Category Archives: History

Ostalgie

Ostalgie is a very whitty pun and a merging (well really it’s dropping of a letter!) of two German words Ost, meaning east and Nostalgie, meaning nostalgia. It is a term that is used to refer towards showing sentimentality for the east, particularly for the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or as we called it, East Germany.

In 1989, The Berlin Wall fell and Germany ceased to be two divided countries and reunited into one. Although it was seen as a victory for the West, it was often quite traumatic for those living in the East, especially as parts of their cultural identity had been stripped away. This led in part to a turning back to the DDR with fondness and nostalgia. Today, elements of DDR life such as TV Shows (such as Unser Sandmännchen), Food, and the Ost-Ampelmännchen (The green man on crossing signals) still play a part in daily life.

I have a friend who was born in the DDR and still lives in former-DDR territory. He is a die-hard lover of the DDR and he jokes that he hates leaving the DDR to go to the West. Over Christmas, he went home to his Mum’s house and showed me some old coins and DDR maps that he had. I adore old coins and maps and I saw these and instantly decided I wanted to get a DDR map and some coins and join the Ostalgie bandwagon.

I was able to pick up some lovely items.

First is a 1 Pfennig coin dating from 1961. This was the year the Berlin Wall was established. I thought it would be perfect to set it in a coin mount and have my own lucky penny necklace. At first I couldn’t find a coin mount to fit with the standard English penny coin mounts, but luckily I live in Birmingham, home of the Jewellery Quarter, so I was able to find someone to make me a bespoke one. I really love this necklace.

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Second, I found a 1990 5 Pfennig coin, this one is slightly bigger than the 1 Pfennig, and 1990 marks the final year these coins were made. This one sits in my Filofax. I don’t really have a set use for it, but like some of my other coins I collect, they are just nice to pull out occasionally and look it.

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Finally I have this beauty, a wonderful map of Berlin, complete with red line marking the Berlin Wall and a little icon for the Brandonburg Gate. My absolutely favourite feature of this though is the refusal to even draw West Berlin on the map, leaving it instead blank. Under the Hallstein Doctrine, West Germany had refused to acknowledge the existence of East Germany as a separate country. In addition, any country that formally recognised East Germany and established connections with it, would be denied diplomatic relations with West Germany. Although by the time this map was created the Hallstein Doctrine had been abandoned in favour of Ostpolitik, relations between East and West were still frosty. Hence the refusal to acknowledge West Germany on a map. I am currently looking into a frame so I can hang this map up on my wall.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

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Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. On the 27th January, for the past 15 years the UK has held a national commemoration day for the Holocaust. The 27th January, is the date that Auschwitz Concentration Camp was liberated by the Soviet Union. However, it is just not the Holocaust that this day represents, it is also a national memorial day for other Genocides such as Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda.

Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration camp, and perhaps people today are wondering why 70 years later we need still need a day to remember the Holocaust. Every year, there are fewer and fewer people alive today who survived the Holocaust. Very soon, the Holocaust will pass from living memory. It’s so important that when the Holocaust makes the important transition from living to past memory, that it is never forgotten.

Why is it important to remember? The Holocaust acts as a remember of the extreme evil groups of people can inflict on people for whatever reason: be it their religion, their race, their shared cultural identity. The systematic destruction and removal of a group of people simple because they are seen as different or ‘life unworthy of life’ is the most evil and dreadful thing to be witnessed by humanity.

The human race is built on uniqueness, that uniqueness is so important. It does not matter what a person’s age, gender, race, ethnicity, language, religion, social-economic status is. These are characteristics that make the human race, they are not a reason to hate a specific group of people, or to victimise and group of people, to kill a group of people.

The Holocaust represents a point in time when horrific and unspeakably evil things happened to Jews, Homosexuals, Roma, Prisoners of War, Asocials, Criminals, people who spoke out against a regime, people who were labelled as unworthy to life by those in power. Millions were sysmatically and ruthlessly killed.

After the Holocaust, there is a saying that this should never happen again, nie wieder (never again), yet since the Holocaust there have been other documented acts of Genocide; Cambodia (1975-9), Rwanda (1994), Srebrenica (1995). Genocide is not just confined to the dark periods of History. Darfur (2003-present) is ongoing. There are also those that have not yet officially been recognised as an act of Genocide. Currently, the ISIS state is targeting the Yazidi people, a minority group of around half a million people who speak Kurdish. ISIS defines the Yazidi religion as Devil Worship. Thousands of been executed, hundreds of thousands are missing. People are forced into sexual slavery, are forced to marry and convert. It is clear that the idea that never again should the destruction of a ethnic group be sysmatically removed and destroyed is being ignored again and again and again. Until there is a time that we can never again, and know that it means never again; that there will always be a need to remember, to write, to never forget, to speak out to demand action.

