Lenin’s Finger

The Design Museum’s Imaginary Moscow exhibition recalls a lot of points from the Royal Academy’s Revolutionary Art exhibition that I’d attended the week before; suprematist inkwells, ‘Those who do not work do not eat’ porcelain or the film of the destruction of Moscow’s cathedral to build the Palace of the Soviets (although the film of the freezing cold swimming pool Brezhnvev converted the aborted construction project into is new). A suprematist children’s book featuring the adventures of two squares is also something of a novelty.

This exhibition dwells on unbuilt aspects of Moscow; the Palace itself (including a fullsize model of the finger from the Lenin statue),  designs for Lenin’s mausoleum, the Lenin institute, communal housing and government buildings. Architectural blueprints from Lissitzky and Melnikov are punctuated by suprematist drawings from Popova and propaganda posters. Leonidov’s Lenin Institute and Lissitzy’s Cloud Iron designs are utopian gravity-defying designs that would be challenging now, while Vesnin’s Commissariat of Heavy Industry and Iofan’s Palace are much more similar to buildings that were actually constructed at the time (in concept if not in scale). The designs for Lenin’s Mausoleum are rather more fantastical given that many of those submitting designs worked in professions like carpentry; in one such concept Lenin is precariously balanced on top of a large globe surmounting the building. A film showing all of the planned construction in Moscow sits alongside Aelita Queen of Mars, and much of it does indeed look like a set of model for a science fiction film.

Afterwards, I walk round Holland Park, looking at the lovely Kyoto and Dutch gardens; the waters in the pond are perfectly clear and carp can be seen swimmingly lazily about below. I also run into a squirrel and encounter a peacock before walking down the Thames to Albert Bridge and then back to Victoria.

The following week I go to the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition. As one might surmise the interest is as much in a social history than in art; items include the fatal calling card from the Marquess of Queensbury (unsurprisingly his handwriting was as terrible as his spelling), physique magazines, Wilde’s cell door, stills from Victim, Noel Coward’s dressing gown, a copy of the Wolfenden report and (most entertainingly) a set of over two hundred buttons collected as trophies from guardsman a gay couple had slept with. Much of the exhibition dwells on theatreland and music hall; there are probably few exhibitions where photos of historical drag acts sit alongside the Bloomsbury Group.

The exhibition begins in the Victorian period with Simeon Solomon, Edward Leighton and Henry Scott Tuke; I’d previously been unaware that Evelyn de Morgan’s relationship with Jane Hales is often interpreted as like that of Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal, with Jane’s face recurring on paintings like that of Aurora, shown here. Interpretation plays greatly here; if Meteyard’s painting of Love in Bondage was not intended as an allegory of forbidden love, it gains that interpretation by the association of its context here. Equally, figures like Semele and Endymion take on a same-sex aspect purely due to Solomon’s androgynous rendering (which is not intrinsically all that different to someone like Burne Jones) rather than by the specific subject matter. Even so, it’s often a rather mournful section; a Solomon drawing shows a male bridegroom holding the hand of his melancholy lover behind his back as he embraces his bride. A cup is dedicated ‘on the mournful occasion of his transition into matrimony.’

In a lot of cases, the gay element is the subject rather than the artist; the next room features paintings of Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis along with a series of beautifully elaborate miniatures designed for a lesbian couple (one of the many reminders that while figures like Solomon and Wilde loom large so many people quietly lived, loved and passed away unremarked). Two portraits of Radclyffe Hall and Oscar Wilde stand near one another. Both are dressed similarly but where the Wilde portrait is a full length depiction of a confident and successful man (auctioned after his disgrace), Hall’s is more emphatic. She looks away from the viewer and her expression is somber. Much of the exhibits are much defiantly pagan; Beardsley’s Yellow Book illustrations, Cecil Beaton’s glittering photos of figures like Stephen Tennant through to Duncan Grant’s paintings of bathers.  A painting of Laura Knight painting a female nude is another example of the layers of meaning being accrued to a work rather than something inherent in it, in contrast to the more explicit intention behind a similar nude by Dora Carrington.

I’m surprised to see examples of Halliwell and Orton’s legendary defaced library books and equally surprised by how funny they are; there’s also one of Halliwell’s paintings. For all his reputation as an artistic failure, it’s rather good. Finally, the later sections are taken by with Hockney and Bacon alongside less well known artists like Keith Vaughan, John Minton and John Craxton. The Minton paintings particularly interest me; I also like some of John Deakin’s photographs of London’s gay scene, from Francis Bacon to a woman dressed as a drag queen, Afterwards, I go to the David Gwinnutt photos at the National Portrait Gallery, extending the same theme into the eighties. I also note one of Grayson’s Perry’s drawings; Map of Days. It uses a medieval town map as a model for mental states, including pastiches of a range of architectural styles. Not sure I’ve liked all of Perry’s work, but I like this.

Corbet’s Childhood of a Leader is something of an oddity; an attempt at depicting the childhood of a future fascist leader during the drafting of the Versailles treaty. Some of the incidents used echo actual events (Mussolini would throw stones at a church in his childhood just like his proxy here) but the comfortably bourgeois background as the son of an establishment diplomat looks little like those of Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini, who all came from rather more lower class milieu. The abstraction is something of a problem; it doesn’t really tell us much about the likes of Franco or Mosley and doesn’t really seem to apply well to contemporary demagogues either; it would work as well as a frame for a serial killer film as for the purposes devised for it here. The film intends to show how power changes depending on the social status involved, with this being paralleled to the peace conference; the sacking of an elderly servant forming one of the key events.  Nonetheless, the film mostly stresses the personality traits that go into the development of such a mentality and decentres social or economic elements (perhaps this is rather welcome given the contemporary tendency to stress the former above all else). The film is loosely based on a Sartre story showing such a scenario in Freudian terms; The boy’s infatuation with his tutor turns to anger when he discovers her alone with his father; the plot does deviate from the straightforward Freudian line when  his conspiracy against both of them to end in an act of violence against his mother whose absence had previously given him nightmares.  The child’s feminine appearance is often commented on (with the boy’s long hair he looks a lot like Bjorn Anderson in the film of Death in Venice). The use of the same actor to depict both a family friend and the adult dictator (this time with his hair entirely cropped) further suggests the issue of paternity is complicated.

Ascending and Descending

I’ve wanted to visit University College for sometime now, mostly because of the Shelley Memorial. Set in a railed off part of the college the memorial is a beautiful piece with the white marble of the naked figure set against spare purple walls. The college chapel is also rather wonderful with a series of stained glass panels showing Genesis and Jonah & the whale. Next, I visit the Blavatnik building. The circular exterior has an amphitheatre as its lecture hall as the base, with concentric ramps up to the upper floors. There’s a series of spiral staircases that lead upwards to a terrace looking out over the city. Later, I go to Pembroke where the chapel has a Bach organ concert.

