Archive for the ‘germany’ Category

Family Tree

My engagement with the Family Tree began when I started to sketch it out based on a conversation with my paternal grandmother. Here is a picture of her that came to light just this weekend – being a rainy one, I spent much of it working on the online version of the Tree.

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Dora

Originally I drew it out on an A1 piece of graph paper with a pencil. I went on to interview my maternal grandmother and grandfather, adding to the annotated freehand Tree. In time I added my wife’s Irish family, the backbone of that bit coming from a wander around an old Co. Louth cemetery with a notebook in hand.

In 2013, to enable me to share it with an older relative abroad I copied the handwritten diagram into a piece of easily accessible software. When I started the analogue Tree I expected to get back at best 3 or 4 generations based on living memory. As my family (to the best of my knowledge) were from – besides England – Germany, Poland, USA, Netherlands and possibly other bits of Eastern Europe, a peripatetic lot, I pictured lost and destroyed records where there even were records. These stones rolled and bureaucracy would probably not have been able to keep pace. However the advantage of the digital Tree is that it connects to other digital Trees. You can work your way back like a logic puzzle. I made my way back, obsessively working till the early hours, to 1730 …to 1544 …to 1499! 1499 in Prague.

I now have a Tree with 651 leaves (346 representing deceased family members). Exactly 50/50 male/female. The most common names: Patrick and Sarah. Birthplaces from Australia to Italy. Places of death from Kazakhstan to Israel. The highlights include finding…

  • 5 Sirs
  • 2 MPs
  • 1 privy councillor
  • a link to the Faroe Isles
  • the founders of University College Hospital, London – where both my kids were born
  • the co-founders of University College London – where I have been hanging out this very day
  • the first Jew to become an English barrister
  • the first Jew to become an English Baronet
  • the founder of JFS (the Jewish Free School)
  • a mysterious family branch in the USA
  • and at the end of this weekend’s activities an international Communist leader…

Karl Radek , who crossed paths with the likes of Rosa Luxemburg and Walter Rathenau, travelled on the famous sealed train from Switzerland to Russia with Lenin (1917), and did time in Moabit prison in Berlin after the Spartacist Uprising in Germany (1919). An honest to goodness 100% bona fide revolutionary. He totally looks the part too…

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Karl

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The Man Who Rose From Earth

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Front door of 155 Hauptstrasse Schoeneberg – Bowie’s apartment in Berlin – 17th January 2016

I fell asleep with the radio on…

…when I woke just before 4am, death hour, David Bowie was playing and the listeners to Up All Night on Radio 5 had selected Sound and Vision as the song that best captures Bowie, and one caller was arguing for Station to Station as the best LP, which was my view too in the wake of his death on 10th January last year. Sound and Vision was the track on my first directorial showreel (of which a poor digitisation is to be found here, though I think it may have been blocked by YouTube during the last year because of the copyright track (I can still see it but sorry, you may not be able to)) – cutting that reel is why it is burnt into my consciousness, hard wired from the edit suite.

Update 8.i.17 21:30 – I managed to find a badly encoded/pixellated copy of my Sound & Vision reel from which you can get the general idea

So it’s 04:40 now on Bowie’s birthday – one year on. We’re all going to be bombarded with Bowie The Next Days of course but it’s worth asking “Where are we now?” like the image I saw on the Big Man’s front door at 155 Hauptstrasse in Schoeneberg, Berlin on 17th January 2016. I was due to work in Berlin by chance, at Documentary Campus, six days after I first heard the news of Bowie’s ascension early one morning on the radio. I decided to make it something of a tribute trip. Here’s the photo album.

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Berlin, 16th January 2016 – 8 days after Blackstar release

Where Are We Now? The world looks quite different from 10th January 2016.

That set of photos is the first fragment as I start over the next couple of anniversary days to pull together a picture of where we are now Bowie- & Other-wise.

My initial reaction at this point one year on is that his death cast a shadow over the whole year which is extraordinary for someone I didn’t know and never talked to. I saw him in the flesh a couple of times but I feel less about his passing emotionally than that of John Martyn, however his music is woven into my life, like that of many other people of the Bowie era (a long one by popular music standards) and that I reckon is one of the main reasons his passing prompted such widespread, strong and unique reaction.