Martin Niemöller, a concentration camp survivor summed it up best:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

That is why Holocaust Memorial Day, today, is so important. However, it should never just be convinced to one day, next time you read a newspaper and the belittle someone because of their low socio-economic status, for being an asylum seeker trying to enter a country and survive. Remember. This is not acceptable. It is never acceptable and one should always speak out and say it is not acceptable.

 


Leicester

I am a born and bred Brummie and I love my city very much…I often get home sick when I leave Birmingham…especially when I go on an extended trip for a couple of months. I don’t think I’ll ever leave Birmingham…but if I did the number one contender for my home would probably be Leicester.

Leicester, I think gets a bit of a bad rap, I think because the city tends to look quite dull and grey. Yes, it is a largely 1960s town and that style of architecture is not my favourite…but there are some beautiful gems in Leicester that make this a city that you really ought to visit. I was looking enough to persuade a few of German friends to take a tour of the city (on the 19th September) so I could show them some of my favourite sights. This is just a written version of the tour, however as I was tour guide I didn’t take many photos, so I might have to source them from else where.

Leicester

Leicester itself is a very old city, it was around when the Romans were in Britain where it was known as Corietauvorum. Leicester was the capital city for the tribe of Corieltauvi – who were a Celtic Iron age tribe. When the Romans withdraw from Britain, the city changed its name. It’s present name has roots back to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (c.914-942), where it has various spellings but they formulate around the idea of Ligoraceastre. Ceastre is an old now for a wall or fortified town – and Leicester did have medieval walls until the town eventually outgrew them. The Ligora part of the name is less clear – but could be an older name for the River Soar. The city today has a population of 330,000 making it the tenth largest city in the UK. It also is a very multicultural city and is predicted to be the first city in the UK to gain a non-white majority. This allows for a wonderful mix of cuisine and vibrancy in Leicester that helps to kick off that image that the city is grey.

Claim to fame

Leicester is probably not seen as a city famous for anything but that is quite untrue. Musicians include Family, Showaddywaddy, Cornershop and Kasabian. The city was also home to a butcher named John who also decided to start out making potato snack crisps, his surname of course was Walker. Pukka Pies, Foxes mints also originate here as well as companies like Cataphillar and a certain Thomas Cook started a business making day trips to the seaside. Joseph Merrick (the Elephant man), Gary Linekar and also the Attenborough Brothers all have connections to the city as well.

Train Station

As we took the train to Leicester it had to really be the first point of talk on the tour. The train station is very impressive, like most surviving Victorian buildings seem to be. The site itself has been a train station since 1840. Which was two years after Curzon Street Station was built in Birmingham. Due to the popularity of trains during the Victorian period more Leicester stations opened, with Leicester eventually having eight in total. The station changed it’s name twice firstly being Leicester Campbell Street (1867), then Leicester London Road (1892) finally with the Beeching Report (1963), Leicester’s train stations declined to just the one and it reverted back to just Leicester in 1969. The present building dates from 1894. Which enlarged the original train station. Recent building works in 2012 have help to modernise the station for all visitors whilst lovingly maintain traditional features.

Top Hat Terrace

If I had to pick a favourite building in Leicester, it would have to be this one. It’s relatively easy to walk past this one so it’s a good idea to keep your eyes peeled on London Road for it. The original owner is said to have been the inspiration for Athur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and it was home to Leicester’s first private detective, Frances ‘Tanky’ Smith. Leicester was said to be a lawless place when the first police force was created in 1836. Smith joined four years later and along with follow officer Tommy Haynes, infiltrated gangs. Their reputations grew and they were soon the forces most successful officers. When James Beaumont Winstanley, the High Sherrif of Leicestershire, disappeared on a extended trip to Europe; the Winstanley hired Smith in a private capacity. Although Smith was successful in finding out what happened to Winstanley, he was sadly unable to return him alive, for he had drowned in Germany. Nevertheless, he was rewarded generously for his efforts, he came back to Leicester and employed his son James Francis Smith to design and build Victoria Terrace. However it is more popularly known as top hat terrace and the design of the building incorporates some of Smith’s famous disguises including a Bishop, a Quaker and two Jockeys.

