very international in that it has many of the same shops we have here, which is sad, because I like to go abroad to see something different and not see the same shops I can find in my High Street - MacDonalds, Starbucks, H&M, Pandora, The Body Shop, Levis, Hollister, O2, Vodafone, Sketchers to name but a few. There are shopping malls there too which are new, but then I guess we didn't have many in the UK back then either.

Our first full day there was spent indulging me, because it was my birthday, so I dragged poor Kay and her fiance around in driving snow, hopping on and off underground (U-bahn) and overground (S-bahn) trains to visit all the places I had lived in Hamburg. During the course of that year I had lived in 4 different places. The first room was assigned to me by the school which employed me. It was in a vicarage, but literally on arriving in early September, the vicar showed me to my room and pointed out that the room did not include bedding, so I would need to go out and buy some. At that time Harold Wilson was the prime minister in Britain and had restricted money being taken out of the country to £70. I had taken the full amount with me to Germany, hoping to eke it out until my first pay cheque at the end of the month, but had to blow nearly the whole lot on bedding in the first few hours on German soil. The other thing the vicar told me was that I was not allowed to use the family kitchen or eat in my room and that I must eat out. As a young girl in a strange city famous as a raunchy seaport with a famous red light area, I was terrified to eat out alone, in case a passing sailor took a fancy to me, so used to squirrel rolls and cakes into my room and hope not to drop any crumbs. After a month of putting up with that, the school found me another lodging - this time with free board and use of the kitchen but having to look after two small children every evening while their mother went to evening school to get qualifications she never got at school. After a day teaching, I did not fancy using up my evenings to look after what were two very spoiled precocious brats,  particularly as I was an only-child, only 20 and not experienced in childcare whatsoever.  It meant of course that I had to say goodbye to any social life. I persevered until Christmas when one evening the mother was later coming back from her evening out than we had agreed which meant I had to miss something important I had arranged. After that, as my social life improved and I found the weekday childcare evenings were not helping with the whole German experience my course was meant to give me,  I left with the agreement of the mother and stayed a few weeks in emergency university accommodation during the university holidays, but had to leave when term started again. Finally (fourth time lucky), I found the ideal room with a little old lady who fussed round me and made me very welcome. She more than made up for the bad experience I had had up to that point.

The vicarage - my room was the three windows at the top.


The church across the road

My room in the old lady's flat was here at the very top

The grammar school where I taught English

The rest of my birthday was spent hunkering in the warm from the snow eating humungous  cakes, that only the Germans can excel in and finished off our day sheltering from the snow in the Christmas market.
Yummy birthday cakes

More to come of our Hamburg trip in the next post.

09 December 2023

Germany - Part 2 - Berlin again

As I mentioned in the last post, Berlin is a city with baggage. The sights reflect this with so much to see about the Nazi era and the Cold war. I am old enough to have lived there and personally experienced Berlin (and Germany) when it was divided by a wall, so many of the "history" was well known to me. For the younger generation, like Kay and her fiance,  though, it was interesting to learn about how it was. 

The Jewish Holocaust memorial is amazing. The competition to design it was won by the New York architect Peter Eisenman. The memorial was ceremonially opened in 2005. On a site covering 19,000 square metres, Eisenman placed 2711 concrete blocks of different heights - small as you enter, but getting taller and taller in the centre, giving you the impression of being hemmed in and oppressed. The ground beneath your feet undulates, making you feel uncertain on your feet and unsafe.  You can just about see the buildings around the perimeter, but you are not part of it, giving you the impression of what it is like to be in a ghetto where you cannot leave.  The stones are roughly coffin-shaped and the paths between them narrow. You can occasionally bump into people as you meander through the site, but then never see them again, much as it might have been in the Nazi era when people were disappearing overnight, so it is very clever and well-thought-through monument.

Another must-see is Checkpoint Charlie - the border between the American sector and the Russian sector, where there was tension and a stand-off in 1961. If you want to read more about that see here.  I visited Checkpoint Charlie in 1977 when it was still an active border crossing, 
held by the Americans,  but today it is a tourist sight complete with museum about the Cold War history and stories of attempted escapes across from East to West.

A favourite form of escape was to hide inside the engine of a car

Most of the wall which divided Berlin has been removed, but there are still sites where bits of it have been left intact. One such place is East Side Gallery. At 1.3 kilometres long, the open-air artwork is the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence. Immediately after reunification in 1990,  118 artists from 21 countries began painting the East Side Gallery, and it officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990. Here is just some of the artwork to see.

Another interesting bit of the tour for me was to visit Bernauerstrasse. It was in the West of Berlin and right on the border with the wall which was at that part in an L-shape forming a corner. 
At that spot in 1977, I had climbed onto a platform up about 20 steps to peer into the East. 

1977 Climbing the scaffold to view into the East beyond the wall.

Now the spot is marked by metal poles to show where the wall went.
2023 the spot of the scaffold

The same view in 1977 from the scaffold. The white wall is visible and the minefield in front of that

Apologies for the quality of the photos taken of 1977 - they are taken off a cine film made by my husband. East German guards sat in a watchtower across the way and it was patrolled with East German guards on motorbikes watching me, no doubt to see if I would pass messages to any passing East German citizens.
1977 East German guards watching me

The other view from the scaffold in 1977 was of a building directly ahead. It was drab and grey and bore the signage Klub der Volkssolidaritat (club of the people's solidarity)

This is what it looks like now. Freshly painted in yellow and minus the signage.

The view I could see beyond the wall in 1977 but much changed today

Another reminder of the past is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church located in the West of the city. Built in the 1890s it was badly bombed in 1943. Instead of rebuilding it or demolishing it, Berliners decided to keep the shell as a constant reminder of the pointlessness of war and built a modern version next door. I had never been inside the old church before, as back in 1977 it was still very much a ruin.  Now, you can go inside and I was amazed how beautiful it was even as a ruin.

The old and new church side by side

Inside the old church


The magnificent ceiling

Better view of the new church

Inside the new church

The Stalingrad Madonna inside the new church drawn by the German soldier Kurt Reuber in 1942 at the Battle of Stalingrad
Many of the underground stations situated in former East Berlin have been modernised and some have shops in them, but this one at Klosterstrasse in the picture below seems very drab and bears the scars of Soviet occupation.

Another quite emotional part of the visit for me was to find my great-grandparents' graves in a Berlin cemetery, which I had been unable to do before, because (you've guessed it) it was cut off in the Eastern sector. I had heard their names mentioned dozens of times  in family folklore, but to stand before their graves was surreal. Despite a few freezing cold and hithertoo rainy days beforehand, the sun came out at that point, as if they were saying hello back to me.

On our last evening in Berlin, before moving on to Hamburg, the Christmas markets - of which there are many dotted all over Berlin  - officially opened. Of course that was an excuse for Bratwurst and Glühwein. Here are a couple of pictures of the main one in Berlin.

More of the trip to follow in the next few days.....