Archive for March, 2012

A testing day

30/03/2012

A tram journey starting at 7:18 still gave time to drop in at an ancient boulangerie for some baked goods before arriving at the Centre De Sante De Strasbourg. The receptionist was a little ray of sunshine emanating charm and good humour whilst she compiled the paperwork to start our dossier before we were sent into the waiting room to the right of reception. It had yellow walls and an easy-clean, brown lino type floor with black metal chairs connected to each other around the walls and in rows interspersed with some low tables with magazines on them. At a low volume Muzak was playing and a smile crossed my face when I heard Golden Brown by the Stranglers. In the corridor between reception and the waiting are in a little recessed area were two desks with a screen, the same width as the desk, from floor to ceiling next to them. After a wait people were called over to see one of two people behind each desk. It seemed to follow the order in which we had arrived. In turn I was called over and asked questions to check the information in the dossier, to confirm that I had not eaten and I was given a pot and sent to the 4th floor to piss in it.

Into the lift and up to the top of the building on the fourth floor and out  into a room with a wood lined wall with a lino floor. On the right was a waiting area followed by male and female toilets, on the left it was divided into cubicles where blood was taken. In the corner on the left opposite the lift was an office space come reception. I walked into the toilet where there was a notice saying to start peeing then stop and at this point do so into the little jar. I did as instructed then washed my hands and went, with my little jar, and sat down in the waiting area. It became clear that people were also coming into the area to just get a blood test and it seemed there were three, of the about eight cubicle like rooms, being used for testing people having health check and the one by reception for the walk-up tests. Whilst waiting two chaps who had come for the walk-up test, who were also waiting, started talking Elsässisch. It was interesting to listen to them as I had not heard it spoken much in public places apart from my local patisserie. I was called into room and shown to deposit my bag and coat on a chair in the corner and then get into the large chair, sort of like an a sea-green arm-chair except it had raised maneuverable arm rests allowing you to rest you arms, upturned, whilst the blood was taken. The information in my dossier was  checked then asked questions about blood, whether I’ve ever had any surgical operations, blood transfusions etc. There was one question I did not understand and JTO had to be called in from the next room. I had not understood the different pronunciation of hepatitis in French and once I understood was able to answer that I did not want to be tested for it or HIV. A number of small capsules with either cream green or purple lids were got out from a lot that were clearly as they had come from the manufacturer, on a tray with plastic wrapping round them which had been torn to get at the capsules. They were put into a metal holder whilst the device for puncturing my arm was readied and then inserted. In turn each capsule was filled up and each capsule had a couple of things stuck to it which came from a sheet in the dossier. I collected my things up, was handed the dossier back and then went back down in the lift to the first waiting room to be told at 8:55 we could eat.

When JTO was called I noticed that off the waiting area there small rooms with red lights above them. The man who had following me was called into one of the rooms before me grrrr and the young woman who had followed him then overtook me double grrrr added to which I then was experiencing  a sugar rush from my baked goods.

The dossiers had been put in a rack on the wall to the left  of where I was sitting. A woman in a white-coat came out and took a dossier out which was standing up, whereas the others were lying down. At that moment a man in a white-coat  came out with another patient  and the two people in white coats swapped dossiers and  the woman went off with the patient and the man took the dossier before coming back and calling my name and took me off into one of the rooms. I was told to put my stuff in a room off to the right and sit across the desk from him. He said someone would be in for another part of the test. He started with the eye test, using a machine like the one pictured, but had only got onto the second row when his boss appeared and they swapped places. We finished that test then I had to put on headphones and I had to press a button when I heard something. Next I had to go back into the small room and remove my clothes apart from underwear and socks and then come back in. Before going to lie on a medical couch covered with a tissue my height and weight were measured. A tissue was wet and then touched at various places on my legs, arms and chest. It was cold and the first time it happened I started. To these places little suction cups were attached. Not what I was expecting at all, more like what you see in films and TV programmes where metal sensors are attached and then taped on. I was told to close my eyes and relax which I did and then the sensors were taken off and I could dry myself with the towel before going back into the room and clothing myself. In the room I took the picture you see of the mark left on my arm by the suction cup. When I came back in I had to sit back down and was offered a device to blow into. First taking a couple of normal breaths before taking a massive breath and blowing out as hard as I could for as long as I could, This one I found difficult as I hesitated between breathing in and the long hard breath out. I was shown that it meant the result on the computer was worse than it should be but on the third go I got it right.

