Places

Washington, DC

We lived in the DC area from 2003 to 2008 and we loved it, particularly the historic area of DC with all the old neoclassical buildings. Here is a gallery of photographs of some of those buildings, including a few from Union Station, which is not only a train station but also a connection to DC’s metrorail system.

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Places

A jaunt through Dresden

Dresden (known as Drježdźany in Sorbian, Drážďany in Czech and Drezno in Polish) is the capital city and, after Leipzig, the second-largest city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the border with the Czech Republic. Its name derives from Old Sorbian Drežďany, meaning “people of the forest”. An important thing to note here is that there is a difference between Sorbians (also known as Lusatians) and Serbians; they are separate ethnic groups in Europe, with completely separate histories.

Dresden has a long history as the capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendor, and was once the family seat of the Polish monarchs. The city was known as the “Jewel Box”, because of its baroque and rococo city centre. The American and British bombing of Dresden in World War II towards the end of the war killed approximately 25,000 people, many of whom were civilians, and destroyed the entire city centre. After the war restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of the historic inner city, including the Katholische Hofkirche, the Zwinger and the Semper Oper.

A view of Dresden in 1945, after the Allied bombing

We visited that old part of the city and we walked around in the section between the Frauenkirche and the Hofkirche in the course of an afternoon. We didn’t stay. We were on a fairly tight schedule and needed to move on. That evening, we made it to a small town named Radebeul, where we spent the night. Enjoy the photographs, there are 93 of them!

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Places

Leipzig Train Station

Inaugurated in 1915, Leipzig Hauptbahnhof (Leipzig main train station) is the central railway terminus in Leipzig, Germany. When its plans were finalized in 1909, it was the world’s largest railway station. Today, at 83,460 square metres (898,400 sq ft), it is Europe’s largest railway station measured by floor area. It has 19 overground platforms housed in six iron train sheds, a multi-level concourse with towering stone arches, and a 298 metres (978 ft) long facade.

It was in 1898 that the Leipzig city council decided on a joint terminal for Royal Saxon and Prussian state railways north of the city centre. A building contract with both organisations was signed in 1902 and an architectural competition with 76 participants was held in 1906. The winning design by architects William Lossow (1852–1914) and Max Hans Kühne (1874–1942) featured two identical domed entrance halls facing the street, one for each company. The foundation stone was laid on 16 November 1909 and the platforms were gradually brought into operation station from 1912 onwards. When construction works finished on 4 December 1915, Leipzig Hauptbahnhof had become one of the world’s largest railway stations with 26 platforms.

Enjoy the photographs!

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Places

Cecilienhof Palace

Inbetween the two days of visits to Schloss Sanssouci, we made time to visit Schloss Cecilienhof, which is nearby and is a larger compound, in spite of its less imposing facades. Sanssouci was originally projected with just 10 rooms to be used by Frederick the Great, while Cecilienhof was built with 176 rooms. Although the various buildings seem separate, they are interconnected at ground level and below ground and feature quite a few private gardens, set in private courtyards. We visited all we could manage in the space of an afternoon and evening that stretched till dusk, when we had to call it quits.

Cecilienhof is a palace in Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany built from 1914 to 1917 in the layout of an English Tudor manor house. Cecilienhof was the last palace built by the House of Hohenzollern that ruled the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire until the end of World War I. It is famous (or infamous) for having been the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, in which the leaders of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States made important decisions affecting the shape of post World War II Europe and Asia. In other words, the Potsdam Conference is singularly responsible for drawing the dark iron curtain of communism over most of Eastern Europe, so it’s not an event that many from Eastern Europe remember fondly. The palace’s history is also a fairly sad one, because in spite of its beauty and functionality, it was only used for its intended purpose for a few years.

On 13 April 1914 the Imperial Ministry and the Saalecker Werkstätten signed a building contract that envisaged a completion date of 1 October 1915 and a construction cost of 1,498,000 Reichsmark for the new palace. The architect was Paul Schultze-Naumburg, who visited the couple in Danzig to work out the design for the palace. It was based on English Tudor style buildings, arranged around several courtyards featuring half-timbered walls, bricks and 55 different decorative chimney stacks. The palace was finished in August 1917. It was named Cecilienhof after the Duchess and the couple moved in immediately. Cecilie gave birth at Cecilienhof to her youngest child, Cecilie of Prussia who was born on 5 September 1917.

However, when the revolution erupted in November 1918, for security reasons Cecilie and her six children moved for a while to the Neues Palais, where the wife of Emperor Wilhelm II, Empress Augusta Victoria, was living. Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to Holland, where he remained until his death, on his estate Huize Doorn. (Incidentally, a film was made about the last years of his life and it’s called “The Exception” (2016). It stars Christopher Plummer, Lily James and Jai Courtney.) After the Empress followed her husband into exile in the Netherlands, Cecilie remained in Potsdam and returned to Cecilienhof where she lived until 1920. As the property of the Hohenzollern family had been confiscated after the revolution, Cecilie then had to move her residence to an estate at Oels in Silesia, which was a private property. Only her sons Wilhelm (William) and Louis Ferdinand remained at Cecilienhof while they attended a public Realgymnasium (school) in Potsdam. Crown Prince Wilhelm had gone into exile in the Netherlands on 13 November 1918 and was interned on the island of Wieringen. He was allowed to return to Germany—as a private citizen—on 9 November 1923.

