Weekly Photo Challenge: Curve

I like both of these images for very different reason.

In the first one you might wonder where the curve will lead you to and it just shouts “British” to me with the red double-decker bus and the, for me, typical London architecture.

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Selfridges in Birmingham on the other hand presents a steep contrast to the very straight and pointed spire of the church with its smooth curves and rounded surface.

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Birmingham – brimming with history

When I first visited Birmingham on a backpack tour around England almost 20 years ago, it wasn’t love at first sight. It was a grey day with a persistent drizzle that didn’t dampen only my mood but also drained any colour and fun out of Birmingham. I was glad I stayed only for the day.

Since I moved to Wales, I have been back several times. Usually for my yearly fix of bratwurst and mulled wine at the German Christmas market and a bit of retail therapy. And I try to discover a new part of the city every time. Last year I had a nose around the newly opened library. This time, I arrived quite early on a sunny though cold day and decided to go for a walk along the Birmingham Canal,and around the city centre for a while before getting all christmassy.

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The atrium of The Cube

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The Cube is one of the newer buildings in Birmingham.

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Gas Street Basin

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Along the canal you get a feel for the industrial past of the city.

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Canal junction

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The area seems to be popular with graffiti artists as well.

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Not a single cloud in sight.

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Old and new. The building to the right is the new library. 

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The facade of the library.

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Two wheels – Birmingham Wheel and a statue outside the Hall of Memory representing the navy and holding a ship’s wheel

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King Edward VII

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Nice touch to an otherwise boring building

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This side of One Martineau Place has got a bit of a retro feel to it.

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Selfridges

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‘Back to backs’, the last surviving court of back-to-back houses in Birmingham managed by the National Trust. I was lucky to get a last minute place on one of the guided tours.

I have to say, I really enjoyed myself (and the bratwurst afterwards) and will have to come back on a summer’s day and see more of this city.

Getting in the Christmas mood

One of the stranger things in my job as a Graphic Designer is that I start working on Christmas designs when everybody else is thinking about summer picnics and trips to the beach while the sun is shining outside (one year I had to start the first Christmas design by the end of January). By the time winter and advent has arrived I am more or less sick of snowflakes, reindeers, Christmas trees and Santas and it takes some effort to get me into that Christmas mood again. Usually visiting a Christmas market with a mulled wine (or two) and a bratwurst helps.

I missed many events because I was spoiled for choice, running out of time or some days the weather was just too bad for my taste (I don’t mind it being cold as long as it’s dry).

I always like the atmosphere at the Chester Christmas market (and I don’t mean the Winter Wonderland!) and what better way to combine a visit to the market with some late night Christmas shopping and the Winter Watch Parade.

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So not the Christmas market but it looked pretty.

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The Winter Watch Parade is popular with young and old.

‘A Tudor Yuletide’ at Little Moreton Hall near Congleton in Cheshire was a bit different. The warm welcome drink at the entrance was much appreciated and I learned some things as well.

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Defying the rules of physics since Tudor times – Little Moreton Hall

‘Logically it should not still be standing up!’ but fortunately for us, Little Moreton Hall defied logic and physics for over 500 years. Also the Tudors, or those who could afford it, loved sweet flavours, a fact that sits quite well with me as I have a sweet tooth myself. I didn’t mind that the marzipan, or marchpane, looked like bacon, it was gorgeous.

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The Long Gallery, the reason why the building has its top-heavy appearance and has been described to look “like a stranded Noah’s ark” in the National Trust guidebook.

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The windows created interesting patterns

Saying that, I had to discover that I am not a fan of Tudor chicken paté. The volunteer had warned me I might be in for a surprise but I wasn’t prepared for this. Rose water, almost overpowering. Because the Tudors had a sweet tooth they even wanted their chicken paté to be sweet. Thanks, but no thanks.

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Live music in the hall that was set up for a feast.