I collected up my things and went back out into the waiting room. After a short while I was called back to the desks to make an appointment to talk to the doctor about the results. So, we will not know if I am dying, or what other outcome there, is until next Thursday. I left and at 10:15 headed home to buy tickets to see Leonard Cohen in Dublin in September.

Roll on Spring

29/03/2012

A beautiful week so far (That’s bound to finish it!) and all the talk is of spring. Though I ‘m not sure if this one I saw seemed not to have got the lack of overlap between the season and the food:

To show I was onto this a week ago here is a picture of a tree coming into blossom from a week ago. It is outside the Council of Europe:

A final picture from Quai des Pechers this morning  where there is Strasbourg;s beach without any sand and in the distance the twin spired Eglise St Paul:

StrasTV.com have just caught up with the weather and been out filming you can see pictures of the beautiful city and beautiful Strasbourgeoise out in the sun here.

Finding things that weren’t lost

28/03/2012

I mentioned before that I have a health examination tomorrow. I don’t think I mentioned it was at 7:45 in the morning and it is in a place some distance across Strasbourg from home. One of the first things which will happen is a blood test so I’m not allowed to eat anything during the 12 hours beforehand but have to buy breakfast to eat after the blood test and dental check-up. This will undoubtedly involve something of the baked goods variety – especially as there is a boulangerie between the tram-stop and the health centre which has been going since 1279 and I know sells wonderful baked goods.

In my time here I have had a several medical tests, blood tests and x-rays particularly. As they need you to go without food beforehand I normally go somewhere nearer.

As well as the completed four page questionnaire which I have to take I must bring any results I have from earlier tests. It’s not like the UK, where a blood test or an x-ray is prescribed and in the larger surgeries you have it done by the nurse and they keep your records or you have to go to the hospital and they keep your records. Here in France the Doctor usually prescribes a blood test or x-ray and it is then your responsibility to find a laboratory to carry it out. After you have done it they send a copy to the doctor and a copy to me. I think it is better this way, I feel I am playing more of a part in, and I am more responsible for, my own health-care. At times like this when I have to see a third-party and they want to see the records I have, they tell me to bring them, I fish them out and take them with me. I will then be able to talk about my medical history explaining why I have each item.

I have had a two draw filling cabinet similar to the one pictured for a number of years. Some time ago I lost the keys to the bottom draw which was not good as it was locked. However, stuff like bank statements etc were in the top and it was more personal things in the bottom so I haven’t been worried about not seeing them. I did wonder about vaccinations and other medical records. For the first time in over ten years I was able to manoeuvre the draws so that I could get at the items stored in the bottom draw. But, in doing so I remembered that vaccinations and similar items were all in the front of the top draw anyway. A quick search revealed vaccination records going back to 1965 and hospital appointments of the same vintage. I don’t think they’ll be much use  but I’ll take them anyway, What will be useful is the record of vaccinations I had in November 2002 before a trip to Southern Africa which probably details the inoculations I have had that are still current.

Having the draw open anyway I spent sometime looking through the contents. Mostly it was nothing exceptional, cuttings and leaflets from a politically active past; records from a public inquiry I took part in and gave evidence at and then the big surprise. There were many letters. In the 80’s and 90’s I was a keen letter writer. The letters I received when I was a student unfortunately seemed to disappear from my parents house where they were stored. I was surprised to find letters form a German school student I took part in an exchange with in 1979 and 1980. I was pleased to find letters from my brother from the time he left the UK to go travelling and then after he had left to make his home in Australia.

I also found letters from female friends from the 1990’s and the tone and content surprised me. If asked now I would have said our relationships was not as the letters state. I would say that some of the things stated in the letters didn’t happen, subjects being talked about casually that, if quizzed before seeing them, I would be sure were never explicitly talked about. It is possible that the more subtle, the more nuanced parts were not picked up and I am very good at not noticing things said subtly. But this is not that. This is not remembering how things were. If this is remembered wrong, what else is too? How much of what I believe my story to be is just totally wrong? I found something this afternoon. I didn’t know it was lost.

