Jesca Hoop ‘Memories Are Now’ Review

Jesca Hoop’s Memories Are Now is truly something to behold. Conceptually bold in both musicality and subject matter, this is a brave and beautiful project from an artist exerting full masterly control over what she creates. Illustrated with a focused, intense delivery, her fifth album is a verbose and beautiful work that is at once cerebral and sublime.

The title track’s plodding progression is temporal in concern. Crescendos abruptly dissolve to the bare-bones staccato chug of her isolated guitar. Venting her frustration, Hoop looks forward to the future where she’s “got work to be doing”. Creeping plucked double bass and tentative fingerpicked guitar then invite you into the volatile moodiness of the album’s lead single ‘The Lost Sky’. She laments, as a person who clearly values the linguistic integrity and semantic earnestness – “why would you say those words to me if you could not follow through? Go wash your mouth out”.

‘Animal Kingdom Chaotic’ deals with drone warfare over clacking keyboard keys and quivering guitar. Unfortunately, phrases such as “computer says no” and “take back control” resonate differently in British minds than in those of our Anglophone counterparts. The country-influenced ‘Simon Says’ is about feeling disconnected in the social media age, its refrain of “I like what I like” laden with meaning it could only have acquired in the 21st century. Here Hoop coins the epigram of the album in her lyric “w w don’t forget life before the internet”.

‘The Coming’ is the album’s highlight. Warm delayed guitar rumbles below then breaks with abrupt, shattering harmonics. There is no shying away from her subject – the song opens with “Jesus turned in his crown of thorns today […] announced to the earth the end of his reign”. In this nuanced battle with faith Hoop unleashes her most profound lyrics, leaving the listener spellbound and devastated.

Memories Are Now never lets you forget that you are listening to a project that is wholly Hoop’s. She scarcely stops for breath to relate witticism after witticism, and yet somehow these never seem forced. This is a courageous effort that will surely reap rewards.

8.5/10

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The rise of hyphenates and the demise of icons

As the concluding hours tick down on what to many has seemed a fairly dismal lap around the sun politically and in terms of “iconic” deaths I thought it was time to add my evaluation to the numerous top tens, best tweets and wtf moments of 2016.

This year has seen the rise of the hyphenates: retro-politics, post-truth and the alt-right; within its bounds the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Mohammed Ali, Prince, Fidel Castro and most recently George Michael and Carrie Fisher. However, at the outset I was compiling a list of my favourite YouTube channels in a funk of what must have been supreme boredom. Is there anything to add since that fateful conglomeration? Well, perhaps Anthony Fantano’s music reviewing platform The Needle Drop – a concise yet expansive format by a reliable curator that is entertaining enough to be accessible to the mildly curious. It’s been hovering in my recommended bar for months now, but only over the last couple of weeks have I had the weakness to surrender to its insistence and click the link. The results have been rewarding – broadening my mind (particularly in the direction of hip-hop that started with the rap duo Run the Jewels, and which I hope to explore more in 2017) whilst being similar enough to what I already like to build that essential modicum of trust.

January concluded with Jetpacks at the Electric Circus (they were promised them). There unfolded a happy reunion between myself and my former boss and head chef at the Standing Stones. From this stemmed an offer of a job at the restaurant he was then working for, The Roamin’ Nose – an Italian Bistro, and I started working there in mid-February. That month was not only a time of new beginnings, but also of distressing conclusions as I reached the end of Dan Harmon’s brilliant series Community. Meta-humour abundant, inexhaustibly creative and genuinely heart-warming – it’s a definite recommend.

After going to see an icy production of guaranteed crowd-drawer Frankenstein, it was time to get serious and start hunting for a second-year flat. Against an aptly chilly backdrop we eventually fell in love with our ideal high-ceilinged, single-glazed, second floor, compact condo. Controlled, deep breathing was required for our initial visit. We had to see past the battered furniture, the pizza-strewn carpet – underneath the rubble, below the debris lay the real Edinburgh Dream right before our eyes. The occasional mouse is the only aberration in the fabric of this urban paradise.

April was occupied by work, exam leave and depression. Rainy trudges alone to flats an hour’s walk there and back. By the time I’m home my soles are worn, the heel is torn loose and my socks are damp. I resort to eating bread out of boredom. One week I return from an Orcadian interval in the monotony. It seems my flatmate has a girlfriend.