The second fragment is this – written 15 minutes after hearing the surprise black news 363 days ago, another occasion I have been woken early by Bowie.

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My 1977 vintage badge which dropped off my lapel in Berlin, January 2016 – from Carnaby Street to a mysterious final resting place

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‘Heroes’ mystery solved

A few days ago when I was in Berlin I wrote this (in a post called Where Are We Now? about David Bowie):

There are a few panels of the Berlin Wall on display on the north side of the place and then a significant stretch of the banal concrete sections in Niederkirchnerstrasse (on the corner of which was the Blackstar poster above). The bands graffitied on that section indicate how frozen in time it is: Blondie, Madness, Lee Perry all get a painted name check. A few more individual sections stand in the grounds of the apartment blocks adjacent to the Hansa Studio in Köthener Strasse. It all helps get you in the ‘Heroes’ frame of mind. I tried to figure out where Bowie might have seen Visconti and his lover from the studio windows but it’s hard to figure as two walls are blank and there’s no obvious spot where the Wall would have been in sight from the front or back of the Hansa building so the lovers’ kiss remains in the imagination (which is probably where it actually was anyway).

Well I was wrong – the spot where the lovers (Visconti and a backing singer) kissed by the Wall was behind the building. I actually snuck through an archway to investigate that Sunday afternoon. A security guard came out of a concealed door as I got to the end of the short tunnel but he must have thought it was not worth the bother and let it go. I walked around a bit in the back garden and car park in search of the spot so I reckon I must have been pretty much bang on at one point.

The mystery is solved in this fascinating video clip (20 mins) from BBC4 in which Visconti recalls the event (about 11 mins in).

David Bowie at the Berlin Wall, 1987

David Bowie locations in Berlin

[Updated 28/1/16]

As promised in my Where Are We Now? post just below here is a list of David Bowie related locations in Berlin which can easily be visited on foot or by foot and public transport:

David Bowie at the Berlin Wall, 1987

  • David Bowie’s 1st floor apartment (shared with Iggy Pop). Bowie lived in Berlin from late 1976 to 1979. – Hauptstrasse 155, Schöneberg [U-bahn: Kleistpark]
  • David & Iggy’s local (gay) bar, now called Neues Ufer, back then called Anderes Ufer – Hauptstrasse 157, Schöneberg
  • Hansa Tonstudio, recording studios where Low and ‘Heroes’ were recorded (in oak-panelled Tonstudio 2) and produced The Idiot for Iggy Pop – Köthener Strasse 38 [near Potsdamer Platz (which gets a mention in Where Are We Now?) – you can only enter with an official tour like the ones lead by Thilo Schmied]. The ‘Heroes’ spot (where “Standing, by the wall … we kissed, as though nothing could fall”) is just behind the studio building, accessible through an arch albeit on private property. The position of the Wall is marked by a double line of cobblestones.
  • The site of the Dschungel night club (as mentioned in Where Are We Now?) where Bowie, Iggy and Lou Reed shook a leg – Nürnberger Strasse 53 = Ellington Hotel
  • KaDeWe department store (also as mentioned in Where Are We Now?) is round the corner at Tauentzienstraße 21-24
  • Paris Bar arty restaurant in Charlottenburg where Bowie & Iggy went for special occasions to hang out with artist types – Kantstrasse 152 [U & S Zoologischer Garten]
  • Brücke Museum where Bowie went to be inspired by German Expressionist art such as that of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel. Otto Müller’s Lovers Between Garden Waals may be a source for the song ‘Heroes’ – Bussardsteig 9 [bus line 115, Pücklerstraße stop]
  • In front of the Reichstag where Bowie performed to 70,000 Germans in 1987, audible to more over the Wall in the East (two years before the Berliner Mauer fell).

To be added:

  • Filming locations for ‘Just a Gigolo’, the movie Bowie starred in in 1978 (directed by David Hemmings).
  • S036 – music venue in Kreuzberg where Bowie & Iggy hung out
  • Bösebrücke – the only other location mentioned in Where Are We Now? (a bit out of the city centre) where the first wave of 20,000 East Germans crossed over in 1989.
  • Joe’s Beer House – a drinking haunt of Bowie & Iggy
  • Unlimited – another of their nightclub hang-outs
  • Lützower Lampe – where Bowie celebrated his 31st birthday with Iggy and Eno and a bunch of trannies.