Falling off the wagon

27/03/2012

So, at the end of February 1998 I stopped smoking. I survived my birthday, that of JTO and an impromptu holiday in Nice – where it still seemed compulsory to smoke in many of the cafes we visited! The first time I fell off the wagon and smoked was on 30th June 1998. I remember the date and the venue very well.  At the time JTO was an MP and I worked for her in Reading but on the day I had to visit her in The Houses of Parliament. It was normal after finishing work, at the end of the day around 10 o’clock, to go down to the Stranger’s Bar for a quick drink before the last vote and then go home. But this day we had gone there more like 19:30 to reserve a place. I say down because, although it is level with the terrace outside, which looks out over the river, it is actually one floor down from the Chambers of the Houses of Commons and Lords. It also had a dark small cave like feeling. Much like the bar under Nottingham Castle, hacked into the rock, which is supposed to have a tunnel up to the castle and where crusaders were alleged to have had a last drink before departing the country.

Around the House of Commons you see green TV sets, actually called annunciators, and when the house is sitting they display the subject of debate in the Chamber and the name and then in large capitals the constituency of the MP speaking, something which was rather
unfortunate for her and always gave me a giggle when it was Margaret Hodge who represented Barking. The picture at the top is of an annunciator in the House of Lords, which is why it’s red. A secret about these is that you can change the channel on them and you can see a live feed of the debate in the Chamber. You can also get terrestrial TV channels and certain satellite channels, including Sky Sports. We had gone in early to reserve a seat for the England vs Argentina match in the last 16 in the World Cup, taking place that evening at Saint-Etienne in France.

England had qualified for the last 16 coming second in their group after beating Tunisia and Colombia but being beaten by Romania. Then England Manager, Glen Hoddle,(Who interestingly reappeared yesterday saying he wants the job again.) had received a lot of stick for not playing David Beckham and, then 18-year-old, Michael Owen. Both started this game. Six minutes into the game and Argentina get and score a penalty. Four minutes later Michael Owen goes down and England get and Alan Shearer scores a penalty. Then came a bit of Michael Owen magic:

Just before half-time Argentina equalised with a well-worked free-kick. Then, two minutes into the second half David Beckham is fouled and goes down. He does this:

 So a match which had been tense just got a whole lot more tense. England down to ten men. They held out for the second half. Extra time. England hold out for the two periods of extra time, Penalties. Alan Shearer scored the first for England then Berti equalised for Argentina. Paul Ince stepped up and missed. The tension was too much I had to have a cigarette. I took one from JTO’s packet. Crespo then stepped up for Argentina and missed. Relief, or was it the cigarette? The next penalties were taken by Merson then Verón, Owen then Gallardo and all were scored. It was the last penalty before sudden death and it had become sudden death. Any penalty missed now, with the others scoring and it is elimination from the World Cup. David Batty, who had never taken a penalty before, stepped up, shot to his left and the Argentinian goalkeeper guessed correctly and dived to save it. Ayala scored for Argentina. England were out. If you can bear it there is a great Four Four Two recreation of the match in quotes here.

I had done it, I had smoked. I had not enjoyed it much. And I thought, it was a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup. It would be four years before it came round again. Just keep up the stopping smoking. Funnily enough the debate in the Chamber on the Finance (No. 2) Bill did not see a vote between the start of the match and the end of extra time.

Puffing away

24/03/2012

I have thought about giving up smoking this afternoon. It’s not that I smoke. I haven’t done so for more than a decade. Thanks to the insurance firm of the employers of JTO I am having a half-day health check-up on Thursday at the Centre d’Examens de Sante. There is a questionnaire to complete before Thursday morning and one part of it asks if I smoke, or if not if I ever have and in which case how long is it since I stopped. In my case I do not smoke but did until the end of February 1998.

I had a weekend away and it had been a drink fueled weekend where I picked up a cold and felt so awful that I didn’t smoke all day and the next day I thought I would try to not smoke again, and just kept repeating this. At the time I had thought about stopping smoking because I had realised that out of my then thirty-five years of life I had smoked for twenty-one years. I had smoked for much more of my life than I had not smoked. And I wanted not to.

Most people connect drinking and smoking and if they stop smoking then they find having a drink difficult. For me it was the opposite. It was like being in mourning and I spent the first three months after stopping smoking eating and drinking everything I could, three course meals for lunch and evening meal and plenty to drink with it. I did smoke three times but each one was at a particular time and in response to events but it tasted awful and I didn’t have another one after. Now I can complete the form saying that I smoked for twenty-one years but have not done so for fourteen years.

