Luxeumbourg: 2 days (and 3/4) Travel Log

Hey Guys! It’s September already and we are on the letter L on our ABC of World History. And it is quite convenient because I had the perfect material for this update from a trip I did a couple of years back and that I never quite had the opportunity to post about as I was right in the middle of my PhD thesis write up and several other publications. But, Today is your day 😉

For my birthday in 2017, I was lucky enough to go to the beautiful and incredibly surprising city of Luxembourg and as I was there I had a look around other places outside of the city, mostly Vianden castle which is a great site to go to. I literally had all of 2 full days and 3/4 of another as the flight back to the UK on the last day was at 8 pm, and I must say it was all a very pleasant experience. So today, I will leave with you my quick and super packed of history and goodness travel log.

Continue reading “Luxeumbourg: 2 days (and 3/4) Travel Log”

Victims of Antisemitism: The Anne Frank Huis and Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind

Last summer I had the opportunity to travel around Europe stopping in a number of countries. Today I will be looking at two museums I visited, the first in Amsterdam and the second in Berlin. Both museums despite being 409 miles apart due to the horrors of the Holocaust bear a similar story. The first of these museums is the Anne Frank Huis, the site of the annexe that a teenage Anne Frank hid with her family and four others hoping to avoid being sent to concentration camps, which sadly as I’m sure everyone knows failed when they were discovered by the Gestapo. The second museum is far less known, Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. The museum is based where the German Otto Weidt had his workshop which specialised in hiring blind workers. Weidt himself was blind, and during the years that the Nazis ruled Germany Weidt hired and hid disabled Jews in an attempt to rescue them from deportation. Sadly the story ended similarly to those who hid in the annexe, with few surviving the war.

Other than the above similarities I decided to write about the two of these together for one simple reason: the story of Anne Frank is known across the world, especially in the West even by those who know little about history while Otto Weidt is not. This was true for me too. My first exposure to Anne Frank was via Anne Frank: The Whole Story, a 2001 TV adaptation, sometime around this time as I can’t find the British premiere date. I would’ve been about seven years old and despite being quite traumatized due to the depiction of the reality of the camps, I quickly became fascinated by Anne and her story. I attempted to read the diary at this age but unsurprisingly struggled and reattempted when I was about ten. I decided that one day I would visit the Anne Frank Museum, but this would not be possible until 2016. My decision to visit the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind however does not have the same lengthy history. Throughout both my education and own research I learnt of the millions of others like Anne Frank who suffered. During my GCSEs I was given the opportunity to visit Auchwitz concentration camp, Oskar Schnindler’s factory and the Krakow Ghetto with my school. I’ve spent many hours reading about the people who tried to escape the Holocaust and those who risked their lives to help them. Otto Weidt, however, I did not find out about in any of those ways; my sister found the museum as she trawled Trip Advisor reviews when she was looking for things to do in Berlin. Therefore prior to my visit my own knowledge was what I had been told by her, a far cry from what I knew about Anne Frank.

For such a famous museum it is surprising to learn that the Anne Frank Huis only has around a million visitors a year; however once you’ve been inside it isn’t so surprising simply because how small the annexe is. Since its opening to the public in 1960 the museum has been expanded into the neighboring building and extensive works have taken place to allow footfall, but the annexe has been carefully preserved to give visitors a full appreciation of the cramped conditions the eight lived in. I’ve read the diary, I’ve seen numerous adaptations of the story and I’ve read extensively about the annexe but there is nothing quite like being in there to realise how small it was. Anne’s frustration becomes so understandable.

Otto Frank insisted that there be no furniture in the annexe and therefore each room contains a photo of each room reconstructed as how it was alongside the plaques and videos. I felt this was enough to gain an understanding of what it would have been like, although I understand some may disagree. Otto Frank’s reasoning for the lack of furniture was he wished it to symbolize ‘the void left behind by the millions of people who were deported and never returned’.  Personally I felt this did exactly as he intended, especially so in the room that Anne shared with Fritz Pfeffer which retains the original wallpaper with Anne’s postcards and pictures. For me this was one of the most moving aspects of the visit; I think possibly more than any other moment the fact that Anne was a teenager strikes you. She has been elevated to almost a mythical figure that sometimes it is very easy to forget that she was a normal teenage girl, living in horrendous circumstances. There were millions of girls just like her, whose lives were taken and destroyed, but the reason we remember her is her diary and that it was saved.  She was a young girl who never got to live.

The Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind is almost as hidden as its story. Hidden down an alley in central Berlin, the museum is easy to miss even if you’re trying to find it. Like the Anne Frank Huis, it is a minimalist museum tells the story of the relatively unknown Otto Weidt. His story has only become somewhat known because of the efforts of students to open the workshop as a museum in 1999, and the help of Inge Deutschkron, a Jewish woman who was helped by Weidt. He has sometimes been referred to as the ‘German Oskar Schindler’; however I would dispute this as unlike Schindler, Weidt never supported the Nazis or worked for them. Weidt had gradually gone blind and learned brush making and broom binding to provide for himself. He opened the workshop in 1936 and began to hire disabled Jews to protect them from deportation. By this time Jews who remained in Berlin found it easier to stave off deportation if they were in work. Weidt’s workers however were not invulnerable, and Weidt spent a great deal of money bribing the Gestapo to stop them from taking his workers. In one case, despite his protests, the Gestapo came and rounded up his disabled workers to be taken for deportation. Weidt followed and via bribes and arguing he could not produce the items required by the war effort, he managed to rescue his workers. However by the end of February 1943, with the exception of those in hiding and Jewish workers married to non-Jews, his workers were deported. Weidt did not just hire disabled Jews and financially protect them from deportation. Along with a circle of helpers he helped many Jews find hiding and provided false documents to help them avoid detection. Within the workshop itself Weidt hid a family whose daughter Alice he was in love with, and employed. When the family was discovered and deported, Alice managed to contact Weidt to let him know she had been sent to Auschwitz by throwing a postcard from the window of the train she was taken in. By sheer luck the postcard reached Weidt who immediately went in search of her, organising with a local Pole who had access to her to provide a hiding place for her when she could escape. Alice managed to escape and survived the war. Weidt survived the war but died of heart failure in 1947. In his final years he helped fund a home for orphans and elderly survivors of the Holocaust.

The two museums in their set up are similarities. Like the Anne Frank Huis, the Museum Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind lacks furniture focusing instead on information plaques and interactive materials. However as I mentioned previously I was struck by how similar their stories were. They show how far the Nazis reach was and how many lives were destroyed, in these cases specifically those of Jews. How despite their best efforts these attempts failed to protect most of those in hiding, leaving few survivors. The sheer despair and destruction is horrendously apparent. The only comfort that both these museums provide is they show, despite when the very worst of humanity gains power, that there were many who stood up to such hatred by risking their lives to help those who were targeted.

Egypt’s Pyramid Competitor- The Kush(y) Nubian Pyramids

In joining the designated theme of pre-modern non-European civilizations and the informal trend concerning pyramids which seems to have enveloped the blog, we must look no further than Sudan. A subject at first interesting for its similarities to its more infamous neighbor’s architectural style. On closer inspection and with the help of this post’s inspiration, QI, we can see that not only were the Kushite Kingdoms more plentiful in their pyramids but they also strove to distinguish their burial tombs from that of the Egyptian kingdom’s.

Kushite kingdoms?

Apart from sounding like the setting for a Chinese knock off of a Nintendo game, The Kingdoms of Kush rose like a phoenix into independence from the ashes of the Bronze Age and the disintegration of the New Kingdom of Egypt in 1070BC. To be geographically precise the kingdoms was situated upon where the White Nile, Blue Nile and you’ve guessed it… the River Atbara meet in what is known today as the politically serene Republic of Sudan. Unfortunately the kingdom did not have such a Kush-y ending as after capture by the Beja Dynasty in the 1st Century AD, Kush was weakened and finally disintegrated due to internal rebellion in 350AD.

