„If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.“ – Emma Goldman


The French have a great and proud culture of protesting, demonstrating and striking, so after having spent a couple weeks on wwoofing farms in France we were pleased to be invited by two veteran activists to one of these fine cultural happenings – a must for any visitor to the land of revolution. We began our experience with a four-hour car journey from Bordeaux to Nantes, driving through the flat sodden land. We arrived in Nantes early, and made our way to the square from which the march would begin. There we had a picnic and watched as people arrived.


The demonstration itself was part of an ongoing campaign since the seventies to stop the creation of a large second airport close to Nantes. The construction of the airport, approved by the country’s new “socialist” prime minister, would see the destruction of important mature forest, as well as homes and farms. Opponents of the airport also claim that it is a waste of public money during a time of economic crisis (the airport is projected to cost 556 million euros, and is scheduled to be completed by 2017.). The government took the boring, overused and frankly inaccurate line that the construction of the airport was good for the economy. Activists responded with an ongoing occupation of the site, building tree-sits, gardens and roadblocks.  And the location was the site of running battles with police in late 2012.


Many of the demonstrators turned up in carnival stile costumes, with face paint, flags, masks, clown outfits, lizard costumes, and pink wigs, while some dressed in classic anarchist black-bloc, while still others came in their everyday garb. It was an eclectic coalition of farmers, ecologists and anarchist, attracting demonstrators from across the country. The protest was attended by 550 tractors, pulling colourful floats, some with bars, some with music, some covered in foliage. People kept arriving in droves, beating drums, dancing, waving flags and blowing whistles. Some even arrived by water, paddling their way across a small lake, placing floating flags in the water. The protest began to swell to fifty thousand people. Black clad riot police blocked the streets and at about 2 pm the march kicked off.


At first the march seemed peaceful, but then we began to notice signs of anarchy: paint bombed and tagged shop fronts, while the lines of riot police that blocked the side streets were covered in paint.


We then passed the front of a building. It was broken and smashed in with black smoke billowing from the inside; it was the office of Vinci, the company contracted to build the new airport.


The demonstrators marched on. We came to a construction site and saw dark red flames engulfing a crane, sending a column of black smoke into the now blue sky.


We passed along a wide muddy avenue to the corner of another street, by the police station. Here a bin was lit on fire and next to it water gushed from a broken valve, and we heard large explosions from the surrounding streets. The police station was covered in graffiti and paint. Its front was smashed open and burning. We continued walking to the front of the march where several tractors faced police barricades and the demonstrators were pushing against the police line in an attempt to bring the barriers down.The police responded with a shower of tear gas canisters that filled the street with burning smoke. It saturated our eyes and lungs. We ran.



As the day continued the city began to resemble a warzone. Demonstrators lit new fires and set up their own barricades throwing anything that they could find at the police, who responded with more tear gas and water canon.The demonstrators set fire to a complex of small buildings in the main bus station, while in a bizarre juxtaposition just down the road people were calmly drinking coffees and eating cakes, taking a break from the revolution.




In another location one of the tractors was blasting dance music while a group of clowns danced in the middle of a roundabout. The police advanced, firing more tear gas.  Demonstrators hurled improvised missiles, and large explosions sounded from nearby.


As the evening wore on, we left the site of the destruction walking through the city back to the car. We passed streets filled with broken glass and burning barricades, smoking in that ancient beautiful city.



The violence of the protest made headlines in the press and the French interior minister denounced the protesters as violent radicals, waging an “urban guerrilla” war. At least six police and an unknown number of protestors were hospitalized.  The media and the government focused on the violent outburst only and ignored the fundamental issues that brought this about: a stubborn unwillingness to support the people and the environment and instead to pour over a half billion euros of public money into an unpopular, destructive and unnecessary project, a project that serves only to line the pockets of the country’s elite.

Protest in Nantes from Daniela Gast on Vimeo.

