Potsdam – Barberini Museum

Its four years since I visited Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. At the time, most of the historic buildings in the old market square area were ring-fenced by tall hoardings and crowned by a cluster of cranes. Heavy war damage and subsequent DDR disinterest meant it is only now, many years after the Wall came down, that the city’s important buildings are rehabilitated, some from the ground up.

Just opened in January is the Barberini Museum, built in the likeness of the palace built here by Frederick the Great the second in 1772. He was inspired in his palace design by the Barberini palazzo residence in Rome.

The building was bombed almost flat on April 14 1945 and the rubble cleared in 1948. It was eventually replaced with tasteless ‘tin can’ hall but it was torn down in favour of a return to the original design.

The building is stunning and the Alt Markt Square on this side is truly gorgeous. But enough of the location, the art inside the new gallery is also marvellous.

There are 10 of us on this visit to celebrate a birthday. I am with a cultured crew, and we make a serious effort to see everything in one afternoon.

The headline exhibition is from the Washington Phillips Collection called From  Hopper to Rothko. Its completely absorbing, if not a bit ironic to be looking at a Jackson Pollock in a corner of Brandenburg.

To get back on more of a German theme, I break off from the others and head for the DDR art section, having seen some amazing works in Dresden in the past.

I have huge respect for these artists, who walked a perilously fine line between self expression and political correctness. I enjoyed Wolfgang Mattheuer’s abstract work. But I particularly liked artist Rolf Händler, who didnt get caught up in this conundrum, he just kept to a regular output of self portraits.

Downstairs is some very fine Monets and sculptures by Rodin. But the river side cafe is where we re-group and sit panting under sun umbrellas in the 30 Celsius heat.



Goethe and Schiller at a gallop

Since seeking out the previous apartments of the 1920s Bauhau artist set was an epic fail the day before. I figure its easier to look for homes of these who were never chased out of Weimar, that is the writers – Goethe and Schiller.

Its threatening more rain but I figure I can make an early morning circuit of the Park an der Ilm to see Goethe’s summer house before stopping into the ‘official’ Goethe Haus on Frauen Platz.

I wander through the sleepy streets and pause at the mounted statue of Duke Carl Alexander, who features large as a benign benefactor for both writers, as I turn into the park.

I follow the park’s chalky trails cantered by joggers, through idyllic green forest and wide plains of tall grass, bisected by a river. I halt in front of a Goethe’s cottage with its manicured gardens as a ticket collector arrives, who whilst the church bells chime 10, the opening time, says the house is not open yet. I give her space to decide when 10 am exists on her time clock and wander the grounds and notice a huge old tree, now fallen on its side its so large, and wonder if Goethe ever sat under it.

I spend so much time in the grounds taking photos from every angle of this small romantic cottage, I decide I don’t need to go inside. I leave the ticket collector alone as clearly thats how she likes it.

Over at Frauen Platz, the Goethe circus is beginning. Swarms of people are gathered. Horse drawn carriages are lined up and the cafes are heaving with coffee and sugary cake consumers. I head up to the counter and ask in my best German for a ticket. I cant quite understand at first why I cant have one. The line behind me grows impatient. I finally get it as the hostility behind me peaks. I needed to have pre-reserved a ticket to get into the Goethe House as it is so busy.

I slink out ticketless, commiserating with myself, that I have at least seen through Goethe’s birthplace house in Frankfurt without incident a couple of years back. Then I head for Schiller’s house hoping for a better reception. And I got it.

Schillers house, by comparison, is an oasis of calm and staffed by patient ticket collectors who indulge my mangled German, in the home city of the most eloquent German literature you will find.

In comparison to Goethe, Schiller had a hard time of it. From his first play, he attracted the wrath of the duke of his home state. He left penniless seeking shelter from friends and eventually settled in Weimar, after the honourary appointment as a City Councillor by the enlightened Duke Carl Alexander. He married a local member of a threadbare aristocractic family, Charlotte, whilst maintaining a strong relationship with her sister Carolina, a soon to be divorcee. Watch the recent German film for a more saucy rendition of their eventual joint household. How he found the energy to write a play each year, whilst of poor health and permanently broke whilst romancing two sisters, is beyond me. He died at 45 years of age.