Were you paying attention?

Understandably a funny name and geography aren’t why this post was written. To understand the pyramids of which we are concerned, it is important to recognize for you less eagle-eyed readers why i have consistently pluralized ‘Kingdom’ when surely there is only one civilization under discussion? That is indeed the case however within this civilization of Kush we find three very congruent political entities following each-other of which are defined by their designated capitals. Without going into the specifics of each: The first kingdom of Kerma lasted from 2600-1520BC when it was dissolved into the New Kingdom of Egypt. This dissolution would explain the extensive hiatus between the dissolution of the Kerma Kingdom in 1520Bc and the manifestation of the Napata Dynasty  which spanned from 1000-300BC. Directly following the Napata Dynasty after its economic downfall from raids of the occupying Persians in Egypt was the Meroe Dynasty which was described by Herodotus as”A great city, said to be the mother of the city of the other Ethiopians.” This trumped-up description of grandeur is not apt for the dynasty’s downfall in 300AD from military exhaustion and decline in traditional industries like fishing.

Why does this all matter?

Through all these dates and dynastic failings we see a clear distinction when it comes to burial as it was only the Napata and Meroe dynasties which employed the pyramid system unlike the Kerma dynasty and its local burial practices. As such focus shall pertain only to the burial practices of Napata and Meroe origin which can be further explained through the Nubian success over Egypt leading to the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty of Egypt in 760BC. This is important as it meant that the Nubian dynasties of Napata and Meroe were heavily influenced by Egyptian culture, politics, economy and military.

So unoriginal Nubia?

Well yes but not in the detail. Egypt can lay claim to kick starting the pyramid trend but with only 118-138 (2008 source) pyramids to its name, the 255 found in the former Nubian kingdoms puts its neighbor to shame. In saying that, the larger number makes sense when considering how Nubian queens were given separate pyramids to their husbands unlike the Egyptian Pharaohs who preferred to at least be within the same chamber or should I say tomb to their wives like at Giza. This may be because the Egyptians romanticized and were fascinated over death or just because the Nubians were frightened  of their wives who tended to be warrior queens so they tried to have some distance with their spouses before the afterlife. We may never know but it would be nice to see further research into the warrior queens as little is known. The most remarkable difference between Egyptian and Nubian pyramids come from their design as the Nubians preferred stepped courses of horizontally place stone blocks while the Egyptians found the steep inclines and the small bases unfashionable. Add this to the Nubians only reaching to 30 meters with their tallest structure while Egypt quintupled that figure and you have a good excuse for Egyptian pyramid production.

Can I visit?

Sure, i mean as long as you can avoid the SLM and the war in Darfur than go right ahead. I wouldn’t be surprised however if there’s little to see as much of the pyramid sites have either been raided, excavated or blown up. That last one could do with some explaining as Sudanese government air raids haven’t reached that far north. Such destruction takes the form of an Italian combat medic who after his bout of military service in the 1830s tried his hand at treasure hunting. Unfortunately for us Giuseppe Ferlini took “treasure hunting” to mean- blow off the tops of 40 Nubian pyramids  like that of Kandake Amanishakheto which he leveled to the ground until he had his hands on her gold and silver jewelry pieces. In a sort of sweet revenge- when he returned home, no one believed such high quality jewelry could be made in ‘Black Africa” and so his finds reluctantly ended up in German Egyptology museums where it remains today. These weren’t the only finds as archaeologists have since found in the tombs: the remains of bows, quivers of arrows, archers’ thumb rings, horse harnesses, wooden boxes, furniture, pottery, colored glass, rock art, ringing rocks, metal vessels and an entire cow buried with eye ointment included. Not only do these items show links to extensive Meroitic trade with Egypt and the Hellenistic world but also how much the Nubians valued their horses and horseback warfare much like the Eurasian nomads. If this isn’t evidence enough than if you were to journey 120 meters North-West of pyramids K.51-K.55 than you would find 24 graves suggestive of mass upright horse burials.

Hopefully this look into the pyramids of the Kushite kingdom of sparked somewhat of an interest as I guarantee that you would not find a larger concentration of pyramids anywhere else in the world but Sudan. Remember to keep your eye out next time you wander around an Egypt exhibit if you find yourself in Sudan or even Berlin or Munich as there may be a little bit of Nubia right under your nose!

Girona: Travel guide, Medieval past & Sightseeing

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This post will talk about the small city of Girona in the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in Spain within the medieval period, paying particular attention to my recent visit to the city, the Cathedral and the history of Girona’s Jewish population. Girona is roughly 62 miles (22Km) north of its more famous neighbouring city, Barcelona. Before I go into more detail about my visit and medieval Jewish Girona, I will provide some important information regarding Girona’s formation and background history. Girona itself has a complex history in that it was claimed a number of times.

In Ancient times the city was named Gerunda. When the Romans claimed Hispania they adopted this name and they built a citadel in the city. After the Romans left Hispania, the Visigoths ruled Girona that was until the Moors from North Africa arrived in 715 to conquer the city. The Moors is a name that is attached to people of Muslim origin, commonly used when describing the medieval period. However, the name does not denote a particular ethnicity it largely encompasses people who were from the Arab world (this includes the Berbers from North Africa). In 785 however, Charlemagne conquered Girona from the Moors. Some years later in 793 the Moors reclaimed Girona. The Moors maintained their control over Girona and much of the Iberian Peninsula at this time. However in the year, 1015, the Moors were eventually driven out of Girona permanently. This however did not prevent the Moors from sacking Girona in years to come. The Moors sacked Girona in; 827, 842, 845, 935 and in 982. Girona was amalgamated into the County of Barcelona in 878. The County of Barcelona was originally under the rule of the Carolingian dynasty. The County of Barcelona in a sense formed the basis of what was to become Catalonia. Through marriage alliances other Catalan territories were acquired. The County Of Barcelona itself became amalgamated to the Crown of Aragon when Ramon IV of Barcelona married Petronilla of Aragon in the twelfth century. When their son Alfonso I became ruler of Aragon, he was styled as Alfonso I of Aragon. From this point monarchs from Aragon dropped the title of Count and Countess as this was to be included in the title, Aragon. In the eleventh century Girona was designated as a city.

Girona is a pleasant city to visit and it is relatively easy to get to from Barcelona as a day trip. I recommend using the AVE (High speed train) Barcelona Sants to Figueres route and get off at Girona. It is the most expensive option but it saves time, which means you have more time to explore Girona! This journey is approximately 45 minutes. Another alternative for budget wary travellers is to use the Rodalies (Catalonia train service) that provides access to Girona. The journey time takes longer, however it is less expensive than the AVE route. Travelling by bus is doable and can sometimes be cheaper than both AVE and the Rodalies. However, the distance between Barcelona and Girona by road is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. After arriving at Girona, whether it be via train or by bus the destination is the same because the trains and the buses terminate at the same place. The City centre is a 20 to 25 minute walk. I recommend walking along the river when you reach Carrer Nou. That way you can get beautiful views of the river and it leads you directly to the tourist office for further information about Girona and the surrounding area.

I only spent a day in Girona, however a day is doable providing you have idea of what you would like to see and have access to a map to avoid getting lost and time wasting! I wanted to visit Girona because I like to tick off as many Cathedrals as I can on my travels, seeing as Girona had a Cathedral this made me really happy! It may sound bizarre but I heard about Girona Cathedral because of Game of Thrones. Whether or not you are a fan of the show it has certainly made me aware of the beautiful filming locations and the real history behind it, Girona Cathedral was indeed one of them. Girona Cathedral was used to film the exterior of the Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing.

