05 July 2015

Bikes in Berlin

In London, pedestrians increasingly have to watch out for bikes being ridden on pavements, sometimes heedlessly at speed - even though cycling on the footpath (pavement) is an offence under Section 72 of the Highways Act. But who bothers to enforce these things?

In Berlin, cyclists and pedestrians have coexisted for longer, there are many more bikes than in London, the streets are wider, and clearly marked cycleways are in place. Pedestrians still have to look out for bikes, for instance at bus stops and traffic lights, where they need to cross the cycleway. Those bikes travel at speed!

In places where the pavement is too narrow to incorporate a cycleway, it is often marked out on the road, even across junctions.

And of course, cyclists use bus lanes.

Most importantly, cars are used to bikes, and bikes are used to pedestrians. They look out for each other; there seems to be less aggression.

There is definitely less helmet-wearing, and hardly any day-glo clothing worn by cyclists. Lots of small children are on their own bikes, with the very small ones sometimes being towed in trailers.

You see some astonishing things being transported, precariously, on bikes
and personalisation of the machines -

04 July 2015

An interesting premise for an exhibition

One of our sunny-day lakeside trips in Berlin was to the Max Liebermann villa in Wannsee. It's a very popular place to visit, and no wonder. Not only was Liebermann a collector of impressionist paintings, and one of Germany's most important painters around 1900, but the house has a beautiful setting and an interesting history.
View of Wannsee from the terrace
View of house from lakeside
Back garden from an upstairs window
Liebermann had this summer house built in 1909 and produced 200 paintings here. He died in 1935, and in 1940  his widow was required to sign over the house to the Nazi state and it became a training centre of women workers in the post office. After her suicide on the eve of deportation, Liebermann's famous art collection was seized.

Subsequently the villa was used as a municipal hospital and Liebermann's studio as an operating theatre. In 1958 the dauther, Kaethe, sold the house back to Berlin, after which it housed a diving club. By 2006, consequent on the establishment of a Max Liebermann Society, the house started to be restored and is now open to a grateful public. The sizeable grounds contain a series of hedged "garden rooms" as well as, to the rear, a kitchen garden neatly planted in the French style.

Upstairs is, until 10 August, an exhibition entitled Liebermann and Van Gogh. They were both painting in the same area of the Netherlands, Drenthe, in 1882, and could so easily have met - in fact Van Gogh travelled to go see Liebermann after his brother told him about Liebermann's painting, "The Bleaching Field" (Vincent felt a great affinity with the German painter’s choice of subject and colour in capturing the nature of Drenthe) ... but three days earlier, Liebermann had left. Although the exhibition focussed in on a non-event, it was interesting to see the two painters' treatment of the same subjects side by side.
Orchard in Drenthe by Liebermann
... and by Van Gogh

Women sewing
... by Van Gogh
... and by Liebermann
Between 1882 and 1885, both painted peasants working in the fields, women sewing at the window, and weavers making cloth. Their subsequent histories are rather different - Liebermann went on to become an established portrait painter and honorary president of the Prussian Artists' Society, though after 1920 most of his paintings were of his garden at the villa.

03 July 2015

It's felting, Jim, but not as we know it

Having missed the textile graduates in week 1 of New Designers, I determined to get to the Royal College of Art show, heat or no heat, and had a good look at the printed, constructed, and cutting-edge MA projects; for the curious, each student has a profile and photographs here.

Then a quick walk-through of the Design sections - and this set-up caught my interest -

A carpentry tool as part of a knitting machine? Well, almost. It's a programmable needle felting machine, hacked from a jigsaw so it has PUNCH. The fabric samples were of considerable thickness, and the patterning can be subtle and precise.

Adam Blencowe describes his work:

Fuzzy Logic

A new technique that brings felting and digital technology together.
Using a hacked tool in combination with CNC, textiles can be bonded together by matting the fibres from one cloth into the other with a precision not typically found in felting. The marks created in the bonding process become patterns and pockets that enrich the surface of the fabric but also present the opportunity to make the material three-dimensional.
(CNC = computer numerical control)

In the felting, two layers of fabric are joined without stitch, by this busy little machine - see it at work on Adam's website. There are many design possibilities, of course, but what of the practical application, the resulting product? That is still in development. (I suggested using the fabric for absorption of sound from hard bare walls - the patterning would be striking in modern environments.) My feeling is that anyone who can think of combining plaster and ice to make molds out of frozen objects - the project is called "Thaw" - will come up with further new developments.
Strategic use of cable ties to position the computer-controlled punching needle

Fabric samples

Subtlety of design (via)
And this, the magic board, contains the history of the work of the machine - it's the foam into which the needle punches, so the marks are its tracings in making the fabrics -

02 July 2015

Poetry Thursday - some of Ian McBryde's "slivers"

Something a bit different today - formally innovative - from an avant-garde, Canadian-born poet who lives in Melbourne, Ian McBryde. (Thanks for Alison Mary for pointing me in his direction.)
To give a context to these works, I have unabashedly plundered Ali Alizadeh's 2006 review of McBryde's 2005 book "Slivers" in the Australian magazine Cordite Poetry Review. The rest of this blog post is one long quote.

