Germany Memories and History

I’m passionate about London and its history and its architecture, however another country I am passionate about it Germany. Also exceptionally rich in history culture and Berlin is a beautiful representation of this, with equally amazing architecture.

Berlin

This weekend sees the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I can’t believe its been 25 years, I remember watching it on TV and although I didn’t understand then what is was all about, I do now, and more fully understand the consequences, and implications it has had for Germany.

Last week I visited a gorgeous exhibition at the British Museum Germany Memories of a Nation.  It covered 600 years of German history and displayed some incredible artifacts including a bible translated and inscribed by Martin Luther,  Napolean’s hat from the battle of waterloo and some incredible German art.

It took you through the countries complex history right up until 25 years ago when the wall fell and Germany was reunited 25 years ago

Berlin Wall

Its an incredible interesting exhibition and will run at the British Museum until the end of January.

You can find out more information about the exhibition HERE, the BBC also has some great info on the exhibition and Germany history which is worth a look at.

If you love Germany as much as I do, then you will love the Christmas season too, don’t forget that the German Christmas markets will open at the end of the month and I can highly recommend both the Southbank market and of course the wonderful Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, as well as the stalls, they have some amazing German beer halls, it makes for a great night/day out, and I for one will be making the most of these fun events over the winter season.

Viel Spaß!

Fireworks in London

The history of London Fireworks

We’re entering into a season of historic celebration in London, as the temperature drops the autumn colours that appear the parks are as colourful as the November skies ..it’s firework season (and my favourite time of year).
fireworksWe all remember the reason, celebrating King James I’s survival following Guy Fawkes’ attempt on his life and parliament.

Throughout the 1600′s and beyond fireworks were used to celebrate and commemorate not just Nov 5th, but coronations, achievements at war, summer pleasure gardens, and general high society parties, such as those held in the squares of Marylebone by the famous socialite Elizabeth Montagu.

RoyalFireworks
The picture above (one of my most favourite), shows fireworks along the Thames opposite the now lost Whitehall Palace in 1749, they came choreographed with Music composed by Handel.

Fireworks were big business and with it came danger and tragedy.  Most famously the event of  12 July 1858 at Waterloo, when two fireworks factories exploded, killing 6 and injuring 300 as fireworks exploded in all directions causing injury and havoc.
But still we love fireworks and still we celebrate 5th November, and the capital is a wonderful place to see them.
Talking of historic celebrations and fireworks make sure you head into the city this November 8th for the Lord Mayor’s show.This 800 year old event when the Lord Mayor of  London (not Boris) leaves the City of London and heads up to Westminster to swear allegiance to the Crown.   Its full of pomp and ceremony and has a carnival atmosphere.

Among the flotillas look out for London’s ancient guardians Gog and Margog.  And just to top off it off there will be fireworks on the river at 5pm!   To find out more go to www.lordmayorsshow.org

Something Personal

A month ago my father passed away (a month ago today in fact).   He died of dementia, which he’d be diagnosed with just a few years before. The last 8/9 months of his life saw a rapid decline, from a happy chappy to a frail man with very limited mobility and unable to communicate.  The last few years has been a difficult journey, but we are lucky that my dad died peacefully having spent the day surrounded by those he loved most.

dad2

One of the enduring legacies he leaves with me is a passion for history and for old buildings. I remember as a kids he used to lecture us on history for hours, and drag us round National Trust buildings, we absolutely hated it! Now I’m older I can’t think of anything I would rather do.

This weekend, very fittingly in his honour, me and my sister are running the British 10K, its described as  the world’s greatest road race route, its like an easy version of the marathon (except if you’re anything like me, a 10k is the equivalent of a marathon!).  It goes past some of London’s most iconic and historic landmarks; Parliament, St Paul’s, Nelson’s Column, Westminster Abbey. Its an opportunity to run down some of London’s most famous roads, Pall Mall, Embankment, Trafalgar Square and of course the Mall!   I’m hoping with so many historic landmarks I will be completely distracted from the pain in my legs.

british10k13

It’s a big occasion, the Race’s primary charity is Help for Hero’s and its an opportunity to honour those who have fought for our country both in this generation and those past, particularly relevant this centenary year. There will be an opening ceremony , including a parade of mounted WW1 Cavalry Officers, and the Military Wives Choir, then the race will formally be opened by the Lord Mayor of Westminster. So if you’re not running it’s definitely an occasion to see.  …And seeing me run a 10k will also be a memorable and historic occasion! :)

When I run on Sunday I’ll be running for Dad, and raising money for  Crossroads Care, a charity very close to my heart. Crossroads are a fantastic charity that support carers, and gave my family vital and much needed support and relief in the final months of my dad’s sickness. If you would like to sponsor me, you are so welcome to do so, and can do at  at: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CelesteandAmanda10K

If you would like anymore info on Crossroads Care go to. If you would like more info the the British 10k go to.

