Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

There are probably few places on earth as woven into pivotal history as the Brandenburg Gate.  I visited it when it was darkly shrouded by the Berlin Wall.  For me it was a depressing experience.  Years later West Berliners with hammers and banners would clamber over it and chisel out their freedom.

Dark and dusty

Here the Nazi leadership was saluted as the river of uniform steel helmets marched through the Gate.  When Berlin was razed to the ground by bombing, the Gate, mercifully, survived.

Up to May, 1961, traffic through the Gate moved freely.  Then, overnight, the Wall was erected.  The Quadriga (the four bronze steeds on the Gate) were reversed to face eastwards.  Different from the way the architect Langhans and sculptor Schadow had planned it in the late-18th-century.

Not far from here, in 1961, John Kennedy delivered his historical speech “Ich bin ein Berliner”, support for the divided country.  In the seriousness of the moment — possible military confrontation with the Soviet Union — he made a grammar mistake that West Berliners would tolerantly have smiled at:  “ein Berliner” refers to a typical Berlin pastry, a cookie.  Correct, it would have been “Ich bin Berliner”.  Someone has also said that it was a good thing Kennedy didn’t make this speech in Hamburg.

Germany has been reunited for almost 30 years.  The Gate was restored at great expense.  The Quadriga again faces west.  The Brandenburg Gate is again the centre point of Berlin.  After two hundred and twenty years of tumultuous history, the Berliners and the Germans as a whole feel that the Gate can now be a symbol of peace.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018



Brandenburg Tor – postcard

Quadriga –

Gate with soldier –

Gate with West Berliners  –

Gate with sun –



In some bizarrely indirect way, the Gate … as well as the proto-Prussian Magraviate of Brandenburg … also has bearing of sorts on South Africa’s own violently induced historical ‘make-up’ … Originally erected as the Friedenstor by the House of Orange-descended Friedrich Wilhelm, following the fragile peace established by the so-called Batavian Revolution which led to the Cape of Good Hope being ‘restored’ to a revolutionary, reconfigured ‘new’ Dutch Republic … Orange-Hohenzollen collaboration meant that many folk from a Huguenot-bolstered Brandenburg emigrated to the Cape of Good Hope … with its own Huguenot diaspora … one man in particular is most deserving of remembrance … Joachim Nikolaus von Dessin (1704-1761) … once page and later gentleman-in-waiting of the margrave Albrecht Friedrich of Brandenburg … who with the bequest of his wonderful library … laid the foundations of what has become South Africa;s National Library  –      Mansell Upham




Paul Éluard (1895 – 1952)

When I take my walk in the afternoons, I see his name, one of several poets — Breton, Jacob, Desnos, Apollonaire, Tzara and Prévert — after whom the streets in this area are named.  As with some of the others, Éluard was part of the French surrealist poets.

Paul Eluard, 1911

As a young man he realized that he had to be a poet.  His parents were not supportive of the idea, but his Russian lover by name Gala, supported him physically (he was not always well) and intellectually (she was his muse and critic).  After the Great War he met with the Surrealists and served their cause for life.

Eluard (top) and the Surrealists

After some years he and Gala parted.  She met Salvador Dali who worshipped her all his life.  From this time Éluard’s life became epic and in the Second World War he and a number of Jews hid from the Germans in an asylum.  They survived.

He and Louis Aragon are considered as the great poets of the French Resistance and his work is strongly political.  The poem Liberté was pamphlet-dropped by the RAF over areas of France.  It holds a special place in history and in the hearts of the French.  I offer one of his love poems which was probably dedicated to Gala, though he was happy in other relationships as well.


She stands on my eyelids

Her hair in mine

She takes the form of my hands

She takes the colour of my eyes

She sinks into my shadow

Like a stone from heaven


She always has open eyes

I cannot sleep

My dreams are full of light

Thus, let suns evaporate

Let me laugh and laugh again

Let me speak without saying anything


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

October, 2018



Wikipedia:  Paul Éluard

Pinterest:  the poem  (my translation). 

