Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Grunewald 0219

It’s always a pleasure to return to Berlin to look after the grandchildren. Even if they don’t really need any “looking after” it’s great to spend (so called) quality time with them, as well as continuing our exploration of this great city. Today we took the S7 to Grunewald and walked through the forest and around the Grunewaldsee and Hundekehlefenn lakes. The forest is magnificent all year round. At this time of year it’s all shades of grey and brown with hints of purple. It’s icy cold and the paths are sandy and dry and lovely to walk on and there are lots of friendly walkers and their dogs enjoying the day. We stop at the Paulsborn Schloss hunting lodge for a bracing outdoor lunch in the barest hint of sunshine.

But as we walked out of Grunewald station we stopped and studied the various artifacts from 80 years ago. There is a panel describing how this area of the city was extremely prosperous. The lakeside properties were in great demand by industrialists, writers, scientists, among them a lot of very important people who were building their original villas in the surrounding parkland. There were a high proportion of Jewish inhabitants in this area. Beside the station there is a 1991 memorial, a long concrete wall with negative imprints of human bodies. The memorial commemorates the period from October 1941 to February 1945 during which time some 50,000 Jewish citizens of Berlin were deported to the extermination camps where they were murdered.

As we walk through the forest we discuss how shocked we are with the British Labour Party that has clearly got a major problem with anti-Semitism, and how disgusted we are that the leadership of that party has ignored the problem that has led to yesterday’s resignations. And at the same time in France there are reports of widespread anti-Semitism actions by far-right protesters.

Once again, we are left wondering how it is that we are destined to relive history. Of course, we constantly see examples of prominent people who clearly don’t understand their history. Recent examples are almost too many to mention, but let’s just name tag a few such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and current British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. And we wonder how it is that the British media seem intent on reliving the second world war and blaming the German people for all the problems visited on the UK.

Yet although we visit Germany a lot we have never ever experienced anything but goodwill. Even in the face of Brexit we see Angela Merkel’s position to be entirely reasonable even in response to extraordinary provocation. In fact, the general impression of the German people is that the Brits have temporarily lost their senses and are hoping they recover very soon. But in contrast to Brits  the German people are acutely aware of their still recent past and fully prepared to acknowledge and commemorate the awfulness that was perpetrated by their forebears.

It seems that today the western world including the UK, USA, France, and several Eastern European countries are being taken over by extremists. We should all be remembering how easy it was for small numbers of extremists to capture the public opinion in Germany in the 1930s with disastrous consequences. It’s time for us all to remember and act accordingly.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized, Democracy, Brexit, Travel, Brexit Britain | Tagged | Leave a comment

Nervous Breakdown Britain

massive-social-collapse

Just hours after I penned this piece, I hear that Angela Merkel has doubled down on the tough EU negotiating position. She is reported to have told Leo Varadkar, “ . . a hard border has to be on the table in a no-deal Brexit scenario”. My thesis is that this simply makes the current position even more difficult for the Mrs. May and the UK. The EU however do have the solution and they can stop the madness.