Trans Germany Express

11/03/2012

Well not quite all, the last time you left our happy travellers they had reached Szczecin, close to the Polish/German border. After arriving a search was made for life but nothing much was found open by the station so an hour was killed in the waiting room with a Polish 24 hour news channel for comfort. On the news it was OK but a panel discussion about Polish disasters, like the rail crash that week, with detailed stories about people’s problems in the train were not the best in view of there being a train journey facing us. So we headed for the platform and waited for our train. It arrived and we got on. Berlin bound. I finished writing the earlier post and then we cracked open a bottle of wine we found in a shop near the station. We had no glasses but I’d managed to find some by going to a group of people sat in the foyer of the end carriage where there was a party taking place, and getting a couple of glasses.

I’ve seen fridge magnets saying ‘life is too short to drink bad wine’ but I think those people have not been on a Szczecin – Berlin train leaving after 20:00. It was like Ribena and at 10%, like Ribena.

We got talking in German and English to nearby passenger Uwe, whilst his mate slept. Uwe said his mate had slept during the day whilst he was out looking around the city. They both seemed to have consumed plenty of beer and had plenty of beer and vodka for the journey. During the discussion he said that his parents were from Silesia and had moved to East Berlin, and that he and his sleeping friend had been there to look at a place which had previously been German and look at the German parts of it. On arriving in Berlin we discovered that there was a special deal on the German railway of €10 for a day return to discover Szczecin.

Our tickets were only to Ostbahnhof but we managed to stay on to the Hauptbahnhof which is where our hotel was, well with a name of Central Inn at Hauptbahnhof that’s what you would expect. But having left the station and headed to the road of its address we discovered we were some way off. After various diversions, around 20 minutes off. After we had been helped into the building by the nice young women hanging around near it and walked the 2 floors up we got into our hotel room. The promised wifi didn’t work so it was not possible to download podcasts for the next days journey or upload already written posts.

However a good sleep was had as we woke up late the next morning and I had to forego a shower and shave to check-out on time. We headed to the Hauptbahnhof and a communication failure resulted in me thinking we had to vet to Ostbahnhof when we didn’t. I had been   about getting to the Hauptbahnhof to try to find the right platform to get to the Ostbahnhof and not get caught by the guards, at the same time JTO had discovered we actually got the train from the Hauptbahnhof so we didn’t have to go to the Ostbahnhof.

I was very pleased to see a bus to take us straight to the Ostbahnhof outside the Hauptbahnhof, no worry about platform, no worry about guards, so we jumped straight on and I paid for us to go to Ostbahnhof, only to hear we didn’t have to. Well it was an interesting journey through the centre of Berlin and I saw more of the everyday parts of the city than I had ever done. We got to Ostbahnhof to discover our train left from their anyway so we could join it, just hope no-one asked for our tickets. The most important decision now was to decide what to have for breakfast.That done we got on the train, our tickets were not checked and we headed off across Germany for home. The first part was flat with birch and fir forest and the occasional habitation or clump of windmills.

Change at Hannover and we went through central Germany over valley and through hill down to Frankfurt. From there I know the journey much more, on to Mannheim, which I would like to visit, together with Ludwigshafen. Much more interesting than the sterile Heidelberg which we had visited before. Then onto Karlsruhe before joining the Schwarzwald on our left as we passed Baden-Baden and the journey into the Rhineland plain to Offenburg where we detrained before getting the local connection to Strasbourg and home. After Karlsruhe, particularly past Baden-Baden, the train runs along the plain with the Schwarzwald rising up on the left, through the cultivated fields and villages and small towns with the distinctive local houses and it feels like all is right with the world.

In 1982 I spent the summer mad about the album, New Gold Dream by Simple Minds, and I saw the band play live at the Top Rank in Reading. When I went to university in Liverpool that Autumn I didn’t have a record player so I relied upon the radio and a few cassettes I had made and that album was one of them. I still didn’t get bored with it. Then the band chased after commercial success, they wanted to have hits in the US and play stadiums. I fell out of love with their music. Then I heard a song on the radio, Chelsea Girl from an earlier album and loved it and bought the album at a second-hand record shop in Reading. Then a friend gave me a copy of another earlier album Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings. I had recently traveled over the channel to Europe, if you ask me to be more specific to visit a friend in Germany, near Koln and the record sounded so clean and shiny, so travelling fast across Europe it seemed to be the soundtrack for what I had done. I have written here before about my love at the time for Germany, and about the fact I am converting albums to MP3 files. I did the 1980 records fairly early on and have recently been doing the 1970’s. This meant for the first time I had New Gold Dream and Celebration together and played them as we crossed Germany on shuffle, as we crossed Europe. It just seemed that they were not just the “windy words and oversized anthems” but just how fabulous the band were. As they said in a recent interview, “using sequencers and industrial textures to create an unsettling disco-rock travelogue….Going through these amazing landscapes my head was full of movie, book and characters…. We were speedy…Driving to Rockfield with 20 grammes… it was an innocent, young thing.” To me it was speed, Europe, shiny, new.

It seems I am not alone in thinking this as the band have released their first five albums as a box set. I wonder that they chased the dollar after New Gold Dream and were successful at it. They had the actress wife and everything that comes with the lifestyle. Now, having banked that they have realised the choice they made, to go for the money and not continue with the artistic credit for ground breaking albums. They are doing publicity to promote the new box set. The two main members of the band are going on about the artistic worth of the early work. It is true. For me the early albums are good. But they made a choice to chase the dollar and were successful at it. It just seems wrong now for the band to be trying to say, “Ah but we were worthwhile once and should have our place in history for it.” No, you became known for some dross, lowest common denominator songs seeking hits and money in the US in the 1980’s, nothing wrong with that. The point is you cannot have it all ways and re-write history as a ground-breaking historic act as you claimed you were afterwards. For me, I’ll continue to love the music and listen to it as I travel across Europe. It will represent to me travelling across Europe, especially ‘Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings’.

The leaving of Gdansk

11/03/2012

After enjoying a hot bath – I live in a flat that only has a shower so relaxing in a hot bath is a rare and welcome treat, especially if you have been walking the streets of Sopot and Gdansk during the day. After enjoying a hot bath I headed out to Goldwasser, a restaurant named after the local fire water. It was invented by a Dutch man living in Gdansk at the end of the 16th century and is made from over 20 herbs and roots including cinnamon, wild orange, cardamom, thyme, lavender, juniper, coriander and cloves. It also includes little pieces of 23 carat gold, hence the name, gold water. This restaurant is one of the places in Gdansk you can get it so naturally I had it as an aperitif, it had something of a schnapps flavour to it. A main course of pork ribs in honey and vodka followed by the local cheesecake were both delicious, I thought I could get away with a second dessert as it was my birthday – I don’t know if I ever mentioned that – after all it is well-known that no calories affect you on your birthday, right? Of course I finished up with another of the Goldwassers, not to do so would be rude right?

The day before we had also visited the Post Office monument commemorating the site of the battle between detachments of German police and SS and 50 Polish postal workers inside. The Polish put up a brave struggle for over 17 hours including facing flamethrowers and part of the building collapsing. The relevant ministries commissioned and unveiled the following monument, “A wonderful example of Communist-era public art and fitting tribute”.

It represent a dying employee of the post office receiving a rifle from the goddess Nike. Through a gateway I thought I saw another memorial so I walked through to see the following photo of the survivors being lined up with their hands against the wall just before they were shot.

I expect it wasn’t from the time but a re-creation. Next to it was one of the most affecting memorials I have seen. Casts of people’s fingers where they would touch the wall as they stood there with their hands above their heads just before being shot.

This morning, breakfast, packing and checking-out took long enough that we had to change plans. Originally we had been going to Westerplatte where the first exchanges of the Second World War took place but duff information from the Tourist Information Centre meant we could not find the bus so instead we went to the following:

This building on Okopowa 9 is home to the Internal Security Services but it was the Danzig headquarters of the Gestapo. Above the main entrance you can still see where the insignia was hacked off:

And above the door it’s possible to make out some letters that have just been painted over, ‘Polizei Prasidium’.

It was then lunchtime and we headed to La Cantina which, despite its Mediterranean sounding name, is actually a celebration of old Poland with traditional Starolpolski dishes. JTO got the Piergogi she wanted and I had a breaded pork chop. We then collected our bags and headed to the station and our train to Szczecin before travelling on to Berlin. On the train we met a Polish student in the final year of his English Phonology degree who wanted to practise his English with us.

There was so much to see we did not have time for that we are talking about another trip, perhaps in the Summer to take advantage of the beaches. Gdansk is a city with a beautiful old town, some great restaurants and there is a great welcome from the people. There is plenty to do and you could do a lot worse than visiting it. Go explore.