Peace Walk, War Memorial and Victoria Park

Leicester is quite an understated city, it doesn’t boost grand buildings that make headlines like Birmingham and it hasn’t embarked on a major upgrading programme. However perhaps it’s most grandest statement and probably also one of it’s most beautiful is that of peace walk and the war memorial situated in Victoria Park. The memorial was built in 1923. Victoria Park originated as a Racecourse which operated from 1806-1883, and was built in part things to the construction of New Walk – which allowed for the development of the area that was known as South Fields, where the park is located.

University of Leicester 

Right next to Victoria Park is the University of Leicester, which is famous for the discovery of Genetic Fingerprinting and the remains of Richard III. It is also home to the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies – the first teaching centre to open within the UK dedicated to the teaching and research of Genocide studies. The original campus building is the Fielding Johnson one, which began life as the Leicestershire and Rutland Lunatic Asylum. The building is remarkably well preserved and although the last padded cell was removed in the 1960s, it still has both exercise yards preserved which are a nice little hidden gem. During the First World War this building was used as a field hospital for wounded soldiers returning from the front. After the War the building was donated by Thomas Fielding Johnson, which is where it gets its present name from. It become the Leicestershire and Rutland University College in 1921. The University’s moto is Ut Vitam Haean, which means So that they may have life. The University was intended to be a living memorial to those who died in the First World One and remember the generation of men who were unable to gain an education before of war.

New Walk

Originally named Queen’s Walk after Queen Charlotte, George III’s wife. It was laid out in 1785 and when it was built it was more popularly known as New Walk, the name stuck and it is the name it still goes by. The walk was designed to give a suburban, non-muddy walkway within the town of Leicester. It allowed for the development of South Fields – which saw the race course built on what is now Victoria Park. During the 1960s, New Walk was scheduled to be demolished in order to make way for the Leicester Ring Road. The city’s town planner Konrad Smigielski was horrified at the thought of losing something beautiful and ordered the road to be altered to preserve New Walk. Smigielski was appointed city planner in 1961 and was the second man in the country to be appointment to such a position. He has a bit of a bad reputation in Leicestershire and he didn’t win himself any favours when he started his post – when he suggested that Leicester had very little of merit he warranted was worth saving. He placed three conversation orders of sites in Leicester, one of which was New Walk which has been preserved since 1969. The road was built but sadly during the process it destroyed much as of the remains of the Roman Forum, although Smigielski is often blamed for this loss; the Road was under construction before he entered the city planner position and it is unclear whether he could have prevented the loss of the Forum. On New Walk is also St. Stephen’s United Reform Church. This church originally stood on the site of the Train Station but in order to make way for the new station St. Stephens was carefully demolished in 1891 and relocated to New Walk, where it has remained.

New Walk Museum

The museum marked the end of my tour and we walked inside to enjoy the German Expressionist exhibit. German Expressionism was seen as Degenerate art and many of the artist within the exhibit had paintings destroyed. The paintings here were able to escape Germany and a German Expressionist exhibit first opened at the museum during the Second World War and has remained a key feature of the Museum ever since.

Leicester Cathedral and Richard III Visitor’s Centre
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The Leicester Cathedral and Richard III Visitor’s Centre are located a stone’s throw from each other and the centre itself was built on the site of the 2012 discovery of the remains of Richard. It opened in 2014 and cost £4 million pounds to build.

Jewry Wall
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A short walk from the cathedral is Jewry Wall, which is Britain’s tallest surviving Roman Wall. It was believed to originally be a Bath House and the origins of the name Jewry Wall are unclear.

The concluded the tour of Leicester and was a lovely day with just the right amount of History and walking. If you ever fancy going to Leicester I do recommend following this route and seeing some of the sights of Leicester. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Leicester as much as I do.


Birmingham’s Archaeology (Birmingham Heritage Week).

I know very little about the early part of Birmingham’s history. I probably know more about Leicestershire’s local history than I do about my home city – which is a shame, but as part of Birmingham Heritage Week, the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society hosted a lecture about their excavations and what they have discovered and then followed this by a walk, which pinpointed the sites then talked about.

