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A Medieval Ruhr Surprise – Hattingen

The beauty of life is that you always find things that defeat any kind of stupid prejudice about any area in the world that is supposed to be boring, ugly or not worth visiting.

The Ruhr area is Germany’s industrial hub. Coal has been mined in the region since the 19th century. It has a reputation of being quite ugly. North Rhine-Westphalia, where it’s situated, is the most populous federal state, and in the Ruhr, city follows upon city when you travel through by train – and well-known, big ones, too: Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg. All of them have largely fallen victim to architectural catastrophes committed in the 1950s and 60s after being horribly bombed during World War 2. Although the area was Culture Capital of Europe in 2010, it is hardly your most obvious travel destination in Germany.

Hattingen, GermanyYes, the beauty in the world lies in how it surprises you. I at least never would have placed a town as charming and pretty as Hattingen in the Ruhr area if you had shown me pictures of it beforehand.

Hattingen, Old Town, GermanyShowers of rain had come down in the morning, but when Jan and I get to Hattingen, the sun is out in glorious early autumn warmth. The day is bright and beautiful and lies ahead of us in all its weekend peace. The first thing we come across even before we enter the actual old town is a church. We both have a thing for churches, and I don’t see us passing one by in our foreseeable travel life without at least checking if it’s open. This one is. Quite plain inside, beautiful red brick stone buttresses line the cupolas. We stand, just the two of us, and look up quietly. I link my arm in Jan’s and start singing. The acoustics are amazing, and the way the sounds ring through the church makes me feel utter joy. Stepping back out into the sunlight, there is one more little blessing hanging upon this day.

Hattingen, Old Town, GermanyWe move on and into the old town. Signs send the visitor through the centre with little information boards that explain any point of greater or smaller interest. I am instantly taken. There are half-timbered houses, some overgrown with ivy or wine, the leaves already changing colour into bright autumn red. The tiny tollhouse – which, we learn from the board, was never used as such – is especially pretty.

Tollhouse, Hattingen, GermanyOther houses are made of schist (boy, have I never heard that word in English before!), and while I might have thought before that schist would turn out rather dark and dull, it is shimmering in the sunlight. Medieval tiny streets are opening up onto small squares, and there is street cafe upon street cafe.

Schist house, Hattingen, GermanyIt’s a lively little town with people all out and about. We window shop our way through the main walkway until we see a tower to the side that looks like it might belong to an interesting building – it turns out to be the town hall.

Town hall, Hattingen, GermanySaint George, the city patron, sits proudly on its stele in front of it. In fact he is everywhere in the city: as a statue like here, as a mural in the old town, as a bronze in the entrance to the biggest church that is of course consecrated in his name. And that is what we’re off to see now. On we go down the small streets, following the church tower that is slightly bent and crooked.

St George, Hattingen, Germany Finally we pass through a narrow passageway that opens up to the friendly market in front of the church. There’s a noticeable memorial called Hattingia which commemorates the victims of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71 that ultimately led to the unification of Germany in 1871. Jan comments that you don’t get many of those anymore. I realize how true that is. Commemoration of the World Wars has almost extinguished a living memorial culture that refers to anything that happened earlier. There are good reasons for that I guess, but I only just now realize that it’s probably quite remarkable.

Hattingia, Hattingen, GermanyLots of little retail shops line the square, not just the big chains you have everywhere. One we enter is, the friendly clerk explains to us, a “shelf shop” where people can rent space on a shelf or two to expose their own handcrafted items. There are scarves, pillow cases, little dolls and puppets, beanies, pacifier keepers, handbags, jewellery and all sorts of cute little selfmade giveaways. It’s incredibly unique and I wonder why us arrogant metropolitan hipsters always think that these things can only be found in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. I had already noticed the many shops for wool and needlework all over town – Hattingen seems to be a creative place.

St George, Hattingen, GermanyThe church itself, a protestant one, is yet much plainer than its catholic sister we visited earlier. We don’t linger long but move on through the alleyways to come across more pretty houses, more cute shops, more inviting cafes.