The Cathedral, full name, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona is a beautiful structure that dates back to the eleventh century and was completed in the eighteenth century. The style of the Cathedral contains many different architectural types. Firstly, when the Cathedral was consecrated in the eleventh century of how we see it today the style was built in the Romanesque fashion. Now only the bell tower and the cloisters remain as part of the Romanesque style. However in the thirteenth century the style was built in the Gothic fashion. Girona Cathedral has the longest Gothic nave in the world measuring at 22.98 metres. The last style the Cathedral has is a Baroque façade at the entrance which was completed in 1607. The interior is certainly worth a look inside, my favourite part was seeing the altarpiece. This altarpiece is from the fourteenth century and is silver gilded with gold. Included in the price of one ticket is an audio guide (English is available) and a visit to the Basilica of Sant Feliu. If you have the time it is worth seeing the Basilica. The Basilica is behind the Cathedral and similarly it contains three different styles; Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque.

The prices for the Cathedral are as follows-

Adults- 7€

Concessions (students and pensioners)- 5€

Children under the age of 7- Free.

*Please note- all pricing is correct at the date and time of submission. Please refer to the relevant websites in the future if this changes.

 

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My personal favourite place in Girona was the old Jewish quarter. The Jewish quarter, otherwise known as “The Call” in Girona had its heyday in the thirteenth century as the Christians and Jews appeared to get along nicely. For instance, the Girona Synagogue was even situated next to the Cathedral. In addition, Girona had one of the largest Jewish settlements in Catalonia. Naturally the streets were narrow and winding, complete with cobbled streets. It almost felt like being in a giant maze. You could certainly use your imagination when walking down the tiny alleyways that this once bustling quarter was full of people selling and buying goods. However, this peaceful coexistence soon ceased. Later in the thirteenth century the Jewish population became scapegoats and were frequently targeted by racist abuse. Eventually the Jewish population were consigned to just the call and had no freedom to travel elsewhere in the city. In this sense, the quarter turned into a ghetto. Violence soon sprang upon the Jewish residents and in 1391 a local mob vandalised and attacked the Jewish quarter and people. Many Jewish people were injured and there was approximately 40 casualties. In spite of all these atrocities happening to the Jews, they were still under royal protection and as such were meant to be protected. The survivors of this massacre were sent to Galligants Tower, north of the Cathedral. This was regarded to be for the protection, nevertheless it did not stop non Jewish residents from ransacking their homes and looting their possessions. Many of the Jews converted to Christianity or left. In 1492 when the Kingdom of Spain was unified under King Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the remaining Jews (all Sephardic Jews) were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula.

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Points of interest-

Museu d’Historia dels Jueus de Girona

Museu d’Historia de Girona

Sant Pere de Galligants, now houses the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia

Arya film scene in Game of Thrones where she passes through the old Jewish quarter and leaves her blood from her fingers on a wall in this quarter

 

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Travel Journal: Museum Hopping in Edinburgh

Day One: 16/11/16

I’d lusted after Edinburgh from afar for absolutely ages, but it was only last week– after years of increasingly desperate planning– that I finally got the chance to visit the city of my dreams.

Getting off the Megabus was tricky. For one, I’d been sitting for a twelve hour coach journey and my joints were stubbornly refusing to work. But there was something else, something which made me pause at the automatic door, probably to the great annoyance of the coach driver. It was a deep-seated nervousness, combined with a sense of This is it! You’re actually here!

You see, after years of hoping and dreaming, the reality of it scared me. What if Edinburgh failed to live up to my ridiculously high expectations? What if, after all, it was simply the grey, ‘gloomy’ city my lecturer had described in a reply to my Sorry, won’t be in next week’s lecture, third year is too much and I’m running away to Scotland for a while email? (Of course the real, Actual Responsible Adult™ reason for visiting Edinburgh was to scope out the postgrad open day, but I’ll run away from that as well, while I can).

Eventually I did get off the coach and, in a bit of a daze, I wheeled both myself and my suitcase out of the station and on to North Saint Andrew Street. The first thing that hit me, straight away, was the temperature. It was freezing, but absurdly pleasant after sitting in a stuffy coach all night. In the east, the sun was rising above the distant Firth of Forth, and the sky was a gorgeous shade of purple, specked with deep oranges and strands of golden yellow which were reflected off the tall Georgian buildings nearby. My hair, caught up in the near-Arctic wind, whipped around me and, while I had barely slept all night, I felt exhilarated. I knew then– as cheesy as it may sound– that Edinburgh would not disappoint.

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Edinburgh at sunrise. Photo not my own as I was preoccupied with a little existential crisis.

So we set off in search of Justin, our Airbnb host for the week, to collect keys and settle in before a long day of open day-ing and thinking of the future-ing. He was a little late and for a moment, huddled together against the cold on Nicholson Street, we wondered if Airbnb was possibly all a big scam. But Justin soon arrived, and was lovely. He gave us a quick tour of the flat –bathroom here, kitchen there, keys through the letter box when you leave – and then left us to recover from the journey and de-zombify ourselves for the day ahead.

 

The open day at The University of Edinburgh was brilliant. As the main reason for travelling 418.3 gruelling miles in a Megabus, I found it both useful and decidedly worth it. Still not 100% sure of the course itself though, I’m possibly leaning ever so slightly more towards another one at the moment, but it’s a shame because I fell completely head-over-heels for the university itself. Also, credit where credit’s due, the staff and open day helpers were excellent throughout the day, answering any questions we had and being very friendly.

Afterwards we all returned to Justin’s and had well-deserved naps, relishing at the prospect of sleeping in actual beds rather than a crowded moving vehicle. I slept deeply and dreamlessly and woke feeling refreshed, if still a little tired. We had dinner– a lovely meal of pasta and lentils courtesy of Wendy then left the house again for a haunted ghost walk of Edinburgh’s underground spaces with City of the Dead Tours.

It was raining buckets when we left the house, and positively chucking it down by the time we arrived at the meeting point along the Royal Mile. The drenched cobble stones and masonry were a glossy charcoal, like something out of a melodramatic Victorian murder mystery, glittering with the reflected reds and oranges of streetlights that could so easily have been gaslights. Just as I was thinking all that’s missing is Jack The Ripper, the tour guide appeared. He was draped in a thick black cloak, with a top hat perched on his head, and he called us over to the group with a thick Scots accent.

As he led the group to our underground destination deep in the Edinburgh vaults, he spoke about the history of the local area. It was embellished for effect, and there were certain bits that didn’t sound entirely historically accurate, but his words rang with a gritty realism. For the most part, he didn’t mention hauntings or ghostly goings on, but instead created a sense of horror through his descriptions of the conditions experienced by the very poorest of society.

He led us down ambling side-roads and winding cobbled streets, through historic red-light districts which were now lined with tourist shops and artisan bakeries, speaking all the while of the horrific overcrowding of the eighteenth century city, the dire mortality rates, and the failures of the state and the church in caring for the poor. When of course we finally did make it underground, he regaled us with ghost stories and descriptions of the South Bridge Entity which was said to dwell in the vaults. It was spooky, without a doubt, but I felt that the true horror of the night was resoundingly in his descriptions of the past.

As we emerged above ground again, the Old Town stretched out around us, appearing both ageless and ancient. It was all too easy to imagine the sights he had described, and the people who had suffered in this place. That was what haunted me most.

It soon started to rain heavily again and we were drenched trying to find our way home in the labyrinth of backstreets. Naturally, when Google Maps failed to work, we blamed the South Bridge Entity for making us lose our way.