Stepping back into the 18th Century

I often walk around London and wonder what it was actually like to live in this huge city a few hundred years ago, and in this ever changing modern city it’s surprisingly hard to find intact pieces of life from the past. However in a tucked away in small square off Fleet street surrounded by modern office blocks we find a piece of the past.

Dr Johnson’s House is a beautifully preserved 18th century home of the author of the dictionary, and a fantastic London gem to visit.

Dr Johnsons House

Step through the door and you step back to the 1700s. Dr Johnson lived here at 17 Gough Square from 1737 to 1784 during which time he worked on his famous master piece, The Dictionary, and you can wander around the building and visit rooms including his dark panelled waiting room, his long drawing room overlooking the square, the library, and the loft, now a dedicated museum to his Dictionary. The house is full of his personal furniture and paintings and it’s a great insight into his life.

Dr Johnson was a fascinating man. Suffering from debilitating illness including a strange tick, that today we know as touretts, he was awkward in public. But he was also extremely intelligent and extremely poor. He dropped out of university not being able to pay his way, and eventually arrived in London to pursue a writer’s life. But still very poor, he would often have to sleep on the streets, and spent time in gaol for not being able to pay his debts. This is reflected somewhat in his home, note the huge thick chain across the front door, said to be put there to keep the balifs out.

Although famed for his dictionary this wasn’t his lucky break. He was commissioned to write it in 3 years but it took 9, and although becoming the defining reference for English words (there were many versions of the dictionary written at that time) he was only paid a pittance for his 3 year’s commission (not the 9 years’ work).

It was only many years later the King recognised his contribution and rewarded him with a healthy pension, so that he finally could live comfortably.

It wasn’t just the dictionary that Dr Johnson was famous for, he wrote a great deal on life in London and is famous for my favourite London quote

He was often found writing at local pubs and was a regular member of the local St Clements Danes church on Fleet Street. (today the official church of the RAF). If you wander past the church you will find a statue of him out the back.

If you visit this delightful little house (which I highly recommend you do!) be sure to look out for the statue of Hodge in the square, Dr Johnson’s beloved cat, who, it is believed, he fed oysters to and cherished more than most of his friends.

Johnson's hodge

You can visit Dr Johnson’s House this month for Open House Weekend (21st – 22nd September) or at other times £4.50 entry.

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More info at  www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Visit Kensington Palace

We’ve seen a lot of Kensington Palace this week, home to the new Prince George, but did you know you can actually visit Kensington Palace.

For years I knew it as the home of Princess Diana, and I would walk past wondering what it would be like to live there but didn’t actually realise  you go and visit and explore inside.

It makes for a great day out.

What people don’t realise is its quite a large complex and the royals residences are actually at the back and are completely private (and secure) the main house at the front and the gardens are open to the public.

Its been home to many former monarchs (including two King Georges). Most famously it was the home of Queen Victoria.  It was here she grew up, met her future love, Prince Albert,  and became Queen at the young age of 18.

She is one of our most famous and long ruling queens (63 years – Queen Elizabeth is not far behind her with 60 years) and the beautiful exhibition inside the Palace gives us a glimpse into her difficult childhood, her strained relationship with her mother, and her isolation.

You can stand on the stairs at the spot she first laid eyes on the handsome young German prince.  You can also view her wedding dress, which highlights how tiny the young queen was, and view the intimate letters she wrote to Albert.

Victoria-Albert

As well as the Victoria exhibition, there are a number of other royal apartments you can visit, it’s a great up close and personal way to see how the royals lived.  You can also venture through the ornate gardens, overlooking Kensington Gardens. These include the luxurious Orangery, now a famous restaurant.

As well as the viewing the house they also have temporary exhibitions, and currently running is the Fashion Rules exhibition; a beautiful collection of dresses from contemporary royals including a young Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana.

