Sunday, 30 August 2009

Berlin 1933 to 1989

Berlin is a place where some of the most important events of the last century took place. There is so much to see here that relates to World War Two or the Cold War, some of it obvious and some of it less so. In the former category sits what is left of the Berlin Wall, as well as bullet-holes in East Berlin buildings and this mural of Communist propaganda found at the former Luftwaffe HQ.

In the latter category, though, and of more interest to me are the things that look simple and ordianary but are actually the site of something much more significant. A prime example is this parking lot, a place where we were told people bring their dogs to do their business and sometimes do their own business here as well. The reason? It is the spot of Hitler´s bunker in the latter parts of WWII, and the spot where he died.

Another facinating legacy of the past is Ampelmann, the green and red man in all the traffic lights. I would not have noticed it usually but was told that he is Ampelmann, and is the only part of East Germany culture to survive the fall of the Great Wall. Apparently when Germany got reunited the East Germans were happy to shed the icons from the Cold War, but would not give up Ampelmann. He´s now used in all of Germany, and you can buy an entire range of Ampelmann products including clothes and lollies. Awesome.

Jumping for joy in Berlin

Berlin is awesome. I like it so much, if I had travelled here in my late teens or early 20s I think I would have seriously considered moving here instead of London. The place reeks with history, and as I love 20th Century history Berlin is the place to be. What better way to express my love for this city than jumping for joy outside the Reichstag? None, I say! I regret not staying here longer, but like it so much it is now first place with India on my "places I have been that I must return to" list.

With our wonderful hosts Martin and Janka outside the Reichstag

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Roots, part two

Having retraced some of my roots on Dad´s side up in Scotland, a couple of weeks later Lauren and I did the same with Mum´s family. Her dad, Jack, was born in Ilkley in Yorkshire and moved out to New Zealand with his family when he was just 14.

Ilkley is also the birthplace of Barbara, an aunt who has gathered a wonderfully large amount of information about the genealogy of our family. She, her husband George, daughter Jodie and partner Mike were superb hosts for us and took us on a tour of the town.

Picnic in an Ilkley park.

This being a part of the world famous for the Industrial Revolution, when the area was filled with cotton mills, I was expecting Ilkley to somewhat grim. It was the complete opposite. Having been a fashionable spa town it is filled with big Victorian houses and leafy trees, and with the surrounding moors covered in wild flowers it is a lovely place. I was thrilled to see that some of the buildings connected to my ancestors were more or less the same.

The excellent wine shop that used to be the furniture store of my great grandad, joiner Arthur Baynes.

The house grandad Jack was born in.

It was a real pleasure and a privilege to be there, as it had been to go to Alloa. But though I enjoyed seeing where my ancestors came from, I did not feel any kind of connection to the places. It reminds me that while decades ago New Zealanders still called Britain Home, my heart will always lie in the South Pacific.

Not that I would not love to spend more time with those good people up North!

Roots, part one

Back in the early part of the 20th Century my ancestors, like so many people from Great Britain, packed their bags, said goodbye to their families (often for good) and headed off on the long voyage to their new homes. Seeing where the Aikmans and Bayneses came from has always been one of the must-do things for me and in the last month we've done it.

First up was Alloa, the Scottish town where my great-grandfather William Aikman was born. It was a thriving industrial port at the time and though the glory days have gone, it is still a nice place. Very much a typical working class British town, with a mix of pubs, Indian takeaways, pretty old Victorian buildings and the ubiquitous chain stores - WH Smith, Boots and the rest.

Downtown Alloa

The countryside is pleasant too. It's similar to the Waikato, with low hills, plains and lots and lots of green grass. However, it's also where the Lowlands end. Just north of the town is the steep edge of the Highlands. This is the area - near Stirling, the chokepoint of Scotland and site of many battles - the Aikmans come from.
We went to the Alloa library, where a super-helpful librarian dug into the files and found a bunch of interesting information. They're very well set-up for genealogy requests here, as clearly there's a lot of us colonials retracing their roots. I imagine a lot of them hope to find a king, famous warrior or at least a ruined castle in their background. What we found when we went looking for the area where William Aikman grew was a car park, motorway, petrol station and supermarket.

An Asda, but not a castle in sight.

On the bright side, in Edinburgh's Scottish National Gallery I was gobsmacked to find a portrait by a different William Aikman - a famous painter. So there's some glamour in those roots after all.