Schiller’s legacy is vast and includes a poem called ‘Ode to Joy’ which was the inspiration for Beethoven’s work of the same name and later for the play, Wilhelm (William) Tell, which regrettably Hitler’s propagandists seized on for a time before the narrative changed and it was dropped.

I get soaked walking back to the hotel and head inside the Neues Museum partly to escape the downpour and partly because it was the host of many Bauhaus exhibitions in the 1920s.

There is an exhibition of Winckelmann, the father of art history (1717 – 1768) called Moderne Antike. He fostered the love of Greek and Roman antiquities and perfection in the human form in the classical statues he discovered. There are examples of ethnography in the exhibition and some of the displays touch on rasse (race). I am unsettled by the direction of some of his later followers and exit glad its time for my train.





Bauhaus to Bach in Weimar

I wasnt going blog this stay in Berlin as I am supposed to be focussed on my documentary, but just one week here and its a holiday weekend already.  Time to get back on a train again.

I have been obsessed with the Bauhaus movement and was curious about its origins in Weimar. I take a couple of trains snaking my way south and arrive in a brewing thunderstorm.

A short walk into town watching the dark skies and on the square facing the famous statue of Goethe and Schiller, is the Bauhaus Museum. Quickly inside, I am bemused to find for the first time I can take photos with impunity. In Berlin’s Bauhaus Archive, this is verboten.

I make up for lost time and capture every sculpture, household item design, architectural model and painting. Which isnt a lot -as this is Bauhaus lite. Whilst housing an archive of 10,000 items there is only a space of about 200 -300 square metres given over to an exhibition. Never the less, its amazing to sight the originals of items I have only known in books. And many of my heroes’ work is here – Itten, Klee, Schlemmer.

I listen to the audio guide and learn of a remarkable movement that originally flourished here with a heyday in 1920 – 1925 supported by a relatively liberal state government, until the downward spiral of intolerance began and the school was closed in 1930.

The skies open and visitors crowd into the gallery for shelter rather than edification. I have an umbrella with me and take a dash out into the torrential rain.

I try to stalk a few of the Bauhaus artists, looking for their apartments on the Bauhaus sites map. Several of the street names have changed and when I arrive at Oskar Schlemmer’s flat at Prellerstrasse 14, the building looks almost brand new.

I do find Nietzsche’s house on a detour into an opulent suburb on the city’s fringe, but circle back for some shelter in the Deutsches Nationaltheater foyer where I end up being talked into buying a ticket to their Bach concert.

Image is Johannes Itten’s ‘Turm des Feuers’ 1920 Bauhaus  Museum Weimar.

A new larger Bauhaus museum is being built to open in 2019.

More images are on instagram – susangibsonpr



Chilling out on the Clutha Gold Trail New Zealand

In contrast to the rigours of the mostly grade 3 (intermediate) Roxburgh Gorge trail, the Clutha Gold trail next day promises to be a relaxing grade 2.

Snow has sprinkled the mountains over night, but with it has come clear Otago skies and sunnier weather.

I cross over the top of the huge Roxburgh Hydro Dam to the sound of booming water and a rising mist of spray from the torrent below. Then speed down the hill to join the trail at Commissioners Flat.

The name bodes well for an easy start to the 10 K ride to Roxburgh township, the first stop on this trail tracing the Clutha Mata-au River.

The path is benign but I still have to have my wits about me as there are some sharp bends and narrow bridges.

The miles pass meditatively by without me seeing anyone. The river, my constant companion, is emerald green, backdropped by sunburnt hills and a foreground of verdant flatlands with row upon row of trees heavy with fruit.

Roxburgh town’s pink-painted span bridge eventually comes into view. But I am pressed for time to catch a transfer,  so push on to the 20 K leg of the trail to Millers Flat.

I am rewarded with lovely river vistas and I stop often to take photos of landscapes that could easily grace a New Zealand souvenir calendar.

Its hot work on the sunkissed trail,  so I rest on the river bank and crack open my second litre of  water. It doesnt get much better than this, but I have rouse myself or I  wont be on my flight home tonight.

Back on the trail the topography changes and I head inland into forest, cycling through welcome shade.

I am in farmland before long and close to Millers Flat, the last part of my journey, eventually coming to a stop at the blue span bridge of Millers Flat.