City wall, Hattingen, GermanyWe finally end up at the old city wall. There’s another memorial that shows statues that are… interesting. But maybe I am a philistine. They surely have artistic value – they are supposed to remind of the history of steel refining in the area.

Iron Men, Hattingen, GermanyWhen we feel like we’ve walked the old town thoroughly, we return to the church square for some coffee and cake. The waitress notes our order down on a plate of slate with chalk. When she’s brought us our cappuccinos and cake (which is heavenly, I should add!), she sits with a friend and starts knitting. It’s beautifully down to earth, unpretentious and comforting in its comfortableness.

Hattingen, GermanyAnd at the end of the day, it is Jan again who points out what makes this little town so unique and special. It is a small reminder that everything has always been here much longer than we think. The Ruhr didn’t come into existence with industrialization. It’s been around as long as any other place. And Hattingen shows us part of the region’s history that is much older than 200 years.

Memory as Morbidity – Mostar’s Partisan Monument

I came to Bosnia this time around wanting to relax, to let go, and to find inner peace. I wanted to go somewhere I knew, without feeling the inner pressure of needing to discover a new place and finding out how it works. I didn’t want to wake up in the morning thinking: Today I need to see the following twenty-five things, or else I won’t feel like I have properly visited this place. So I came to Mostar, strolled the familiar streets, noticed how it had changed, but also felt very much at home.

Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaIn spite of that, I wouldn’t be me if at some point the urge hadn’t occured to dig deeper and expose myself to as of yet unknown impressions. And so I went to a place in Mostar I had never been to, that hadn’t even been on my inner map of the city. I went to the Partisan Memorial Cemetery, or Partizansko Groblje. And I discovered yet another part of Mostar that helped me understand the city and the complexity of the Balkans‘ history.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaThe Partisans of the former Yugoslavia are somewhat of a founding myth of the state. I have colleagues who do extensive research on them, and not only their military history, but also their culture – their songs, their manifestos etc. The way it was explained to me, there is a very plausible reason that they are so important. You may know that during the Cold War, Yugoslavia was a non-aligned nation. They were socialist, yes, but they didn’t „side“ with the Soviet Union. That was possible only because the Red Army didn’t free them from fascist rule in World War II – their own people, the Partisans did. Based on their victory, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could come into existence, and was a really well-functioning state until Tito’s death in 1980. But that’s a different story.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI had learned about the monument that it was set up in the 60s, so during Yugoslav times, to honour the Partisans who died fighting against fascists. It is a Bosnian national monument, however, even upon entering it was visibly unkempt and overgrown. I didn’t understand why at first, since the Partisans are such a pan-yugoslav motif of remembrance. But then my friend Majda pointed out to me that the Partisans didn’t only fight German Nazis, but also Croatian fascist Ustashas. Mostar’s local government is made up mainly of ethnic Croats, and apparently some of them are not too keen on remembering the fascist part of their own heritage in any way at all. It is a shame. If you google pictures of the monument in its prime, you will see how beautiful it was.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaPartizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaNow, grasses, ferns and weeds have taken possession of the originally neatly kept three terraces with their cleanly kept gravestones, and moss is covering the walls and grounds in the shadier places. The gravestones are strewn about haphazardly. It is likely that quite a few of them have been broken – purposefully? Vandalism does seem to be a problem, and there is lots of rubbish hiding in the greenery. I still stand and contemplate the names and numbers I see on the uniquely shaped stones. The lives that hide behind them – what may they have been like?