May gives me an excuse to see friends again as the band gets back together one last time before and after exams. Increasing my awareness of the genius of Paradise Lost, I come to embrace Hipsterdom ever further, beginning a relationship with nearby coffee shop Cult Espresso and developing a taste for the mocked “flat white”. In exams I do not excel, but I pass and get to stay on into second year.

In late May I realise that I do not have a job. I phone up the Ferry Inn and make enquiries. In June I start as a commis chef and get a good number of hours. I feel good about myself working here – just enough responsibility while still having leeway for my inexperience. Some prior commitments still linger and work is broken up in the middle of the month with volunteering for the St Magnus Festival. For me the highlight had to be the updated baroque opera, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in the Cathedral, which was over an hour of sheer virtuosic bliss in haunting acoustics.

July was filled with Ferrying at the Ferry Inn, which proved an ideal location for after-work meet-ups, although perhaps led to a geographically curtailed social life of convenience. Shopping Week was experienced as an increase in salads on top of usual levels as locals joined the steady onslaught of German tourists and crab-loving Italians arriving infallibly by the busload.

August was a great month for me. My time at the Ferry Inn drew to a close and the labelling puns became ever more contrived. Just as agricultural show season ended I said goodbye to chef whites and donned a press lanyard as good excuse to get into a packed programme of theatre for free at the Edinburgh Fringe. I was lucky enough to see plays about drug mules, Nordic Noir, Dickens adaptations, Beckett reimaginings, and Madame Bovary dragged into the 21st century.

But the fun didn’t stop there. At the beginning of September, I found myself on a Ryanair flight to Berlin for two weeks dedicated to the exploration of northeast Germany including a detour to Prague. The experience was terrifying but I’m very glad I did it and it has given me the appetite for further excursions of a similar nature.

When it was time for Greenday to wake up I had my first opportunity to see my friend’s band The Motion Poets live at the Three Sisters. Combining alt-rock with a distinct bluesy streak and a good feel for digestible indie, I can see the four-piece making a success of it and I wish them the best of luck. Having scored a gig at Bannerman’s in Glasgow this December, it seems that they are already on their way to climbing up the bill.

I went to some excellent gigs in the month of October including Honeyblood at Electric Circus (due to be closed down soon, which is a shame). I saw Warpaint at Queen’s Hall and was engulfed by waves of post-rock techno minimalism at Stereo in Glasgow, where I saw Canadian outfit Suuns. In mid-October I also finished watching the early 90s cult series Twin Peaks, which is an absurd, hilarious and horrific crime drama/soap opera directed by David Lynch. Apparently it’s making a comeback in the new year. Not sure how I feel about that, but I’m sure it’ll be good.

November witnessed a changing of the guard politically, not least in the change of editorship at The Student, where I opportunistically leapt into the void that was the Features editing power vacuum. I have learnt so much already and will hopefully continue to learn and improve for the duration of my tenure.

At the beginning of December, I managed to weasel my way into the FreshAir Christmas meal. My tenuous credentials being that I help compile and rate the weekly playlist, and that I have a friend who has a show. I had only two exams, those being (the now redundant because we’re not going to be in it anymore!) European Social Policy and German grammar. Then a week ago I departed for the isles where I am now typing this, although I’m planning to return to the capital to take in the New Year.

On a personal level 2016 certainly could have been a lot worse. I’ve had a good variety of occupations, fascinations and locations. I’ve seen more of the world and got to experience a lot of culture first-hand. However, I am worried about the world in the coming year because unfortunately there is still a lot of room for deterioration even if we have already witnessed some real crevasses of discourse. How these new lows will translate into new laws in the next few months remains to be seen. All I have to say is that we must maintain vigilance.

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Salutations from the Solstice

December.

Brown leaves linger – decomposing streaks on recomposing streets whose lights and likenesses change to suit the season.

I’m set to return soon, where no such sodden mulch is to be found.

Another semester past. Another set of exams sat. My Auslandsjahr edges ever closer.

My degree stipulates that I must spend my third year in a country that speaks the language I am studying, namely German. It is this which I must seriously begin to plan and organise over the coming weeks. However, I have already applied to a semester at a German university – Leipzig being my first choice (no particular reason apart from a daunting deadline, interesting alumni and an irrational affinity with the East).

