Thursday, 31 December 2020

Bridge Postcards of 2020

For some reason 2020 hasn’t been a great year for exploring and photographing bridges and it’s not been much better for acquiring postcards.  Gatherings of elderly postcard obsessives would make the perfect playground for the Coronavirus - as the collectors succumbed the world would be left with mountains of unsold and unwanted postcards. All of which makes this selection of the best bridge postcards much smaller than usual. There are two swing bridges - Cherbourg and Littlehampton. The Littlehampton bridge opened in 1908 and was notable for its elevated control cabin. It was replaced in the 1980s with a pedestrian retractable bridge which does the same job (with difficulty) while offering nothing to delight the eye. The Pont Gisclard is an elegant suspension bridge that carries a  single track railway across a dramatic gorge in Southern France. It also opened in 1908 but in a tragic footnote, bridge designer Albert Gisclard was killed along with 5 others when a load test led to an accident on his own bridge the following year. The Kingsferry vertical lift bridge in Kent links the Isle of Sheppey with the rest of Kent and carries both road and rail. Built in 1960, its concrete towers resemble gigantic Brutalist clamps and convey a sense of strength. There’s an account here of 2020’s single bridge visit (Cannington Viaduct in East Devon) and every hope that number might be exceeded in 2021.


Wednesday, 30 December 2020

New York City Landmarks No. 3 - Brooklyn Bridge

When it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world - a distinction it would hold for 20 years.  It spans the East River and links Manhattan with the borough of Brooklyn.  Design and construction was a family affair - John Roebling was the designer, his son, Washington was the project manager and his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, supplied additional design work.  The granite and limestone towers, each with twin gothic arch piercings went up first, followed by the cable work - constant technical details prolonged the construction to a total of 13 years.  Lengthy approach viaducts were needed to raise the roadway to the deck level, itself elevated to allow for the free passage of ocean going shipping.

Visually striking for the grandeur of scale and for the contrast between the delicate cable stays and the massive presence of the two towers, the bridge rapidly became a source of fascination to graphic artists and painters. Artists from all over the US and beyond felt the need to record their impressions of this stupendous structure. Georgia O’Keefe, Joseph Stella, John Marin, Richard Estes, Albert Gleizes, and C R W Nevinson. For the editors of the New Yorker, the bridge is one of the most powerful and emblematic symbols of the city to go by the frequency with which it appears on the front cover 


Thursday, 17 December 2020

Great Railway Stations No. 18: Bahnhof Friedrichstraße

Friedrichstrasse is a major north-south corridor in Central Berlin.  At the point where it’s crossed by the Stadtbahn Viaduct there’s an elevated train station - Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. Under a steel truss, double arched train shed are 8 platforms serving mainline, regional and S-Bahn trains which extend westwards across the river Spee on a bridge.  Many postcard views feature the bridge over Friedrichstrasse capturing the visual drama of muscular Prussian steam locomotives pressing forwards over a traffic-choked street.  With the exception of the Admiralspalast theatre very few of the grand commercial buildings that lined the street survived the destruction of the last war. No trace remains of lost landmarks such as the Panopticum waxwork museum or the opulent Kaisergalerie shopping arcade.  Most of Friedrichstrasse has been rebuilt since reunification in 1990 - a task that included demolition of a number of projects completed by the East German regime.  The pre-war vitality of a busy shopping street (as seen in the postcards) has given way to broad pavements and the bland facades of corporate edifices.

During the Cold War partition of the city, Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse was a frontier crossing point. While the station was in the Eastern Sector, trains ran through from West Berlin, passing through East Berlin before returning to the west. Station platforms and buildings were partitioned and all the infrastructure of customs and immigration checks was installed. Fully armed Border Troops and Stasi officers patrolled a maze of station corridors on multiple levels, making full use of their holding cells and interrogation suites. Three separate checks were required to complete a border crossing although agents of the DDR had their own secret entrance and exit. It became a building where the full power of an authoritarian state was brought to bear upon its own citizens, depriving them of dignity and autonomy.  To prevent it mutating into an unwanted memorial to the trauma of a divided nation would take 12 years of reconstruction on the part of the newly unified German authorities before all traces of the ancien régime were eradicated. 


Wednesday, 2 December 2020

More Contests and Sweepstakes

Another folder of competitions and sweepstakes has turned up, offering a few more choice examples of the genre. There’s a wonderful variety of prizes on offer from the obvious (new car, exotic vacations) to the absurdly lavish (twin light aircraft) with the occasionally inspired (a race horse of your own). Watching your very own race horse parade in the paddock with its pint-size passenger on board or take the lead in a crowded field may be the thrill of a lifetime for some. Horses are splendid creatures but they’re not easily house-trained and would make cumbersome family pets. My greatest admiration is reserved for those who are bred for toil - pulling ploughs through recalcitrant earth or dragging logs out of the forest. So I would have passed on this opportunity.

Cash dominates the offers with some ingenious delivery methods (stuffed into a mattress) or instalment options based on monthly or annual increments extended for a lifetime. Oxydol’s offer of a brand new 6 room home (every week for 5 weeks) is intriguing and it would be fascinating to know what became of the fortunate five.  The “His and Hers” planes (plus 20 hours of flight instruction) and the two Ford Mustangs for the runners up are helpfully colour coded blue and red to avoid any arguments. Poetry is in short supply with the honourable exception of Johnson & Johnson who are tempting your offspring with a chance to “Win Your Wildest Dream”.