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What Tudors would eat, if they were rich enough

The German Christmas market in Birmingham is one of the biggest German markets outside of Germany. I either get my yearly fix of mulled wine, bratwurst and Quarkbällchen (plain donuts) here in Manchester. I also managed to fit in some sightseeing and shopping which is always a bonus. But as last year, some people really should think about some of the aspects I wrote down in my personal code of conduct for Christmas markets.

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In need for some German Christmas treats

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It looks even prettier when night falls

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View from the library on the ice rink near the Christmas market.

Wrexham had some events on offer as well. The Victorian Christmas market is always nice and this year marked the first appearance of the Coca Cola Truck in town.

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Holidays are coming to Wrexham this year.

Chirk Castle was the setting for a medieval Christmas market this year. Unfortunately it rained when I visited so the courtyard with the market was deserted and everybody wanted to get into the tower for come craft workshops and the grotto. It also meant I head the other rooms in the castle more or less to myself.

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Due to the weather the courtyard was kind of deserted

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I wonder if one of the presents is for me…

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Not quite my idea of a Christmas menu

Finally I went to Erddig House, not for Erddig Glow which I heard was fantastic, but to take a look at some rooms that had been set up for Christmas dinner in the 1920s or 30s and all with real candles. It created a magical if quite dark atmosphere and was definitely worth the visit.

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Christmas in the 20s/30s – real candles were used in the chandeliers etc

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It was quite dark so you had to watch what you were eating. Thankfully the cooks were highly skilled.

Next up, hopefully, will be the Christmas market in my hometown Bonn in Germany on its last day and I will have myself another mulled wine or Feuerzangenbowle and bratwurst.

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My next and final destination – Bonn Christmas market.

Merry Christmas to you all!!

Let’s go to the library

How I disliked this sentence when I was younger because it usually meant that I had to prepare a paper for school or university (this was still pre-internet and later on the web wasn’t quite what it is today). Anyway, it meant I had to spend my precious free time in an unwelcoming, ugly building or room which smelled unpleasantly of dust, people and books. The rooms would be flooded in the the cold light of fluorescent tubes with almost no natural daylight, the books could be a bit shabby and the tables and chairs had seen better days. So I wasn’t looking forward to it and I’m a person who generally loves books.

So imagine my surprise when I realised that a library could actually be a tourist attraction. The particular library I’m talking about is the brand new ‘Library of Birmingham’ which opened its doors in September this year and has been described as the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe.

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The building is certainly eye-catching.

And what a space it is. Designed by internationally–acclaimed Dutch architects Mecanoo the library comprises 10 levels of varying size and usage including a spacious entrance and foyer with mezzanine, lower ground level with indoor terraces, four further public levels and two outdoor garden terraces and at the very top of the building a rotunda feature housing the Shakespeare Memorial Room. And apart from the stunning architecture the most surprising thing for me was the amount of people visiting the place. And not just tourists but locals and families with their children too. I had a lovely chat with a man while we were both taking pictures of the book rotunda. He: “You’re first time here?” Me: “Yes, it is.” “Mine too. A friend was here a couple of weeks ago and said I had to see it. So here I am.”  You get the idea.

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Close up of the outside structure.

And as there is even a leaflet provided which has a self-guided ‘Building Highlights Trail’ in it to help you explore the library, my curiosity won over and off I went on my own little exploration.

Look from the lower ground floor up the stairs. They are a prominent feature of the building and almost look like they belong to a Stanley Kubrick movie set…

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Looking up

… the blue illumination makes it look futuristic.

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The Book Rotunda is the heart of the Library and houses tens of thousands of books – apart from the fact that its balconies give further interesting views through the building.

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The rotunda stretches over several levels.

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It’s an impressive space

The Discovery Terrace on level 3 is an outdoor garden with good views across the city and a lot of seats to relax or read a book.

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Garden on the Discovery Terrace

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You get nice views across the city from here.

