The Known Unknown: Berlin’s Hansaviertel

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been to a place countless times but you had no idea how special a place it is? There is quite a fascination to the discovery of already known places. In this case it is the Hansaviertel in Berlin, an area that I had always thought of as being situated somewhere else and that holds famous architecture of some of the most renowned architects of the Bauhaus, Neues Bauen and Modernism, such as Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, and Max Taut.

Only last year did I begin to explore the architecture of Berlin, which is an exciting place in this regard. Berlin is not exactly a beautiful city in a conventional sense, but its history has led to the most unusual, if not unique, developments. The grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century was followed by a war that left Berlin in rubble. The Cold War that ensued and led to the separation of the town and its people by the Berlin Wall turned Berlin into a battlefield of the architecture of two opposing systems – without actually having any money for it. Reunification, the moving of the government from Bonn to Berlin and the latest boom have added to a seemingly endless frenzy of a city that never ceases to change, a city that is never finished. You leave Berlin for a week to go on a holiday and when you come back, you won’t recognise it.

The Hansaviertel in the heart of West Berlin saw its splendour of exuberant Gründerzeit style houses almost completely destroyed in 1943. Ten years later Berlin decided to build a model future city on its grounds and invited the biggest international star architects to develop a new settlement – in rivalry to the truly gigantic and monumental Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee), that was being built in East Berlin. Both East and West wanted to show to the world that it is they who provided the best living conditions to their respective citizens. While the Stalinallee provided representative flats in which you can easily get lost, the Hansaviertel was equipped with small flats in primarily functional buildings of small, medium and high-rise format, loosely scattered, each surrounded by specifically designed green space. Two Brutalist churches, an underground station, a shopping area, a cinema (now a theatre), and a library as well as some cafés and restaurants (schools were nearby) completed a mostly independent living unit.

As I leave Bellevue S-Bahn station I’m greeted by two of the five highrisers (“Punkthäuser”) from 1957, when the new settlement was presented as the site of the Interbau exhibition. Are they pretty? No. All of the houses had to be built with as little money as possible and it shows, just like their age. Right behind them is the familiar Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), where I saw Macbeth, Brave New World and The Grapes of Wrath in the English language as a teenager. It presents itself in a modernist individual, yet modest style with a naked Henry Moore bronze sunbathing. Smaller houses that remind me of the holiday camps of my childhood pop up here and there. They look as if living here is attractive. All the houses have their balconies directed towards the south and the green space makes the whole place look very comfortable. It’s mostly clean and graffiti is rare. Yes, I understand why the people who moved in in the 1950’s and 60’s have never moved out. Beauty in an aesthetic sense is not a criterion to apply here, but a highly individual character of each single building can’t be denied. It is this specific character that you get when every single building has a different designer.

The most famous of them all is the Oscar Niemeyer Haus, Niemeyer’s only building in all of Germany. It is a crazy one: it stands on filigree feet, which makes you wonder how they can possibly carry such a large building. The lift, that stops only at two floors, is kept in an extra tower outside the house. London residents may know the Balfron Tower (1967) that has a similar concept (but looks less pretty…).

The lofty, green Hansaviertel, that is situated right between the two city centres, feels like a world of its own. But then again every Berlin Kiez does, each an intriguing little universe in itself. I can’t wait to explore the next one.

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Thanks to Ian and Jason for their support.

Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Arch

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The kids picked Arch as the theme for #Halftermphotofun and in my mind I thought, ah it’ll just be all bridges and churches and while we certainly got some of those we had lots of other great interpretations proving yet again that my kids know better than I do.  The humble arch is, once you start looking, everywhere around us both in nature and the built environment as it it is the building block to so much of the world around us from an architectural point of view.  Writing that sentence I’ve just noticed that architecture begins with arch !  I did know that there were different styles of arch but didn’t realise that there were quite so many designs, I think I came across about 15 styles doing a little bit of research – the Ogee arch anyone ?  I’m not sure how many styles we’ve managed to have represented here but quite a few I reckon.

What I particularly liked when you see all of the arches together here is how inquisitive it made me feel, what’s through there ? adventure ? mystery ? are they portals to another world ? and then there were the different interpretations, arch enemies/ rivals of the rugby team forming an arch in the scrum, the arch of the foot or the eye, the fun the little boy is having making an arch and I think it was this photo that made me put the family photo at the top, if you can’t find an arch you can just make your own.

As always thanks so much to all of you who took part contributing and interpreting throughout the week, it’s been great fun as always.  I hope I haven’t missed any out but if I have then do get in touch and I’ll amend the gallery.  We’ll be back for Easter, unless we throw a random weekendphotofun in so if you are reading this and want to take part then you are more than welcome, just follow me on twitter @ianstreet67 or keep an eye on the twitter hashtags #halftermphotofun, #easterphotofun, #summerphotofun etc you get the drift.  Thanks everyone.

Song for Coal

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This year sees the 30th anniversary of the miners strike, an event that is still etched in the minds and consciousness of many, and which did so much to change the political and social landscape of Britain – whatever side of the political fence you happened to be on, things would not be the same.

To mark this event Nick Crowe and Ian Robertson have produced an amazing audio visual piece that is currently showing in the chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  You enter through what at first appears to be total pitch black, you can hear haunting singing and monk like chanting while projected up on the wall is what appears to be a stunning visual representation of a stain glass window.  As your eyes slowly adjust you can find a bench and sit down and let yourself be immersed in sound and visual.

The ‘window’ is an astonishing thing, firstly that it looks so right projected as it is inside a church but it takes a while to get used to as it is moving and flickering as you watch it.  The colours are incredibly vivid and your eyes try to work out what is happening.  The window is comprised of 152 panels and each panel contains a film that looks at the history of coal, from it’s origins before mankind through to it powering the industrial revolution and beyond.  As the films play in the panels it creates a hypnotic kaleidoscopic effect that is enhanced by the music and singing (sung by Opera North) that accompanies the visuals.  You see flickers of plants, cars, flame, sculptures, Davy lamps, miners faces morphing constantly across the window to a mesmerising effect.

As I sat in the darkness, eyes transfixed by the visual and sound surrounding me you could hear occasional words like ‘it made us strong’ but it brought memories to me of the coalman delivering sacks to the house, of lighting the fire that heated the house, through to the strike and it’s devastating consequences and then made me think of our need to move beyond fossil fuels so that what once powered our world remains buried below the surface.

 

 

The Vanity of Small Differences

perry1 (The Adoration of the Cage Fighters)

When I first came across Grayson Perry I have to say I was distinctly underwhelmed, I think because it all seemed to be about him and not about the art.  As I result I ignored him for a while but slowly as I started to come across him more, listen to what he was saying and look at his art my mind was totally changed.  In fact I now think that he is not only one of Britain’s best contemporary artists but he is also one of the best commentators on art, he has an engaging quizzical style that enables him to get across concepts and ideas in a very accessible style.  This perhaps culminated in his Bafta award winning documentary series All in the Best Possible Taste in which Grayson visited Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotsworlds and created tapestries depicting a story inspired by art history and the different social groups, classes and tastes that he came across during the visit to the very different regions of England.

Since seeing the documentary I’ve always wanted to see the tapestries so was very excited when I heard that they were coming to Leeds and would be installed for a period in Temple Newsam House.  It’s worth mentioning the curation of the exhibition as I think it was a very clever idea to place the tapestries within a stately home as opposed to an art gallery.  The tapestries themselves primarily deal with issues of taste and class and are full of artefacts that reflect this.  Seeing them hanging on the walls (each one in a different room) of the South Wing surrounded by the changing styles and taste of previous centuries gave them a suitable backdrop that could not be recreated in any art gallery.

perry2(The Agony in the Car Park)

The tapestries tell the story of Tim Rakewell and his rise from impoverished working class Sunderland to nouveau riche stately home owner after Tim’s success as an app developer and his sale of his company to Richard Branson and finally his death after crashing his Ferrari showing off to his new trophy wife.  The Story is “The Geek’s Progress” – a headline that appears on the ipad on tapestry 4 and is a nod to William Hogarth’s “A Rakes Progess” which tells the story of Tom Rakewell and his descent from inherited riches to madness, destitution and death.  Grayson’s modern take on Hogarth’s work is brought into focus in the exhibition which enables you to compare the two bodies of work as all 8 of Hogarth’s pictures are reproduced in the room that houses Grayson’s final tapestry.

perry3(Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close)

Whilst I’d seen pictures of the tapestries and seen the documentary on the inspiration behind them nothing can prepare you for the stunning colours, vividness and detail of seeing them in them up close.  There is so much detail that personally I could look at each one for a considerable period of time, they hold your eye as you take in all that is going on and in looking at them for a prolonged period my brain was totally engaged in thinking about Tim’s progress and what this tells us about Britain today and who we are.