This beautiful palace is definitely worth a visit.

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The Attendant

You can find more info on visiting it at www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/

How King George shaped London forever.

London has been full of anticipation and celebration this week as we welcomed a future King. One day that little bundle of joy will be King George VII. But what of his ancestral namesakes.

His parents are probably hoping he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the famed George IV (4th). Known (and hated) for his frivolous lifestyle; he valued wine, women and fun at the expense of his people, and owing to his fathers ill health (also a King George) was put in charge of the state sooner than the title came to him.

He is better known as The Prince Regent..

PrinceRegent

If you’ve ever watched Blackadder the Third, its that same dim prince, except in real life he was far more exuberant (and somewhat larger owing to his love for rich foods).

He was a very unpopular ruler.

However us Londoner’s have a lot to thank him for, it was King George’s extravagant lifestyle that, surprisingly, has left us with some our most famed and loved London landmarks today.

The King’s Parks

The King’s favourite architect was a man by the name of John Nash.  His first big project for the Prince Regent was the construction of Brighton’s famous Pavilion (an example perhaps of George’s extravagance). So impressed by his work George asked Nash to develop some of his royal hunting ground near Marylebone  into parkland. And so a massive transformation began to take place in our city and Regent’s Park was created.

PArk Crescent

This beautiful park land was carefully designed by Nash, including the lakes, canal routes (Regent’s Canal) and some of the stunning Georgian buildings around the edges, most famously the beautiful Park Crescent. Later in his career he also developed the land that today we know as St James’s Park.

The King’s Street

The Young Prince knew he would one day be King, and began to prepare for a lavish life as sovereign, with his architect designer Nash to help him. Nash planned a beautiful grand parade to run directly from the King’s new park to the King’s grand home situated on the North side of St Jame’s Park; Carlton House.

It was a grand plan indeed one that would shape London forever.  Today we know and love this grand street which we know better as Regent’s Street. It actually starts at Nash’s Park Crescent (just by at the Regent’s Park Tube Stop). It run’s down the wide Portland Place into Regent’s Street (by the Langham Hotel & BBC HQ). It stops briefly at Oxford Circus – Nash’s stunning intersection of the ancient Oxford Road.

RegentsCurve

 

It continues along the beautiful curve of Regent’s Street to Piccadilly Circus (another of Nash’s interchanges) and then on down to Waterloo Place, the grand steps where today stands Carlton House Terrace.

Nash was semi successful in his grand plan, all the way he faced growing opposition from a people who hated the King and therefore hated the architect who was spending the nation’s money on his indulgence.

We see this at Langham Place. The former Mr Langham loved his beautiful mansion at the end of Portland Place (the width of this street owing to Mr Langham’s insistence that his views of the parkland not be interrupted) and he refused to budge for the King’s architect. Nash had to wind his road past the Langham mansion, and we see this in the twist of the road which today passes by the new BBC HQ, and Langham Hotel.

To make the curve more attractive Nash built the All Soul’s Church just there (you can see a marble bust of Nash himself outside the church). The public considered the church ugly and a famous caricature was published on Nash impaled on its sharp spire (a reflection of the public’s dislike for him and his plans).

bbc London

Moving House

Nash also faced set backs from the fickle King himself. When he came to the culmination of his grand road the King’s great palace Carlton House the Prince Regent had changed his mind about where to live. He had finally been crowned King George IV  by this point and he no longer wanted to live in Carlton House and had it demolished. Instead he chose a nearby stately home for his Kingly residence. This had previously been home to the Duke of Buckingham, and today it remains a loved home of the Royals and one of London’s most famous houses – Buckingham Palace.

It wasn’t quite impressive enough for the King however and he invited Nash to transform it into a home fit for a King. They set about it with another grand plan, a great dome to cover the court yard, and a grand marble entrance.

London Legacy
Within a few years of taking the throne the New King George was dead, succeeded by his more conservative younger brother William.

Buckingham Palace

By the time King William moved into Buckingham Palace it was said that Nash and George had left it uninhabitable by their crazy designs. And work was started at once to turn it back into a modest home. One of the first major changes was the removal of Nash’s grand marble entrance, this was moved to a corner of Hyde Park, and it still there today – our beautiful Marble Arch.