Before we get into the archaeology I have to talk about Birmingham and Midland Institute, where the talk took place…their lecture theatre has to be the best one I have ever been too. Look at the fabulous historic lecture theatre – I love the colour of the seats which I can only describe as puke green! The seats were so comfortable too, unlike most university ones.

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The talk was given by Dr. Mike Hodder and Dr. Stephanie Ratkai. Dr. Mike Hodder was Birmingham Council’s planning Archeologist for twenty years and together with Dr. Stephanie Ratkai has worked on excavations of numerous sights in Birmingham, including the Bullring, Library of Birmingham and Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The talk itself centred on the archaeological work in Digbeth, which was a historic industrial site, that was prone to flooding. The fact that it was such a damp site has undermined the legend that Beorma and his followers settled here and that is why the city is called Birmingham. If Beorma did exist, he probably didn’t settle in Digbeth.

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Modern Digbeth today is actually compromised of two separate parishes, with Deritend being in the parish of Aston, which was separated by the River Rea. I have walked past the River Rea many times and always thought it was a later canal…but it turns out it was a river! Deritend was home to a pottery industry, which importantly gave it’s name to Deritend ware, which was manufactured in Deritend and in the Bullring area. The pots themselves were made by a orange local Merican mudstone and detailed with a V pattern with a white clay which came from further afield. The busy trade of other industries drew people to the Bull ring to trade, and probably either bought cookware while they were here or bought products within Deritend ware – which made for the successful distribution of Deritend ware throughout the Midlands, and it is found regularly in digs sites. During digs as well pieces of flint were found which indicate that the site was in use in the Stone Age as well. It is also home to the Old Crown Pub with a very impressive sign which claims the pub dates back to 1368, however excavations by Dr. Hodder in the beer garden have suggested that there is no evidence to support the claim that the pub is that old.

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Residents in Digbeth who were actually in the parish of Aston campaigned that the needed their own church because flooding often prevented them from travelling across the river to get to their Parish church in Deritend. It is dubious whether this was true of whether villagers wanted a closer church instead of walking several miles to get to their one in Aston. Whatever the case may be the church was the site of the burning of John Rogers during the reign of Queen Mary I. He is recorded as a Martyr to the protestant faith and was involved in helping to translate the bible into English.

Just up from the Old Crown on the same side, excavations also found evidence of a man-made pool built within the medieval period, the reason behind the creation of the pool was unclear but the area was home to a significantly sized tanning industry which was probably connected in some way to the pool.

Finally, the bit of archaeology I did know about was located on the site of the Bullring, which was the site of the old manor house with had a moat (this is reflected in street signage with Moat Lane). During excavations they found that the medieval manor’s walls were remarkably well preserved. Just up was the corner of Moat Lane is a very tired looking building, which use to be a music hall and was frequented by the Peaky Blinders, this building is scheduled for demolition and area to be rejuvenated.

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Hidden Spaces (Birmingham Heritage Week)

I’m a little behind with writing some posts. I went to this event last Saturday and I am only getting round to writing about it!

I am a history fanatic and it is safe to say that the study of the past takes up a lot of my time. I am very fortunate to be a Co-organiser of the Birmingham History Network (BHN). The BHN is a meetup group which is designed to bring like minded people together and organise events. Hidden Spaces was my second organised tour for the BHN and it formed part of Birmingham Heritage Week 2015. There was so many events to pick from over the week, and it was very difficult to filter through and pick something to do. In my opinion there was too much choice. Although if I run this event next year I think from experience I will be able to plan and organise the event a little better. I decided to pick a selection of venues that are normally closed to public viewing (which the exception of a few days each year). Often I walk past their buildings and always wonder what lies behind the closed door.

Birmingham Municipal Bank
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First up with the old Municipal Bank, which was first suggestion by Neville Chamberlain (who is perhaps more famous for being Prime Minster during the Outbreak of World War Two) in 1915. The idea of the Bank was to courage workers to deposit their savings which would generate a 3.5% interest which would be used by the Government, predominately to help the war effort. The Bank was created by Act of Parliament in 1916. After the war the Bank survived and it moved to it’s current position in 1933. This building located on Broad Street was the headquarters of the Bank.

This is a big and very beautiful building. There are many safes behind this bank, and the building has a spooky element of being a ghost shell. I am not sure when the bank stopped being operational, but it closed because it was too big and too costly to maintain. I was fortunate enough to meet a woman who used to work here in the 1960s and she talked about the beautiful cashier’s desk that used to be in the main room as soon as you walk in…alas it has now gone and the building is just an empty shell. Another lovely bonus was that someone else in the group knew one of the people in charge of the Heritage Open Day and he very kindly gave us a tour around the other safes. The big empty vaults hold a silent history of what was once a very busy bank.