UPDATE: This was written on Saturday 10th March but not published then because the wifi in the Hotel did not work. For more about that read the next post.

Gdansk state of mind

09/03/2012

Last night I watched the Manchester City match whilst eating a pork and garlic butter steak at the wonderful Restaurancja Repulic. Not the right result on the night but I think we can put it right next week when we play the return leg at home.

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After breakfast we headed out past the shipyards I posted about yesterday, and the photo shows them to still be very busy. We headed past the suburb we visited yesterday for the Gunter Grass sights and on to a place that we had been recommended by a good friend. In 2006 we recommended to a good friend that he visit Jurmala, the seaside resort close to Latvia’s capital, Riga. On hearing about our visit he said we just had to go to Sopot, one of the three cities which make up the tri-city.

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So Stephen, here, having got off the train on the right, we’ve arrived at Sopot. A pleasant walk through some residential streets brought us to the park named after the Polish President and his wife who died, not too long ago, in a plane crash whilst on the way to Russia. Through the park and we walk out onto the sand of the beach and up to the Baltic Sea.

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We then walked the 25 metres up a lighthouse on the front to get great views up the coast, to the third of the the tri-cities Gdynia in the north, pictured, and then south to Gdansk. It then being lunchtime we went to the Monte Vino restaurant on the ‘Monciak’, or Bohaterow Monte Cassino, named after the Second World War battle where 25,000 Allied soldiers died trying to take a summit in Italy and the break through was finally made by the Polish 12th Podolian Ulans Regiment, described as one of the “proudest achievements of modern Polish military history”. I had a very nice Salmon steak on a saffron risotto followed by a melting middle chocolate pudding with ice-cream.

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After we joined lot of people for a stroll along the pier, built in 1827 by a doctor in Napoleon’s army. At 511 metres long it is the longest in the Baltic region and the longest  wooden pier in Europe. We then headed back to the station but stopped off for a vodka at Galeria Kinsky, named after the German actor Klaus Kinski who was born upstairs in the same building.

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At an early age he was forced into stealing to feed his family. At the outbreak of the War he joined the Polish Army but after being captured by the Germans he was conscripted for them, as being a person from a place that the Germans at the time thought should properly be part of Germany, so he should be fighting for them. He was caught by the British and whilst a POW discovered a gift for acting in the camp. On leaving he took it up professionally and went on to make over 100 films and father one of the most beautiful women in the World. We caught the train back to Gdansk but got off one stop early.

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Yesterday I posted about remebering the stuggle of Soldarnosc and others to throw off the yoke of the Soviet system. But that’s not the whole picture. On returning to Gdansk we walked up to the monument you see above, a T34 Soviet tank. It is said to be the tank #125 which was the first to enter Gdynia in March 1945 as part of a Polish/Soviet offensive on the city. Other say it is a different tank. It bears witness to the other side of the account. The Soviet soldiers who died fighting to free the continent of Europe from the Nazis. Something we witnessed later in the day when visiting the Soviet Cemetary marking the 3,089 soldiers who fell during the siege of Danzig, as it was then known.

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It was quitly moving to see the row upon row of stars glinting in the dusk. It’s a sign of their being no love lost for the Soviets that the cemetary is in a worse condidition than the private one next to it. The monument on the promentary in the area also seemed to be a gathering place for the local young people.

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The last picture shows the need for the Nazis to be removed. This unremarkable building is part of the Gdansk Medical Academy. Operating out of a small outhouse in the courtyard of the building, Dr Spanner, produced soap using the fat from people’s bodies. On liberation in 1945 over 400 bodies were found in the basement of the building. A plaque on the wall states, “In this building, during World War II, the Nazis used the bodies of victims of genocide. People executed in the prisons of Konigsberg and Gdansk, the patients of the regional home for the mentally impared in Kocborow, and the inmates of the concentration camp in Stutthof as material to produce soap. People brought this fate upon people”.

Gdansk, I didn’t know there was so much in it.

08/03/2012

After a seventeen hour journey across Germany and Poland we arrived at our hotel in Gdansk last night and fell into bed. This morning after breakfast, of course, we set out to explore the city.

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Turning out of our hotel we passed under the magnificent four arched gatehouse of the green gate, built for the Polish kings although they never stayed there, where Lech Walensa now has his office and passed out  onto the banks of the Motlawa River.

