Christmas News 2008

Birthday in Berlin

A city boat tour, a birthday celebration and a free open-air concert occupied the central weekend of a two-week holiday in Germany at the end of the summer.

"My second cousins live in Berlin and Ellen celebrated her 60th birthday at the end of August and we were invited to Brunch on her birthday. In the event we based our whole holiday around this invitation, taking a self-catering flat in a country town, Werder. We had a delightful weekend meeting many relatives, some we had never met before, and they arranged a boat trip, the brunch, and casual evening meals at their houses for 20-30 people." - Miriam

Ellen's birthday fell on a hot and sunny Sunday, and was celebrated at a restaurant overlooking the Müggelsee, a beautiful lake busy with leisure boats in the east of Berlin. Later a group of us went on to a free performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony given in a square in the centre of Under den Linden. It is hard to imagine a more German experience, though the maintenance work on the S-Bahn which delayed our arrival helped remind us of home.

The previous day's boat trip had given us an excellent low-level view of the city. On another day we went for the high spots: the glass cupola on top of the recently-restored Reichstag, and the appropriately-named Panoramapunkt which towers over the glitzy new developments around the once-barren Potsdamer Platz. By contrast, the Holocaust Memorial halfway between these landmarks recalls the lowest point of 20th century history.

We stayed in the small town of Werder whose historic centre lies on an island in a lake. There was more water around the city of Brandenburg, where a boat trip took us around the islands on which it is built. Further east, from Frankfurt an der Oder we walked over a bridge across the river into Poland, where we chose to spend our cash at an ice cream stall rather than at one of the 24-hour vodka and cigarette shops.

"We went to Germany on holiday, where we went to museums, including one on the history of Berlin and on the Berlin Wall. We went into a building there, where the public used to be forbidden to enter, and is now open to the public. We went into its dome. [The Reichstag] We also saw television in high definition. We went to an area, where parts of a few films were filmed [Filmpark Babelsberg in Potsdam, which has much expertise in special effects]." - Martin

Martin sitting in the driver's seat in a Trabant

Martin takes the wheel of a Trabant at the DDR-Museum, Berlin. The museum contains many memorabilia of life in the former East Germany

Adrian among a crowd with the stage in the background

Adrian at the free Beethoven concert in Berlin

Arctic anniversary

Hallgrímskirkja in evening sunshine

Iceland is probably best known for its unstable geology and its even more unstable financial sector, but its banks were still standing when we spent a few days in the country to commemorate our 20th wedding anniversary.

The round-the-clock daylight was just one indication that Reykjavík is no ordinary place, an impression confirmed by its striking modern architecture and sculpture. Outside the city, steam issuing from the ground and the visible edge of a tectonic plate - steadily receding from its neighbour - added weight to the telephone directory's reassuring advice on coping with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The original Geysir which gave its name to all the others no longer erupts, but its smaller neighbour Strokkur continues to impress the tourists, emitting a plume of boiling water every few minutes.

Our first full day in the country was Iceland's Independence Day, and we joined a crowd outside the Parliament building where the President make a speech. A group protesting against human rights violations were allowed to parade their placards unhindered, so perhaps Iceland's human rights aren't as bad as they thought.

Reykjavík's largest church, Hallgrímskirkja: Spectacular even when covered in scaffolding

Busy building

We took possession of our new church building in March, just 10 months after the old one was demolished, and it has proved a great success, being well able to host both Christian and secular activities. There are many pictures on the church website, which, incidentally, had to be reconstructed almost in line with the physical building taking shape on the site - creating plenty of work for this poor webmaster.

"We had a wonderful first service there, followed by a series of celebratory events known as the Launch month in April. The official opening service was attended by Bishop David of Birmingham as well as a number of clergy and curates who had served at St Stephen's and the Church Centre (as it was then called). Phil created a moving five-minute video with musical accompaniment of all the main building stages as they occurred." - Miriam

Aerial view of Christ Church

View of our new church building, from a skylight across the road

Weather charts

The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavík

This year's top sun spot was Iceland, where we enjoyed almost continuous sunshine, day and night. A brief spell of rain produced a magnificent rainbow and made the scenery even more photogenic. We returned to a dark, damp Britain on Midsummer's Day.

There was more respite from the gloom in Germany, which was mainly dry and often sunny while Britain lay trapped under the rainclouds. We did not realise how heavy the rain was back home until our neighbours phoned to tell us that a monsoon had left a lake around our house. At the time we were driving across Holland in perfect evening sunshine to catch the ferry home.

Water feature

"We returned to find obvious flood marks all round the house, inside and out, with accompanying furniture damage, squelchy carpets downstairs and water in the kitchen cupboards. To cut a long story short, there is massive renovation going on downstairs, which we hope will be complete soon."

"In the meantime, due to a fall on wet decking I am now recovering from a left Colles fracture (my wrist), had a month off work, returning in early December." - Miriam

The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavík, with rainbow

Our industrial correspondent reports...

In the New Year I will start work for a new company, without actually changing my job. Changes of ownership have become routine over the years, and the latest will see us become part owned by our largest customer. As an employee representative in the statutory consultation process I have gained access to a little inside information and large quantities of biscuits.

I continue to be half-time with the children's prevention of obesity project, which will finish sometime in 2009, in the Department of Public Health. The other half is in Primary Care and General Practice (sorry, just changed its name to Primary Care Clinical Sciences!) on a project looking at self-management of blood pressure. - Miriam

Adrian has joined Miriam on the payroll of Birmingham University, working part time in the Library's IT support. He can now only work there during his university vacations, but it all helps to fund the expensive lifestyle to which he aspires.

Adults only

Martin writes: I saw my first film at the cinema with an 18 certificate, 'Rambo' which I enjoyed so much it seemed to go on fast, as a key session that had been planned for a while. Other films I saw in the cinema were, 10,000 BC, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Dark Knight.

For Adrian's 18th birthday, we went to London, like I did for my 18th birthday. While there we saw collections of visual arts, walked through some areas and went to the theatre to see 'We Will Rock You'. We went to town to see people performing 'parkour'. We also went into Cadbury world where I saw adverts for chocolate from different decades.

To celebrate the end of my second college year, I went on a trip with my keyworker to the Sea-life Centre, where I took quite a lot of interesting photos. We then went to McDonalds to have lunch.

Student discount

Adrian has now begun a course in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary College, London, and is staying in a hall of residence near Euston Station. With Martin also away from home during the week (he has a residential place at Queen Alexandra College), things are much quieter at home these days - and our food bills have been dramatically reduced.

The year in photos

Jellyfish illuminated

Jellyfish in the aquarium at Berlin Zoo

A view between the taller steles at the Holocaust memorial

Inside the Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

View from a high tower looking eastwards over Berlin

View from Panoramapunkt, Berlin

Windmill at night (time exposure)

Werder's historic windmill

Knut the polar bear

Berlin's most famous resident:
Knut the polar bear in Berlin Zoo

The sun's reflection on the Fernsehturm, Berlin, forms the shape of a cross: nearer the viewer is the cross on top of the dome of the Berliner Dom

The Fernsehturm, Berlin:
Built during the supposedly secular Communist era,
the sun's reflection forms the shape of a cross

Upper drop of Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall, Iceland: The upper drop (11 metres) is visible.
At the bottom right of the photo, the river plunges another 21 metres into a ravine