As you may have noticed I have only applied for a single semester, which means that I have half the year to fill with something else (that is, assuming I get in). Personally, I didn’t want to spend the whole time at university, and from a pragmatic perspective getting some kind of work experience will potentially result in better career prospects in the long run. Therefore, I am going to apply to teach English with the British Council, and simultaneously to work as part of a cultural exchange programme via the Scottish Government in Mainz.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the positive correlation between the number of people you tell that you are going to do a certain thing and the likelihood of you actually doing it. In a way this is what I am doing with my blog. So, as terrifying as the idea seems – don’t let me back out!

Keeping with the German theme, I’m currently involved with the department’s production of a contemporary adaptation of Die Räuber by Friedrich Schiller. “Rehearsals” are not fully underway yet. Most of the sessions have been ideas-based – only yesterday I was helping to mend plot holes and drag the 18th century play into the social media age (the action revolves around a falsified letter). The production is gender-swapped too, adding further complications.

Now for some general realisations about life. The time for blame is up, both on a personal level and politically. Laying responsibility at the feet of another is all very well, and will give you a temporary ego-boost but is no long-term solution. There is no point blaming yourself, or those with whom you associate – self-pity is not constructive. Rather, take action. Change the way you live in the present moment. Learn from the past and don’t repeat it just because it’s easy.

Secondly, I see no benefit in assuming superiority or inferiority on most issues. To take one example, a lot of my student life has been justifying my degree to others and being made to feel superior or inferior as appropriate. With regard to English Literature it has a tradition of being dismissed as (from the humanities corner) a “poor man’s Classics”, worsted only by Theology, very ‘middle-class public school girl’ or even by one of the lecturers himself as only useful for having interesting dinner party conversations. From the sciences corner, the humanities are dismissed for their lack of utility and concrete skills/technically applicable knowledge. However, the criticism goes even further than that and into flagrant superiority of the STEM subjects. It is this absolute position I take issue with – we need both of these areas for our society to function and progress. To dismiss someone who studies a humanities subject as an ignorant technophobe who struggles with arithmetic is just as stupid as assuming a science student is an uncultured, tone-deaf philistine.

To return to the class issue associated with humanities, vis-à-vis private school and gender bias, this stratification is only perpetuated by a fee-paying system (which granted does not exist in the same way in Scotland) that inevitably undervalues these subjects as an educational investment. By engaging in this (an over-used word these days I know) polarised discourse, those who profess superiority are only sustaining the exclusivity of alleged “high culture”. These hierarchies of media, subjects and modes are extremely unhelpful and ultimately lead to the anti-intellectualism so prevalent today in that they represent a block to critical thinking.

Further honing down on the subject of superiorities/inferiorities, let’s look at the other side of my degree: German. Shamefully I cling to the distinction of German as separate from the romance languages as a one-up on my French/Spanish/Italian (don’t you dare leave out Romanian you racist, yeah but no one studies it – ah well then, the university is the discriminator) studying colleagues. In this area I bow down to those who are plugging away at Chinese, Arabic, or Russian for example. I have come to realise that I am much too Euro-centric in my thinking, restricting myself culturally to a geographically diminutive catchment area. There is a hackneyed saying that goes something like “the boundaries of my language are the boundaries of my world” or that Nelson Mandela quotation about how speaking to someone in their own language is the way to communicate with their “soul” as opposed to intellect. Tactically it seems I’ve restricted myself in going in for German as a language of choice, yet it has a wider sphere when we consider second language speakers. Additionally, there is little to stop me from learning others simultaneously, which neatly brings me to my next point.

I want to go to Spain. Southern Europe anyway. Probably something to do with the Hemmingway phase I’ve been going through. I’m tired of this dreich, northern mentality – it suits me, but I need something to invigorate me. A new way of thinking.

What else is new? Gigwise things have been pretty good. Went to see Happy Meals through in Glasgow. A French-speaking analogue synth pop duo: transcendent.

I sincerely hope you all have a fabulous yuletide and that 2017 avoids the lows of the current annum.

Yours faithfully,

 

Alasdair

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Meme Magic – Oh look he’s getting a bit political

The world has changed since when I met you last,

Forces have gathered, grown and made their mark,

Meme magic brewed an unsavoury broth,

and left us Trump – God-Emperor of Earth.

Oh, and also I became an editor at The Student.

Mid-November, and the semester nears the close. All in all, a middling success. A social life exists and I’ve managed to avoid dropping off the gradar.