I think it’s an absolute shame that this building is not in use today. I can understand why it is too costly for a bank, but I was thinking that it is right next to the Registry Office. I think this building would be fantastic to be reused as a wedding venue…it has beautiful charm and room to be able to have a wedding and a catering/dance facility within it. Some of the former managerial offices could also be turned into Hotel rooms. Although there would be a problem with toilet and washroom facilities which are at present would be limiting. Nevertheless I think it would work really well as a wedding venue.

Curzon Street Station

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I am quite clearly not a photographer, so my photos are appalling. Curzon Street Station was opened in 1838…but what is interesting is that this building was only partially built. There were meant to be two wings to the building, which appear in drawing plans but were never built. That’s why this building has the appearance that something is not quite right…almost missing. People often think that something has been removed from the building, in fact, the opposite was true – it was never added.

I was a little more disappointed with Curzon Street Station – it was lovely to see round the building…but there was no one really giving tours around and as we did not have someone in the group who knew someone to give a private tour, nor someone who worked here there wasn’t much more to do than walk around. There were a few informative boards on one wall – but it was mostly empty. I thought it would have been better to see if there were any photographs of Curzon Street within the archive and perhaps of used one of these empty rooms to display that. I loved a collection of old keys that had been left in one of the rooms, it was like it had been left there on Friday night ready for Monday morning and it never opened that Monday, the cobwebs in the place gave it a fantastic touch. There was talk that this building was going to become a Museum, but I overheard someone discussing with someone else that it would have cost millions to comply with health and safety and they just couldn’t afford to make it a museum.

Birmingham Hippodrome

20150912_12233220150912_125323I thought the Birmingham Hippodrome did a fantastic job for Heritage Week. I loved the two women in traditional Victorian dress singing traditional turn of the last century songs, including ‘My Old Man’, although there is a photo of me singing this song somewhere (I am praying it doesn’t end up in the Birmingham Mail or something like that…), they were brilliant and great fun. I’m sad I did not get a picture of them. There was also a lovely guide who talked a bit about the posters which you can see on the left and briefly about the origins of the Hippodrome. He suggested that often Hippodromes were created to make a loss, and I know that often venues today make a lost. I thought they would have been more popular prior to the onset of Cinemas, Radios and Tvs; but apparently even back then they were build by wealthy people as a status symbol, but not designed to be a money spinner. Another great thing about the Hippodrome was the Historical Talk, one of the guides gave, which was an hour long sit down presentation about the History of the Hippodrome. I really enjoyed it and it was very informative.

Museum Collections

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20150912_145703This was around about 2 O’Clock and having started at 10 O’Clock, a large part of the group decided to call it a day. A few hard corers stayed on a braced themselves for a 30 minute walk across town to go to the Museum Collections building. The Museum Collections building is like a big warehouse that houses the artefacts the museum has
which are currently not on, or never go on display. It was like an Aladdin’s Cave of Historical Goodies. It also answered a 20150912_152715question I have often wondered. I look around and see some beautiful sculptures and busts of people and sometimes during refurbishments these disappear and never come back. I often wondered where they go and if they are destroyed. Turns out a lot of them are stored in the Museum Collections and they have a fantastic collection of random things. It was great looking through them. Although it was nearing the end of the event and the building was getting ready to close, so it was rather a rushed look through.

 

 

An expected bonus

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By this point it had been a long and tiring day, the group had done a lot of walking and exploring and it was safe to say we were looking forward to going home. The prospects of a long walk back into town was not appealing, however as luck would have it a man stopped me and said there were two vintage buses which were talking people back into Town. We decided to leave on the second to last bus and travelled on the London Red Bus. We were speaking to the ‘Conductor’ who was organising the stops, he said we’d turn right and stop outside Snow Hill Station, unfortunately we didn’t and the Conductor had no way of talking to the Driver, as unlike modern buses the Driver was completely isolated from the passengers on the bus. We ended up going back to Museum collections and we were about to go and get the train, when the Conductor said he was making one final trip into town and would not be coming back to Museum Collections. So we got a second trip round on the bus…which was fantastic and a perfect end to a very historical day.