It wasn’t the only change made, Regent’s Street was also modified. On the curve of Regents Street Nash had included a covered walkway with grand Corinthian columns – the intention to protect shoppers from the inclement weather. These column’s were removed, but not entirely disposed of; they were placed outside what is today the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.  By the early 1900s all of Regent’s Street had been rebuilt but the grandure of Nash’s royal scheme remains.

King George has gone down in our history as one of the more extravagant and disliked Kings, however his impact of the shape of the London we know and love today cannot be ignored.

We hope the new Prince George will leave a grand legacy for a beautiful city, but let’s hope he doesn’t cause too much upset along the way as his grand ancestor George VI.

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RIP BBC TV Centre

I, personally, am so sad to see the end of the White City BBC TV Centre, as it closes its doors next week. Its been a huge part of my life, and is actually the very reason I was born in this great city of London.

My parents moved to London from Birmingham in the 60s when my Dad got a job with the BBC. He worked there his entire working life (my whole life) retiring a few years ago. Starting out at White City he had the glamorous job of setting up for outdoor broadcasts (yes, he was responsible for Live Aid reaching your TV set!). This job, amounted to many happy memories for me, sometimes hanging out in BBC vans all day, watching all the weird dials and connections, to meeting celebs. One particular happy day was at a Live Aid event in Hyde Park, for some reason we had a radio connection to the celebrities’ caravan, and I sat listening to them on their breaks the whole day.

An earlier memory that also sticks firm in my mind was a visit to the TVC itself, eating at the then infamous BBC canteen, and paying a visit to the Blue Peter garden. I remember it well as it was a sunny day and 6 year old me, left my favourite white cardigan in the bp garden, never to be recovered.  I like to think it found its way into a time capsule and will be dug up again in 1000 years, and future generations will think ‘who was this ‘Celeste’ child, and what great things did she achieve to have the honour of inputting into the sacred time capsule?’

Later in my life it remained a significant place to me, passing by time and time again on the Central Line, I will always remember the huge Going Live painting on the side (until the renovations in the late 90s) anyone else remember that one?

And now more recently I spent two years working just a stone’s throw from the TVC, and would often bump into blurry eyed morning news presenters at the bus stop or in Starbucks… as they topped up their caffeine levels after their early shifts.

The Question Mark

The famous question mark was built in 1960 and provided a big boost to west London including the creation of homes for the influx of BBC staff (including my Dad) at nearby Ealing.

Its arrival at White City came at a time when the area was already famed around the world, having made its mark when it held the Olympics last minute in 1908, after hosts Rome dropped out. The area following this, as well as boasting a huge stadium, shared a large famous exhibition site, for the popular great exhibitions which were a regular event in the capital. It was also at this time that it earned its name as the great ‘White City’ after its white cladded exhibition halls. The site was vast, more than 8 times the size of the original Hyde Park exhibition in 1851.

Courtesy of BBCTV

BBC Centre and Stadium

The exhibition site and stadium, had its very own London tube Station Wood Lane, however this closed a year before TVC opened.  In 2008 the station was resurrected, completely rebuilt, one of the newest stations, opening on the same line as its early ancestor and serving  the BBC and nearby Westfield Shopping Centre.

Much of the exhibition site was demolished in the 30s making way first for a housing estate, and then the rest in the 60s for BBC Centre.  The site remained a sporting hotspot for many years entertaining many different sports from athletics, to rugby, and boxing , and even hosted a match in the famed 1966 world cup. However after the arrival of the BBC in the 60s the area went into decline. The stadium itself was eventually closed in 1980s and demolished, the space being bought out by the BBC for the extension of their TV Centre.

The TVC though,  continued to thrive and final renovations took place just a few years ago in the late 2000s when the brand new BBC Media Village was built (between the old question mark, and the A40) This new area includes it’s own post office, Tesco’s and Startbucks.

It’s now been sold off, and the centre of BBC life has moved to the BBC Broadcasting House in very central London, just next to Oxford Circus.

It’s expected that the site will be turned into flats, and a hotel, among other things.

Its an iconic building, and its closure has caused controversy even among celebs and those who have worked there in the past. I’m sure whatever the future holds for it I hope they are able to keep some of the essence and memories that this historic little corner of London created for so many across the world.

bbc tvc

What are your personal memories of BBC TVC, or favourite shows? I’d love to hear your memories and comments in the comments section below.

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