 

(I’ll add some of my pictures to this in the next few days)

Goodbye to Berlin: Day 3 in Bowie’s Berlin

 

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Goodbye to my badge

My Low badge, in my life since 1978, decided to jump ship off my lapel – it’s somewhere in Berlin which seems just about right. From Carnaby Street to Kurfürstendamm or wherever on earth it landed – a journey as tidy as the Big Man’s. He had his Mod phase (as in Baby Loves That Way – Davy Jones & The Lower Third) so no doubt made the odd sortie into Carnaby Street and environs in his time.

So headed off badgeless for an early start, a wander along the Spree across a tranquil corner of Museum Island, ice floating in the dark green waters, bright sunshine through sub-zero temperatures. Went as far as the subterranean monument to the burning of books by the Nazis, a ghostly room of empty shelves glimpsed through a small window set in a cobbled courtyard in front of the Law faculty of Humboldt University. Bowie had a weird brush with fascism and Nietzsche in the 70s which it took him a while to extricate himself from, probably coke fuelled. He also had a terrible adolescent German moustache at one point – very rare fashion faux pas.

My main meeting of the day at Doc Campus was over a hill to the north of the hotel. At the brow of the hill on the way over I found a great little record shop and in the little window at feet level was a 7” picture disc of Young Americans which of course I was compelled to spunk my Euros on. Plus a copy of Kraftwerk’s Das Model (Deutsche version) as a nod to Bowie’s inspiration from them, Neu and other Teutonic electronica. And a copy of The Stars We Are LP (nice n cheap) by Marc Almond, a big Bowie infuencee. All zeroed in on in the space of a few minutes (from years of practice) , then on to the gathering…

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Hallo to Young Americans

We reviewed 76 documentary projects of which only one had a direct connection to Bowie – one centred on 60s singer P J Proby who Bowie emulated, probably in a tongue in cheek way, on certain Berlin trilogy tracks and earlier recordings.

Had a farewell currywurst before heading for home. On the plane back I read a telling note from the BBC Talent Selection Group in 1965 following an audition Bowie did for them: “A singer devoid of personality. Sings wrong notes and out of tune.” Just goes to show. How little people know. You need to trust your own instincts.

It’s now 23.59 on the first week anniversary of the Thin White Duke’s trip to the Station on the other side of the Border. Official end to BowieWeek of reflection, mourning and celebration. Concluding it in Berlin was a real privilege.

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Goodbye to the old world

 

Get Bach to Where you once belonged

Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Spent the first half of a beautifully golden sunny autumn day out at the MDR (Mitteldeutsch Rundfunk) campus at the edge of Leipzig listening to documentary pitches at Documentary Campus 2015. Included was ‘Craig Barfoot’s Modern Dilemmas’ which is the project I’ve been mentoring – the bastard child of Louis Theroux and Woody Allen. I walked back into town through the autumnal streets – it’s always spectacularly yellow against blue when I’m in town.

I made my pilgrimage to the site of the Great Synagogue, burned down on Kristallnacht in November 1938, the year my grand-parents got the fuck outta here and headed to Highbury. I spent time chatting remotely to Enfant Terrible No. 1 who has been to that place twice with me, chatting from the back row of the ghostly congregation. I wanted to link him to his great-grandparents.

I had a special experience there. I took a moment to say a couple of prayers, the couple of lines I knew. As I finished a small flock of sparrows (my favourite bird) landed on the brass chairs which make up the memorial. Exactly at the moment of finishing the key line from the memorial prayer. They stayed for just a few seconds then flew off again.

Leipzig had 11,000 Jews in 1933. It had 0 in 1945. 14,000 perished in and around the city.

From there I walked – via a cafe moment – to my grandparents apartment of 1938 in Promenadenstrasse (now Kathe Kollwitz Strasse) – it’s just a space now, formerly a car park, soon a new development.

