Monthly Archives: March 2022

Reichstag dome

Reichstag Dome, Berlin, Germany

I learnt the hard way that if you want a ticket to the Reichstag Dome you need to be up with the lark.  I don’t go on holiday to stand in a queue in the midday sun, but I was able to walk straight into the ticket office at breakfast-time.

The Reichstag building can legitimately be called an icon. 

Opened in 1894 to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire, which itself had been established in 1871, it remained the seat of government through the post-World War I Weimar Republic until it was infamously and mysteriously burnt out in 1933.

This was the act that enabled the Nazi Party to extinguish, very quickly, all semblance of democracy in Germany.  They had no use for a symbol of representative government, and arranged occasional perfunctory meetings of the Diet in the Kroll Opera House nearby:,_Berlin,_Reichstagssitzung,_Rede_Adolf_Hitler.jpg.

In the race to occupy Berlin in May 1945, the Red Army made the Reichstag ruins their goal, memorialised by the famous photograph ‘Raising a Flag over the Reichstag’:

Though the Reichstag ruins stood in the British zone of West Berlin, the boundary with the Soviet sector was a few feet from the rear.  The shell was reconstructed, shorn of its cupola and stripped of decorative features that recalled German Imperial bombast, between 1961 and 1964, and used as an office block until after the reunification of East and West Germany, which was confirmed in a ceremony at the Reichstag in 1990.

A year later, the decision was taken to relocate the former West German government from Bonn to Berlin and to restore the Reichstag as the base for the Bundestag, the present-day Diet.

The British architect Norman Foster won the competition to convert the building in 1992.  He restored much of the vanished exterior decoration, and added an elegant glass dome in place of the cupola.  The structure within the external walls is almost entirely new, and the dome is a superlative tourist experience, the second most popular visitor attraction in Germany after Cologne Cathedral.

After an inevitable passport check and baggage inspection, visitors are whisked in a lift to the roof.  They don’t get a look at Norman Foster’s modern interior inside the surviving nineteenth-century shell of the building.  They are presented with audio-guides that automatically start the moment they enter the dome.

The tour involves walking up a spiral ramp to the very top of the dome and then returning down a second ramp.  The arrangement affords spectacular views outwards and inwards, but is not particularly friendly to vertigo sufferers.

The English commentary is consummately professional – not a word out of place, with pauses at appropriate points and breaks in continuity that allow a sense of not being rushed.

Nearby, between the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, are two profoundly moving sites, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, a black pool symbolising the evil deeds it commemorates, with a triangular stone in the centre, representing the badges that the Nazis’ victims were required to wear. 

In the northern pavilion of the Brandenburg Gate itself I found the Raum der Stille [Silent Room], suggested by Dag Hammarskjöld’s earlier room in the United Nations Headquarters in New York City – a simple and effective opportunity to withdraw from the hubbub of the city for a while:  

Attercliffe remembered

Attercliffe Common, Sheffield (1977)

When I recently showed my ‘A Look Round Attercliffe‘ presentation to the Woodsetts Local History Society near Worksop, a lady stood up at the end and gave a vote of thanks in verse.

Enid Bailey had put this piece together while I was lecturing, and she followed precisely the structure of my presentation:

Thank you Mike, for taking us back to 

Our world of yesterday

Where bricks turned black, each chimney stack 

Coughed out clouds of grey 

Thank you Mike, for taking us back 

To mum’s favourite shop – Banners 

We thought it a splendid place to spend 

Our threepenny bits and tanners 

Thank you Mike, for taking us back 

To swap shops, pubs galore 

Where thirsty steel men often went

Eagerly through the door 

Thank you Mike, for taking us back 

To cinemas so grand 

No wonder they called them palaces 

The finest in the land 

Thank you Mike, for taking us back 

To times so grim and hard 

But the children were sent to school 

And played in the old school yard 

Thank you Mike, for taking us back 

To when people had high aims 

To better themselves and earn success 

In education, sport and games 

Thank you Mike, for taking us back 

I could go on for ever

Shall we forget our Attercliffe?

It lives in our hearts – so Never!

No vote of thanks has warmed my heart more in forty years of giving history lectures.

I felt like giving a vote of thanks for the vote of thanks.

Halls and meadows

523/525 Attercliffe Road, Sheffield (1976)

The name of the huge Meadowhall shopping centre, beside the M1 Tinsley Viaduct between Sheffield and Rotherham, is historically significant.  It commemorates a farm, Meadow Hall, which stood where the northbound entry slip-road of Junction 34 climbs to the carriageway.