The following weekend is the open doors days for London. I visit the baroque church of St John Smith Square (an orchestra here is giving a  rendition of the Van der Valk theme tune) before visiting Cutler’s Hall in the city. As one might expect the hall features elephant designs everywhere; in the stained glass, the banisters, cushions and rafters. There’s some rather beautiful stained glass showing a series of industrial scenes; rather unusual for the Victorian period. I then visit some of the Victorian dock warehouses at Wapping before visiting the Royal Society. Exhibits like Newton’s death mask and some of Priestley’s electrical equipment are on display. Lastly, I visit the William Morris gallery in Hammersmith, where a printing press demonstration is being held. The next day, I visit the Sandys Row synagogue. Tucked away in a warren of lanes, the interior is rather expansive, although the combination of an old Bimah with a set of what look like thirties pews is rather odd.

A few weeks later, and I head to Reading for the open day at Reading Gaol.  A tour leads us throughout the original debtor’s prison, through rooms that look like they were only abandoned a few weeks ago.  The highlight of the main prison wings is obviously Oscar Wilde’s cell and the prison chapel, along with photo and video installations by Nan Goldin and Wolfgang Tillmans. Alongside the modern installations are various photographs of the prisoners and of the prison as it originally stood.

A few weeks later and I visit the Royal Academy’s Abstract Expressionism exhibition. The most impressive room is dedicated to Clyfford Still’s work; where Pollock’s work aims to emulate the entropic element of nature, Still’s work does often rather resemble natural patterns; the bark peeling off a silver birch, rust on old machinery or paint peeling off a wooden door. The sense of depth is a lot greater than on Pollock’s accreted layers of dripped paints. The other highlight is the room dedicated to Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. Reinhardt’s work composites layers of similar paint combinations on top of one another; the black paintings in particular require quite a lot of time for the eye to adjust to see the colour variations. It’s like the visual equivalent of  a Philip Glass painting. The Newman works remind me rather more of Mondrian, with their flat planes of bold primary colour intersected by vertical ‘zips.’ Other things that strike me; Barbara Morgan’s black and white light paintings, Lee Krasner’s The Eye if the First Circle, Kline’s Vawdavitch, De Kooning’s Villa Borghese and a small collection of Rothkos. There’s also a small John Gibson exhibition, showing a range of scuptures and funerary monuments.  A few weeks later and I go to the National Gallery’s Caravaggio exhibition.  Works by Caravaggio are interspersed alongside pieces by his followers.  Some of the earliest works, like those by Francesco Buoneri mirror his master closely. Later works by Gentilleschi, Reni and Ribera, Regnier and Tournier diverge more in their greater use of colour. Later sections record the irony that while Caravaggio never painted a candlelit scene this was arguably  his greatest influence, shown here in works by Honthorst and de la Tour.

Lastly, I find myself spending an afternoon in Cambridge. I visit the chapel at Robinson college, with its wonderful stained glass landscape window by John Piper, before spending a few hours in the Fitzwilliam. Things that catch my attention; a bust of Antinous, Greek dramatic masks, a Roman mosaic, a Gibson Venus, the collection of Egyptian sarcophagi, the spectre of Braze Alonzo, a Burges cupboard and a trillion Dollar Zimbabwean note.

Tombland

Arriving in Norwich, I walk over the Wensum river and through a park with a Hepworth sculpture in it, through to the church of St George Colegate. The exterior of the church looks a lot like other buildings in the city, the exterior is of beautiful flint but the interior is Georgian, with plain white walls and wooden furnishings. Walking into the centre, I visit the main square, which is a slightly bewildering concoction of architectural styles. The Guildhall’s wall are filled with white and black diamond patterns while opposite is the City Hall, a sort of brutalist art deco building with an entrance flanked by two rather elegant lions. I then visit the church of St Peter Mancroft, with its ornate wooden flèche.  The interior includes a medieval wooden font canopy, Flemish tapestries, medieval stained glass and a Comper designed reredo. The architectural gallimaufry is further compounded by the nearby presence of a beautiful art nouveau shopping arcade. I then wonder around some of the other nearby churches in Norwich, many of them shut like St Giles, or others that have been turned into shops like St Michael-at-Plea or indoor markets like St Gregory Pottergate.

The next day begins with a rare burst of sunlight and I visit rather dark and gloomy Catholic Cathedral before visiting its Anglican counterpart. It seems somewhat odd to have to walk in through a modern visitor centre, although I do like (admittedly rather incongruous) Zen gravel garden. This leads out into the cloisters and I spend some time looking at the ceiling bosses; Green men, Hellmouths, Demons and the Many Headed Beast from Revelations. Inside the cathedral I look at medieval frescos, Burne Jones stained glass, medieval stained glass, a former toffee vat re-purposed as a font and the famous Gooding monument. I also visit some of the now open churches nearby; St George Tombland with its papier mache civic dragon, Flemish reliefs of St George and the dragon and Kempe stained glass. I also visit St Peter Hungate, which is mostly empty and home to a photo exhibition of Norfolk churches. There are some old wooden pews with carvings of muzzled bears, medieval stained glass and brass monuments left though.

That afternoon the weather worsens and I visit the Museum and Art gallery in the castle. Sections like the Norwich school of painters with their bucolic scenes of the local countryside do little for me, although I do like one night scene set in Amsterdam.  There aren’t many works I recognise; a version of the Anunciation by Burne Jones and a portrait by Zoffany. There’s also the painting of the Paston treasure, accompanied by some of the objects in it. Things I like; the original Snap the Civic Dragon from St George Tombland, medieval stained glass showing the seasons, Roman metal bowls showing mythological scenes, the original Romanesque entry door, the Spong man ceramic lid, the Worthing helmet, the Snettisham torcs and medieval alabaster carvings. I’m also rather struck of the country’s largest collection of teapots; stoneware through to Wedgewood, teapots cast as tanks and as camels, as well as the world’s largest teapot, a chinoiserie affair from the Great Exhibition. The design section has a large collection of medieval stained glass, de Morgan tiles, while the Natural History section has a large collection of taxidermy animals; lions, a boxing Kangaroo and a Cassowary. I also like Scrimshaw Whale teeth and Nautilus shells. As in Exeter Museum, there’s a small room showcasing the displays of a Victorian collector, ranging from mounted butterflies through to custard pots. I’m especially taken by the Egyptian room, including a Mummy sarcophagus and Rider Haggard’s faked sherd from She. Lastly, there’s a rather macabre basement dwelling on the castle’s time as a prison and featuring casts of the heads of various murderers and criminals.

On my last day in Norfolk, I take a train out to Wymondham. It’s a rather dark and gloomy day and the old ruins look suitably gothic against a blackened sky. The interior is actually rather colourful, with another vivid set of Comper reredos in the midst of a series of Romanesque arches.

 

 

Leaving the Atocha Station

It’s a searingly hot afternoon when I arrive in Madrid, so I decide to spend my first afternoon in the Retiro Park. The Retiro is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve seen, filled with sculptures and monuments; stone Sphinxes look on as metal Iguanas spout water into pools where terrapins swim. I walk down a boulevard to the Alfonso Monument, with its colonnades surrounding a central sculpture; giant fish spout water into a boating lake. I walk on to the monument to Lucifer and the Crystal Palace. The Palace has a small art exhibition; at the centre a pendulum gradually creates sand patterns on the floor as it swings to and fro. I walk onward to a rose garden and a set of Japanese gardens; a raft of ducks become competitive as bread is offered.

The next day I take the Metro to the  Teatro Real and walk to the Plaze de Oriente. In contrast to the fantastical Retiro, the Plaze is a geometrically precise formal garden, lined on either side with statues of Spanish Kings and Queens and with an equestrian statue of Philip the Second at its centre. Facing it is the Palacio Real; I walk past it and visit the Catedral de la Almudena. It’s an odd building; the exterior is defined by austere neo-classicism while the interior is a form of cold gothic, but the ceilings are decorated with garish primary colours as are the stained glass in the windows. The crypt is perhaps more striking, with its illuminated arcades silhouetted against the darkness. After that, I walk down past the old Moorish city walls to the Campo Del Moro. With the Palacio Real towering above its fountains and trees, the Campo is a rather more conventional park than the Retiro, with the exception of the odd inclusion of  a Swiss cottage. In one of the rose gardens, I encounter a peacock family with two chicks.

In one of the other parks nearby, I visit the Temple of Debod. This Egyptian temple rests at summit of a hill in the middle of an ornamental pond. After this, I walk back into central Madrid and the Plaza de España; the monument to Cervantes here is only rivalled by the Scott Monument in Edinburgh for a country creating a grand memorial to its writers. The presence of the nearby wedding cake style skyscraper, the Edificio España, makes for an odd counterpoint.  I then travel onto the Plaza Mayor, a grand square surrounded by uniform buildings in a  bright scarlet on all sides with an equestrian statue of Philip the Third by Giambologna in the centre, the Plaza del Sol with its Bear and Strawberry Tree statue and down the Gran Via. The Gran Via is probably best described as a more ornate version of Oxford Street; I’m especially impressed by the Edificio Telefonica, a skyscraper that would not have looked out of place in Manhattan. Lastly, I find myself at the Plaza de Cibeles, where Madrid’s City Hall is located.

The following day, I visit the Palacio Real. I initially walk through the armoury with its collection of Moorish and Medieval weaponry. In the palace itself, a lot of the rooms have ceilings with frescoes drawn by Tiepolo and Bourbon era paintings by Goya; I especially like the porcelain and chinoiserie rooms. The golden lions in the throne room rather remind me of the Rosenborg slot in Copenhagen. As this is the centenary of the death of Cervantes, a number of tapestries showing scenes from Don Quixote are on display. At the end there’s an exhibition which includes a Bernini sculpture of the crucifixion, paintings by Caravaggio, Guido Reni and Ribera. That afternoon, I visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Some of the things I’m most struck by; Bernini’s sculpture of Saint Sebastian, The Virgin of the Dry Tree by Christus, Weyden’s Virgin and Child, Carpaccio’s Knight in a Landscape, Angelico’s Virgin, Titian’s Doge, Brueghel’s Garden of Eden,  Saenredam’s Mariakerk, Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait,  Ter Borch’s Portrait of a Man, Holbein’s Portrait of Henry the Eighth, Ruebens’ Portrait of a Young Woman with a Rosary, Friedrich’s Easter Morning, Cole’s Expulsion, Manet’s Horsewoman, Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge, Renoir’s Wheatfield, Van Gogh’s Les Vessenots, Grosz’s Metropolis, Ernst’s Solitary and Conjugal Trees, Macke’s Circus, Dali’s Dream Caused by The Flight of a Bee and O’Keeffe’s New York Street. There’s also a small exhibition of photographs taken in Wyeth’s native city of Chadd’s Ford. For the rest of the afternoon, I take a stroll to Plaza Santa Ana and the  Mercado de San Miguel.

The entirety of the following day is occupied with a rather more extensive visit to the Prado. There’s an exhibition on for the Bosch centenary; in addition to the gallery’s own collection it’s also brought together Bosh works from across Europe, many of which I’ve seen before, but the highlights are The Garden of Earthly Delights, the Haywain Triptych and the Temptations of Saint Anthony.  Items like The Table of the Seven Deadly Sins are also entirely new to me. The Prado collections proper begin with Romanesque painting, often from preserved church interiors, rather reminding me of similar frescoes I’d seen in Barcelona.  The linkages between Hispanic and Flemish art of the medieval period are new to me, if unsurprising, in paintings of still lives and Boscheque scenes of the fall. Extensive collections of renaissance art follow; El Greco, Ribera, Zurbaran, Velasquez and Murillo representing Spain. The Goya collections are especially extensive, divided between the black paintings, court portraiture and interior frescoes. I’m also new to a Spanish school of neo-classical painting similar to David and Ingres and to the 19th Spanish history paintings; Queen Isabella dictating her will and Joanna the Mad at her husband’s funeral. I’m struck by a painting of Nary Tudor I had never realised was by a Spanish artist. The international collections commence with Angelico’s Annunciation and Boticelli’s Story of Nastagio. Other things that catch my eye; a copy of the Mona Lisa, Parmigianino portraits, a series of Hapsburg portraits by Titian, a Bassano painting of God Reprimanding Adam, Weyden’s Virgin and Child, Durer’s self-portrait, a Massys portrait of Christ, Brueghel’s Triumph of Death, Durer’s Adam and Eve, a Rembrandt painting of Judith, Poussin, Robert and Lorrain paintings and a David Roberts paintings of Rome and Seville. There’s also a small set of classical sculptures, of Antinous, Orestes and Pylades and the Apotheosis of Claudius. Lastly there’s a small exhibition of Talbotype illustrations, made of them made around Reading.

The following day and I take the train out to Segovia. It arrives at a very modern station in the middle of nowhere and I have to take a bus out to the centre of the town. Much of that area consists of wasteland and empty office developments; it looks like an aborted project begun before the financial crisis. As the bus arrives, the first thing I see is the aqueduct; almost entirely intact, easily the equal of anything in Rome. I walk up through the town to the cathedral. It has a beautiful gothic interior with a pleasant set of cloisters. I then walk onto the Alcazar. Heavily restored and recreated after a fire in the 19th century, it rather reminds me of Neuschwanstein with its elegant spires balanced at the edge of a cliff face. I enter through the armoury, which then gives way to a series of gothic and mudejar rooms and climb to the top of the tower, from where I can see Storks nesting on top of the nearby pine trees.  A series of formal gardens cling onto the cliff face nearby.  I walk back through the town, loooking at a series of churches with Romanesque capitals and arches.

The next day and I instead travel out to Toledo. The 19th century train station I arrive at is an exotic 19th century confection, designed in a faux-Moorish style. I walk into the town pass over a bridge and walk through a horseshoe arch into the town. The first thing I visit is the Hospital of Santa Cruz. The museum here has a display of Roman mosaics and medieval Spanish ceramics. The gardens and cloisters are beautiful. Walking further into town I visit the cathedral; not unlike Segovia, but the interior is even darker and more cavernous; a treasury contains a large gold monstrance, the cloister walls are painted with frescoes, the transparente which illuminates parts of the nave at different points of the day through two windows, chapels with sets of medieval tombs, a giant fresco of St Christopher covering an entire wall and a Sacristy lined with El Greco and Caravaggio paintings. I then go onto visit the El Greco museum, a pleasant house filled with Moorish ceramics and a beautiful garden. The museum itself contains El Greco paintings of the apostles. I also visit some of the town’s former synagogues and look at a set of Roman baths jutting out the hillside on the edge of the city. Journeying back to Madrid, I arrive at Atocha station and walk around the old nineteenth century station whose interior is now filled with Palms and Ferns growing above ponds where Terrapins lazily swim.

The following day I visit the Museum of the Americas. Exiting a Metro station opposite Franco’s Air Ministry (designed effectively as a replica for a medieval Spanish castle) the museum is housed inside Madrid university, near a rather bizarre viewing platform (not unlike the Space Needle in Seattle).  The museum is extraordinary; enconchando panels showing the Conquest of Mexico, an Incan mummy, Mayan urns, Tlingit helmets, feather hats and Quimbaya gold figurines. The afternoon is spent in the Archaeological Museum. Starting with Stone Age Idols before proceeding to the Iberian period, with extraordinary sculptures like the Lady of Elche. The collection of Roman mosaics is especially extensive along with Roman tombs and sculptures; I’m also struck by a working Roman pump. Later exhibits include the Reccesvinth’s crown from the Guarrazar tomb, Visigothic jewellery, wooden carvings and ceilings from Al-Andalus, medieval capitals and tomb monuments. There’s also an extensive Greek and Egyptian section, filled with statues of Apollo, Canopic Jars, sarcophagi and a statue of Nectanebo.  Finally on that day, I take advantage of late opening to see Guernicaat the Reina Sofia Gallery, along with various works by Dali, Miro, Man Ray, Brassai, Cocteau, mobiles by Calder and a portrait of Tristan Tzara by Delaunay.

The next day and I travel away from Madrid once more out to the Escorial. It’s a rather convoluted route to get there by train, bus and walking but I do finally arrive. The first thing I visit there is the Basilica, which seems most notable for its dark and austere nature; the gold tomb monuments of the Hampsburgs in prayer are probably the most striking. The I walk through a set of frescoed cloisters into the palace, including Philip’s study, the Hall of Battles and the Kaisergruft style crypts. There’s a small art exhibition, including tapestry versions of Bosch paintings, the custmary El Grecos and  a striking Weyden painting of the Crucifixion. The Bourbon apartments are considerably more lively, filled with bright and colourful tapestries showing scenes of Spanish life, many of them designed by Goya. Finally, I walk around the gardens and look out across the Castilian plain to the four Madrid skyscrapers near the train station that can still be seen in the distance, before getting into yet another bus to visit the Valley of the Fallen. The bus heads off deep into the mountains and leaves me at the Valley for two hours. The grandiloquent scale of the architecture contrasts markedly with the quiet and peace of the location; a Hummingbird Moth is fluttering around some flowers while bees drone near a set of bushes. The concrete plateau in front of the Basilica is filled with weeds and inevitably reminds me of Speer’s theory of ruin value. The interior of the Basilica is in many ways nothing more than a drearily conventional Catholic church filled with ceiling mosaics and a somewhat outre choice of tapestries depicting scenes from the Book of Revelations, but the scale and darkness equally give it the atmosphere of a warehouse or tube station.

The last day in Madrid begins with a visit to the Botanical Gardens. There’s a lovely set of displays, from sunflowers and palms to Bonsai trees and Dahlias. At one point I’m distracted by a noise and initially assume it to be the customarily noisy Parrots before I realise that it’s a set of frog mating calls coming from a pond. A series of (presumably employed) cats prowl around, stalking pigeons. Lastly, I visit the Sorolla museum. Not a name I’d previously heard of, the museum reminds me of the Leighton House in Kensington or Moreau’s studio in Montmartre, with rooms filled with his own paintings, Majolica ceramics and medieval sculptures. The paintings themselves I’m less impressed by; an exhibition shows impressionist views of Spanish cities, including a beautiful Burgos snow scene.

The Heart of Midlothian

Edinburgh is a disorienting place for the English traveller.  The neat Georgian buildings of the New Town recall Bath, but the symmetrical grid plan they are laid out on recalls Barcelona. The castle on the rock relates to Edinburgh’s history in the same way the Tower relates to London’s, but the vertiginous geography recalls Prague or Budapest rather than a customarily flat English city.  The Prince’s Street Gardens recall Hyde Park, whereas the crowded kirkyards seem like a relic of London before the Magnificent Seven.  Where London is a conflicting agglomeration of style, the use of similar stones (and decades of blackening air pollution) weld Edinburgh into a cohesive whole irrespective of whether the design is medieval, Georgian or Victorian.

I start my visit by exiting the tram at Princes Street. The first thing I notice is the Walter Scott monument.  Where London lacks monuments to most of its major writers (even Shakespeare only gets a small sculpture in the city) this dominates the entire view of the New Town from the castle. It’s a lovely day with the castle rock still covered in Daffodils. I walk straight down to Calton Hill, where I am somewhat surprised by the rather bright and warm being unreasonably interrupted by snow and hail. Gratefully fishing my umbrella out of my rucksack, I walk around the hill and am taken aback by how far one can see from the Forth Railway Bridge in the far distance  across the Firth of Forth to Arthur’s Seat. I walk back to the old town and visit the cathedral. The interior contrasts between the dark stone and the brightness of the painted blue gothic ceiling. The sun is back out while I’m here and rainbows stream into the church through the stained glass windows. Windows by Burne Jones remind me of England, others showing scenes from Scottish history remind me rather more of Amsterdam and Brussels. I step inside the Chapel of the Thistle before heading out and walking to the castle, looking out at the snow-capped hills and then ending the day at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.  The late afternoon sunlight casts long shadows around the blackened and weathered gravestones.

The following day I walk a little down from where I’m staying to the Canongate Kirk and its statue of Robert Fergusson, before walking back into the city and visiting the castle.  It’s a rather more dark and forbidding day but the view from the castle is still extraordinary. The first thing I visit is St Margaret’s Chapel, with its Romanesque arch before visiting the National War Memorial. I’m rather taken aback at the scale and beauty of it, quite unlike the unassuming cenotaph in London.  I then look round the castle chambers and the Great Hall (including the Honours, namely Scotland’s Crown Jewels) before visiting the various military museums, particularly exhibits like Napoleon’s eagle.  Lastly, I visit an exhibition of planned designs for the castle; I especially like one modelled on a French chateau. Next, I visit Gladstone’s land, a tenement building and one of Edinburgh’s last 16th century skyscrapers from the time prior to the fall of the city walls. The renaissance painted chamber is easily the most striking thing here, with its ceiling painted with flowers and fruits. Lastly, I visit St Cuthbert’s Kirkyard and the nearby church of St John the Evangelist, with its plaster fan vaulting.

The next day I go for a walk in Princes Street Gardens – I notice a statue of Wotjek, the Polish soldier bear that I particularly like – before arriving at the National Gallery. I start with the renaissance section, with its paintings by Titian, El Greco, Botticelli, Bordone, Veronese, Bassano, Tiepolo and Canaletto. An entire room is filled with depictions of the sacraments by Poussin with paintings by Claude, Fabre and Gauffier outside. The next room concentrates on Spain; Velasquez, Murillo, Goya and Zurbaran. After that is the Netherlands; Massys, Ruisdael, Rembrandt, Saenredam, Dou and Vermeer. The upper floors dwell on modern art; Gauguin, Van Gogh, Seurat, Monet, Singer Sergeant, Sisley, Courbet, Pissarro.The Scottish sections contains names that are often to me; Gavin Hamilton, Nasmyth, Paton, Traquair and Ramsay; there are a few English works thrown in by Reynolds, Gainsborough. Martin and Turner. The basement has an exhibit of Schinkel’s drawings for a planned palace in the Crimea (somewhere between neo-classical and Babylonian) and for a redesign of the Acropolis.  There’s also a small exhibition on romantic landscapes by Peder Balke, Dahl, Thomas Fearnley and Joseph Wright. The gallery architecture is often quite dramatic, with staircases filled with plaster busts in a manner similar to the Ashmolean. Afterwards, I visit the National Portrait Gallery; the building here is equally dramatic with a gothic revival entrance hall filled with sculptures of Burns and Stevenson. Much of the earlier sections are effectively a history of the Stuart dynasty and ultimate Italian exile before dwelling on Scotland’s role in the Empire. Lastly, I manage to cram in a visit to a National Trust Georgian House on Charlotte Square; I’m rather left struck by the combination of Chloroform and Rhubarb powder in one medicine cabinet.

The next day the sun is out again, so I go for a walk in the New Town, visiting the church of St Andrew and St George and St Andrew’s Square before walking back up Calton Hill and visiting the cemetery. I then visit Holyrood Palace. I walk around the grounds to begin with, looking at the ornate Renaissance fountain and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. The palace facade is distinctly Scottish with its turrets but the interior courtyards remind me of a rather austere version of Hampton Court. Some of the striking aspects are the stairwell, with its swirling plaster ceiling, the long gallery with its reconstructed paintings of historical and mythical Scottish kings (Macbeth being the most prominent), orientalist tapestries with images of camels and the sepulchre-like Mary Queen of Scots chambers, with their collection of Stuart memorabilia through to the Winter King and Bonnie Price Charlie. My ticket also offers entrance to the Queen’s Gallery, so I get a chance to see the Dutch paintings I’d missed in London. The exhibition includes works by Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu, Jan Steen and Pieter de Hooch, and Johannes Vermeer’s ‘A Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman.’ Lastly, there’s still several hours left in the day so I set myself the task of climbing Arthur’s Seat. The gorse is in bright flower as I walk up past St Anthony’s chapel to the summit before returning past one a lake filled with swans.

My penultimate day is given up to the National Museum of Scotland.  The Grand Gallery is extraordinarily impressive, featuring exhibits from a Nubian sculpture, a Giant Deer fossil, a lighthouse lens, a Gandharan Buddha, an ironcast fountain, a whale skull and an atom smasher. The Museum ranges from geology (a large amethyst geode and haematite rocks), natural history (a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Ammonites, a Stegosaur, a whale jaw with a scrimshaw of the whaing ship engraved on it, stuffed Pandas, Blaschka models, Elephants and Polar Bears) to the history of science (a Newcomen engine, a working model locomotive). I especially like the ethnography galleries, with their Benin bronzes, Columbian Thunderbird costumes, Ainu inaw sticks, Tibetan prayer wheels, Chinese headdresses made from Kingfisher feathers, Coconut fibre armour, Persian ceramics, a Ghanaian coffin in the shape of a car and Cham dance masks. The rest of the museum of dedicated to Scottish history, starting with the Picts, Romans and Celts. The main things that strike me; the Lewis chessmen, a copy of the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots, Renaissance wood carvings and painted ceilings, leather Covenanter masks, through to Mackintosh and Traquair art nouveau.

There’s not much time left on my last day, so I spend the morning at the Surgeon’s Hall museum. This ranges between a historical account of the achievements of medicine in Edinburgh (Lister, Simpson, Bell) through to a collection of shrunken heads, Hare’s death mask  and a book made from his skin. Difficult not also to be struck by a pickle fish that had lodged in the throat of a fisherman and suffocated him. There’s also an exhibition on the fate of the voyage to find the Northwest passage.

The Libation Bearers

I start Open Doors Oxford by visiting Campion Hall. The chapel here with its frescos rather reminds me of Spencer’s memorial chapel at Sandford, with its angels and Biblical scenes set in the English countryside. The design of the building overall is by Lutyens and much of it accordingly feels like a country house more than a theological college. Next, I visit the church of St Philip and St James (I’ve been here before but it’s now possible to visit the upper gallery to see the Kempe stained glass in more detail) and St Anthony’s College, where there’s a new library designed by Zaha Hadid. The exterior is quite striking for Oxford, a thin snaking metallic line, but the interior is rather bland. I prefer the old gothic chapel, which now houses another library. I then briefly have a look around the chapels at Exeter and Lincoln before visiting the baroque library at Lincoln. I then go for a walk around the riverside gardens at St Hilda’s before looking at their art deco library. Lastly that day, I visit Mansfield and look at its rather ark chapel and library; this is a rather impressive surprise, designed in a gothic revival style with arts & crafts style decoration. The next day, I start off by visiting Worcester College. I walk around the lake and gardens before visiting the chapel. Next is a visit to the chapel at Oriel and the Town Hall.

The next weekend is the turn of Open House in London. I start off by visiting Wilton’s Music Hall. Although restored, this simply means stabilising the structure which remains bare with peeling paint and cracked walls. The interior is dark and labyrinthine, with spotlights gleaming onto Victorian frescos of Indian musicians and dancers. Next I head out to Hampstead Garden Suburb and Lutyens church of St Jude. The interior combines redbrick with elaborate frescoes in varying symbolist and quasi art nouveau styles. By contrast, the interior of the adjacent free church is incredibly austere. I then go on a tour of the Senate House in Bloomsbury. The interior here is a little more ornate than Holden’s other skyscraper at 55 Broadway; I particularly like the wall covered with a map of London, showing all of the University’s then halls and institutions. Next, I visit the Fitzrovia Chapel, with its wonderful gilded interior, combining Byzantine sensibilities with a gothic revival structure. Lastly that day, I visit Burlington House and visit the Royal Society of Chemistry with its Lee windows and the Linnean society with its library.