And for the third point of my pilgrim’s triangle I took an imagined walk from their place on a Saturday afternoon three-quarters of a century ago to my grandfather’s favourite sister’s flat in Nordplatz. I stood on the threshold of No. 1 and reflected on his time there as a bachelor and the wider family he lost.

It feels good coming back here and reclaiming our stake in the place. And to reclaim my steak in the place I went for a traditional German meatfest in Auerbach Keller, closing the day’s circle from Craig’s Meat v Veg dilemma, and adding to Bach the Romantic figures of Goethe (who set the first written scene of Faust in that cellar) and Schiller as other resonant ghosts in this city.

city full of ghosts

city full of ghosts

Bach to the Fatherland

The boy is Bach in town

The boy is Bach in town

So I’m sitting here in the shadow of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig listening (unusually for me) to Johann Sebastian Bach, chapel/choirmaster of St Thomas’s, on Spotify, absurdly selecting ‘tracks’ according to number of listens (Partita in B-flat major 2,764,917). And I’m writing this post 5 years and 1 day after I wrote my first Back to the Fatherland on first coming to the city where my dad was born, accompanied by my sons/his grandsons.

Here is that first post about how I found my grandparents’ house, which is just a few streets from here, the other side of the site of the burnt-down synagogue:

Back to the Fatherland – first part

Back to the Fatherland – second part

I came back in 2010 thanks to Documentary Campus/Doc Leipzig, the annual documentary film festival held largely at the MDR building just out of the city centre, just a short walk from the hospital where my dad was born. That’s why I’m back for the fifth time.

Here’s an account of my third (2013) visit during my sabbatical from Channel 4:

Return to the Fatherland

Leipzigzaging

Last year I came with my older son who was making his first documentary (Scattergun – a life in four tattoos) as part of his A level in Applied Media. He was interested in listening in on the pitching sessions.

This year I’m solo again (like 2012 and 2013). I’ve been mentoring a documentary team making a film about renouncing vegetarianism. Last year I mentored a film about Super 8. This year I brought my own Kodak flipcam (off-spring of the Super 8) to make a little video of the trip.

I arrived in the autumnal late afternoon sun of Berlin Schoenefeld, got a taxi driven by a mad Turk to Sudkreuz (he miraculously got me there with 15 minutes to spare) and then the train to Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. I had dinner with a bunch of the Documentary Campus folk in an ex-vinegar (Essig) factory. So no bitterness there, just celebration of The Documentary among a group of old pals including Elizabeth MacIntyre of Discovery Networks International, who is just leaving Documentary Campus to head up Sheffield DocFest, and Lena Pasanen, formerly of YLE, Finland, who is taking over Elizabeth’s role. I walked back, surprised at how well I could navigate the city at night.

So here I am in the shadow of the Thomaskirche as its bells chime midnight. By now I’m listening to Jacques Loussier playing Bach – sacrilege perhaps but sometimes a man just needs jazz.

Get Bach to where you once belonged

Get Bach to where you once belonged

History Boy

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I’ve been coming to DocFest (formerly the Sheffield International Documentary Festival) since the dawn of time. I’m sitting cross-legged on the hill of Howard Street, on a black marble seaty-thing, as I write this, buddha-like. The hill runs up from the station towards the city centre and is one of the best bits of urban regeneration I’ve seen in this country. Overlooking this spot is an Andrew Motion poem written on the side of a Sheffield Hallam University tower block addressing travellers arriving in the city (Andrew Motion in part inspired Simple Pleasures part 4). After my many years coming to the festival I came up with a good strategy involving this hill yesterday. Instead of relentless regular blocks of formalised meetings crowding out the day I arranged no meetings – just sat on one of these black marble blocks and waited for people I knew and wanted to see pass by me. It worked very well – I got to chat with more people and the chats were the lengths they needed to be.

howard street sheffield docfest 2014

I am now on the train pulling out of Sheffield. I leave behind a very satisfying couple of days’ experience. It began as I got off the other train the other way on Sunday evening. I dumped my stuff at the hotel and went out for dinner just out of town with Colm O’Callaghan, a colleague from RTE in Dublin. We chatted about all manner of stuff, centred on Ireland and music, and most excitingly discussed the possibility of doing a collaborative historical project next year. We headed back to town to meet  at a bar the speakers in the session I was to chair the next day. We did a judicious amount of preparation (mainly a quick chat to reassure them we’d be talking about stuff they know well and don’t have to think much about and ascertaining what video material they’d brought with) then oiled the getting-to-know-you wheels with alcohol.

