A somewhat belated post on my half term jolly over to Berlin.  I forgot I half started to write this and I’m sure it is just rambling but either way it is here. 

On my return from Australia in the summer I made a mini promise to myself/set myself a challenge to visit more countries and I made a start this half term with a visit to Berlin. The more I think about the more I wonder why I’ve never been to Germany before: it’s relatively close to England and I did GCSE German so surely it seems a more natural choice than France or Spain.  But for whatever reason this was my first trip to Germany and I loved it! 

Berlin is a gorgeous city. The architecture is beautiful, especially the pre war buildings and buildings on the West side of the city, it is insanely green and leafy and it’s surprisingly cheap.  In fact the whole of Germany seems pretty green, as we flew over it I was amazed at the sheer amount of forest.  We stayed on the West side of the city, which was good but meant a looooong walk to any of the main sites, such as the Reichstag Building (photo at the top).  I don’t mind walking but even I think we walked way too far on the first day. 

To save our legs a little bit and to ensure we saw as much of Berlin as possible we bought two day tickets for a Hop On/Hop Off bus (one of my favourite things and again so cheap) and off we went. Driving past and stopping at places like Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral (pictured above), a few museums, including Topography of Terror which we visited and East Side Gallery. 

East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into an art gallery, which is a pretty cool use of something that was seen as a horrible and inhumane feature of the city.  And it was here that I had the best curry wurst of my trip.  In fact I think I only lived on curry wurst, bratwurst and mulled wine all holiday. 

I was pretty desperate to visit the zoo, as I have a childlike obsession with just watching animals for hours.  We spent at least six hours at Berlin Zoo (my boyfriend is a lucky guy) and it was pretty amazing. Although I would definitely recommend it, I’m not sure about some of the animal enclosures, they looked a bit dated.  My sister’s favourite animal is a gorilla, so in every zoo I visit I make it my mission to get at least one good gorilla shot for her; this one looks particularly pleased.  On my zoo travels I have noticed that elephants and giraffes always seem to get the best houses with the most beautiful and often oldest buildings in the grounds.  I have seen many of their houses dating back to the mid 20th century, I wonder why that is?  So far I have noticed it at London Zoo, Berlin Zoo and Taronga Zoo, but who knows where next. 

Of course  any visit to a new country/place means a new interest in books about or set in that place and Berlin has been no exception.  I picked up a great little book about The Berlin Wall to educate me on way it was built and I have added a huge amount of fictional books to my Amazon wish list.  As always I’m open to suggestions on any books or films you think I should read based in or around Berlin.  I’m determined to learn more about the history and culture of the city.  

I think Berlin will definitely be on my ‘return to’ list for travelling.  The next question is, where to go next?


The Woodlanders

Title: The Woodlanders

Author: Thomas Hardy

Published: 1887


In the small country village of Little Hintock Marty South harbours a deep and unrequited love for Giles Winterbourne, a country worker who is currently in business with Mr. Melbury. Unfortunately for Marty Giles is in love with Melbury’s daughter, Grace, who in an act of regret on her father’s part is unofficially betrothed to Winterbourne.  However in his attempt to better his daughter, Melbury’s has had her privately educated at boarding school, hoping for a better life for her and it is not long before his – and her – head has been turned by the new local do out, Dr. Fitzpiers. And so begins a tale of passion, ambition and heartache. 

My Thoughts: 

I don’t come from a family of big readers. My mum used to read a lot, but cancer medication kind of muddled her memory so she never seems to just sit and read, although to be fair she does have two dogs and a rabbit to look after at the moment so I guess she can use being busy as an excuse.  So when my uncle (mum’s cousin) suggested Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders I knew I had to give it a go, especially as my uncle is quite artsy and likes a certain kind of literature (he is an actor).  After over a year sat on my shelf, I finally picked it up at the start of the month and have been slowly making my way through it ; I say slowly like I didn’t enjoy it but it is actually because I have been pretty busy with work etc.  

I love Hardy.  Something about his writing always lures me in; it’s the characters, the rural setting of the Dorset area I know so well and the sense of impending doom.  I think it is safe to say you don’t turn to Hardy for a light hearted read.  The Woodlanders, despite being one of Hardy’s lesser known novels, is no exception.  From the moment poor Marty South cut and sold her long, luscious hair for the vain Mrs. Charmond I knew the characters were in for a hoot.  There is something about hair, especially the reluctant or forceful loss of hair that really gets to me.  Ever since I studied Jane Eyre at sixth form and we discussed Helen Burns having her hair cut I have seen it as a personal attack on women and the feminine body.  For me, hair is such a personal link to your identity so to loss it or have it taken from you against your will fills me with a she sees of dread and sympathy for that character/person.  This idea has only been exemplified through family members losing their hair to cancer treatment.  But maybe I’m just vain. 

