Category Archives: Green Building

Berlin – With Earplugs In Place!

Working our way around Europe, being very frugal, living like a local, interacting almost exclusively with each local population, and being prepared to be a bit inconvenienced at times was always firmly in our minds.

Deborah's temporary office nook

We knew when we left Australia in December and then the comfort of the family home in Norfolk, England (that we have been using as our European base), we would need to maintain a good sense of humour and the ability to live in flow.

Also, if we were going to have this long-planned trip work out well and since Europe is not exactly a budget location for travel, we’d need to find ways to stretch the euros — hence the working along the way scheme. So far, so good.

So — alright already!!! I’m living in a very noisy flow!!! And here is exactly where I am sitting as I write this post — on a white plastic garden chair in the corner of our temporary kitchen.

Here in Berlin, in addition to having a wonderful time seeing this gorgeous city, we are helping our friend Stefan to renovate the house that he has purchased and which he hopes to be moving into in 4 weeks time. Fingers are firmly crossed on that one right now because most of the house still looks like a bomb site!

This will be a beautiful place once it is complete since the rooms are spacious and there is so much light flooding in from the front and back.

It’s the traditional European style of construction — thick masonry block walls covered with brick or render on the outside and hard plaster on the inside. And it is spread out over 5 levels. You’d never guess from the outside (which looks just fine!) what is going on within. So here below is a little peek at what will need to get resolved in the next few weeks if Stefan is going to move in as planned. CLICK on the photos to enlarge.

Rubble in one of the bedrooms

Mark checking the stability of a crumbling wall

Mark and Stefan discussing the renovation

Crumbling door frame

Crumbling entry door area

I am listening to a house FULL of contractors right now — the 2 or 3 electricians, the 2 plasterers, and the 3 heating contractors plus my husband Mark. All of the hard surfaces that this house is constructed of just echo any noise again and again.

It was a little bizarre to be sound asleep at 8:30 this morning with earplugs in and hear 3 voices open the door and say, “Ooops!” I kept my eyes shut tight, they closed the door, and I raced to the bathroom to quickly put some clothes and wash my hair in the sink (with not very warm water) before they turned off all of the water to move the pipes around before installing the new radiators.

We’ve had 2 days of very cloudy weather and the solar panels are not getting enough charge to heat the water in the huge tank up to nice-and-hot. Hence the lukewarm showers and hair washing. However, Mark has had instructions today in the art of oil-furnace back-up water heating. Sheesh!!! It’s quite an interesting contraption!

Right now I can hear normal drills, electrical sanders, trowels against hard plaster, the tapping of chisels, a hammer drill, and hammers — not to mention the sound of heavy feet as those fellows clunk their way up and down the stairs to all 5 levels of the house. I have my orange earplugs in, too!!! The whole house is vibrating with sounds and it’s making my heart race quite a bit.

At least at night it is beautifully peaceful and we sleep well. The neighbourhood is incredibly silent once darkness falls. A temporary small ‘apartment’ has been created out of 3 rooms up on the top floor and that’s where we are living for now.

We eat dinner, have a bath in the huge bathtub (not pictured), and then cuddle up side-by-side to watch a movie. Fortunately I have enough movies and British television shows in my computer to keep us occupied since there isn’t enough light in the bedroom to read by.

Late today the electricians are doing the final-fix (at least I hope that they are!) of the outlets and then perhaps we can have some lamps on in the evening instead of just one lamp and some tealight candles.

But at least it’s atmospheric with the candlelight. We are very relaxed once everyone leaves and we certainly have a sense of humour about it all!

Temporary bedroom setup

Temporary kitchenette

Blue bathroom - partially crumbling bu functional

How Wonderful and Quirky Is Edinburgh

Look up, look up! Re-tune your eyes so you fill your memory with the many snippets of marvelous things scattered about the city — tiny pieces of poignant sculpture — partial bits of quotes or poems — monumental architecture with almost-hidden carvings — all of it weaving a mysterious cloak that wraps this city up tightly.

Quirky, quietly beautiful, and never failing to amuse with the non-stop parade of ‘interesting’ residents and visitors alike, Edinburgh has so much going for it as a travel destination.

Squeezed between the shopfronts on the Royal Mile is a perfect example — the carving over Paisley Close which commemorates the survival of one young lad who was found amidst the rubble of several collapsed buildings in 1861. “Heave awa’ chaps, I’m no’ dead yet” is inscribed above the arch.

"Heave awa' chaps, I'm no' dead yet" sculpture above Paisley Close arched opening in Edinburgh, Scotland


Under the category of sweetness, where else in the world do you expect to see three charming teenage boys walking across a bridge in the heart of a city, two of them holding hands, and one of them wearing his kilt. It put a smile on the faces of everyone that they passed.

Kilt wearing, hand holding teenagers in Edinburgh, Scotland


Stereotypes exist for a reason, and the sheer determination, outright stubbornness, and frugality of the Scottish nature were all on display in bits and pieces on our travels. Our 2 week visit certainly convinced us that the lovely Scottish friends that we had back in Australia derived their fearless attitude and ferocious tenacity from their ancestry as well as their general personality.

The beauty of Edinburgh manages to mask the occasionally simmering resentment of the governing powers down in London. That historic anger was certainly on display in the National Museum of Scotland where the arresting poster below found quite a few people stopping, nodding their heads up and down in agreement as we watched, and creating a strong impression on me that those decades old resentments are still not forgotten.