Day Two: 17/11/16

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Had a slight lie-in to recover from the knackering twelve-hour journey, and ended up leaving the house just after lunchtime. Our first port of call was the National Museum of Scotland, which I was embarrassingly keen to visit. It was a stunning building, both inside and out, which really did credit to the fascinating exhibits. The hands-on science and technology gallery was great fun, and we spent far too long playing with the interactive exhibits, making hot air balloons lift off and programming a robot to do our bidding. There was also a fair bit of snapchatting going on as we took in the culture which, to be fair, some exhibits seemed to directly cry out for.

As dedicated Outlander fans, Bryony and I soon headed to the eighteenth century section, where we tried and failed to be dignified in our adoration of the era. Here, we were able to sit in a miniature thatched cottage, listen to traditional music of the period, squeeze into children’s dress-up clothes, and attempt to take in as much info as we possibly could. The exhibits on Culloden and the Jacobite risings in particular were beautifully comprehensive, and it was tricky to pull ourselves away from it all.

We could have happily sat in that thatched cottage reading about Bonnie Prince Charlie for hours, but it was getting late and we wanted to visit the Royal Mile before the shops shut. So we dragged ourselves away and exited via the (genuinely amazing) gift shop. It was then only a short walk before we found ourselves on one of Edinburgh’s most famous streets. The Royal Mile was lush and, to tell you the truth, I spent far too much money in its many tourist shops. I bought a gorgeously warm and cosy Edinburgh hoodie for myself, and presents for friends and family, as well as what felt like a few hundred postcards. Worth every penny, to be honest. Je ne regrette rien.

We were making our way back to the house when, purely by chance, we realised how close we were to Greyfriars Kirkyard. Of course, being the mature adults that we are, we were thrilled at the prospect of visiting one of Scotland’s most haunted locations after dark. It was nearly pitch-black and we walked around quickly, using the light from our phones to guide us, while attempting to avoid the group of people filming a Most Haunted style documentary in one corner of the cemetery. Eventually we began to feel unsettled and decided to leave.


Day Three: 18/11/16

We woke up early in order to make it to the Glasgow University open day. Here, almost immediately upon arrival, I fell in love with the Glaswegian subway which was so refreshingly easy to use after years spent getting lost on the tube. The city had a buzz to it that’s difficult to describe, but it was artsy and ancient, energetic and fun. Glasgow doesn’t take itself seriously, which I really love about it.

The open day itself was perfect, and as of now I’m definitely planning to make an application. Everyone we encountered bent over backwards to help us and one man even walked us to the subway station in the pouring rain when we asked for directions. The city is undoubtedly deserving of its title as the world’s friendliest city.

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The beautiful University of Glasgow.

After the open day, we had a quick look around the Hunterian Museum, then did a fair amount of tourist-ing, followed by a little bit of shopping where I was very tempted to buy quite a lot of gloves. Spotting the Duke of Wellington statue, cone and all, was a definite highlight of the trip. So too was dinner at Mono, a charming vegan restaurant/record shop in the city centre. I had a delicious to-fish and chips (battered tofu = Pure Heaven) followed by a chocolate avocado and walnut tart. Really wish there was a restaurant like this nearer to Winchester, because I could quite easily spend most of my life there.

As it was, I left Glasgow feeling sad that the day was over. I would have loved to spend more time in this brilliant city.


Day Four: 19/11/16

We spent our fourth day storming Edinburgh castle. I was amazed by how much there was to see and do here, with many individual museums nestled within the castle’s keep. After a fascinating but freezing guided tour followed by the 1pm firing of the cannon, we had a chilly lunch in the tea rooms, huddled around Bryony’s teapot for warmth. We then headed to the National War Museum, where we spent well over an hour reading displays and being drawn into the history on offer. We even found a radiator in one room, which was a godsend.

Not to mention, it was also the perfect spot for the odd #MuseumSelfie which really is terribly good fun. In the words of curator Mar Dixon (@MarDixon), “I always feel so bad for those people who don’t get #MuseumSelfie or any fun in museums. I just want to hug them and tell them it’ll be ok.”

It was difficult to decide where to visit next, as we were completely spoilt for choice. Eventually though we settled on the Prisons of War which showcased the living conditions of POWs held there throughout the centuries. These men ranged from French sailors captured in 1758, shortly after the Seven Years’ War, to soldiers of the American War of Independence (1775-83), right up to inmates from wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1793-1815). The surrounding displays told tales of the prisoners, one of whom was a five-year old drummer boy, taken at Trafalgar (1805). Another, desperate to escape, hid in a dung cart, only to be killed on the rocks below as the contents were tipped over the castle wall. Four more succeeded in escaping in 1799, by lowering themselves down the rock on washing lines, while in the more audacious outbreak of 1811, 49 prisoners cut their way through the parapet wall, beside the battery. All but one escaped and the hole is still there today.

Next we sampled some lovely Bruadar whiskey in the Whiskey and Finest Food shop, then visited The Royal Palace, a principle royal residence from the eleventh century up until the early seventeenth. It was a fascinating building, with a grand history. Indeed, it was here that, on the 19th of June, 1566, Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland and James I of England and Ireland. It was truly remarkable to think that the first king of England and Scotland, a man who would go on to shape both nations so dramatically, had been born in such an impossibly small room.

The next part of our visit to the castle was spent admiring the Scottish crown jewels, which are the oldest in the British Isles, created in Scotland and Italy during the reigns of James IV and James V. They were first used for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in September, 1543. We saw the Stone of Destiny as well, also known as the Stone of Scone, which is traditionally thought to have once been part of an ancient royal bench-throne, and imbued with sacred powers. For centuries, Scottish kings were ceremoniously crowned atop the stone, tying the monarch to the land forevermore.

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The Honours of Scotland. Photo not mine.

The Stone has an eventful history. In 1296, believing himself to have a God-given right of superiority over Scotland, Edward I forcibly removed the Scots’ royal regalia and holy relics, along with 65 chests containing the records of the kingdom. In short, he took all the objects of statehood, making sure that the Stone of Destiny was in his haul, it was removed from the abbey of Scone in August, 1296 and sent to Westminster Abbey. Here, it was enclosed in a new throne, the Coronation Chair, where it has been used ever since in the coronations of most monarchs of England and, from 1714, all the rulers of Great Britain.

However, on Christmas Day, 1950, four students from the University of Glasgow removed the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey and brought it back to Scotland. On the 11th of April, 1951, it turned up 500 miles away, at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey! Afterwards, it was once again taken to Westminster Abbey, but the actions of the students made people begin to ask Why wasn’t the stone in Scotland?

Finally, in 1996, the Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland on the 700th anniversary of its removal, under the proviso that it may be ‘borrowed’ for any future coronations at Westminster Abbey. It’s a truly remarkable object, and I could easily have spent all day reading about its history. There’s also a great film called The Stone of Destiny which tells the story of the four students who returned the Stone to Scotland. It’s a bit clichéd, and Charlie Cox’s Scottish accent is more than a little bit dreadful, but it’s a genuinely heart-warming tale, and I would really recommend it to anyone interested in the Stone’s history.

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Some subtle photobombing from Bryony.

Finally, after a quick look around Saint Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest structure in Edinburgh (dating from 1130), and a moment of quiet reflection in The Scottish National War Memorial, it was time to leave Edinburgh Castle. Our visit was incredible, without a doubt 100% worth the admission fee. There was so much to see and do here, and exhibits to entertain people of all ages and historical inclinations. A really marvellous day out.

We walked along Princes Street on the way back to Justin’s house, recreating the opening scene of Trainspotting. Once again, the city was freezing but exhilarating, generating a genuine ‘Lust for Life’ in us all.