I pull up by Millers Flat Tavern for a late lunch and chat with a serene old man seated in front of his easle  painting the bridge scene. He is from the Netherlands and is travelling the south, painting scenes like this as he goes.

Too soon my transfer arrives and I am joined by others off other parts of the trail, elated by their day too. We whitter on about trails done and trails to do, until it becomes competitive and one of us has to spoil it, a big city compatriot, by inserting his net worth somehow into a harmless conversation about cycling.

I inwardly groan knowing I am back in civilisation again and wish I had more time to cycle on to Beaumont and Lawrence beyond. Instead I zone out for the rest of the trans in my new happy place, beside that beautiful riverbank back there by the Clutha Mata-au River.

For images from the trails visit my instagram account @susangibsonpr

For information on the Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold trails visit centralotagonz.com

Thanks to  shebikeshebikes for cutting and pasting together an amazing ride for me in such a short window of time. Next visit will be much more leisurely I promise.









Back on the trail again -Roxburgh Gorge Trail Otago New Zealand

Its high summer here and high time I hit a trail again. I head for the Otago in the south island of New Zealand. This is to take on a couple of lesser known trails than the Otago Central Rail Trail I did in the spring – These are the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail.

As usual my preparation is a louche couple of static bike rides at the gym and then onto my flight, full of optimism I can make the deficit of serious exercise up, whilst on the trail.

The day dawns in Cromwell where I am staying, with a cacophony of ducks quacking on the lake in front, delighted with the heavy unseasonal rain falling.

Fortunately by the time I have packed my panniers, there is a break in the weather.

I plan to head out from the small village of Clyde. I am doing the more difficult of the trails today first – The Roxburgh Trail. Its a grade higher than the last trail I did in the past, nothing to worry about, but more alarming is there are no cafes or shops, not even an historic pub on this trail. We are advised to carry all food and water for the journey.

I panic provision shop in Clyde. There is a gastro pub/cafe there and I order crossaints and cakes to go, with a good coffee and a toasted sandwich for breakfast.  I head for the bathroom to change into my lycra bike pants and return to find a sparrow eating my toastie. I have no time to order another so head straight off for the Shebikeshebikes rental near the trail.

My day also has a deadline in it. There is just one jet boat river transfer along an impassable segment of the trail. So time is of the essence to get to Doctors Point for that rendezvous.

I take the riverside trail in the direction of Alexandra. Its part of a 150 year anniversary trail running beside the river. I had read it was a bit taxing in parts with many blind bends and some steep undulating terrain. This was absolutely correct. But it was great fun.

What I didnt plan on, was cycling on a path of riverstones for the most part. This makes for a very bouncy 12 kilometre ride where I was extremely thankful for the gell seat, but rued not wearing a sports bra.

Regardless, travelling through the sunshine dappled by the willow trees draped across the trail, with the fast flowing Clutha River over my left shoulder, was very special.

I arrive at the Alexandra bridge where the Roxburgh Gorge trail commences and a sign in bright orange shouts ‘narrow trail’ with an exclamation mark. So clearly I cant relax too much yet.

The gorge is gorgeous, after a bit of a climb, the trail settles for a while on a slight but managable incline. Sharp schist rock formations poke out of hills and sheer bluffs force me to not look down too often. One bluff is called Nil Desperandum Bluff. There must be a back story to that one.

On a strenuous switch-back climb, I spot a young Australian couple stalled before the crest of the hill, whom I had some banter with earlier on the trail. She is looking very overheated from the climb. They ask me if I know how much longer it took to Doctors Point. I think they were making their mind up to turn back. They only had a day trip planned anyhow.

I didn’t see them again. But there were several baby boomers at Doctors Point already there, when I finally made it to the boat. We jetted off in to the gorge with bikes tied on a bike rack at the stern of the boat.

Our driver, Dave of Beaumont Jet, had lots of tales of the gold mining days along this river. He took us in close to see the remains of little shanties built by Chinese gold prospectors. Well over a century later these little schist rock abodes dug deep into the cliffside are intact.

Less intact is the ‘Doctors’ which is actually a ruin left over from a goldmining-era pub where there was a complete absence of a Doctor. It’s name was simply derived from a saying miners had when they downed their tools, that they were going off to the doctor. And tonight, when I finish this trail, I will be looking for that doctor too.



