There's a crack in everything, and things fall apart

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Waltzing in Schönbrunn Palace

In Vienna there’s ten pretty women
There’s a shoulder where death comes to cry
There’s a lobby with 900 windows
There’s a tree where doves go to die

One of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs leads me to think to my time in Vienna and wonder if I saw the things he describes there. Pretty women were around, of course, like any European city, but I saw many more in Prague. A shoulder where death comes to cry is way too metaphoric, and I saw many trees, all of which could have been the last resting place of a dove.

The lobby with 900 windows could have been Schönbrunn Palace.

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Sex. Death. Alcohol. Longing. The themes of that Cohen tune infiltrate the history of the Hapsburgs, who threw up this palace on the banks of Wein to humble the French Bourbons to the west and and the Turkish Ottomans to the east, their imperial rivals. The Hapsburgs’ greedy, jealous eyes roved over Europe, the Catholic hammer of Protestantism, marrying strategically, their spectacular triumphs and equally spectacular disasters filling the pages of history.

Nothing is left of the Hapsburgs past glory now. Their homeland is a humble little republic people associate with skiing and beer. Nothing remains except this palace which reminded me so much of Take this Waltz I couldn’t stop singing in my head as I walked through its gardens.

I found out this week Leonard Cohen is making another tour and coming to my city in April. The 78 year old just won’t quit and I won’t miss my chance to see him live for the first time. And if he plays that song in 3/4 time, I’ll think of Schönbrunn, and Vienna, and for a second I’ll be back there, surrounded by the old Hapsburg ghosts, 900 of them, each with its own window, staring out at the world of the living.

Battersea Power Station and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

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.

pink-floyd-animals

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.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's creations.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s creations.

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 forgotton fountain of Francis I in Prague

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.

Berlin trip and night photos

The shrapnel-damaged Bismarck Memorial of Berlin

Bismarck Memorial in Berlin

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.

One of the shell holes

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.

Plowshares into swords?

Fuck off Mediaspree

Mediaspree is a massive redevelopment of a part of Berlin that for years has been the home and workspace of artists, tramps, squatters, and general non-conformists to a profit driven culture that has already occupied 99% of western Europe and is quickly infesting the former Eastern Bloc.

In response groups have formed opposing the redevelopment which threatens to destroy that rebellious aspect of Berlin that makes this city unique.

In good Berlin fashion they’ve taken their protest to the walls, drawing protest slogans whereever they can find the space.

My personal favourite is the giant “fuck off mediaspree” message on top of an abandoned building.

They say Berlin is bankrupt. It is in the financial sense, but there are other forms of bankruptcy. A city where the poor and eccentric have to feel ashamed to walk down the street suffers from a moral bankruptcy, one which Berlin must fight to avoid.