I have a translation of Liberté in English, for those interested.  



My photograph

Wikipedia: Paul Éluard, 1911


See also, Two Poems from the French Resistance,, 27.10.2018


                                                “ A woman is more beautiful than the world

                                                         I live in …

                                                                I shut my eyes ”    –  Paul Éluard




Café de Flore

This café is one of the oldest coffee bars in Paris, a place where I — alas — only peeped into.  The clientele are highly esteemed in the history of the Left Bank of the Seine.  My focus is on three of them:  Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus.

Over these tables in the smoke of cigarettes and a pipe, these three people urged Western thinking into new directions, giving philosophy a new hat :  Sartre with existentialism ; De Beauvoir with feminism and Camus with absurdism.

Sartre and de Beauvoir

In the Second World War Sartre and de Beauvoir were on the fringes of the French Resistance, while Camus wrote regularly for Combat, the underground newspaper of the Resistance.  In these years De Beauvoir made her notes towards The Second Sex; Camus’ literary work The Outsider and the philosophical treatise Sisyphus would earn him the Nobel prize.  It has been said by some that Sartre’s Being and Nothingness may be the most influential of its kind in our time.

In Café de Flore the test flights were done.  Coffee was cheap, but pipe tobacco, Sartre discovered, was expensive.  Thus, before the discussions, he would crawl on hands and knees under the tables picking up abandoned cigarette butts for the left-over tobacco.   Then, through the curtain of smoke, he could plough up  the history of ideas.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2018



Wikipedia : Café de Flore, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus



my drawing






Coventry Cathedral – contemporary sacred art

Coventry Cathedral, a 14th-century gothic church, was bombed during the Blitz in the Second World War.  For me, it was an unusual experience to stand in those ruins which they have preserved.  I can’t express the many emotions I experienced, from anger to sadness, from wonder to inspiration.  The modern cathedral abuts these ruins, almost as if the new has grown out of the old and the building began from 1950.  Amongst the engineers was a team of young Germans.  

                          Cathedral ruins


      Cathedral ruins with reconstructed cross

The modern cathedral, remarkable architecture, is a treasury of contemporary sacred art.  Everything has been carefully considered.  The baptism font is a hollow rock from the hills near Bethlehem.  One chapel is approached through a crown of thorns.  A moving likeness of Christ was made from the torn metal of a car accident.

                               Baptism font


Above the nave is the tapestry Christ in Majesty by Graham Sutherland, one of the largest of its kind in the world.  In every aspect there is majesty, except, for me, in one, which has left me uneasy over the years.  It is the expression on the face of the Christ visage.  Perhaps it is my Rorschach, but for me there is a creeping cynicism in the faint smile.

               The Cathedral nave with tapestry

                              Detail of tapestry

Amongst these art works in the cathedral there is a figure of Christ by Jacob Epstein in the ruins of the old cathedral, sculpture of the 1950s. (Observe to the far right against the wall in the photograph of the ruins.)  This work is a radical departure from the usual portrayal of Christ as a wrung out, vulnerable figure on the cross.

    The Epstein Christ figure

What came up for me was the word primitive, with exclusively positive connotations.  This mode, it seemed to me, takes its cue from the jungle cultures – the Congo, the Amazon, Indonesia and even Easter Island.  I grapple for words to contain this – winter clouds over night mountain ranges; the deep voice of a coming volcano … This prehistoric figure, I feel, will burst through his bonds and stride the curve of the earth in thunder.  It is sacred art that stirs much in me.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July , 2016






Cathedral ruins –

Altar with nail cross –

Baptism font –

Chapel with crown of thorns  –

Cathedral nave –

Detail of tapestry  –

Epstein Christ figure  –  source lost


Dedicated to my niece Dawn Denton for the support she has given me. 



%d bloggers like this: