Some time ago, my friends and I went on a city trip to Wrocław, Poland’s fourth largest city. It was my first time visiting Poland, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction than I got by wandering around in this breathtaking city for 48 hours. For both culture vultures and those looking for good food, drinks and parties on the cheap, Wrocław is more than worth a visit. See also my earlier post about Wrocław in self-portraits.
You may remember that around the end of last year, I visited the town of Bastogne with two friends. Being big fans of HBO’s Band of Brothers, we wanted to celebrate New Year’s Eve together in the same vicinity as the paratroopers did over 70 years ago: in the Ardennes, site of the Battle of the Bulge. I wrote a report about this very special trip here.
A few weeks ago my brother and I took a trip to Rotterdam. I’d never been in the city proper before, only to concert venues on the fringes, and I was surprised at how modernist and industrial it is. To get the Netherlands to surrender, the Germans bombed Rotterdam on May 14 1940, threatening to do the same to other cities, like Utrecht. Rotterdam used to resemble Amsterdam in its architecture, but is now full of interesting postwar and more recent buildings. For architecture and culture, Rotterdam is hard to beat.
Last week I spent a beautiful weekend in the seaside town of Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales. I took the train up to Cartmarthen and there transferred to a bus, which took in a beautiful part of the coastline on its way to Aberystwyth. I had been told that it’s probably the most “Welsh” town there is. It reminded me of Brighton, mostly because of the sunny weather and the candy-coloured houses, but yes, it was undeniably Welsh: the red Welsh dragon was ubiquitous. I even saw somebody wearing suspenders with the Welsh flag on them!as it’s closer to the north than Swansea, there is a higher number of people who speak Welsh. Signs and menus were nearly all bilingual.
A week ago I joined the two friends I’d been to Bastogne with at the place where it all began for the paratroopers of Band of Brothers: Normandy. I’d been dying to go there for ages and as I was planning a holiday in France anyway, we were happily able to meet up there just two days before the 6th of June.
A few weeks ago I was in Berlin on a lightning visit, accompanying a friend who was passing through on her way to a conference. I spent half a day there by myself and took the opportunity to visit the exhibition Die Schwarzen Jahre: Geschichte einer Sammlung. 1933 – 1945 at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum. It was an excellent overview of a topic that interests me very much, the Nazis’ famous exhibition of degenerate art (Entartete Kunst) that called for an attack on modernist art, mostly expressionist and abstract pieces. The Bahnhof Museum displayed artworks from the original exhibition, and provided a context by featuring works that were made after the war as a response to Nazism, works that exemplified the Nazi standards of art, and works that had been made in secret and were only shown to the public after the war ended. It was extraordinary to me how arbitrary the criteria that deemed a piece to be degenerate seemed to be. I took a few photographs in the city (sadly there were no cameras allowed inside the museum); Berlin at this time of year is decked out in turquoise and gold.
Yesterday I spent a marvellous day with a friend in the vicinity of Arnhem, tracing the remnants of Operation Market Garden, which took place in September 1944. There are quite a few museums and memorials dotted around the area, showing that the people there haven’t forgotten the soldiers who tried to drive out the Germans at a great cost. Arnhem bore the brunt of some heavy fighting between the British 1st Airborne Division (with the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade attached) and the German SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen”. British paratroopers were dropped around Arnhem and given orders to secure the bridge over the Rhine. My beloved Yankees from the US 101st Airborne Division landed further south near Eindhoven, and the US 82nd Airborne Division landed near Nijmegen. All sorts of activities are organised on Market Garden’s anniversary in September, but sadly this is the first year that I’m keen to go and I’m not even going to be in the Netherlands in September. Hmph. One day I’ll do a full tour of the whole area all the way down to Eindhoven.