The next day, I visit the French Institute in Kensington, with its Rodin sculpture and Delaunay tapestries and visit its art deco library. Most of this day is taken up with walking out to the church of St Mary in Battersea. Most of the interior is Georgian with some enamelled glass surrounded by modern glass depicting figures like Blake and Turner. The surrounding area is quite odd, with a strange combination of industrial decay and gleaming new blocks of flats. I walk back along the river via Battersea Park, where I stop to look at the Pagoda.

A few weeks later I visit Avebury. It’s an unusually sunny day in October. The trees are turning to gold and the Virgina Creeper has turned red but the Dahlias in manor gardens are still in flower alongside elaborate topiary. The manor has been subject to a rather fanciful restoration by the BBC, which leaves it with a rather hyperreal character; Oriental wallpapers recently made in China cover several walls, fake marbling gleams in a virulent shade of orange, Tudor plaster ceilings in the bedrooms have been brightly painted, art deco detail of racing cars covers the carpets in the sitting room.

Lastly, I’m back in London for a performance of the Oresteia at the Globe. While the layout of the theatre is well matched to how Greek tragedy would originally have been performed, the historical specificity of the venue seems a little odd for such a performance. Some of this shows; Agamemnon is dressed as a Greek hoplite, Apollo is unimaginatively dressed in a toga but the chorus are dressed like Londoners during the Blitz, Orestes is wearing contemporary clothes and Klytemnestra’s dress with its geometrical patterns recalls the seventies – finally, the Furies seem to owe a great deal to Japanese horror films.

The following weekend I visit Dulwich Picture Gallery for its Escher exhibition. Much of the ground covered here is familiar but much of it is new, like his studies of tessellating tile patterns in the Alhambra, self-portraits or studies of naturally vertiginous landscapes in Italy, like Castrovalva, Bonifacio or San Gimignano. I also go to visit the yellowbluepink installation at the Wellcome collection. It’s an odd sensation; the coloured mist is indeed so thick as to leave you divested of any sense of direction. I only realise I’m walking towards a wall a few seconds before I’m directly in front of it.  On the other hand, I don’t stumble into it or anyone else. Lastly, I visit the exhibition at Somerset House comparing one of Seurat’s paintings with a Bridget Riley copy as well as some of pointillist works inspire by his work. It seems an odd combination; most of Riley’s work is concerned with abstract pattern and shape, whereas for all of the proto-impressionist stylisation Seurat is largely a realist.

The next weekend I visit the Science Museum. A few things stand out; the difference engine, a copy of the Shukov radio tower, Stephenson’s rocket, the watchmaker’s museum, a fake merman, porcelain jars for storing leeches and phrenological heads. I’m mostly there for an exhibition on Soviet Russia’s cosmonaut programme, which includes spacesuits, copies of Sputnik, some of the original capsules as well as statues of Gagarin and posters from that era. That evening, I go to a play about Thomas Tallis at the Globe. Some aspects of it work, especially where the playhouse is entirely plunged into darkness or only lit by solitary candle. On the whole though, the dramatic aspects seem rather tacked on and it’s mostly enjoyable for performances of his music by The Sixteen.

Back in Reading, I visit the town museum for an exhibition of landscape paintings. Only a few of the names are known to me; Charles Ginner, Paul Nash and David Bomberg. The main item of interest are a pair of John Piper tapestries; one of them is particularly beautiful with its depictions of Fritillaries, Butterflies and Oak leaves. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the rest of the museum so I linger a while. A few things grab me; a Francis Danby painting of a windmill at sunset, a Roman head of Serapis, Samian ware, floor mosaics from Silchester, Delft tiles showing the flight from Sodom and Gomorrah, the Roman eagle and medieval alabaster carvings. I spend most time looking at the Victorian replica of the Bayeux tapestry; it’s easy to be snide about something created as a hobby but in truth it’s an impressive achievement.

A few weeks later and I go to the British Museum’s Celts exhibition.  As exhibitions go, it’s something of an oddity being dedicated to a subject who existence it denies. Instead it essentially showcases artworks from a number of disparate peoples;  the Gundestrup cauldron from Denmark, Gold torcs from Germany, the Battersea shield, a Carnyx from France, the Snettisham treasure, the Chad gospels, Pictish symbol stones and a Janus faced stone totem from Germany (which rather reminds me of the four faced god Swietowit in Krakow). The exhibition also covers the historical revision of the Celts into a single people, with banners from the Welsh Eisteddfod, Victorian celtic revival painting, painting based on images from Ossian through to mock-celtic jewellery.

Lincolnian

It’s a long way up to Lincoln and I find myself changing trains a few times between Derby and Nottingham, with the train getting older at each stage. Eventually, the train pulls in and I begin walking up the hill to the cathedral. I like the literalism of street signs with names like ‘Steep Hill,’ a winding lane lined with medieval stone and halef-timbered houses. Eventually, I realise that the amount of aviator goggles, blunderbusses and pith helmets in evidence means that I’ve arrived during a steampunk festival. I have a walk around the cathedral to the Tennyson statue and visit the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace. I’m rather struck by the reconstructed gardens, especially the vineyard (although the rather small grapes suggest very little wine is likely to be forthcoming). From this terrace on the hill, you can see out over much of the surrounding flat countryside. Lastly, I walk out to the Ellis windmill, before retiring for the evening.

The following morning I start by visiting the castle. As a structure it’s actually rather simple, with only the presence of two towers varying the classic Motte and Bailey design, but it does cover a large area and it takes a fair while to do a circuit of the walls. The view of the cathedral from here is especially striking, with the three towers appearing to form a solid block, like a group of medieval skyscrapers. One of the the towers is also quite striking; its walls form an enclosure within which a copse of trees has grown and beneath which rest a number of headstones (the remains of those executed within the prison). Looking round the prison, I start with the chapel, whose pews are formed from an ampitheatre of solitary boxes so as to divide the prisoners from one another, while the prison blocks form long and surprisingly elegant arcades. The prison houses a medieval stone sarcophagus found on the site as well as an exhibition housing the cathedral copy of the Magna Carta (presumably one of those I’d previously seen in the British Library) along with the Charter of the Forests.

I then visit the cathedral, looking initially at the restored Romanesque reliefs and the weathered originals from the facade. I particularly like elements like the Harry Stammers wall memorial glass, the tomb of Eleanor of Aquitaine, medieval stained glass, the Lincoln imp, the chapter house, cloisters, Tournai marble font and the library but the highlight for me is Duncan Grant’s side chapel. Grant’s frescos, with their bright yellows and oranges sit oddly in their gothic surroundings. His cityscape looks more Italianate than Lincolnian while their unabashed homoeroticism completes the sense of a rather joyful paganism. 

I also briefly visit the Usher Gallery and Museum, with its ammonite, longcase clocks, suit of armour, Roman mosaics, neo-classical scuptures by Joseph Nollekens & John Gibson, a portrait of Joseph Banks and paintings by Turner, Joseph Wright of Derby and Lowry. I particularly like the Louth panorama, an all-round view of the town and district as seen from the top of the spire of St James’s parish church as on a summer’s day in the 1840s. Some exhibits I’m less keen on; a Grayson Perry pot and an entire room of George Stubbs paintings.

At Dover Castle

The sun surprises by shining brilliantly as the sea below it shimmers in the heat. From the train wending its way along the coast around the chalk cliffs I can see yachts sailing. Gradually, the view to Dover becomes clear with the castle resting on the hill above the town. The town itself is the usual English seaside mixture of old churches, bunting in the streets and Victorian buildings combined with dilapidated concrete buildings and the industrial presence of the port. I make my way up the hill towards the castle. The area taken by by the castle is quite considerable and for much of the time as one walks along the battlements looking out over the white cliffs, it feels like a country walk in spite of the remaining gun batteries. The presence of Hobbit-like bunkers buried beneath grassed mounds does little to dispel this sense. Eventually, I come to the Keep. Much of the Keep interior has been refurnished by English Heritage to show it as a medieval palace; the results are interesting but the brightly painted wooden furniture and hangings sit oddly in the otherwise gloomy interior. I then walk to the church of St Mary Ad Castro, with its Roman lighthouse. Originally Saxon, the interior is cavernous and dark, only partially relieved by the Victorian decoration.

The Angels Are Moving

The first thing that strikes me about Warsaw is that it looks far more modern than most European cities I’ve visited; the skyscraper I’m staying in overlooks a massive multi-lane freeway in a district spotted with other skyscrapers. It looks a lot like the United States. Foremost amongst the skycrapers is obviously the Palace of Culture and Science, facing off against a modern Daniel Libeskind skyscraper and a shopping centre. The detailing on the Palace includes sculptures of figures of each nation, which more leaves me rather reminded of imperial sculptures of each continent in London than its intended purpose. Graffiti I see later showing Godzilla destroying the Palace versus the Bat Signal streaming past it suggests continued ambivalence to a Soviet design that still towers over the city.

Much of the nearby area around the Palace remains rather empty with long expanses filled with nothing but grass and has the sense of still waiting for buildings to be reconstructed on it. I pass on into the Old Town. The hyperreal reconstruction of the original buildings is impressive here and it would have been hard to tell that buildings like the Royal Castle were not the originals. That’s also true of the surrounding buildings but there are signs; the styling of the sgraffito being a little too modernist or the occasional interruption of concrete structures. I have a look at the gothic cathedral with its Mitoraj door sculptures and the Barbakan.

The following day I travel out to Łazienki Park, initially looking at the Chopin monument before looking at the Orangery, with its arcade of sculpture casts (having seen the originals for the Laocoön Group and the Belvedere Apollo in Rome the year before) against a trompe-l’œil mural depicting a classical landscape. Further inside is a theatre; there’s no natural light but the frescos are visible thanks to a group of Cocteauesque sculptures holding lights. Back in the Park and the next thing I see is the  Little White House with its Golden House style decoration and Chinoiserie frescos, before visitingŁazienki Palace. The interior here ranges from rooms filled with Delft tiles, stuccoed ceilings, classical frescos and statues (ranging from Hercules to Cerberus), while the park around it centres on a lake with a classical style ampitheatre facing a stage filled with fake classical ruins on an island. A terrapin sits on a ramp down to the water while peacocks strut about. Classical statues like the Dying Gaul are dotted around the park; I also particularly like a group of Chinese pavilions built near a stream, over which a small moon bridge has been built. Later that day, I journey back to the centre of town and visit the Royal Castle, walking round apartments like the Throne Room an the Sejm. Again, the reconstruction is immaculate although the glittering of the gilding looks a little too bright and untarnished when compared to somewhere like Versailles. I especially like the Bellotto paintings of Warsaw. Lastly, I visit the Tin Roofed Palace and spend some time looking round its collection of rugs, drawn from Persia, Turkey, Armenia and the Caucuses.

The following day, I visit the National Museum. I start off with the medieval section, with various polychromatic altar sculptures before looking at a range of paintings from Ruisdael, Alma-Tadema, Matejko, Lempicka and Signac. There’s a Japanese section I especially like with a range of Netsuke, sculptures of Heavenly Kings and porcelain as well as some classical pieces like red figure pottery and sculptures of Zeus and Mithras. Lastly, there’s the Faras gallery, a series of medieval Nubian frescos taken from the cathedral in Faras before the Aswan dam swept it away. Later on, I have a look at the Polin Museum; a more modern Yorvikesque museum that’s not really to my tastes in spite of interesting subjects and exhibits. Some things that do stand out are the reconstruction of the synagogue in Gwoździec and the model showing the Great Synagogue that used to stand in the centre of Warsaw.

The following day I travel out to Wilanów, the Polish Versailles. I start by looking at St Anne’s church, with it slightly bizarre Mammoth bone, and the adjacent Potocki tomb before entering the Palace grounds. The Palace is brightly coloured and the exterior walls painted in yellows and reds, with reliefs showing classical scenes like Zeus and Ganymede or Perseus rescuing Andromeda. The initial rooms inside are all heavily decorated with Chinoiserie, before later apartments with more conventional frescoed ceilings and classical sculptures. The gardens start with a series of formal gardens that lead up to wilder areas surrounding a lake, where a Chinese pagoda stands by the shore. Lastly that day, I travel back into Central Warsaw and visit the Jewish cemetery. As is often the case, it takes a while to work out who to get in through the large wall and once inside much of it proves to be overgrown and essentially reverting to nature. Images of owls and angels consort with conventional Jewish imagery and Hebrew script on broken tombstones.

The day after, I visit the Nożyk Synagogue, the last remaining pre-war synagogue in central Warsaw, before walking round the Saxon Gardens, Krasiński Palace and the Garrison church before visiting the church where Chopin’s heart is held. After that, it’s off to the train station to set off for Gdansk. The first day in Gdansk is actually taken up with backtracking out of the city, out to Malbork. This is a particular highlight to the trip; a brick gothic fortress whose walls stand at the centre of a large lily-covered lake. The interior of the castle is filled with gothic vaults, some frescoed with images of vines while roof bosses showing centaurs, green men, bears, demons and lions while the tiled floors show images of owls and bats. The castle’s museums include exhibitions around amber, armour, medieval altar sculptures, reliquaries and stained glass. The nearby church of St John, with its wooden tower includes an odd deer skull suspended from the ceiling with the Virgin Mary between the antlers; this sort of imagery is something I see several times in the area in both Gdansk and Oliwa.

In Gdansk itself, I’m staying near the Post Office featured in the Tin Drum, which now has a commemorative scupture outside; made of metal, it’s not especially nice to look at during the day but does look like beautiful when lit up at night. I have a walk around by the Motlawa, looking at the crane and the medieval city gates before walking down Długa to the Neptune fountain and the Town Hall down to the old prison tower. Looking around in a bit more detail, I visit the covered market and old great mill (the canals near to it rather remind me of Bruges) before looking at some of the churches; St Nicholas with its elaborate side altars, limewood sculptures and rood screen, St Catherine where fire damage has stripped the interior down to bare brick and the former church of St John, with its hellmouth fresco, misericords and wooden monuments. Now an art centre, there’s an exhibition of African sculpture when I visit. Confusingly, the sound system appears to be playing the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. I also visit the Cathedral; dark brick on the outside and bright white on the inside, it features Lithuanian stained glass, limewood angels, an astronomical clock and elaborate marble monuments. I then visit the Artus Court, with its wall frescos, ships hanging from the ceiling, huge tiled furnace  decorated with tiles of medieval kings, stags heads and an image of Acteon (more hunting imagery) and sculptures of George and the Dragon. I then visit the Town Hall, with its extraordinary allegorical ceiling frescos; some of the paintings are being conserved and are shown at ground level with scenes like Noah’s ark. I also notice another female figure shown suspended, with deer’s antler’s growing out of her back in the manner of wings. I then walk out of the town centre to the National Museum (yes, another National Museum). The highlight here is clearly Memling’s Last Judgement, but there are several good 19th century townscapes of Gdansk and Flemish paintings. As the day draws to a close, I go for a walk on Olowianka Island, with its ferris wheel and derelict granaries.

The next day and I take the train out to Oliwa, to the cathedral. It’s raining and as I take shelter inside I realise that a organ recital is in progress, playing Bach’s Toccata. I sit down and listen as it plays Peer Gynt and Schubert’s Ave Maria. At one point I hear the sound of chimes and percussion and turn round to see what’s playing it; looking at the organ I realise that the wooden angel that adorn it are moving. Some of them are playing percussion while others appear to be blowing trumpets. The cathedral itself is a mixture of gothic and elaborate baroque detail around the altar. It also has a set of cloisters and a refectory. Back in Gdansk, I visit the Unhagen House on Długa, with its rooms painted with images of birds and insects and stuccoed ceilings. Next, I visit the archaeological museum, with its collection of Amber (the doll’s house furniture made of Amber is especially striking), Sudanese spell board for a witch doctor (when I can see it after a power cut) and ancient face urns. The museum is near Mariacka Street, with its pretty painted houses, strange drain covers in the image of Stag Beetles, Frogs and Elephants where the pipes lead down to spouts embedded in stone dragons and dolphins. Lastly that day, I get a ticket for the maritime museum and start of by visiting the interior of the medieval crane, the Sołdek on the other side of the river and the museum itself with its range of maritime painting. That evening I go to another organ recital; this time in the cathedral at Gdansk, featuring an unusual choice of Canteloube alongside Bach and Muschel’s Toccata. I only have a few hours the next morning and have a look at the area around the Solidarity Museum, with its scaled replica of Tatlin’s tower.

Back in Berlin

It’s misty when I arrive back in Berlin, with the summit of the Fernsehturm shrouded in the fog. As I walk in the Tiergarten though, a hazy light gradually filters down through the autumnal tree branches. I start by walking near the Bundestag, I spot a rabbit nibbling at the grass and note that it’s difficult to imagine anything similar in London. I walk past Siegessäule and the Soviet War Memorial before backtracking down Unter Den Linden. There are a few things I haven’t seen before, like Holocaust Memorial and the Ampelmann store (I’m somewhat amused at the combination of Ampelmann pasta shapes and cookie cutters). I have a look at places like St Hedwig’s Cathedral and the Neue Wache; much of the centre remains as much a building site as I remember it. Finally, I take the S-Bahn from Alexanderplatz to my hotel near the Oberbaumbrücke, which I arrive in time to see silhouetted against the sky.

The following day, I make my way to the Museuminsel. I begin by walking round the Neues Museum, looking at the bust of Nefertiti, statues of Sekhmet and Egyptian sarcophagi before looking at the German section; colourful clusters made from stained glass melted in the firestorm, a sacrificial tree stump and a conical golden hat. I then visit the Altes Museum; statues of Athena, Meleager, Antinous, Dionysus, Cleopatra, Caracalla, Marcus Aurelius, Apollo, the Medea sarcophagus, Augustus Etruscan funerary sculptures and Roman mosaics. Next is the Pergamon Museum, with the Ishtar Gate, Lamassu from Nimrud, the market gate from Miletus and Islamic tapestries and ceramics. Next is the Bodes Museum, with its Della Robbia altar ceramics, mosaic apse from Ravenna and medieval sculptures. Finally, I visit the Altes Nationalgalerie; sculptures by Canova and paintings by Schinkel, Friedrich, Cezanne, and Monet.

The next day I finally get to visit the Berliner Dom (after failed attempts on both of my previous visits to Berlin). The interior has been beautifully restored, with is walls limed with monumental tombs to the Hohenzollern family while the crypt is lined with their large lead caskets, reminding me of the Kaisergruft in Vienna. I then travel out to Treptow to visit the Soviet memorial. I walk through an austere stone gate that looks a piece with much of Berlin’s neo-classicism except for the hammers and sickles adorning it. This leads to a long avenue filled with large stone slabs with reliefs carved on them and leading to a giant sculpture mounted on an artificial mound. I realise that the base of the sculpture has an interior; its gated off but it’s possible to peer through at a set of Soviet mosaics. The layout of the monument is not so different to those I’ve seen in Washington but the imagery used throughout veers from Tom of Finland style cults of masculinity to sentimental images of women and children.

I then head off to West Berlin and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche; something else I had failed to enter on any of my previous trips. The interior is filled with wonderful mosaics, glittering with gold but depicting 19th century figures with impeccable realism. Lastly, I take the S-Bahn out to its furthest extremity in West Berlin and exit at the green woods. I walk through them for a few miles before I finally see my destination in the distance; the ruined cold war listening station built atop the Teufelsberg, an artificial hill built atop the rubble of Third Reich Berlin. I lose sight of the station as I climb the hill but begin to realise how high up I am; I can easily see for miles in every direction. One way lies Berlin and the Fernsehturm, the other unveils miles of forests with only a single 19th century brick tower in their midst (interestingly, I can see that it’s decorated with the Prussian eagle). Finally, I arrive at the station and am more or less left t explore it myself. It mostly seems to be something of a hippy squat now and Berlin’s graffiti artists have been hard at work on the interior. Ivy covers much of the metal struts. At the top floor the wind whips around me and the noise inside the golfball domes is incredibly loud as it tugs at their frayed fabric.