Category Archives: Ruins

Photo Of The Day: Overgrown Beauty in France

It would have been rather easy to stroll by this vine and weed-filled corner of a chateau, but lingering in the tangle of greenery were these lovely ruins. The Chateau-de-Fougeres is a massive fortified chateau, but within its walls are various less noticed places that have not been reconstructed.

Covered with vines and weeds, this section of ruins resides within the walls of the otherwise very tidy medieval fortress Chateau de Fougeres in Brittany, France.


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Berlin – The Eerie and Artistic Kunsthaus Tacheles

“What was this place? It has such presence that it had to have been something special — something significant. Do you know what it was in the past?” I looked up at Stefan as we walked through the arched opening and into an area that had flea-market type stalls set up. But my friend from Berlin didn’t know anything about it other than the current incarnation as a rather shabby-looking artists’ collective.

Banner on iron fencing advertising metal sculptures inside Kunsthaus Tacheles

Stalls beneath the arched entry of Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

Looming overhead were statues atop tall columns, headless statues with workmanship that told of days long gone when the building and the arched entry had been something splendid.

Headless sculpture at Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

My body was distinctly ill at ease as we walked through the adjacent shop that sold the paintings of several artists belonging to the collective. I internally acknowledged that sharpness as I examined various works of art.

Exterior of Kunsthaus Tacheles

The atmosphere was heavy with some sort of prickly energy and questions lingered in my brain for hours after we had returned to the car and driven away. So I went in search of information about the Kunsthaus Tacheles on Oranienburger Strasse and I was quite stunned with what I discovered.

The official Kunsthaus Tacheles website has an English-language entry with a bit of information about the history halfway down the page.

But a far darker set of revelations are detailed at the Wikipedia entry for Kunsthaus Tacheles.

From the early days as a department store, it had changed hands several times until it became a Nazi prison and SS Headquarters during World War II — and that lingering residue in the atmosphere would certainly account for the uncomfortable energy that I felt. The chaotic appearance of the entire structure would put off quite a lot of people and a shallow interpretation of the energy that I was feeling prior to doing this research might have people thinking that it was just the state of decay and general level of mess that made me uneasy. No — it was far more palpable and deep than that. And yes, I can understand from a public relations perspective why the ‘official’ website skims over the events of the Nazi occupation.

I was not allowed to take pictures inside due to the many signs stating that no photos were allowed. So I’ve had to limit the shots in this post to the ones that I could safely take in the arched entryway and the exterior views. I do understand the restrictions on photography since the one artists’ shopfront that we entered had some splendid paintings — and every artist, myself included, wants to protect their artistic or intellectual rights to their work.

There have been attempts to raze the structure to the ground for several decades and apparently the artists within feel that this danger still exists. They are handing out flyers inside asking people to please support their cause. The white mural below is painted on the left side of the building as a sign of protest.

"How long is now" banner at Kunsthaus Tacheles

Next to the white mural is the 3-D roach sign which translates (according to the German-to-English Google translate site — so please forgive me if it isn’t completely correct!) as “Before the wall, after the wall, sent the State the bugs.” I think we can all get the gist of that!

Roach as political statement on Kunsthaus Tacheles

An article in the British press in January 2011 titled “East Berlin fights back against the yuppy invaders” details this struggle. The real estate development potential of the site may hold more power with the Berlin government than the thought of losing another historic landmark.

The sensible little ‘serial house renovator’ in me thinks that obtaining a grant, based on the historic preservation aspects of the building, to at least spruce up the exterior of the building could perhaps sooth the fretfulness of those in the neighbourhood who think that the bomb-site appearance is no longer in keeping with the rest of the street. But then again, the artists who use that space might like the chaotic-creative-frenetic vibe and wish to keep it just as it is without ‘prettying it up.”

There is still a lingering question for me and it is one that my personal curiosity, and the world, may never have an answer to. Why was the sub-basement of that building flooded by the Nazis? What was down there that they didn’t want uncovered?

If the building does get torn down, I rather doubt that any property developer would allow that information about the contents of the flooded sub-basement to be released. But it will nag at me on occasion — it truly will.

Mysteries — mysteries. Perhaps after all of this time, it is best not to know.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Heilandskirche – Waiting Near The Waterside, Trapped by the Berlin Wall

“We might be too late for photographs,” he said. But we quickly left the car and hurried up the gravel path, swishing aside the clouds of mosquitoes in the air as we walked. I heard myself exclaim aloud, “Oh my!” And I sped up a bit since the sun was swiftly sinking and the sky was already flat and gray.

Italian Romanesque Revival style Campanile at the Heilandskirche near Berlin

I might have momentarily thought that I was standing on the edge of a lake in Italy — but I was at the waterside in Germany, looking at a the Heilandskirche, the Church of the Redeemer — a place that was frozen in time and held hostage for decades by the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Heilandskirche at the water's edge

Gazing up at the campanile and ambling through the solemn but serene columned arcade on either side of the church, I could barely imagine how devastated the parish would have been when the wall was built right up to the church and the GDR border troops prevented people from entering for worship.