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The session the next morning entitled ‘Interacting with the Past’ focused on interactive and multiplatform TV in the History genre. Joe Myerscough, Producer/Director from the excellent Windfall Films, represented the superb D-Day: As It Happens project from Channel 4 in 2013. The delightful Elizabeth Klinck, a super-expert Canadian visual/archive researcher, added an interesting perspective. And my Channel 4 colleague, Online Producer Marie James, focused on The Mill, a historically accurate drama set in 1831. We managed to range across a lot of territory around what interactivity brings to History TV and from a lot of perspectives (indy producer, broadcaster, support services, commissioner), driven by questions from the audience, so it felt free-flowing, flexible and practically useful. Went down well, felt good.

Andre Singer

Andre Singer

At the other end of the day I went to see a new history documentary, Night Will Fall, directed by Andre Singer. I can’t write about it yet beyond what’s already in the public domain but suffice it to say it’s a very impactful film about the filming of the Holocaust. It will be showing on Channel 4 in January coming. One unexpected aspect of the story is that Alfred Hitchcock was involved in this filmic recording of the Holocaust by Allied troops. I chatted with Andre and his wife Lynette, who wrote the commentary for the film, on the way out. Also the producer Sally Angel, who I first met last year through an online project via my friend Steve Moore. We had a lively discussion about what age is best to first introduce young people to the imagery of the Holocaust. I believe it should be 16+. The person from the BFI thought younger was OK on the basis that kids get to see horror films (not an argument I buy – the documentary footage in Night Will Fall is another world from scripted drama).  I first crossed paths with Andre and Lynette when I was starting out on my career and they ran an outfit in Covent Garden called Cafe Productions (that name’s just come back to me after all these years). I went on a bus ride with Andre last May (2013) to Yad Vashem when he first told me about the film. It’s been nestling in the back of my mind since then.

So a day steeped in History.

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And today started out in similar vein. I went to see Brilliant Creatures: Rebels of Oz, a 2-part BBC/ABC documentary about 4 Australians who made good in London in the 60s, bringing a fresh perspective to a country only just emerging from the War. The Creatures in question are Germaine Greer, writer Clive James, art critic Robert Hughes and comedian Barry Humphreys. Jacobson considers Germaine Greer the most rebellious and radical of these. It’s a fabulous story – woven together by novelist Howard Jacobson (who himself wrote startlingly about the Holocaust in the brilliant Kalooki Nights, which sits on my Shelf of Honour).  I had a brief chat with him after, mainly congratulating him on pulling together such an illuminating story. He said he was in search of the secret to the Oz “zest for life”.

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

Howard Jacobson, Greg Sanderson (BBC), Germaine Greer

I got close to having a chat with Germaine Greer but it didn’t quite happen. I wanted to talk Frank Zappa with her as the BBC recently released a wonderful radio documentary she made about him. There was a great clip in the film of her hanging with Robert Plant and Led Zep.

germaine_greer 60s

Over breakfast this morning I had a great plan-hatching session with a couple of documentary makers (one from Leipzig where my dad was born) which was also a kick.

So it’s been a couple of days with a heartbeat of History. I had to give it up as a subject in formal education after O Level (apart from a small burst of it as part of my German/Modern Languages degree) but at heart I’m still a History Boy.

evolution denied ape to man

 

Stormtrooper: Goodbye to Berlin (Day 39)

Goodbye to Berlin Christopher Isherwood book cover

Started the day in Leipzig, boarding the train early at the Hauptbahnhof (the biggest in Europe, reminiscent of Grand Central, New York in its grandeur). Arrived at Berlin Hbf and taxied over to Tegel airport. The local placenames of Berlin are resonant from literature in particular (Moabit, Kopenick, etc.) The city looks good in its autumn colours but not as good as Leipzig where the colour of the brick and stone is light and complements the autumn palette. Meanwhile, back in Blighty a storm was coming…

My younger son sent me a text last night from the NFL 49ers game in Wembley – “don’t get on the plane it is too dangerous and u will probs die the wind could go as fast as 80 mph have fun hope u get back back safe love form (sic) all”

My flight was cancelled which gave me time to plough back through a key Ginsberg/Beat book which I read just before deciding to write this book, in fact it was part of the inspiration. It was interesting to revisit it with a particular focus on openness and generosity. A number of the people I met at Leipzig Networking Days/DOK Leipzig found the subject interesting and were keen to get a copy of the book when it appears which was encouraging.