All the poems of this collection are one line long; that is, in each case the poem terminates where the line ends. So, in effect, these lines seem more like maxims, or at least lyrically condensed 'kernels of wisdom', than poems as such. ... They are ... provocative and suggestive without explicating their pernicious provenance and becoming obvious. For example:
How black is your magic? Call me.
Relax. I kept my word, burned the negatives.
If your blood begins to streak her teeth, leave.
And (this reviewer's favourite):
Christmas, Santa's claws deep in my throat.
On the other hand, such a minimalist and quotable style runs the risk of becoming quotidian at times, and some (but thankfully only a few) of the poems/lines in Slivers simply describe a natural phenomenon and only function in reference to a 'poetic' reality. For example:
Heart-frantic, a puppy runs after the car that dumped him.
Night gathers across the river.
All in all, the poignant pessimism of this poetry does not only relate to the 'darkness' of its themes and content – violence, abandonment, death, and in a few instances, the apocalypse – but also precisely to its minimalism and prosaic/linear nature.

An interview, containing his short poem Serpentine, is here.

Back in the garden

Coming back to London yesterday I found the temperature in the 30s, very summery indeed, and gave up on doing anything immediately. Cooler is definitely better, and the garden was my first catching-up task this morning.

Not only has the intended herb garden been taken over by a leafy nasturtium (I stuck in some decade-old seeds, here and there, and many have actually come to life) -

but full-grown weeds have settled in - everywhere -

There is such a variety of these visitors ... they are unable to sign the guest book, but I can find out their names, should they wish to visit again. My Berlin sketchbook stilll has a few empty pages; they can be recorded there.

It started to rain shortly after I went outside to draw the weeds, so I brought some samples inside -
Impatience dictated that the samples would be young weeds - that's when you want to pull them out, after all, before they get big and flower and go to seed - or spread underground. It may require some trips back and forth to find older versions, for identification purposes.

This website has an alphabetical list of weeds found in a north london garden. I've drawn a dozen of my weeds and found several among the As, Bs, and Cs.

Of course my weed may be your cherished wildflower ... or vice versa.

01 July 2015


An unusual pair ...
And the next day, a cavalcade of Trabis -

Was it a Trabi-Safari?

Berlin miscellany

Ornate water pump near Schoeneberg station. You see pumps here and there, mostly rather plain ones and often grafittied.

Electrical box reflects the surroundings: Mehringplatz

Another electrical box, and a "tree garden" outside a greek restaurant (note the re-use of olive oil tins)

Some of those tiny gardens are delightful oases

"Twinned with" - ??  Radhaus Steglitz

Waste bins at the Botanical Garden - sections for glasus vulgus, plasticus berlinensis,
papyrus antiquus, restus wegwurfus

Dancing in the rain, beside the river "beach"

A flotilla of raft-boats on Wannsee
Making satellite dishes into personal expressions, Potsdamer Strasse

Bike becomes floral fantasy

30 June 2015


The high point, literally, of our day in Spandau - which is at then end of the U7 line that we usually use on the way to elsewhere - was the view from the Julius Tower in the Citadel -
The old town, seen from on high
The citadel - a renaissance fortification, surrounded by a moat - is seriously big and the tower is quite high -
You go up a central spiral staircase to a solid brick floor, and then the stairs hug the walls reassuringly -
The fortress is well worth the 4.50 euro entrance fee - there's a museum of the history of the city of Spandau, which was a Prussian garrison and in the 20th century developed various industries. And there's a cannon museum, in the parade hall -
Many more photos from there ... another time perhaps.

Spandau also has the Gothic House, which has been inhabited since the 15th century and now has a museum with an astonishing collection of models of buildings
built from kits - Anker Steinbaukasten - a toy craze dating back to the 1880s and still available today.

A late-19th century kitchen in the museum -
The Gothic House has some original features, such as this mural -
It also had an exhibition of the local art group, including this "Seidenfaden bild" by Helga Laessig -
As well as watching huge ships (and small boats) going into the locks, we did a bit of shopping (and eating and drinking) and all in all had a very pleasant, relaxed day. 
 If you want something a little "different" when visiting Berlin, try Spandau...