Stolpersteine in Düsseldorf

These small brass plaques, lodged in the pavement, are a reminder of the countless individual lives that make up the clinical statistics that confound our ability to assimilate the horror of the millions who died under Nazi ‘re-settlement’.

My initial introduction to the Stolpersteine project was during a visit to Berlin in the summer of 2006. Two ‘stumble stones’ in the pavement at Naunynstrasse in Kreuzberg struck me as a far more compelling reflection on the impact of the Shoah than memorials to the factories of death. The idea is simple – each ‘stone’ includes the name, year of birth, date of deportation, eventual destination and fate of individual residents who once lived in the building – ‘Hier Wohnte’. The project is the work of a Köln based artist, Gunter Demnig.

The project began in Köln in 1994, later spread to Berlin-Kreuzberg, and has since expanded to other German, Austrian and European cities. At last count more than 40,000 Stolpersteine have become part of the pavement – a persistent reminder of those who were displaced. Funding comes from a variety of sources, which includes donations and sometimes requests from surviving family members. Each stone costs €120.

As the project has evolved it has come to encompass the often forgotten Gypsies, Poles, Political Dissidents, Catholics and other ‘undesirables’ who disappeared in the Nazi camps.

Much of my  exploration of the work of Gunter Demnig has focussed on the city of Düsseldorf, which I visit frequently. I wanted to present the Stolpersteine but also the surrounding streetscape – the environment in which the departed lived. As I’ve walked across the city, from the Altstadt by the Rhine to the old working class district of Eller, I’ve often literally ‘stumbled’ across a new stone set in the pavement. More recently I’ve also explored other cities – you can see my visit to Aachen here

As we stumble across the ‘stones’ we can see that some have been in place for several years – becoming part of the pavement with their softened corners and the marks of the revolving cycles of the seasons. With the more recent ‘stones’ one can still see the evidence of the hand of Gunter Demnig in the disturbed pavement and the new clear brass.

The inscriptions on the stolpersteine suggest a variety of subtle readings. Among the early dates of those removed is the word, ausgewiesen, indicating that the individuals were ‘evicted’, rather than deported – later, deportiert is used exclusively, reflecting the evolution of Nazi policy toward a final solution for its ‘undesirable’ citizens. Then there is the use of either ermordet, ‘murdered’ or tot, ‘died’ – a bureaucratic distinction between those who died of disease, overwork or lack of food in the camps and ghettos and those who were gassed or killed through some other active means.

Other inscriptions reveal those who left or escaped ‘flucht’ and were later deported from elsewhere; those who were hidden ‘versteckt’ and later deported, as well as those arrested and executed – presumably for political crimes. On my most recent visit to Düsseldorf in the summer of 2013 I stumbled across one Johann Adloff, one of the 200,000 or so we believe were killed under Aktion T4 – a euthanasia project to rid Germany of the physically disabled and mentally ill.

Random London

Through my journeys across London I often come across a rather random collection of images that interest me but don’t really fit into a larger group. So here we have a somewhat fragmented collection . Its a combination of parks, re-develevelopment sites and high streets, reflecting the changing urban landscape in London.

For years the site of the old Middlesex Hospital remained an open space in London – with just a few remanents remaining. Now a series of high-end luxury aparments are rising in the shadows of the old hospital.

Closer to my own London location is Alexandra Palace park at Hallowen and the Muswell Hill sports field and a rather determined dog..

Legs £7, is a rather unfortunate reflection on the changes happening on my own local high street in Muswell Hill. Independant shops and family busineses are being replaced by an influx of chains and charity shops.

London Southbank

I love walking along London Southbank – here a just a few things that have caught my eye…

Beach huts – friends welcome, relatives by appointment

Lyme Regis on the West Dorset coast is probably best known for its association with John Fowles novel ‘The French Lieutenant’s Women’ and Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’. In both ‘The Cobb’ is an ever present character – the snake like harbour wall that encloses and protects.

Yet I was drawn to another persistent presence – the beach huts along Marine Parade. These little wooden boxes can be found across seaside resorts in the UK – little miniature homes on the high-tide mark.

Their history goes back to the origins of the seaside resort – and the idea that the beach and the sea could offer restorative powers – initially an option only for the wealthy. The ancestor of the beach hut was the bathing machine – a device that would have been familiar to Jane Austen. It allowed  those from a more modest age to change from their street clothes and then enter the sea and enjoy it’s healing powers.

By the 1950s the bathing machine had evolved into the bathing hut and a more egalitarian era that marked the hey-day of the English seaside resort.

Today we have perhaps come full circle as these little wooden boxes demand high prices and long waiting lists.


I first came across lovelocks on a bridge in a small italian town, Cannobio on Lago Maggiore. Over a year later I found the Pont des Artes in Paris covered in a multi-cultural spread of padlocks offering public declarations of undying love. Always known as a meeting place for lovers it was something new to see a tapestry of locks spread across the wire barrier.

I’m told the tradition of inscribing names on a lock, attaching it to a bridge and throwing away the key to announce enduring love has a long history. It seems strange though to place so much faith in the common padlock to protect us from the vagaries of time and change that will always transform love.

