story of the little river

I was sitting by the playful Panke River
swift and shallow, cold and murky,
when a girl climbed from it’s stony bed
Her skin was bright like winter’s snow
Her hair was green like watercress
Her eyes were blue, like the endless sky
She climbed up onto to the red brick wall
And sat beside me, wet and still
When she spoke her voice was like
The little torrent, bubbling, crackling, slight

I am the spirit of Panke, little daughter of the Spree.
Long ago I danced through forests cool and dark.
And beasts of every size and shape drank from my sparkling depths
The birds build nests along my banks,
while fish leapt through my liquid electricity
The deer came, and aurochs too beneath the beech and willow

When men they came, they worshiped me
They came from the mountains and the sea
To wash themselves in my sweet spring so I might heal them
And to little me they left offerings of gold and silver

The city grew along my banks, and farms where forest was.
Through winters long and dark, I froze and once ran red with blood
The men with cranes and shovels came.
Culverts, bridges, factories, pain
Then they turned me into a drain
My skin was blackened with the soot
My water brown with oil
My spring dried up
And my tears like acid burned.

but here I am, my skin is bright
my hair is green
I am alive
And birds and deer return


Six floors, no balcony, nineteenth century Berlin flats.
one gang of bickering Turkish brats.
twentyseven square meters, 2 windows, 8 walls
two coal burning ovens and a slate gray sky,
a slate gray coffee and a slate gray mind.
one plastic, yellow bathtub, three wooden cups
and a red, painted tui beside a rowan branch.

one cold autumn wind, scarf, shoes, hoody.
one thousand rough-cut, well-worn cobble stones
six floor soot stained facades.
 five gangly gipsy women; they do not beg here; they beg where the money is
three German red faced drunks, Prost! Prost! Gesundheit!
the gaudy Turkish shops.
two euro fifty, two pieces of bread, fives slashes of meat,
four scoops of salad, one squirt of herb sauce
danke schön, bitte schön

three Muslim ladies only their eyes to see
one Somali German he came here to be free
a Turkish man is singing, its beautiful to hear
an unkindness of crows, a twitter of sparrows
the abandoned factories
one dried up healing spring,
and one playful little river flanked by weeping willows

A trip to the semi-wild

Drive a few hours north of Berlin and you will find yourself in the least populated province of Germany (still heavily populated by NZ standards). It is a land of lakes, wolves, wild boar, fields, meadows, and German villages.grainAn ear of wheat, ripe and ready for harvest.

butterflyA painted lady butterfly alights on the dry stalks of ripe wheat.

mistletoeCircular clumps of parasitic mistletoe cover this poplar, sucking its sap and possibly causing some branches to die.

grassgrass seeds unfurl on an open meadow at the edge of the forest

camouflagedThe field ends and the dark, boar-infested forest begins.antsA band of furious ants ravage the carcass of an unknown thing on the forest path.squirrelA red squirrel dances a territorial dance on a scots pine, in mixed beech and fur forest.toadThe common toad, with dry cool skin hops across the forest path.lightstreamShafts of light illuminate the smoke from our camp fire as it wafts through the under story of young beech trees.

avocadoA well sliced lunch.



Daily scenes from Berlin


A view from the street outside our house: a social centre has been tagged with “Free Gaza.” The street is in Gesundbrunnen the most multicultural kiez in Berlin (only 35 percent German). Gesundbrunnen was founded around a natural spring close to the Panke river and it was believed that it had healing properties. In the nineteenth century rapid development saw the construction of factories as well as neogothic and neoclasic architecture along the Panke. The construction of the factories caused the spring to dry up and an electric fountain now stands in its place.


A view of the Panke river as it flows through Gesundbrunnen. It could be somewhere in the wild but this beautiful spot is five minuets from our house and in the middle of one of Europe’s most populous cities. The red brick factories behind the Panke have long been decommissioned, and they are now mainly artist studios. The chimneys no longer belch black smoke but stand like odd towers, monuments to a bygone industrial age. For such a little river the Panke (29km) has its own history and traditions it even has its own folk dance, the Panke Polka. But these traditions are slowly being forgotten and the youngest member of the polka club is in her fifties.


Make love; why not? This potentially political banner hangs above a balcony in Neukölln.


“Happy Junior,”A chinese-vase juggler prepares to show his impressive skills during the Berlin street performance festival, while his “proud parents” look on. Plenty of magic shows, juggling and impressive acrobatics for all.


A mechanical, remote-control horse bends its head down so that the children may stroke it and enjoy their petting. Meanwhile the fire-breathing wing-flapping dragon reclines on a pedestal behind it.


Hot days. As over thirty degree heat strikes the city, Berlin residents cool off in what ever way they can, including the public fountains in Alexanderplatz.


Neptune watches while cranes work reshaping Berlin’s landscape, in a reminder of the constant development which is changing the city. Prices are skyrocketing and apartments are hard to come by as development pushes people out of what were once effordable enclaves. Even the flea-market shows signs of gentrification, no longer a place to find cheep stuff for your house, more a place to buy imported garments and gaudy trinkets.


In a similar vane the bonanza has clearly not helped everybody, this is not a view of a slum in Mumbai it is a slum in the heart of Berlin. With up to a hundred and fifty people and growing this 12,000 square metre area is packed with shacks and tents. It has one water pump but no proper sanitation or toilets, and cooking is done on open fires. Although the space is a positive social experiment and the fact that it has been left to grow by the authorities shows an unexpected tolerance. The fact that space in such a shanty town is in demand is a damning vision of Europe’s growing inequity.



This rather more bourgeois shanty town is located close-by, along the banks of the Kreutzberg canal. Here there are water tanks, solar power, comfortable looking caravans, gardens, a stage and a composting toilet system. There is also an open fireplace, and a bar. Established in 1991 built in the former no-mans-land between East and West. This community has thrived and maintained, a very different and undoubtedly more exclusive social experiment than the slum.


Street Art – A European Journey

Street Art Berlin - I am not afraid

Street Art Berlin – I am not afraid

drawn to the light

Street Art Berlin – drawn to the light

Street Art Berlin - the local dog crew

Street Art Berlin – the local dog crew

Street Art Berlin - unravelling

Street Art Berlin – unravelling

Street Art Prague - out of the corner of the eye

Street Art Prague – out of the corner of the eye

Street Art Prague - smoke on the wall

Street Art Prague – smoke on the wall

Street Art Prague - the bringer of change

Street Art Prague – the bringer of change

Street Art Geneva - under the bridge

Street Art Geneva – under the bridge

Street Art Geneva - beneath the surface

Street Art Geneva – beneath the surface

Street Art Lisabon - finding ways

Street Art Lisabon – finding ways

Street Art Lisabon - stamina

Street Art Lisabon – stamina

Street Art Lisabon - trust

Street Art Lisabon – trust

Street Art Lisabon - a long way to go

Street Art Lisabon – a long way to go

Street Art Portugal - erosion

Street Art Portugal – erosion

Street Art Vitoria-Gasteiz - observed

Street Art Vitoria-Gasteiz – observed

Street Art Vitoria-Gasteiz - blue is beautiful

Street Art Vitoria-Gasteiz – blue is beautiful

Bilbao - Mami can I go to Uni? You can't, you are a drawing!

Bilbao – Mami can I go to Uni? You can’t, you are a drawing!

Bilbao - ride on

Bilbao – ride on


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.