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaPartizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI wish I understood more about the tradition or the symbolism behind the strange, uneven shape of the gravestones. Most of the decor of the monument seems to me to contain some hidden meaning that is inaccessible to me. A lot of it reminds me of war, though. Gun barrels. Crenels. Sniper hideouts. For the life of me I can’t make sense of the big ornament in the center of the top terrace.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaAgain the pointy part in the middle looks to me like it might be symbolizing firing guns, but the circles around are a mystery to me. I am still very much intrigued. The whole area reminds me of the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park (a place I have been wanting to write about in forever and may now just have to very soon!), they share a similar kind of aesthetics which is of course grounded in their relative contemporaneity and common ideological socialist background – and the fact that they are both monuments and cemeteries at the same time. Pompous, impressive, very much thought through, carefully arranged with clear shapes and their play on perspective. The Berlin one is a bit more blunt to me, very rectangular, whereas this one is softer with its winding walls and circles. To me, they are both really beautiful in their own way.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaThis used to be a well, and the water ran down the middle of the terraces to be collected in a pond a few levels below. Now it is filled with garbage and dried up. I imagine that water must have added a yet more peaceful quality to the place. But it is a pretty peaceful place today in the heat of late May – summer has definitely begun in Mostar. However overgrown, the place invites one to laze around, and I do lie on one of the walls in the sun for a while just daydreaming away.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina From up here, it almost still looks as pretty as it used to be. The high grass next to me with the chirping crickets, however, reminds me of the wilderness this is now. It is hard to recognize, but in the circleshaped round down below someone has graffitied „One Love“ and a peace sign in the middle. It’s a beautiful gesture, especially when one also comes across indicators of Croat nationalism tagged on the wall, such as Ustasha signs or this line that says „God and Croats“:

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI do wander what will become of the place, if it will ever rise to former glory. It would be a brilliant place for Sunday strolls. Funnily enough, I even pictured it as a great concert venue – slightly inappropriate, I take it, with it being a cemetery. But now people come to hang out here anyway – is that more appropriate? Granted, there are very few of them. I, however, see myself coming back here when I’m back in Mostar. For some quiet time away from the growing masses of tourists in the old town. But then, I am a fan of the morbidity of forgotten places. I am somewhat torn. I think this is a place that needs active memory culture, that needs appreciation and care. But I also love the way that nature has come to take it back for her own and made it so morbidly eerie.

Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Bridge at Rheinsberg Castle, Germany

One does stumble upon amazing little gems in the vast Brandenburgian nothingness that surrounds Berlin. My latest discovery is the beautiful Prussian castle in Rheinsberg.

Bridge at Rheinsberg Castle, Rheinsberg, GermanyOverlooking Lake Grienerick, Rheinsberg castle sits idyllically in a sleepy little town. It is surrounded by a moat that opens out into the lake in two places, and bridges cross it on either side of the pretty building. People were lazing on the parapets, and promenaders walked along idly in the hot late April sun when I visited. A family of ducks waddled out of the water toward the wide footpath. In the distance across the lake, one could spot a monument. It was almost too neatly arranged in its flawless symmetry, standing eye to eye with the castle. Architectural perfection.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Fieldstone Churches in Brandenburg

Last week I had a day so bad that I knew right away that it was time to take some distance, get out, and leave my job and my life behind for one day of discovery and enjoyment. I rented a car, not knowing where I wanted to go. Just out.

Blossoms, Lindow, GermanyI picked up the VW Polo at Alexanderplatz and took random turns through the city. Finally there was a sign directing me towards the Autobahn. I took that turn. On the Autobahn there was a sign toward Stralsund. I knew I probably wouldn’t make it that far, but I love that town, so I followed it off of the Autobahn. And then all there was were rape fields, lakes, forests, and a horizon so wide that it made my heart jump.

Rape Fields, Brandenburg, GermanyThere is something about rape fields. The bright yellow spreading for miles and miles like an overdimensional carpet. I’ve often met southerners who think Northern Germany’s landscapes were boring due to the lack of hills and mountains. Well not to me they aren’t. There is nothing like the tree lined alleys and the  contrast of juicy green grass, the intense blue skies sprinkled with white cotton clouds and golden yellow rape.

I felt so wonderfully free, there was music on the radio, and the day awaited me with nothing but beauty to show. I spotted a gorgeous small church in the distance – so I took a few turns and went there to take pictures. The signs told me I was in Herzberg – wasn’t a village that had the word Herz, heart, in it, the perfect first stop.

