Going through my old travel photos I noticed a similarity between memorials to tragedies on opposite sides of Europe, made by different people. In the summer of 2011 I was in Dublin where I photographed the Irish Famine Memorial, a collection of statues of immigrants walking to the ships carrying passengers to North America.
Last year when I was in Prague I came upon the Memorial to the Victims of Communism at the bottom of Petřín Hill. Again, the statues were thin, dark metallic figures, commemorating a tragic event in a nation’s past.
Rowan Gillespie, who made the Irish Famine memorial, had no connection to Olbram Zoubek, the sculptor of the communism memorial, as far as I can tell. I like to think they imagined similar concepts because the historic events they were memorializing were similar. There’s something chilling about the figures in Dublin and Prague. Their thinness, like walking ghosts, hopeless, desperate, among us but at the same time drawn in their own miserable worlds, as if they’re a time capsule in a transparent case, so we can all look inside.
Both are very democratic tributes to the nameless people who became victims of circumstances beyond their control. Their anonymity makes them more powerful, as if they could be anyone’s ancestor. Their metallic composition makes them strong but they’re thin and frail at the same time, like individuals who, despite the toughness of their spirit, can only overcome so much before breaking.
Staring at the fancy-ass West End from across the Thames River is Battersea Power Station, probably the ugliest landmark London has to offer, and, not surprisingly, my favourite. As a Pink Floyd fan I have to imagine a big pink pig floating majestically over the smoke stacks whenever I see it.
When I used to get the train home from Victoria Station I’d sit on the left side to get a good look at Battersea. No matter how many times I saw it, it never got old. Something about how different it was from everything that surrounded it, as if it refused to die while everything else gentrified, a stubborn relic of dirty old industrial London.
Another favourite London sight of mine is the iconic red telephone booth. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a tourist holding the receiver as if they’re making a call while someone takes their photo. How original. This is fast becoming the only time anyone bothers to step inside a London telephone booth. Everyone has a mobile phone these days.
I took some photos around the city recently and lined up a good shot of the famous London telephone booth with the station in the background and a rack of Barclays Bikes. Later I found out the same man who designed the London telephone booth, Giles Gilbert Scott, also designed Battersea Power Station.
Amazing booth. Amazing building. Hopefully Scott’s legacies can stand firm while the city they call home demands everything be new, modern, expensive, and soulless. It wouldn’t be the same without them.
The train took me from Berlin to Prague and I discovered there why “Bohemian” came to be an adjective for artistic, because any trait you’d imagine being characteristic of a creative person can be found fostered in this city. It’s liberal, inspiring, ambitious and at the same time humble, poor but prosperous. Old and ragged but brimming with ideas that jump out at you every time you turn a corner.
I was walking along the river and found this monument. Couldn’t find any description in English – they don’t babysit tourists, which I respect – so I looked it up on Google Maps (shout out to Google. Bring me up in the search rankings yo).
This is the Krannerova Fountain, built in honour of Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor. He’s probably most famous for the women in his life, which included his wife, Maria Theresa, and Marie Antoinette, his daughter who was to be executed during the French Revolution.
This monument, almost anonymous to the tourists passing by it, struck me as summing up the city so well. It has such a deep history, but at the same time no pretensions to be anything more than a really cool looking piece of stone.
The figures around its edges symbolize the different trades. There is the soldier, the farmer, the blacksmith, the merchant.
Reminders of Berlin’s dark past are everywhere when you walk down the streets and alleys of this war-torn capital. Germany’s memorial to its most famous military commander is one of them. Riddled with pockmarks, chips of stone were broken off the base of this monument by Allied bombs during the Second World War.
Otto von Bismarck died 41 years before the start of WWII, but he is still remembered and often hated as a militarist who brought Germany down the path ending in disastrous wars and millions of deaths.
This is a tribute to the martial spirit of the German people, defiled by the horrible results of that spirit which came forty years later, making it now an ironic comment on the folly of militarism and the hubris of people who staked so much national pride on ability to dominant their neighbors. A really mindblowing thing to see for someone with an interest in history.
Another post about Berlin, because it’s impossible not to write about or photograph this bizarre and exciting city. I took a great tour offered by Alternative Berlin into the heartland of the city’s famous graffiti scene. It was an abandoned trainyard near Warschauer Straße S-Bahn. These old warehouses and vacant lots show Berlin in its most run down, grimy, and industrial. The art is a mix of anti-corporate protest, political commentary and trippy random shit.
Here is a sample