Veröffentlicht unter France

Bonn and the Garden

The small  German city of Bonn, astride the banks of the River Rhine, is the former capital of West Germany, and birth place of Beethhoven. It is located in Germany’s industrial heartland, and in one of the most densely populated regions of Europe, it is therefore an unlikely place to enjoy nature, however, the hills, fields and gardens around the city  gave us a different sense of Germany’s industrial heartland, and if you look in the right places you will find both wild places and wild food.garten-jazekLight shines through the ash trees in the garden, where we camped. Despite being october, it was unusually warm, a lingering indian summer. RIMG0169Plums that we gathered to make a plum crumble.RIMG0319Chestnuts: we collected a large quantity of these little nuggets, competing with the wild boar for the good ones. We cooked them in a soup and roasted them on the fire. Delicious.RIMG0246While exploring an old monestary in the hills we came across a heron which seemed to be struggling with something, flapping around and choking, suddenly a fish, still alive, dropped from its beak and fell on the ground in front of us. We took it home carrying it by tying a piece of willow around its body. Once at home we cut it up to cook it, and found that its belly was filled with orange caviar. RIMG0376The indian summer bought out many insects including swarms of ladybirds, bumblebees, and rather alarmingly giant hornets. RIMG0195A colourful, peculiar and poisonous looking caterpillar.käferBeetles live and die on the mountain path. There was many of them. RIMG0384A well camouflaged moth. feuerJacek and Maja roasting an apple on the fire in the garden. RIMG0324Not just any apple: an apple, taken from a fallen tree harvesting its last fruits. pferdA vist from the white horse living not far from the garden.

Back in the centre of the city Jacek’s plays his favourite sculpture, ‚Icarus‘ erected in 1993.

Icarus sculpture in Bonn from Daniela Gast on Vimeo.

„Berlin is rather a part of the world than a city.“

„Berlin ist mehr ein Weltteil als eine Stadt.“


In this post, I now backtrack to the start of our journey when I arrived in Berlin to meet Daniela. We would dissolve her flat and begin our journey across Europe. The above quote, attributed by Wikipedia to the Bavarian romantic writer Jean Paul in the year eighteen hundred, still felt true, when more than two hundred years later, I arrived on a hot, sunny September’s day. I was soon enchanted by the broad tree lined avenues of the city and its murky, swan-filled canals (Berlin is said to have more bridges than Venice). The city had a feeling of a thriving mixing pot, diverse and difficult to generalise about. But I have heard that people come to Berlin from all across the world, they came to visit and they forgot to leave.



A note on food: I’ll start by saying that the coffee is generally awful. I could explain why, but to avoid sounding like a coffee wanker, I won’t. Despite this Berlin is frankly the best place in the world I have ever been for food. It is astoundingly cheap and excellent, though perhaps not typically German. You can get a big kebab for two-euro-fifty; juicy, gourmet Italian pizza for three-euro; a full meal in an authentic Vietnamese restaurant for five-euro; and we mustn’t forget the handmade pasta. There is also “Sunday brunch,” where, at a range of cafes (we had good cluster by the canal in Kreuzberg), you can eat as much as you desire from a vast buffet of delicious sweet and savoury dishes – cakes, mousses, chocolates, crapes, fruit salads, yoghurts, bacon, sausages, chicken, tomato-and-mozzarella, cheeses, potatoes, toasts, beans, egg, fresh salads, etc. Sorry to go on about it, but it really was dazzling, and all for the price of eggs-on-toast in New Zealand.

Tischlein deck dich

Tischlein deck dich, Brüder Grimm

And if you felt like eating at home, then that was no problem, with the Kreuzberg Turkish market filled with fresh produce, the abundant and reasonably priced organic shops, and the supermarkets where wine and beer were ridiculously cheap, and you even got 20 cent for retuning the empty bottle. Having experienced the food scene in Berlin I am tempted to think that this may be a major factor in travellers visiting and not leaving. The poor artists of Berlin may indeed be poor, but they’d be a hell of a lot poorer if they lived in Auckland.