Since my visit to the Pont des artes on a cold November day in 2011 the padlocks have multiplied has have the views of public authorities trying to find a way to manage the proliferation of lovelocks on their bridges.. The message on the green bin bag on the pont des artes suggests both vigilance and cleanliness…

Brussels – an afternoon stroll

An afternoon stroll through St-Gilles in Brussels – looking at doorways. The spiralling twisted shapes of art nouveau doors and cartoon pictures on roller doors…

Highgate Wood – London

Highgate Wood is my local park – a place to walk, dream, relax and play. Part wildlife reserve, part Victorian park it lies on the ridge just below Highgate village. A remnant of the ancient forest of Middlesex, today it’s an extension of our backyards – with a semblance of the village life in the urban metropolis.

In the summer the playing fields, centred around the mock-tudor cafe, become an idealised vision of the English village, with its cricket pitch, football games and children’s parties. Despite its village pretensions, it remains a truly urban space with joggers, dog walkers, buggies and tourists jostling for space along its paths and buses to central London running along the roads at its edges.

Within the grounds of the wood are the traces of it’s various residents, who have been adapting the space for centuries, from prehistoric earthworks to the asphalt paths laid out by the Victorians in the 1880s. Walking into the woods though reminds us of the ancient forest – and ponders the question – how will this place continue to evolve and be adapted?

Stolpersteine in Aachen

Aachen the German border town that straddles Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium is probably best known for its Cathedral – the oldest in Northern Europe and the burial site of Charlemagne. The  ‘Imperial Cathedral’ is a magnificent structure, composed of several distinct buildings constructed at various stages in its long history.

But my interest in a brief visit to Aachen during a wet and cloudy January was to explore another history that lies in it’s pavements. This history is marked by small brass plaques that stand as memorials to those who were evicted, deported and murdered by the Nazis. These memorials – the work of Gunter Demnig a German artist based in Köln, seek to transform statistics into a reminder that perhaps one of these people once lived on your street corner.

I’ve already walked the streets of Düsseldorf seeking out Gunter Demnig’s Stolperstiene (Stumble Stones) and literally ‘stumbled’ across many in my walks across the city. In Aachen one of the more notable Stolperstinene is to Anne Frank, who with her mother and older sister lived in Aachen with their grandmother before emigrating to Amsterdam and their eventual fate. Today at the door to their apartment block where they once lived stands a Thai massage parlour…

Düsseldorfer Weihnachtsmarkt

For the past 12 years I have spent Christmas in Düsseldorf – and each year I head to the Weihnachtsmarkt, the traditional Christmas market. For a month a little rural village arises on the streets of Düsseldorf. Spread across the Altstadt are lines of stalls selling traditional wooden toys, socks, crystals, and candles – the perfect solution for those last minute presents.

Yet the true heart of the market is the food and glühwein stalls, which create a meeting place in the public square. In a way it is a broader understanding of the idea of the market – a meeting place to talk, to trade and interact.

During one wet night in December 2012 I was rather delighted to see a Jack Vettriano painting printed on an umbrella…


Garden barge square – an oasis on the thames

Reeds wharf on the southern side of the thames near Tower bridge is home to a floating garden – formed from a series of barges at the 200 year old Downings road moorings.

The garden square is home to 70 residents with the gardens literally sitting on the barge roofs. Its a green oasis surrounded by the steel and glass of luxury apartments – all vying for their riverside space. Several attempts have been made to remove this floating barge square – thankfully without success.

Garden barge square not only adds a certain character to the Thames riverbank but provides a habitat for water birds and river fish. While a private space for its residents the garden square is open to the public during the Open Garden Squares Weekend every June. You should take a look. Read more here…


An urge for summer sun took le-flâneur to the island of Lanzarote. Situated approximately 125km off the coast of Africa, it’s the easternmost island of the Canaries group. The Islands first appeared on European maps in 1339, but evidence suggests Lanzarote has been inhabited since 1000BC. A fort built near the modern town of Teguise marks the arrival of the first European settlers in 1312. Volcanic in origin much of the landscape of the island was permanently altered during a series of eruptions from 1730-36 – giving the earth and the sand a distinctive dark hue.

On arrival two things become apparent – the wind and the lack of trees. It rarely rains on Lanzarote, yet the island is home to its own distinctive wines and produce – a legacy of its volcanic soil, which holds and traps moisture. This unique biosphere is fragile and it was the efforts of one Lanzarote resident that has had perhaps the greatest impact on the island and its unique environment in modern times.

César Manrique’s enduring impact on Lanzarote is impossible to avoid. An artist and architect, he recognised the potential of tourism but also its dangers. It led him to create strict guidelines on development, aimed at preserving the integrity of the local architecture and community. As a consequence Lanzarote is not blighted by high-rise resorts – which helps to attract tourists beyond the beaches to the island’s interior and its lava seas.

Manrique’s legacy is also present at the Jardin de Cactus and Jameos del Agua. His own residence, which now houses the Fundación César Manrique, is built on a lava flow created during the eruptions of 1730-36, with the lower part of the house dug out of a lava tube.