The valley of the River Don downstream from Sheffield itself remained rural till surprisingly late.

Even after the Attercliffe Common was enclosed in 1811 and the Sheffield Canal opened in 1819, the flat valley plain was thinly populated apart from the three small villages of Attercliffe, Carbrook and Darnall.

When the Sheffield & Rotherham Railway arrived in 1839, followed by the big steel works founded by such names as Firth, Brown, Vickers, Cammell and Jessop, the workers’ housing first went up on the north side of the valley in Brightside and Grimesthorpe.

The terraced housing in Attercliffe itself dated from the 1860s onwards, which is why there were few back-to-backs.  (Sheffield took against back-to-backs because of the lack of ventilation;  Leeds and Bradford people liked them because they were cosy.)

In the valley the earlier villas and houses are now commemorated solely in street names – Attercliffe Old Hall, Attercliffe New Hall, Chippingham House, Shirland House, Woodbourn Hall.

Only two buildings remain from the time when the valley was beautiful – Carbrook Hall (c1620) and the Hill Top Chapel (1629-30), but a couple of other very attractive relics of pre-industrial days survived until the 1960s.

One was Carlton House on Kimberley Street fronting on to Attercliffe Road, built to replace an older manor house that burnt down in 1761.  A polite Georgian house of five bays and three storeys, it appears on a map dated 1777 and in 1819, when the tenant was Thomas Howard, it was surrounded by extensive pleasure grounds and a pond 1½ acres in area.

In the 1830s it was the home of Samuel Jackson, co-founder of the sawmakers Spear & Jackson and in 1839 it was apparently sold to the Duke of Newcastle.  (That title hardly ever figures in Sheffield’s history, and may have crept in as a typo for the ubiquitous Duke of Norfolk.)

For many years it was a doctor’s surgery, and by the Second World War was the premises of Alfred A  Markham & Son, undertakers, joiners and shopfitters.

There is a photograph in the Picture Sheffield collection showing it intact in 1968 but it was later demolished.

Nearby, at the top of Heppenstall Lane, stood 523/525 Attercliffe Road, a semi-detached pair of houses of very much the same style and period as Carlton House, with a rainwater head carrying the date 1779.  I photographed them in 1976 but within a few years they were gone.

Swathes of history can easily disappear, unless they happened to be captured in chance photographs or archive references.

Ashburton: railway station

Former Ashburton railway station, Devon (2017)

The “Birmingham Railway Mafia” has left its fingerprints all over the early history of the rail-preservation movement in Britain.

From the early 1950s such individuals as the writer Tom Rolt (1910-1974), the photographer Ivo Peters (1915-1989) and the businessman Patrick Whitehouse (1922-1993), among others, were involved in saving the Talyllyn and Ffestiniog railways in North Wales and establishing the Tyseley Railway Centre in Birmingham.

Patrick Whitehouse persuaded British Railways to sell him a former Great Western Railway locomotive for £750, and with a Talylynn colleague, Pat Garland, sought a suitable branch railway on which to run it.

They secured the Totnes-Ashburton branch line in Devon, which still had track in place, and opened what was then the Dart Valley Railway – now operating as the South Devon Railway – in 1969.

There was, however, a catch in the deal.

For two years, the rail service ran the full length of the line and locomotives were stabled at the Ashburton terminus.

In 1971, however, the Ministry of Transport exercised its right to take over the trackbed north of Buckfastleigh and use it to improve the A38 trunk road.

The heritage line was permanently cut back to Buckfastleigh station, yet the historically significant Ashburton station with its overall roof, dating back to 1872, still remains intact, fifty years after the last train left.

It’s now a garage and is well-maintained, but the surrounding land has commercial development potential that could destroy its historic significance.

The adjacent Grade-II listed goods warehouse has been converted to offices by the architects Van Ellyn & Sheryn [Ashburton Listed Conversion – van Ellen + Sheryn | RIBA Chartered Architect – Devon], but none of the other surviving railway structures are listed.

The Friends of Ashburton Station launched a detailed and ambitious scheme to convert the passenger station as a prelude to a long-term plan to reconnect with the operational railway at Buckfastleigh, but the latest news on its website is dated September 2015:  Friends of Ashburton Station.

Their Facebook page shows encouraging signs of life.  The latest post there is July 2020, in the midst of the pandemic:  Friends of Ashburton Station – Posts | Facebook.

It’s hard to tell how the railway could co-exist with the further planned improvements to the A38, but restoring a significant historic structure in the middle of Ashburton would be a benefit, and the detail of the 2015 scheme inspires confidence that the project has been carefully thought-out.