The main action of The Woodlanders centres around the character of Grace Melbury’s and her – in my opinion – poor decision to marry Dr. Fitzpiers.  Both Grace and her father are victims of terrible snobbery and see Giles Winterbourne (Grace’s original choice of husband) as beneath her, especially as she has now gone off and had an education.  Neither show much remorse at breaking poor Giles’ heart and even though Grace has doubts about Dr. Fitzpiers and his dubious relationships with other women in the village, she still marries him.  She is so in awe of this intelligent and exciting man that she overlooks his flaws.  I found this frustrating, so I was almost glad when he did the inevitable and went off with a woman of a higher class and for me this brought about a change in my feelings towards Grace.  When her husband came crawling back, which of course he did, Grace turned in to a somewhat radical Victoian woman and refused to have him back.  She realised the error of her ways and wished that she had actually chosen  Giles. Unfortunately it was a case of too little too late, and poor Giles died of some terrible fever, leaving a ‘heartbroken’ Grace and a truly devastated Marty.  For a while this event allowed me to admire Grace; she realised her mistake, mourned the loss of Giles and refused to take back her husband.  But then she lived up to a stereotype of Victorian women and I decided that I didn’t actually like her very much at all. 

Although Marty South is not much more than a background character, for me she shows a true depiction of love and devotion.  She quietly appears in the background of the novel, much in the same way that she quietly appears in the background of Giles’ life and loves him from a distance.  It is with her that I feel the most sympathy and sadness and she has the most beautiful lines in the closing of the novel that for me sum up her as a character and the nature of true love.  Long after Grace’s interest in tending Giles’ grave pass, Marty finally gets the chance to be the only lady in his life: 

” Now my own, own love…you are mine, and only mine; for she has forgot ‘ee at last, although for her you died! But I whenever I get up I’ll think of ‘ee, and whenever I lie down I’ll think of ‘ee…if ever I forget your name, let me forget home and heaven!”

Although now I read this back maybe I think Grace was right in moving on and not mounting her lost love forever.  It’s what I would do, but it wouldn’t be a Hardy novel without some despair and unrequited love. 

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Title: The Thirty-Nine Steps

Author: John Buchan 

Published: 1915

Challenges: Reading the Twentieth Century, The Classics Club, TBR Pile 2015


Richard Hanney is just thinking about how boring is London life is and how he should leave when his upstairs neighbour appears seeking refuge.  This mysterious man has uncovered some kind of plot involving various governments and although he gives Hanney some hints, he largely keeps the plot to himself.  When this neighbour is then found murdered in Hanney’s flat, Hanney knows he must disappear for a while and try to find some way to warn the British Government of the plot.  He hotfoots it to Scotland with the police (who are after him for murder) and some Germans (who think Hanney knows all about their plot) hot on his trail.  His time in Scotland involves a wealth of adventure, from disguises and explosions to car crashes and finding some unlikely allies, Hanney is determined to do anything to ensure he stops this mysterious plot. 

My Thoughts

The Thirty-Nine Steps is a good old fashioned adventure.  Told from the perspective of Hanney, this is a simple and engaging narrative that is action packed but in a simplistic way.  That’s not an insult to the book, in fact it is compliment as I found this an easy and exciting read; you know the hero is going to be successful but it’s fun to read of his scraps and the challenges he faces.  It’s pure adventure escapism.

Published in 1915, I was surprised that there weren’t really any major comments on the war, at least not until the very end of the novel and that was just a passing sentence.  But then the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  The Thirty-Nine Steps was written at a time when Britain was slowly waking up to the reality of war so it makes perfect sense that this novel is old fashioned adventure and a tale where good overcomes evil; readers probably needed that.  And there are some ‘subtle’ hints at war and the German enemy.  The bad guys in The Thirty-Nine Steps are crafty Germans who are good at disguises and hoodwinking their enemies.  They are portrayed as lying tricksters who will stop at nothing to get what they want and they get their comeuppance.   

Overall this was a great read and one that I enjoyed much more than I expected.  I think I might hunt out some more of Buchan’s work.