Herzberg, Germany

Fieldstone church in Herzberg

There is fieldstone churches galore in the Northeastern part of the country. A lot of them are not well-kept, but this one must have been recently restored. The little cemetery was lovingly cared for, fresh flowers lined the graves, and daisies and dandelions drew patterns on the lawn. Someone was laying new bricks on the steps from the street to the church, he was listening to well-known German hip hop singer Jan Delay on a portable radio which seemed unfitting for work on a cemetery – but I didn’t mind, I thought it was funny. The guy eyed me suspiciously as I entered the church yard. Surely they don’t get many visitors. I just smiled at him and he shyly smiled back. I booked that as a success. To my surprise, the church was open, so I took a look around.

Church, Herzberg, Germany

„I am the light of the world“ – the church altar and pulpit in Herzberg

The inside was every bit as pretty as the outside. The beautiful wooden ceiling with its dark red, yellow and grey colours was intricately done, and had me look up at it for a long time. Of course I was overcome by the powerful urge to sing, and so I did. It’s not like anyone would have been disturbed by it. It was just me and the presence of that unseizable something that is bigger than all of us – call it God, call it fate, call it life itself, I don’t care. I just know that there was something there when my voice rung through the tiny church.

Church, Herzberg, Germany

Levitating angel in the church in Herzberg

There were two levitating angels, one of which I stood eye to eye with for quite a while. Presenting his stoup, it had a mysterious look on its face. I say it, because it was weirdly genderless which I quite liked. Angels aren’t male or female. They are bigger than the dichotomies we use to grasp our lives. I felt like it was there to give me a small blessing and reassure me that I was watched over, but that I nonetheless had all the power I needed to prevail inside of me already. I left the church feeling stronger, smiled at the construction worker at the steps again, got in my car and drove on.

A few rape fields and shadowy alleys later, I found another church that prompted me to stop.

Radensleben, Germany

Church in Radensleben

I had missed the town sign, so I had to check my smartphone to see where I was (and I loved the fact that it was of no real importance whatsoever, but just my curiosity that made me do so!), and it was a village called Radensleben. The churchyard was much more overgrown than the one in Herzberg, but I loved its romantic atmosphere. The church was closed, so I just aimlessly wandered around the church.

Chapel, Radensleben, Germany

Chapel at the church in Radensleben

There was a brick stone chapel on the backside of the church. The low walls with the cross pattern in them allowed for a beautiful play with light and shadow, and of course all my avid readers know that I love red brick stone more than any other material. Moving on, I found a wooden gate behind which I spotted a small cemetery. As I pushed down the handle, thick cobwebs tore on it, and the door creaked loudly as though I was about to enter the Secret Garden from Frances H. Burnett’s childrens‘ book. Magic was about to happen.

Church, Radensleben, Germany

The cemetery behind the church in Radensleben

The small cemetery was partially buried in deep black shadow, but the sun still shone hotly on most of the pretty tomb stones. The daisies were so big that they bordered on marguerites. While from the front the church had looked somehow bigger and cooler than its sister in Herzberg, from this angle it radiated the simplicity I find so inviting about field stone churches. They are down to earth. They don’t look to impress with pomp and grandiosity. They just are.

Walking out of the creaking gate and making my way back to the street, my eyes lost themselves for a little while on the cute cobblestone street that the village arranged itself around. Deadstraight it ran into the distance, as though it lead right into eternity. Dusty, empty. Peacefully sleepy. No one about. The moment was perfect. But I think it was so only because the road promised so much more to be ahead.

At the next rape field outside of the village that lined the country road, I stopped, got out of the care and walked into the rape. The smell of nature embraced me, and I realized how very far away my very bad day was, even though it was only two days ago.

Point proven. Travel heals.