Last legs – day 4 the end of the Otago Cycle Trail New Zealand

All of us from the group last night are up early and at breakfast just after 7. Our hosts tell us the rain rumoured all this trip is likely to hit around 10 am.

We scarf down our breakfasts to avoid a sodden last ride. We are all heading for Middlemarch today for our various bike hire vehicle transfers back to Clyde.

We say farewell and head for our bikes. But I sense today there is an air of competitiveness of who will  be first to the drop-off point on our last leg. Game on I say privately to myself.

The babyboomer couple with matching zero body fat are the first out of the gate. I am in the next two in the line up of 10 of us.

The trail is an easy gradient and just under 30 kilometres length today. Its now or never to get into top gear on this trip.

Before long I am belting along the path so fast I burn off  some skittish sheep who try and race along in front of me. A hare then races out in front of them but he is too quick and I never catch him up.

I am so focussed on a quick time, I even take the bumpy wooden bridges at speed with no thought to my lady parts.

The speedometer says  I am making 27 Ks an hour on the flat! A speed I thought was only possible on a steep down hill. At last my legs feel fit for purpose, its just a shame its on the last day.

I do have to make a requisite stop to collect another stamp in the rail trail passport book at Ngapuna, which is backed by beautiful ranges slung with low cloud. I am seduced again by the scenic beauty and take several photos squandering time and my place in the race.

I also use the stop to swath myself in sunscreen as it is now very sunny. I wonder later when the skies remain steadfastly blue, if our hosts used the threat of rain to clear us all out in a hurry. Then they are free of us cycle loopies for the day until late afternoon when a new batch arrives.

Before long Middlemarch, the end of the trail, comes into view. It still has a real looking station not the ghost of one. I arrive fourth in the line up and plonk myself down on the grass in the station.

The others dribble in off the trail. Some happy to dismount their bikes for the last time immediately, but I am not quite ready to end this journey and circle the small town taking more photos.

Finally I do have to separate myself from my bike. The transport is here and our cycles are loaded onto a big trailer to be towed by our bus back to Clyde. I could be a bit subdued its over, but in the bus waiting room I have already picked up a pamphlet for another cycle trail adventure.



Cycling diaries day 3 – Otago Rail Trail – New Zealand

The forecast is for rain so I am up early. With 48 kilometres to go today, I am on the trail by 9.  The day despite being overcast is what I can only describe as champagne cycling. The trail base has zero elevation, its chalky smooth and allows an average of 20 ks an hour without breaking a sweat.

I am soon at the rural service town of Ranfurly for a quick break to reload snacks and see a display of the history of local rail in the former rail station building.

Back on the trail, snow capped mountains unfold in the distance with huge prairies of contrasting green pasture in the foreground. I am in my own Graham Sydney painting. No wonder his paintings are so popular. The scenery even without sunshine is stunning.

I am making good progress when I pass some tall trees and something whizzes close past my helmet. It circles back swoops and dives for me again. I let out a scream on the third approach.

I realise its an angry mother magpie challenging me as a threat to her nearby nest. I sprint the bike to shelter in a tunnel ahead. Fortunately she gives up the challenge and flies back to her tree.

I peddle on pensively checking the skies above but have a woolly road block ahead of me instead. Now I am in the stereotypical New Zealand landscape. A flock of sheep herded by two skilful sheepdogs and a laconic farmer part like froth around me enroute to a new paddock up the road.

Blitzing by Waipiata, I start to notice a bit of a push up into a pass or two, but nothing like the slog of yesterday. Today’s gradients sneak up and are gone just as quickly.

The most discomfort today is the prevalence of swarms of sandflies I pass through, which I have to keep batting off my face and spitting out.

Closer to my destination, the Hyde hills still feel heavy with the tragedy of the 1943 train accident here. 21 people died from the crash on the Cromwell to Middlemarch service. The train was reportedly travelling twice the safe speed as it left the tracks. A local in Ranfurly had talked about it to me like it was yesterday.

The welcome sight of the curved suspended bridge to entrance the Hyde village is a cheerful distraction, as is the shared dinner 10 of us cyclists have trading saddle-sore stories, washed down with excellent local pinot noir.