While chaos reigns on the political front, we can find comfort in the set of sterling new releases in music, with Childish Gambino, Run the Jewels and The xx all dropping singles in the immediate aftermath of the result. One thing about studying literature is that it allows one to live in the past to some extent; I’m currently in the shelter of the pre-Revolution 18th century certainty.

To “live in the past” is often seen as a negative thing – an accusation exasperatedly tossed at an adversary expressing perhaps too traditional views – but I can see the positives. Take the current time, where the prevailing mind-set is to ignore facts and seek simple “solutions” to complex problems – is it not now more than ever that is need of a classical, pragmatic rationale we can find in antiquity and Enlightenment thought?

Counter to this is the idea that criticises those on the emerging “alt-right”, to coin phrase that’s getting a rather inordinate and inaccurate level of mintage of late, for hearkening to a prior Golden Age. Make America Great Again, Take Back Control. The problem with this is that what they are nostalgic for did not exist in the form it takes in their heads; whilst it may have been good for some, others – minorities for example – did not share in the prosperity.

I think I’ll be lecturing to the converted in the most part here, which is again a part of the problem – the echo chamber effect. The feedback loop of a reaffirming meme community.

What’s the solution then? Ban memes? That would be absurd and almost certainly lead to riots.

Unfortunately, the internet is a democracy, and sometimes democracy stinks. Memes also demand an extremist position – they facilitate the kind of content that will confirm a pre-existing belief, too outrageous to be expressed in polite conversation. Yes, there’s the alt-right, where an ironic veneration of historical absolutists and autocrats turned into something genuine somewhere down the line – but the left is hardly exempt. Pages such as Sassy Socialist, or Cool Corbyn Memes promote the slaughter of the bourgeoisie on a daily basis and praise Mao and Stalin with a hazy sense of irony. No one is going to create an account called Maverick Moderate Memes – the likes simply aren’t there.

Am I placing too much emphasis on memes? Of course I am, I’m an out-of-touch metropolitan millennial. Most people exist on a “normie” plane, where memes are literal. A few, like me, occupy a zone where the ironic holds most appeal. A stage higher and we reach the zen-like state of the post-ironic – a dangerous position masterfully balanced by only the sagest of scrollers; it was here, precariously perched on the pinnacle of peak saturation that the alt-righters fell from nirvana into the swampy depths they are now so desperate to drain. But to get real – for a considerable chunk of the population, memes live on the fringes of their lives; a banal and incomprehensible distraction.

Demographic change, the impact of which I am becoming increasingly aware, is perhaps a neglected factor in today’s landscape. It is easy to see why publications such as The Guardian might try to blame these “shocking” results on a rogue internet subculture – this absolves them and places culpability in the hands of an imagined community lacking the resources to launch a rebuttal. It also gives them a right to celebrate a victory that in reality had little to do with them. Gone are the days of the closed nation state with its protectionist economics and homogenous populations, however there is a significant chunk of the population who remember them, and they vastly outnumber the young. Unfortunately, in a democracy, power lies with the majority, and for the foreseeable future expect to see policy geared to a retiring, white, capitalist-cradling clientele.

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Not the Rock Concert as We Know it…

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Canadian minimalist techno group Suuns (pronounced ‘soons’ – like Sassoon) took their unique post-rock performance deep into the basement of Glasgow’s Stereo on Monday, October 24. Waves of bass engulf the audience, resonating with our gelatinous viscera; at first an uncomfortable sensation but one which soon serves to bind the crowd to an almost spiritual, ever-present drone oscillating constantly at the lowest of sub-frequencies.  It is an intense and utterly immersive experience.

Suuns were supported by an ambient electronica-wielding synth programmer – looping less than frantically in front of the projection of a vaguely Neolithic-looking artefact on the screen behind him. From standing outside the venue before the main set began, it appeared that this branch of gently mumbling of comingled sine waves was best comprehended through a fair few feet of concrete.

The set was broad in scope, ranging from the pulsating ambient drone, to truly danceable grooves; from the jagged edge of abrasive guitar to saturated soundscapes of pure, impenetrable noise. Audience interaction is few and far between. Lyrics are mostly lost in the overpowering cacophony, but this does not seem to matter as the vocals are just one layer in this polyrhythmic tapestry.

Chords are almost entirely absent. Progressive rhythm and textures are the dominant features of an ever-evolving sound. They have a unique approach to guitar, which involves employing slides to create the gradually rising pitch build-ups more commonly found in EDM. Screeching interjections emulate the chirps and glitches that abound in modern electronic music.