Yesterday one young film-maker from Chicago/Berlin gave me a copy of his last documentary film which was on William Burroughs, who of course features in the opening scene of my book. [William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (2010) by Yony Leyser] I’ll have a watch as a reward some time this week. He is about to embark on a documentary about gay punk which features an interview with Laurie Anderson whom I’m thinking of pairing with Jeremy Deller in the Art chapter. That meant we were talking about Lou Reed at lunchtime, only to find out a couple of hours later that he had gone to the Great Gig in the sky on the very day. He had agreed to be interviewed for Yony’s film too. Echoes of my Carolyn Cassady set-back.

I was only ever a moderate admirer of Lou Reed. The Ginsberg chapter has a little diversion into that scene via its film-makers, in particular Barbara Rubin. Lou and the Velvets played live in front of her film Cocks and Cunts. The Velvet Underground & Nico speaks to me most but he is always a challenging listen. The work he did with Bowie, including in South London, was also ground-breaking and bold.

So I ploughed through the Beat book only to notice from my annotations that I had been reading it the very same day last year in Leipzig (near the St Elisabeth Krankenhaus). These kind of skeins of coincidence and connection seem to weave through creative enterprise. As I was reading Harry Thompson’s biog of Peter Cook whilst researching the Comedy chapter over the weekend I rewarded myself with a peak at the photo section in the middle of the book. As I came to a picture of him at his daughter’s wedding I spotted a woman I knew yonks ago (went to her for the occasional aromatherapy massage when my back was sore from child-lifting) – I had no idea she was one of those Cooks, hadn’t made the connection, though looking at the photo the resemblance is obvious, she is clearly a chip off the old block in looks at least.

Managed to get myself on a Lufthansa home so disruption minimal and a reasonable amount of reading and research got through.

Goodbye to Berlin Christopher Isherwood book cover

Goodbye to Berlin Christopher Isherwood book cover

Leipzigzaging (Day 38)

(c.1954)

(c.1954)

On something of a pilgrimage today. Read up about Peter Cook and The Establishment club in the square in front of where my grandfather lived when he came to livd in Leipzig as a young man in the home of his favourite sister and her husband. The smart apartment building gives on to Nordplatz, centred on an old church and made up of simple but attractive grassed gardens. I get a certain pleasure of continuity and return from standing on its stone threshold.

I am writing this post sitting in the gardens of the St. Elisabeth Krankenhaus in the Connewitz area in the south of the city, the hospital where my father was born in 1937, two years after it opened.

From Nordplatz I walked through the adjacent autumnal woods round the zoological gardens. I stopped for a bit to do my daily German revision with the Duolingo app (keeping in touch with my linguistic roots) then headed on to Kathe Kollwitz Strasse where my grandfather and his young bride moved in. Where their flat was has been blank ground for a long while (a car park with trees) but by the time I get back here it will have been built on, laying to rest the vestiges of their home here.

I read some more Cook book on the back chair of this resonant memorial which feels like the hub of my Leipzig.

Before I left for my trek I had reviewed my master document to get a feel for what progress I’ve been making on the book and had a pass at the nascent Theatre chapter which needs a number of interviews transferred into it. That’s looking like a laborious transcription task though I will see if it can be automated at all.

Once back at the hotel after a dinner out at Leipzig Media City, about two clicks from my father’s birthplace, I did some more online research about Jeremy Deller, making me even more reassured that he is a good subject for the Art part. In particular I was reading about his work Procession for the Manchester International Festival. I’ll think of my pilgrimage around the city as a fusion of that and Richard Long’s work with some spirit of Picasso in its triangularity since today is his birthday.

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