In June 1926, a referendum on expropriating the former ruling Princes of Germany without compensation failed and as a consequence, the financial situation of the Hohenzollern family improved considerably. A settlement between the state and the family made Cecilienhof property of the state but granted a right of residence to Wilhelm and Cecilie. This was limited in duration to three generations.

Prince Wilhelm subsequently broke the promise he had made to Gustav Stresemann, who allowed him to return to Germany, to stay out of politics. He supported the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, who visited Cecilienhof three times, in 1926, in 1933 (on the “Day of Potsdam”) and in 1935. However, when Wilhelm realized that Hitler had no intention of restoring the monarchy, their relationship cooled. After the assassination attempt on 20 July 1944, Hitler had Wilhelm placed under supervision by the Gestapo and had Cecilienhof watched.

In January 1945, Wilhelm left Potsdam for Oberstdorf for a treatment of his gall and liver problems. Cecilie fled in early February 1945 as the Red Army drew closer to Berlin, without being able to salvage much in terms of her possessions. At the end of the war, Cecilienhof was seized by the Soviets.

After the Potsdam Conference ended, Soviet troops used the palace as a clubhouse. It was handed over to the state of Brandenburg and in 1952 a memorial for the Conference was set up in the former private chambers of Wilhelm and Cecilie. The government of Eastern Germany also used the palace as a reception venue for state visits. The rest of the complex became a hotel in 1960. Some of the rooms were used by the ruling party (SED) for meetings. After 1961, a part of the Neuer Garten was destroyed to build the southwest section of the Berlin Wall (as part of the Grenzsicherungsanlagen) which ran along the shore of Jungfernsee. Beginning in 1985, the VEB Reisebüro (state-owned travel agency) modernised the hotel.

Today, parts of Cecilienhof are still used as a museum and as a hotel. In 1990 it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin. The private rooms were opened to the public in 1995 after comprehensive restoration work. Queen Elizabeth II visited Cecilienhof on 3 November 2004. On 30 May 2007, the palace was used for a summit by the G8 foreign ministers. In 2011, Schloss Cecilienhof was awarded the European Heritage Label.

I hope you’ll enjoy this gallery of 113 photographs I took there!

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Places

Two short visits to Prague

Back in 2011, we visited multiple cities in Germany and on the way, we stopped in Prague. It was only for an hour or so while we were on our way to Germany and half a day on our way back. It was about to rain the first time we were there and the second time it was quite hot, even for early June.

Prague is a beautiful city. I was glad to so many historical buildings restored to their former selves. Practically everywhere you turned, there was something beautiful to see. The photos shown here are combined from those two occasions. Enjoy!

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Places

A drive on A1A

I lived in South Florida for a number of years. I went to high school and graduate school there. I did a lot of driving up and down A1A over the years, since 1991 onward. During a stay in South Florida in 2010, we were returning home after a visit to Vizcaya, and we thought we’d drive up A1A from Miami Beach, to see how things had changed.

They had changed. Things have always been in constant change along the coast, at least to my knowledge. When I arrived in Florida and started going to the beach in Hollywood and Hallandale, there were a few multi-story apartment buildings here and there, with a few larger ones down the road toward North Miami, but the rest of A1A was quiet, with nice, Art Deco beach houses tucked away between large palm and mangrove trees and private beaches. Then, sometime in the mid 90s, larger apartment buildings began to rise. The invasion had begun. The traffic began. Whereas A1A had been a leisurely cruise down the coast, it eventually turned into one long traffic jam. People who’d lived in quiet little beach houses for years and years, saw to their dismay the rise of monstrously tall apartment buildings, right next door, obliterating their privacy. There must have been zoning law disputes and lawsuits, but eventually the large real estate developers won, because more and more apartment buildings rose on the beach.

I have to wonder how those things are anchored to the ground, because Florida has no bedrock. Underneath a fairly thin slice of topsoil, Florida is made of coral bed, which is porous and soft. The engineering knowhow required to build a proper foundation for a 40-50 story building right next to the beach, where it’s subject to high winds and hurricanes and the concrete is eaten away by salty water, must be fairly complicated and tremendously risky. But people want to live “the dream”, and for the people clamoring for a beachside apartment in South Florida, the real estate developers are happy to provide it.

The photos you’ll see here were taken from the car, as we drove up A1A toward Hallandale Beach. It was the spring of 2010. Side note: I do like the way they painted the Hallandale Beach Water Tower.