Zappelphilipp, Der Struwwelpeter

A note on the environment: Berlin, in contrast to the great cities of the west, is surrounded by a green ring of forests and lakes. These forests, covered with beach, oak, birch, willow and rowan are filled with foxes, wild boar, and naked athletes. I have even heard rumours of wolves returning from the east. Inside the city it is also green. The wide streets are lined with huge untrimmed trees. The large parks such as Tempelhof, Hasenheide and Tiergarten are filled with feral areas. Its flat topography and abundant bike lanes make it a city designed for bicycles, and they are a must for exploring the city.


dragonfly, Tiergarten


rowan berries, Tiergarten

A note on history: the history of Berlin is written into everything in that great city, and it is a history that is living, moving, and ever present. Of course there are the famous things: Check Point Charley, the famous crossing point between east and west Berlin frequently referenced in Cold War themed thrillers; the Berlin Wall itself, some parts covered in flowering murals, each one a different degree of political statement. There is the grand Brandenburg triumphal arch, comfortably distant in its historic significance. There is also the bust of Ernst Thälmann the great German communist, one of the eastern block colossi to survive reunification. There is much that I could write in this section but I will focus on two sites in Berlin, because for me they illustrate that sense of history in motion, the decaying old and the emerging new: Tempelhof and Teufelsberg.

Herr Fuchs, Frau Elster, Berliner Mauer

Herr Fuchs und Frau Elster at the Berlin Wall

Neue Wache, Berlin

Tempelhof is a vast abandoned airport right in the centre of the city. Its huge buildings are abandoned and the runways are now used by rollerbladers, cyclists and kiteboarders. Large organic gardens have sprung up on the flat grassy ground and it is a great open community space. Such a huge unused airport in the centre of a city like Berlin is something of an anomaly and has an interesting history.



Tempelhof receives its name from the knights Templar who owned the land in medieval times. It was then used as a parade ground for the Prussian armies and later the unified German armies. Tempelhof was first used as an airport in 1909 and officially designated as one in 1922 making it one of the oldest airports in the world. During the Nazi era Tempelhof was redesigned as the gateway to the great German Reich and the terminal building was constructed in the shape of a German eagle. The complex, remains one of largest buildings on earth and many believe that deep in its underground basements remain secrets of the Nazis. During the Cold War Tempelhof with its inner city location allowed the Americans to airlift supplies to West Berlin during the Berlin-blockade. It was also from Tempelhof that American planes took off to famously drop chocolate over the fields of East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall Tempelhof continued to be used as an airport until 2007 in which it was finally closed. Now it is a community space, ringed by the largest example of fascist architecture and dotted with gardens. Berliners are attached to this community space and a battle over its future looks set to divide Berliners between those who want to keep it as community space and those who want to cover it in new developments. Tempelhof’s story is not yet over.



Teufelsberg or Devil’s hill, surrounded by Grunewald Forest, is the highest point in Berlin, but the hill itself is not natural and is constructed from an astonishing seventy-five million cubic metres of rubble, piled by the women of West Berlin at the end of the Second World War. Adjacent to the hill is a once top secret American spy base used by the NSA to collect intelligence from the Soviets. After the collapse of the Eastern Block the spy base was abandoned and the forest grew up through it and around it. It attracted, besides others, the interest of sound and visual artists because of the peculiar structure and acoustics. The spy station has now been taken over by punk tour operators who have the audacity to charge curious visitors upward of seven euros to enter, and only with groups at specified tour times, evidence of Berlin’s infamous and pernicious gentrification.


view of Berlin fromTeufelsberg


Teufelsberg, spystation

A tentative note on Berliners: Here I must be careful what I write for my love is a Berliner. Berliners come in all different types there are those who have always been there from the East and West who live their lives and to whom the city holds no more special appeal than simply the place they know as home. There are the minorities: the Turks, the Chinese, the Poles, and, increasingly, rich Italians. But the type of Berliner I am interested in is kind of a Berlin archetype the traveller that never left. Perhaps they came to Berlin and they found their scene, their social niche, their creative outlet. They had dreams and projects. Some made their fortune and met their lovers, but others did not. They contributed to giving Berlin its modern and alternative spirit. But Berlin, I have heard, can also be a lonely place, and in winter the skies are dark, the streets are cold and the expats dream of home.

Neptune und Meerjungfrau-Berlin2

neptune and marmaid, Kreuzberg

Neptune und Meerjungfrau-Berlin

neptune and marmaid, Kreuzberg

desire & satisfaction from Daniela Gast on Vimeo.