Next stop – the Secret Garden on the 7th floor. You can get there in style by rising through the upper part of the central rotunda using the scenic glass lift. Or, if you are like me and don’t like queues, climb the stairs. It’s ‘only’ 90 steps and you will be rewarded with even better views and a more secluded feel.

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Looking towards the ceiling with the glass lift on the right.

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On a clear day the views must be quite spectacular.

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Just to show you the difference in height to the Discovery Terrace.

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The Secret Garden provides lots of opportunities to sit down and relax.

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And for the art lovers, there are even some sculptures.

And finally – after some more steps or another lift ride –  the Shakespeare Memorial Room and the Skyline Viewpoint on level 9. The Shakespeare Memorial Room is an original feature from the city’s Victorian library and was designed in 1882. Since then it has moved home twice and houses some interesting items from the Library’s general collections related to Shakespeare. The full Shakespeare collection outgrew the room as early as 1906. And after marvelling at the exhibitions and the fantastic wood panels and ceiling of the room, take time to enjoy the views from the Skyline Viewpoint 51 metres above street level. The indoor viewpoint provides a digital telescope for information about the landmarks you can see.

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The master himself

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The room just looks amazing…

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…and the ceiling is stunning.

So even if books might not be your thing, make sure to visit the library next time you are in Birmingham. It’s worthwhile the time and might change your opinion of libraries as it did mine.

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See you next time.

Birmingham and my personal code of conduct for Christmas markets

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For me Christmas season means visiting a German Christmas market and combining this with some Christmas shopping (which means not only shopping for presents but also shopping for myself). After being to Manchester’s Christmas market for the last two years I thought it was time to revisit the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas market again. I really had a good time but what a day it was…

It already started a bit funny at the train station.
“A day return to Birmingham, please.” “New Street?” “Yes, please.” “Are you sure?” “Yes!?”
Maybe this should have warned me. I thought I knew what to expect but I wasn’t quite prepared for this.

First, some Christmas shopping and let me tell you, I wasn’t the only one…

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First stop – don’t think I need to tell you where I went

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It all looks very christmassy and busy…

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I can’t wait either

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Nicely decorated as well

After I had to queue to use an escalator like it was a fun ride in Disneyland (zig zag barriers and all), I decided it was time for some proper German bratwurst and gluehwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. What a delight and I even got served with a friendly “Guten Appetit!”. I really enjoyed the Christmas market even though it was very busy but everyone was in a good mood.

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A hot gluehwein just seemed perfect

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It does look nice when it gets dark

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Not quite ‘silent night’ more like ‘party around the christmas tree’

And then there are these moments when you swear under your breath because some people don’t quite realise they are not walking these streets alone.

So here is my personal code of conduct for Christmas markets or crowds in general:

  1. If you are not able to eat your bratwurst, hold on to your gluehwein mug, update your Facebook status on your mobile and walk simultaneously – DON’T! Mustard is not a colour every other person likes to wear… Actually this goes for any kind of food and drink.
  2. Don’t stop dead in your tracks to take a picture – or for any other reason. I like to take pictures myself because it does look pretty with all the lights and decorations. But have a look around you first, step to the side, maybe look for a shop window or entrance to stand in front of or even hide behind a lamppost and take your picture from there. It’s still going to look pretty and you can take your time to get it right.
  3. A visit to a Christmas market is most fun if you go with a group of friends. I agree with that. However, the fun stops if you are in a group of lets say 5-10 people, walking next to each other and holding hands as not to get split up or lost. You won’t get lost, I promise. And you won’t be able to talk to each other properly anyway. So give the rest of us a chance to pass by you and don’t block the whole aisle. You could even decide on a meeting point when it gets too busy in case you get split up. It would be so much more fun for everybody else.
  4. Don’t push. If the crowd can’t move any faster this won’t get you anywhere any faster at all. It just makes people in front of you uncomfortable and angry. Try to be patient.
  5. Smoking in a moving disorganised pack of people? Never! Ever!

You could probably add more to this list but these are my the top 5 from my recent experience. But above all, have fun and enjoy yourself!!