Many of will us have experienced trauma in our lives. Through the loss of loved ones or friends; or failure of business, loss of jobs, perhaps a major incident or accident. However, fortunately few of us have experienced trauma with widespread impact such as war, famine or pandemic. Similarly, few of us have observed the strange period that precedes major changes such as war or pandemic. And so, it’s with something approaching horror that we watch, day by day, as the United Kingdom in chaos accelerates towards the cliff edge of Brexit, with unknowable consequences that will surely result in major trauma for the UK itself, and also for us bystanders.
A nervous or mental breakdown is a term used to describe a period of intense mental distress and it seems as if the UK is having a grand mal. Although “nervous breakdown” is no longer considered a medical term, it’s still used by many to describe intense symptoms of stress and an inability to cope with life’s challenges; the inability to function in your everyday life.
It’s very much a Groundhog-day experience. Every day we observe the UK digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole. Every day politicians, journalists, commentators report on how non-existent negotiations are not proceeding. How the negotiating parties have reached deadlock and how there as many opinions in parliament as there are MPs. We observe Mrs. May executing a strategy that rests on doing nothing until the VERY last minute at which point she is sure the EU will blink notwithstanding extensive analysis that says the exact opposite. At the same time, we are becoming increasingly familiar with the probable impacts of the default “no deal” which become increasingly scary.
No one, apart perhaps for the UK gutter press, now believes the EU will be blamed for the “no deal” outcomes. It’s completely obvious that the UK is at war with itself. It’s a very modern form of civil war. In our modern world everyone has a voice, but no one is heard. And it appears that no one is actually saying “STOP!” Or maybe we can’t hear them above the cacophony.
Today it seems the best outcome that can be hoped for is a delay in the March 29th deadline. But why would the EU 27 agree to that because it would surely just prolong the agony and indecision. The UK is deeply divided across party lines, across country and across society. Any outcome is likely to cause huge unrest and continuing division. It’s clear that the UK is in the midst of a major nervous breakdown and something really big must happen to resolve it.
Continuing the analogy of the nervous breakdown it seems the UK actually needs advice that it is incapable of giving itself. Let’s consider a scenario in which the EU, all 27 countries agree to recommend the UK delays Article 50 as a process timeout, which may be restarted at a time of the UK’s choosing when the UK has decided on the best course of action with agreement of both parliament and the people. In other words, give the UK the time and space to think hard about what it wants to do. Consult the people, develop detailed plans. In fact, recover its sense and act like the world has become accustomed to seeing the UK — as a bastion of good sense and stability.
Up to now, all the commentary has been about whether the EU will negotiate; whether they will make nonsensical changes to the Withdrawal Agreement just to allow the UK to continue into the next phase of this ridiculous process — to negotiate the trade agreement. We must conclude that the EU want to spend the next two years negotiating with this bunch of clowns like they want a hole in the head. So, while Mrs. May would probably not want to incur a delay, it’s high probability that the UK Parliament would vote for that process timeout with an overwhelming majority. The alternative is unthinkable.

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Democracy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Theresa May’s Brexit Strategy?

which waywhich way

I cannot reveal the source of this draft document. However, it seems to be an interesting approach that could just break the current Parliamentary logjam.

. . . discussion draft for No 10 strategy group circulation only . . . . proposed statement re the EU Withdrawal Bill vote . . . .

. . . . Today’s vote is an important step in the Brexit process. I acknowledge the extensive debate and deep thought that has been given to the agreement concluded with the EU and is now presented to the House for approval. I also acknowledge the deeply held opinions that members of all parties hold and have expressed. I would however, ask every member today to very carefully reconsider their position, however strongly held, in the light of the light of our overall objectives and critically the withdrawal process.

I also acknowledge the concern over the delay in this vote, however the situation clearly required some time to explore the position of the EU as well as a little time for reflection in view of the magnitude of this decision.

I know many members have been exploring alternative avenues and options. But it is clear to us all that Parliament needs to act extremely quickly to address the very real concerns of business, as well as to allow the legal processes to conclude here in this house as well as in the EU parliament. Furthermore, we are all acutely aware that our own and EU citizens here and around Europe are very worried about Parliaments ability to conclude this process. I hear many people are thoroughly bored with the process; others are dismayed by the inability of Parliament to sort this out.

I believe we in Parliament must take responsibility for resolving this question. And I propose that we do this today!

We will vote on the Withdrawal Agreement agreed with the EU. Many tell me this will not obtain a majority in the House. Yet I believe it is a credible deal that respects the narrowness of the 2016 referendum. It achieves a good level of separation between the UK and the EU while maintaining a sensible level of alignment between what are major partners on many levels, not just trade. It maintains the integrity of the Good Friday international agreement which has been a major objective from the outset. There are of course concerns; but most of these seem to be concerns regarding the transitional arrangements. And frankly we the UK need to demonstrate greater effectiveness in working major agreements in order to give our partners and ourselves and our citizens confidence that key agreements will be concluded in the agreed timescale so that backstops do not need to be activated.

Taking all of this into account I propose as follows. We vote on the Withdrawal Agreement. I expect this to pass. If for some reason it fails to reach a majority I will table a simple bill to rescind Article 50. I propose that we vote on this with minimum delay. The choice being presented to you today is simple — vote to leave the EU on the 19th March under the current Withdrawal Agreement including the orderly transition period, or we remain in the EU on the current terms. As a major trading nation we cannot allow our citizens and businesses and partners to undergo more uncertainty. We need to reach a level of certainty today.

I commend this course of action to the house . . .

which waywhich way

Posted in Brexit, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

On the Border

You can drive to one of the most historically significant memorials in Europe in under an hour from where we are staying in Eastern Austria. And yet most of us will be unfamiliar with the name – Sopron, a small Hungarian town just a few kilometres from the Austrian border.
In 1989 the Soviet Union was in trouble. The failing economies of Russia and its satellite countries were leading to the rapid collapse of state socialism. Former satellite nations Poland and Hungary were leading agents of change in East and Central Europe. President Gorbachev was a fresh face in the Kremlin who refused to continue funding the satellite nations. The entire USSR was bankrupt.
The communist leaders in Berlin became prisoners of their own policies and their citizens whom they had held hostage. More and more East Germans were attempting to escape to the West and were gathering in large numbers in Hungary. Their hopes had been raised by discussions between Hungary and Austria on dismantling the Iron Curtain. There were rumours that Austria could be reached by a short walk. But illegal border traffic continued to be stopped by border patrols. The opposition in Sopron promoted the idea of a Pan European Picnic and spread the word that it would commence at 3pm on the 19th August 1989. Large numbers of refugees from East Germany appeared, walking and driving little Trabants, and before the official start spontaneously broke through the border. The Hungarian border guards whose superiors had left them, did not try to stop the refugees. Hundreds of people forced their way across the border and freedom. Later the border guards once again imposed border controls and the crossing stopped. But the damage was done.
The news was instantly relayed around the world. Chancellor Helmut Kohl said, “The Hungarians have removed the first stone from the Berlin wall”. And it was just a few months later that East Berliners made their own first steps to break down the Berlin wall and paved the way for German reunification, which formally took place on 3 October 1990.
Today the site of the Pan-European Picnic is a memorial park right next to the border crossing. The park must be hundreds of acres in size and includes pictorial records, a reconstruction of part of the old wall, walking trails and statues. Every year there are commemoration picnic events. The largest in 2009 was attended by Angela Merkel who thanked the Hungarians for their courage saying, “Two enslaved nations together broke down the walls of enslavement… and Hungarians gave wings to East Germans’ desire for freedom.”
Yet as we walked around the park we pondered on how today as the world embraces nationalism there are walls appearing in many places including the USA, UK, Israel and even Hungary to name just a few. Some are physical, some are virtual, but they are a manifestation of the desire to reverse the trend for international cooperation. And the events of 1989 are almost forgotten!
We drove across the border back into Austria remembering that for now we were crossing between two EU countries with no hindrance. The same can be said for the nine borders that we crossed, some of them multiple times during our travels – Ireland, Wales, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein and Hungary.