Speaking to the drummer, Liam O’Neill after the set, he praised the Montreal music scene from which the band sprung, citing the particularly supportive artistic community. The city has given birth to acts such as Arcade Fire, Grimes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor – recent performers at the Fringe.

Suuns have something new to offer. A twisted, confrontational sound that forcibly enraptures the beholder. Gothic techno that will entice the indie connoisseur, the hardcore enthusiast and the bashful beats-browser alike. Is this the future, or just some cult niche of bizarre genius? Only time and the fickle winds of market forces will tell.

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Honeyblood @ Electric Circus Review

Glasgow duo, Honeyblood brought their distinct brand of low-fi noise pop to Edinburgh this October in what was the final gig of their pre-semaphore release tour. No strangers to the more intimate venues such as Electric Circus, one feels as though this is a band destined for larger stages. The racket they make is barely contained in the packed out bar.honeyblood-2.jpg

The band were supported by four piece, EAT FAST – a band who seemed to espouse the same wall-of-noise philosophy. Often with noise rock, the vocals are likely to get drowned in the mix with crashing cymbals and layered guitar fortifications suffocating any singing. With this band however, the vocals cut through well due to the singer’s upper range, an effective use of delay and reverb, and sparing cymbal use by the drummer. As a fairly frequent gig attendee, I appreciate these subtle adjustments which allow for extra nuance in what can be a pretty brash genre. Check out their Soundcloud page here.

Honeyblood’s set just managed to stretch an hour, with the band debuting many as yet unheard songs from the upcoming record. Frontwoman, Stella Tweeddale’s candid interlocution between bandmate Cat Myers on drums, their bass synthesiser Sebastian (serving as a comic third member and articulating himself via a series of chirps and bleeps), and the audience, smoothed song transitions and contributed to an inclusive friendly atmosphere.

The strength of Honeyblood’s fantastic self-titled debut was evident with the crowd really relishing such hits as ‘Super Rat’ and ‘Killer Bangs’. This however, did not seem the true objective of the night, which was to premiere the new material. Honeyblood have certainly evolved, adding extra beef by incorporating a bass synth into the mix, guitar with a harder edge than their previously, at times, dreamy soundscape, and adding drum samples. This is a step away from the DIY, low-fi feel of their earlier work, which seems like an inevitable progression as they acquire more acclaim.  The catchy choruses and sharp lyrics of their first album are still abundant only now backed up by a more developed sound.

Honeyblood capture that pure punk spirit. By that I do not mean the aggression and revolt of the 70s, but the attitude that anyone can make music, and that it does not have to conform to the guitar/bass/drums model. What the duo have is a band stripped down to its raw elements. Granted, in such a set up one needs to have a real talent for writing to allow the songs to carry, and this is a test Honeyblood most certainly pass. Coming away from a gig such as this elicits a reaffirming feeling that at heart, all you really need is guitar and drums.

Honeyblood’s new album Babes Never Die is out on November 4.

 

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Reise nach Deutschland

For the past fortnight I have enjoyed the pleasures and borne the anxieties of solo travel. I’ve always considered myself an uncultured swine for not having seen enough of the world, nor consumed adequately of its literature to compensate. My summer was from the outset a directionless, uncoordinated void so I decided to take measures to rectify this and book myself into a couple of German Youth Hostels. What follows is an account of the time spent in the country complete with detours, tangents and a few pictures for your perusal.

1st September

Sitting here in Oranienburg im Gartenzimmer called Glaube (belief). An unconventional start to the whole ship’s log – yesterday I was too exhausted to write clearly.

I’m in Oranienburg because on the outskirts lies the Sachsenhausen Gedenkstätte – a town whose most famous tourist attraction is a concentration camp.

Sachsenhausen is massive, and one is bombarded on all sides with copious information detailing the various humiliations, atrocities and appalling violations of human dignity which went on at every corner. The main memorial statue depicts a scene of liberation – a Soviet soldier shelters two cowering, rake-thin prisoners with what appears to be a cape. On the colossal tower which serves as a backdrop to this sculpture there is an array of red triangles – the symbol denoting political prisoners, who were this particular camp’s main victims. Of course in addition to the ideologically opposed the usual cohort of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other “inferior” races also passed through these gates, a good lot never to return.IMG_20160901_114935209.jpg

More disturbing than sheer statistics were the original features preserved such as execution blocks, hanging poles, prison cells and even mass crematoriums (used before the SS men started getting inmates to burn their own dead in vast open air pyres). It was in the shelter of one of these “ovens” that a weaker, altogether less triumphant memorial than that of the political martyrs stands. This statue depicts the beating of a skin-and-bones prisoner by two camp guards.