Columned walkway on right side of the Heilandskirche

And so it sat — crumbling into disrepair until the Berlin Wall came down, a campaign was mounted to raise funds to restore the church, and once again everyday citizens and tourists alike could have a quiet moment by those now-peaceful shores.

Columned walkway on left side of Heilandskirche

Sculpted plaque on the courtyard side of the Campanile

As you look at the picture of the columned walkway above, you can see a tower in East Berlin off in the foggy distance on the other shore of the lake.

I am grateful to our friend Stefan Hoffmann for taking us to this remarkable place and sharing the story with us this week.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Vikings and Romans and Scotsmen, Oh My!

Alive with the echoes of thundering hooves, the ringing sound of sword against sword, and the cries of economically deprived or displaced people, Scotland as a nation has survived much turmoil throughout the centuries. And that turbulent history is well-examined in the comprehensive displays at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

Roman panel in terracotta


Warrior's Gravestone



Juxtapositions abound since the same nation that crafted weaponry such as swords like the Claidheamh Mor that stood the height of a man were also creating beautiful objects such as jewelry and sculpture. This overlap of warlike behaviour with deep levels of spirituality or religious faith may seem contradictory when viewed from our less perilous times.

The pictures in this article are a tiny sample of the distant time periods which are represented. The upper floors of the museum cover more recent decades and are full of items such as advertising artwork and period clothing or furniture.

Long sword known as a Claidheamh Mor or Claymore

The museum is completely free of admission charges, has a stunning range of exhibits spread out over 6 floors, and is housed in a building of architectural interest. I would highly recommend this as a ‘must see’ for anyone who visits Edinburgh and who has a sense of curiosity about the Scots and their background history.

Heavy silver links


Angels carved on timber panel

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The Peaceful Ghosts of Tivetshall St. Mary

The glorious front facade still stands, but quite how I do not know. The structural side walls have long since detached themselves or crumbled into the soil, yet the arches continue to soar upward and reach for the heavens. The only sound we heard that afternoon at Tivetshall St. Mary in rural Norfolk were the birds and a very distant tractor. The ruins are silent, peaceful, and not the least bit eerie.

Ruin of St. Mary's Church at Tivetshall, Norfolk, UK

How the world has transformed itself in the centuries since this structure was registered in the Domesday Book in 1086 as an already established church. It must have seemed that it would live on forever as an active parish church, but the records of 1702 indicate that there was already great concern about the amount of decay that was evident and worry about whether the church might simply fall down.

It did not fall down though and, fragile though it might have been, it stood there in a Norfolk field for over 240 more years.

East Anglia was abuzz with activity during the 1930s and 1940s as airfield after airfield was created to deal with the war in Europe. Each day, waves of military planes flew across the English Channel and then, if they were lucky, those planes returned after their bombing runs were completed. In spite of the German bombs that rained down on the East of England during World War II, the stone walls of St. Mary’s remained upright and the roof remained intact.

But a mere two years after the end of that war, a military plane flew too low over the fields one day in 1947 and pulled up at the last minute to avoid hitting the woods beyond. The staggering amount of vibration from the plane roaring overhead simply shredded the last bit of strength in the old church and the tower of the church collapsed into the nave. The roof collapsed immediately.

There were witnesses to the event who happened to be on site that day, but the military refused to take any credit for the damage or offer any compensation. The decision was made to completely abandon the church.

The tiny community of Tivetshall had long been home to two parishes and now the stained glass windows and other valuable items were stripped from St. Mary’s and moved down the road to St. Margaret’s where they were reunited with the parishioners who had already found a new home there by the late 1800s due to the safety concerns at St. Mary’s.

This is a completely serene place and well worth a stop if you are driving through the Norfolk countryside. The gravestones may be tilting from the shifting soil, the names on many of the stones have completely weathered away, and it is only when you trip over a partially sunken grave-curbstone that you realize just how many people are buried there.

An infant's or child's gravestone in St. Mary's churchyard

War memorial at Tivetshall St. Mary, Norfolk

Rather poignantly, the churchyard is strewn with a large amount of very tiny stones, most no more than 8 inches wide and 8 inches tall, for infants or children, but almost none of them are readable now.

Yet looking around at the stones of the adults, most of them lived well into their late forties, fifties, sixties — and there was the occasional tombstone indicating an eighty-plus resident.

It was a very visible testament to the fact that they were nurtured by their community and that for the most part, these people lived long and productive lives.

I am highly sensitive to such things and I can honestly say that with the single exception of the stark white war memorial for those soldiers who never came home from World War I, there was no sense of sadness, longing, regret lingering in the air of the churchyard.

There is simply an atmosphere of peace, a lovely and historic ruin, and a very sturdy bench to use whilst you sit in contemplation.

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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