Monday, 17 August 2009


I've had a real appreciation of historic cemeteries ever since proof-reading Stephen's Master's Thesis and soon to be published book on that subject. Although many people find the old stone graves of people long-gone a tad creepy, I've always found them interesting and appreciate the way historic cemeteries remind me of my own mortality. Our visit to Highgate Cemetery last weekend was no exception.Highgate is a lovely cemetery - leafy, spacious and full of very photographic tombs. Some well known people are buried there, such as writers Douglas Adams (who very fittingly has a dolphin on his headstone) and George Elliot. Highgate is also home to the most famous person whose grave I've seen, Karl Marx (below).
Tane argued that the most famous person's grave we've seen is that of Elizabeth I or Henry VIII, whose graves we saw at Westminster and Windsor respectively. I maintain it's Marx, as I imagine more rural Chinese and Russians would have heard of Marx than English royals. Either way, Dad tells me that after World War II Churchill offered Marx's remains to Stalin as a gesture of good will. Stalin said no, for which I am very grateful as otherwise we would not have been able to visit his grave for myself.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Cathy! Heathcliff!

I think that Wuthering Heights is one of the best books ever written. Given my love for the book, I was very excited to go to Yorkshire last weekend to see where the book was set, where the Brontes lived, and do a walk through in the Moors.
Picnic in the Moors

I was not disappointed - Yorkshire is lovely and our hosts there were awesome . The highlight of the weekend for me though was doing an excellent walk through the Moors, trying to imagine Heathcliff and Cathy being dysfunctional and selfish (as they are for 99% of the book), and getting some sun. It was also great to finally get the walking boots out again, due to a series of injuries combined with bad weather and laziness they had gathered dust ever since last summer.

The house that inspired Heathcliff's Home of Dysfunction in Wuthering Heights.

After walking through the Moors we visited the parsonage where the Brontes lived - and most of them died - which has been turned into an excellent house museum (see photo below). The house told the tragic story of the Bronte's in a way that left me feeling very sad for them, especially seeing the sofa Emily died on. It made me even sadder for the countless other families that probably suffered similar fates that have been completely forgotten on account of not having written works of genius themselves.
Anyone that loves Wuthering Heights should visit the Yorkshire Moors at least once in their lives, it's a fabulous place and might even be the inpiration for you to write a novel to be considered one of the best ever!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

It's not grim up north

Lauren and I have just come back from a fantastic weekend in Yorkshire, where we stayed with my relatives George and Barbara Carter, and travelled with their daughter Jodie and her partner Mike. They were the most wonderful hosts imaginable and, with the British weather finally coming to the party, we all had a great time wandering around the moors, eating lots of yummy food and drinking nice wine. We'll blog about it in more detail later, so for now I'll just post some photos.
The Yorkshire moors

Mike clambering up The Calf on Ilkley Moor
Above Ilkley, where my grandad was born. Check out the Victorian graffiti carved into the rocks.

A delicious dinner at the Carters' house.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


I've wanted to see the Highlands since as long as I can remember - certainly from when I first saw Sean Connery swinging his sword around the place in the movie Highlander. Then Braveheart made me hungrier. So on our Scotland trip I was determined to spend a good few days getting away from civilisation and travelling around the lochs and mountains.

Loch Torridon

We picked up a car in Inverness but - almost disastrously - on the way to the car hire place, Lauren (and her 20kg of packs) slipped on a battery and twisted her ankle. She could barely walk once it swelled up. Luckily she had lots of good books so didn't get too bored when I went out wandering, such as to the awesome Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye.

The Old Man, which appeared suddenly and rather creepily out of the mist.

We'd been warned about two things for the Highlands - the weather and the midges. And sure enough, the weather was a schizophrenic mix of sun, gloom and pouring rain - I think it changed about six times on the way down Loch Ness to Skye. Sadly the clouds rarely lifted from the top of the peaks. Then there were the midges. The weather meant we didn't go camping as we'd hoped, but we did get our experiences with them. I hopped out of the car to take a photo in the middle of some spectacular scenery, took a couple of photos, then noticed a tiny, fruit fly sized insect trying to suck my blood. I turned and saw he'd brought a few dozen friends. I jumped back inside the car and in a few seconds the door was open, about six came in with me. Midges are scary. You could see them rising out of the grass when we went walking near a loch.
Despite the dodgy weather and biting beasties, it was really good trip. A lot of people say Scotland is like New Zealand and it's true. The lakes, glacier carved valleys and steep, bare mountains reminded me of the central South Island, the high plateaus were like the Desert Road, while the winding, one lane roads and tiny towns on the coast were like being back on the East Coast (minus maraes). If you like the wilderness, I highly recommend the Highlands - though be warned Kiwis, they might make you homesick!