We got back to the house quite quickly, having finally learnt to navigate the tangled web of Edinburgh’s streets, and ordered delicious pizza from the incredible ‘Dough Pizza’. A truly ‘Perfect Day’.


Day Five: 20/11/16

Returned to Winchester today.

Annoyingly, the coach journey was delayed due to traffic and road closures, and ended up taking almost 15 hours altogether. A little bit hellish, but certainly not something that could detract from the overall experience of our trip.

Because, you see, it turned out that my expectations of Edinburgh weren’t ‘ridiculously high’ at all. This was something the city proved to me day after day, as I fell more deeply in love with it than I ever could have anticipated.

Another factor I couldn’t have anticipated is my new-found dependency on Irn Bru. Really have to thank Bryony, my enabler, for introducing me to that little habit. Definitely not something to regret though.

Special thanks to my lovely companions Bryony (@bryonyjo31), Maddie (@maddiech_) and Wendy (@whitecinnamonsugar).

 

Museum Disparity: Resources in the Heritage Industry. Examples from Portugal.

As you may know, I was on holiday over in northern Portugal just this summer gone. Although this was not such a museum/site centered visit as maybe those of Denmark and Norway, and I guess that is kind of the point of what I am going to talk to you about today. For many years, I thought it was just a Spanish issue the fact that our museums and galleries were few in number, poor in design and not very well-kept. Of course, please understand I am not talking of main attractions such as El Prado or other museums in Madrid and Barcelona. Places of national importance never suffer. I have a great example in Santander with the Museo Arqueologico de Cantabria: a museum that only has 10% of its collection on display, that opens as of when, and that kept the same sad look for over 2 decades…And we hold some pretty important Celtic heritage in there, you know? But I feared this may have been the same in other European countries in my visit to Italy. I was truly shocked by what was the so famous Academy in Florence, with the art of Michelangelo being kept inside, in this place that is easy to miss (or so it was in the year 2008), and that looked seriously run down. Perhaps I am just too used to the wonders of the French heritage industry. I mean, you all have been to France, maybe? You’d know that even the smallest village that has any artefact of historical/cultural interest is kept to the very best that can be, surrounded by information. The French have a wonderful ability to make an informative visit out of the finds of a detritus pit in a desolated archaeological site. Sure, I do not expect that all countries would have this ability, but it does make me think: what are we missing? I mean even here in the UK sometimes I get surprised by the lack of contextual information in sites managed by organisations such as English Heritage or The National Trust. Sometimes they seem to follow more business-like models, building events around these living treasures rather than for the sake of the history and knowledge preserved in them. And that is the problem, though, right? It is all about the money…

Whilst in Braga, I was lucky enough to make it down to the Museu D. Diogo de Sousa: the local archaeology museum. You can find the details here:

http://mdds.culturanorte.pt/pt-PT/Default.aspx

I must admit, for a small local museum, I found it pleasant. The fair to get in was more than reasonable, the material inside was certainly interesting – and to my surprise I found that even the actual shape of the museum has another cultural use: as a theatre for plays mostly in the spring and summer! That is a clever use of a multicultural space. I was disappointed to see we were the only people within the complex, however. Admittedly it was a hot sunny day, right after lunch, perhaps not the most propitious time for a museum visit. But even so. The gallery displays were very atmospheric, they reminded me to those used at the Nationalmuseet of Copenhagen: wood, glass, steel. Nice, modern, simple, useful. Some other items, like the many stone pillars found on the basement floor were simply displayed in the open, with different light uses, which I believe are done this way to ensure their preservation.

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Nevertheless, and although I really enjoyed the collection, I found that there was a considerable lack of explanations: no contextual panels, no more than a few words written next to each artefact. I also found there was a fair amount of empty space. There was one monitor used to display different aspects of Portuguese history within the context of prehistory and the Roman empire – which is the main focus of the collection. But there was no sound to go with the images, and only one screen which looked rather small in such an empty wall. Then as you leave the museum it is very easy to miss the fact that there is a roman mosaic in the basement of the facilities – a lovely guide took us there because she could clearly see we were pretty lost.

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As we left the museum, we landed on the roman baths just across the road. Strangely enough, this is a very easy place to miss. The facilities left me again with a mixed feeling: this site is actually still being excavated by the archaeology students at the university of Braga, because the found the remains of what seems to be an earlier theatre by the side of the dig. Yet there was all of 3 more people apart from ourselves. The staff was very friendly and asked us whether we wanted to watch the video in Portuguese or English. The thing is that before you go and actually see the site there is this small entrance hall with a big TV and some chairs were they show you a video explaining the changes in the uses of the baths – which was really cool by the way, and well informative. And then, off you go into this site…

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The ruins of the baths are covered, and there is a few places where you can sit if you may. But that is pretty much it…Why?! These things are cool and in a remarkable preservation state for where they have been found! PLUS the theatre on the side which you can just about make out.

…We found a similar thing when we went to the beautiful Guimarães, where we visited the Museu Arqueológico Martins Sarmento, which is in a wonderful building that holds, according to the towns own tourism website: “principal referência da cultura castreja em Portugal e um dos mais importantes museus de todo o espaço europeu onde se manifestou aquela cultura”. In english: one of the best example of the castro culture in Portugal and one of the most important collections in europe regarding the subject…And trust me: it is.

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There is an entire archaeological site thrown in those 19th century cases screaming history at you.

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Yet, once again, we were the only visitors, and the lack of information and display use was devastating. Granted, we were given an A4 page with info on each display case…How can we be keeping these things like that?! And okay, I get it, this is probably the original display, which is super cool that has kept for this long, but…Did I miss something? I mean, I am sure I did. Anyway, this is the web to the museum http://www.csarmento.uminho.pt/sms.asp

Then, we have weird things right? Like in the same town you have the castle of Afonso Henriques, conqueror of Portugal, and all I could think about the display (which is awesome!) was: “Well, I am having such flashbacks of the castle of William the Conqueror in Falaise”.

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Just wonderful amount of information, very creative, innovative and modern. I could have stayed there for hours and hours. And the little video with the cartoons explaining the history of the first king of Portugal was just A+ work. The same goes to the palace of the dukes of Braganza: collection that envies no other ducal manor house I’ve been to…

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Apparently some people on TripAdivsor were complaining that it was “very empty”…

So what went “wrong” with the other sites? Or the amazing collection at Rates explaining the entire story of their quirky church, which by the sounds of it only me and mum heard probably for days according to the guide inside the gallery. And this was free by the way – the rest were not. Then we have the example of a superb museum (more about this at a later stage; watch this space) in Porto: World of Discoveries. An entire museum dedicated to the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Taking out the tickets, the receptionist asked us how did we know the museum was there! The very receptionist! And this museum was nothing like the others: this is a modern museum, with plenty of funding coming through, with temporary exhibitions that are multicultural and multifunded – and with a thematic restaurant on the top…And a wonderful gift shop. With information in like 5 or 7 different languages…

But that eyrie question…How did you know?…Were we not supposed to? Are we doing cultural visits wrong? Or perhaps we are the odd kind of tourists, going to a wonderful place like Portugal expecting something else than nice beaches and sunny weather? And if that is the case…what are we doing to our heritage industries? Because it sounds to me like we are deviating them from any real value, and taking away the power of knowledge from the public. And that, is not right. Public awareness needs to increase, potentially through a reconsideration of what heritage is and how we use it.