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We walked along the banks of the river before coming to The Crane. At one time the biggest working crane in the world, it could raise 4 tonnes to a height of 11 metres, it also formed part of the defences of the city. The cargo was raised by men walking inside two 6 metre diameter wheels.

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Lunch was at the ‘Fishmarket Targ Rybny’ where I had a very nice Cod Steak with  an orange and fennel curry sauce followed by a piece of hot chocolate cake with warm cherries and orange ice cream. Highly recommended and good value. Then on to the Gdansk shipyards, if you press me to be more precise gate 2 of the shipyards.

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Being there brought back memories from the TV of the strike in 1981 which led to the formation of the first free trade unions in the Soviet Union and played a part in bringing about the fall of it. More reminders of the time when Europe was divided in two mutually hostile camps was on display at the ‘Roads to Freedom’ exhibition which took you through the life of people in the Soviet Union and their struggle to free themselves from it. I thought it was very good in that it started with a display of people’s ordinary life and what it was like for people, for example with rationimg of everything including toilet rolls, and then took from this example of people’s life through to the political consequences and the fight to be free of Soviet domination. A very good compliment to seeing the place where the history was made.

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Afterwards we headed back to the station we arrived at last night and headed out to the Wrzeszcz train staition and then walked along a couple of streets where the buildings would not be much changed in shape and character, although with the addition of things like double glazing and different businesses, but not massively changed from the beginning of last century when German author, Guenter Grass, was born and spent his childhood and early manhood there. The picture above is of the house where he grew up, and features in his book ‘The Tin Drum’, At the end of the street is a park for the neighbourhood and in it is a statue of Jenny Brunies from his book, ‘Dog Years’. Across the park is another statue of a small boy with a tin drum, Oskar, from the book of the same name. We saw some more of the sights of Grass’s childhood, including the church where he was baptised into the Catholic faith.

A cultural difference was everywhere to be seen today, 8th March, International Women’s Day. I am used to the day being a formal remembrance of the fight of women to get rights and a mark of the distance still to go before they get equality. In coutries in the former Soviet Union women’s equality was enshrined in the constitution in the 1920’s, although I doubt it made that much difference to people’s lives. Yesterday a facebook friend complained on the site about workmen disturbing her the night before women’s day. I could not see the problem. Then today I saw so many people selling flowers and so many people walking around with flowers. I then remembered that in the former Soviet Union 8th March is like a mix between Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day with men giving flowers and chocolate to women friends and relatives. It is interesting that in Western Europe the day has a political focus around equality for women whilst in the East it is around the personal. The last picture is from the underpass where there is frantic flower buying.

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Tonight I’m going to try and find somewhere to watch the Manchester City match and then tomorrow it is off to the seaside for my birthday

It’s a long way across Germany

06/03/2012

I might have mentioned before that I’m going to Poland tomorrow. We set off early and spend the largest part of the day travelling across Germany. Earlier in the week I cme across the following poem by the great John Donne and thought I would post it here before leaving. Although I do not intend it to be my last trip into Germany, I am not travelling across the sea to get there – just the Rhine – and I do not do G-d.

A Hymn to Christ, at the Author’s last going into Germany.

In what torn ship soever I embark,
That ship shall be my emblem of thy ark;
What sea soever swallow me, that flood
Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood;
Though thou with clouds of anger do disguise
Thy face; yet through that mask I know those eyes,
Which, though they turn away sometimes,
They never will despise.

I sacrifice this Island unto thee,
And all whom I loved there, and who loved me;
When I have put our seas ‘twixt them and me,
Put thou thy sea betwixt my sins and thee.
As the tree’s sap doth seek the root below
In winter, in my winter now I go,
Where none but thee, th’eternal root
Of true love I may know.

Nor thou thy religion dost control,
The amorousness of an harmonious soul,
But thou wouldst have that love thy self: as thou
Art jealous, Lord, so I am jealous now,
Thou lov’st not, till from loving more, thou free
My soul; who ever gives, takes liberty:
O, if thou car’st not whom I love
Alas, thou lov’st not me.

Seal then this bill of my divorce to all,
On whom those fainter beams of love did fall;
Marry those loves, which in youth scattered be
On fame, wit, hopes (false mistresses) to thee.
Churches are best for prayer, that have least light:
To see God only, I go out of sight:
And to ‘scape stormy days, I coose
An everlasting night.

Alternatively there is the take by the Ramones on the matter, one, two, three, four.


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