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.



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



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.



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.


Light at end of the tunnel? Day 2 – Otago Rail Trail New Zealand

I am up early for day two. Two reasons – to avoid eye contact over breakfast with the honeymooners who had roomed above me the night before, and second, Ophir is a ridiculously photogenic historic town.

I photograph many shist stone and vine draped cottages, then old civic buildings. Most have been artfully restored since the cycleway has breathed life back into what was a ghost town. You could take enough photos here to make a scenic calendar.

Its a bigger day trip today.  Omakau is soon behind me, I pause on the trail at Lauder, wondering over the German name for this remote outpost, when a couple of fellow cyclists pull up and ask me to get away from the sign as they want to take a photo.

In my haste to get back on the trail,  I forgo replenishing my water bottle, as there are no water stops or cafes for the next 22 Ks.

Its a bit overcast so I don’t worry too much. However new surfacing of a thick layer of rocks on the track makes for thirsty work. I am inhaling my water supply.

The trip turns into another ascent soon punctuated by two tunnels that require you to dismount and walk into the darkness bumbling along the creepy hillside corridor with just a thin beam from the bike headlight.

The rewards are great as you emerge out of tunnel above the Poolburn gorge and more sensational views.

Also on this leg are the legendary high suspension bridges which creak and clank as you ride over them. Fortunately I am focussing too hard on staying on my bike as it bounces over the historic rickety planks, to look down.

Finally the 22 Ks cafe drought is over at the small town of Oturehua.  I dismount gratefully outside the 1902 Gilchrist Store. As I gargle some water down on the seat outside locals walk past offer encouragement.

Then its back on the track for the slog to the 618 metre summit, the highest point on the entire cycle trail.

The climb is manageable but the fresh layer of stones laid on the track for the new summer season, makes for heavy progress and my thighs are screaming in no time.

As I cycle past the 45 degree south latitude sign, I swear to myself, I will return with thighs the size of an All Black rugby player after this journey. Fortunately shortly around the bend is the summit.

Some familiar faces from the track are taking photos by the summit landmark and we go ‘old school’ taking photos for each other to share the moment, rather than selfies.

Then its a race downhill to Wedderburn, tonight’s destination. The others roar off. I am more sedate at a modest 25 Ks an hour, which I increase to 29 Ks as the Wedderburn hotel and the promise of a local beer come into view.



Back to Berlin – again

The holiday is almost at an end. I have 48 hours left in Europe so I bolt north on the ICE train for a quick visit to the Berliner Bear.

I am staying in the leafy suburb of Dahlem in an old, opulent apartment complete with parquet floors, french doors and high ceilings. Berlin’s Botanical Gardens and the Free University are just a short walk away.

Dinner is in Charlottenberg and most of the conversation is about art and politics. Later my host  takes me into the city for a drink at the famous Adlon Hotel on Pariser Platz facing the Brandenburg Gate.

I have a full commentary on his experiences growing up in a divided city whilst I down Bellinis. We talk so late we leave the hotel to find the Brandenburg Gate almost devoid of tourists.

Next morning I eat breakfast in a local cafe pouring over the Berliner MorgenPost reading of the recent election. There have been gains made by the far right party which is a little unsettling in what is normally a liberal city.

Its a glorious day so I eventually rouse myself to walk the length of the Unten den Linden towards the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). I note many of the familiar old buildings are now draped in scaffolding for repairs.

I have just the afternoon free so choose one gallery to visit today, the Bauhaus Archiv.

It’s a good call. On display are some of the top items in the archive. I am back amongst work by Klee, Itten and Kandinsky and for the first time, I home in on Oskar Schlemmer. He has an incredible aluminium statue that looks like something out Fritz Lang’s Metropolis film. There are also examples of the Bauhaus ‘design for living’ furniture.  These 1930s prototypes are still part of many design houses even today.

The evening finds me supporting my host’s team in what we would call back home a ‘fun run’ in the Olympic Stadium which, if you know your history, was where Hitler staged his showcase 1936 Olympic Games.  Still standing are large statues that look haughtily down on us as the teams celebrate in hospitality tents on grounds where huge rallies were held in the 1930s.

And then its pumpkin hour. I am driven to Tegel Airport for the last Air Berlin flight to Frankfurt and my arduous 26 hour journey back to the end of the world in the morning.

Thanks for taking this journey with me. Vielen danke für alles to my friends, old and new, across Europe. I look forward to seeing you again soon.


Chotesov Cloister close up – Czech Republic

I admit it. I am exhausted and all three of my devices, Go Pro, iPad and iPhone are drained out too. What an incredible day of discovery and connections.

I am met again today by the historian for Chotesov and two amazing volunteers from nearby Stod. They take me to Cross Hill by what can only be described as a farm track, to show me the now defunct church that has a special dedication to those who left for New Zealand in the 1860s and 1870s. Dagmar speaks a bit of English so fills some knowledge gaps for me.

Later they drive me by some houses that were most likely in my family in the old days of Mantov.

Afterwards, the historian and I are dropped at Chotesov for me to have a private tour of the Cloister in the daylight with him. So we are back to conversing in German, a second language for both of us.

Like many major sites in central Europe, there have been many owners in the 800-plus-years history of the building. It was built in the 12th century by Magnifico Hroznata and run by his sister the first Abbess.

It was sacked by the Hussites in the 14th century  and then again in the 30 Years War in 1618. It was later rebuilt in the Baroque style and operated by the Catholic Church. In 1784 Emporer Joseph the second ordered its closure to curtail the increasing power of the Catholic Churches.

It was leased then to a group of German Salesian Sisters as a nunnery. The sisters opened the place up as a girls school. It operated up until almost to the end of WW2 when anyone with German connections, no matter how long distant, were banished by the Benes decrees.

For a few months American  troupes were based here, whilst Europe was carved up by the Allies. In 1950 the Soviet soldiers based themselves here using it as a barracks and munitions store. The building and its ancient frescoes were almost completely destroyed.

It is estimated millions and millions in Czech kroner damage was done in that time until they left in 1975.

The building is considered to be in the top 100 most important but seriously damaged buildings in the country.

I have a top to toe tour. We traverse echoey cracked corridors, observe restoration work on the damaged frescoes, and finally I see the cellar. Its a bit creepy as the last of my Go Pro battery drains out down there. I switch to my IPhone and that spontaneously dies too.

I suggest to my host, perhaps we head out of the slimey darkness to the sunshine. Thinking to myself clearly some captive spirit doesnt want us down here.

We move on to a cafe for more excellent Czech pastries I have enjoyed here, before my historian takes me to catch my Plzen train. Its hard to say goodbye and embarrasingly I burst into tears.  His eyes moisten too, but we still bid each other stiffly goodbye in the polite German Sie.