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(The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal)

Artefacts play out strongly across the tapestries, and this again links through to where they exhibited as you pass through rooms full of artefacts of the period before you get to the tapestries.  From the miners lamp, to the cafetiere, the football shirt to the Cath Kidston bag so many assumptions are made on the clothes and artefacts we wear and surround ourselves with.  Technology and how it has changed is also strongly reflected throughout the journey, from the very first tapestry where the baby Tim reaches out his mother’s mobile phone screen, the huge cranes of the declining shipyards to be replaced by call centres, the tablet computers and app development that brought Tim his fortune.

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(The Upper Class at Bay, Or An Endangered Species Brought Down)

In comparison to A Rake’s Progress which dealt with someone’s descent from riches to rags, The Geek’s Progress charts the successful rise from impoverished background to stately home.  As Britain becomes more and more unequal and social mobility less and less achievable Perry is I think asking important questions on what sort of society we want.  On one of the tapestries Jamie Oliver is depicted as the god of social mobility looking down as Tim moves across to the middle classes, however Tim as Grayson did attended a Grammar School and I wonder if Grayson is making comment here that this is now one of the only ways to achieve social mobility.  In the end though both Tim and Tom lie naked and dead each destroyed by their wealth.

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(#Lamentation)

Across these six tapestries Grayson Perry weaves an extraordinary exploration of British social history over the last thirty years encompassing politics, class, taste, social observation, art history, celebrity culture, changing industry, technology and social media.

It does all of this is a very accessible format, my kids came with me and both said how much they’d enjoyed it partly because they could follow and understand it.  The accompanying booklet is really excellent, there is an app that you can also download and this is available on tablets in the exhibition so that you can explore the tapestries in more detail and look up many of the other historical pieces of art from the 15th century that inspired the work.

The exhibition is on till December 7, I’ll definitely be going again.

What’s in a (Trail) Name ?

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How do you know where you are?  An obvious question perhaps but sometimes finding an answer is not as easy.  Can you remember what it was like when you first started venturing out of the house on your own, you slowly got to know your local area both by the buildings and the places where you would play.  It was easy to say going to the park or the field (the field for me was where we played football, rugby and cricket next to the school) and then on the way to the river there was the old barn field (it had an old barn in it).  We had places like Jenkins field, even though it might have been a long time since anyone called Jenkins had lived in the farm that owned the field.  As you start to venture further afield which for me was on a road bike (or a racer as they were known back then) farms became quite key landmarks to navigate with using the good old OS map.

I still like riding bikes and using maps but when it comes to mountain biking, especially riding locally then there are other ways to navigate and that is Trail Names.  Anyone who rides regularly with others will have local names for where they ride, names that you won’t find on any map with stories behind them.  Often when you are out you will know where you are (in a particular wood for example) but you won’t really know where you are as in where is this wood geographically and it’s here that trail names come into there own.  You need to find a way to describe where you are going, let’s head to ….. or where you are meeting up or where you have been and how brilliant / rubbish you rode a particular section which is what trail names give you, they are the framework to provide the narrative for your ride.  The names will cover all different parts of your ride off road, could be a long flowy bit of single track, a particular feature or just a corner.

The names grow up organically, often due to some incident or other and they are tribal in nature, so what we might call something another crew will call in something completely different.  I’m not a strava user (and am fiercely anti it really) but what it is doing is codifying sections so that slowly everyone will know sections by one name which I personally feel is a shame as I like the hyper localism of trail names.  Stava might also prevent the changing of trail names as well, currently names evolve as either riders change, different things happen, superstition takes over etc all of which creates a language of features that only we know.  As you start to ride with a crew slowly you will learn the routes, features and names and it becomes a right of passage until you never know something might get named after you.

Here’s a few of our local ones but I’d be interested in your favourites as well and how they came about.