Coda from the Eagles:
Cruisin’ down the centre of a two way street, Wondering who is really in the driver’s seat
Mindin’ my business along comes big brother, Says, “Son you better get on one side or the other”. Oh oh, I’m out on the border, I’m walkin’ the line, Don’t you tell me ’bout your law and order. I’m try’n’ to change this water to wine,
Never mind your name, just give us your number, Never mind your face, just show us your card, And we want to know whose wing are you under, You better step to the right or we can make it hard, Oh ooh, I’m stuck on the border, All I wanted was some peace of mind, Don’t you tell me ’bout your law and order, I’m try’n’ to change this water to wine

Posted in Brexit, Democracy, Travel | Leave a comment

Return to the Wienerwalt

General P1100303
The drive from Lake Simssee to the Vienna Woods is quite short, about four hours. We make a good stop at a Landzeit service area for lunch. The quality is superb, and we reflect on the sorry state of particularly the UK motorway service stations that seem to have sunk to extraordinary lows. The Landzeit stops offer top quality food, service and surroundings for very reasonable prices.
We are excited, it’s the 3rd of August and we are now in our third month of our “gap summer” and are looking forward to returning to Cork at the end of the month and our new home hopefully a month later. However, we still have three weeks in the Vienna Woods and this area is a favourite. The woods are a huge area of forest surrounding the west and south of the city providing a highly accessible recreational facility for city dwellers and tourists alike. The woods are at the end of the Alpine chain that dominates Austria and are relatively low-level hills. We are staying in a 200+ year old forester’s house right beside the huge forest area, at about 450m above sea level, with lots of walks right from the house or nearby. We are also about 60 minutes from Vienna, maybe 90 minutes from Bratislava (Slovakia), 60 minutes from Soprom (Hungary), so we have lots to do. The first few days are with family and friends which is lovely.


We walk in the woods and note with interest the differences from our own West Cork. There are pines, but many woods are deciduous. Because it’s so much drier here the Pines are cut after around 80 – 100 years, compared with Cork’s 30 – 40. The quality is clearly much higher, and the wood is used for different purposes. However, the woods have been devastated by snow and ice some two years ago and there are many bare areas or new plantings. With the mixed woodland the flora and fauna are much in evidence, with Alpine flowers and lots of beautiful butterflies.
SACREWEG Pics
The Klein Mariazell monastery is quite close by and a Via Sacra winds through the woodlands and over the hills. Religious icons are seen frequently in the woods in beautiful condition. The Sacred Way circuit takes about 3 ½ hours; wonderful walking with some serious climbs and descents. The larger Heiligenkreuz Cistercian Abbey nearby is connected with Klein Mariazell via the linear sacred way. We also visit Heurige events which are very popular – offering good food washed down by some wines from last year’s harvest. The village of Sooss is one of many doing this for wines and in the nearby village of Hafnerberg we sampled the (apple based) Most.


We revisited Baden, the famous spa town where a Love Africa Festival in progress. With our deep interest in all things African, we plan to return and spend serious time there. We also visited Beethoven’s house in the town centre which is a very thoughtful museum and then had a simple lunch in the covered market. This latter facility is amazing; a permanent structure for stall holders all year round. We wondered why Skibbereen couldn’t do similar on the Fairfield. We are conveniently situated for Vienna; a drive to the outskirts of the city, park and ride using the U-Bahn takes about 60 minutes door to door. Lots of museums and galleries to explore. We have booked for the Lipizzaner horse show event. Sadly, the only live classical musical events are canned performances for tourists at extortionate prices. Regular live classical music events don’t happen in August as Vienna goes on holiday.


We are doing a lot of walking. Being right on the edge of the forest is incredibly useful and there are excellent trails right from the door. Hocheck – the highest point for miles around at 1037m, is a very good climb; not quite high Alpine steepness but still a good workout at 3.5 hours excluding stops. There is a guest house on the top and there is welcome cold beer and good Austrian food with Apfel Strudel and Goulash. Lots of local trails to explore which, fortunately with the intense heat, are mostly under tree cover. Stopfl at 893 provides a great circuit of 2.5 hours from 589, with amazing views to the north, again with a good restaurant at the top. The walking is either on trails or forest tracks. Occasionally on roads, but most of the time we can keep this to the absolute minimum. Trail signing is excellent and reliable. On occasions we go off trail and follow the map or our noses and the sun and haven’t got lost yet. We realize the quality of the trails has much to do with the level of usage – not just the popularity of summer hiking but also year-round usage because skiing is probably even more popular than hiking.