 

Baroque Splendour in Northern Portugal

As you can see a fair few of us have been on holiday lately – me too. I was lucky enough to have a great trip to northern Portugal during the first couple of weeks of August. I am certain I have mentioned this earlier, but despite having been raised in the Iberian peninsula, my knowledge of Portugal is close to nothing, which is truly upsetting. So this was a very educational trip for me. One of the areas that I found particularly surprised by was the sheer amount of baroque buildings there seem to be in the area where we were staying – roaming between Braga and Porto. As you know, I am sold when art and architecture is involved in the equation so that will be the topic for today’s update.

This extravagant and pompous art style followed similar patterns throughout Europe, partially in connection with the rise of absolute powers in the Continent. However, the Baroque came late to Portugal, only starting to feel its vibe in the 1600s. The country was actually in crisis following the death of Phillip II of Spain – the reign of Phillip III marked the decline of Spanish power, and it most certainly had the same effect for Portugal. By this stage, the Portuguese nobility were retiring to the countryside, abandoning the cities, and a great portion of the Portuguese money coming from Brazil was use for Spanish exploits in the Netherlands, therefore milking both Spain and Portugal to misery by pursuing a war which would not bring any political or social joy to either country. Thus, Portugal faces austerity. As an effect, we see the birth of the Chão style, which was proper of a period with no money to invest in the arts, therefore rather the opposite from the baroque tendencies in the rest of Europe. The Jesuits however contributed to the development of the Chão movement, which was better tuned to their religious as it was less ostentatious and in a sense closer to the laymen – simple buildings, with close to none ornaments inside. Most of these buildings are rather classical in their functional geometric designs, sometimes so bulky that you could easily mistake them with strongholds. So in this way Portugal develops a type of architecture relatively easy and cheap to build and spread across the country, whilst making it practical, and leaving it open to further improvements. In fact, what ends up bringing forward the true Portuguese baroque is not so much the splendour of the actual buildings, but the decorations that are incorporated later. They relied heavily on what is called “talha dourada”: wood carvings which are later on coated in gold (or golden laminates and paints which was more affordable and produced the same effect). Luckily for Portugal, by the 17th century they were already the masters of an art form that compares to nothing else in Europe: azulejo – the decorated tiles. With a combination of these two main artistic productions, many  buildings were enhanced and given the air of grandeur proper of continental baroque. It is not however until the reign of João V already in the 18th century that baroque takes in Portugal a recognizable shape for other Europeans. João brought back stability to his kingdom, and this allowed for the country to flourish again. Nevertheless, even then, the grandeur was incorporated cautiously into the architectural pieces. Luckily for us, it was the north of the country – the area between Braga and Porto – where most of the money was concentrated. Therefore, this is the reason why baroque architecture is so prominent there. And here is where I give you a tour of some of the best examples of Portuguese baroque I found during my trip:

Igreja dos Congregados

Igreja dos Congregados

This church is right in the middle of Braga’s city center and it really stands out. You cannot really perceive this from my picture but the building suddenly appears on the side of the promenade that departs from the main square – Arcada – completely standing out from the 3 story town houses by each side and open plan designed for pedestrian walking.

This is the Arcada square. Its name comes from the many arches that compose the face of the building. You can see the baroque influences in here too, but it is slightly more simplistic and elegant that some other archways found elsewhere during this period,

This is the church as seen from the promenade. As you can see it really stands out.

André Soares started the construction of the building in the 17th century. He was, alongside Carlos Amarante, the main baroque architect of Braga. Although the basilica was consecrated in 1717, it was missing the two towers and sculpture work on the facade. This task was not completed until 1964! The work was completed by the artist Manuel da Silva Nogueira. Currently, the building holds the music depart for the Universidade do Minho.

Palácio do Raio

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This is also the work of Soares. Built between 1754 and 1755, it is considered one of the greatest achievements of this architect due to the asymmetrical contrasts produced by the windows and balconies. Many believe Soares was one of the pioneers of Portuguese Rococo as exemplified by the work on this building. Yet, it seems that the characteristic blue tiles one the facade were actually an amendment commissioned by the second owner of the building Miguel José Raio, Viscount of São Lázaro (1867).

Igreja de Santa Cruz

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This is another example of 17th century Baroque style in Braga. Unfortunately it was one of those buildings that it was refurbished at many stages during and after the Baroque – as many in this area of Portugal from what I understood from a very kind gallery guide who spoke with us at São Pedro de Rates, another sour victim of this mistreatment. It seems that there were some serious issues with material decay inside the building and by the early 18th century, they architects were forced to demolish most of the church and rebuild it to its current shape. The works were completed by 1739. But the reason why this church is significant, is for its abundance of talha dourada of high quality decorating its interior.

Bom Jesus do Monte

As the name indicates, this sanctuary is on the top of one of the mounts in the outskirts of Braga, in Tenões. Apart from being an important pilgrimage, the site is a tourist attraction due to its huge staircase, which really screams Baroque. On each stop it has a fountain, and a little chapel dedicated to The entire complex was commissioned by the archbishop of Braga in 1722, but the old church was demolished in the 1780s and it was given as a project to the other great Bracarense architect: Carlos Amarante. The new church was actually not finished until the 19th century and it rather follows a more Neoclassical style. The altarpiece is dedicated to the Crucifixion. Soares did partake in this construction too, however. He was assigned the work on the chapels behind the church, dealing with scenes after the Crucifixion of Christ keeping the motives through the entire complex.

Torre dos Clérigos

Before I run out of space here, I am going to jump quickly over to Porto. We only went to Porto out for a day trip, and spent most of our time walking around and in museums – more about that some other time. However, Porto is considered the city of the Baroque, and I believe the building that best exemplifies this is Torre dos Clérigos. It is part of the church going by the same name, and considered a national monument since 1910.

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Moreover, the architect behind this work was crucial for the development of the grand or later baroque style in Portugal. His name was Nicolau Nasoni, and he was Italian. He brought the artistic influences of his natal Tuscany to Portugal, were he actually developed his career achieving master pieces such as the above. The tower was built between 1754 and 1763 for the Irmandade dos Clérigos Pobres – a monastic fraternity vowed to poverty. In fact the architect worked on this project for years without being paid, as his benefactors were indeed lacking the funds. (He was, however, remunerated for his work at a later stage). The original project involved the construction of two towers plus the church, however it ended in just the one. The building is 75 meter tall and has a spiral staircase of 240 steps, and its made out of marble and granite.

I hope you found this quick introduction to Portuguese baroque interesting, and that you may find the time to go to spend some time to northern Portugal as it is a seriously lovely area. I will come back with a few more things from my travels but, before I leave, and as corollary of what has been discussed in this post, here I leave you an image of the wonderful organ from the cathedral in Braga – the photo does it no justice what so ever…So go see it for yourselves! 😉

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Trip to Colditz Castle

In late July I was fortunate enough to travel Germany, taking in many of its cultural and historical sites. It is fair to say Germany did have plenty to offer in the famous cities and towns of Berlin, Cologne, Dresden and Erfurt to name just a few. This post however will be about my recent visit to Colditz Castle, a place I was very keen on visiting upon my arrival to Germany. This post will mainly address the events of what happened during the Second World War but I will provide a basis of what occurred at Colditz Castle beforehand.

The castle is nestled on the outskirts in the small town of Colditz, approximately a fifty minute drive from Leipzig in the state of Saxony. Colditz Castle is mainly known as the German military prison Oflag IVC that held Allied soldiers. The original constructed castle was granted by Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor in 1046 and in 1083 the site was developed further by Wieprecht of Groitzsch. During the Middle Ages the castle appeared to be an important look out site for German Emperors as the location was close to Slavic territory. Eventually the old castle was destroyed by the Hussites, a Christian reformer group from Bohemia that sought for Czech national awareness and Protestantism.