Mariella in a rape field, Brandenburg, Germany

Rainbow in Porto, Portugal

I had originally thought that this week I would be forced to present you a second shot of a bridge I already wrote about. But then I found something very pretty in my archive. Rainbow, Porto, PortugalThis was taken last November at the Atlantic in Porto in Portugal. When the breakwater comes crushing onto the pier, rainbows are thrown into the air, and they look just like bridges into the sky. We all know that fairytales promise miracles at the end of the rainbow – gold, love, fortune. To me they are above all a reminder of childhood wonderment. I cannot help but smile when I see a rainbow – and why is that? I am old enough to know that the magic of it just physics. But who cares about that when they look so pretty – coming about seemingly out of thin air in their colourful beauty. If nothing else, they are a momentary, fleeting bridge into the future, if only into the next moment. And who knows what magic that next moment of our lives will entail?

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey

Today, I thought about which bridge I might write about in my Sunday post for quite a while, and digging through my archive I didn’t really come across anything. That is partially due to the fact that ever since I started using my new camera (so much love for my Sony NEX 3n!!), my old photos look crappy. But then I came across this. And I cannot even believe I haven’t used it yet when it makes my heart sing songs that no earthly words can possibly describe.

Galata Bridge, Istanbul, TurkeyThis is Galata Bridge, in Turkish: Galata Köprüsü, in Istanbul. This is the bridge that connects the two sides of the Haliç, the Golden Horn, connecting the districts of Karaköy and Eminönü. Tourists often get confused standing on one side of the bridge thinking that on the other side they see Asia. This is not the case – the Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosphorus, stretching into Europe, and the bridge connects two European parts of the city.

Being on this Bridge, the Bridge of the Golden Horn, is very hard for me to put into words. I don’t know what it is about Istanbul that caught my heart so forcefully. The fishermen that cast their lines from behind the bridge’s bannisters. The smell of salt water. The sound of waves, ships, seagulls, and of so many people all around you.

The first day I ever spent in Istanbul, I got there early in the morning on a night bus and, before checking in with my couchsurfing host, had breakfast in one of the touristy restaurants under the bridge. It was simple, fresh, overpriced, but delicious. And I felt my heartbeat accustom to the city’s pulse. It didn’t take long until it was in sync. And when I returned to the city, it was the same feeling right away. Istanbul has placed a kiss on my soul, and I have never been the same person ever since.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Ponte da Arrábida in Porto, Portugal

Only recently did I remember that I had been saving some more pictures from Porto to share with you on a rainy day. It now turns out it is a snowy day – Berlin’s streets are covered in mud, the parks are white, it is too cold and slippery to go to work by bike and the sky is generally grey or white. Time to dream ourselves away to sunny November Portugal.

Ponte, da Arrabida, Porto, PortugalPonte da Arrábida may not be as majestic as Ponte Luiz I in its old fashioned grandeur, but it is a mighty and impressive bridge. Of course, it stretches across the River Douro as well, connecting Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Reading up on the bridge, by the way, I learned the term „arch bridge“ (self-explanatory, I guess) – never a bad idea to brush up on your architecture vocab.

I took this picture on our way to the Ocean from the city center, looking back into the mouth of the river, to the seclusion of the inland, in anticipation of the untamed, endless surge of the Atlantic I was to see just a little later. I enjoyed that about Porto very much – the immediate proximity of nature and culture, of the wilderness of the sea and the civilized city. It was a city that bridged gaps indeed.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Bridge at Klein Kasteeltje in Brussels, Belgium

This is the first time I really went out of my way in a city to see a bridge – I have gone to cities specifically for the purpose of seeing a bridge (Visegrad, most notably!), but I haven’t made a huge effort inside of a city I went to anyway. Bridges usually just came to me – but not this one. After all, Brussels is not at all centered around water.  1 Belgien - BrüsselBut there is the Charleroi-Brussels Canal, and  it does have a few bridges. There is one a bit to the South of this one that looks exactly the same. I can’t find either of them to have a name, but I very much like the view across the canal into the red brick Klein Kasteeltje. If I understand the Dutch wikipedia article on it correctly, this used to be a casern, then was a jail for prisoners of war after World War II, and today is a home for asylum seekers – what a crazed history for a building.