Being on the edge of the forest we are in a perfect location to spot wildlife. Unusually the deer are grazing in the meadow right in front of the house, and we often make a point of being in position 30 minutes before dusk. Even more unusual, one morning they made an appearance around 7am. However, the number of hides and hunters in jeeps are frequent reminders of the commercial reality.

Posted in Travel, Walking | Leave a comment

Holidaying with the Germans et al

Leaving the Toggenburg we take the most amazing highway from the Voralberg to Innsbruck which is deep in a valley between high mountains and much of the road is through tunnels with short glimpses of the high points between. From Innsbruck we cross the border again into Germany. The terrain changes to the rolling low Bavarian hills with the perfectly organized German countryside. We head for Lake Simssee, a small lake just outside the city of Rosenheim. The weather is incredibly hot but the lake is wonderful. We are not usually beach people, but here we swim early morning and later in the day, every day. The walking is really not good; one experience of badly signed trails in the open burning sun was more than sufficient. However, the campsite is very good, full of friendly Germans, Austrians, Dutch, Slovakians and almost no Brits. Everyone is very interested to talk about Ireland. Many have already visited or are planning to visit. Some have relatives there. Passing Dutchmen call “Good Morning Ireland” as they pass, and we have many conversations where we swap experiences. With the Dutch always in English. With others in a mix of German and English. Young people invariably have excellent English language skills. We make numerous invites to visit us in Ireland and encourage lots more blog followers.
As I was sitting in the car just outside the site, a local policeman popped his head through the car window and in perfect English said, “Good morning, I see you are from Ireland. What brings you here?” My immediate thought is, “Oh my God, what have I done now?” But it turns out he noticed the IRL plate on the car and told me that this is a very rare sight in southern Bavaria. He tells me he has relatives in Ireland, has visited more than once and is a big fan. We have a great chat about our journey, Ireland and Bavaria. A lovely young man.
A young man from Dussledorf joins us for tea, and we swap experiences. He is heading for Salzburg and we are able to advise him on concerts, the Mozart Museum and also the Bishops Palace which is our favourite memory. Conversations about weather are normal. The Dutch tell us that Holland is a great place to visit in August because everyone has left for the sun and lakes in southern Germany. From the number of Dutch on the site, it certainly seems that way. One Dutchman is at pains to point out that the astonishing heat is simply the result of long term climatic change cycles and nothing to do with human production of CO2. I am too hot to debate. In fact, I do recall 98% of climate scientists believe the current extreme temperatures are directly connected to emissions.
We spend a day in Rosenheim, a quiet Bavarian town with beautifully restored buildings and essential shady coffee shops and restaurants on the streets. Sadly, the town museum is purely German language oriented and the receptionist sensibly advises against visiting. Similarly, the town gallery was simply shut, contrary to advertised opening signs. I guess this is not a tourist focused place. However, on a positive note we have numerous chance encounters including the ladies in a speciality cheese shop who give us good advice on Bavarian cheeses and are very interested to hear about the great cheese makers in West Cork. We give them contact details for Gubbeen.
After five days we are pleased to move on to our last stop – four weeks in the Vienna Woods.

Posted in Travel | Leave a comment

Flowers in the Lower Swiss Alps

Down the years we walked in the Swiss, French, Italian, Austrian and German Alps, and always admired the alpine flowers. Magnificent colours in frequently exquisite plants. But we have never experienced such a profusion of species as we found on top of the Chaserrugg. As discussed this summit is 2262m and this is clearly an optimal altitude and orientation for many alpine species, and a Blumenweg (flower walk) has been created to great effect. I will say no more, the photos speak for themselves.

Posted in Travel, Walking | Leave a comment