2nd September

Spent the morning and early part of the afternoon in Potsdam, which is a beautiful city with impressive neo-classical architecture. It was the seat of the German Kaisers and the heart of the Prussian Empire under the Fredericks. The town is eager to point out that it is home to the first Brandenburger Tor, and that Berlin’s much bigger gate is only a copycat.IMG_20160902_123554139.jpg

For housing such grand buildings, the city seems strangely empty. Just discovered that beer is unbelievably cheap here. So is bread.

3rd September

I do the Berlin walking tour today (as recommended to me by I guy next to me on the flight in). The journey begins to the backdrop of, this time the real, Brandenburger Tor. From there to the Denkmal für den ermordeten Juden Europas, or Holocaust memorial. This is an awe-inspiring and eerie piece of sculpture – but this is spoiled somewhat by the oppressive summer sun and the unfilterable sound of children’s laughter and ignorant play. I resolve to return and visit the museum under the construction.

Next we are ushered a little way down the street to a curiously inconspicuous carpark of all places. We are soon informed of the reason we have stopped – this is the largely unmarked site of Hitler’s bunker.IMG_20160903_104817966.jpg

Partly demolished by the wrath of Soviet soldiers at the end of the war, the remaining structure was filled in with concrete by those who wished to eliminate all trace of the place where the Führer decided to end it all, so as not to fuel the Hitler cult. The plaque, hidden away in the corner of the carpark, to acknowledge the location’s historical significance was paid for by the residents who were sick of the constant enquiries of inquisitive Third Reich tourists. There has been no funding to commemorate the spot by the German federal government.

4th September

Bundestag Open Day today!

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5th September

Spent the past three hours, and 4 euros, in the Deutsches Historisches Museum. I especially enjoyed the Early Modern section, which was a bit of a throwback to first year – ah, the nostalgia, so long ago!

In the morning I took a walk to the Eastside Gallery – a preserved section of the Berlin Wall. This was definitely worth it, if for the guitarist clad only in beach shorts and a rubber horse mask singing The Strokes’ Someday halfway along alone.IMG_20160905_112437589_HDR.jpg

It appears that quite a lot of the wall is not merely maintained, but also updated, with the political emphasis accordingly renewed. Some of the structure does feel like a gallery, and it’s a shame about the fence which cordons off a significant chunk. That being said, those parts without a fence do seem to receive a heavy dose of somewhat less than artistic graffiti – but isn’t that more authentic then?

Around midday the weather took a turn for the torrential and I had to run for shelter having not taken my large hooded coat to conserve space. My newly impulse-purchased bomber jacket served as a mediocre rain shield here. I found myself at a roadside Lidl (well, when in Germany!). Bought a little pizza and, I couldn’t resist, ein Berliner for afters! Basically a glorified jam doughnut.

6th September

Daytrip to Prague. By some miracle I managed to get there and back on schedule.

I arrived, to my ignorant shame, promptly to discovered that the Czech Republic is not indeed in the Eurozone when I tried to pay for the use of the toilet with a 50 cent piece. The Czechs use crowns.

My impression of the city: Prague is beautiful, but not in a contrived, artificially enhanced way. When she wakes in the morning, dishevelled and unmade up, she still retains a fundamental character of splendour that is inherent and ineffaceable.

What I mean, in less flowery terms, is that despite the rather haphazard layout, smatterings of graffiti, and not exactly ill-kept, but not exactly pristine, streets, Prague defies these minor imperfections with a cultivated and easy charm. Angular diagonals intersect where least expected and one finds oneself unintentionally sucked up an endearing lane flanked narrowly by pastel coloured, ornamented buildings.