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Places

A jaunt through Geneva

This past summer we visited Geneva, Switzerland, during the Fêtes de Genève. It was a short business trip, if I recall correctly it was about a day and a half, but in-between the business meetings, we snuck in a jaunt or two through the old town. One afternoon we started down by the lake, on the Promenade du Lac, and we climbed uphill on the beautiful stone steps toward the Rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and the Promenade Saint-Antoine, then we came back down to the lake to see the Jet d’Eau. The following day, we visited the Promenade des Bastions, where the Université de Genève is located. And that was it. It was August, it was incredibly hot, even for Geneva, and the only area tolerable enough during the sweltering daytime heat was the lakeshore. It really says something about global warming when Geneva’s weather becomes intolerable in the summer…

Geneva is a beautiful city with a lot of history. It’s a wonderful thing when a country has a chance to develop and to build upon the successes of previous generations without the ravages of war, which to say the least, reset the clock of progress for a place. Switzerland has been in this enviable position for hundreds of years where it has been able to stay neutral and thus its people have had decent lives and have been able to see the fruits of their labor and to leave something worthwhile behind for their successors.

I hope you enjoy this gallery of photographs from a privileged place, full of beauty and value.

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Places

The fortified church in Mosna

The village of Moșna, known as Meschen in German and Muzsna in Hungarian, is first mentioned in written documents in 1283, and there is evidence that a settlement existed there since the 1st century AD (source). Moşna was also the home of Stephan Ludwig Roth (1796-1849), a famous Saxon priest, pedagogue and human rights campaigner (source).

The Saxon settlers in the area first built a Romanesque basilica in the 13th century, which was then modified and expanded in the late 15th and early 16th centuries in the Gothic style. The man responsible for the project was Andreas Lapicidas of Sibiu (Hermannstadt), a master stone mason, known as Endreas Steinmetz in Sachsen. His initials can be seen inside the church, carved on a lintel.

The Moșna fortified church is one of the biggest in Transilvania and it is a remarkable work of Gothic architecture. The church itself is structured around three naves with ribbed vaults for ceilings. The naves are separated through four pairs of columns, the ones in the west side having been made of bricks and decorated differently so as to preserve the eastern group of columns intact, since the latter was erected using stone from the pillars of the former Romanesque basilica. Inside, the most noteworthy architectural elements are the door to the sacristy, the stone pulpit and the monumental tabernacle which measures 11.05 m in height.

The fortifications include five towers and a 9m defense wall that surrounds the church and allows for ample space inside the fortress. The bell tower has seven levels and three bells, the oldest of which dates from 1515. The gate tower in the south-eastern corner has five levels. The northern side of the fortification is guarded by a tower with four levels. A shorter, three-level tower stands to the south and it hosts a museum dedicated mostly to the trades and customs of the Saxon community but which also includes exhibits discovered during various archaeological explorations, such as coins and fragments of weaponry.

When we visited in 2011, we arrived right around noon, which as some of you may know, is the worst time of the day for photos. I also had with me a camera that was more remarkable for its zoom (30x) than the dynamic range of its sensor and the quality of its photos. I plan to visit again soon and take some photographs that will do the place justice. It’s undergone significant repairs and restoration work since 2011, so it looks different now. We’ve actually revisited it just a couple of months ago, but it was for a photoshoot for Ligia’s ongoing project, Straie Alese, so I didn’t focus on capturing the architecture.

Enjoy the photos!

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Places

Sighisoara from a distance

The same day I took these photos, we decided to drive into the hills surrounding the town and see if we could find a scenic spot from whence to photograph it. We found a couple of spots. There are a couple of pensions perched up there, with great views of the valley and the town. While the pensions/restaurants themselves are underwhelming (one was closed, another only served water and bad coffee), the views are worth the drive.

By the time I set up my equipment, it was dusk and twilight was fast approaching. You’ll have to excuse the liberal use of noise reduction in the photographs, but I was shooting with the long end of a 70-300mm lens at f5.6, fast shutter speeds and high ISO. What made the photos more interesting was the creeping fog, which was enveloping the town from all sides. I can see the appeal of such scenery in stories about vampires, but I assure you, there are none there.

When night fell over the valley, we drove back down and I took a few shots of an historic church and of the Târnava Mare river which passes through the town. One last thing: the mountains which you see in some of the photographs are the Southern Carpathians, more specifically the Făgăraș Mountains.

Enjoy the photographs!

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Places

The fortified church in Zagar

There is a fortified church in the village of Zagăr, which is located in the county of Mureș, Transilvania. I was not able to find out any information about it online; I don’t know why it’s not documented. The only thing I was able to find was a mention of the vineyards in the region, which are known for their white wines (source). The village is known as Rode in German and Zágor in Hungarian. It was first mentioned in written documents in 1412 (source). The same source states that the church was rebuilt in the year 1640 but does not give a reason why.

We also weren’t able to visit the buildings themselves (the church and the parochial house) when we visited in 2011, because the place was locked up and no one was around. On the upside, it’s a well-maintained place, restored in 2007, judging by the inscription on the back gate. Perhaps at some time in the future we’ll revisit it.

Enjoy the photographs!

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