National Gallery of Art & Edinburgh Castle Atop The Hill


Margaret Thatcher 'Oil Vampire' poster

But under the category of just-plain-quirky, how about the whiskey store right next door to the health food store? Or the wine shop that is an ‘homage’ to the old sci-fi film, Planet Of The Apes? Click to enlarge them and have a giggle!

Odd choice of shops to be side-by-side

A quirky homage to Cornelius from Planet Of The Apes


Calligraphy on wall of National Museum of Scotland: Declaration of Arbroath - 1320 AD

My most recent visit was my 4th time in Edinburgh and I have still barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do. Trust me, I’ll be going back!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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All rights reserved.


Eco-Edinburgh — Part Four

Pictures, pictures, pictures!!!

Champagne time at GreenWorks

We celebrated the roof topping out with some champagne last night in the workshop. Now Mark and I are taking a break today to go out and about in Edinburgh with my cameras.

Soooooo — instead of a daily report, here is a click-on link to a slideshow of all of the action as it unfolded over the last week.


Enjoy! And please feel free to leave comments if you are so inclined.

Also, don’t forget to have a look at the website of Greenworks in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Bye for now!

Eco Edinburgh — Part Three

Another day at GreenWorks in Edinburgh, Scotland and the sun-filled blue skies have brightened everyone’s mood. The building work is proceeding apace and the structure looks a bit more complete every day.

Progress on the overhead structure

Director Ellie Mills is normally ‘chained’ to the office and making ‘on the fly’ decisions, sometimes with baby Sula in a backpack. But she was clearly relishing the chance to get outside in the sunshine and wield a hammer today as she nailed timber shingles to the end of the emerging building structure.

GreenWorks Director Ellie Mills nailing shingles

Late yesterday afternoon designer Ola was outside with a colour chart trying to decide what the final colour scheme for the building would be. And baby Sula was, thankfully, happy to be passed around and amused by whoever was handy at the moment. Here is a shot of Sula and my husband Mark last evening and you can tell from Sula’s rosy cheeks that she has been out and about in the fresh air. Just as I was about to upload these photos, Mark mentioned that for a person who normally enjoys the company of a cat, babies are not that bad on occasion.

Ola checking the colour chart

Mark keeping Baby Sula amused

I’m away for now — out into the sunshine to take some photos of the materials in the yard. Then I’ll be back to the office to stay warm while I edit photos and write survey questions for the volunteers. More soon!

Deborah editing photos and public relations material

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Eco Edinburgh — Part Two

In the short few hours since my departure last night, a structure had begun to form atop the decking. It was Day Two for us here at GreenWorks in Edinburgh, Scotland and the workers were powering on, enjoying every moment of non-rainy building time.

Wall building

Walls in progress

Our hosts, Ellie and Simon and baby Sula, seem to have a revolving door of volunteers for this project and I admire their ability to think on their feet, balance an 8 month old child in shifts, and steer a group of volunteers who are working with power tools. Fortunately we have a mature group of people here with rather a lot of construction skills amongst them. I am the odd-one-out since my tools are cameras and a computer, but I’m thrilled to be able to bring public relations and photojournalism to the mix. The hours do pass quickly in a bit of a blur though!

Ellie in the office

Simon and Sula in the office

Off to edit photos. More tomorrow!

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Eco Edinburgh — Part One

The hour that we arose — shortly after 8 AM — was unfamiliar territory for me. 10 AM is more my norm when we are not on the road and travelling. The view from our hotel window in Yorkshire revealed very little but fog-shrouded landscape. Setting off slowly, we hoped that the white-out fog would burn off by 10 or 11 in the morning, but that was not to be. We spent a very slow and tedious day driving at a snail’s pace from Yorkshire to Edinburgh, frequently never surpassing 40 mph as we traversed one construction zone after another.

The TomTom satnav, now renamed Thomasina, served us well for two days as we drove north and never got lost once. And truthfully, getting through the streets of Edinburgh was a lot less stressful without the need to constantly look up and down and check the map.

Mark and Ola laying out timber cuts

Within a half an hour of arrival, Mark had changed into work clothing and was out in the workshop at GreenWorks in Edinburgh, Scotland while I received a quick tour of the office from Ellie, one of the directors of Edinburgh’s first green building store.

The concept is simple and very admirable although a bit labour intensive — re-claim and re-use instead of tossing perfectly good timber and other assorted building materials in the land-fill.

The material comes from a variety of sources — some mundane and some unexpected. The company has a van and they do pick-ups (for a fee) of surplus building supplies from construction sites, joinery shops (cabinet and furniture makers), private home or business owners who have completed a project, utility companies, and many other sites.

Interesting materials also have arrived from the remains of theatre sets and the dismantling of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. GreenWorks is not trying to compete with architectural salvage companies but instead are trying to educate the public about the value of re-using timber instead of buying new and often lesser quality timber from a home improvement superstore.

Norm and Jim building a deck in the side yard at GreenWorks in Edinburgh, Scotland

The current focus is building materials, but things are about to expand into the leafier kind of ‘green things’ as the side yard is being transformed with the construction of a floating deck to be used as a multipurpose space for demonstrations and a food production garden centre is on the way.

Keep watching for more posts from Edinburgh in the days ahead!

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.