Over time the castle design changed with the times as did the premise of the site. The site received a complete overhaul by the Elector Augustus of Saxony and it became a Renaissance style castle. The premise of the site too changed drastically in the 1600s the site was used as a hunting lodge, in the nineteenth century the area was completely transformed again to become a workhouse for the poor, a mental hospital and eventually a place where the Nazis sent those who they considered “undesirable” to the Third Reich; Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals. As discussed the castle has a vast history and now it is time to address the events that took place at Colditz Castle during WW2.

Many readers will of course be aware of the events surrounding Colditz Castle during WW2 due to the BBC television series that first aired in 1972 and the Escape from Colditz board game that followed in 1973. Other popular means that depicted the basis of what happened at Colditz Castle during WW2 include a later television series that first aired in 2005 and a computer game that was released in 1991. Furthermore it is very possible that many readers have come across the events that took place at Colditz Castle through their own right. Although it should be noted that these mediums portray a basis on the events that occurred there.

Colditz Castle in spite of its large history, is often associated with the twentieth century, chiefly during the Nazi occupation of Germany from 1933 to 1945. The castle was converted into a Prisoner of War camp in 1939 for captured Allied men. These men came from many countries including; Britain, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Belgium, India (1), America and Canada. Given the fact that I toured Colditz Castle in a small group the ambiance seemed rather quiet and solemn. However life at Colditz for the captured was quite far from that. In actual fact the prisoners were permitted to make their own entertainment when imprisoned. Often they would play sports, produce moonshine alcohol, sing, draw, study, write and act in plays. Our guide told us that in August 1941 the Polish prisoners instigated their own Olympic games at Colditz these events included many pastimes such as; football, boxing and chess. The prisoners also invented a sport that they played in their designated courtyard. The game was a variant of rugby, it was called stoolball. The aim of the game was to score on the opposing teams stool. This sport was said to have drowned out the noise of other prisoners who were attempting to tunnel out of the castle. This leads me to explaining some extraordinary circumstances that happened at Colditz. In spite of Colditz being declared ‘escape proof’ by Hermann Göring, many famously attempted to escape and in some cases these were successful. Here are a list of some of them:

 

The French Tunnel-

The tunnels at Colditz was an incredible sight to behold. The French tunnel, although strictly speaking it was not a successful operation, it did however address the lengths prisoners would go in order to escape. A group of French prisoners hatched a plan to dig a tunnel out of the fortress in a bid to freedom. The tunnel was constructed in 1941 and was discovered by German guards in 1942. However having said that the tunnel was untraceable for the German guards for eight months and was nearly completed with only three metres left. The operation began at the clock tower of the castle and a tunnel was dug connecting this area through to the wine cellar, chapel and close to the exterior of the castle. Particularly, when digging occurred around the chapel more men were seen to be in choir practice. This was an attempt by many men to blur out the noise coming from the digging.   Remarkably the tunnel was dug out by none other than kitchen knives and bulbs lined the tunnel offering light, due to prisoners re-wiring the electrical system to the tunnel. With all the excess rubble from digging, the men managed to place it all in any spare pockets and put it underneath floorboards. This plan seemed to go well until the floor gave way due to the extra weight placed under the floorboards from the rubble. Today there is a display in the castle documenting the items that were used for this particular tunnel. The other tunnel I saw was dug by Dutch prisoners and it was a tunnel that did not go as far as the French tunnel, but it was still impressive to see what they did with the limited resources on offer.

 

The Glider-

The Glider was another exceptional plan that was hatched to escape from Colditz. Again as with the French tunnel this plan was not successful but it was arguably one of the most ambitious escape plans. This attempted escape plan proved to be popular in time and the concept of it was inspired by true events. It was made into a Television film, The Birdmen in 1971, whereby it depicted a success. The Glider was the brainchild of two British pilots, Jack Best and Bill Goldfinch. Through much encouragement by two other prisoners they started construction in 1944 and was designed to sit two persons. It was assembled in an attic and was built with bits of wood and out of makeshift tools like metal in window bars attached to beech wood as a handle. Most tools were taken from the castle but one in particular was acquired from bribery, a drill. This was a rather remarkable feat considering Best and Goldfinch obtained a lot of information regarding the mechanics and physics from a book housed in a library onsite to ensure the Glider would be successful.

It was of course a tricky operation to maintain and the previous tunnelling systems appeared to make a lot of the Germans suspicious of similar activity to escape underground. Security was nonetheless prevalent amongst the prisoners. An alarm system was set up for them in case a German guard came close. Another way to cover up the construction was to ensure a false wall would protect those who were building the Glider. Unfortunately the Glider did not fly as it was completed in 1945 by this time an Allied victory appeared to be eminent and the Americans were close to liberating Colditz Castle. Although I did not see the Gilder as it was uncertain what exactly happened to it, I did however hear information about the history of it from 1944-45 by a tour guide.

 

The Undercover-

On the grounds of Colditz Castle there were large cut out pictures of those who attempted to escape Colditz by going undercover. In addition we were also told about other attempts of escape by a tour guide onsite that did not have cut outs of themselves. This I felt was a very interesting start to the day as it introduced to the men who spent time at Colditz. Here are three attempts that I thought were particularly clever-

 

The Lady-

In 1941 a Frenchman by the name of Lieutenant Chasseur Alpin Bouley dressed up as a highly respectable woman. It was unfortunate for him that he was caught after he had dropped his watch and a German guard went after “her” for Bouley’s plan to be foiled upon inspection.

 

German officers-

In 1941 Dutch prisoners Capt. E. Steenhouwer and Lt. J. van Lynden managed to dress up as German officers however they were detected and therefore did not escape. In 1942 Lt. van der Falk Bouman and in 1943 Capt. Dufour Flt. Lt. van Rood did the same thing and were also detected.

 

A handyman-

In 1942 a Frenchman by the name of Lt. A. Perodeau had a resemblance to a handyman that worked at Colditz Castle. His name was Willi Pöhnert. Unfortunately Perodeau was also detected and sent back to Colditz Castle. A lot of the time detection occurred as it was noticeable that some men could not speak German well.

 

It was not always an attempt-

Needless to say it was not always an attempt and I felt at times it was those who attempted the escape were better remembered, perhaps it was the heroism attached to it and the daring sense of adventure? Not to confuse anyone that I am profoundly putting that statement out there as a true representation, on the contrary it is an opinion.

It should be stated that some men in actual fact did escape a seemingly impossible fortress. These men came from different areas and countries from Britain, Poland, Belgium, France and the Netherlands but one stood out for me. This man was the only Indian to be captured by the German troops and sent to Colditz. His name was Capt. B. Mazumdar. Mazumdar’s way of escape was not like the above attempts but this is in no way less daring. He went on hunger strike in order to receive a transfer to another camp, he escapes from the new camp and beforehand Colditz to get to the new camp.

All in all it was an interesting place to visit and I would recommend to go there, particularly if you are thinking of visiting Leipzig or Dresden as it is in close driving distance. It has a gallery and small museum on site and you are shown around by an informative guide. It is recommended to book in advance prior to visiting.

 

Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

From the 19th of June to the 12th of July 2016 a fellow W.U.HSTRY contributor and I travelled around eight countries in the space of three weeks. We both shall be writing posts on our favourite memories, moments or monuments from the trip which included Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Prague, Florence, Bern and Paris. This particular post of mine will cover the stunning castle of Rosenborg, one of many truly spectacular European royal residences that I dragged Laura around during our trip. Rosenborg Castle sits to the north of Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, which like many well-known cities was surprisingly smaller than expected. The castle, or slot in Danish, is a picturesque seventeenth-century structure with distinct renaissance architecture. The architects are believed to be Bertel Lange and Hans van Steenwinckel the Younger. Built as a pleasure palace by Christian IV at the beginning of the 1600’s, its use as a royal residence only lasted until the early eighteenth century but still stands in its entirety today. The castle was used as a royal residence only twice after 1710 after Christiansborg Palace burned down in 1794, and the second during the British invasion of Copenhagen in 1801. Christian IV built many beautiful Danish slots but Rosenborg was his favourite and became the holder of hundreds of the oldest and rarest of treasures cultivated for years by the royal family. Copenhagen is also home to Christianborg Palace whose intention was magnificence and a small library that sparked a stronger drive in me for books. Others still included Amelienborg and Charlottenborg which on this visit I did not get to observe, but hope to one day.