  • Last Drag – we often end our rides here.  It’s just an incline across a field but it is a drag
  • Travelator – classic starting point to many of our rides.  It’s just ribbon of mud leading to a steep bank into the woods but like the travelator from the Gladiator TV show, when it’s wet and muddy you can feel like you are going backwards pretty quickly
  • Puddle Duck – Possibly one of the best sections of trail in the area, multiple lines snake off the puddle duck through the woods.  A place where all will be tested no matter what their ability.  Tiz a bit of a beast to ride up though and named after a particular person from Garage Bikes who doesn’t like it.  This trail name is a classic in that lots of people ride it but most will know it as something completely different.
  • Leon’s Leap – A corner on the puddle duck, Leon overshot it and took to the sky
  • The Spa – When you are leaving the woods with the puddle duck in it there is The Spa.  Just the muddiest, squelchiest little section.  It never drains and is muddy in summer, in winter it requires fatbike like tyres to get through it.  You will put your foot down and the mud will ooze into your shoes / boots.  Some would pay good money to be covered in mud – hence The Spa
  • Better Climb Than Descent – Narrow and a little bit technical but not too technical so all can ride it, however it’s better to go up it.  Going down it’s got thorns, barb wire fence, dog walkers etc making it a potential problem
  • 5D – (Daz & Deano’s Death Defying Descent) – Bones and bikes broken but they did defy death
  • Pinball Run – For me a local route that terrifies me. Very fast (if you want it to be) descent, steep at the top and bits of rock all over the place, get your line wrong and you will be pinged about like a ball in a pinball machine
  • Jesus Ain’t Got Shit on Me – One of the best names, the reality is just a mud bank across a reservoir but hit it when the water level is just so and you will appear to riding on water never mind walking
  • Collarbone Corner – yep you can all guess what happened to someone here
  • Lynne’s Drop – very steep section off one of the local trails discovered by Lynne
  • The Death Star Run – another great name, we’ve all seen Star Wars with Luke using the force to storm his way down the trench to destroy the death star.  This is our mountain bike equivalent, hit this at warp speed and you will need the force to guide you through
  • Dog Shit Flavoured Treacle – just a drag up a field, however the field is surround by houses so dog owners use the field, it also gets very muddy in winter and pedalling is like riding through treacle
  • Wiggly Wiggly – classic wiggly ride through trees in another wood
  • Knife Edge – a parallel route to wiggly wiggle but is raised with a gulley on one side and a long drop on the other so you ride exposed
  • Blood Lane – or Warren’s Lane (which is what most know it as) or The Destroyer.  On Strava this will be Warren’s Lane but it used to be known as the Destroyer as it did exactly that to bikes and bodies, superstition took hold and it changed to The Delight as it is anything but.  I know it as Blood lane or Bloody lane as it is where the blood drained away from a civil war battlefield that is at the top.

So none of those names will mean much apart from to us, the locals who ride them but new names crop up all the time.  Last night we were out riding and after going through a fence gap had to ride up a very steep lane, no run up just a standing start in the lowest gear you have (the granny ring) so that lane is now Grab a Granny

See you all at the top of Blood lane before we attack Wiggly Wiggly then head over to play on the Puddle Duck before taking a dip in the Spa

 

 

 

Workers Lunchtime

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I’m on a quest. To fill that pure, unadulterated hour. Sandwiched between the two thick slabs of morning and afternoon. In my job I’m lucky enough to have an hour break for lunch and I’m looking for new bite-sized stuff to do.

I like the old, Victorian, philanthropic capitalists like local lad Titus Salt, the Lever brothers, Mr Cadbury, and the Rowntree family. Whilst counting their money they provided their workers with distractions, other than just combing wool, making soap or stirring chocolate.

These forward looking individuals knew that work wasn’t the be-all and end-all. The well-being of employees was on the agenda. Maybe it wasn’t just altruism, maybe they got more work out of a more content work force.

And those Victorian types were all for setting up societies to discuss big matters and learn more about each other and the world. From now on I’ll devote more of my lunchtimes to see what this city can offer its workers around noon.

So far I’ve been digging some mindfulness at the local Buddhist temple. Taken piano lessons again after a break of 20 years. I’ve got on my bike and cycled down river to see leaping Salmon. Discovered a lecture about magic lanterns (basically the demonic precursor to PowerPoint ). Went hunting for the grave of Pablo Fanque, Victorian circus impresario, whose name is immortalised in the Beatles song, Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite. The other week I attended a gathering of local philosophers in a pub to talk about Truth. So instead of window shopping and eating a pasty at the desk I’m going to look for lunchtime enlightenment through exploratory meanderings, lectures, travel, eating and leisure. And be back in an hour.