On my way around Brussels I have slowly made my way towards the canal. I am in no hurry, I’ve got time on my hands, and while it is cold, it is a beautiful day. So many people are out and about frequenting the Christmas Market, and I have time to linger and look at all the things I happen to find noticeable – the comic strips drawn on house walls, or the glass stained windows of churches, or the bilingual street signs. I have enough peace and time and quiet for thoughts to surface that are completely random. That is what travel does to you, and I notice once more that lonesome strolls taken in foreign cities are vital for my well-being.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

A Belgian Revelation – Brussels‘ Architecture

Brussels came to me as a shock. Why is that? Because I didn’t expect anything. Certainly not anything outstandingly beautiful. But boy, was I wrong! I must admit that this part of Central Western Europe is a bit of a mystery to me. Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are blind spots on my map so far. Brussels thus had all the more of a chance to sweep me off my feet, and it took it.

Panoramic View, Brussels, Belgium

View from Parking 58 in Brussels. An amazing 360 degrees round view completely for free!

Being in town for work, I didn’t have an infinite amount of time on my hands; but it was more than I have had in a while. Not only did I discover an unknown place, I also spent some much needed quality me-time. I didn’t have an agenda, but I just walked through the streets lined with beautiful buildings and took in what I came across. It did help that my first night in town I met up with friends who had couchsurfed with me in Berlin a while back and who gave me much appreciated insiders‘ advice.

Apart from the food (the waffles, the chocolate, the fries and the geuze beer were seriously amazing!), it was most definitely the architecture that had me quietly rejoice on my walks through the city. The first place I went to was Grand Place, or Grote Markt in Dutch, and I swear, my heart skipped a beat as I emerged from one of the small alleyways around it to find myself surrounded by sublimity.

Town Hall, Brussels, Belgium

The Brussels Town Hall – so delicate with its ornaments, and can you believe it is around 600 years old?

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

Grand Place doesn’t just have the big and memorable buildings, but every single small house in it is amazing! No wonder it’s a UNESCO world heritage sight!

Unfortunately, my first day in Brussels was so cold that I couldn’t spend as much time in Grand Place as I would have liked. Instead I went for some hot chocolate and a waffle (heaven!) before I made my way to the Cathedral. I don’t know France very well, but I felt that the Cathedral was proof of closer proximity to it. I spent about an hour inside marvelling at the glass stained windows and watching art students draw the pillars and ornamental details – and again, if it wasn’t for the cold, I would have lingered much longer at the square in front of it that so majestically led up to the church.

Cathedral, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels Cathedral

After the cool stillness and the white of the cathedral, the houses that could be found in any random street were all the more so colourful and enchanting! Be they combining white and red brick stone to an elegant whole or be they keeping their rough exterior resembling granaries, with jutties, counterforts and beautiful doors and windows. I could not get enough of it.

Brussels, Belgium Brussels, BelgiumOne of the most interesting corners was in the Marollen quarter where there are five tiny streets lined with social housing that are architecturally remarkable. I wish they built stuff like this in Berlin instead of lining up the gazillionth house full of lofts that no normal person can pay rent for. The flats had large balconies and the small streets they were lining were quiet and peaceful.

Marollen, Brussels, BelgiumWhat I like most, however, is the sheer infinite number of beautiful small buildings in the streets outside of the city center. Very often they are in Art Nouveau style and display pretty little ornament or an unexpected glass stained window in their staircase. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they are everywhere, not just in the touristy streets around Grand Place where the crowds gather and take fries to go. As I stroll through those residential areas that are filled with these absolute gems, it is easy to imagine living here. Granted the areas that have them feel quite gentrified, but what can I say, I am not immune to hipsterdom.

Brussels, Belgium

As is the case so often, places are easiest to like when you don’t expect to find anything amazing in them. Brussels was unexpectedly easy on the eyes. I think it may be the most underrated city I have visited in Western Europe.

Have you been to Brussels? What did you think when you first saw it? What is your favourite architectural gem you discovered there?