Christian IV of the House of Oldenburg ruled both Denmark and Norway from 1588 to 1648. He is significant partly due to having been the longest ruling Danish monarch and of all Scandinavian monarchies in fifty-nine years. His initial reign began as a minority before beginning his personal rule at the age of nineteen in 1596. He was an ambitious king in engaging within the Thirty Years War and losing Danish conquered territory. Proactive in that Christian IV established a stable economy (when not at war) for Denmark and established a further hold of Lutheranism in Scandinavia. He married twice to Anne Catherine of Brandenburg and Kirsten Munk, he fathered twenty-eight children via both wives and mistresses. Christian IV’s first marriage was one of state that produced the heir Frederick III of Denmark, but his second was a morganatic marriage to a noble. Munk’s mother insisted that the king married her daughter due to being a member of the nobility instead of having the suggested dishonour of being mistress. The marriage to Munk inevitably created disgrace, not through being an unwise choice, but through her infidelity with German officers. Christian IV’s legacy was general popularity with the Danish people but he is most well-known for his prolific building activities across Denmark and Norway, and having a glacier in Greenland named after him.

Rosenborg was opened as a museum in 1838 and is designed to portray a journey through the rulers of the Danish-Norwegian joint kingdoms. The guidebook begins your exploration on the ground floor, up through to the second floor and then back down deep into the basement where the treasury lies. Each room belongs to a respective king or queen, except for the Great Hall and tower rooms, and are still occasionally used for ceremonial circumstances along with the treasury by the current Queen Margrethe of Denmark. The rooms were typical of a royal residence in one leading onto another in a long loop, with each room decorated in unique style to suit the owners. The Lacquered Chamber, fitted for Princess Sophie Hedevig in 1665 in the Chinese design on the first floor, was dark but etched with gold and intricate Japanese/Chinese inspired china, furniture and art. The entrance on the ground floor, known as the Stone Corridor, featured a large wall mural that depicted the genealogical chart of Christian IV. My favourite part was the corridor on the first floor that spanned the length of the house between Frederik II’s room and Frederick IV’s Hall which was filled from floor to ceiling of portraits. Several other portraits were situated on the walls around the house but this corridor held a curious mix of Danish royalty alongside their Scandinavian relatives. One such portrait was of Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden, daughter of Ulrika Eleonora of Denmark, who was both Queen Regnant and Queen Consort of Sweden after abdicating in favour of his husband. The most strange part would be the wax models of a few Danish rulers which were most disconcerting when I came across them. (The image shows a the wax figure of Queen Sophie Amalie).

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I have seen several treasuries on my travels but the Danish treasury was beautiful and outshone the Swedish collection in The Royal Palace of Sweden. The first floor of the basement held barrels of wine, collections of ivory and amber, and the coronation riding gear of Christian IV. As you descend further into the ground, the items become increasingly costly. The Crown Jewels of Denmark include the perceived oldest British Order of the Garter outside of Britain and the entire set of jewels owned by Queen Sophie Magdalene who bequeathed it all to ‘the crown’ and not to be owned by any one person in 1746. The Rosenborg jewels consist of sets of jewellery mounted with pearls and others with rubies, emeralds, rose and diamonds. The most expensive and internationally note-worthy is the set mounted with emeralds. The treasury never leaves Denmark and can only by used by the Queen and typically are only worn on such events like the New Years Banquet. It is remarkable the condition of these jewels especially with having been in use for over four hundred years – particularly the baptismal collection which was first used in 1671 and is still in continuous use in all royal baptisms today. The collection includes a silver dish and pitcher alongside two solid gold candle sticks.

The two crowns featured are those of the absolute monarchy each dating from 1671 and 1731. They were used for each coronation from Christian V to Christian VIII and they both weigh approximately two kilos. The queens crown was created in the eighteenth-century for Queen Sophie Magdalene but the precious stones date from 1648. The original sixteenth-century sceptre, orb and ampulla also lie in the treasury vault.

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Rosenborg was a truly beautiful place with gorgeous gardens, which are Denmark’s oldest royal gardens, surrounding it. Considering its size you cannot view it sufficiently from the road and trees hide it from view until you approach the slot directly. You can visit the entire castle within the space of a few hours and I could have easily brought several books from the gift shop…if the best ones weren’t all in Danish! I highly recommend viewing Rosenborg – the Copenhagen Card will gain you free access to most castles and palaces in the city – and Christiansborg, but be prepared to wear protective blue socks over your shoes.

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(All pictures are my own)

Remembering the Brave – Photographic Collection of Oslo’s Memorials

Today I am not going to speak much. I am no warfare specialist as you all know, that is an honour reserved to Alex and Michael in here. However, my work involves a lot of work in the field of memory studies. And if I came out of Oslo with a particularly strong image of something in my head, it was that of all the memorials, plaques and monuments erected to honour those who serve their country, and those who fell. I think it shocked me because I did not expect to see so many – after all Norway was a neutral faction during the Second World War, right? But it is clear that the Norwegians feel differently about their history. I learnt a lot about how war has affected Norway through history while visiting the Forsvarsmuseet (Norwegian Armed Forces Museum) and the Resistance Museum at Akershus fortress and it made me reflect on other examples. Living so close to London, anywhere you go in the city you can find great war memorials. And even in our cosy, tiny Winchester their presence is not something you can hide. However, Oslo left me with the feeling that the losses suffered in Norway were noticeable, but there was no grandeur about them. The memorials were rather solemn and simple, but dignified. In many ways, I think they represent more the ideals that were protected rather than highlight the victims of the fight; it is not about the lingering feeling of sadness and grief perpetrated by the war, but it is about respect. Or at least that is how I perceived it. Perhaps this has to do with the role of Norway in the war – neither a winner, nor a loser, but a casualty nonetheless. Perhaps it is related to their own ideas of nationalism, which were felt in a much different way than elsewhere in Europe, particularly if you compare them with the UK. Or maybe, this is Norway’s way of acknowledging but not vigorously remembering a painful part of their history – after all the act of collective memory is just as much about the intentional remembrance as it is about the forgetting.

Any further information on the subject that you would like to share would be more than welcome – but until then, I hope you can share a moment of silence while educating ourselves in the pain of others, while remembering that there is always more to war than losing and winning factions, and that when the world rages, no nation suffers on their own.

*Please keep in mind these are not all Second World War Memorials – although the majority are*

This is outside St.Olav's church (Oslo).
This is outside St.Olav’s church (Oslo).

Memorial outside of Oslo's central station.
Memorial outside of Oslo’s central station.

This one is at Bygdoy by the maritime museums.
This one is at Bygdoy by the maritime museums.

The following were all outside the Forsvarsmuseet.

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Memorial plaques inside the Forsvarsmuseet.
Memorial plaques inside the Forsvarsmuseet.

Outside the Resistance Museum.
Outside the Resistance Museum.

Memorial plaque outside the Resistance Museum.
Memorial plaque outside the Resistance Museum.

Final display inside the Resistance Museum - "Never again".
Final display inside the Resistance Museum – “Never again”.