I was able to see the magnificent revolving Kafka sculpture outside a shopping centre, and photographed the obligatory astronomical clock. Then I took a hike up to Letna Park, where I am reliably informed once stood the world’s largest statue of Stalin. This was toppled with the fall of Soviet communism and in its place now stands a beguiling animatronic arm which rotates perplexingly for no clear reason. Between two great cauldrons/beacons is now stretched a line upon which several pairs of shoes are strung. Again, absolutely no idea as to the significance.IMG_20160906_163612168_HDR.jpg

7th September

The accommodation at the Burg, Spreewald Youth Hostel is making me question why I visited the DDR Museum in Berlin. This is an East German flat, and no replica either. My room is so orange and low-ceilinged, it’s like I’m on an old sitcom set or in the Utopia prequel episode or something. I laugh to myself as I feel the bathroom furnishings. Everything from the taps to the toilet is plastic – bathed in a Bakelite sheen.IMG_20160907_160412399.jpg

A balmy evening here. Very pleasant. Lebensmittel five minutes away! No Wi-Fi though – eek. Whereas Berlin was bilingual with (pretty much) everyone reverting to English as soon as they were able to pinpoint my nationality, Burg is near the border so signs are also in Polish.

8th September

So it seems to be Cottbus day today. Unlike in Berlin where one can go pretty much anywhere for 3 euros, this city’s network is more limited in terms of affordable travel. It would cost me around 20 euros each way to visit Leipzig or Dresden from here; I’m not sure that’s a bill I’m willing to front.

Cottbus is lovely though, with the Altstadt being especially pretty. I resolve to hire a bike to expand my radius of possible travel.IMG_20160908_123644951_HDR.jpg

9th September

Okay, so I managed to hire a bike for four days. I feel so powerful – move over pedestrians, I am the king of the pavement (and cycle path) now!

My steed only has three gears, and is not the most comfortable of beasts, but it suffices. Brandenburg is the flattest of the Bundesländer – I can go anywhere! Mobility, freedom and speed are mine!

In a little town called Calau now. I’m overlooking a large pond surrounded by reeds – in the middle there is a small eyelet upon which sprouts an oak. A sizable population of ducks swim hither and thither endearingly. Every time an acorn falls from the encircling canopy above, one of the ducks bolts through the water towards it before it can sink and attempts to force the thing down its gullet. Is this normal behaviour for such waterfowl?IMG_20160909_121812915.jpg

10th September

I’m sitting on a bench on the outskirts of our Spreewald sister-town, Lübbenau. It seems bigger and more populated than its altogether sleepier relative, Burg. The cycle route to get here was very beautiful – through secluded woods all the way and not so stressful as yesterday’s unsolicited forays into Privatgelände.IMG_20160910_120232758.jpg

11th September

Bismarckturm! (Also free open day!) The view from the top was basically just trees, seeing as it is situated in the middle of a big forest. In the afternoon I visited the Spreewald thermal pools, which I believe did me some good – sehr entspannend!IMG_20160911_102433942_HDR.jpg

12th September

Cottbus seems to be one of the few free Wi-Fi zones in the entire Spreewald area. I opened my phone to find 58 new notfications *gulp* It seems that Hilary Clinton has pneumonia. Are we one step closer to having Donald Trump become the most powerful person in the world? *shudder*

Reflections on the trip as a whole

Length: although I tried to cram a lot into two weeks of Germany time I feel like the travel to time ratio could have been more weighted in favour of moving around. Berlin is a big city with a great many possibilities and an excellent and affordable transport system to boot.  Burg, however, is just a little village, and the surrounding area is full of little villages that while are quaint in their own way, remain fundamentally similar. Here I started my holiday asking for directions; by the end I was giving them.

On the issue of transport, Germany is great for its cycle routes – at least the Brandenburg area for starters. One is never forced to take a direct route with high traffic volumes – there are always side paths and bypasses in what amounts to a vast arterial network that interweaves the forest.

What has surprised or intrigued me? In Germany there are none of the British supermarkets – not a Tesco or a Sainsbury’s in sight. And why have them when they have such wonderful options of their own – Lidl, Aldi and my personal newfound favourite, Netto. There seems to be no such thing as self-service here, which I suppose can only be a good thing seeing as part of the reason for the trip was to improve my oral language skills. Also it seems that Germans do their recycling, or at least part of it, in supermarkets – perhaps there are incentives for such behaviour? Strangely enough, Tesco are in the Czech Republic.

Highlights

+ DDR Museum

+ Eastside Gallery

+ Deutsches Historisches Museum

+ Prague

+ Spreewald Thermen

Lowpoints

– Not being able to open that bottle of .39-euro beer

– Torrential rain with no hood/shelter in Berlin

– Lack of free public toilets!

– No Wi-Fi in Burg

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