Early Morning Rome – The Colours of the Eternal City

Four years ago, in 2009, I spent four days in the Eternal City with the family I had lived with in the US for a year when I was 16. It was simply an amazing city trip. My host father had organized tours of all the major sights, we had all the delicious food (oh! the gelato!!) and the weather was perfect. What meant by far the most to me, however, was having time with my second family. Even though I only spent a fraction of my life with them, they do feel like my dad, my mom, and my little sisters. I am blessed to have not one, but two families in this world who I love and who support me so much.

In the light of this, I was soaking up the company of the people I love and don’t nearly see often enough so much that my heart couldn’t even take in all of Rome. On my last day, my host family left around 6 am to catch their plane. I got up with them and decided to re-visit the places we had been to during the last few days, but this time in the early morning hours – without the masses of tourists and the burning August heat of the day.

Rome, ItalyThe light of dawn slowly turning into day accompanied me on my walk from Vatican City, via Piazza Navona with its beautiful renaissance fountains, to the Piazza della Rotonda with the Pantheon. The colours were simultaneously intense and almost muted – a weird twilight state, hard to describe. I took many opportunities to just sit down anywhere – on the pavement, if need be – and just note down my thoughts in my journal. I will quote from it below.

Vatican City Walls, Rome, ItalyI have a thing for inscriptions, or any kind of writing on the wall (pun absolutely intended). I call them word sights.  This one is a quote from the Bible in the Vatican City wall. How could religion not be omnipresent where Vatican City is? I was thrilled to remember my Latin well enough to understand it right away. This is Psalm 91, 11 – „For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.“ I was grateful that this inscription made me feel protected in this moment, because just a second earlier I had felt a tiny pang of loneliness after the last few days that had been spent in constant company.  St Peter's, Rome / Vatican, ItalyVatican City was incredible at 7 in the morning. I remember sitting and looking at the ginormous basilica for a very long time, marvelling in the light effects the sun created. My journal says:

I am sitting in St Peter’s Square, the place that impressed me so deeply when I set foot in it for the first time on Saturday. It still reverberates in me – the presence of an unearthly power. Is it Love? Is it Beauty? Is it God? Does it really matter what we call it?

I pondered deeply on religion sitting there, and the difference between faith, religion and the church. I won’t bore you with all my babble on it. But I do think that no matter if you believe or not, no matter if you even care about religion, no matter your confession – having seen Vatican City will make you see things about it that you haven’t seen before.

Rome, ItalyOn I went through the sometimes small and narrow, sometimes broader streets. One thing I regret is not having taken any pictures of bridges across the Tiber river – but I wasn’t the Bridgekeeper back then. All the more reason for me to go back, I am sure. I reached Piazza Navona still deeply in thoughts.

Piazza Navona, Rome, ItalyThe beauty of the Renaissance fountains was so perfect, so aesthetically impeccable that it was hard for me to believe it was not some kind of trick. The enormous dimensions of everything in this city extended to the beauty. It was unreal. Next to me street musicians played jazz classics in a group of a cello, a guitar, an accordion and a saxophone. Their style turned everything slightly latino-pop, and it added greatly to the relaxed morning atmosphere. Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, ItalyMy last stop before I had to make my way to the airport to fly back to Germany was Piazza della Rotonda where I took a look at the Pantheon. I loved the deep orange and red colours of the houses in the square. They contrasted harshly with the white marble of the Pantheon – The temple for all the Gods, as the name tells us. An ancient Roman temple converted into a church.

CIMG3135My journal says:

Beautiful and horrible: How vehemently Christianity takes possession of everything. Beautiful, because it creates an impressive case of interculturality. Horrible, because the Christian church thus makes a claim for power that might be deeply un-Christian.

Such were the ways that Rome inspired me to think. How is it that philosophising seems to come to me more easily when I am surrounded by beauty? In that sense, Rome made it very easy for me. I think I shall return, sleep during the day, and roam the streets between midnight and early morning every day.

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